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the real kwon
30 July 2015 @ 07:32 am
The other day I was trying to explain to [personal profile] innerbrat why I stayed up until 3 AM reading Rose Lerner's True Pretenses.

BECCA: OK, so the hero of this Regency novel is a JEWISH CON ARTIST, and he and the heroine bond over the fact that she's an upper-class woman who politely gets things done and there are a lot of ways in which being an upper-class woman who manages to get things done within the rules of propriety in Regency England is BASICALLY LIKE being a con artist! And the other thing they bond over is the fact that they both have younger brothers that they mostly raised from when they were small, and now both of their brothers want to go off and have their own lives, and their older siblings are not ready to let them go be adults, so they have shared sibling issues!

DEBI: I would say this book had 'Becca-bait' written all over it, except: is there cross-dressing?


Guys, I really, really liked True Pretenses. It starts off kind of Brothers Bloom, with Ash and his brother Rafe, con artists extraordinaire:

RAFE: I am ready to go straight and stop swindling people. :(
ASH: OK. OK, this is fine. We can handle this, this is fine, we will find you an attractive rich woman to marry and you will be set for life!

So Ash finds Lydia, an attractive and hypothetically rich woman who can't get into her money until she marries, and who really wants to get into her money so she can continue doing charity work and supporting the town's Tory party. Unfortunately, her younger brother is SO DONE with politics and has decided he's not giving any more money to the cause, so until she gets into her own cash she's kind of stuck.

ASH: Hello, we are respectable individuals! Allow me to smoothly matchmake --
RAFE: HI YO LYDIA my brother thinks we should have a marriage of convenience so you can buy me an officer's commission and then get into your money, is that cool?
ASH: *facepalm*
LYDIA: Ummm. Well, OK, I ... see the advantages of this, but ... actually I kind of think Ash is the more attractive one, soooo what if we did the marriage of convenience thing instead?
ASH: UM. I ... you're cute but ... that was not the plan, and -- don't know if want??

Then Ash and Rafe get into a huge fight about early-book spoilersCollapse )

RAFE: HI YO LYDIA by the way my brother and I are CON ARTISTS and we are also TOTALLY JEWISH and I am LEAVING and never want to see his face AGAIN!
LYDIA: ....well, I feel deeply uncomfortable about all this information. On the other hand: still really want into my money. Ash, I think we can make this work!
ASH: Aren't you worried about the whole con artist thing?
LYDIA: It's true, you could easily blackmail me by telling everyone in the world about my terrible con artist marriage of convenience. On the other hand, I could blackmail you by telling everyone you're Jewish and have also committed many crimes, so we're probably even as far as mutually assured destruction goes.

So Ash and Lydia do the marriage of convenience plot, and it's my favorite kind of marriage of convenience plot, where they're both REALLY ENJOYING THEMSELVES pretending to be googly-eyed over each other, and they're both in on the joke -- but also both aware that the other is not necessarily trustworthy, and definitely aware that the power dynamics have the potential to get really weird in both directions, given, again, the mutually assured destruction/potential blackmail factor, not to mention the huge class and cultural issues.

Let me repeat: I love the class and cultural issues! I love how much of the book is Ash and Lydia actually working at liking each other, around all the weird feelings raised by Ash's background and Lydia's enormous amounts of privilege; I love that Lydia wonders if her attraction to Ash is her creepily fetishizing DANGER AND POVERTY!!, if Ash's attraction to her is as much about her fortune and her lovely house at Netherfields as it is about her as a person. And both of these things are probably a little bit true.

I also am so into how the book throws itself behind the thesis that the accepted way for women to get things politically done in a system where they have many rules to obey and little direct power -- smiling, dropping hints, making people like you -- uses basically all the same skills as being a con artist. Lydia is really good at getting things done! SHE MAKES A WONDERFUL CON ARTIST.

I love the sibling issues -- how all four of them are trying to protect each other and end up stifling each other in different ways. I love that being Jewish means very different things to Ash and Rafe -- that Rafe takes ritual very seriously, and Ash not at all, and both of those things are valid. I love the whole thread about when and where they speak Yiddish; I love that they come from a poor Jewish community in London, that all of Ash's first girlfriends had Jewish names. I love that Ash is like "look, I don't tell people I'm Jewish because they probably say things that will make it hard for me to like them and I like liking people." I love that Lydia, who starts out with all the prejudices of her time, says several things, throughout the book, that make it harder for Ash and Rafe to like her.

And speaking of: wow, how much do I love that even though this takes place in the same town as Sweet Disorder, the protagonists from that book appear a grand total of once, and Phoebe and Lydia super don't like each other and probably never will? I am always so delighted when authors let sympathetic characters genuinely not get along for personality reasons! There's also a really good subplot about how Lydia and one of her friends approach friendship really differently, and have misunderstandings based on their different convictions about what friendship ought to be.

What a good romance novel. Or, more accurately: what a romance novel with 'FOR BECCA' written directly on it, probably in Hebrew letters.

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the real kwon
27 July 2015 @ 05:22 pm
Twice recently [personal profile] rymenhild has brought joy into my life. The first time was when I found out that there was a Valdemar ficathon scheduled and emailed her about it. She explained to me that the Valdemar fandom had experienced a small explosion, and the ficathon was in fact the celebration of a victory won by an anonymous fail_fandomanon person, known only as Vanyel's Campaign Manager, who after much successful lobbying and quoting of Mercedes Lackey's loving depictions of Vanyel's tragedy at last saw Vanyel Ashkevron crowned the Woobiest Character Ever.

This is so appropriate that I don't really have words to express it. The nineties have returned -- the once and future nineties -- and Vanyel reigns enthroned, as always was destined, from the beginning to the end of time, below a banner that says "Saddest of all the medium-length* tales ever told."

*you know, the ones appropriate for a three-volume novel in mass-market paperback form

The second time was today when she told me that Frank Wildhorn -- my favorite-least-favorite composer of musical theater, author of such enduring works as The Scarlet Pimpernel: The Musical, Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical, and Death Note: The Musical -- just got married to takarazuka actress Yoka Wao, known for playing such roles as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and Dracula in Wildhorn's own Dracula: The Musical. That last one isn't even a takarazuka show! They just cast her as Dracula anyway, I guess because she's just that good at incarnating seductive evil in a tuxedo.

When Andrew Lloyd Webber cast his girlfriend as Christine, that was creepy. This? This is AMAZING. Frank Wildhorn is a man who is living his dream, and I have never liked him better.

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the real kwon
26 July 2015 @ 01:41 pm
The Lost Library exchange just wrapped up -- that's the metafictional one where you write a bit of a book or play or movie that's implied or stated to exist in another book or movie -- and it was, unsurprisingly, delightful.

I chucked two works into the fray, one straight-up unfinished script --

Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter (Draft 2, With Comments)

What has occurred to bring me to this pass?
For on my life, I cannot make it out.


-- and one semi-scholarly compilation, including some script excerpts and a few production reviews.

The Great Fire Lord


FIRELORD SOZIN: Heroic leading man type. Strong, well-muscled, must look good shirtless.

AVATAR ROKU: Attractively sinister type. Small goatee, pencil moustache, fantastic hair.

DRAGONS: At least three actors per dragon. No skimping!

And, in exchange, I received another delightful rediscovered bit of the literary corpus of the Ember Island Players!

The Legend of the Blue Spirit

The BLUE SPIRIT enters stage left. He glides through the fortress like a ghost, kicking, punching, and slicing through the guards. He leaves the last one standing, and places his blades against the guard’s throat.

Honestly, I hope this exchange runs for long enough to build a whole Ember Island Players library. So much hilarious revisionist A:tLA history, so little time!

There's a bunch of other charming works in the archive, which I highly recommend checking out, but I'm just gonna toss out a few more recsCollapse )

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the real kwon
19 July 2015 @ 06:31 pm
This write-up of The Darkest Road is four thousand words long. I am so sorry, everyone.

But at least we"re on the last book of the Fionavar Tapestry!Collapse )

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the real kwon
15 July 2015 @ 09:08 pm
Wow, I super did not expect so many people to be into these write-ups of the Fionavar Tapestry, but I'm GLAD YOU ALL ARE because we are now hitting The Wandering Fire and it is probably my favorite of the books!

Or, if not my favorite, at least the one containing the most plot elements that make me shriek for -- a number of reasons. Let"s just go with that.Collapse )

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the real kwon
12 July 2015 @ 01:15 pm
So once upon a time a young Canadian philosophy student named Guy Gavriel Kay got hired to help Christopher Tolkien sort out the Silmarillion. Then he went home to Canada, became a lawyer, and decided to write an epic self-insert trilogy in which a bunch of Canadian law students encounter EVERY RIDICULOUS FANTASY TROPE that the Silmarillion contains, thrown into a blender with some Welsh mythology, some Arthuriana, some Dorothy Dunnett, and basically everything else that GGK ever encountered and thought was kind of cool.

The result was the Fionavar Tapestry. It is hugely dramatic and deeply ridiculous and tropetastic up the wazoo and I love it with a GREAT AND TERRIBLE PASSION.

Anyway it struck me recently that it had been about ten years since I reread the trilogy, and that I had never really written here very much about it, and all of a sudden both of these were things that I needed to do IMMEDIATELY.

...we're gonna start with The Summer Tree, since if I try to do all three at once this is going to take a million years.

Please bear in mind that I genuinely love these books a lotCollapse )

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the real kwon
11 July 2015 @ 11:06 am
I think I did Marie Brennan a disservice when I read A Natural History of Dragons pretty much immediately after plowing through some actual nineteenth-century literature. Thus the suspension of disbelief never quite set in -- though the prose is a pretty good approximation, and I did enjoy it reasonably well all the same.

The conceit is that Lady Isabella Trent -- who lives in a slightly-alternate Victorian era where all the countries have different names, and a variant on Judaism is the major world religion (though this also has a different name), and also there are dragons -- is now a distinguished albeit eccentric lady naturalist who has decided to publish an account of The Scientific Adventures Of Her Youth. Marie Brennan has a lot of fun with this, especially the implication that Isabella has published earlier and more circumspect writings of her travels and discoveries which she is now contradicting.

It seems like there are a bunch of books planned, and I guess the pattern is going to be approximately one expedition per book? So this one is primarily focused on Isabella's first expedition, in which she talks her new husband into taking her along on an expedition to -- what I think is alt!Poland? Somewhere cold and colonized by alt!Russia, anyway. Because this is an origin story, there is less of what I suspect will be a future feature of Crankily Eccentric Middle-Aged Woman Who Does What She Wants and more of the more YA-trope-ish Young Lady Who's Not Like The Other Girls Vs. Society That Won't Let Her Do What She Wants. I could wish for a little less Not Like Other Girls -- there's one childhood friend of Isabella's who comes in for a lot of gentle scorn for liking to read romantic novels, for ex., which just made me want to defend that poor woman and her romance novels against all comers.

The most interesting part for me was the impact of the exploration on the local villagers, who now have to put up with Victorian naturalist antics. Isabella, obviously, has a blinkered viewpoint, but Marie Brennan does try to show at least some of what's happening around the edges of her Victorian assumptions; my actual favorite character was Isabella's pressed-into-service local maid, who clearly spends the whole book just 200% done with Isabella and her entire party, and justifiably so. "It did not help that Dagmira had a way of seizing my hands and kissing them both whenever I produced a new piece of vocabulary. In Vystrana this is a courtesy shown to those of higher rank, but the sardonic manner in which she did it was more like a Chiavoran woman throwing her hands in the air to praise the Lord for a miracle." DAGMIRA. I will probably read more Memoirs of Lady Trent, but secretly I desperately want to be reading the Memoirs of Dagmira.

(PS if you already read this and enjoyed this, or alternately are looking at this review thinking 'Victorian lady naturalists, yes, let's!' then, yes, please do read it, but also GO READ THE LIE TREE, read it right now. OK, sorry, I'm really done now.)

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the real kwon
08 July 2015 @ 06:15 pm
Last weekend I was on vacation! To cover all my vacation bases, I brought with me a mystery novel, a romance novel, and a fantasy novel about dragons.

I think I actually liked the romance novel best! Rose Lerner's Sweet Disorder, which is about SMALL TOWN NINETEENTH CENTURY POLITICS.

The plot revolves around the fact that for much of the nineteenth century in the UK only male persons of a certain status in town were enfranchised. The heroine is a widow who has inherited an ability-to-vote from her husband, which she can't use herself, but can give to someone else if she marries them, and various political machinations on the part of town political parties to get her to marry someone who will vote usefully. Matchmaking and bribery ensues!

At first I was like, "is it really that plausible that people would be focusing so much energy on this poor woman's one vote?" and then I was like "OK, here's the rubric: would a nineteenth-century Leslie Knope do this? Yes. Yes, Leslie Knope ABSOLUTELY would," and that sold it for me.

(The hero's mother basically IS a more ruthless nineteenth-century Leslie Knope, which is one of the reasons I'm sad the book likes her less than it likes almost everybody else. I mean, it likes most of the rest of its characters a lot! Overall, it's a very kind-eyed narrative. Which is one of the reasons I like it. But I also like nineteenth-century Leslie Knope!)

Anyway, Our Heroine Phoebe is very much enjoying being a widow despite her reduced resources and has no intention of marrying again even for copious amounts of matchmaking and bribery, until her teenaged little sister turns up distressed and pregnant, at which point bribery suddenly becomes of the essence! So she graciously makes it known to the political agents at hand that she is open to negotiation, and they present her with bachelors.

BACHELOR A: Mr. Moon, a very nice man who runs a pastry shop (which will also be bailed out of crippling debt by matchmaking bribery if they go through with the marriage.) Problem: while he is very, very nice, and has progressive politics like Phoebe, they are COMPLETELY INCOMPATIBLE in personality. Also, Phoebe hates pastry.
BACHELOR B: a nice older factory owner with a sense of humor and good taste in literature, and also an adorable young daughter, who also likes reading, which is basically Phoebe's kryptonite. Problem: he is a Tory and his political opinions are awful and racist.

And then of course there is also a Bachelor C, the actual hero, who came back from the Army with depression and a limp and is now a political agent and supposed to be hooking her up with Bachelor A. He's also nobility, of course, but that feels -- almost tacked-on? Like, there's a little bit of the obligatory angsting about the gap in their station, and some exploration of wealth and power dynamics, but really this book wants to be about working and middle-class people who live in small towns. I'm ALL FOR that. I always want to be reading more Regency novels about working and middle-class people who live in small towns! Phoebe has a family, a brother-in-law that she's close to, a landlady, a woman who helps her with the laundry twice a week, a whole sewing circle; she very much feels like she's part of and embedded in a community, which is one of the reasons I liked the book so much.

The other reason is that, like I said above, it's a very warm novel generally. There aren't really bad guys, just difficult situations -- with one major exception (which is not hard to see coming), and while the major exception is in fact TERRIBLE, and appropriately so, he is also very clearly drawn as a human being, who happens to be terrible.

Anyway, I'm into small-town politics, and small-town newspapers, and small-town families (I also really like the whole subplot about Phoebe's brother-in-law) and Rose Lerner, apparently! Will definitely be reading more of her stuff.

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the real kwon
01 July 2015 @ 07:58 pm
EVEN MORE Jupiter Ascending fic.

Do I have at least two more chapters of this written after this one? IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE.

Is there an overarching plot or point to it? IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THERE IS NOT.

This entry is cross-posted at Livejournal from http://skygiants.dreamwidth.org/413257.html. Please feel free to comment here or there! There are currently comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.
the real kwon
30 June 2015 @ 09:47 pm
Sense8? Sense8. That was CERTAINLY a Wachowski show. I watched the first two episodes with a headache and without my contact lenses in and so experienced then mostly as a soothing blur of color and sound and people complaining about their headaches, which were so obviously worse than mine that I felt comforted all the way through.

(I still have no idea what was going on in the first half of Riley's plot, but since it turned out to be totally irrelevant except for establishing that she took a lot of drugs, that's probably fine.)

Okay, Sense8 is a show about how eight people around the world get mysteriously psychically connected through their brains via magic evolution. (Mostly they take this in stride; there are a lot of numinous moments of connectivity and none of what I would be doing in this situation, which is having enormous freakouts about my loss of privacy.) It reminded me quite a lot of S1 Heroes, except with much better visual and art direction, and even worse plotting and dialogue. When originally planning this post I was going to say "except at least without the nonsensical Mohinder monologues about evolution," except in the last few episodes Naveen Andrews is like "I heard you guys were missing some nonsensical monologues about evolution, LET ME MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME." And he does. Oh, boy, does he.

Cut for length!Collapse )

It's super pretty though! Very pleasant to watch as a sensory experience. Occasionally there are Bollywood dance numbers and/or global telepathic singalongs. I will watch a Season Two, although, having already compared it to Heroes, it's quite likely I will drastically regret that statement.

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the real kwon
23 June 2015 @ 07:30 pm
There's a way in which I really kind of love that the first few episodes of season six of Deep Space Nine are INTENSE SERIALIZED SCIENCE FICTION, and then that ends and they're like "what do we do now ... uhhhhhh ..... ummmmmmmmm .... whatever, fine, IT'S FANFIC SEASON. Let's shrink the Defiant!"

Episodes 11-18 of Season Six, under the cutCollapse )

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the real kwon
22 June 2015 @ 10:52 pm
At some point in the past year or so, [personal profile] nextian and I were hanging out and talking about George Eliot's Daniel Deronda and other terribly well-meant Victorian novels about virtuous Jews, as you do.

"Oh," said [personal profile] nextian, "if you liked ... laughing awkwardly at ... Daniel Deronda, then you should ABSOLUTELY read Harrington. It's the ultimate well-meant Victorian novel about virtuous Jews!"

I have now read Harrington.Collapse )

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the real kwon
21 June 2015 @ 11:16 pm
Today I took a lightning trip down to New York so my brother and I could take our parents to go see the Into the Woods Original Cast Reunion at BAM.

The show opened with the host asking who'd seen the original Broadway show ... OK, who saw the original and the 2002 revival ... okay, who saw the revival, the original, and the 2012 Shakespeare in the Park show ... yeah, OK. A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF THE AUDIENCE, was the answer, so it's not like we're the only ones. (We had to stop raising our hands when they asked about last year's Roundabout production, which we never got to see, and the London production, which was maybe three people in the audience. Three out of five is not bad!)

This will all probably be extremely boring to anyone who does not care deeply about the original cast of Into the Woods.Collapse )

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the real kwon
14 June 2015 @ 12:28 pm
Everyone I knew who read The Goblin Emperor when it came out loved it so unilaterally that I felt like I could not read it until I'd also found someone who disliked it to provide an equal and opposite pressure of opinion. Thank you, [personal profile] gogollescent!

Now I have read The Goblin Emperor and feel capable of cheerfully embracing a middle ground. I don't quite ... think it's amazing, per se ... but it's very charming! Comfortable to read!

The Goblin Emperor is about how the sad, abused, exiled half-goblin fourth son of the Emperor of the Steampunk Elves accidentally becomes Emperor when the entire rest of his family is assassinated. Maia is a.) deeply unprepared for his position, b.) completely uneducated in politics, and c.) utterly and totally lacking in social skills, but he is at root a very nice person!

By fortunate coincidence, when he arrives at court, many of the first people he meets and becomes surrounded with are both nice and competent. They trust and appreciate Maia pretty much instantly for his obvious niceness, and are therefore willing to help him along until he can also approximate competence.

There's also a little bit of plot? Some of the book is dedicated to investigating the assassination attempt on Maia's family, but that's a relatively small portion. A few people also attempt to depose or assassinate Maia, but as none of them are either nice or competent, nobody cares and all their plots are unsuccessful.

If you like reading about nice people with assistance from competent people, you will probably enjoy this! I enjoyed it a lot too, and read it all in pretty much one gulp, though I didn't quite believe in it. I feel a little bit bad saying that the book feels too easy, because, like, obviously suddenly becoming Emperor of an enormous kingdom that you don't know anything about and don't know anybody is very difficult in any case! (Nakajima Yoko agrees wholeheartedly.) And the book takes its time exploring how difficult it is for an abused kid whose used to being attacked for expressing an opinion to be in a position where he has to HAVE OPINIONS AND EXPRESS THEM REGALLY AND IS NOT ALLOWED TO APOLOGIZE TO ANYBODY, and I do appreciate the time taken with that, that is hard enough in and of itself too!

But all the same, in the broader context of governing a country, it does feel a bit too easy. It's not that there aren't difficult decisions to be made, but they're all ... relatively easy difficult decisions? Good and trustworthy people helpfully appear to fill Maia in on information he lacks whenever he needs it, and are all swearing loyalty by about the middle of the book. The next-most-plausible candidate for Emperor is also conveniently a very nice person, and willing to trust and form a personal connection with Maia over the course of one conversation despite being indoctrinated with anti-Maia propaganda, so when the moment of decision comes for him, he's also very happy to make the right pro-Maia choice at significant personal cost. And the person who is the best political candidate for Maia to marry turns out to be nice and charmingly competent and an Unconventional Woman who enjoys swordfighting and willing to relax her guard and share this information with him after a single conversation, and two conversations later she's willing to challenge anyone who hurts him to a duel. I mean, obviously I like her! She's designed for me to like! I'm just saying this all happens quite fast, and without ... very many actual conversations ... so every time someone said something heartwarming about their deep loyalty to Maia, I regret that my first reaction, much like Maia's, was usually "That's nice! But, um, why?"

On the other hand, as far as the general tone of a book goes, I certainly find it much more enjoyable to read "everything turns out pretty well for nice people because they're generally nice" than "everything turns out horribly for nice people because the world is a CRUEL PLACE," as has been the tone of a significant portion of recent Serious Grimdark Political Fantasy. I suspect a lot of the affection for The Goblin Emperor is a reaction against that, and, like, I absolutely agree, I think the pendulum could definitely afford to swing back towards genuinely decent protagonists. And it also generally manages to avoid the Mercedes Lackey angst-porn territory, which, given my previous impressions of Katherine Addison's work as Sarah Monette, is pretty impressive. (I haven't actually read any of Sarah Monette's books on account of that impression, so I could be judging super unfairly here.) I do think there can also be a middle ground somewhere ... but the meantime, I will definitely take The Goblin Emperor! I just would also like a story of a genuinely nice person triumphing in a corrupt court that did a slightly better job convincing me it was actually possible without mild reality-warping powers.

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the real kwon
10 June 2015 @ 05:37 pm
When it comes to nonfiction, the stuff I seem to be most drawn to these days is a.) books about WWII and b.) behind-the-scenes books about theater and movies and television, so it is exactly not a huge surprise that I ended up reading Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. GIVEN GIVENS.

Five Came Back is basically a braided biography of five directors -- John Ford, George Stevens, Frank Capra, John Huston, and William Wyler -- all of whom left Hollywood around the time of Pearl Harbor to enlist in the army and make war propaganda.

The stories of the directors are indeed fascinating, especially Wyler, Stevens and Huston. Huston faked/reenacted a bunch of footage for documentaries where the American photographers didn't manage to be on the spot to get anything worthwhile, despised himself for it, and then came home and made what he thought would be a redeeming documentary about psychiatric treatment for returning soldiers, at which point the Army promptly went UH NOPE and refused to let anyone see it for thirty-five years. Stevens, originally, a director of light-hearted comedies, ended up trekking around with the units that discovered the concentration camps, and made the documentaries that were shown at Nuremberg to convince the prosecution of the Nazi crimes; for the rest of his career, he pretty much never made another comic film. Wyler -- who was German Jewish to begin with -- almost got court-martialed for punching out a guy who made anti-Semitic remarks, tried so hard to get good footage from the inside of a fighter plane that he lost his hearing from the noise of the engine, and then had to come home and figure out how to be a director who couldn't hear dialogue or soundtracks. This story would be really depressing if he hadn't then gone on to make a bajillion famous films anyway and got more Academy Award nominations than any director in history. Also, his really cute-sounding marriage -- literally running into each other's arms when he first saw her while he was on leave! -- appears to have lasted happily until his death at the age of 79 (though the book didn't tell me that, I had to check it on Wikipedia.) Way to go, Wyler!

HOWEVER, as compelling as all these human stories of profound change during wartime are, the most interesting part for me was the story of the corpus of war propaganda itself -- all the back-and-forth between the directors and Hollywood and the government, trying to figure out what the heck they were even doing. Like, what kind of films are they even trying to make? What truths are not OK to tell? If you're making anti-Japanese propaganda, how racist is too racist? (Spoiler: you have to be really damn racist before you get too racist, but the LINE WAS APPARENTLY INDEED THERE.) And speaking of racism, how about trying to make a recruitment documentary for black soldiers in a deeply racist white America, what does that look like? What kind of things can you show to soldiers, and what can you show to the general public, and what kind of things can't you show to anybody? Sorry, Huston, but nobody wants to hear that going to war can fuck you up. Everyone who came back is fine. EVERYTHING'S FINE.

An added bonus: almost all the films discussed were produced by the government, which makes them officially public domain. If you're bored and you're curious about the time Dr. Seuss, Chuck Jones, and Frank Capra teamed up to make raunchy training cartoons, check out Private Snafu, aka Elmer Fudd Teaches You What Not To Do In the U.S. Army.

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the real kwon
06 June 2015 @ 10:51 am
I generally really enjoy Alaya Dawn Johnson's books, but I'm a little unfairly annoyed at Love Is the Drug because --

Okay, so Bird, the protagonist of Love Is the Drug has two extremely important developing relationships throughout the story. One of them is with her Designated Love Interest, the eccentric genius drug dealer, and the other is with Marella, her out-and-proud lesbian classmate, whom she's finally developing a friendship with after pining from afar for lo these many years.

I'm sure you can all see where this is going, but round about page 193, Alaya Dawn Johnson's narrative voice and I got in a genuine fight.

ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON'S NARRATIVE VOICE: Bird has had a girl crush on Marella since they were ten.
BECCA: Look, I appreciate the gesture, and you know I've been invested in these two since page ten, but I'm already fully aware that that dude over there that I don't care about is the Designated Love Interest, so I gotta say, I'm a little nervous about where this is going --
ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON'S NARRATIVE VOICE: I think that Marella would probably go for it if Bird swung in that direction, but why ruin a great friendship with a mediocre affair?
BECCA: Alaya Dawn Johnson, did you really just "what's better than this, gals being pals" me? DID YOU REALLY JUST.
ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON'S NARRATIVE VOICE: They are neither of them material candidates for the loves of their respective lives.
BECCA: ...is this about The Summer Prince? Are you yelling at me for shipping the heroine more with her best female rival than with her designated male love interest? Is this personal? Because I have to say this feels kind of personal.

...I am aware that it is not, actually, personal, but I'm still kind of cranky that Alaya Dawn Johnson felt it necessary to pull over and stop the car just to announce I SEE YOU OUT THERE ROOTING FOR A LESBIAN ROMANCE, STOP THAT, STOP IT RIGHT NOW. Whatever, Alaya Dawn Johnson! I do what I want! You're not the boss of me!

Also, I am sorry, I tried hard to like Bird's dude love interest Coffee, I did, but you know what, I had an eccentric genius drug dealer in my class who stole chemicals from Orgo, and we got along fine and all but there is no romance in that for me. "I don't want to deal drugs to you, Bird, you're not the drug type! Unlike the actual kids that I actually deal to." CHARMING.

It's too bad, because so much of the book is built around the romance, but I quite liked the structure of the rest of it! It's the kind of thing I'd like to see more of, a very personal apocalypse -- the broader plot involves a massive pandemic flu and sinister governmental conspiracies, and, like, yes, there's an evil federal agent chasing Bird around, but really the story is about her relationship with her parents, and the expectations placed on her as a High Achieving Black Girl, and her growing network of allies who support her in her decisions to become the person she wants to be rather than the person her mother wants her to be. Bird's not leading a resistance or saving the world; she's saving herself, and that's important and okay. There's a Thanksgiving dinner scene that's just phenomenal, with Bird's chosen family, and her actual family, and the balancing act between them.

So I wish my main feelings upon finishing were not "UGH I DON'T CARE ABOUT COFFEE." He's not even terrible, as far as YA love interests go! He's perfectly fine, I'm just bitter.

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the real kwon
05 June 2015 @ 02:07 pm
I have finally caught up on this season of Orphan Black so far and spoiler for next week"s promoCollapse )

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the real kwon
04 June 2015 @ 08:49 am
Ever since I heard there was going to be a new Cordelia Vorkosigan book I've had an itch to reread Cordelia's Honor. I don't have a particularly strong investment in the new book (apparently there were some people who already knew Jole was a character in previous books? I was ... not one of them) but I'm certainly invested in Cordelia Vorkosigan!

As I said on Tumblr, I'd forgotten how much Shards of Honor is one long exercise in:

Cordelia: I found this cute murderer in the enemy army and I’m going to keep him

Cordelia’s friends, colleagues, neighbors, certain constant readers: Cordelia no


For the record, by 'certain constant readers,' I mean myself at the age of almost thirty (as opposed to myself at the age of twenty-three, who apparently didn't bat an eye. This is when booklogging through the years starts to get fun.) But, like. In hindsight, we know it's going to work out fine! Three cheers for the most stable marriage on Barrayar. In present-sight, "Well, yes, his last marriage ended with him straight-up murdering two people in a jealous rage, buuuuut he felt really bad about it afterwards!" is not really a statement to inspire confidence. Were I advising Cordelia on her romantic options, I TOO WOULD BE QUITE CONCERNED. Maybe instead try a dating website?

(Other things you notice, reading Shards of Honor at the age of almost thirty: Cordelia like "I was afraid my opportunities for romance and children were OVER. No one will believe such a middle-aged officer could be bowled over by love! At my age!! OF THIRTY-THREE!!!" OK, maybe, if you didn't live in a society where people regularly freeze their eggs and live to 100 or more ... I mean, I love you and I get it, but.)

I mean, I do then appreciate how much of Barrayar is Cordelia waffling on the verge of "...I've made a huge mistake." Shards is deeply enjoyable on the id level, but Barrayar is a much more interesting book because it's in many ways about the consequences of eloping to live happily after and have babies in a culture that you don't understand and disagree with on like a million fundamental levels. This is an interesting and compelling story even if I happen to disagree with Lois McMaster Bujold (or at least the Lois McMaster Bujold of 1991) on several fundamental levels as well, like "the ultimate end of every heterosexual love story is children" (nope!) and the Clan of the Cave Bear logic of "the guy might think it was rape but if the girl thought it was consensual then it's pretty much fine, let's just hope these crazy kids work past this misunderstanding!" (oh, Kou and Drou. Oh .... Kou and Drou.)

On the other hand, one thing I fundamentally agree with Lois McMaster Bujold on is that it's important to talk about different kinds of female strength besides leading raids and ordering Bothari to execute major military figures. (I mean, I also appreciate that Cordelia herself is a female soldier whose soldiering expertise and identity has basically nothing to do with physical combat.) But yes, thank you, Bujold, for the focus on Kareen and Alys Vorpatril and their particular brands of heroism, much appreciated! In general and also in the specific that I love Alys Vorpatril and swear my allegiance to her forever.

Speaking of: I really did not intend to launch on a massive Vorkosigan reread, I really just wanted to read Cordelia's Honor, but now I'm started it might be hard stopping. WE'LL SEE.

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the real kwon
03 June 2015 @ 11:09 am
I was going to make this a general post about other TV I've been watching besides epically long kdramas, but then I realized I could spend a whole post just talking about Steven Universe, so ... I'm going to do that!

If you're in the Tumblr sphere you have probably been bombarded with Steven Universe already (or at least I was, for like months before I watched it) but if not, perhaps you are not familiar with it? It's an ongoing kid's cartoon which runs for ten-minute episodes, starring these people:

Steven Universe is a sweet kid with poorly-controlled developing magical powers, inherited from his mother, who disappeared to bring him into the world. Now he's being raised by a combo of his hapless single dad and his mother's team of loyal superpowered magical gem warriors who came to Earth with her millenia ago to fight an epic war -- all of whom care for Steven very much, and all of whom are also still in the ongoing process of coping with the fact that Steven also represents the enormous, gaping hole that is the absence of the person they loved most.

It's a light, fun show! There are hijinks!

Here's some of the things I really like about Steven Universe:

1. It's adorable. Let's just start out with that. And -- unlike Adventure Time, which has some showrunners in common, and which I have mixed feelings about -- it's often sarcastic, but never mean-spirited.
2. There's a very strong single vision behind the story, and it shows. The continuity is fantastic -- having watched through the first time by myself, [personal profile] attractivegeekery and I have been watching through again with our third roommate, and just about every episode I pick up on something that I missed the first time around that's picked up again later.
3. While it's mostly episodic, it does that thing I associate with FMA and other really good shonen/shojo anime -- you think you're watching a show about A Young Boy And His Exciting Magical Adventures, but there are a bunch of other people around who all very clearly are having their own stories and emotional arcs going on that you're catching glimpses of through this kid's eyes, and the more the story goes on, the more you realize that it's much bigger and more complicated than you thought.
4. Not that most of the episodes are mytharc episodes! I mean, the other thing I really like is how much the town that Steven lives in feels like a real small town where everyone knows each other and has backstory with each other, and just about every person in it has their own (very slowly) ongoing character arc -- they're not just background color or victim fodder for Steven's Magical Adventures either.
5. Rebecca Sugar, the show's creater, is really invested in representing a range of diversity and experience and relationships and nontraditional families onscreen, and that also shows.
6. Every time I'm shouting at the screen like 'NO DON'T LET THE SMALL CHILD NEAR THAT EXTREMELY DANGEROUS THING,' Pearl also runs up shouting 'NO DON'T LET THE SMALL CHILD NEAR THAT EXTREMELY DANGEROUS THING.' I feel you, Pearl. (Except when ... you are the dangerous thing ... )
7. There's a whole episode about different ways of engaging with fandom! There's an episode about art appropriation! So many musical episodes? SO MANY.
8. Revolutionary Girl Utena is apparently a formative influence.
9. I don't know, it's just super fun! SHARK-PUNCHING FUN.

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the real kwon
01 June 2015 @ 11:42 am
Catch-up backlog booklogging: once upon a time, I was a member of the NYPL, and I had access to an enormous and beautiful collection of Barbara Michaels gothics on e-book.

Then, tragically, the NYPL realized that I no longer lived in New York and kicked me off the system. BPL, I love you also, but your Barbara Michael's collection is PALTRY in comparison. GET ON THIS IMMEDIATELY.

Before I lost my privileges, though, I read Greygallows and Be Buried In the Rain.

Greygallows is a Regency Gothic in the ultimate classical sense: naive young girl marries seemingly charming man, goes away to a big creepy house in the country, spends the next two hundred pages REGRETTING ALL OF HER LIFE DECISIONS. Notable for the ongoing theme of Our Heroine develops a social conscience and the fact that the for-real love interest is a super progressive albeit kind of mansplainy young lawyer whose main function in the story is to explain that, legally speaking, Regency laws are terrible, especially for women. The worst!

Be Buried in the Rain is ... less traditional? Definitely less traditional. Med student Julie gets bribed by her family to come stay with her HIGHLY EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE grandmother over the summer after said grandmother has a stroke. She can't talk! How emotionally abusive can she be, amirite?

Meanwhile, Julie's jerk archaeologist ex is convinced that there's a secret Colonial-era village buried somewhere on the plantation and keeps turning up with grad students; meanwhile meanwhile Julie's jerk politician cousin, who's the one who talked her into coming in the first place, keeps promising to do things like get her a car so she can go grocery shopping! EVENTUALLY. MAYBE, SOMEDAY.

(Jerk Politician Cousin: You're heading out? Too bad, I was starting to get mildly incestuous feelings about you!
Jerk Politican Cousin: haha lol j/k, j/k! Anyway, our grandmother married her first cousin, right?

I think the jerk politican cousin thinks he's the jerk arm of the love triangle, but honestly the archaeologist is the jerk arm, and the politician cousin is not even on the same geometrical plane, as far as Julie is concerned, and GOOD FOR HER.)

Anyway, 3/4 of the book is Julie, like, adopting a dog, and developing a friendship with her grandmother's nurse Shirley, and figuring out ways to GET OUT OF THE FREAKING HOUSE, seriously, where is Matt with that car? doesn't he know she needs to buy groceries? And, of course, trying to cope with her grandmother's still-terrifying influence. There might be a ghost, or possibly an entire load of corpses buried under the house, but this is not really anybody's primary concern (except for the archaeologists) until the big reveals start happening towards the end. I dunno. It's not a great book, and certainly not likely to be my favorite Michaels, but it's an interesting one.

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