the real kwon
11 July 2014 @ 11:19 pm
So [personal profile] shoroko and I just got back from seeing Snowpiercer. It took us about an hour to get back from Manhattan and the entire ride went like this:

VERONICA: It was very pretty! The logistics were not the point.


BECCA: I mean it kind of makes no sense that [thing that makes no sense], but -
VERONICA: Logistics are not the point!

VERONICA: ...I mean I guess they were going through the Arctic, but did they build a bridge or -
BECCA: Logistics are not the point!

BECCA: I mean, I still don't understand why they even had a prison section to -- sorry! SORRY. IT'S AN ALLEGORY. IT'S AN ALLEGORY.

[lather, rinse, repeat]

I mean, I do not disapprove of the allegory, and I certainly do not find it irrelevant, but all the same the whole thing felt kind of fascinatingly throwback. I could easily imagine Snowpiercer being written in the 1910s. In fact the whole time I kept thinking having flashbacks to The Iron Heel.

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the real kwon
10 July 2014 @ 07:34 pm
Last weekend I was up in Maine, and I loaded up my Kindle with Barbara Michaels Gothics on e-book for the trip (since it turns out my library has a TREASURE TROVE'S WORTH.) But I wasn't necessarily expecting to read all that much on the trip.

Then I started Someone in the House.

THE SCENE: *a companionable cottage in Maine filled with companionable silence*

BECCA: OMG, so the grad student protagonist and her research partner and his nice old aunt are all living together in the house the research partner's parents just inherited, and the plot is that the aunt heard her nephew having invisible sex and is REALLY WEIRDED OUT and I CAN'T STOP LAUGHING


BECCA: now they're all having an argument over what the invisible sex might be! The aunt's boyfriend thinks it's psychic energy but the aunt thinks it's a medieval ghost!



A LONG-SUFFERING COMPANION: Has anybody asked Kevin what he's having invisible sex with?

BECCA: NOPE. Every so often someone suggests that they could, like, just ask the dude, and then they're like "....we have a vague sense that something terrible would happen if he did!" LIKE MAYBE THAT HE'D BE CREEPED OUT THAT EVERYONE IS STANDING AROUND HIS DOOR LISTENING TO HIS INVISIBLE SEX MARATHONS.


BECCA: I'm pretty sure the whole plot of this book is just various characters running around trying to prove their pet theory about the invisible sex.

So: Someone in the House! It's an amazing Gothic about a bunch of people running hilariously around trying to prove their pet theory about why Kevin is having noisy invisible sex and making everyone else feel really awkward in the middle of the night.

....but then the ending got, like, really legitimately creepy and I was impressed, so I stopped verbally liveblogging for my long-suffering companions on the chance any of them were going to read it, because it's actually worth not being spoiled for. Say thank you to Barbara Michaels, long-suffering companions! By virtue of her talent, you were spared. THIS TIME.

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the real kwon
07 July 2014 @ 01:40 pm
I think I promised more Apathetic Ambiguously Gay Lawyers Who Don't Lawyer? LET'S TALK ABOUT DICKENS' OUR MUTUAL FRIEND.

...actually there is quite a lot to talk about in Our Mutual Friend that I'm interested in, so let's break it down into some sections.

The women!Collapse )

The apathetic ambiguously gay lawyers who don't lawyer!Collapse )

The Jews!Collapse )

....uh, so this has become a very long entry. Our Mutual Friend! It's a book about a bunch of women, some ambiguously gay lawyers, a Jewish guy, and I guess an A-plot about a dude who fakes his own death to nobly avoid inheriting a large fortune, even though I have completely not mentioned this at all. But that is what the book is actually about. FOR THE RECORD.

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the real kwon
03 July 2014 @ 01:36 pm
I got in the mood to read some Victorian lit recently and Emmy suggested Lady Audley's Secret "for EVIL DEMON BLONDE WOMAN who... basically just tries not to get screwed over by victorian england and fails. But the homoerotic subtext is basically text!"

As in so many things, Emmy was 100% correct.

Lady Audley's Secret is basically the Tragedy of One Woman Who Really Needed a Divorce. It begins with genial, middle-aged, extremely wealthy Lord Audley proposing to the beautiful, blonde, penniless young governess down the road:

LORD AUDLEY: I love you! Do you love me? I don't want to tie you down or make you unhappy, please only marry me if you love me!
LADY AUDLEY-TO-BE: Actually I am pretty sure I am not capable of love! My motives in marrying you would be completely mercenary! But, I mean, it sounds nice, I'm sure we'll be very happy!
LORD AUDLEY: ... uh, well, OK? Sure. Um. I...appreciate your honesty?

Meanwhile, in a TOTALLY UNRELATED EVENT on a boat back from Australia:

GEORGE TALBOYS: Man, I am so excited to get home and give all my new money to my beautiful, blonde, penniless wife!
A LADY PASSENGER: So, like, you're not nervous that something might happen on the trip? I mean, it's a long way from Australia to England, and instant communication has not yet been invented...
GEORGE TALBOYS: Haha, that is nothing, I haven't heard anything from my wife for five years!
GEORGE TALBOYS: Nope, after I ran off without warning and left her and our newborn baby in the middle of the night, leaving only a note saying that I had decided going to Australia to make my fortune or die trying, we haven't exchanged a single word of communication! She's going to be so excited to see me!
GEORGE TALBOYS: I mean, she'll probably be pretty much right where I left her, yeah?
GEORGE TALBOYS: She's completely penniless with only an alcoholic father for support, so it's not like she had anywhere to go...
GEORGE TALBOYS: You know, I have no idea why, but suddenly I'm starting to feel these mysterious feelings of completely unsourced apprehension?

At this point Lord Audley's nephew, Lazy Lawyer Robert Audley, enters into the picture and picks up an extremely depressed George at the point of learning that -- shockingly -- his wife is NOT, in fact, just where he left her. After some shenanigans at Audley Manor, George mysteriously disappears, which sends Robert into an obsessive tailspin trying to track him down.

LORD AUDLEY: Strange boy, Robert. Like a son to me, but strange. Hilariously lazy. No interest in sports or hunting or manly pursuits. No interest in marrying my pretty and wealthy daughter, who's madly in love with him. Inexplicable!
ROBERT AUDLEY: You know, it's funny, I never cared about anything before George, and now he's gone it's like I SEE HIM EVERYWHERE I GO AND MY HEART HAS BEEN RIPPED OUT OF MY CHEST.
LORD AUDLEY: Seriously, I wonder why Robert is not interested in marrying my daughter? So peculiar!
ROBERT AUDLEY: I just, I miss the way he used to angst attractively on the other side of the room. :( :( :( MY BACHELOR PAD SEEMS SO EMPTY.

(For the record, Robert's George-inspired transformation from cheerfully lazy gad-about-town to GRIM SEEKER OF JUSTICE is vastly more interesting and entertaining than anything about George himself, who as previously demonstrated is kind of a tool.)

Anyway, the rest of the book is mostly Robert trudging about putting his hitherto-unused lawyer skills to work at proving what you've all already guessed just from reading this summary, sprinkled through with a few attempted murders and a lot of conversations between Robert and Lady Audley that go pretty much like this:

ROBERT: If I were you I'd run away now before I have time to actually compile evidence that's more decisive than suspicious narrative coincidence.
ROBERT:, all-out war, then?
LORD AUDLEY: Hey, what are you and Robert talking about there, dear?
LADY AUDLEY: Nothing, honey! ^__^

It's a super enjoyable read in a sensationalist Victorian fashion, albeit heavily sprinkled with Victorian misogyny and a very, VERY Victorian ~*~madness in the family~*~ subplot towards the end. I would actually really love to see a modern film version of it too; Lady Audley, who uses every single weapon at her disposal as a Victorian woman in her quest for a half-decent life, would be an amazingly meaty role for a contemporary actress.

On another note, Apathetic Ambiguously Gay Lawyers Who Don't Lawyer appears to be a Victorian trend. I still have to write up my reread of Our Mutual Friend, but I refuse to believe that Mortimer Lightwood and Robert Audley don't frequently go out to dinner together and trade lazy hipster quips about how little work they do while resolutely avoiding the topic of the other men in their lives.

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the real kwon
01 July 2014 @ 07:05 pm
So I picked up The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, and immediately a pile of tropes out of the YA Dystopia of the Week fell straight on my head: Ashala is a member of the resistance! with superpowers! but she's been captured! and turned over to the dystopic government! by a mysteriously hot boy who infiltrated her resistance group and BETRAYED HER and she HATES him even though he's SUPER HOT with MYSTERIOUS MOTIVES!

BECCA: oh noooooo I can see the GRIMDARK and the BORING LOVE TRIANGLE looming around the corner AS WE SPEAK @___@

So I read on, glumly braced for the Standard YA Dystopia Plot to run its Standard YA Dystopia Course...

....but instead, I got:

- a heroine of Aboriginal descent -- written by an Aboriginal author -- with superpowers grounded in her heritage
- a plot that's about two levels more complex than it initially appears and revolves around the foresight, choices and agency of Ashala and her two best female rebel friends, The Brilliant And Ruthless One and The Creepy Little Girl Who Loves Spiders, so, I mean, well played appealing to character archetypes for me there
- in general, a sense of agency for pretty much everyone -- including, for a wonder, some sympathetic and useful government officials! what! I didn't know that was allowed in dystopic YA!
- overall, a worldview that explicitly rejects the entire grimdark trend and throws it out the window -- Ambelin Kwaymullina says in her author's note that the end of the world is also the beginning, and once you get through all the initial trappings of the current trends in YA literature, that sense of optimism, of the resurgence of the numinous, permeates the book the whole way through
- ....a boring romance. Well, you can't have everything.

(And, I mean, it's not a love triangle, and it's not rage-inducing, SO SURE, I'll take boring!)

I also really enjoyed the evil mind-control machine with the heart and soul of an adorable puppy dog.

Seriously, though, if you're going to pick up any dystopic YA of the recent crop, I'd absolutely recommend this one; unlike most of the rest, this actually hits the optimistic, team-building action-adventure that I'd like the post-apocalyptic trend to be, rather than what ... it generally actually is ....

(I mean, don't get me wrong, many of the others have given me great entertainment -- 'AND THEN THE PLAGUE-RIDDEN LAND GOT HIT BY ANOTHER, EVEN WORSE PLAGUE!' -- but reader cannot live on over-the-top hilarity alone.)

I will absolutely be reading the rest of the books in the series as soon as they become available.

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the real kwon
29 June 2014 @ 10:25 am
So [personal profile] genarti and I went to go see Norm Lewis play the Phantom of the Opera last night, and ... I think I've figured it out? I think I know why I can never escape from the Phantom of the Opera and how it got its hooks so deep into me at such a young age? It's because, at heart, it's a WACKY BACKSTAGE HIJINKS STORY. Like, yes, stalking and tragedy and love triangles, oh my, but also: LONG-SUFFERING CHORUS DIRECTORS. I don't know why I never put this together before. I feel a lot better about everything now.

My appetite for narratives about backstage hijinks is vast and unfulfillable, and I am always looking for more recs with which to fill it. Speaking of: I think it was [personal profile] adiva_calandia who most recently recced me Tanya Huff's Smoke and Shadows, which is apparently a spinoff from Tanya Huff's other vampire books that I have not read, but which is mostly about SINISTER GOINGS-ON at a low-budget Canadian TV production when a wizard starts using an interdimensional portal to send shady shadow-beings to possess various people involved in the show.

I have two main complaints about this book. The first one is: too much supernatural, not enough hilarious low-budget television! Every time Our Hero PA Tony was off having awkward moments with his vampire ex-boyfriend or running around rescuing shadow-possessed people I was like "but when can we get back to the TV station? Can it be now? I'd like it to be now..."

My other complaint is that I imprinted really hard on side character Zev, cute gay Orthodox Jewish tv music director with a crush on Tony, and he's totally not the series love interest because the series love interest is boring hot TV star Lee, and that makes me much sadder than is probably warranted. :( Zev is adorable! I WOULD LIKE MORE ZEV.

There are two sequels which I will probably read at some point, and continue to be sad about the fact that Zev is not a main character.

(PS: Norm Lewis was amazing as the Phantom and fully lived up to the promise of his immortal quote when explaining his process for getting in character: "Who is this man and why is he acting like a giant baby?")

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the real kwon
25 June 2014 @ 01:22 pm
When I finally got home from Minneapolis this weekend, the first text message I received was from my brother: Mom got touched by naked Jesus. while I was gone my whole family went to see The Mysteries and apparently super enjoyed it! I am very glad they liked the show. That said, I am OK with not having been present when Mom got touched by naked Jesus.

It did however remind me that I never talked about Children of the Alley, a loan from [personal profile] shoroko that I coincidentally ended up reading at about the same time I went to go see The Mysteries. Apparently it was just a very Biblical week for me that week -- Children of the Alley is a novel-length Biblical allegory by Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, which begins when a wrathful paterfamilias kicks his son Adham out of his house.

Adham goes on to produce not!Cain and not!Abel, who subsequently go on to produce an entire community's worth of descendents; the next few sections focus on not!Moses, not!Jesus, not!Mohammed, and finally the last guy who is not particularly analogous to anyone except SCIENCE. I have to say, as a Jew, it made for a pretty fascinating reading experience -- like, I was on pretty solid ground with where the story was going for Adam and Eve etc., happily following along with Moses, little bit less confident in my grasp of the analogies when we got to Jesus, and then almost TOTALLY UNSPOILED when we got to Mohammed. (And completely unspoiled for Mr. Science, but nobody is spoiled for Mr. Science.)

Given that the book has been banned in multiple countries, it was actually a much less cynical analogy than I expected. Taken as a literary character, I find it hard to forgive Angry Paterfamilias God for his silence and neglect, but Mahfouz, as author, can, I think, and does. It's not at all my relationship with religion, but -- as with The Mysteries -- it's fascinating to read someone else's.

(I have one religious-allegorical complaint -- and it's not really my job to complain about this, seeing as how I am so very not Christian -- but ... conflating Mary Magdalene and Judas into one character? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT. Doesn't having the Mary Magdalene figure betray Jesus kind of ... defeat the whole purpose of Mary Magdalene ...?)

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the real kwon
21 June 2014 @ 05:54 pm
Downside: after a day which has already included a full-length comedy of travel errors (mostly of my own doing), I am currently grounded in Minneapolis. Also, for the icing on the cake, I broke my shoe. :(

Upside: I think I spoke reasonably eloquently at my conference presentation this morning, but MORE IMPORTANTLY, Minneapolis airport has wi-fi! TEN POINTS TO MINNEAPYFFINDOR. So I'm gonna use the time to write up How Much For Just The Planet, because it's impossible to be as cranky as you otherwise might be when you remember that a Star Trek novel exists that literally just consists of the TOS cast and a bunch of Klingons being flung directly into a musical episode.

The plot of How Much For Just The Planet theoretically involves the Klingons and the Federation competing for a planet full of resources, but the inhabitants of the planet see this serious business Star Trek plot coming a mile away and just decide they are going to NOPE STRAIGHT OUT OF IT. "How can we get rid of the interstellar politics headed our way? Easy! WE WILL CONFUSE AND IRRITATE THE HECK OUT OF THEM UNTIL THEY LEAVE."

This launches everybody into a highly choreographed series of HIJINKS, designed for the mockery of the visitors and entertainment of the locals, who are all HUGE FILM AND DRAMA NERDS, in which:

- Kirk, an Earth diplomat that he used to date, and their rom-com Klingon counterparts embark on an elaborate screwball sequence of fake burglaries and mistaken identities to help a couple of the locals get hitched
- Scotty and Chekhov get into a DUEL with some Klingons that can only be settled the old-fashioned way: with BATTLE GOLF
- Uhura and a film-nerd Klingon, the smartest members of their respective crews, have an incredibly genre-savvy film noir adventure
- McCoy and Sulu get kidnapped by an evil singing pirate queen and have to fight their way out with the help of the pastry cooks

Sorry, did I say 'singing pirate queen?' This is misleading; everything and everyone is singing. EVERYONE. Except of course for the very confused Enterprise team and Klingons, who manage to have a lot of beautiful bonding in their constant mutual confusion and dismay.

In addition to being a loving homage to screwball comedy, the book is also a loving homage to outdated technology; as a film archivist, the in-text educational film delighted my heart and soul.

-- and I knew citing this book would improve the situation! There is now a light on the horizon, and if I am very lucky, there is still a chance I may get back to New York before midnight. Which, all things considered, is not that bad! ONWARDS.

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the real kwon
18 June 2014 @ 12:10 pm
Man, I'm sitting here tearing out my hair over Boy, Snow, Bird. HELEN OYEYEMI. I don't know what to do with this.

Okay, so as has been previously established in these here parts, Helen Oyeyemi is a bona fide genius. This cannot be argued with. And for the first, say, 90% of Boy, Snow, Bird, it was probably my favorite thing she'd ever written? I read the first chapter on the subway yesterday, and then sat on a bench on the way home and read four more, even though I hadn't eaten in about ten hours and was starving, because I couldn't stop; the voices and prose were too much, I couldn't put it down.

Boy is a girl, born in New York in the 1930s. A quote, from Boy: "Where does character come into it? Just this: I've always been pretty sure I could kill someone if I had to. Myself, or my father -- whichever option proved most practical. I wouldn't kill for hatred's sake; I'd only do it to solve a problem." But instead of killing herself or her father, Boy takes a midnight bus out of town, and finds herself in a small artisan's town in Massachusetts, which is where the story takes place, and where she meets Snow.

Snow is also a girl, an extraordinarily beautiful girl, the beloved daughter of a widower. Snow is lovely, she's sweet, she has no temper; she always knows exactly the right thing to say, even at the age of six. Nobody can believe she's quite real, not even Snow herself. A quote, from Snow (not at the age of six): "It's a relief to be able to forget about what I might or might not be mistaken for. My reflection can't be counted on, she's not always there but I am, so maybe she's not really me ... well, what is she then? I guess we'll find out someday, but I'm not holding my breath."

And Bird is yet another girl; she's the girl who comes along after Boy and Snow meet, and changes everything around, for everybody. A quote, from Bird: "Do I feel bad for blowing Aunt Viv's cover? Not really. I accidentally brought truth to light, and bringing truth to light is the right thing to do." Bird is not the daughter her family expected, or wanted; she's not white enough for that. Maybe that's why she doesn't always show up in mirrors.

Boy, Snow, Bird is a book that takes place in a very real place, a very real time -- the Northeast in the 1950s and 60s -- with jagged edges of fairy tales new and old running through it; Boy's father the rat-catcher, shoes that don't fit, spiders that talk; a story about a woman and a wizard that two women make up between them, while pretending that they read it once before, in a book, and are just retelling it to each other now; two more stories passed between sisters, as a kind of proof of identity and belief.

And of course mothers and daughters and sisters everywhere, and of course mirrors everywhere, and of course always, everywhere Snow, as the Snow White story at the heart of the novel twists into an examination of race and beauty and identity.

And it's so good! IT'S SO GOOD. It's meaty and gorgeous and full of amazingly strong character voices and complicated, painful dynamics and beautiful prose, and then you start nearing the end and you're like, 'wow, everything is so fascinating and complex! I wonder how Oyeyemi is going to wrap all this up!'

And the answer is .... with a left-turn DRAMATIC BACKSTORY SHIFT that involves A REALLY BIZARRE AND OFFENSIVE REVEAL OF A TRANS CHARACTER, very spoilery details under cutCollapse ) Followed by a gesture towards hope and change and catharsis about to play out in a potentially fascinating way, followed by ... A FULL STOP.


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the real kwon
14 June 2014 @ 10:14 pm
IN OTHER OTHER NEWS: I have vowed I won't do any memes on tumblr that I don't do on DW too, because DW IS SO MUCH BETTER FOR IT, so:

Let’s play Burn Read Rewrite.
It’s like Kill Fuck Marry, but with books.

So, we've all played Kill/Fuck/Marry on here before, you know the drill, let's go! Let me know if you want me to give you three books back, after the three you give me. :D

Open all day tomorrow probably as well as tonight because, like, what else am I going to be doing except sitting on the couch attempting to be a good recovering invalid.

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the real kwon
14 June 2014 @ 06:28 pm
So I'm home! Like, in my apartment home, not on-my-mom's-couch home. THIS IS VERY EXCITING. (For those who missed it: abdominal surgery and exciting goings-on this week but everything's pretty much okay now!) I'm hoping this means I can begin approximating a functioning human being pretty soon, but in the meantime I have been reading ... a bunch of romance novels ... so thank you to everyone from that post a year or two back who recced me a bunch of romance novels! THERE IS NO BETTER TIME.

Today I am going to talk about Loretta Chase. I have now read three and a half Loretta Chase books:

1. Lord of Scoundrels is the one about the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad troublemaker with a tortured past and nonexistent self-esteem who just wants to be LOVED and the beautiful antique dealer who's sort of like, fine, ok, I can deal with that, I've taken care of SO MANY cranky children and you at least come with benefits. Everyone is correct about this one being great, it's very charming, mostly because both Jessica and the book are 100% committed to deflating Lord Dain's melodramatic self-image.

JESSICA: Oh dear here we go again.
JESSICA: Look, you've gotten over-excited. Would you like me to read you a story?
JESSICA: Darling, you're so high-strung. Like an overbred puppy.
JESSICA: I mean, am I wrong?
LORD DAIN: ...I'M NOT ...dignifying that ... with a response.

As the designated competent one in the relationship, Jessica is also required over the course of the relationship to shoot Lord Dain, seduce Lord Dain, and sort out Lord Dain's various family problems, in between organizing the wedding and her younger brother's financial situation. One gets the general impression that Jessica is the sort of person who enjoys managing everyone around her though, and seems to be very happy with the relationship.

2. The Last Hellion is a sort-of sequel to Lord of Scoundrels but not as cute, which is a shame, because the heroine is a NEWSPAPER MUCKRACKER AND TRASHY NOVEL-WRITER and all the bits that had to do with her actual job were pretty good. But the hero is very much a rake and I don't care about rakes (the hero of Lord of Scoundrels is I guess technically a rake but he is so busy having enormously bad self-esteem and assuming NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE HIM UNLESS HE PAAAAYS THEEEEEM that it really doesn't count.) Also there was a big pointless reveal about how the heroine was secretly nobility and related to everyone from Lord of Scoundrels, and, again, I didn't care.

3. Miss Wonderful, however: ALSO SUPER CUTE. This one bills itself as being about a rake but actually the hero is just one of those awfully hilarious serial monogamists who falls head-over-heels for lady after lady, which is great because it makes it thoroughly plausible to me that he would proceed to fall head-over-heels for the heroine (as opposed to in most romance novels where the instant attraction just does not work for me at all.) His love interest is a sensible spinster a few years older than him who has moved home to manage her absent-minded biologist father's estate, and they have a very pleasant mutual flirtation and attraction in which the main conflict is really just that his friend wants to build a canal on her property and she would prefer not to have a canal. (Well, their other main conflict is that he is a dandy and she is a terrible dresser.)

Anyway all this is FANTASTIC, because it allows the book largely to consist of friendly competition over stakes that have consequences but never actually seem like something that would ruin a relationship. Otherwise, their lives, families and personalities are perfectly compatible! Their relationship allows them both to grow as people in a friendly and supportive fashion! I fully believe in the success of this marriage! That NEVER happens in romance novels, so well done, Loretta Chase.

3.5. The Mad Earl's Bride, meanwhile, is a hilarious little novella about a brooding angsty rich dude who has a TRAGIC HEREDITARY ILLNESS and is DOOMED to become DELUSIONAL and DIE, and the lady doctor-in-training who's like "okay, so ... I marry you, study your tragic illness for a few months, get some nursing practice, and then inherit all your money to found a hospital with? SIGN ME UP."

Spoilers are not entirely unexpected but still hilariousCollapse )

And that's all the Loretta Chases I have read to date!

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the real kwon
04 June 2014 @ 10:50 am
I think it was [personal profile] opusculasedfera who recced me Julie Czerneda's Survival? WELL PLAYED.

So the book is the first in a trilogy which takes place in a future in which Earth has contact and trade agreements with a bunch of alien species all over the universe. However, our protagonist Dr. Mackenzie Connor does not really care about this at all. She is a mid-career biologist studying salmon, and she is BUSY. She has salmon to research! And grad students to organize!

Then the oncoming plot hits in the form of a visiting alien archaeologist! researching a potential sinister alien conspiracy! at Mac's salmon research facility!

ALIEN ARCHAEOLOGIST BRYMN: You are a biologist! Your work on population patterns is amazing! Surely you will be able to help with our research -
MAC: Yes, I am a biologist. NOT a xenobiologist. I have no interest or background in aliens. And you are INTERRUPTING MY SALMON RESEARCH DURING SPAWNING SEASON.

Mac continues to do her level best to refuse the call with repeated plaintive cries of "I STUDY SALMON!" for about the first half of the book, because, like, sure, xenobiology is a worthy field of study and all, and she respects those who choose to invest in it, but MAC'S SPECIALTY IS EARTH FISH.

To my untrained eye, the handling of science and scientists is great -- like, the research facility and all its specialists and grad students and weird bureaucratic constraints are described with great affection, everyone is very competent in their own fields and good at extrapolating to others, but everyone is also a SPECIALIST and nobody is MAGIC SCIENCE WIZARD.

The cross-culture stuff is also very cool! Like, eventually of course plot overwhelms Mac and she does end up hanging out with a bunch of aliens, and at one point almost dies because the aliens don't actually understand that humans need water to survive. "We thought it was just a preference and we didn't have time to stock up on luxuries! SORRY."

The other great thing about this book is that while Mac does get a token hot bureaucrat-spy love interest, the driving emotional relationship is between Mac and her research partner and science bestie Dr. Emily Mamani, who turns out to have some secrets -- among which perhaps the most emotionally devastating to Mac is the reveal that Dr. Mamani might not actually care all that much about salmon. ;____;

So overall: A+. However, I want to talk about the ending!Collapse )

That said, I'm totally reading the next two books. But since my library does not have them, the only question is whether to splurge and get them in Kindle now, or wait until September when they come out in omnibus...

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the real kwon
03 June 2014 @ 10:54 pm
Over halfway through Season Four! This is the batch that includes both the ROSWELL EPISODE and the JAMES BOND EPISODE. Well played, Deep Space Nine. (Although, sadly, no mirrorverse episodes this season so far, which I think are the only things that get us more excited than we got at the prospect of the Roswell episode.) Also, I got behind on posts, so there are ten episodes here rather than eight, which offends my sense of order slightly but oh well.

Episodes 5-14 of Season Three under the cutCollapse )
the real kwon
01 June 2014 @ 07:18 pm
All right, so, yes, AFTER SOME PEER PRESSURE FROM THE AUDIENCE AROUND HERE, [personal profile] obopolsk and I did ... in fact ... just get back from seeing Ethel Sings. ([personal profile] nextian: it was in the same place we saw 'Philosophy for Gangsters.' For the record. I'm sure you're shocked.)

And Ethel did, on occasion, sing!Collapse )

I mean, OK. The thing is. THE THING IS. I could often see what the playwright was getting towards. It was very well meant! I can understand why she wanted to connect the Rosenberg trial with incarceration-related injustices ongoing today! It would have been nice if it was more coherent, and I really do not think Goddess Muse Lorraine Hansberry was necessary for this, and admittedly for actual success I think it would probably have been necessary to cut out any and all references to Chicago. And also decide whether Ethel Rosenberg was a passionate martyr who died for her convictions, or an innocent housewife who didn't care about Communism and never did anything wrong to begin with, because, like ... that decision ... was not made ...

...but an attempt was made? An attempt was made. And I've just found out that ten percent of the ticket proceeds go to benefit The Rosenberg Fund for Children, and now I feel like a heel, so [personal profile] rymenhild, [personal profile] viorica, since you offered charitable donations to get me to the show, I direct your attention there.

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the real kwon
31 May 2014 @ 10:58 am
Sometime this weekend I'm going to put up an actual Deep Space 9 episode post, but in the meantime I just discovered these notes from a conversation between me and Debi in a notebook on my laptop from who knows how many months ago:


- Odo and Ben love each other. But they're TOTALLY NOT FRIENDS. Batman doesn't have friends. But they love each other.
- Ann is conflicted about sleeping with Bashir, because he's her boss; sleeps with him anyway; breaks it off because she's uncomfortable being in an open relationship that involves a war criminal [note: if memory serves the war criminal part refers to Garak]
- Jadzia hits on Ann all the time but she never notices because she's so used to Leslie. It's so nice to have a normal friend!
- THE O'BRIENS AND THE GURGICHES HAVE SO MANY BORING DINNERS TOGETHER [note: to be honest I think this is the best and most accurate part of the post]
- Jake and Nog buy all their clothes from Tom
- Ron likes Odo. Then Ron finds out Odo believes in 1984-style surveillance all the time. Ron does not like Odo.
- Sisko hates Leslie. AND EVERYONE.

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the real kwon
29 May 2014 @ 11:17 pm
So tonight I went with an old work friend to go see something called Drunk Shakespeare. All I knew beforehand was that it takes place in a pub. It turns out the premise is that every night a rotating sacrificial lamb of an actor gets EXTREMELY drunk before and throughout the show (as opposed to the rest of the amiable hipster cast, who seem to linger somewhere around genially tipsy.) The sacrificial lamb then has the privilege of, at any point, pausing the show to interject a drunken point of order on whatever directorial insight seems reasonable to them at the time.

Some instances of tonight's directorial gems, delivered a very drunken Lady Macbeth, included:
- instructions that Ross, the messenger, must deliver every one of his speeches in a different communications style (text emoji, Morse Code, etc.). This culminated in probably the only time I will ever see the news of Lady Macduff's death delivered by an actor dressed only in boxers and a bow tie, through the vehicle of interpretative breakdance.
- a demand to swap her leather skirt for Macbeth's trousers.
- a request that the last scene between (living) Banquo and Macbeth be played as a competition between competing Matthew McConaugheys, subject to an audience applause-o-meter for the victor. ("Point of order! Matthew McConaughey would NEVER name his son Fleance." At this point an audience member was gotten to volunteer a name for the son, which gave a very gleeful Macbeth the opportunity to bellow "AND CHANNING TATUM MUST NOT ESCAPE THE FATE OF THAT DARK HOUR!" and then improvise for a while on the theme of how Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum inevitably stand in the way of his career advancement.)

How much of this all is actual drunken improv and how much is pre-planned is I think open to debate (Macbeth's pants fit Lady Macbeth SUSPICIOUSLY WELL, for example), and I really kind of hope at least a few of the eight to ten drinks we saw Lady Macbeth down over the course of the night were secretly water, because otherwise I am sort of nervous that one of these shows may someday end in tragedy. These concerns aside, it was largely a delightful experience. It's so aggressively lowbrow and full of dick jokes and fart jokes. Shakespeare would have LOVED IT.

In other theatrical news, Boston-area folks, the Post-Meridian Radio Players are doing The Trouble With Tribbles again this weekend -- Star Trek TOS with an all-female cast, with the exception of Uhura. I saw this several months ago at Arisia and it was SUPER FUN. Exasperated mom Kirk is the greatest Kirk.

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the real kwon
28 May 2014 @ 10:52 am
I'm currently in that state of post-new-Frances-Hardinge depression when I have to face the glum fact that it will likely be YEARS before I see another new Frances Hardinge novel.

Cuckoo Song, though! So good! Has anyone else read it yet? I want to flail my hands around and say all the things I loved about it, but most of them are somewhat spoilery!

The book begins when eleven-year-old Triss -- an isolated, over-protected girl who's always ill -- comes back home after an accident. Her memories are foggy, her 'difficult' little sister seems to hate her more than ever, and there's some kind of awful hole in her stomach; she eats and eats and eats until her parents are terrified, but nothing fills her up ...

That's the beginning, and for the first quarter of the story it's pure psychological horror, classic female-focused psychological horror -- complete with creepy dolls and callbacks to The Yellow Wallpaper and the looming threat of being committed to an asylum -- as Triss navigates the double bind of what's wrong with her now and what was wrong with her and her family before.

Then the first set of mysteries gets solved, and it becomes clear that you're looking at a thoroughly familiar story from a completely different angle, and it's GREAT.

And at the same time it's looking at the aftermath of WWI, and grief and recovery, and shifting cultural gender roles, and what it means to be a monster, and what it means to be family, and the three main characters are Triss and her awful, difficult, angry little sister and AN EMOTIONALLY CONSTIPATED MOTORCYCLE-RIDING FLAPPER WHO DANCES ALL NIGHT IN JAZZ CLUBS, and and and!

And now I have that problem where I have to find something else to read and not spend all my time resenting it for not being a Frances Hardinge book.

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the real kwon
21 May 2014 @ 09:10 pm
So after an initial delighted start, I have now read The Rabbi's Cat 1 and 2 and I love them about as much as I love anything. THE CAT IS THE BEST WORST JERK CAT EVER.

I don't know what I love best, like, there is so much greatness! The time an elderly Jewish lion hunter gets up in the middle of the rally and punches an anti-Semitic politician in the face! The time a Polish painter accidentally ships himself to Algeria! The time THEY ACTUALLY RUN INTO TINTIN AND JOANN SFAR IS THE MEANEST, I LOVE IT

No, but okay, I think what I actually love best about The Rabbi's Cat, aside of course from the cat (I LOVE THE CAT SO MUCH) is that it so extraordinarily rejects the idea of the single story. This is a book about a Jewish community, a very specific Algerian Sephardic Jewish community, and when they meet secular French Jews there is culture clash beyond measure, and when they open a packing crate and find a Polish Communist Jew the gap is worlds wide, and there's no way to communicate (except via talking cat), because why would they know Yiddish? Why would he know Ladino? "Try talking with him in Hebrew!" "YOU CAN'T SAY ANYTHING USEFUL IN HEBREW." Because you couldn't, then.

It is time to embark once more on my regularly scheduled mourning for the fact that only the first volume of Sfar's Klezmer has been published in English.

And while I am on the topic of specific Jewish stories -- surprise! I need to rec a fic. Surprise two: it's a Captain America fic? about Bucky?? "But Becca," you may say, "you have never shown any evidence of caring about Bucky AT ALL." That's right, I basically don't. AND YET. [personal profile] newredshoes wrote In the World to Come, a story about Bucky Barnes the Jewish kid from Brooklyn, and in fact it turns out that I do in fact care about that quite a bit. Surprise? SURPRISE.

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the real kwon
14 May 2014 @ 12:44 pm
I have an unexpected day off work today, and I have SO MUCH stuff I could and should be doing with it, but instead I spent all morning finishing up Ursula K. LeGuin's Annals of the Western Shore trilogy.

The trilogy consists of three loosely-linked books, which take place across an array of neighboring cultures; the protagonists of the first book are supporting characters in the second, and just a reference in an internal text for most of the third.

Gifts, the first book, is the quietest and most claustrophobic and, for me, the least compelling. It takes place in a hardscrabble mountain culture, governed by ruling families who have some kind of hereditary gift, often violent -- the gift to twist things, the gift to cut with a knife from a distance, the gift to make things ill. The protagonist's best friend has the ability to call and understand animals; his father has the hereditary power of unmaking things by looking at them, and his mother is a foreigner who loves books and stories and only half-believes in gifts at all. When the protagonist does come into his gift, it seems to be wild and uncontrollable, and so, for the sake of the people around him, he and his father agree to seal away his eyes, which is extra difficult for him because it also seals him away from books and from his mother's culture that she's been trying to share with him. So the book is about how he deals with this. I loved his mother, I loved her story as a foreigner living in this very difficult world by choice and trying to understand it; as for the main story, I think I understand what LeGuin was trying to do. But all the time that Orrec spent thinking bitterly how unfair it was that he had to choose to seal his eyes, I wish she had even just once had Orrec have a conversation with someone who was born blind.

Voices is a much more active book -- it's about a once-learned merchant city that has been living under an invading force for the past seventeen years, until a great poet comes to the city and sets off a chain of events that leads to revolt. The protagonist is a mixed-race girl, a "siege brat" from that initial conquest, who hates the invaders passionately and lives in a once-ruling house where secret learning is still kept. At first I rolled my eyes a little at how very, very awful the invading culture is, in contrast to the peaceable city inhabitants -- they're religious fanatics! they believe books are demonic and came specifically to BURN them! AND ALSO they're sexist and keep their women locked away, and and and -- but LeGuin is better than that, so even though the culture of the invaders is pretty much deliberately designed to horrify the readers as much as it horrifies the city inhabitants, the invaders are very much shown as people, too, and their culture as complicated and not monolithic. And the story is also about what happens after a tinderbox revolt, and politics and negotiations and compromise, and rebuilding afterwards. It's sort of an ideal scenario of how a revolution might go, but being ideal doesn't make it over-simplified or less complicated.

Powers, the third book, is actually the one I found most compelling, which I didn't expect. It's slower and more wandering than the others -- the protagonist of this one grows up as a house slave in the City-States, a military society which is very economically grounded in slave-ownership. He also sometimes has the power to see the future, not very clearly; this is almost incidental for a large part of the story. Anyway, he is actually fairly happy and unquestioning of his status in life until something awful happens that completely emotionally shatters him and also breaks his trust in the foundation of the system. After that he sort of bumbles in and out of various societies and situations, sort of grappling with the different systems of ownership and government and power that he encounters, and attempting to form real connections that can replace what he's lost. The book is also the most overtly feminist, and the discussion of slavery has a strong sub-theme of the ways that women are easily commodified, and even 'free' societies often and easily leave women out of that freedom. All this sounds pretty depressing and not all compelling, probably, but this morning I couldn't put it down. (And the ending is not depressing! In fact the happy ending comes almost too easily, after all the complicated, thoughtful depictions of everything else that happens.)

I really liked the series as a whole, and I think it benefits reading as a whole. Each book sort of indirectly complements and complicates the others, and the poem "Liberty" that links all of them means something different to each protagonist. And they all share a very strong interest in words and reading and stories and the power of narrative, and how that operates in different contexts. The one thing that links all the protagonists is their passion for stories and words.

The one thing I do want to say though is that there is are weirdly troubling depictions of disability, or at least they troubled me -- in the first book the 'gifts' are often used to disable people, but the victims of those 'gifts' appear as hearsay or unpleasant scenery, they're not really present and they don't have a voice. So then, as I mentioned above, the protagonist's blindness-by-choice is presented as a.) a terrible and difficult thing for him but b.) also weirdly and completely outside the context of blindness not-by-choice. That bothered me. Then in the third book, there's a character who as a child is described as walking a little strangely, his face a little askew, having fits of anger that he can't control -- and this character grows up to become horrible, violent, murderous, one of the symbols of the injustice of masters having unchecked power over slaves. So ... that's not good. And it made me less comfortable with the blindness narrative in the first book, because I can't trust that LeGuin was thinking very hard about disability in this narrative, although she was clearly thinking long and well about lots of other things.

Anyway this post is already very long so I'm going to stop it here, though there is loads more to discuss. I liked the books a lot! Project LeGuin continues to be a good project!

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the real kwon
10 May 2014 @ 01:22 am
I just got back from one of the more incredible theater experiences I've had in New York, and I'm trying to figure out how to talk about it.

The Mysteries is a six-hour retelling of the Bible (Old and New Testament), as interpreted by 48 playwrights and one director. Disparate pieces of the story that get sutured together, with mood, characterization and interpretation changing wildly from scene to scene -- it really shouldn't work, but somehow it SUPER DOES. Some of the scenes are gorgeous, some are hilarious, some think they're funnier and smarter than they are, and some of them, in my opinion, are wild missteps (although I suspect everyone's opinion on that will be different), but everything that didn't work for me ended up balanced by a moment of incredible grace. The rest is cut for images and sacreligious content, in case anyone is bothered by that. LET'S TELL EVERYONE JESUS RODE A UNICORN.Collapse )

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