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the real kwon
28 November 2015 @ 12:04 am
I'm home in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving, and my dad suggested that we all go and see Equivocation at the Arden Theater. If you happen to be in the area: WORTH THE PRICE.

Equivocation posits a hypothetical in which Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I, commissions Shakespeare to write a "true history" play of the Gunpowder Plot.

SHAKESPEARE: I don't write propaganda stories.
CECIL: You wrote Richard III! You made Richard of York a hunchback!
SHAKESPEARE: He was a murderer!
CECIL: They're all murderers! He balanced the budget.

In his attempt to turn the Crown's version of events into a coherent and semi-truthful play without getting executed for it --

SHAKESPEARE: A group of men plan to blow up Parliament, and then they don't. There's no plot!
CECIL: It is TREASON to say that there was no plot!
CECIL: .... ohhhh, you mean there's no plot!

-- Shakespeare goes hunting for the actual truth about what happened during the Gunpowder Plot, along the way confronting interpersonal conflicts among his actors, questions of morality and politics and posterity, and his own stoppered-up emotions about the death of his son Hamnet. Judith Shakespeare, Hamnet's cranky and neglected twin, who keeps track of the number of deaths in Shakespeare's plays and has VERY strong feelings about soliloquies (she hates them) plays a major role. She's the one woman in the production, but she has a lot to say; Shakespeare's relationship with her is either the heart of the story or very close to it.

Richard Burbage also plays a major role. He has a passionate scene in which he confesses that Shakespeare means more to him than anything in the world, and then he strides forward and clutches Shakespeare's face and the fact that they don't actually make out at that point surprised me more than just about anything else in the play. It could just be that Richard was probably the best actor in the cast; he doubled as an incredibly powerful Henry Garnet, a historical figure about whom I previously knew nothing, so it's really quite unfair that I'm now extremely sad about him. James I, who doubles as hotheaded young actor Richard Sharpe, is also much more interesting than he initially appears (although his Scottish accent stays sadly terrible throughout the whole thing.) The cast of Shakespeare's company is rounded out by Nathan Field, who doubles as Cecil and does all his interesting acting there, and Robert Armin, who doesn't really get to do anything interesting as far as I recall except a brief scene in which he doubles as Buckingham in order to bang King James.

The playwright is clearly very pleased with himself for the opportunity to play around with plays within plays -- Shakespeare goes through multiple (intermittently terrible and/or treasonous) drafts of the Gunpowder Plot play, many of them performed with/during/around his interviews with the participants -- and somehow manages to turn the line "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" delivered exactly as per Macbeth's script into one of the best brick jokes in the entire show.

It's not a perfect play; it's very clever and very pleased with its own metatextuality and it's probably got too much crammed into it, but this is one of those cases where the flaws probably make it more fun for me, specifically. (Except some unnecessary slanders on the name of Anne Hathaway. RUDE.) But it gives me lots of what I like best, which is lengthy explorations of why people write things the way they do, and also getting to watch people watching shows and reacting to them in interesting ways. Anyway, it's all HIGHLY enjoyable and I would absolutely recommend.

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the real kwon
27 November 2015 @ 05:14 pm
I've been vaguely meaning to read more Ursula K. LeGuin for a while now; The Word For World Is Forest jumped to the top of my list by virtue of being available from my library as a downloadable Kindle eBook.

This is quite a depressing little book, isn't it? The plot is fairly simple:

- humans colonize a heavily wooded alien planet, including enslaving exploiting the local alien species in all the gross ways that one would expect
- to everyone's surprise, the initially-pacifist aliens eventually revolt
- the one anthropologist who has established friendly relations with the aliens is depressed
- suddenly, deus ex orders arrive from Earth dictating that everyone needs to calm the hell down and behave more ethically
- alas, gross humans continue to ruin the planned de-escalation and everything ends in bloodshed

Obviously, I find none of this implausible. It's kind of a misery to spend at least half the book trapped inside the head of the grossest human being of all -- again, I fully believe people like Davidson exist, but he's so! awful! I don't think I'll ever be rereading this one; life's too short to spend that much time in his head again.

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the real kwon
25 November 2015 @ 04:35 pm
Does anyone remember Invitation to the Game? I mean, at least someone does, because the reason I reread it is because I hit a good Yuletide fic from last year (Eden, for the curious).

Invitation to the Game is a middle-grade book set in a near-future in which the government assigns professions a la the Giver, except most people are actually assigned to become unemployed underclass, because robots. When protagonist Lisse graduates from high(?) school, she ends up unemployed and living in a giant warehouse with a bunch of her classmates, all of whom are deeply frustrated because they have various useful skills that they are completely unable to use in the current dystopian economy. (Lisse herself is an English major and therefore has no useful skills.)

In other words, for a book written in 1990, it does an astoundingly good job of tapping directly into the post-2008 night terrors of a generation of snake people, so ... well done, Monica Hughes!

Anyway, after they spend a while sitting around and being depressed, they are invited to participate in a mysterious virtual-reality-ish game where they wander around a mysterious landscape and effectively simulate such exciting escapist activities as walking through a desert, climbing random rock formations, not being able to find potable drinking water, etc. Since this is still more interesting than their actual lives, they all get hooked. In the big twist, spoilers!Collapse )

The protagonists of Invitation to the Game are pretty much flat as cardboard. (Annoying Privileged Rich -- oh, God, and I JUST got why he's named Rich, OKAY, MONICA HUGHES, FINE -- is really the only character who deserves the term, because at least hating everything and being cranky all the time provides something like a personality trait.) The book is compelling anyway, thanks to the world and setting -- and, I mean, who doesn't love a classic group-of-kids-band-together-and-survive-their-environment-against-the-odds story? It's like a very simplistic version of 7 Seeds.

(Though really you should just go read 7 Seeds.)

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the real kwon
15 November 2015 @ 10:58 pm
I was enjoying Sergey and Marina Dyachenko's The Scar reasonably well, and then a thing happened and I stopped being able to take it seriously, which is probably all to the good because I kind of feel like the ending collapsed the whole point of the book out from under it. But it's fine, because I wasn't taking it seriously at that point anyway!

Most of The Scar -- an award-winning work of Russian fantasy in translation -- is very tightly focused on Egert Soll: an early modern dudebro extraordinaire whose hobbies include fighting and dueling and posturing and seducing other people's wives and generally committing extravagantly stupid feats of physical courage. Whether these extravagantly stupid feats of physical courage conclude with other people injured or dead is highly irrelevant to Egert. Basically, if you've ever read The Three Musketeers and thought to yourself, "wow, these people are all assholes of the highest degree!" then Egert Soll will seem very familiar.

Anyway, in like the second chapter Egert basically murders a hapless student in a duel incurred because Egert was attempting to seduce the student's fiancee Toria and wouldn't take no for an answer. Exit Toria, grieving and furious; enter a mysterious old man, who decides that Egert needs to be taught a lesson about toxic masculinity, and curses him to be OVERWHELMINGLY TERRIFIED OF EVERYTHING.

Most of the rest of the book is a slow psychological examination of how Egert, Most Valiant Dudebro In Town, deals with his sudden transformation into World's Most Helpless Physical Coward (spoiler: not well). Eventually, in his quest to get the curse reversed, Egert ends up in the same university town as the student he killed, and starts living a sort of weird shadow-double version of his life under the furious eyes of Toria.

As a deconstruction of the swashbuckling action-hero archetype, this is interesting! I generally agree with the project!

The part where I stopped taking the book seriouslyCollapse )

So then I hit the endingCollapse )

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the real kwon
12 November 2015 @ 09:01 pm
For my birthday, [personal profile] jothra bought me Louisa May Alcott's long-lost-then-posthumously-published-in-1995 Gothic novel, A LONG FATAL LOVE CHASE! (Allcaps and exclamation point mine, but I feel they are required.)

I knew this book was not going to disappoint on page 2, when Our Heroine Rosamond's grandfather welcomes the villainous love interest into his house by exclaiming "SPEAK OF SATAN AND HE APPEARS!" At which point if you don"t know what kind of book you"re reading, it"s definitely not Louisa May Alcott"s faultCollapse )

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the real kwon
07 November 2015 @ 08:37 pm
Like basically everyone else in the world, I am currently kind of head over heels over Hamilton and definitely plan to read the Chernow biography at some point in the near future.

Currently I do not own a copy of the Chernow biography. I do own a copy of a biography of Abigail Adams that my great-aunt gave me for my high school graduation and I never got around to reading, so .... it seemed like the time had maybe finally come ....?

Anyway, I'm slightly retroactively annoyed because Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution is definitely way below my high school reading level, like, come on, Aunt Esther, you could have given me something a little meatier than this! (I should probably in fact go seek out something meatier than this.)

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a good YA biography and I enjoyed reading it, but 200ish pages is really not enough to cover the complexities of Abigail Adams' life, and the elisions are fairly obvious. Here's a charming anecdote about how Abigail Adams defended her black servant's right to go to school! Leeeeeet's perhaps not talk about how Adams family BFF Jefferson was a slaveholder. Here's a couple sentences explaining the Alien and Sedition Act, OK, maybe those were kind of tyrannical and maybe not a great idea, but totally understandable that the Adamses would feel that way given how John Adams was being dragged in the press, now let's please move on!

...however other subjects, hilariously, are not at all elided, like the love letter in which John Adams complains that Abigail is too prone to blushing at "every violation of decency in company," like, dang, what kind of sneaky Colonial footsie were you up to, John and Abigail? No, no, it's fine, you don't need to tell me, I probably don't need to know, life is more than sexual combustibility. Natalie S. Bobet definitely enjoys her Colonial gossip, though. The Alien and Sedition Acts get three whole pages; James Lovell, another Massachusetts Continental Congress delegate whose only historical importance appears to have been that he wrote Abigail a number of flirty letters while John was away, gets more than twice that.

(To be fair, I then went and looked the letters up up, and as flirty letters to the wife of a major America political figure go, they appear to have been quite something. "I shall covet to be in the arms of Portia [TURN PAGE] 's friend and admirer [my actual wife.]" That's some A. Ham level sneaky sexy letter-writing. Portia, for the record, was one of Abigail's adopted pen-names. Her other, which she picked when she was a very young teenager, was Diana, which is kind of adorable and super Anne of Green Gables of her, bless.)

And, OK, even more fascinating Colonial-era sexy gossip which is only kind of elided: an offhand reference to a child (tragically stillborn) that "Abigail and John had planned," implying they ... planned at other times not to have children? Please tell me more about contraception and family planning in colonial New England, Natalie Bober! This is highly relevant information!

Anyway. It's a reasonable, if not particularly nuanced, preliminary overview of The Life Of Abigail Adams, Early Advocate of Women's Education, Semi-Official Presidential Political Adviser, and Frequently Single Mom. And now if my Aunt Esther ever happens to ask, I can finally say that I've read it.

(Also, for those, like me, who are in the grip of Hamilton-mania: Alexander Hamilton is mentioned ten times, and almost every time after his initial introduction it's with some variant on the phrase "Hamilton's treachery." WHICH IS HILARIOUS. Aaron Burr, alas, is not mentioned one single time, and I expect that somewhere he's really mad about it.)

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the real kwon
04 November 2015 @ 08:16 pm
[personal profile] genarti lent me her copy of Patricia McKillip's Cygnet like a year ago, which I have finally gotten around to reading.

I can't tell whether Cygnet is more McKillip-y than most McKillip or just a totally standard amount of McKillip, because I can never remember anything that happens in McKillips for more than a month or two after I've read the McKillip in question. The last time I read McKillip was in - according to my records -- 2010, when I reread the entire Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy. That was at least my second time reading the trilogy, probably my third, and I carefully documented the plot on DW, and I still have no idea what actually happens in Riddle-Master of Hed except that there are a lot of riddles in it and the main character comes from Hed.

Cygnet is actually two books -- The Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird, and HOLY WOW, I just got distracted by the 80s-ness of the cover in that first Goodreads link. That's ... beautiful.

For the record, the sorceress Nyx probably does not look like the cover of that book, nor is she possessed of a giant pet flamingo. Nyx is, however, a fantastic character -- the cool-headed, knowledge-obsessed, semi-amoral heir to a Holding who starts out the books living in a swamp dissecting small birds in pursuit of KNOWLEDGE and POWER and earning incredibly dubious looks from everybody she knows.

Nyx is one of the protagonists of the duology; the other is her cousin Meguet, a loyal and taciturn warrior who learns over the course of the story that she has mythologically convenient powers. However, it takes a little while to realize this because The Sorceress and the Cygnet starts out with a decoy protagonist named Corleu who accidentally becomes entrapped in a complex mythological plot engineered by sinister star constellations which Meguet's mythologically convenient powers are destined to stop, or else bring to fruition? It's very beautiful and numinous and also VERY UNCLEAR.

Then in the second trip everyone (except Corleu, because he was only a first-book decoy protagonist) goes on a field trip with dragons which are also mythologically destined to mythologically threaten the mythological powers of Nyx and Meguet's family somehow even though they live many thousands of miles away and possibly in an entirely different time period, ALSO UNCLEAR. An enchanted firebird turns up and eventually explains that he's there because he was drawn to Nyx for her combination of power and ethics and innate goodness, to which Nyx responds 'I SPENT THE LAST YEAR DISSECTING SMALL BIRDS.' The climax of this one makes slightly more sense to me, although Meguet's choice to pick up a rose at the beginning of The Cygnet and the Firebird was apparently the most deeply significant thing she did in the whole book and I still don't actually understand why.

However, Nyx and Meguet were both great! So is their entire family of royal women, including Nyx's constantly-fuming mother and her mysterious and dreamy library sister and her long-suffering practical-minded sister who does her best to be patient with the fact that everyone else she knows is driven by overwhelming numinous mythological forces. (Unsurprisingly, she was my favorite.) I enjoyed the book tremendously. I expect it will stay in my head for at least two weeks.

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the real kwon
30 October 2015 @ 07:22 am
Dear Festividder,

Ahh! I'm extremely excited! This is my first year participating in Festivids, so whatever you do I will pretty much be overwhelmed with delighted awe at the idea that someone made a vid ... for me .....? What kind of witchcraft is this! (The best kind.)

I like many different kinds of vids, and many different kinds of music for that matter -- fast-paced action vids, quiet character studies, explorations of friendship and relationships, celebration vids, critique-y vids, vids that center themselves on a perfect and terrible pun ... OK I'm aware this is not very helpful. I LIKE EVERYTHING. I am also still catching up on many years' worth of vidding, so if you vid a song that's been vidded thirty times before, that's A-OK, it will probably be still new to me! And it will certainly be new to most of these tiny, amazing fandoms, on which more below!

7 SeedsCollapse )

Bedknobs and BroomsticksCollapse )

Capital ScandalCollapse )

HealerCollapse )

Into the Woods (1991)Collapse )

Notre-Dame de Paris Live at the Palais de CongresCollapse )

Queen In-Hyun"s ManCollapse )

Thank you so much for signing up to vid one of these tiny fandoms for me -- I'm so very looking forward to whatever you make!

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the real kwon
25 October 2015 @ 06:14 pm
Dear Yuletide author,

Thank you so much for agreeing to write one of these tiny fandoms for me! I am so enormously excited for whatever you come up with. Please don't stress out too much about any optional details below -- write something that makes you happy, and it's pretty certain to make me happy too!

As you can probably guess from my letter, stuff that I like includes (but is not limited to) women having character development, women interacting with each other, ensemble stories, sibling dynamics, found families and friendships, and the kind of romance where two flawed and peculiar people figure out how their flaws and peculiarities fit together. I tend to love characters for their weaknesses as much as their strengths, and I love watching messed-up people grow into better and stronger and healthier people while still being recognizably the same messed-up people they always were. I am ALWAYS, for the record, really down for crossovers, and also definitely cool with canon AUs, though I prefer the kind that start out recognizably in the canon as it exists and then take an unusual turn (as opposed to, for ex., high school AUs.)

I would prefer not to see any characters bashed, especially female characters. I'm happy to read stories that are dark or creepy, especially if it fits with the tone of the original canon (looking at you, Frances Hardinge! ... and 7 Seeds, for that matter) but I tend not to be into graphic and gratuitous violence. I don't mind sexual content, but I'd rather that wasn't the whole point of the fic.

And now for the specific requests!Collapse )

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the real kwon
23 October 2015 @ 11:54 pm
Crimson Peak! Crimson Peak.

I can"t remember the last time I"ve seen ANYTHING more Gothic than that.Collapse )

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the real kwon
18 October 2015 @ 11:49 pm
So I have not been booklogging at all this week because I've been using like all my free time to zoom through Healer, a kdrama about POLITICAL CORRUPTION AND THE POWER OF THE PRESS.

 photo journalists and murder_zpssuqph6y1.jpg

Our heroine"s dad is probably right to have concernsCollapse )

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Tags: ,
the real kwon
12 October 2015 @ 11:44 am
Is it time to talk about Ancillary Mercy? Probably yes!

This will probably be both incoherent and spoileryCollapse )

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the real kwon
10 October 2015 @ 11:45 am
Like almost everyone else, I thought Naomi Novik's Uprooted was pretty fantastic.

It started out feeling very comfortably familiar to me, a top-notch version YA Beauty and the Beast story -- the two most immediate comparisons for me were Robin McKinley and, uh, a much better-written version of Mercedes Lackey's Fire Rose, I'M SORRY. But you guys know the kind of story I mean, right? There's an awkward teenage girl, and she has to leave everything she knows to go live with a powerful, mysterious, somewhat monstrous figure, and in the course of it the monster is revealed to be human and vulnerable, and the girl comes into her own probably-magical power, and they most likely fall in love in a way that metaphorically signifies the shift in power dynamics and the heroine coming of age. YOU KNOW.

I like those stories, and I was all prepared to enjoy the story that I thought this was, but in fact that's really only about the first third of the book and then EVERYTHING ELSE STARTS HAPPENING A LOT.

While the Beauty and the Beast story gives Agnieszka a framework for her romance and coming of age, most of the heart and the plot of the book is tied up in the heroine's relationship with her hometown and, specifically, her best friend Kasia, both of which are inextricably tied to a monstrous and malevolent forest. Then powerful people find out about this, and everything escalates very quickly, and suddenly there's royalty and kingdom-threatening forces and court drama --

-- and, OK, to be honest, I actually did not care very much about the interlude of court drama and I think some of it could probably have been cut out of the book; it's all quite page-turney, and I liked the other wizards (Alosha!), but, like, what is the purpose of the Mean Girl who briefly befriends our heroine only to turn out to have been secretly laughing at her at parties all along? That feels like a sequence that came out of a different fantasy-of-manners kind of book. Uprooted is not fantasy of manners. It's not really about kings and courts. At heart, Uprooted is a fantasy about a village girl, and the tie that she has to her village, and to the forest and the land around it. The forest is at the beginning and the end of this book. That's what gives Agnieszka her power, and honestly, it's what gives the book its power too. Uprooted is at its best and strongest when it's most grounded.

Some other thoughts are spoileryCollapse )

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the real kwon
07 October 2015 @ 07:17 pm
So now that I have read basically everything that there is to read in Martha Wells' Raksura universe about sentient shapeshifting dragons with complex sociobiological family structures. In addition to The Cloud Roads, about which more at that link, this includes:

The Serpent Sea, in which protagonist Moon and his new dragon family travel to their ancestral home, find that their ancestral home is kind of screwed because somebody stole an important magical MacGuffin out of it, and promptly head out to a mysterious island in the middle of the ocean on a MacGuffin quest to get in trouble with weird magic worldbuilding

The Siren Depths, in which Moon's long-lost birth family finds out about him and yoinks him home and he has to deal with six different kinds of complicated abandonment issues, plus the fact that the family has a kind-of-Dark Secret (of course this one is my favorite, INTERESTING FAMILY ISSUES UP THE WAZOO), plus some more trouble with weird magic worldbuilding

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, which contains two novellas, one where The Gang Gets In Trouble With Yet More Weird Magic Worldbuilding and one fantastic backstory one that's 100% Difficult Dragon Diplomatic Relations

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below, which contains several interesting worldbuilding stories about various species in this universe, plus some babyfic

I liked these books more and more the more I went on. I think it helps that I got all my mildly cranky issues about biological determinism out of the way with the first books. By the time I hit the later ones I had already come to terms with the setup and was ready to roll with the fact that, yes, OK, half the point of Moon is to completely embody the Feisty Tomboy Princess archetype with a pronoun reversal:

MOON: I'm going on this dangerous quest!
EVERYONE ELSE: But consorts don't go on dangerous quests, consorts stay home and look pretty and watch the children!
MOON: I know I'm not how a consort should be! I know I should be beautiful and gentle and sweet, and -- and I'm just not! I'm sorry! I can't help it! I wasn't socialized that way!
JADE: It's OK, honey. It's true that most queen dragons Raksura prefer demure consorts, but I like a boy with spirit.

This aside, I generally really appreciate how much time it takes for Moon to adjust to being part of a community, and to generally trust the people around him, after decades spent as a semi-feral wanderer. I loved him projecting his issues all over the other Raksura in Serpent Sea, and, as aforementioned, I ate the whole complicated family plot in Siren Depths up like candy.

I am also really into Martha Wells' endlessly inventive Weird Magical Worldbuilding and FIVE BAJILLION sentient species, most of which are not at all human. "Ah, OK, a species of sentient stick insects! Are they friendly sentient stick insects? SURE, GREAT, let's sort out our diplomatic relationship then."

(Though I did laugh at the hilariously sledgehammery bit in -- I think it's Serpent Sea? -- where Moon tries to explain this one weird civilization he encountered once that didn't believe in sex outside of monogamous marrige and everybody's like '?? how BIZARRE.')

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the real kwon
05 October 2015 @ 09:33 pm
A couple weeks ago [personal profile] tlvop and I were talking Yuletide. "I dunno," she said, "I'm thinking maybe I'll nominate some noir? Do you think anyone would write me The Thin Man?"

"Oh, yeah," I said, "I feel like there's usually a couple Thin Man fics every year anyway. For the movie more than the book, but --"

"THERE'S A MOVIE?" she said.

So this weekend [personal profile] innerbrat, [personal profile] tlvop and I Skype-watched The Thin Man -- and since I remembered I'd never actually read the book, I went ahead and read it for the sake of comparison.

If anyone's unfamiliar, The Thin Man is maybe the ur-example of the Charming Married Couple Crack Wise, Booze, Solve Murders sub-genre -- which, I mean, who doesn't love watching a Charming Married Couple Crack Wise, Booze, Solve Murders? I think Tommy and Tuppence, the other classic Charming Married Couple Who Crack Wise And Solve Murders, beat The Thin Man into print, but Nick and Nora Charles got a leg up in public acclaim by landing a series of feature films starring the adorable William Powell and Myrna Loy, PLUS a really cute dog.

TL: Asta's in the MOVIE?
Me: Asta's in the BOOK?

It's like with Djali in Hunchback of Notre Dame, I always just automatically assume the cute animal companion is a Hollywood addition.

In fact, I was consistently surprised by how similar the book and movie were to each other overall. Not that there aren't dramatic changes, because there are -- the twelve distinct varieties of extreme dysfunction displayed by the victim's family in the original novel are toned down to probably only four or five, and the movie gives Nick a really fabulous set piece of an "invite all the suspects to a dinner party" conclusion that I can in no way imagine Dashiell Hammett putting in a novel.

Actually, the fact that the movie feels like it concludes at all is a maybe the most drastic departure from the book, which ends on Nick telling Nora that murder doesn't round out anybody's life except the murdered and the murderer's, and Nora complaining it all seems a little unsatisfactory.

That said, a solid 50% of the film's dialogue or more is taken straight from the book, the details of how the murder works itself out hew remarkably true to the original, and Nick and Nora themselves are -- pretty much the same across adaptations? To be honest, I was expecting the book to be a little bit grimmer, a little bit darker, and possibly a little less fun. The book definitely has a little more leeway to show the sordid side of humanity than the film, but in fact Nick and Nora's sparkle is pretty consistent no matter which version you pick up.

I will also add that I did not expect the book to contain a lengthy and completely plot-irrelevant digression on cannibalism? THAT WAS ALSO A SURPRISE.

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the real kwon
04 October 2015 @ 11:22 pm
I was going to start writing up the seventh season of Deep Space Nine after eight episodes as per usual, and then I hadn't gotten around to it by the ninth episode and then DUKAT STARTED LEADING A CULT and anyway we've seen through ten episodes of this season by now.

Episodes 1-10 of Season Seven, under the cutCollapse )

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the real kwon
04 October 2015 @ 12:48 pm
This is the epitome of a biased review, because I have been waiting for a finished version of Elisa Catrina's The First Bite Is the Deepest since about 2009, when it was a wacky parody called "VAMPTERVENTION!"

The First Bite is the Deepest has gotten significantly darker and more serious in its themes since then, but don't worry, it still features plenty of terrible vampire puns. TAKE IT LIKE A MANPIRE.

The book starts out when Stella Ortiz, solid student, field hockey player, and frequent reader of terrible romance novels, meets -- of course! -- a MYSTERIOUS TRANSFER STUDENT named Sebastian.

Stella thinks Sebastian is hot and tragic. Stella's friends Jenny, Nadia and Austin, who are kind of annoyed that Stella keeps skipping horror movie night for dates, think Sebastian is a pretentious, controlling douchebag.

When it turns out -- surprising no one -- that Sebastian is a vampire, Stella thinks maybe she can save Sebastian through the power of love! Stella's friends think she needs to get out of this relationship, FAST.

Unfortunately, breakup-and-exposure methods like sneaking up on Sebastian, shouting 'PERFORMANCE ART!!!' and dumping a bucket of blood on his head don't really do anything except encourage Sebastian to call in his whole terrifying vampire family for backup.

Pretty soon there are mysterious creatures of the night lurking around their houses, sinister storms blowing in their windows, and vampires at school making rude assumptions about Nadia's decision to wear hijab. Also, at least one member of the gang is sort of unsure how to feel about the fact that their nascent sexuality crisis has been completely overshadowed by vampire drama.

It quickly becomes evident, even to Stella, that Sebastian is probably very bad news. But as the stakes get higher for everyone, breaking away becomes increasingly difficult -- and while Jenny, Nadia and Austin are determined to wage an anti-vampire crusade whether Stella's emotionally ready to stake her ex-boyfriend through the heart or not, the hardest part is not just staying alive and un-vampiric, but figuring out how to support each other and keep their friendships intact.

I am so excited that Elisa's decided to self-publish this book: it's funny and clever and emotionally hard-hitting, it doesn't shy away from the complications and ambiguities of abusive relationships, and it puts the friendships between teen girls of color squarely at the center of the narrative. (Although I should add in a warning for abusive relationships in general -- not just Stella's, but also a couple other terrible vampire relationships, including pseudo-parental abuse.) It doesn't come out until October 31 -- hence the Amazon link, because a.) I totally want to encourage pre-orders and b.) there is no goodreads link! -- and though, as I said, the author is a longtime friend and I am the world's most biased reviewer, I would super recommend it.

This entry is cross-posted at Livejournal from http://skygiants.dreamwidth.org/421383.html. Please feel free to comment here or there! There are currently comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.
the real kwon
29 September 2015 @ 11:22 pm
I was talking tonight with [personal profile] varadia about Daniel José Older's Half-Resurrection Blues, which reminded me that I've been meaning to write it up.

Half-Resurrection Blues is a well-done, clever, diverse but extremely dudely urban fantasy noir about a secret organization of ghostly agents who police undead happenings in New York City. The protagonist, Carlos Delacruz, stands out from his ghostly colleagues by being a semi-hemi-demi-zombie with a mysterious past he doesn't remember; he is also blessed with the kind of single-target heterosexual male gaze and poor decision-making re: attractive women that ... is probably quite realistic but is usually quite frustrating for me to read about nonetheless.

So as a book it probably would have hit squarely to the left of my personal interests -- except for the crucial detail that Half-Resurrection Blues takes place not just in New York City, but in Brooklyn, and not just in Brooklyn, but in Crown Heights. Daniel José Older does a frankly astounding job setting a sense of place; even if I didn't know the neighborhood, I would have been impressed with the setting and detail work. But in fact I have spent more of my adult living there than anywhere else to date, which meant that any frustrations that I encountered while reading were pretty much completely drowned out by an overwhelming sense of recognition and groundedness. I could basically walk the entire plot of this book. It's AMAZING.

Crown Heights Is Magnificent, as the now-tragically-deceased mural used to say, and so is Daniel José Older's ability to evoke it; I will absolutely read any of his other Brooklyn books.

This entry is cross-posted at Livejournal from http://skygiants.dreamwidth.org/421269.html. Please feel free to comment here or there! There are currently comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.
the real kwon
27 September 2015 @ 12:27 pm
I read Full Fathom Five -- the third book in Max Gladstone's Craft sequence, set in a world where the economy runs on divine soul-power and therefore involves EXTENSIVE MAGICAL LAWYERING -- pretty soon after it came out last year, and then I forgot to write it up, and as a result I forgot most of what happened in it (my memory of things I've read is at this point distressingly externalized.)
So when the fourth book, Last First Snow, came out, I decided to reread Full Fathom Five first despite the fact that it is ... probably least directly tied in to Last First Snow of any of the other previous books.

Full Fathom Five is set on the island of Kavekana, which lost its gods in the God War several generations back and has now set up a nice little business for itself manufacturing idols to serve as a kind of divine tax haven for wealthy corporations. Our heroine is Kai, one of the priestess-accountants who administers the idols, who gets herself into trouble when she attempts drastic measures to save an idol that's about to die due to bad investments. The drastic measures go wrong, but in the process Kai gets caught up in an overarching divine corporate conspiracy that may destabilize the entire nature of the idol business.

Intellectually I appreciated the book a lot, but did not love itCollapse )

Last First Snow, on the other hand. Last First Snow has jumped straight up to become my second-favorite book in the series, right up against Three Parts Dead, which I did not expect at ALL -- I didn't much like the other book set in Dresediel Lex, Two Serpents Rise, and when I found out this was a prequel I was like 'oh, uh ... really? Well .... okay .....'

Last First Snow focuses on a younger (but not young) Elayne Kevarian, the chief lawyer mentor of the protagonist of Three Parts Dead, who is currently engaged in attempting to broker a magical-wards agreement that looks likely to result in the rapid gentrification of the Skittersill, a run-down area of Dresediel Lex. The inhabitants of the Skittersill are protesting vociferously -- including Temoc, priest of some now extremely dead or defeated Aztec-esque gods, who's spent the last ten years rebuilding a life and religious identity for himself as a dedicated family man who doesn't perform human sacrifice.

Elayne and Temoc, old kind-of-friends or at least respectable enemies after being on opposite sides of the God Wars forty years ago, are attempting to negotiate a compromise that will satisfy all the parties involved without violence breaking out. Unfortunately, between the still-open wounds of the war and the demands of corporate greed, their odds are not that great.

And, I mean, OF COURSE I loved Last First Snow, for reasons which contain vague spoilersCollapse )

Okay, Max Gladstone, bring on whatever the next thing is. I'M READY. (I'll be especially ready if it includes Tara, who despite my fondness for Elayne and Temoc and Kai is still my all-time favorite.)

This entry is cross-posted at Livejournal from http://skygiants.dreamwidth.org/420907.html. Please feel free to comment here or there! There are currently comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.
the real kwon
25 September 2015 @ 11:00 pm
Last night I dragged [personal profile] genarti, [personal profile] jinian and [personal profile] gaudior to go see Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, a musical about the inspirational romantic connection between a down-on-her-luck electric violinist and the legendary turn-of-the-century polar explorer.

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me does legitimately feature a love triangle between our heroine, Ernest Shackleton, and Ponce de Leon, and really what else do you need to know?Collapse )

As we sat around at a bakery at the end of the show, I asked my companions what their most important takeaways from the show were that I should make sure to note down in this write-up.

[personal profile] gaudior: I really appreciated that Kat's struggle to get through the challenges of her life was treated like as much of a heroic quest as Shackleton's polar expedition!
[personal profile] jinian: I was a little confused structurally by the fact that the plot thread about her job was completely dropped?
[personal profile] genarti: It was really good for a while but WHY PONCE DE LEON

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