the real kwon
03 May 2015 @ 06:46 pm
What happens in Ultron, to the best of my understanding after having just seen itCollapse )

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the real kwon
02 May 2015 @ 05:54 pm
Oh, lord. OK. So for winter holidays last year, my VERY DEAR FRIEND [personal profile] varadia bought me a copy of Fish Tails, Sheri Tepper's recently published magnum opus, which is a COMBINED SEQUEL to the True Game books, The Waters Rising -- both of which I'd read within the last five years -- and A Plague of Angels, which I hadn't read since I was a teenager.

This is the post about A Plague of Angels. Fish Tails is coming. I had to prepare myself.

A Plague of Angels takes place in a post-apocalyptic Midwest and begins with several initially-separate plotlines centering around:

1. ABASIO, a FARMBOY who goes off to the BIG CITY and joins a gang. In the BIG CITY literally every single person is in a gang, takes lots of drugs, and has a fatal immunodeficiency disease because this book came out in 1994 and AIDS, children, AIDS! We know Abasio is special because he's the only person that we meet in the city who is smart enough not to take drugs or have lots of unprotected sex. Well done, Abasio! (As far as Sheri S. Tepper is concerned, everyone else deserves what they get. More on this later.)

2. ORPHAN, a MYSTERIOUS YOUNG GIRL who lives in an ARCHETYPAL VILLAGE with a TALKING GUARDIAN ANGEL BIRD along with, for ex., a Hero, an Oracle, a Poet and his Spinster Sister. The archetypal village is at least 75% of why I liked this book as a kid. "It's just like Into the Woods!" thought I. (No. No it is not.) Anyway, Orphan is plucky, rescues a baby griffin, gets Hero to teach her to fight, and gets into trouble with her semi-guardian Oracle when she's not bedraggled and disheveled enough because That Is How Orphans Are Supposed To Be, and it's all relatively charming.

3. QUINCE ELLEL, an EVIL WITCH who commands an army of walking nuclear bombs and is hunting for Orphan because she thinks Orphan has the mystical power to pilot a spaceship, for reasons. Evil Quince Ellel lives with a bunch of other people who still have some technology and records from pre-apocalypse: the Ellels, the Anders, the Mitties and the Berklis. This frustrated me throughout the whole book, because clearly the Mitties ("they're so technological!") were supposed to be the last remnants of MIT, and the Berklis ("they just can't make up their minds about anything!") were referencing Berkeley, but who are the Ellels and the Anders? WHAT AM I MISSING? I'm assuming they're references to universities of some kind because Sheri S. Tepper does really love her evil inbred university professors. All we know about the Anders is that they're fancy and revere craftsmen, and all we know about the Ellels is that they are evil. Internet, I implore you, PLEASE HELP ME DECIPHER SHERI TEPPER'S BRAIN.

4. Oh, also, meanwhile, in another sort of half-a-plot, a sweet old man named Seoca with mysterious powers is attempting to thwart Quince Ellel in vague and unspecified ways.

Anyway, the plots finally start to converge about halfway through the book when evil walking nuclear bombs come hunting for Orphan, she gets kicked out of her village for being too old to be an orphan ("Orphans can't be nineteen and pretty," Oracle tells her sadly, to which I say, Oracle, have you ever read a Gothic novel?) and decides to go seek out the ~mystery~ of her ~past~ in the famous library of Utopian Artemisia. Abasio comes along with her because he and Oracle fell in love at first sight despite the fact that she thinks he's a testosterone-laden ass --

(-- well, technically it's not at first sight because he met her briefly when she was two and he was fourteen and running away from home, but I DIGRESS --)

-- and because he's on the run from his gang because of a subplot about being drugged and tricked into sleeping with the gang leader's girlfriend, which is almost entirely irrelevant except that it leaves him impotent for most of the rest of the book, and also might accidentally lead to the entire city being wiped out, which is really all for the GREATER GOOD so nobody really cares. Their journey is when the fun REALLY starts.Collapse )

So that's Plague of Angels. And now I feel ... at least slightly more ready to tackle Fish Tails? I'M AS BRACED AS A HUMAN CAN BE BRACED.

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the real kwon
28 April 2015 @ 09:08 pm
I keep thinking of Francesca Forrest's Pen Pal as a fairy tale, even though, technically, it might not even be fantasy. It's almost realist fiction, except for all the ways in which plausibility is absolutely not the point.

(Though, I mean, one protagonist has a superintelligent pet crow and an increasingly personal relationship with a volcano goddess, and the other one occasionally sees ghosts and receives messages from the ocean, so, I mean, it's not entirely realist. The volcano goddess is pretty amazing. For the record.)

Anyway! Em is a twelve-year-old girl living in a tiny Gulf Coast community that exists half in the water, determinedly isolated from the mainland and dedicated to its own sea-rooted stories and traditions. Em decides she wants a pen pal, so she sends out a message in a bottle, just to see where it goes.

It goes to Kaya, whose pet crow picks it up and brings it to her where she's hanging out in an isolated platform over a volcano. Kaya's a political prisoner; a member of a cultural and religious minority, she tried to revive a banned religious festival which happens to be associated with a revolutionary separatist movement, and her national government did not take it well at all.

Fortunately, Kaya is in possession of a degree from a U.S. university with attendant English-language skills, not to mention a lot of free time, and therefore is happy to start a correspondence with Em! PEN PAL TIME.

A hurricane puts Em's community at risk of being permanently sunk by the US government. The increasing volcanic activity around Kaya fans the flames of her community's conflict with their government. The emphatic drawing of the symbolic lines is probably why I think of it as a fairy tale. And, like a fairy tale, the book is about transformations and revolutions -- the emphasis of the book is not only on revolution but on the ways that friendship itself can become a revolutionary act, how people can reach out to make a profound difference to each other even when they can't seem to help themselves. Definitely recommended.

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the real kwon
27 April 2015 @ 08:33 pm
And, I mean, maybe it's just my disappointment with the Medair books talking, but I will say, And All The Stars is actually even more enjoyable on a second read. It's much less confusing! I am comfortably aware now that Emily and Millie are the same person! I could mostly follow the convoluted explanation of the alien cycles of regeneration! It's fun watching Fisher from the beginning once you know his Dark Secret! Even the epilogue is less annoying, although possibly that's just because it's only fractionally as gratuitous as the aptly-named Gratuitous Epilogue of the Touchstone books.

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the real kwon
24 April 2015 @ 07:34 am
I just finished Andrea K. Host's Medair duology. I thought the first book, The Silence of Medair, was pretty fantastic! Then the second one kiiiind of went off the rails a little.

Our Heroine Medair is a Herald (as in diplomatic messenger, not as in Valdemar, I was about to say 'no falling in love with horses' but idk, there's some weird stuff going on in the second book) whose life takes a dramatic downturn when a bunch of refugees show up on the shore of her Empire after accidentally destroying their homeland.

MEDAIR: Welcome to our Empire, friends! I have been sent to tell you that the Emperor would like to give you land and supplies and shelter and a helping hand! We are very ready to be accepting of a bunch of gorgeous and stoic white-haired anime characters with angsty backstories! We hope you will have a nice stay!
THE ENEMY KING: Oh wow, that is super nice of him, very honorable, we really appreciate it, but it's going to be really unhealthy for my people's self-esteem and cultural stability to be in a long-term refugee kind of situation, soooooooo now that we're here I think we're just going to conquer your Empire instead?
MEDAIR: >:O >:O >:O

So Medair goes in search of a mythological MacGuffin of great power to save the kingdom from the enemy hordes! Her quest is successful! She's going to come back and save the day! But first, having finished her quest, she takes a nap!

This turns out to be a mistake!

MEDAIR: HELLO I am back with the magical MacGuffin and I am ready to --
THE EMPIRE, NOW ABOUT FIFTY PERCENT POPULATED WITH GORGEOUS AND STOIC WHITE-HAIRED ANIME CHARACTERS: Ah yes, the legend of Medair, who went on a futile quest five hundred years ago, right before our current king's ancestor conquered the nation, took the throne, married the emperor's daughter, and created our current relatively stable society!
MEDAIR: ........welp.

All of this is the backstory. When the book actually begins, Medair is wandering around with a knapsack full of hilariously powerful MacGuffins and literally nothing she wants to do with them.

MEDAIR: I guess I'll just .... take them back .....?

But then she accidentally gets geased into helping an important and powerful white-haired anime character with his quest, so now she's stuck hanging around with a whole bunch of politically important nobles, who may not have very much to do with the conquerors of five hundred years ago but whom it is still hard for her not to have a DEEPLY PERSONAL AND UNHAPPY REACTION TO, who are themselves KIND OF SUSPICIOUS that she's calling herself after a famous historical figure with a symbolic opposition to the current political regime.

(Not to mention the fact that she doesn't know like ninety percent of the important contemporary cultural references and gets INEXPLICABLY FURIOUS when she happens to hear the famous and deeply inaccurate love songs that her douchebag ex-boyfriend wrote about her after she disappeared.)

Most of the first book is concerned with this -- Medair displaced and out of time, keeping all her secrets close to the chest while trying to figure out where her actual responsibilities and loyalties can and should lie now when all her oaths were to people who were dead five hundred years ago -- and it raises genuine and interesting questions about what kind of a role the memory of past injustices should play in making choices in the present, and is really good!

The problem with the second book is partly that it takes a couple of leaps into wild plot territory that I really don't care about as much, but also partly that I don't like the way that it forces a simplification of those questions. Like, as the book goes on, and Medair is sort of forced into a set of binary choices between THE OLD and THE NEW, it becomes increasingly hard to ignore the unfortunate implications of the fact that a bunch of extremely literally white people showed up, conquered the people already living there -- but really nobly! really honorably! -- and now the people in power are almost unilaterally descended from the conquerors, but, I mean, it's basically fine! People aren't suffering! Right? I mean, we could look at some of the systematic injustices that such a situation would set up, buuuuut we're not really gonna.

The story believes that holding onto ancient grudges will in the end lead only to more bloodshed, and yes, OK, I, like Medair, obviously do not think that the faction who want to come in and murder everyone who has any blood of the conquerers in them are correct! But there are more options and complexities in the situation besides "just let go of the past!" and "MURDER ALL WHITE(-HAIRED ANIME) PEOPLE" that are not ... very much touched on. I don't know. There's a point about a third of the way through the second book where I would have been okay with the story ending, and then it continues on well past that and sort of stomps much of its ambiguity into the ground, and ehhhhhh. I would be less annoyed if I hadn't liked the first book so much.

(Also, the romance plot gets really weird in the last few chapters in ways that I don't think I'm OK with??? Host does love her super anime love interests but this is ABOVE AND BEYOND. Spoilers are uncomfortable.Collapse )

Anyway now I'm rereading Host's And All The Stars, which is only one book and therefore doesn't have time to go off the rails.

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the real kwon
18 April 2015 @ 05:43 pm
[personal profile] shati has seen much more Bollywood than I have, so sometimes I make her come over and show me Bollywood movies. Last Sunday, we watched Fanaa.

The first hour of Fanaa is about how beautiful blind dancer Zooni goes on her first trip to Delhi without her parents, and learns how to make her own decisions, and grows as a person, and falls in love with her tour guide Rehan.

Conflict: Rehan is a playboy who skips work and doesn't believe in love! Zooni's having a hard time getting in touch with her parents to ask them what they think about this relationship! Her best friend disapproves of Rehan, probably because she recognizes the inherent sleaze factor of his unfortunately mullet-esque hairstyle!

Right in the middle of Rehan and Zooni's second romantic musical number, Shati says, "I want you to note that this is the point where I got bored with the movie the first time I watched it and turned it off."


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the real kwon
15 April 2015 @ 07:53 am
So I just read Here There Be Dragons, which is the one where a young J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams become the guardians of a fantasy universe, place a descendent of King Arthur on the throne, fight an evil overlord, and save the day!!!

...technically all that is a spoiler, especially the parts about how the protagonists are the young Inklings, which is a BIG LAST CHAPTER REVEAL, but, like, why would you read this book if you didn't want to know if C.S. Lewis turns temporarily evil in the middle? There is no reason.

C.S. Lewis does turn temporarily evil in the middle, for the record, although 'evil' in this case seems to translate to 'he was briefly impetuous and made a ill-thought-out but well-meant decision that one time.' EVIL!!! I actually got confused and thought C.S. Lewis was instead the pompous and sarcastic one who made friends with a talking badger with a quaint accent and food obsession a la Redwall, which seemed to make more thematic sense in terms of the context of his later writings, but no, that was Charles Williams, which confuses me because as far as I know he never wrote about talking badgers at all. (But I've actually never read anything by Charles Williams, which may be why I had trouble identifying him accurately. Should I?)

I mean, I'm pretty sure the reason that the Inklings are the protagonists of this book at all is because James A. Owen was like "I want to write the kind of fantasy that basically puts Middle Earth and Narnia in a blender, but ... how can I do it without people calling me derivative ...? OH OK OK I GOT IT, I'll set it up so that Tolkien and Lewis were both being derivative of me!" Brilliant! Now no one could possibly object to the talking badger, or the virtuous dwarves and elves and the evil goblins and trolls, or the ominous shadow-people, or chain of magical islands at the end of the world or the Rings of Power OR ANYTHING. My complaints have neatly been circumvented. His plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity.

Things I can (and will) complain about:
- a big chunk of the plot focuses on Tolkien not having adequately studied all the languages he was supposed to when he was a student, which, HAHAHAHAHAHA
- Magwitch is an evil Dickens character! MAGWITCH. As in, the hidden benefactor in Great Expectations, where half the point is to recognize his inner virtue despite his misfortunes ...?
- H.G. Wells is also a magical guardian, working to help put the rightful king on the throne! I'm not sure James A. Owen knows that H.G. Wells was an ardent Socialist, but if he does know, he SUPER doesn't care
- OK I admit I did laugh though when they're like "J.M. Barrie was a magical guardian but he basically just fucked off to hang around with the Llewelyn Davies family twenty years ago and never came back. DAMMIT BARRIE!"
- there is one female character in the book! She is of course the center of a love triangle between the long-lost king and Briefly Evil C.S. Lewis.
- there is (I think?) one character who is not white in the book! Guess who's also the one character who's killed off for real during the final battle?
- ...though I guess also a whole bunch of fauns who have worked closely with the main cast get literally eaten by wendigos in the middle of the book and no one really seems to care
- also, why wendigos, when literally everything else is taken straight out of Tolkien or Lewis or Arthuriana or Welsh mythology and there is basically no reference to the Americas at all? WHY NOT I GUESS
- at the end we get a list of other famous authors who have also taken on the role of Guardian Of This Fantasy Land. "Much of the cultural and scientific history of the entire human race!" says the narration, meaning of course LITERALLY NOBODY outside of Europe and North America. Mary Shelley is the only woman listed.

I don't think I'll be reading any of the sequels, but I did read a summary of the next one on Wikipedia! In summary form, it's HILARIOUS. "There, they are attacked by the descendants of the failed Roanoke exploration, led by Richard Burton. Escaping him, the protagonists reach Neverland, where Daedalus reveals to them that the Underneath is divided into nine districts (as in Dante's Inferno), and asks them to become children themselves to better understand Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, the sons of Jason and the original Lost Boys." Okay! Sure! I'm not sure how Hugh the Iron and William the Pig can be the sons of Jason (I'm assuming the Argonaut) and ALL the Lost Boys, it seems biologically improbable to say the least, but I can roll with it.

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the real kwon
12 April 2015 @ 12:07 pm
So now I've read Yesterday's Magic, the sequel to Tomorrow's Magic, aka the Post-Apocalyptic Adventures of Emo Teen Merlin.

My favorite things about this book:
- the plot kicks off when Heather is given an EVIL ENCHANTED LISA FRANK LUNCHBOX. Literally, it is a plastic lunchbox covered in pink sparkly unicorns, and they're like 'ooooh, ancient technology! so pretty!' and then it teleports Heather into the clutches of evil. This is the most appropriate thing I have ever read

My least favorite things about this book:
- it starts off with fifteen-year-old Heather and several-centuries-old Emo Teen Merlin getting engaged! Yay! Celebrations ... for all ...?
- then there's the sequence with Evil God Kali that is right out of the worst bits of an Indiana Jones movie
- versus the sequence with Baba Yaga where Baba Yaga's just like 'yeah yo I guess I used to be powerful and amoral but now I just like taking care of my adopted kids and chattering a lot, anyway I'm gonna stay out of this Merlin vs. Morgan war because it's WAY out of MY league!'
- versus the sequence with Raven and Bear and various other figures whom it took me ages to recognize because if I am not mistaken they appear to be in the wrong part of the Americas ....????
- basically I'm just putting a moratorium on Pamela F. Service writing about other people's spiritual traditions and cultures. PLEASE STOP.

Things about this book about which I can only laugh:
- Heather now has magical telepathic powers to communicate with people around the world. She's always had these powers. Just because they were never mentioned in a previous book doesn't mean she hasn't always had these powers, jeez, guys, way to be prescriptivist

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the real kwon
06 April 2015 @ 08:29 pm
Despite the title, I had high hopes for Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense. The point of the anthology is to feature women who wrote suspense about women, with a focus on authors who were well-known between the 1940s and 1970s, but have currently faded from the public imagination. This is a good goal and I laud it, so well done, Sarah Weinman!

Unfortunately, I was not as excited by Sarah Weinman's introductions -- they're all either really unnecessarily spoilery, really unnecessarily dramatic, or just flat-out misguided -- while not shedding enough of a light on the authors behind them to make me feel like it was worth getting spoiled for. So that was frustrating! The stories themselves are also kind of a mixed bag. On the other hand, there are definitely a few gems, and some authors I will certainly be bookmarking for further investigation.

OK, so by story, we have:

1. "The Heroine," Patricia Highsmith

Sarah Weinman makes a big deal about how writing about women instead of gentlemanly sociopaths is THE ROAD NOT TAKEN for Patricia Highsmith, which is probably true, but this predictable entry into the 'whoops, the governess might kill us all!' genre is not an example of much of a loss.

2. "A Nice Place to Stay," Nedra Tyre

A woman who's never had a home finds jail isn't so bad? This is one of those where the twist felt much more SHOCKING!!! than believable.

3. "Louisa, Please Come Home," Shirley Jackson

I mean, Shirley Jackson can hella write. So this story from the POV of a clever runaway teenager is probably not the best Shirley Jackson ever, but that doesn't make it not a fun story.

4. "Lavender Lady," Barbara Callahan

I found this one maybe funnier than I was supposed to because it is basically just songfic?? I am sorry, I am incapable of taking any story that has mediocre lyrics sprinkled at regular intervals through the text to ILLUMINATE THE CHARACTER'S TRAGEDY very ... seriously ....

5. "Sugar and Spice," Vera Caspary

Although the premise of this was frustrating in the way stories about women motivated by jealous of each other often frustrating -- plain-but-rich cousin and poor-but-beautiful cousin hate each other and are constantly competing, usually over men, until one of them MURDERS a guy!!! BUT WHICH? -- it was actually one of my favorites in the collection anyway, because Nancy the plain-but-rich cousin is incredibly charismatic and interesting (she has no artistic talent, but she's brilliant at critique! she's a patron of the arts! she cheerfully calls herself a vipress!) The format is also kind of great, in that it's a double frame story; the narrator is Mike Jordan, who is not really involved in the murder at all but has been sort of alternately hanging out with different cousins for most of his life and therefore observed all the drama, but he's telling the story to the actual narrator, who is a completely random woman who is totally uninvolved and just has a phone that Mike wants to borrow! And then at the end, once he's finished telling her this whole long dramatic story, she's like, "OK, yes, murder whatever, what I'm taking away here is that NANCY IS GREAT, MARRY HER IMMEDIATELY." I am with you, random narrator woman. You and I, we understand each other. Anyway, I will definitely be looking for more of Vera Caspary's work.

6. "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," Helen Nielsen

Any story that starts out with a woman asking her husband not to put her on a pedestal because it's NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE is probably a story that I'm going to like, and this is not an exception. Basically a critique of the virgin/whore dichotomy disguised as a murder story. Another author I will be looking up!

7. "Everybody Needs a Mink," Dorothy B. Hughes

I'm not sure ... how this is a suspense story ...? Like, a lower-middle-class housewife goes to a store and a nice old man mysteriously buys her a mink, and her family are all "that's weird!" and then that's it, the story is basically over. OK! That's nice!

8. "The Purple Shroud," Joyce Harrington

This one is set among ARTSY HIPPIES and feels ... very seventies. A douchebag husband gets murdered and it's fine.

9. "The Stranger in the Car," Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding came through for me again; I thought this was one of the best stories in the collection. A nice middle-class man attempts to cope with his teenage daughter's potential date-rape-and-blackmail situation, which soon escalates into a potential murder situation, and fails utterly. In the end his wife comes home and is like "oh, honey, you should have just told me straightaway and let me take care of it instead of worrying your sweet little head about it!"

10. "The Splintered Monday," Charlotte Armstrong

This one was fun! A cranky old lady feels like she's being tiptoed around by her hypochondriac sister's family after said sister's death, and, in the process of insisting that she is a GROWN ADULT and does NOT NEED TO BE CODDLED, good lord, people, accidentally reveals that one of them is a murderer, OOPS.

11. "Lost Generation," Dorothy Salisbury Davis

This story was very good -- it's about racism and vigilante justice gone wrong in a small town -- but there were almost zero women in it so I'm not a hundred percent sure why it's in this collection of stories by women and about women, specifically.

12. "The People Across the Canyon," Margaret Millar

And this one was actually sci-fi, I think? I'M CONFUSED. A little girl gets obsessed with the new neighbors and her parents get annoyed and then maybe someone gets sucked into a mirror dimension, I don't know.

13. "Mortmain," Miriam Allen Deford

We've already hit 'secretly murderous governess' on the domestic suspense bingo board, so now it's time for 'secretly murderous nurse!' Deford pulls it off pretty well, though, and the ending did genuinely give me the creeps.

14. "A Case of Maximum Need," Celia Fremlin

THIS STORY MAYBE STRETCHES THE BOUNDS OF PLAUSIBILITY A LITTLE. I've been trying not to spoil the suspense stories too much, but ... I"m just going to go ahead and spoil this one, because WTF?Collapse )

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the real kwon
01 April 2015 @ 06:18 pm
Here is a terrible confession: if I had enough power over the television networks to make one show based on a book series come into existence -- one and only one! -- ... it would be Kage Baker's Company series.

Yes, OK, I know, but there are so many vids I want to exist, and you have to admit, it would be pretty. It would be so pretty! And every season could be a different time period -- season one would be Elizabeth England, season two nineteenth-century California, season three early Hollywood (I'm eliding the season of pre-Columbian America because I wouldn't trust the producers not to screw it up) -- and everything would be gorgeous costumes and conscious anachromisms, and we could have Oona Chaplin (with red hair) as Mendoza, and Naveen Andrews as Joseph, and Samuel Barnett as Lewis, and Alfie Enoch as Nicholas/Edward/Alec, and yes, I know that in the books Nicholas/Alec/Edward is white but honestly given that the villains make it a huge point to make sure he grows up feeling different and isolated and like he has massive amounts to prove in every incarnation there is no actual reason on God's earth why he should be white, I'll fight you on this, the only really important factors are that he is British and extremely good-looking but also so tall as to look kind of uncomfortably distorted, all of which factors Alfie Enoch epitomizes, and maybe if Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax didn't literally epitomize the Victorian British white male patriarchy in every possible way I would feel less of an urge to punch him in the face at every opportunity! Who knows!

...anyway the most important thing about this hypothetical television show that I would conjure into existence is that it would VERY DEFINITELY tragically cancelled after the fourth season, with all the main mysteries unresolved! TOO BAD, HOW SAD, I guess fandom will just have to fill the gap and no one ever needs to remember the horrible Nicholas/Edward/Alec/Mendoza orgy of messianic incest EVER AGAIN.

So that's my confession. The 98% of you who have never read any Kage Baker books are now blinking at me in total incomprehension but 2% of you, 2% of you understand, right? (I'm still not rereading them though. Not yet. I'LL CAVE SOMEDAY but in the meantime I will stave off that day as long as possible with incoherent public rants.)

What about you guys, if you had the power to bring one television show into existence, what would it be?

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the real kwon
30 March 2015 @ 10:17 pm
In other news, I definitely didn't mean to write Deep Space Nine fic before finishing the series, and yet HERE WE ARE.

Our Bodies, Our Selves

This fic is entirely borne out of the moment when Kira agreed to move in with the O'Briens and let Molly have free run of her room, and Debi and I flinched in unison. Kira, I promise, you will want that personal space!

(And then it turned out I couldn't write about Kira and surprise physical transformations without also writing about Odo and surprise physical transformations, because, like, that literally happens the next episode. BODY ISSUES FOR EVERYONE!)

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the real kwon
30 March 2015 @ 06:33 pm
So the initial premise for Kelley Eskridge's Solitaire is that the world has joined as a united government, and to celebrate this all the babies born in the very first second of OFFICIAL UNIFIED WORLD PEACE are officially government-designated celebrities called Hopes and targeted to play some kind of major role in the government once they become old enough.

Our Heroine Jackal is the Hope for the world's only corporate nation-state. (I keep wanting to write 'dystopian corporate nation-state,' but it's not, like, that much more explicitly dystopian than the present day really unless you think the idea of corporate nation-states is inherently dystopian, which I pretty much do. BUT DECIDE FOR YOURSELVES, I guess.)

JACKAL: Great! So what do you want me to grow up and do for our society when I take up my important government position? Should I become a brilliant scientist, a great artist, like, what is the master plan here?
HER CORPORATE MASTERS: Actually what we have decided will be of the most benefit to a.) our giant corporate nation-state and b.) the world at large is if we give you all the special training we can to become the world's. GREATEST. PROJECT MANAGER.
JACKAL: ....OK, sounds good to me! Project managers get all the real work done anyway!

I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed that the plot of the book did not then move forward into Jackal ruling the world and the other Hopes via excellent project management techniques. Instead, Jackal's life takes a SHARP left turn due to a series of really unfortunate events, culminating in a very well-drawn and thus very distressing stay in virtual reality solitary confinement, followed by a long, careful period of self- and life-rebuilding, occasionally while utilizing her mad project management skills, while navigating interactions with dangerous persons and potential corporate conspiracies.

The book felt very reminiscent of nineties cyberpunk to me -- do people still write cyberpunk, by the way? This is the most recently published variant on the theme that I've read (though, I mean, 'recent' is relative; now that I check I see it was written in 2002, so I guess not really far from the nineties at all.) Anyway, I tend to be moderate to lukewarm on cyberpunk, but I liked this much more than most I've read. The plot has sort of an odd shape (weirdly, it's not actually that important in the long run that Jackal is a Hope at all?) and the ending is a bit rushed, but the bits that were meant to be distressing were VERY EFFECTIVELY DISTRESSING and I do really like reading about people rebuilding their lives after they get taken apart.

Also, would not have been better with lesbians, because it already has lesbians! Jackal's most important relationship is with her girlfriend Snow.

(Would have been better with even more project management, though.)

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the real kwon
27 March 2015 @ 08:21 am
I think it was [personal profile] adiva_calandia who strongly recommended Dreamsnake to me years ago, and I dutifully put it on hold at the Brooklyn Public Library, and waited MULTIPLE YEARS, and it never came. But the Boston Public Library delivered it to me straight away, so score one for the other BPL! (I'm sorry, Brooklyn Public Library. I do still miss you!)

Dreamsnake is one of those quiet sci-fi novels that's more about the worldbuilding and the personal journey than about changing the world or saving the day (though the world is changed and the day is saved by the end, a little.)

The structure kind of threw me for a loop at first, because it seemed like it was going to be a straight line and then turned into a giant zigzag as the end-goals kept changing. Our heroine, Snake, is a healer whose main tools are a set of genetically engineered snakes that help her do things like mix up antibiotics and vaccinations -- the most important of which is the extremely rare alien dreamsnake, which basically generates morphine delivered via snakebite. When her dreamsnake dies on account of a tragic accident, she has to trek home to tell the rest of the healers and see if there's any chance she'll be able to continue her work when she's lost one of the precious dreamsnakes --

-- except then she bumps into a stable threesome in trouble (one of whom never has a pronoun attached to their name, which is an impressive feat when you're writing in third person, well done Vonda McIntyre) who give her a hint about where she might be able to find a new dreamsnake, so she decides to go on that side quest first --

-- except then she gets distracted by hanging out in a small town and helping an isolated teenager get through his issues about sex and developing an important relationship with an angry and abused little girl, which is a GREAT relationship and I love that it's the most important one in the book, but by this point we're 3/4 of the way through the book and she's nowhere near any of her end goals --

-- and then she finally hits the end point of the side quest, and when that doesn't work out and she's on her way home she then bumps into another side quest WHICH SHE PURSUES WITH ALACRITY and which then turns into a thrilling climax and conclusion --

-- so basically, Snake never actually reaches the destination which I initially assumed she would hit like a third of the way through the book. (Meanwhile, her hot nomad love interest spends the entire book attempting to follow her around and gets VERY CONFUSED. It's OK, dude, I would be too! He finally catches up at the end and is moderately useful at following instructions and being an assistant nurse at a key moment, well done Arevin.) But she does help a lot of people along the way, and illuminates a lot more of this probably-post-apocalyptic world and its variety of different cultures for the reader in a non-expository way, and grows as a person; it's a really good read!

You will probably like Dreamsnake if you like: stories about women being heroic in ways that don't have to do with beating people up; interesting and complex future worldbuilding; thoughtful handling of trauma and abuse; snakes.

You will probably not like Dreamsnake if you never in your life want to read about a woman being completely covered in snakes. Indiana Jones would not endorse this book.

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the real kwon
24 March 2015 @ 06:57 pm
I already enjoyed Stranger, the first book in Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith's Change series, but I think Hostage, the next book, is even better -- and this even despite the fact that my favorite character Terrible Mean Girl Felicite does not have a POV in this one. I'm sorry, Terrible Mean Girl Felicite! I still love you and am rooting for your self-knowledge and redemption arc in a future book!

Hostage is admittedly starting with an advantage out of the gate. Stranger has to take its time introducing both Ross and the reader to the post-apocalyptic world of Las Anclas, so the action doesn't kick in until about halfway through the book; Hostage ratchets up the tension pretty much from the second or third chapter, when Ross gets kidnapped and carried off to the town of Gold Point, ruled by megalomaniac dictator Voske. So almost immediately you have Ross' attempts to escape, and Voske's attempts to coerce or manipulate him, the attempts by the townsfolk to rescue him, and then the counteracting viewpoint of Voske's daughter Kerry who has a vested interest in exactly the opposite of everything that our other protagonists want, and everything is extremely compelling!

Aside from the pacing, though, I really appreciate the way that Hostage works to further some of the stuff I liked best in Stranger; the series is really committed to showing the complexity that underlies antagonism, and avoiding portrayals of absolute evil. Voske comes closest, but even he's not cartoonish -- and while the way he runs his dictatorship is clearly wrong, and should not be supported, it's a wrong that still allows for most people to have things about their life and community and home that they value. As many dictatorships do. I mean, let's be real; I'm pretty sure everyone reading this post knows what it's like to live under a government that sometimes does terrible things. The point of the hostage exchange in Hostage is that it forces the kids in question to interact with their enemies as human beings, and really shows what that means. But it also forces them to take responsibility for the actions of their community, and shows what that means, too. Which is both a responsible way to write and makes for a really good story.

(Meanwhile, though I missed Felicite's POV, I also continue to love the portrayal of the Wolfe-Preston family in the background -- still antagonists, still kind of terrible, and still just as complicated and committed to their community as always. SO INTERESTING! And I hope someone writes fanfic about the gloriously angsty and super background Bounty Hunter Dude/Sheriff Crow romance. SO FULL OF TROPES I'M INTO, SO HILARIOUSLY 90% OFFSCREEN BECAUSE THE KIDS ARE JUST LIKE 'EW, WE DON'T WANT TO KNOW.')

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the real kwon
21 March 2015 @ 05:50 pm
In winter of 2012, I rewatched Fiddler on the Roof for the first time as an adult and got unexpectedly emotional. In winter of 2014, I read the original short stories by Sholem Aleichem that Fiddler on the Roof was based on and got unexpectedly emotional.

This endless winter, I read Alisa Solomon's Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, a NONFICTION BOOK ABOUT THE PRODUCTION OF A BROADWAY MUSICAL, which I figured should be pretty safe, right? NO, ACTUALLY. IN FACT, it turned out to be the most unexpectedly emotionally affecting thing of all? OK. THANKS, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.

OK, actually, though, when I say that Wonder of Wonders is about Fiddler on the Roof, that is true; it is about Fiddler on the the Roof, which means that it's about the history of what it means to be Jewish in America -- and also what it means to be Jewish in places that aren't America -- and also what it means to see representations of Jewishness in places that used to have Jews, but don't anymore -- and what it means for someone to see themselves in a story, for someone to use a story to rediscover pieces of themselves they've lost, or didn't know they'd ever had -- and then, conversely, what it means when a single story comes to be identified so strongly with a certain piece of history that people forget that it's a story, and not the truth; that the "Bottle Dance" is actually Jerome Robbins choreography; that "Sabbath Prayer" is a Broadway song, and not an actual prayer.

Alisa Solomon starts, as you would expect, with Sholem Aleichem and the Yiddish theater (old friends to me by now!), and then moves to the 1960s and the collection of extremely assimilated second-generation Jewish dudes, who somehow came to the decision to transform a bunch of Yiddish-language stories into a mainstream Broadway musical because they thought it would be kind of cool, and then found themselves forced to terms with a heritage they had either wandered away from or actively shoved away.

I was expecting the stories of wacky Broadway hijinks, of obsessive directors and grueling rehearsals and conflict between blacklisted Zero Mostel and friendly HUAC witness Jerome Robbins. All of which I got! Along with extremely solid critical analysis of the ways that the show transformed Judaism into something friendly and digestible for American (and American Jewish) audiences, something that "handed over a legacy that could be fondly claimed without exacting any demands." (Do I feel like I resemble some of those remarks? YEP, SOMETIMES.)

I wasn't actually expecting the stories like the one about how at the end of the show, the book-writer gave the lyricist a mezuzah -- the first one that he ever owned. Stories like the ones about Jerome Robbins -- Mr. "I didn't want to be like my father, the Jew, or any of his friends, those Jews;" Mr. "Wash yourself clean of it -- bathe & scrub; change your clothes, cut your hair, alter your walk, your talk, your handwriting, recast your future, remold your life, your friends, your taste ... leave behind forever the Jew part" -- Jerome Robbins, who dedicated the show to his immigrant father. Jerome Robbins whose father came backstage after the opening night, asked 'How did you know all that?' and "threw his arms around his son and wept."


Now, at this point I'm having a lot of feelings about Jerome Robbins and I've already gotten a lot from the book, but, like, Solomon has gotten us to the point of the show getting on Broadway and I figured we'd talk a little bit about the movie and we'd be done?

We were not done. The chapters about the follow-up productions about Fiddler are in some ways harder-hitting than the section on the creation of the musical itself. Solomon starts with the first Israeli production, in a macho 1960s Israel that had for years been attempting to distance itself from the idea of the sad little weak victimized Jew of the shtetl and the Holocaust. From there, she jumps (in what is maybe her most hard-hitting chapter) to 1968 and a highly publicized high school production -- highly publicized, because it was performed by black and Puerto Rican students at a Brownsville school, in the middle of the ugly and incendiary 1968 Brownsville teacher's strike that was being framed by everyone involved as "blacks vs. Jews!" And after that (with a brief stopover to talk about the movie) she moves to a recent production in Poland, performed in a village that -- before the Holocaust -- was 50% Jewish.

Solomon is neither sentimental nor nostalgic about Fiddler. She's writing about the ways that this particular image of Jewish identity has been retold, recreated and reformed for various audiences and various moments, and she does so clearly and critically. Academically, historically, it's all fascinating. I think it would be fascinating for anyone. But it's about my culture, and in a very real way it's about me, so, you know, there's a lot that I wasn't reading academically.

I certainly don't agree with Solomon all the time, especially at the very end, when she makes some sweeping statements about contemporary Jewishness that are maybe true for New York Jews but I think are A STRETCH AT MINIMUM to apply to Jews in America overall. That doesn't mean I don't think she's brilliant, because I do; and it doesn't mean I'm not also a little upset to have been ambushed by all these feelings about my identity as an American Jew and all of the history that's gone into making me the kind of Jew I am right now, because that is definitely also true.

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the real kwon
15 March 2015 @ 08:46 am
And now we're done with Season Five of Deep Space Nine and I'm still reeling a little bit from how good the ending of the season actually was; I wasn't expecting any of that!

Episodes 17-26 of Season Five, under the cutCollapse )

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the real kwon
28 February 2015 @ 01:41 pm
I had never read a billionaire romance before reading Courtney Milan's Trade Me, so while I have lots of respect for Courtney Milan as a romance writer and a human trying to write progressively, I had a sort of vague expectation that this probably wasn't going to be my favorite of her books.

But weirdly, it turned out I was wrong and actually this might be my literal favorite of Courtney Milan's books?

(Well, maybe with the exception of Unraveled, which I have a very deep fondness for, for reasons that I can't entirely explain. -- OK, socially awkward protagonists and plucky urchins and found family and DEDICATION TO JUSTICE!!!, I actually totally can explain it. Unraveled was a really enjoyable book for my id.)

Anyway! Trade Me is set at Berkeley; our heroine, Tina Chen, who is working herself through college as well as financially assisting her family. Also attending Berkeley is Blake, the super-rich and super-famous son of the super-rich and super-famous guy who founded a start-up that is TOTALLY not Apple. They clash one day in class when Blake says something privileged and condescending in a discussion about food stamps; Tina, possibly the only one in the class whose family has ever been on food stamps, finally snaps and calls him on it, and Blake is smitten.

This leads to an elaborate deception plot in which Blake attempts to flee the pressures of his responsibilities at Totally Not Apple and his dad's expectations by convincing Tina to trade lives with him: she gets his house! his car! the income from his truly enormous portfolio! the responsibility of taking charge on the launch of his company's newest super-snazzy tech device! Meanwhile, he gets her crappy apartment! and a crappy job that has equivalent crappy income to her crappy job! and the absolute minimum level of contact with Totally Not Apple!

This seems like the setup for a lot of HIJINKS!! but actually it's mostly just the opportunity for a.) a lot of exploration of class and privilege and b.) for each of them to get involved with each other's families, which, it turns out, is the reason I liked this book so much: Blake and Tina's families, but Tina's especially, are both so interesting. Milan does a really amazing job writing parental relationships that feel complicated, genuinely loving, and genuinely problematic. Tina's mother is a brilliant, funny, dedicated woman who throws herself into volunteer legal work for her community, but the financial needs of her own family -- including stuff like her younger daughter's ADHD medication -- come terrifyingly low on her priorities list; Blake's affectionate asshole of a father takes enormous amounts of time to incorporate his son into his life and makes sure he knows he's a priority to him, but he also puts the same kind of enormous and unhealthy amounts of pressure on him as he does on himself. The great thing about these family portraits is also how they deftly avoid the usual stereotypes about "overbearing Chinese immigrant mother!" and "work-obsessed billionaire father!" The cultural expectations and pressures of Chinese-American communities and Silicon Valley start-up land do play major roles in the family dynamics, but in a way that (to me at least) feels very real and not at all paint-by-numbers.

Also, personally speaking, I love metafiction and explorations of staged 'real life,' so I was really into the whole "Blake's life has been turned into commercials and product launches since he was an adorable child!" thing. I also love gallant, unstoppable fighters for JUSTICE, see above, and TINA'S MOM IS SUCH A GOOD CHARACTER, would happily read a whole book about her.

But instead we're getting a whole book about Tina's awesome trans roommate Maria, which, ALSO DOWN FOR THAT.

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the real kwon
24 February 2015 @ 11:33 pm
I wrote a Jupiter Ascending fic? I wrote a Jupiter Ascending fic. That appears to be a thing I have done.

(It may end up being more of a thing, but it also may not be, so for now let's all pretend it's just one thing and leave it at that.)

The Convergence of Genetics and Quantitative Analysis

It's basically self-insert fic, in that Aleksa and Nino Bolotnikova get exactly the same degree of judgmental joy out of appending 'space' to every word they possibly can as I would in their situation.

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the real kwon
22 February 2015 @ 10:10 am
I'm on a bus right now on my way back from a very whirlwind 24-hour trip to New York for the purpose of meeting with various people about long-term archiving projects left over from last summer. Most of the people I was meeting with are also friends from grad school; one of them has a subscription to Theater For a New Audience in Brooklyn, and asked last week if I wanted to go see a play with her while I was there, which is how I ended up seeing An Octoroon.

An Octoroon is constructed as a collaboration between two people -- Dion Boucicault, wildly popular white nineteenth-century melodramatist, and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, up-and-coming black playwright, who begins the show by re-enacting the conversation with his therapist that led to him deciding to adapt Boucicault's 1857 popular melodrama, The Octoroon. ("Are you angry at white people?" " Most of my best friends are white." "But, like, really, deep down, are you sure you're not angry at white people?") He leaves the stage, then comes back: "Just kidding. That's not true. I can't afford a therapist."

(Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the playwright, is played by Austin Smith.)

After that, "BJJ" (as he's credited in the program) comes back in again to apply his whiteface makeup: because he's having trouble finding white actors who are willing to play explicitly racist characters in a nineteenth-century melodrama, he explains, with irritated resignation, he will be playing all the white men in the show himself.

(The Jacobs-Jenkins monologues are in general witty, incisive and cutting, although I was briefly distracted by the part where he's relating a dream that concludes "then I realized the bees weren't attacking me ... I WAS the bees." DAMN IT, JUPITER ASCENDING.)

At this point, we are interrupted by an angry white man in underwear: hello, Dion Boucicault! Boucicault is VERY DISAPPOINTED in the state of the theater today, wants to know why this low-grade theater doesn't have a petting zoo, and bemoans the days when he was the king of town and "everyone was hating on me. LIKE JESUS. ... I was the JESUS OF THEATER."

Boucicault then sits down to apply redface makeup: he'll be playing Wahnotee, the noble savage. "You can put Negros on the stage these days -- though you have to pay them! -- but you still can't get an Indian actor anywhere." His assistant, also onstage, gives the audience a speaking look before starting to apply his own blackface. (The assistant, played by Ian Lassiter, is also clearly not white; I wouldn't be surprised if he were Native American, but I couldn't say for sure.)

OK, now we're ready to start the actual play.

The Octoroon, the original melodrama by Dion Boucicault, centers on a noble young white man, George who comes back to his aunt and uncle's failing plantation and falls in love with his uncle's beautiful illegitimate child Zoe, daughter of a slave but raised as a young lady in the house. Alas! due to a bureaucratic technicality, Zoe still belongs to the estate, and is going to be sold at auction along with everything else to the evil M'Closky. M'Closky is extra evil because he murders an adorably mischievous slave boy in order to get his way and blames it on the boy's hapless Indian friend Wahnotee and it's all INCREDIBLY TRAGIC.

An Octoroon progresses its way through the first three scenes of the melodrama, retaining large chunks of the original text, with most of the cast -- in their various switched-around racial identities -- giving gloriously satirical performances. Austin Smith, as Every White Guy including Noble George and Evil M'Closkey, gets particular joy out of George's tragic declaration that he's going to SELL HIMSELF in marriage to a woman he doesn't love, to get the money to SAVE THE ESTATE AND THESE POOR SLAVES, while the loyal, elderly slave played by Lassiter trembles in teary-eyed awe at his sacrifice.

Meanwhile, slaves Dido and Minnie (played by black actresses; all of the men are race-swapped, but none of the women) switch on a dime from acting as background scenery in Boucicault's drama of white people to swapping jokes and gossip in stereotypical inner-city dialogue; they're brilliant, and it's funny, until the lines that drop in to remind you that no, actually, it's not funny at all, and then they keep going and it's horrifically funny again.

(Also, for reasons I'm not entirely clear on, every act is concluded with the entrance of somebody in a giant white rabbit costume who wanders around tidying up the stage. I have no idea what this is meant to represent.)

And then there's Zoe, portrayed by the absolutely gorgeous Amber Gray, who is the only one in the show who's playing it one hundred percent straight. Unlike everyone else, Zoe doesn't know she's in a satire. Zoe's confronting gut-wrenching racism, external and internal, and Amber Gray sells it one hundred percent.

The third act ends with Zoe sold to evil M'Closkey, Dido and Minnie also sold to a noble sea captain and pretty excited for their new life ("girl, we're gonna live on a BOAT!"), and Austin Smith-as-George getting in a knock-down drag-out fight with Austin-Smith-as-M'Closkey in the most hilarious piece of physical comedy I've seen in a long time.

And then comes the fourth act. I"m going to put this under a spoiler-cut, since it includes stuff that"s potentially triggery and is definitely in the show for deliberate surprise and shock value as part of the point of the experience.Collapse )

"Well," said my friend, as we walked out, "I feel really weird right now."

She's planning on seeing it again. If I were still in New York, I think I might too.

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the real kwon
18 February 2015 @ 11:25 pm

If you have an inner fourteen-year-old, and your inner fourteen-year-old loves SPACE and PRINCESSES and ANGSTY HALF-ALBINO HALF-WOLVES WITHOUT SHIRTS WHO ZOOM AROUND ON SPACE ROLLERSKATES and BEES, then run, do not walk, to the theater right now. Do not pass go! Do not click this long and spoilery recap!Collapse )

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