December 18th, 2013
|11:26 pm - Hannibal? More Like Vodka Crannibal!|
Who could blame people for not expecting much from Hannibal? After all, the idea sprung from the production company as a way to keep the franchise alive; surely it would be a shitty show coasting on brand recognition for viewership. No one much liked the post-Silence of the Lambs movies anyway, so no one was asking for this television show. Yes, it was Bryan Fuller, but he's known for quirky humor, not exactly the person you'd think of to run a show about a cannibalistic serial killer. Then again, it was Bryan Fuller, and he's known for blackly comic portrayals of death.
Imagine everyone's surprise when it turned out Hannibal was FUCKING AMAZING.
Hannibal shows us Hannibal in his best days, when he was—as Fuller puts it—a practicing cannibal and a practicing psychiatrist. He has patients who come to him to discuss their problems, and then he probably eats the annoying ones. The show knows that we know who Hannibal Lecter really is, even though the characters don't, and it has way too much fun with the dramatic irony inherent in the premise. The characters only see the surface—the elegant, refined gourmand with a keen sense of style and presentation—and they trust his judgment, never hearing our screams of "HIS NAME RHYMES WITH CANNIBAL" and "THE [INSERT FOOD HERE] IS PEOPLE!" The show is so winky-winky about Hannibal's darker side that—even though we know it's coming—it actually comes as a shock when it becomes explicit. Mads Mikkelsen does not ape Anthony Hopkins's iconic performance at all, not only because it would be distracting but also because it would make no sense. Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter exposed, incarcerated—Mikkelsen is playing Hannibal concealed, free. He puts on his person suit and only we, the viewers, can see through the thin veneer of humanity he projects.
FBI profiler Will Graham, then, complements Hannibal. Whereas Hannibal has no empathy, Will has pure empathy, a fictional condition—with a scientific basis—that allows him to get inside of the minds of serial killers. Unfortunately, they get inside him a little too. In some of the most unsettling sequences in the show, we see Will reenact the murders, and it's sometimes hard to see where the killer ends and Will begins. "STOP KILLING PEOPLE WILL GRAHAM" became my constant refrain and—to my utter delight—it also became his character arc. Unlike Hannibal, who is confident in his identity and kills without abandon, Will Graham must battle his darker impulses for fear of turning into the very killers he hunts. Continuing the dramatic irony, Will seems creepier than Hannibal because he doesn't try to hide anything; his emotions are written all over his face. Hugh Dancy gives him a vulnerability that makes you want to give the poor guy a hug, but he also feels dangerous, always a step away from pulling the trigger at the wrong moment.
And I haven't even mentioned the authoritative Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, who in one scene destroyed me completely with just his face), Will's boss/friend (like Will has any friends); the underused Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas, playing the complete opposite of Jaye Tyler), Will's colleague/friend (like Will has any friends); the mysterious Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson, icy cool), Hannibal's psychiatrist/friend (like Hannibal has any friends); the wily Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki, wonderfully amoral), a tabloid blogger and force of chaos; and the delightful members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, who provide much of the comic relief. There are no weak links on this show.
Beyond the fantastic cast, however, the show looks and sounds like nothing else on television. Although it may have the trappings of a procedural show, with a new serial killer every week, Fuller thinks of it as a horror show, and the mood and atmosphere reflect that. With Breaking Bad off the air, Hannibal will become the most cinematographically interesting show on the air. Not only does Will's headspace allow for dreamlike, nightmarish visions but also the shot composition in general has a sense of aesthetics, from the intricately arranged food to the gruesome but beautiful tableaux of corpses. The music—the entire sound design—is designed to creep you the fuck out; composer Brian Reitzell strives to create new sounds, sounds you've never heard before so that they exist as aural wallpaper. But he also uses classical music when appropriate, a symbol of Hannibal's refined tastes.
Hannibal makes all my neurons fire on OH FUCK. For 43 minutes my whole body is OH FUCK. It examines mortality and death and killing, why we do it, what makes a person do it, what it means for a person's identity and sense of self to take a life, whether killing makes one a killer, whether helping kill makes one a killer. It looks at human connections, what keeps us apart and brings us together. It asks what makes a monster like Hannibal Lecter do the things he does and what keeps Will Graham from becoming a monster like him.
It's visually and aurally stunning. It's gorgeous and gory. It's unnerving and brutal. It's far, far too good for network TV. The first season, though not without its flaws, is exquisitely constructed, with such narrative density and character mirroring and parallels. It's an absolute marvel how all the themes and symbols and recurring images and lines come together in the end. Bryan Fuller is a goddamn genius, and I am ready for a second helping.
Current Mood: annoyed
Current Music: Snow Patrol - Gleaming Auction
December 8th, 2013
|11:33 pm - The West Wing? More Like The Best Thing!|
I have been wanting to watch The West Wing for years. I loved Sports Night, and The West Wing was considered Aaron Sorkin's magnum opus, consistently appearing on lists of the Best Television Shows of All Time, both critically and personally. It was a huge part of popular culture, but it was also a massive undertaking! Seven seasons, 156 episodes, the longest show I'd ever mainlined. It took me ten months to get through it all, but, honestly, I could have done it much faster had I actually quit life as I wanted to from the moment I started.
The West Wing, though it appears to be a non-genre show, is, in fact, a fantasy. It follows the administration of Democratic President Jed Bartlet, who is a good man who truly wants to improve the country, and he is magically able to effect a positive change with the help of his staff. Leo McGarry, his BFF and Chief of Staff, the stern Daddy to his warm Mommy, who tells him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff, wheels and deals Littlefinger-style to make policies happen. Toby Ziegler, Communications Director, hates everything but that's only because he holds humanity to a higher standard than it lives up to. Sam Seaborn, Deputy Communications Director, writes beautifully because of his incredible idealism, a trait that pervades the show in general. CJ Cregg, Press Secretary, liaises between the administration and the press, forced to field the tough questions and deliver a strong, consistent message. Charlie Young, the President's Aide, provides a useful Everyman perspective to Bartlet. Donna Moss, Josh's assistant, provides a useful Everywoman perspective to Josh. And Mandy? Fuck Mandy.
I love this show because it believes in a government that can get things done. Any obstacles—usually Republicans—can be overcome with negotiation, compromise, and the occasional stunt. All of Sorkin's shows are about people who are both incredibly competent and extremely passionate about their jobs: they never work a day in their lives because they love what they do. As such, I admire his characters for their drive and sense of purpose. They are committed to doing good, and we can root for them to get that tax passed, to shoot down that bill with a horrible rider, to something something politics. (Many times, I could not follow the intricacies of the politics, domestic or international, but I trusted that the characters knew what they were doing and the music would tell me how to feel about it.)
I love this show because behind all the witty repartee and walking-and-talking, behind the bravura tracking shots and eloquent monologues are living, breathing, multifaceted people. Although their jobs are their lives, they do have histories, and the show explores what makes them tick. What kind of a man chooses to become leader of the free world? What makes Josh walk so fast? What are Donna's aspirations? The cast, uniformly excellent, rises to the task and imbues the characters with dramatic weight, making simple conversations as powerful and tense as any action scene.
I love this show because it gives me ALL THE FEELS. Yes, at times, it's transparently emotionally manipulative, but The West Wing makes you cry happy tears as often as it makes you cry sad tears. Thanks to its spirit of hope and faith in democracy, we feel the catharsis of success. Plus, the staff become family, and the love they share for each other manifests itself in lovely ways. But the show can also twist the knife and break your heart. One emotionally destructive episode is easily one of the finest television episodes I've ever seen, leaving me a wreck for hours afterward. When the show fires on all cylinders, its energy is palpable.
The show is not without its flaws, of course. Despite creating some fantastic female characters, Sorkin does have a sexist bent that rears its ugly head all too often. Characters often disappear with no explanation, their stories dropped. Romantic plots rarely develop well. Continuity can be haphazard.
Many fans advise new viewers to stop after the fourth season, as Sorkin left the show then, but I could not disagree more. While the fifth season is rough and transitional, without a doubt the show's worst season, seasons six and seven slyly reinvent the show and return to confident, assured storytelling.
The West Wing gives us a picture of politics as we wish it operated, an ideal to which to aspire. That it tells entertaining stories about characters we love is a bonus. I'm going to miss my politics babies.
Current Mood: grumpy
Current Music: Nine Inch Nails - I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally
November 26th, 2013
|12:35 am - The Lost Memories of Lost Objects|
For the first time, I wrote for the San Francisco Olympians Festival. "The Bow" was largely inspired by my backpack's being stolen last year, and it's the most personal, emotional play I've ever written, the first one where I am every single character. I toiled over it for months, and I ended up very proud of it. I got my top choices for the two leads, and one fantastic actor for another role; I had a cast who elevated the material.
And you can watch it!
It was well received, I think. Tracy cried. Marissa was at a loss for words. And Sarose wanted to smash a glass on her face to focus on physical pain instead of emotional pain. I'd call that a success!
But the best praise ever came from my former boss:
Your play was very touching and by far the deepest of all those performed yesterday. I really appreciated the sensitive approach you took with the tool of war theme. I thought the 2 male side characters' dialogue added an interesting forced contemplation of the dialogue of the 2 female characters (archer and bow). Love, admiration, respect, longing, loss, betrayal, disappointment, death. Your play had it all.I can't even. (And if that weren't enough, the girl who played The Bow really loved the play and keeps telling me how great it is, the most recent bit being "I don't think I will ever think about these things the same way again." Which, wow.)
Someday you will be considered famous by others that don't know you. Today you are famous in the eyes of those that know and respect you.
The Ghost Brigades focuses on one of the most intriguing parts of the world John Scalzi created in Old Man's War: an elite corps of supersoldiers even more super than everyone else in the Colonial Defense Forces. They're so enhanced some people don't even consider them human. Their very existence in Old Man's War brought up interesting questions about identity and humanity, and in this excellent sequel, Scalzi takes those questions into fascinating new territory.
Jared Dirac, newest member of the Ghost Brigades, faces an intriguing identity crisis: he carries within him the consciousness of a traitor against humanity, put there in an attempt to discover his motives and secret plot. Although he may look like an adult, he is really a newborn, discovering the world and his place in it. Inevitably, of course, he must deal with the fact that there is another person inside him, which leads to an examination of many of my favorite themes. It ends up becoming a fantastic character study about Jared, who he is, and who he chooses to be.
While Old Man's War stood alone well enough, this book truly lays the groundwork for an ongoing series, as it gives us closer glimpses into the CDF and the conflicts with the various alien races. In many ways, it is an improvement over the first book: it is far more focused, with a conflict and goal established very early on that informs the actions of everyone throughout the book. Even the writing seems sharper and more polished.
The Ghost Brigades is nearly impossible to put down; I basically wanted to quit life and keep reading. It's a welcome return to an engrossing world with an incredibly likable protagonist and a favorite returning character. If Old Man's War heralded a bold new voice in science fiction, The Ghost Brigades absolutely confirms it.
I read these books back in frickin' July, so I'm just going to dump my reviews of the rest of the series here, behind spoiler-cuts, as the premises are somewhat spoilery.
The Last Colony brings John Perry back for narrating duties, now happily living in retirement with Jane Sagan and their daughter, Zoe. But just when he thinks he's out, they pull him back in! But not as a soldier: as the leader of a new colony, the ominously named Roanoke. He soon discovers there is far more to Roanoke than meets the eye, and before you know it, he's caught up in an interstellar Game of Thrones.
Unlike its more military-focused predecessors, this book provides an interesting perspective on colonization and colonists, the regular folk. But it's really more about the role of the Colonial Union as a government and representative of humanity and their place in galactic politics. What responsibility does a government hold to its constituents? How can humans coexist peacefully with so many other alien races? It tackles topics that aren't as near and dear to my heart—although Jane Sagan continues to have her share of identity issues—so I wasn't as madly in love with it. That being said, what it does, it does very well, and after a somewhat slow start, Scalzi keeps the plot moving as the fate of Roanoke hangs in the balance. Political intrigue and plot twists galore! He is writing about things I like to read about in the way I like to read about them.
While it's not quite as strong as the first two books—it seems like most of the "action" is in revelatory dialogue—it's still very engaging with good characters—both human and alien, both old and new—and it's just as hard to put down as anything else John Scalzi writes, that addictive bastard.
In Zoe's Tale, a parallel novel to The Last Colony, John Scalzi retells the events from Zoe's perspective. Zoe is a likable character, and Scalzi slips into the voice of a teenage girl fairly well, so well, in fact, that it's kind of jarring to experience this universe through her eyes. In the Acknowledgments, he notes that the book was partly written to address two common complaints about The Last Colony: a dropped plot point regarding the original inhabitants of Roanoke and a portion of the book where Zoe spends a significant amount of time from the narrative. Unsurprisingly, these are the strongest and best parts of the book, the ones that make it worth reading. It's certainly no Ender's Shadow, which managed to be compelling in its own right by weaving in an original story for Bean. The vast majority of the book is either things we already knew with a bit of false suspense since we know the outcome or the life of a teenage girl. The interesting bits, however, concern Zoe's relationship to the Obin and how she reconciles her identity as a teenage girl with her status as the most important person in the universe. All in all, the book feels inessential but pretty satisfying.
For The Human Division
, the latest book in the Old Man's War
series, John Scalzi experimented with a serialized format, piecing together thirteen stand-alone short stories into a novel. Though not entirely successful, it results in a book that may actually be more entertaining and enjoyable than The Last Colony
(though not as amazing as Old Man's War
or The Ghost Brigades
With The Human Division
, Scalzi puts Old Fart Harry Wilson at the forefront, a Colonial Defense Force tech geek who finds himself on a diplomatic mission as part of "the B-team": a ragtag group of misfits who aren't important enough for the good
stuff but sure do have some success in unusual situations. He has a bromance with Hart Schmidt, a forlorn assistant, and his crazy ideas are frequently too much for Captain Coloma, a fierce protector, and Ambassador Abumwe, a tough negotiator. Aboard the Clarke
, they navigate the dangerous and unexpected waves of diplomacy in a universe where humanity is divided at a time when they need to be united against a common enemy: the Conclave, an alliance of hundreds of alien races imposing their will upon all who refuse to join. But there appears to be a wild card in the mix...
Scalzi alternates "episodes" between those focused on the Clarke
and the major goings-on of the plot and those focused on specific characters, some of them regulars and some of them one-shots. With one notable exception, these side stories are great, giving us some more insight into characters we know or simply telling a good stand-alone story. They vary in relevance to the main plot, but each one helps broaden the picture of the story Scalzi is telling by showing us different perspectives. As it is, despite an exciting double-length finale, the main plot isn't satisfying anyway, and I'm very glad that the story will be continued in another "season." The character
arcs, however, are much more satisfying: Scalzi realized as he was writing that that
was the real story of the book anyway.
Even though the whole isn't quite the sum of its parts, the parts
are really good, although the repeated exposition gets irritating when reading straight through. It's the funniest book in the series (he'd just finished writing Redshirts
, after all), and while it doesn't tackle a lot of deep themes like the previous books in the series, it's a solid installment, and I look forward to reading more about these characters and this world.
I highly recommend the series!
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Sasha - Rabbitweed
October 15th, 2013
|12:06 am - Wendig, Oh!|
It's been a month since my momentous last update, and, yes, I've been busy writing, but I can drop those thoughts into a later post. Tonight I thought I'd give a work update!
Last month, I was promoted! I am now a Sr. Drug Safety Associate, with more responsibility, more money, and the accompanying stress. And speaking of stress...our company was bought out. We are in the middle of a merger/acquisition, and next month, we find out who will still have a job. I've been getting mixed messages, so I have no idea how safe my position is, but I am guessing that I will have a job at least through the end of the year and probably through the first or second quarter of next year for the transition, after which I'll be let go with the maximum severance package...not to mention the money from the buyout. I'm kind of looking forward to being laid off so I can take a few months off and focus on writing. But I don't know. Life is weird.
Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig, has a goddamn fantastic cover and an irresistible premise: Miriam Black knows how and when you die simply by touching you. Somewhat predictably—because where else do you go with this trope, after all—she sees a death she doesn't want to see and tries to prevent it. But that's about the only thing that's predictable about this book. (Okay, there is one other thing.)
Miriam Black is a wonderful character, a drifter and a grifter who's constantly bombarded with the deaths of the others, deaths she is powerless to do anything about but can at the very least exploit for her own personal gain. She's fucked-up and damaged, some events in her past always haunting her. She's foul-mouthed and pissed-off, in contrast to the usual snarky, badass urban fantasy heroine. Miriam Black is not someone I would want to hang out with in real life, but I loved hanging out with her on the page.
At first, there doesn't appear to be much of a plot, as Miriam simply hops around encountering people, but then one does develop, and if it sort of seems to be mashed into this story, that's because it was: Chuck Wendig took a couple unrelated characters he'd written about and gave them a home in Miriam's world. It works for the most part, however, and Wendig also provides some framing interlude chapters that provide exposition and backstory to keep the book moving along. The chapters are very short (and they have wonderful titles like "The Sun Can Go Fuck Itself," "Everybody's Fucked," and "This Is Where Randy Hawkins Dies" [not a spoiler, I promise]), which makes the book very fast-paced and hard to put down since you can always read just one more chapter. As things started coming together, I began having audible reactions, which is an indication of how invested I am in the story and characters.
I was not prepared for the tone and atmosphere of the book, though: it's quite crass, dirty, and grimy, though not without a sense of humor, as the chapter titles indicate. It rarely feels like Wendig is trying too hard, either; the voice of the book is so strong that it draws you into its mood effortlessly. I must admit to feeling uncomfortable with what appeared to be a misogynistic tone in that voice, which I do believe comes from the characters and the world rather than the author. I have no reason to think Wendig is misogynist (and, in fact, have every reason to think the opposite), but I did raise my eyebrow quite a bit.
Enjoying and appreciating Blackbirds does require giving in to the dark, fuck-sunshine tone of the book, but it does tell a gritty, satisfying tale of death, regret, and fate starring a fascinating protagonist I'm happy to follow for many more books.
In Mockingbird, Miriam Black returns, still clearly affected by the events of Blackbirds. I appreciated the realistic way Chuck Wendig handles it: she may have survived, but it wasn't happily ever after. Mockingbird finds her using her talents at a school for "bad girls," where she, of course, sees a death she must stop. I have no issue with this formula, as it is a natural fit for this series, and it doesn't feel repetitive because Wendig puts some new twists on it. The story gets pretty fucking depraved; it's clear these books are going to be pretty dark, grim, fucked-up affairs. Which, again, is a natural fit for this particular character. We get some more character development for Miriam that indicates that the series will definitely see her grow and change with each book. In addition, the mythology continues to deepen. At times, these books can be too much for me, but they're very addictive, and they're fast reads, and I find Miriam Black fascinating.
Within the first few pages, I knew I would love the fuck out of The Blue Blazes, by Chuck Wendig, for two reasons. One, it deals with the underworld and gives it a mythic quality, using journal entries from a lost explorer to provide the exposition and worldbuilding. Two, the vibrancy of the fucking language, holy shit. Chuck Wendig is a master of metaphor, and his imagery leaps off the page. The staccato descriptions, sentences frequently dispensing with needless subjects and getting right to the verbs, pull you into the action and give the book a pulpy noir feel, appropriate for a book about the criminal underworld.
The Blue Blazes is built on that pun, really, melding together the supernatural underworld and the criminal underworld. The man who straddles that line is Mookie Pearl, a big, burly hulk of a man. He's the tank in your raid team; he's not on the Brute Squad, he is the Brute Squad; and so on. This tough enforcer dabbles in the delicate culinary art of charcuterie, finding peace in tiny meat. And peace is what he needs when his daughter, Nora, declares that she is going to take down his boss and rule the city of New York. The complicated, conflicted relationship between Mookie and his daughter is easily one of the best parts of the book.
Wendig constructs a world with fearsome monsters and dark magic, only able to be seen with a drug harvested from the underworld. Guess what color it is. I loved the cosmology of the book, the nature of the underworld and its denizens, the effects of the Blue. We learn about the world bit by bit, sometimes from a journal entry and sometimes from a character. To my utter delight, we get multiple POVs throughout the book, as Wendig gives us a glimpse into the heads of the good guys, the bad guys, and everyone in between. It made me positively giddy each time we got a new perspective, especially because some scenes were not told from the perspectives I expected, and I could tell whose head we were in simply from the language. The language in this book, good God. I may love Miriam Black more as a character, but I really love the way this book is written. It's got a sick pizzazz.
The Blue Blazes is filed under urban fantasy, but it's really supernatural crime noir. With a strong relationship at the center, exciting action scenes, and interesting and conflicted characters, it's a promising start to a new series that tells a satisfying story on its own. "Please let Mookie Pearl punch his way into your heart," wrote Chuck when he signed my book. He has. Oh, he has.
Current Mood: anxious
Current Music: Garbage - The Trick Is to Keep Breathing
September 12th, 2013
|12:35 am - The Birthday Manifesto|
I came out of Worldcon this year with an epiphany: I have wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and, goddammit, I am going to make that happen. From the time I wrote and illustrated The Disastrous Dino War, it's all I've ever wanted from my life. I had practically given up on the notion, assuming that I would never see my name in a bookstore. See, I wrote nothing but sci-fi/fantasy/horror fiction until I took creative writing courses in college, where they frown upon genre fiction. Granted, I improved greatly as a writer as I wrote these realistic stories, but as a result, I figured that my writing future lay in literary fiction, which was ~*respectable*~. When I started writing plays, however, I fell back into genre without even realizing it: Vishnu Claus, an epic sci-fi drama on a spaceship, superheroes in a bar, a talking beer, a talking bow, etc. It was calling me back. I focused on playwriting because I found a supportive community who would believe in my work and bring it to an audience, and at Worldcon, I realized that I have a similarly supportive community in SFF. Saladin Ahmed let me present "Origin Stories" with him as a show of support for a new author of color in SFF, and I intend to become one. I can be diversity in SFF. I can create diversity in SFF. I haven't written a short story in five years, but my fiction drought is over. It's time to make my dreams come true. Today is my birthday, and it's my gift to myself: this time next year, I'm going to be a published author. Is that too ambitious? Oh well, I'm living by Stina Leicht's motto: Dare to suck.
2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is perhaps the most ambitious science fiction novel I have ever read, as Kim Stanley Robinson attempts to truly capture the state of humanity in the 24th century. Three hundred years from now, humans have terraformed and/or colonized most of the solar system. Animals are preserved in offworld terrariums inside asteroids. The concept of binary gender has all but disappeared. Many people have personal A.I.'s, called qubes. Genetic modification and introduction of animal DNA is not uncommon.
By far, the best thing about the book is its meticulous, thoughtful—and thought-provoking—worldbuilding. Much of it comes in the form of interstitial Extracts, chapters of, well, extracts from fictional texts—and they are truly extracts, cutting in and out mid-sentence—that provide scientific and societal background. I found these sections both interesting and frustrating, as the jumbled, partial nature of them made them deliberately obtuse, as if Robinson didn't really want you to understand any of it. They walk a fine line between a clever form of infodump that gives the reader just enough information and a cruel tease that makes the reader feel stupid. Worse are the interstitial Lists, which are, well, lists, and it's even less clear what information they're supposed to be imparting. Finally, the interstitial Quantum Walk chapters are stream-of-consciousness gibberish that approach coherence at times but appear to be satisfied with not making sense.
Robinson succeeds in painting a picture of the future; even when the details seem impenetrable, the impression comes across because his prose is so evocative. There are some lovely lines buried in the 500+ pages. What does it mean to be human? What does life mean, when life now lasts over a hundred years? What is love in a world that spans the entire galaxy?
Sadly, the book is 80% worldbuilding, 20% story. It begins promisingly enough, as Swan Er Hong, a Chinese-Mercurian who lives in Terminator, a city on rails, learns that her recently deceased grandmother was into some secret cloak-and-dagger shit. This leads her to a potential terrorist conspiracy and thoughts of interplanetary revolution. The pacing of the book falters, however, as it quickly loses its initial momentum and then never regains it, content to wallow in subplot after subplot and occasionally remembering there's something interesting going on. The passage of time is also very unclear, and it was only when a date was finally given that I was certain we were in the year 2312, although I had no idea how much time had passed since the book began. It doesn't help that much of the book is summary rather than scene; Robinson is content to paint his picture in broad strokes rather than give you a visceral sense of being there. As a result, it's hard to get sucked into the story as a story, and after a while, I wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible not because I cared about what was going to happen but because I could move on to another book.
2312 is a fascinating look at the future, to be sure, but I prefer an engaging narrative to go along with strong worldbuilding.
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed, came out the same year as The Killing Moon, and although they do share several similarities—fantasy by person of color about people of color, multiple third-person POV protagonists, a strong focus on religion, a superficial similarity in plot—they are quite different beasts.
Like The Killing Moon, the book eschews the traditional model of European fantasy, creating an Arab-influenced world populated with djenn, ghuls, and shape-shifters and ruled by a Khalif. Coming off 2312, it was a relief to learn about the world as the characters lived in it, with no clumsy exposition or awkward explanations; Ahmed deftly weaves the important information into the descriptions and the characters' thoughts so that the reader never feels lost. The world feels lived in, not too fantastical but with more than enough magic and supernatural elements seamlessly incorporated into the basic understanding of how it operates.
Although I found the worldbuilding itself refreshing, even more refreshing are the characters, who are not your typical fantasy archetypes. Three of them are middle-aged, one of them a fat, aging demon hunter who is too old for this shit. These older characters are allowed to have touching romances and kick a lot of ass. The younger characters are a warrior priest and a barbarian girl with the fury of a lioness. Ahmed switches between the characters' perspectives, but he frequently goes against expectations, telling the story from a wide swath of viewpoints rather than focusing on the ostensible main character. I grew attached to each character for different reasons; each one was complex and interesting.
The worldbuilding is somewhat flawed, though. I found it distracting that the religion in this Arab-influenced world was a thinly disguised version of Christianity, with references to the Traitorous Angel and the Lake of Flame and verses from the Heavenly Chapters that sounded like Bible verses. While it's a clever transplant, I expected something more culturally appropriate. Similarly, the dialogue can sometimes sound awkward when it mixes in more modern constructions with the heightened speech.
The book is the first in a trilogy, but, thankfully, it stands alone quite well and has a fairly satisfying ending. Our heroes investigate a series of grisly deaths committed by a creature who threatens the city of Dhamsawaat; meanwhile, the Falcon Prince plays Robin Hood and raises questions of morality and misuse of power in his little rebellion against the Khalif and the upper class. Although the villain is underdeveloped, the well-paced narrative builds to an exciting climax with important plot and character moments.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is a swift, engaging read with a world and characters I look forward to returning to.
After having enjoyed Throne of the Crescent Moon, I was hungry for more by Saladin Ahmed, and, as luck would have it, here in Engraved on the Eye was a short story collection that even featured some stories set in the Throne world, including the first meeting of the Doctor and his apprentice. Another Throne story is one of the best in the collection, and I hope to see the main character in the books proper at some point, as I believe her story has only just begun. By and large, Ahmed's strength is in his mood and atmosphere, crafting new worlds unlike the typical fantasy fare. The stories all feature non-white protagonists, and many have a Middle Eastern flair. You'll find ghuls, jinns, and, um, a rabbitwoman. While I must admit that I didn't really love any one story—although "Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions," a very short story about supervillains that has a different tone from anything else in the collection, is cute and successful because of its brevity—I found each one pretty interesting and different. Ahmed certainly has a thing that seems to be found in a lot of his stories—Arabic influence and focus on religion, for instance—but, in that sense, Engraved on the Eye is a perfect way to get a taste of his voice as an author.
Current Mood: optimistic
Current Music: The Smashing Pumpkins - Daphne Descends
September 5th, 2013
|10:48 am - Worldcon 2013: The Totally Abridged Edition|
This year, I attended my very first Worldcon, home of the Hugo Awards, many famous authors, and lots of cool people in general! It was very different from Comic-Con but still totally awesome.
Kelsey and I totally drove over to San Antonio from Houston while listening to Welcome to Night Vale. I totally passed by George R.R. Martin on the way to pick up my badge. I totally got two free books just for coming. I totally met Chuck Wendig and Mur Lafferty without even trying. Seanan totally has ALL THE RIBBONS. I totally had lots of fried food with Seanan and family and friends. Boston in 2020 totally threw a Christmas party in August. Jesi was totally dressed as an elf. Chris Garcia totally wore TARDIS shoes.
Kelsey totally came down the stairs as Catie and I were about to leave for breakfast, and we totally became a Mark Does Stuff trio. We totally spent a lot of time just reading books together. Hughes the Force was totally mediocre. The Exhibit Hall totally had the actual TARDIS console from the movie. The Dealer's Room is totally a trap. I totally signed Chris Garcia's yearbook. I totally met George R.R. Martin and did not say anything he has not heard a million times before. The first Worldcon panel I went to—Buffy 10 years later—was totally the worst panel I went to. I totally met Buffista chrismg. George R.R. Martin totally signed my books but did not personalize them. Saladin Ahmed totally chose me to read with him at this Worldcon reading. Seanan totally told Tor editors that I was awesome. The second Worldcon panel I went to—Sci-Fi in Music—was totally better, thanks to The Jesi and Chris Garcia Show. Paul Cornell totally got into the Texas spirit as Toastmaster. Seanan totally gave me a shout-out before performing "The Ghost of Lilly Kane." The mythology in comics panelists totally pulled two people from the audience onto the panel and they were totally smart and insightful. Scully's hair is totally like a jewel. Mark totally ruined all our lives with a Batman/Robocop fic. James Bacon is totally Irish and totally knows someone else named Sunil.
I totally received more comments on my Lying Cat shirt than on any shirt I have ever worn ever, even from people who didn't know who it was. Saladin Ahmed totally heard my name in the lobby and coordinated with me about his reading. There are totally a lot of graphic novels I should be reading. I totally won a copy of The Blue Blazes by impressing Chuck Wendig with the neologistic profanity "cuntsnickers." I totally saw Leslie for the first time since graduating Rice in 2003 and she is totally envious of my con lifestyle. I totally saw Julia for the first time since Boston ice cream adventures in 2009 and she has totally awesome hair. I totally saw Fran for the first time since Ferry Building adventures in December 2010 and she totally gave a lovely reading. Wesley Chu was totally hilarious and animated. Seanan is totally one of Cat Valente's favorite people. Gail Carriger totally brought Adam Christopher tea. I totally recorded something for Julia's anthology's Kickstarter. Mary Robinette Kowal totally played with a shadow puppet I made. I totally gave her a signed copy of The Bow. I totally made Kelsey buy a bunch of Chuck Wendig books and get them signed. I totally resisted buying Wesley Chu's book because I didn't have room in my luggage. I totally ran into Cassie's cousin Chris in Seanan's signing line. George R.R. Martin totally read a chapter from The Winds of Winter. Seanan totally tried to prove the existence of God at the cost of all our lives. Paul Cornell totally made an amazing Welcome to Night Vale reference on the SF Squeecast. Thomas Olde Heuvelt is totally a Dutch Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Stina Leicht's three favorite words are totally "Dare to suck." I totally saw Emily for the first time since MBS adventures in 2005 or 2006 and she is totally married to a colleague of mine from grad school. We were totally underdressed for Sandbar but were still served amazing fish and chips, bread, and key lime pie anyway. I totally hung out with Fran's posse at the Tor party. Fran's editor, Miriam, is totally cool. Brandon Sanderson was totally right there but I didn't meet him. I totally waved to John Scalzi and he waved back. I totally Thomas Olde Heuvelt that I liked his Hugo-nominated novelette. Tanya Huff was totally in our hotel room. I totally learned how to get a wife with starvation and misery and/or buying one with Guinness.
Lynne M. Thomas totally declared that geeks really did won the culture war. I totally got advice on how to write a short story from seasoned, award-winning short story writers. Fran totally picked up the moderator stick for the Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy panel. The winning food was totally Dino-Chicken. Nancy Kress totally read from her untitled novella. Brandon Sanderson was totally late to his signing/early to his signing because he totally thought it was an hour later. Mary Robinette Kowal totally told us he hates fish and totally entertained us with an emergency puppet. Brandon Sanderson is totally sweet and friendly and totally told me to go support Fran instead of going to his reading. Emily—I totally know a lot of Emilys—totally read from her children's book about Chinese musical instruments. Mark has totally gotten good at eating and sleeping. Steven Gould, president of SFWA, totally made funny faces while replicating bad book cover poses. Teresa Nielsen Hayden totally bashed Rob Liefeld over and over. George R.R. Martin totally shot a ray gun at Fran, and he totally would have shot one at me if I had hung around with her earlier. Fran totally ended on a literal cliffhanger in her Impossible Futures reading. Mark totally kept bringing up race and class issues on the leisure societies panel because no one else would. I totally had fried lobster tail and Belgian fries because Texas is totally about frying things. The elevator line was totally ridiculous so we totally just read in the lobby.
I totally woke up early to stand in line Comic-Con-style to sign up for Kaffeeklatsches with John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal. Charlaine Harris totally has no fucks to give about anything. I totally gave my first Worldcon reading in front of a crowd of about 40 people. People totally told me my play was excellent and fun and amazing. Saladin Ahmed was totally the only person who did voices in his reading. John Scalzi totally remembered me and cackled upon hearing that Mark would be reading The Android's Dream. I totally made Mark buy the book for him to sign "Bwa ha ha ha!" Mary Robinette Kowal was totally late to her Kaffeeklatsch but we totally entertained ourselves by talking about spaceships and Brandon Sanderson. Mary totally made amazing comparisons between the rules of puppetry and writing. John Scalzi's reading was totally standing room only. John Scalzi was totally late to his Kaffeeklatsch but we totally entertained ourselves by talking about things. John Scalzi is totally bi-cola. I was totally sitting right across from him and he was always totally looking at me and pointing when telling amusing stories. I totally met a San Francisco writer, Effie, who had just finished a snarky fantasy novel. Kelsey was totally second in line for the Hugo Awards. Mark totally looked dapper in the first suit he had ever worn. Paul Cornell totally made hilarious jokes about the Campbell Award and publisher mergers and important statements about racial and sexual harassment and the Old White Dude make-up of fandom. Seanan totally won another Hugo for SF Squeecast. She has totally been a fan longer than she's been a professional human. I was totally disappointed when my friends didn't win Hugos even though my second choices won instead. Jay Lake's daughter totally let me into the photo room to take pictures of Hugo winners. I totally held Seanan's Hugo and it was totally fucking heavy. I totally obsessed over the Hugo statistics with rufinia. I totally ran into Mark and his posse on my way down and their way up. Miriam totally gives good high-fives. I totally real-life moderated her by deleting her comment about the English dub of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I totally slept with a Hugo on my nightstand.
I totally congratulated Mur Lafferty on her Campbell win. I totally ran into her more than anyone else at the con so it was totally a sign that she was the next big thing. Chuck Wendig totally told me to find him on Facebook so I could show him the Miriam Black shirt on Threadless. Lynne M. Thomas totally thought she knew my name because I had submitted to Apex but it was probably because Seanan talks about me. Mark totally wanted to talk about Pacific Rim for the entire panel about summer blockbusters. I totally introduced Emily to Mark because connecting cool people is totally what I do. We totally walked in oppressive heat to a food truck for lunch and it was totally closed on Mondays. It was totally okay though because we totally had smoky chipotle tuna quesadillas and enchiladas and played Serpientes y Escaleras on our table with found objects and a Dice app. I totally won with my lemon. I totally got a Chris Garcia Hug (tm). Hugo winner John Scalzi totally said, "Hey," to me on the sidewalk. I was totally attacked by a Dalek. We totally praised Paul Cornell's Toastmastering and Hugo hosting. I totally introduced Effie to Miriam because connecting cool people is totally what I do especially when said cool people are writers and editors. Worldcon volunteer Jenifer totally joined us for dinner. We totally talked about our careers at dinner like real adults who eat shrimp nachos. The ice cream place was totally open. Miriam and Catie totally geeked out over anime. Kelsey and Catie and I totally hung out in my hotel room reading books by Seanan McGuire and J.K. Rowling. I totally hit an "Oooh fuck" moment in Velveteen vs. the Multiverse right before Catie hit an "Oooh fuck" moment in Discount Armageddon. The crying baby in the other room was totally reading Newsflesh. I totally said hi to Effie and totally ended up in a conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson. I totally maybe convinced him to get a smartphone just for the Dice app. I totally saw George R.R. Martin a bunch of times but never got a picture with him.
I totally chatted with another Bay Area writer, Effie's con-husband, Arley, and he totally invited me to write with him at coffee shops. Kelsey and I totally listened to more Welcome to Night Vale on the way to Houston. My flight from Austin was totally delayed and I was totally rebooked. My luggage totally made it. My cabbie was totally an asshole. I totally need to write more fiction.
Current Mood: tired
Current Music: Minipop - Someone to Love
August 21st, 2013
|10:42 pm - All Hail the Glow Cloud|
Good evening, readers. I am all caught up with Welcome to Night Vale, the most popular podcast in America, which has been described as "[insert your favorite public radio show] meets [insert your favorite horror author]," and you must listen to it IT IS WONDERFUL. Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, it's a community news broadcast from the weirdest town in America, where weirdness is normal so whatever. In each episode, Cecil Baldwin narrates a horrifying news story with journalistic objectivity, be it a terrifying glow cloud raining down all manner of animal or the nutritional benefits and/or dangers of wheat and wheat by-products. Interspersed between plot segments are shorter updates, including words from sponsors, community calendars, and science facts for children. This may sound boring until you realize that the community calendar features informative news like "Saturday, the public library will be unknowable. Citizens will forget the existence of the library from 6am Saturday morning until 11pm that night. The library will be under a sort of renovation. It is not important what kind of renovation." As the podcast continues, various subplots develop and recurring characters, well, recur—although one gets an unexpected story arc!
Welcome to Night Vale is delightfully odd. It plays with words and subverts your expectations; after a while, some of the jokes become a little predictable, but it's okay because they're so right. It's a comfortable offbeatness. But sometimes it's wonderfully uncomfortable. Despite the fact that it's fucking hilarious, it's not funny to Cecil, so some segments are genuinely unnerving. It's horror-comedy that succeeds at being both horror and comedy.
Back in May, I began yet another comic book journey inspired by my pusher, Angelo, who bought me background information for one of his favorite recent comics, Kieron Gillen's Journey into Mystery (full Goodreads reviews: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Exiled, Vol. 4, Everything Burns). It was a Loki-centric tale, and Gillen began laying the groundwork for the story in Siege: Thor (full Goodreads review) and Thor: Siege Aftermath (full Goodreads review), which were...okay, I suppose. I think maybe I don't care about Thor the way I don't care about Superman. They're both ubernoble superdudes who don't seem to have much to them beyond their duty to protect or whatever. Although they're also both pretty clever, which I appreciate. I didn't really know what was going on regarding Thor and the Asgardians, but I did appreciate Loki's antics and Mephisto.
With Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself, however, Kieron Gillen's storytelling feels so much more assured than in the Siege-related Thor books. From the opening narration, it's clear he's found his voice, a milieu where he can shine. And a brilliant character to write: Kid Loki is my favorite character since Damian Wayne. He's as devious and manipulative as his adult counterpart, but he's also wonderfully conflicted about how he wants to act as opposed to how he should act. What is his true nature? Should he do mischief for mischief's sake, or could he possibly do it for a greater purpose? All of Loki's dealings in Hell begin to pay off, as he uses the conflict between Mephisto and Hela—which he engineered—to his own advantage. What is he really up to, though? It's definitely related to whatever's going on in Fear Itself, by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen (full Goodreads review), which I read concurrently (and is basically a lot of people punching each other and occasionally dying). The Serpent is trying to take over the world! But is Loki trying to help him or defeat him? Is there anyone in this book he won't trick somehow?
Astonishingly, Gillen is able to launch an amazing fucking story from behind the scenes of a massive crossover event (and two later story arcs are also crossovers, which, unfortunately, do diminish the power of the storytelling a bit). It's Loki's story, even though the rest of the world may not know it. As his tale continued, I knew I was in the hands of a gifted storyteller. Every page, every panel, I felt happy and privileged to be reading it. At one point the narration made me burst out laughing so hard I had to put the book down; at another point it destroyed all my emotions. Here are some choice phrases from my Goodreads reviews: "fucking fantastic," "goddamn brilliant," "lyrical, witty," "clever and lyrical," "epic and fantastical and hugely fucking fun," "fiendishly brilliant," and "truly magnificent." Kid Loki is now one of my very favorite characters, a villain struggling against his very nature in an effort to do good despite the fact that everyone—save his brother, Thor—hates him forever. One reviewer described Journey into Mystery as a Vertigo story in the Marvel Universe twenty years too late. It's an apt description, given the clear Sandman influences. Gillen delivered an ambitious, clever, emotional, thought-provoking story with an incredibly fascinating, conflicted, endearing protagonist.
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Nirvana - Spank Thru (Live at Pine Street Theatre)
August 19th, 2013
|11:55 pm - We're Only Young and Naive Still|
Lee Thompson Young, Disney Channel's "Jett Jackson," Dead At 29.
This is fucking horrible and so fucking sad, I'm almost crying. I loved him on The Famous Jett Jackson, and I was so happy to see him show up on FlashForward, and I don't know a thing about his personal life, but what the fuck.
I make jokes about killing myself all the time, but I always forget how brutal it is for the people you leave behind. Even if they don't even know you.
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis, makes a statement that shouldn't need to be made but clearly does: chicks dig comics. The book is a celebration of comics and the women who love them, as the subtitle reads, and it's an incredibly strong collection, with hardly a dud among the the 25 essays and 5 interviews, which is truly impressive.
The majority of the essays take the form of personal stories about how this chick learned to dig comics. What was fascinating was the common themes that emerged throughout the book, the recurring mentions of Kitty Pryde and Jean Grey, the influence of Sandman, the impact of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and so on. The personal stories form a tapestry of the history of comics and their impact on these young women. It was sad to see each growing girl run into the "Girls don't like comics" phenomenon despite quite clearly loving comics, yet it was heartening to read tales of comic book store owners who supported and nurtured their love. Each individual story has something worthwhile and unique about it, and although from a holistic viewpoint, it got kind of repetitive, I never actually got tired of reading them.
A few essays deal with cosplay and cosplay culture, and a couple are critical examinations of specific comics (these felt out of place, even though I had initially expected more such pieces). I was surprised that weren't more pieces really biting into the male-dominated culture and examining comics and comics culture from a feminist viewpoint; most pieces acknowledged that things had definitely improved, though we still had a ways to go, and left it at that. It does make for a more uplifting book.
The interviews with Alisa Bendis, Amanda Conner, Greg Rucka, Terry Moore, and Louise Simonsen give nice insights into the industry. They speak pretty candidly and have good stories to share.
Overall, this is a pretty fantastic read for any comics fan, if only for recommendations. Some essays end prematurely, but very few wear out their welcome. I could have used more variety, but that's not to say the book is boring. I loved the writers who took a more creative take on the personal essay format, but those with more straightforward tales also told compelling stories.
Chicks dig comics? After reading this, anyone would dig comics.
Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who, edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles,does just what it says on the cover: 33 women write about all 33 seasons of Doctor Who. On the surface, this seems like an interesting idea, but what it means is that it is nigh impossible for someone to truly appreciate the whole book unless they have seen all 33 seasons of Doctor Who. Having only seen New Who, I understood the pieces about those seasons the best, but the essays about the older seasons did pique my interest in certain stories, episodes, and Companions. The topics are fairly varied, with authors focusing on everything from David Tennant's bum to the musical score, but it felt like the vast majority of the pieces were an analysis of each episode in the season as it related to whatever theme she was extracting from it. Overall, the book is a mixed bag, but it did give me a strong appreciation for the strengths of every single season of the show. I'm far more interested in watching the older stuff now!
Current Mood: shocked
Current Music: Dirt Poor Robins - Eleanor Rigby
August 13th, 2013
|10:25 pm - California Scheming|
Surely the five of you who still read LJ remember the Graduation Conspiracies, wherein I surprised my siblings and parents by flying down for graduations? Turnabout is fair play, it seems, as a couple weeks ago, my sister and parents surprised me! Of course, the only way they could get me to go down and see them without clueing me in was to imply that my cousin had been seriously injured, but, you know, lies and deceit in the name of surprising joy. My little sister went so far as to fucking fake text me from a "bar in Dallas," even pretending her drunk friend was with her and relaying her words. My fucking family, you guys. I think this picture basically sums it up:
The next weekend, I came down with full knowledge of what I was getting myself into, and we went to the beach and went paddle boating and played Cards Against Humanity with our cousins in Mississippi! Um, not all at the same time.
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, is an indisputable sci-fi classic, praised to the heavens as one of the greatest sci-fi war novels—nay, greatest war novels, period—ever. It's brilliant, it's amazing, it's fantastic, it redefines reality.
But I didn't love it.
Unlike its predecessor, Starship Troopers, which glorified war, it takes inspiration from the Vietnam War, which Joe Haldeman actually fought in. Vietnam was the "forever war" of its time (and our time), a conflict many people didn't believe in that went on for what seemed like forever (almost 20 years!). The way Haldeman maps that experience into a sci-fi realm is pretty brilliant: he uses the principles of relativistic time dilation to make the war last for centuries. Even though the main character, William Mandella, only experiences a couple years from his own perspective, traveling at relativistic speeds means that the rest of the universe passes him by much more quickly. The world changes in significant ways every time he pops out.
There's quite a bit of hard sci-fi in the book, and I did love the way that time dilation affected everything. It would take so long in real-time to reach battles so many light-years away that by the time they got there, the situation could have changed, for all they knew. New recruits would be essentially from Mandella's future, making him an archaic relic at the age of twenty-two. In addition, as centuries pass, Haldeman posits great sweeping changes in human society and economy dealing with overpopulation, food rationing, and homosexuality.
For all that is clearly good and interesting about the book, however, I could never quite get into it. I found the battle scenes hard to follow, but the battle scenes weren't really the point. And yet they took up a lot of space, sitting there and confusing me. The apparent free-love attitude toward sex in the military disoriented me (Cory Doctorow called Old Man's War "The Forever War with better sex," and I'd agree, because the sex in this book is...weird). The whole book is kind of disorienting because it jumps around a lot, both in time—because of the relativistic speeds—and focus. It was hard to grab on to a strong plot thread that tied everything together besides "Yep, that war sure is still going on." In a sense, I understand this was probably intentional to, again, replicate the Vietnam War experience. It's not like it was a coherent time in a soldier's life. And this solder is kind of a jerk, and, while I sympathized with his general plight, I never really cared about him as a character.
Overall, The Forever War has some great ideas and gives you a lot to think about. It's one of those books that is more intellectually stimulating than it is enjoyable to read.
Armor, by John Steakley, is part of the Holy Trinity of powered armor books, a realistic medium between the utopian view of Starship Troopers and dystopian view of The Forever War. I have liked and disliked each of these books for very different reasons (and some of the same reasons), but I have failed to love any of them.
Our Hero is Felix, a scout who dons powered armor on the toxic planet Banshee to fight alien ants or something. He's a fascinating character because he seems like a regular guy, not a military type, not a killer. And, in fact, he's not...so he allows the Engine to do the work, compartmentalizing a part of himself to deal with the horror of war. It's a very cool idea I wish Steakley had done more with. Felix endures, constantly endures, unbelievably endures. The action scenes are pretty frenetic and exciting, and characters die without warning and with little fanfare. It's brutal.
You think this book is about Felix...and then the perspective abruptly shifts from third-person Felix to first-person Jack Crow, an asshole space pirate or something. It takes fucking forever for the story to have even the loosest connection to Felix—appropriately enough, he finds his titular armor, which allows him to observe Felix. And make observations. Really, you need a whole new character and hundreds more pages to do this? You couldn't just have characters in Felix's own story make these observations? Furthermore, Jack Crow is one of those misogynistic male characters that seem to be typical in classic sci-fi, thinking of women as sex objects and not much else. I could not understand why John Steakley was making me suffer through this character; why not tell this story from the perspective of Holly Ware, the genius scientist? That would be much more tolerable, although I admit that Jack Crow does have a decent character arc. Jack Crow actually takes up more of the book than Felix himself.
Halfway through the book, I wanted to toss it across the room because I couldn't stand Jack Crow and felt I'd been tricked. I wanted to rip out all of his sections because they were so pointless and the few good bits in them could have been delivered in some other way that didn't waste all my time. Then we learned a little more about Felix, but the damage had already been done, I felt; I just wanted the book to be over.
And then the ending suddenly redeemed the entire Jack Crow storyline and forced me to upgrade my rating from "fuck this book" to "okay." I finally understood its purpose, and while I still have major issues with the execution, I have to respect Steakley's intentions. Mostly well played, dude.
I think it helps to go into Armor with the right expectations (for instance, I had no idea there was a dual narrative, so it annoyed the shit out of me). Steakley does have interesting things to say about killing and what it does to a person, but I think he could have said them in half as many pages.
Current Mood: okay
Current Music: Muse - Undisclosed Desires
August 11th, 2013
August 7th, 2013
|08:08 pm - Orphan Black? More Like Morphin' Shack!|
I had heard nothing about Orphan Black before it aired, but after it began, people started talking about it, but I had no idea what the show was about! When I caught wind of what the show was about, however, I became more intrigued. Unfortunately, no one can be told what Orphan Black is about. You have to see it for yourself. Okay, that's untrue, BBC America clearly has no qualms about spoiling the shit out of the premise of the show even though it's not actually revealed for a few episodes. Now, usually in my reviews, I try to spoil as little as possible in order to give you the same experience I had, but I knew what the show was about going in, and it's hard to really talk about why it's so great without getting into it, so I am going to discuss it. But here are a few non-spoilery reasons you should watch Orphan Black:
If my recommendation means anything, you can stop now and start watching. This is your last chance to back out, although—clearly, as I am an example—knowing what the show is about won't affect your enjoyment too adversely. It just means you'll be a little ahead of the game for a few episodes.
- Tatiana Maslany is fucking amazing and she deserves every accolade she gets and many she doesn't.
- It is a show with a Big Mystery that manages to be both plot-driven and character-driven.
- It has plot twists that will have you shouting at your screen.
- You will fall in love with characters without even realizing it and then the show will rip your heart out and ravage your emotions.
- Did I mention Tatiana Maslany? Because holy fucking shit you guys.
All right, let's do this. I promise there are no more spoilers than would typically be in my reviews (that is, almost none).
Orphan Black is a show where most of the main cast is male but most of the main characters are female.
That is because most of the main characters are played by Tatiana Maslany.
Because this show is about clones, baby.
The show opens as Sarah Manning watches a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide. Sarah immediately steals her purse and assumes her identity. This tells you everything you need to know about Sarah Manning. Well, almost everything. She has a gay foster brother, Felix, who is fiercely loyal and delightfully sassy, and an estranged daughter, Kira. Also some other people, but I'm not telling you everything. The point is that Sarah steps into the life of her doppelganger, Beth Childs, who happens to be a cop, and it's not long before she encounters more people who look like her...which is when she discovers she's a clone.
She takes the news remarkably well. Everyone does, really. One of the interesting and refreshing things about the show is that characters tend to be pretty accepting of all the sci-fi stuff, so we don't spend precious minutes/episodes on "What, I don't believe you, you're going to have to make this confession again at another dramatically important time" and whatnot. It's pretty amusing, but it means that they can spend more time on the twisty plot. Which I will not speak about it great detail! Yes, there's a clone-spiracy, and the clones are in danger, and they want to find out who made them and why, but...that's not really the show. I mean, obvs, we also want to know what the fuck is going on, and, hm, are there different factions, are there multiple villains, who's on whose side, and so on, but all of that is pretty standard sci-fi thriller stuff that is bound to be entertaining and exciting. If that's all there was to the show, it would be fun, but it might not be amazing.
What elevates the show to a higher level is the strong focus on character and Tatiana Maslany's unbelievable talent, not to mention the technological innovations. Sarah Manning is our entryway into the series, and, on her own, she's a great character: a whip-smart, incredibly intuitive, protective mother with a checkered past. Sarah has a character arc throughout the season as she fights for her daughter's safety and learns to trust her fellow clones, despite being a loner herself. Thing is, the clones are also great characters, and each one of them also has a character arc. So Tatiana Maslany plays multiple, completely distinct characters with very different character arcs. Fuck playing a clone, sometimes she plays a clone playing another clone. And a lot of the time, she is acting against herself and you have to remind yourself it's not two different people. That is how she good she is. Every episode, I thought I would be over it, and every episode, I was floored by her.
Each clone fits into a character type, and a lesser writing/acting team could have simply made them stereotypes, but I grew to care for each one individually because, despite being "genetic identicals," each one has a clear sense of personhood. Each one has a different kind of life. Each one has different wants and needs. Each one looks different, dresses differently, speaks differently, moves differently, eats differently...it is absolutely mindblowing.
This is groundbreaking, game-changing television, people. I can't think of anything like it in the history of television. The best recent example is Fringe, which did allow actors to play different versions of themselves, sometimes against each other, but it was never with this much regularity and this much distinction.
The show is not perfect. Beth's boyfriend, Paul, is a black hole of boring, an obligatory white dude because the main cast didn't have one. The romance on the show is a weak point in general. Some of the villains can feel a little cookie-cutter in contrast to the depth and characterization given to the clones; thankfully, others make up for them.
Orphan Black comes out of the gate swinging, and after some setting up of the characters and plotlines, it goes full throttle to a finale that's just an unrelenting onslaught on your emotions. Early on, I didn't see how the show could be anything more than a miniseries, but John Fawcett (who has a story credit on and directed Ginger Snaps) and Graeme Manson (who has a writing credit on Cube) conceived this series back in 2003, and they have an endgame in mind. They have several interesting characters to follow—I haven't even talked about how wonderful Felix is—and plenty of questions to answer about the people who made the clones and their motives. It's going to be a wild fucking ride, folks. Strap yourself in now.
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: Massive Attack - Atlas Air
July 23rd, 2013
|11:34 pm - Comic-Con 2013: The Totally Abridged Edition|
The age of epic posts is over, but the Age of Ultron is here! (I didn't even go to that panel. I went to a lot of others, though.)
I totally almost missed my flight to San Diego. I totally got Pris to sign her map in The Throne of the Crescent Moon. Carrie and I totally geeked out about Journey into Mystery. I totally told John Layman that I liked Scarface. I totally ran into Seanan's friend, Susie, who totally vaguely recognized me, at the Image booth. My copies of This Is How You Die and To Be or Not to Be were totally the first copies to be signed by David Malki ! and/or Ryan North. I totally gave David Malki ! the first draft of my Olympians play, which contains a monologue totally inspired by a Wondermark comic. I totally got the same Machine of Death prediction as before (RABID DOG). I totally bought a bunch of cute art from Nidhi Chanani. I totally touched David Mack's original art for the Dexter animated webisodes. I totally played Cards Against Humanity with Mark, who turned the Jews into the currency of the future. The Mark Does Stuff Annual Pinkberry Meet-Up is totally a thing now.
I totally got in line for Ballroom 20 at 6 and joined Maya and Helen, who'd totally gotten there at 4. Intelligence is totally Chuck on purpose and looks pretty cool. Josh Holloway would totally stream Kdramas into his head. Star-Crossed is totally awful and looks pretty terrible. The moderator totally ignored Aimee Teegarden, the actual star of the show, in favor of asking the two hot guys about the love triangle. I totally skipped out of Beauty and the Beast to finish The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Kristin Kreuk totally seems kind of cool. Cary Elwes was totally having the time of his life hosting the Psych panel. I totally won a game of Rock Paper Scissors to ask the last question of the Q&A and totally get a copy of the crimefighting guide. I totally gave Dahlia a shout-out to her former boss. I totally saw an amazing scene from the second episode of series three of Sherlock that I am not supposed to talk about except the audio is totally already on Tumblr. People totally stood and cheered, it was that great. Gillian Anderson totally does not age. I totally remembered how much I loved The X-Files. Steven Yeun totally told us about getting mosquito bites on his penis. I totally met Ed Brubaker and got his autographs next to Greg Rucka's. I totally ran into Tavis at the Image booth and he totally gave me all the clues for the Adventure Time Conquest. I totally bought an Ice King USB drive. I totally got a free Psych: The Musical shirt. I totally convinced someone to check out The Middleman. The Red Pearl Kitchen was totally closed, so mutinousmuse and I totally had our traditional dinner at Lotus Thai. Erin totally found a big red chair on Google Images for our traditional picture. I totally checked out Trickster and was recognized by an artist I'd talked to at APE. I totally saw New Politics at Party in the Park and totally brought back cotton candy for Seanan and Amy.
I totally cut in the Hall H line at 6 and then totally let six other people join me a couple hours later. I totally ran into mycenae as we always do. I totally ran into my co-worker, Catherine, as we always do. The World's End panel was totally fucking hilarious thanks to Button Lady. The audience totally cheered every time a Simon Pegg project was mentioned. Chris Lowell and Jason Dohring totally wore Team Logan and Team Piz shirts, respectively. Kristen Bell totally remembers the first line from the movie that she memorized. Brandon Hillock totally asked about the cut Deputy Sacks nude scene. Rob Thomas's wife totally caught him crying at the first Veronica/Logan kiss. Diane Ruggiero was totally worried that I hadn't gotten into the panel. A girl totally recognized me from TWoP. Rob totally hugged me after not seeing me in six years. I totally told Tina Majorino I loved her in Monkey Trouble even though that was Thora Birch. Francis Capra totally remembered our dinner at the diner. Kristen totally did not remember me at first but maybe did after I reminded her. I totally recorded an awesome video of Kristen Bell telling my sister to do well in dental school and Ryan Hansen telling her to "do good hygiene" but it totally didn't save or something. I totally got my Adventure Time trades signed by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, who totally drew various characters in my books. I totally commiserated with Rob Guillory, whose flight had totally been canceled. I totally ran into Angela Webber of the Doubleclicks, and she totally remembered me and gave me a hug. I totally let David Malki ! finish his lunch before asking him to sign another book. I totally saw Walter Simonson on the IDW panel. I totally told Paul Cornell that I liked Saucer Country. Nick Spencer's favorite comics right now are totally Hawkeye and Saga. Everything in Morning Glories is totally a dream, and they're all totally dead. Nick Spencer thinks Morning Glories is totally ridiculous. I totally had the gumption to go over and meet Ryan Devlin before the Veronica Mars Fan Event. Viet Nguyen totally recognized me and interviewed me for the Veronica Mars movie documentary. The girl who sat next to me was totally from Bedford and now lived in San Francisco. Two of my fellow VIPs totally won Samsung Galaxy Notes for answering trivia questions. We totally sang along and handclapped to "We Used to Be Friends." Jason Dohring totally threw his newly signed Team Piz shirt to a Piz-lover in the audience. Kristen totally stole the entire set of the show, given that she totally chugged her entire water bottle in response to "I never stole something from the set when the show was canceled." The whole cast totally sat right in front of me as we watched a scene from the movie. I totally asked them about their favorite fan interactions, and Francis totally almost made me cry by talking about the time a Reddit AMA totally kept him going. Daran Norris and Ken Marino totally made surprise appearances. We totally sang "Happy Birthday" to Kristen and Percy. Samsung totally saved 33 lives by buying granola bars for us for Kristen's birthday. Diane totally adores me and loves Comic-Con. Ivan Askwith totally got me, Wai-Yin, and schnappycat into the VM afterparty at the Samsung Galaxy Lounge. I totally chatted with Rob's wife, Katie, for the first time in 7.5 years, and she totally gave me a Mars Investigations button she made. The cast were totally secured in a VIP area, but I totally chatted with Chris and Percy and met Daran Norris. I totally had a staff member bring Jason over so Laura could finally meet him. Rob totally thinks he'll have more control over the music at the movie premiere afterparty. I totally fell asleep on top of the bed in my clothes.
I totally got in line for the Indigo Ballroom at 7 and joined Maya and Helen, who'd totally gotten there at 4. I totally didn't pay a lot of attention to the Machinima fan film panel, but it was actually kind of interesting. Wil Wheaton totally bragged about talking to Robb Stark, Matt Smith, and Steven Moffat while Felicia Day was busy dancing, and it was totally funny instead of douche-y. Amy Berg totally has a new Geek and Sundry show about superhero alter-egos who commit crimes to pay the bills. Geek and Sundry totally has a new fleet of cute, diverse vloggers. Amy Dallen totally recommended comics for Wil with better algorithms than Amazon. Wil totally had a vaginal fantasy about Tigermonkey's agile appendage. The Indigo Ballroom was totally packed with How I Met Your Mother fans for the first and last SDCC panel. Jason Segel totally made the interpreter sign "projectile vomit." We totally sang along to "Let's Go to Mall" with Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris. The panelists totally stood to applaud Pamela Fryman for her contribution to the show. One fan totally pulled the Neil Patrick Harris and requested the highest of fives and totally received it. We totally sang along to "Bang Bang" with Jason Segel. I totally gave a family Comic-Con tips since they were foolish enough to think they could get into line for a panel right before the panel began. I totally let Amy Dallen join me in line for the Will Eisner panel and totally gave her an energy bar. Neil Gaiman was totally late but then he totally used the word "embiggen." I totally didn't care about the Comixology panel but totally saw Becky Cloonan. One guy in the room for the Walking Dead game panel totally hadn't beaten the game. They totally showed hilarious reaction videos to character deaths. I totally thanked the creators for destroying my soul. The voice actor for Carley was totally in the audience, and the voice actor for Lee totally asked a question a couple feet away from me. Nicholas Brendon totally loved my green pants and gave me a hug. I totally met Olivia's Guildie friends. I totally passed a full Matthew Inman signing and achieved a Gene Yang signing. I totally saw Ginnifer Goodwin and the cast of Once Upon a Time on the corner of the sidewalk. I totally had dinner with such luminaries as Mark Oshiro, Seanan McGuire, Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, Jay Lake, Rachel Caine, and Jim Butcher, not to mention Breehn Burns. Tonya totally didn't recognize Amber until someone else recognized Amber. Jim Butcher totally knows that I have a reading schedule. Mark totally met Amber after having missed her twice before. We totally destroyed an eight-scoop ice cream sundae. Seanan is totally a homophobe, and Jim is totally anti-Semitic. I totally saw the Trickster from Supernatural on the walk back to the hotel.
I totally got in line for Hall H at 5 and was joined by Helen, who totally got there at 6. Misha Collins totally jogged past us. I totally ran into Katherine again; we totally never make plans to meet up but have run into each other every single year. We totally made it into Hall H by the skin of our chute. Felicia Day totally made a surprise appearance at the Supernatural panel. Felicia totally thinks the show needs a Teflon vagina. Jensen Ackles totally smells like coriander and leather. Bryan Cranston totally wore a Walter White mask and no one recognized him. Helen totally hid to avoid Breaking Bad spoilers. I totally can't talk about a lot of the panel because of spoilers. Anna Gunn was totally politic in response to a question about Skyler hate and mostly deferred to Vince Gilligan but totally threw out the IT'S PROBABLY SEXISM truth bomb anyway. They totally showed the cold open for the first new episode. Craig Ferguson totally greeted us with "Hello, sweeties." The wedding invitations for David Bradley have totally dried up. Steven Moffat totally threatened to take away all Doctor Who and Sherlock SDCC exclusives if the trailer for the Christmas Special leaked. I knew we were totally fucked. Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman totally drove around yelling, "Hey, Doctor, how's it going?" to people cosplaying as the Doctor and Clara. Helen and I totally moved up to the second row for the Community panel thanks to Maya's friend, Jane. I totally didn't remember Jane from three days ago. I totally Britta'd that one. Dan Harmon totally entered in an Iron Man suit. Joel McHale totally delivered a video message from beyond the grave. Dan Harmon totally thinks he is a despicable human being. Dino Stamatopoulos totally trolled the panel and pimped his ashcan for High School USA. Alison Brie is totally not happy with the devolution of Annie. Alison Brie totally licked her finger and stuck it in Ken Jeong's mouth and then Danny Pudi's ear. I totally booked it to the line for 6DE and passed Mark on my way to save a spot for all of us. We totally thought the janitor was actually a cosplayer. Joey Richter totally started a pratfall running gag for the panelists' entrances. I totally got Helen to troll Mark on his very first Comic-Con panel by asking him whether he knew Zhao was voiced by Jason Isaacs. Mark totally hates us. foresthouse was totally 45 minutes late for dinner, but she was totally interviewing Rob Paulsen, voice of Yakko and Pinky, so I totally kind of forgave her. We were totally meeting after being LiveJournal friends for over EIGHT YEARS! Emily is totally co-writing a comic about cute, intelligent hamsters. Ali totally picked me up to go have expensive, indulgent dessert. I totally missed all my Veronica Mars peeps.
Seanan and Olivia and I totally sat in the very first row on the flight home.
Current Mood: tired
Current Music: Poe - Walk the Walk
July 14th, 2013
|09:56 pm - Comic-Con Conduction Corruption Concatenation!|
My unpreparedness last year can hardly compare to my unpreparedness this year, when I don't even have signing schedules for a lot of things! But, you know, that's how Comic-Con rolls.
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Somehow my schedule seems to be packed with panels, with very little time for the floor, so I don't even know how I might work in any signings, even though I will be lugging stuff down. Comic-Con, how do you work. Why can't all the panels I want to see be in one room one after the other? It should be Sunil's Damn Comic-Con.
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: Annabel Chongs - Veronica Mars
July 10th, 2013
|08:03 am - Vote Mark Oshiro for Best Fan Writer Hugo 2013!|
Mark Oshiro deserves the Best Fan Writer Hugo. I stand by everything I said in my original recommendation, and I highly recommend you visit Mark’s own post on the subject, whose comments include links to even more eligible posts.
I think Mark's work speaks for itself, and it's filled a niche that SFF fandom didn't even know it needed. Neil Gaiman, Mere Smith, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, Tamora Pierce, John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin, Sarah Rees Brennan, and others have all gotten to witness live, real-time reactions to their work from a single unprepared audience member. Reading Mark's posts is like getting to read your own book from inside your prospective reader's head.
But I wanted to put in an additional word about the community that he has created in the last few years. Mark's sites are the place to go for intelligent and hilarious discussion of genre works and non-genre works alike. Various members of the community probably deserve Hugo nominations of their own. Mark inspires us to read and think about books in new ways and relate them to our own personal experiences, as he does. If the Hugos are the SFF fandom's way of recognizing the people who have contributed most significantly to SFF fandom, then Mark is incredibly deserving for the mark he has made on our lives.
But don’t take my word for it:
I endorse Mark as the best fan writer because his is the first site in many years to actually get me commenting and engaging with him and the wonderful community that exists because of him. His reviews are inspiring and thought-provoking and I can't get enough. So everyone should vote for him because he's the best, pretty much.
Mark's writing has moved me to tears on more than one occasion, given me new insight into some of my favorite works, and introduced me to new favorites. Please give him your consideration for this award.
I've gotten to relive things I loved and look at them with fresh eyes. I've gotten to share amazing experiences with him and everyone here. I've been introduced to so many lovely and now beloved by me works of fiction because of his sites, and made so many friends I cherish. I've been inspired, moved, amused, and always entertained. I love it here, and as I said above, none of it would be possible without Mark. He's done something truly fantastic here that I've never seen anywhere else. Vote Mark for Best Fan Writer!
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BASICALLY I LOVE MARK AND I LOVE HIS REVIEWS AND VIDEOS AND I LOVE THE PEOPLE WHO COMMENT AND I LOVE THE INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY AND I LOVE ALL THE OTHER MODS TOO and probably reading and contributing to this website is the best thing in my life right now and no I'm not exaggerating.
Current Mood: working
Current Music: Of Monsters and Men - Lakehouse
July 7th, 2013
|10:36 pm - Stupid Is As Stupid Does|
I don't understand why people are stupid. Like, blatantly stupid in a professional environment. How does someone get to have to the same title as I do and demonstrate such a lack of comprehension/understanding of grammar, clinical trials, chronology, time, and reality? Why do they still have jobs? Why are they being paid for me to have to waste my own time fixing all of their fuck-ups?
These are adults! Older than I am! Presumably educated! How have they made it this far without understanding basic sentence structure and comma usage? How have they made it this far without recognizing that January 21 comes before January 27?
It is absolutely fucking mindboggling.
Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a strange book, unlike any I've read. My only previous exposure to Kurt Vonnegut was Slaughterhouse-Five back in high school, so I knew that he was an oddball, but damn.
In the beginning of the book, we learn that a Pontiac salesman named Dwayne Hoover reads a science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout and, believing the book to be truth, goes on an insane rampage. That sounds like an interesting concept, right? Let's find out what happens.
...Except the book is actually about the events that lead up to that meeting. And it's not really about that either, because this book doesn't really have a plot.
Which is okay because the style is goddamn hilarious. The narrator is Vonnegut himself, an omniscient presence who explains the most basic concepts in simple terms, as if he is telling the story to the last human beings alive after Earth has been obliterated. The book is essentially an excuse for Vonnegut to riff satirically on everything from penis size to racism. It's very much a book of its time; he paints a portrait of 1970s America and then takes the piss out of it. Of course, he acknowledges that he is the author of the book and the characters are fictional, which adds a fun metafictional layer to the proceedings. That doesn't make his satirical criticisms any less relevant, however.
Stanley Tucci really captures the dry, blunt humor of Vonnegut's narration, making it even funnier than it would be on the page. Unfortunately, the print version also has Vonnegut's hand-drawn illustrations, which can't be appreciated in an audiobook.
The book kind of goes off at the rails at the end, and whatever plot there is sort of fizzles out, but it's a very entertaining, wacky journey. It's wonderful when a writer has such an unorthodox voice and gets away with it.
Cat's Cradle, considered a Kurt Vonnegut favorite by many, starts off promisingly enough. The narrator decides to write a book about what important Americans were doing at the time the atomic bomb was dropped, and he finds himself very interested in the life and family of the (fictional) man who invented the bomb, Felix Hoenikker, a man who also invented something else: ice-nine, a substance that turns water instantly into ice. There's a good story here about scientists and science, but it then shifts the action to a fictional Caribbean island that is home to a fictional religion called Bokononism, and it lost my interest.
Bokononism itself is pretty amusing, and Vonnegut makes up plenty of silly words and concepts, some of them actually rather profound in their absurdity, but most of the time, the absurdism of the novel didn't really reach me. I could enjoy the absurdism of Breakfast of Champions because it was frickin' hilarious most of the time, and I didn't care that there was barely a plot because it became clear early on that it wasn't really that kind of book. But Cat's Cradle teased me with a narrative and kept stringing me along; I wasn't sure what the story of the book was supposed to be. I enjoyed parts of it along the way, but when it was over, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
Tony Roberts captures Vonnegut's unique authorial voice well, and he also gives distinct voices to the characters, which I always appreciate in a reader. Kurt Vonnegut is one of a kind, that's for sure: I cannot think of a single writer who writes anything like him at all. I feel like I should like him a lot more than I do.
Current Mood: annoyed
Current Music: The Prodigy - Break and Enter
June 30th, 2013
|10:50 pm - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood? More Like Gunmetal Biochemist: Fatherhood!|
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has a fervent, devoted following, and, my God, it's easy to see why.
A simplistic blurb describes the series as about two brothers who, after having failed to resurrect their mother through alchemy and paid a heavy price, go in search of a way to restore their original bodies. When I say this it not even the half of it, I am not exaggerating in the least, but since I knew almost nothing of the series going in, I don't want to delve too much into plot details, as I took great joy in watching the story expand and grow.
Perhaps the best way to recommend this series is to compare it to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Alchemy resembles bending, as alchemists manipulate rock and steel and fire in combat. Like Avatar, FMA tackles genocide, but it also examines the lasting effects on both the survivors and the perpetrators. The show has badass female characters aplenty—"badass" does not always mean "good at fighting"—and although some of them have romantic plotlines, the romance never diminishes them as women; in fact, they are usually protecting their male love interests. Honestly, I boggled at the introduction of each new amazing female character because each one was so different and interesting, and they were all in this one show, when some shows can't even manage to get one interesting female character. And, just like fan-favorite Toph isn't introduced until a third of the way into the series, some of the best characters in the show aren't introduced until later, and it never feels like new characters are simply being added to fill time: each character has a purpose. In fact, each character has his or her own agenda. Even the "good guys" comprise characters who are not necessarily in it for the same goal, and the "bad guys" don't all march to the same drum either. Hell, some characters switch sides. The amount of character depth in this show is astonishing, given how many characters there are; it would be so easy to make them all one-dimensional, but no one is a cardboard cut-out. It also has a good sense of humor, with many amusing running gags and exaggerated, clever reaction sequences.
Season two of A:TLA is one of the best seasons of television I've ever seen. Amazing characters, interesting villains, moral greyness, and, most importantly, incredible narrative momentum as it hurtles toward the finale with plot twist after plot twist.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is 64 episodes of that. It would regularly cause my brain to melt into a puddle of capslock. But in addition to being a rip-roaring story, it's packed to the brim with thematic content and emotional resonance. Fathers and sons, brothers, love, friendship, guilt, regret, greed, redemption, the role of the military, national pride, national shame, revenge, forgiveness, power, humanity, immortality, life, death, and so on.
Even though I spent this entire review comparing the show to A:TLA, the truth is that I have never seen a show quite like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It's fucking amazing, and I already miss all the characters.
Current Mood: hot
Current Music: Miranda Sound - The Lull of Youngstown
June 18th, 2013
|09:03 pm - The Graduation Conspiracy, Part III|
Finally, two weeks later, I did not surprise my cousin for her college graduation! She knew I was coming. Everyone knew I was coming. Look, sometimes conspiracy is exhausting.
After lunch and frozen yogurt, we went to Nidhi's place to move her out. She hadn't taken her keys, however, so we had to wait for someone to let us in. We spread a blanket out on the grass to lie down on while we waited. When he arrived, we began taking things out and putting them on the walkway. Baa lay on the blanket and took a nap.
AND THEN THE SPRINKLERS TURNED ON.
It was like something out of a sitcom. Suddenly water was spraying everywhere, on the blanket, on Baa, on all of Nidhi's stuff.
Baa was having such a nice dream.
You've heard of Rule 34: if it exists, there is porn of it. So you were intrigued by Charles Stross's Rule 34, which follows a detective on the Rule 34 Squad, who monitor Internet memes to determine whether people are making some of these fantasies a reality. You were even more intrigued by the fact that it—like Halting State, which takes place in the same world but is not necessary to have read for this book (you know because you haven't)—was written in second-person. Even better, it follows multiple characters! You love stories told through multiple POVs!
The technique works both for and against the book. It certainly draws you into the book because, in a sense, you do become these characters. You are DI Liz Kavanaugh, who investigates one Edinburgh murder and soon finds herself caught up in a whole series of related mysterious deaths. You are Anwar Hussein, who takes a friend's advice on a get-rich-quick scheme and soon finds himself caught up in a curious political drama involving mysterious bread mix. You are the Toymaker, a psychopath who is a bit inconvenienced by all these murders. You are a whole host of supporting characters that offer glimpses into how all these stories are tied together. Each character has a unique voice; Stross's writing is vibrant and seems to leap off the page, especially with the Toymaker. But the use of second-person is also somewhat distancing; it almost seems like an invasion of privacy to connect too strongly to these characters because they are telling their stories to themselves, not you.
It takes you a bit to get into the book, especially because it's very Scottish—you're not sure which words are made-up future words and which words are just Scottish—but once it gets going, you're totally sucked into this cyberpunk murder mystery. You're reminded of Neal Stephenson—he even uses the "esprit up to here" phrase you love so much—and Lauren Beukes—the book dissects spammers the way she dissects the Nigerian scam. Stross frequently writes for effect than for a purpose at times; various passages seem to read as if he simply couldn't stop writing and wanted to capture the mood of the moment or the character's mental state. But you are caught up in the future he's created, where police use virtual reality and artificial intelligence to fight crime. Stross's future isn't too ridiculously high-tech; instead, like the best science fiction writers, he views the present and extrapolates. Rule 34 tackles the future of spambots, anti-spambots, A.I., geopolitical instability, organized crime, economic crisis, and much more.
You give the book points for having queer characters (and even one queer character of color). You dock a few points because it's kind of hard to follow. You give most of those points back because it's so thrilling and exciting to read that you don't care that you don't fully understand all the intricacies of the plot. You don't understand all the detailed technical descriptions of software and technology and you understand even less about the politics, but you trust that it somehow makes sense because Stross writes with such confidence. You definitely want to read Halting State now. Rule 34 was such a novel reading experience.
You really love the last line.
It was a strange experience to read Halting State after Rule 34 because I can't help but think I would have a much different reaction to it had I read the books in a different order. As it stands, Halting State feels like Charles Stross's test-run for Rule 34.
Like Rule 34, Halting State takes place in a near-future independent Scotland, and the story is told in second-person from multiple POVs. Many readers seem to have trouble with the second-person, but I really enjoy the style. It's not quite as disorienting in this book, which mostly restricts itself to the three protagonists: Sue, a police detective; Elaine, an insurance investigator; and Jack, a programmer. Again, as in Rule 34, their stories begin independently but soon become intertwined, but they collide fairly early and directly in this book, converging on the investigation of a very unusual robbery...inside an MMORPG. That's right, someone stole virtual money. That is what this book is about.
The focus on virtual worlds and their connection to the real world is reminiscent of Ready Player One, and although this book does not match the sheer, giddy joy of that one, it does have some fun sequences set inside games. Of course, as in Rule 34, the initial mystery leads to something bigger. My problem was that after the labyrinthine complexity of Rule 34, Halting State felt disappointingly simple. There are some wonderful revelations, but after it becomes generally clear what's going on in the book, there's really not much else, and the book seems to spin its wheels until the end. There's a hell of a lot of Scottish and hilarious bits here and there, but, again, I felt that Rule 34 was stronger overall in every aspect from characterization to plotting to language.
Robert Ian Mackenzie has won many awards for his audiobooks, and it's no surprise why; he makes the book as Scottish as it should be and infuses every word with verve and personality. It's a shame that after a certain point, I didn't feel like paying too much attention. Halting State is good, but Rule 34 is really good.
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Paramore - Still into You
June 11th, 2013
|11:10 pm - The Graduation Conspiracy, Part II|
Almost three weeks later, I also surprised my brother for his medical school graduation! Somehow they didn't see it coming this time.
"What?" he said. "What? How can this happen?" HE WAS SO CONFUSED IT WAS GLORIOUS. He did not expect it at all, despite the fact that he was my co-conspirator in surprising my sister, who was my co-conspirator in surprising my brother.
As I told him at his wedding, my brother is my role model and everything I want to be. Look at this fucking doctor.
My brother, who is the very best, bought me this Adventure Time shirt after I showed him "Card Wars" and got him into the show. My brother, who is the very best, is the Jake to my Finn.
Homeland, Cory Doctorow's sequel to Little Brother, has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of that book, as expected. It's readable and entertaining, but it still feels like Neal Stephenson-lite. For some reason, I don't mind when Stephenson devotes a couple pages to Cap'n Crunch, but I get irritated when Doctorow devotes several paragraphs to the wonders of cold-brewed coffee. And the "story" of the book, such as it is, is mostly driven by the political agenda. But the book also has strengths and weaknesses of its own.
For instance, the first couple chapters are fucking interminable and I almost quit because I could not make it past the overly detailed descriptions of Burning Man. Finally, finally, something interesting happened and the narrative got into gear. This time, Marcus gets his hands on secret, controversial documents that could expose his nemesis and those she works for. What will he do? Meanwhile, he gets a job working for an independent candidate's campaign for senator. The plotting is kind of wonky, as the latter story kind of falls by the wayside as the former plot picks up, but the former plot doesn't have a lot going for it. In contrast to Little Brother, very little seems to happen in this book, and the plot kind of fizzles out, whereas Little Brother actually had several exciting scenes and built to a satisfying climax.
On the other hand, I did like the focus on Marcus's character in this book. He's clearly traumatized from the last book, and I liked that Doctorow didn't shy away from that. Marcus is a bit gun-shy about getting his hands dirty now, but he has to decide what's worth it to him. In general, characterization is stronger in this book.
Little Brother didn't really need a sequel, but Homeland does a decent job making a case for its existence.
Current Mood: busy
Current Music: Astronaut Wife - Snake Charmer
June 10th, 2013
|11:50 pm - The Graduation Conspiracy, Part I|
Last month, I surprised my little sister for her college graduation (I also surprised my mom, whose jaw dropped hilariously when she saw me). I repeatedly told them I was not able to fly down to Texas, and then I took a cheap red-eye for a day trip that was totally worth it.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE??" she cried upon seeing me. And then she really cried. Special thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for their assistance. Jigna's friend, Victoria, could not believe my sister was so surprised because this is what our family does. Lies and deceit in the name of surprising joy! Those are the Patel words. Not as catchy as "Winter is coming," but we're working on it.
Also, I bought her an iPad. For dental school! To be academic and stuff! Instead she has been using it to fuck with awful guys on a dating app.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson, is one of those books that EVERYONE has read. I've been hearing about it for years, so I was excited to get it as a Christmas present.
The premise is simple and intriguing: Erik Larson follows the paths of two men in Gilded Age Chicago: Daniel Burnham, the architect behind the 1893 World's Fair, and H.H. Holmes, the architect behind a series of murders during said fair. And as in the best popular non-fiction, he constructs a narrative as compelling and readable as in any novel.
Unsurprisingly, the serial killer story gripped me more than the urban planning story. Larson deftly conveys much through implication: he never comes out and says when, exactly, Holmes's murderous career began, but he presents the strong evidence that everywhere he goes, people mysteriously disappear. It's unsettling and creepy the way that Larson allows the portrait of a serial killer to be painted by the facts themselves, although he is influenced by his own view of Holmes and the psychology of psychopaths in general.
That being said, the story of how the World's Fair came to be is exciting as well, as we get a picture of high society, Chicago, and America at that time. Various men vie for power and spend obscene amounts of money—Larson seems to enjoy presenting the ridiculous menus at some of their meetings—and crow about how IT CAN'T BE DONE even though we know it can and was. What was most fascinating to me was how much influence the World's Fair had. So many firsts! Larson delights in presenting interesting cameos of soon-to-be-important figures who either attended the fair or were involved tangentially. It's like a love letter to this amazing event in American history.
It is both a strength and a weakness that Larson doesn't go out of his way to connect his two stories (one can only manipulate history so much, after all). For the most part, the chapters function fairly independently, and you could read the Burnham chapters alone or the Holmes chapters alone and get two interesting books. I appreciated that he allowed their stories to speak for themselves and let the juxtaposition do its own work: during a celebration of everything that makes America and the world great, one man killed dozens of women AND NO ONE FUCKING NOTICED. Larson doesn't have to make a point about the culture of excess; it's already there. In fact, by not explicitly linking the stories and explaining his own reasoning for choosing to tell them simultaneously, he forces the reader to make the links himself, quite likely seeing comparisons and contrasts he didn't even see himself.
It is also both a strength and a weakness that Larson does use a fair bit of supposition and embellishment in his writing. Although it makes the book read like fiction, it...makes the book read like fiction. He frequently tells us what people are thinking or seeing when he couldn't possibly know; however, he does cite his extensive sources and justifies some of his interpretations in the footnotes. It took me some time to adjust to the style, but once I accepted that there was a thin veneer of writerliness coating the facts, I enjoyed it, especially because Larson is a good, evocative writer, even if he does seem very focused on the color of people's eyes.
I rarely read non-fiction, so I love when I can learn interesting facts in the context of a rollicking story rather than Wikipedia. The Devil in the White City makes me want to check out some of the other non-fiction books on my ever-growing to-read List.
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Twenty One Pilots - House of Gold
May 28th, 2013
|11:17 pm - BFD 2013 Scorecard|
Another year, another BFD! It was the least exciting lineup in years since I had heard of very few of the Festival Stage bands, but I was looking forward to making new discoveries. My companions this year were Jamie, Rick, and Cortney! Follow along in pictures!
Bonnie + The Bang Bang: The lead singer wore a funny hat, and they had handclaps and a banjo. More like Mumford and the Bang Bang, am I right? B/B+
Youngblood Hawke: We only caught the tail end of their set, but they reminded me a little of Grouplove with their male/female vocalists and fun indie pop. I liked "We Come Running." At the end, everyone was banging on drums. I am a sucker for everyone banging on drums. Like, it happens ALL THE TIME at concerts, and I don't even care, I love it every time. It's just so fun! B+
Twenty One Pilots: None of us had ever heard of Twenty One Pilots, but we were mighty intrigued when they came out skeleton costumes. "We want you to like us, but first we have to give you a reason to," said the lead singer. And then they gave us a reason to, as he broke into rapid-fire rap that transitioned into indie pop with a little bit of screamo and then back to rap and back and forth and just listen to "Ode to Sleep." And then before we knew it, he had pulled out a ukulele and was singing about buying his mother a "House of Gold." It was clear he could actually SING. It was just these two guys, and they were hopping genres with ease and completely mesmerizing the audience. Here, also listen to "Holding On to You" and try to make sense of their sound. The best description I could come up with that the time was Imagine Dragons meets Passion Pit meets Childish Gambino. One of my favorite songs was "Car Radio," which was about having your car radio stolen and now you have to sit in silence and not be distracted and have to face all the thoughts in your head and I TOTALLY GET THAT. These guys were especially awesome at doing my favorite drumming thing; they even threw in a bit of raas in there by hitting their drumsticks together before drumming together. Every year, I have a BFD discovery. Some band I've never heard of impresses the hell out of me and I become obsessed with them after the show. Last year, it was Imagine Dragons. This year, it was Twenty One Pilots; I bought the mp3 album at the show for us to listen to as we tried to get out of the parking lot, and I've been listening to it all the time since. A-
The Neighbourhood: So in comparison, these guys were deathly boring. They weren't BAD, and the singer actually had a decent voice, but they sounded like some guys who were high one day and thought, "Heeeey, we should start a band!" And then they did. No one asked for them, but here they are anyway. B
Atlas Genius: They were from Australia and they were touring with Silversun Pickups, so I thought they were worth listening to. And they were. Just not worth staying for when my compatriots were in the Subsonic Tent. B/B+
Robert Delong: Jamie was out on a Sunday listening to house music! That sounded terrible, said her friend. Her friend was wrong, because we were watching Robert Delong sing and drum and make music with a joystick and a Wiimote. He also had a hilarious robot spokesperson later who told us about his new album and his website. I mean, it was just the voice; he didn't have an actual robot. I didn't really care about his songs or anything, but he was fun to watch. B/B+
The Airborne Toxic Event: They continue to be a fun time, and I really ought to buy an album one of these days. "Sometime Around Midnight" is fantastic, and I like a couple other songs as well. The lead singer remains entertaining. "Here's my problem with modern music," he said, "there aren't enough fucking bass solos." So they had a bass solo. "I'm a simple man," he said later, listing some examples and ending with "I like a drum solo in the middle of my song." So they had a drum solo. Also, they covered "Ring of Fire" in the middle of a song for some reason. — at Shoreline Amphitheatre At Mountain View. B+
Fitz and the Tantrums: Jamie was a fan of the band, but they weren't totally my style. A little too much soul for me. They were fun, though. They have a saxophone! If you like bands with saxophones, you might like these guys! B/B+
Jimmy Eat World: They were surprisingly good! Jimmy could really sing, and Eat World could really make good music. After hearing a bunch of new, up-and-coming bands, it was interesting to compare them to an established, popular band and realize oooh they're successful for a reason. It turns out I know a lot more Jimmy Eat World songs than I have illegally downloaded. I should illegally download more. Or buy something, I don't know. They have a lot of albums and a lot of songs! Jamie was kind of puzzled at everyone's reaction because they were her least favorite band so far. Not that they were bad, but they didn't do much for her. Because they were punk-pop, they were maybe not as interesting musically as some of the earlier bands, but they were super catchy and fun to sing along to, and I enjoyed them. And I liked them more since they were actually good live! B+/A-
AWOLNATION: The only song I knew was "Sail," and it's a decent song, but none of us really cared for the band. They were basically loud and screamy without being interesting. I enjoyed my Vietnamese sandwich and kumquat limeade much more. B-
Of Monsters and Men: Jamie and I had been waiting all day for them! After liking them at last year's BFD, I had bought My Head Is an Animal and become totally addicted. They played all my favorite songs! I mean, I love the entire album, but they played my top songs: "Dirty Paws," "King and Lionheart," "Mountain Sound," "From Finner," "Little Talks," "Lakehouse," and "Six Weeks." They have TWO accordion players, and one of them also played a great trumpet solo during "Little Talks." I thought they sounded great and really played to the space. Rick became a fan, as I knew he would. Also, there was adorable drumming at the end. A-
Silversun Pickups: A BFD mainstay on the Main Stage! See what I did there? I had also become addicted to Neck of the Woods, which was SO GOOD and much better than Swoon, so I enjoyed hearing "Skin Graph" and "The Pit" live. They also played a couple songs from Swoon and, of course, "Lazy Eye." It was interesting to see how different Neck of the Woods sounded; they had changed their sound in a GOOD way. Brian always has the most entertaining stage banter, and this time, he explained that Nikki, their bassist, had found out she was pregnant at last year's BFD ("So which one of you did it?"), so Sarah Negahdari of Happy Hollows was filling in. She was from the Bay Area and had gone to many BFDs, so she was kind of sparkly-eyed and nervous about actually PLAYING at BFD. Sarah was fun to watch because unlike Nikki, who normally stood pretty stalwart, she danced around while playing. B+/A-
Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington: Whaaaaaat. Yeah, I know. They were the secret special guests on the lineup! They opened with "Sex Type Thing," which was a good song for Chester, and it worked! I mean, obvs it was weird and sort of felt like karaoke Scott Weiland is Scott Weiland, but it worked. I liked that Chester had a very different persona onstage than he did with Linkin Park. He was strutting around like a rock star. The BAND was still the same, so the MUSIC sounded great. I had forgotten how many STP songs I knew and loved. They played lots of classics like "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart," "Wicked Garden," "Big Bang Baby," "Vasoline," and others, and they also played one new song, "Out of Time," which was clearly written for Chester because it took advantage of his screaming ability. Overall, I really dug the set! Well done, Chester. B+/A-
30 Seconds to Mars: So basically Jamie and I spent the entire show making fun of Jared Leto for trying way too hard. She was counting the number of times he said "fuck" or any variation, and I was rolling my eyes every time he asked something stupid like "Has anyone heard of a song called 'Kings and Queens'?" It was Jared Leto playing a rock star, and it was kind of embarrassing since he wasn't very good. He sounds okay on the album, but he really can't sing live. Plus, it was just him up there, his bandmates relegated to the sides in the shadows. It was The Jared Leto Show. Fortunately, he embraced the theatricality of all, so he had weird guys on drums for some reason, an evil bowling pin balloon, floating animals, I don't even know. And he started the show in the audience and made his way down to the stage, which was pretty fun. B
Passion Pit: Oh, this is what real musicians sound like! I couldn't believe the Passion Pit vocals came from a human! It was just this guy singing in a falsetto! He also cursed a fair bit, but we decided he was more sincere about it. I only knew a few songs, but "Sleepyhead" was good times, and I could appreciate the talent. B+
And then it was time to wait in the parking lot for an hour and watch a couple have sex in the passenger seat.
Current Mood: busy
Current Music: Twenty One Pilots - House of Gold