July 29th, 2014
|04:53 pm - Comic-Con 2014: The Totally Abridged Edition|
I think I did fewer awesome things in general at this year's Comic-Con, but I think I also got more sleep and was less stressed, so it evens out.
I totally went through the TSA Pre-Check line in Oakland and it was glorious. A package from John Joseph Adams containing tons of WDSF postcards to hand out and a signed copy of Robot Uprisings was totally waiting for me at the hotel. We totally ran into Rachel Caine on our way to pick up badges. I totally traded my Arrow bag for an iZombie bag. I totally waited ninety minutes in the Marvel merch line to buy things for friends so I totally bought myself an awesome S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA shirt. I totally greenscreened myself into the Guardians of the Galaxy lineup. I totally got an exclusive Gloom promo card that only works for an expansion I don't have. John Layman totally remembered me from Twitter and meeting him every year. I totally bought a gold foil cover of "Warrior Chicken Poyo" for me and Alisha. I totally congratulated David Mack on having an awesome art show and a bigass art book. Maya and Liz and Becca and Helen and I totally met at the ruins of Pinkberry. Maya totally complimented Liz on her awesome skirt without realizing who she was. Maya totally went home because she was totally going to get in the Ballroom 20 line super early, and we totally went to Chocolat Cremerie for crepes and gelato. For dinner I totally had a Nutella crepe with strawberry gelato and a side of casual racism.
The Vanellope cosplayer who built her own car was totally one of the best cosplays I saw all weekend. Maya and I totally snagged seats right next to the microphone and totally warned off dozens of people from sitting in seats with a totally obstructed view. I totally ran into Christy's friend Brigit and then totally met my Twitter friend Amber. Kiefer Sutherland is totally charming and probably never points guns at people and yells. I totally kept taking bathroom passes to go down to the exhibit hall during panels. Cody Vrosh totally recognized me from buying two ties from him and I totally bought a third one to wear to the Hugos. I totally met Ben H. Winters and got him to sign all three Last Policeman books, which I am totally excited to read. Rachelle LeFevre was totally dressed as Starbuck. I totally got Roc Upchurch to sign every character in a special fold-out cover of Rat Queens #6 for me and a totally cool tea party poster for Alisha. On my way back to Ballroom 20 I totally ran into Emily because that is what totally happens to me at Comic-Con. I totally walked into a scene in the pilot of Scorpion where people were literally hacking a plane by physically connecting a laptop to it while driving a few feet underneath it. Robert Patrick thinks you should totally be scared of him. Reign totally does not care about historical accuracy but Adelaide Kane is totally delightful. Dino Stamatopoulos totally hawked his graphic novel Trent again. I totally don't know whether he has a public persona or he is actually that much of a weirdo. Dan Harmon is totally glad he can finally push that anti-vaxx message he couldn't do on NBC. HuffPo totally Tweeted about Dan Harmon's "long monologue" and Dan totally read it out loud. Gillian Jacobs totally kept interrupting everyone and Jim Rash totally put her in time-out. I totally told Jim Rash I loved The Descendants and The Way Way Back, and Aprotim totally cheered for my very existence but tried to pass it off as enthusiasm for the movies. I totally asked Dan Harmon how they keep a consistent narrative when they jump genres every week, and Dan Harmon totally doesn't know. They totally blow their own minds. Two Human Beings totally tried to ask a question. Helen was totally Catwoman. I totally ran into mycenae on her way out of Ballroom 20 because we always find each other every year without fail even though we never plan it. The shrieking of the Teen Wolf fandom totally made my ears bleed. The Teen Wolf Q&A line totally formed so quickly that the fandom should totally be harnessed as a source of energy. A girl totally broke down crying talking to Dylan O'Brien and he totally came down to give her his placard and a hug. Jonathan Ross was totally a good moderator in comparison to the several terrible moderators for previous panels. Bryan Fuller totally considers himself and his crew "Thomas Harris mash-up DJs." Chilton is totally not dead. I totally thanked Caroline Dhavernas and Bryan Fuller for Jaye Tyler and said that Jaye Tyler was my Ravenstag and Caroline Dhavernas totally said, "Aw." I totally asked Bryan Fuller if anime had influenced the style of Hannibal and it totally had. I totally got a Wonderfalls shirt and a wax lion and a signed Hannibal poster for asking a question. Raul Esparza totally tried to match his face on the screen with a woman wearing a Raul Esparza mask. The Hannibal panel was overall totally amazing with totally hilarious and insightful Q&A. I totally cloned myself. Jackson Lanzing totally introduced me to his Boom! editor and welcomed me to the wide wide world of writers. I totally geeked out about Korra with Noelle Stevenson. I totally met Carrie Sessarego, who is totally going to write an introduction to my first published short story. Cinnamon lemonade is totally a thing that exists. I totally finally met Tonya's sister Rebecca at Nerd HQ. Aprotim and I totally climbed a skyscraper for reals. I totally listened to Linkin Park from the gate.
I totally wanted to grab Discount Armageddon from a girl and get Seanan to sign it for her. I totally got my signing tickets from Image with no problem thanks to Seanan's ~*disability privilege*~. I totally bought Rae a variant Ghostbusters print from Gallery 1988, acquired a poster tube, and shipped it to her because I am totally a Comic-Con Favor Ninja. Brian K. Vaughan is totally super nice. He totally has a childhood friend named Sunil Patel and he totally wrote a message in my Y: The Last Man trade and called me his pal. He totally destroyed my theory that he was responsible for the Lost team negotiating an end date when he arrived. Matt Fraction totally recognized me from Twitter and said he liked my e-presence. Chip Zdarsky totally felt me up for our picture. I totally met Hal Lublin a.k.a. Steve Carlsberg. I totally lost Gloom but I will totally be in Tigermonkey's triumphant vlog of our game. Thumbelisa is totally having an affair with Mister Giggles. We totally consulted Keith Baker himself on a rules question. Discovering her through the Machine of Death podcast recordings is totally Nika Harper's favorite origin story. John Scalzi totally gave me a high five for selling my first story. You should totally make it a Scalzi Summer. Patrick Rothfuss was totally there. Jeffrey Cranor totally said it was nice to see me but I totally did not know there was a huge line for the Night Vale signing. I totally walked right into the Fiona Staples panel. Fiona Staples's favorite color is totally yellow. Brian K. Vaughan totally asks Fiona Staples what creatures and worlds she would like to draw and whether there should be more jokes. I totally ran into Greg van Eekhout in Sails Pavilion and met his wife. He totally introduced me as That Guy Who Spoke Out About That Nebulas Panel. I totally waited in the Marvel merch line again to get a female Thor tumbler. A man totally wanted a men's female Thor shirt to show his support and I totally handed him a Women Destroy Science Fiction postcard. I totally walked all the way to the Manchester Grand Hyatt and up four floors to get totally awesome Hannibal swag: an exclusive DVD sleeve and soundtrack sampler. I totally chatted with some attendees and gave them Comic-Con tips and my card. One girl was totally impressed with the stripes on the back. My traditional Asian fusion dinner with Erin totally continued the tradition of good food and bad service. I totally went to the Hilton Bayfront to see Greg van Eekhout and other writers and instead totally found the post-Eisners crowd. Amy Dallen is totally embarrassed that the origin story of our friendship involves her cutting in line. I just totally chilled with Matt Fraction like we were buds and he totally introduced me to someone. Brian K. Vaughan totally said it was nice to see me again and shook my hand. Cecil Castelluci totally remembered meeting me at that same panel where I met Margaret Dunlap and Sarah Watson and other Middlefolk. Matt Fraction totally noticed when I looked like my Twitter icon. Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon were totally there too. I totally told Kelly Sue DeConnick that I loved her WDSF interview and I liked her as a person. I totally introduced Dahlia to Brian K. Vaughan. Fiona Staples totally thanked me for sitting through the Eisners even though I didn't. Dahlia totally knows Amy Dallen. Noelle Stevenson totally waved to me out on the dark balcony.
I totally got in line way too early for Room 7AB but totally got a front-row seat. Dahlia totally caught up on the last three issues of Saga in preparation for the panel. A kid totally asked to borrow my Saga #21 to catch up himself. Dahlia totally knew that kid's mom. I totally met Greg Weisman and said I was a huge Gargoyles fan. Sherri L. Smith was totally awesome on the Diversity in Genre Lit panel and now I totally want to read Orleans. Gene Luen Yang totally said that even if you don't care about diversity on a political or social level, you should totally care about it on a craft level because you can totally tell more interesting stories. Brent Spiner totally pretended to be Matthew McCounaghey and did the Data head tilt. We totally saw a cute robot named Jimmy and were totally advised not to download the World Domination app. Robots totally run on the Robot Operating System (ROS). Daniel H. Wilson totally mused on whatever is nukier than a nuke. Fiona Staples totally spoiled the last three issues of Saga ten minutes into the panel. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples totally give each other credit where credit is due and maybe even when credit is not due. I totally asked Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples about the challenges of writing Hazel. An older woman across the aisle wearing a Lying Cat shirt was totally excited to see another person wearing a Lying Cat shirt, and a man at that. I totally gave no shits about the Endgame panel but it was totally bullshit that James Frey was on the panel and his co-writer was in the audience. The Strong Female Characters panel was not totally transcendent but I totally enjoyed it. Fiona Staples totally designed a robot groin that looked too much like a vagina. Sara Mayhew totally defended the aspects of Bella Swann that appealed to young girls but totally wanted a more fleshed-out character. My Twitter friend Hallie totally saved me a sweet spot in the Daniel H. Wilson line. Daniel H. Wilson totally did not guarantee my safety from the sentient robots but he totally gave me a free copy of Robogenesis. Seth Green totally passed us. It was totally Hallie's first celebrity sighting. I totally thanked Jim Cheung for Kate Bishop. I totally met Janet K. Lee, artist of The Wonderland Alphabet, which is totally becoming my default baby gift the way Gloom is totally my default wedding gift. I totally saw Lamb for the first time in years. Two girls I met at the Veronica Mars Fan Event last year were totally in the Rob Thomas signing line. Rob totally gave me real-life congratulations on my first sale. I totally talked about my first experience with the Machine of Death game with David Malki ! I totally got five separate Hacktivist autographs on five separate occasions. I totally ran into Tavis on my way out of the convention center. Olivia totally rocked that pink wig. Royal India is totally becoming somewhat of a Comic-Con tradition. Carrie and Doc and Olivia and I totally maybe had dinner next to the Black Ranger. I totally had a celebratory milkshake at Ghirardelli. Margaret totally declared my suggestion of the collective noun "a jackass of Hitlers" to be the quality of wit she would expect from a published writer. I was totally too tired to go to SlamCon.
I totally had crunchy French toast for breakfast. I totally had an even easier time getting tickets for the Image signing and totally made it to the Marvel merch line before they capped it. I totally got the autograph of a security guard. I totally waited over ninety minutes to get a Captain America hoodie for a friend. I totally Maya totally told Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples that I got her into Saga. Brian K. Vaughan totally said, "Sunil! Hey!" and signed my first Saga trade with "Your pal." An adorable kid totally asked Pseudonymous Bosch if that was his real name. I totally got an ARC of Bad Magic just for waiting in line for the signing. I totally told Pseudonymous Bosch the story of how I discovered his books and he was totally hipster cool about it. Jules Rivera was totally awesome on the Superheroines: Power, Responsibility, and Representation panel and now I totally want to read Valkyrie Squad. The panel was totally half women of color. Dr. Andrea Letamendi totally turned the American Ninja Warrior story into a metaphor for women's struggles. I totally told them it was one of the best panels at the con. Stephen Blackmoore totally said, "Hey, I know that guy!" when he saw me. A man totally turned to me and asked if I was Sunil Patel, and it was totally one of my Genius Loci TOCmates. I totally almost missed meeting Stephen Blackmoore but we were glad to confirm that we were both real people. I totally found Kate at the Disney/Hyperion booth and bothered her until too many people wanted to buy books. I totally saved her a seat in 6DE for the Harry Potter fan panel. Mark totally found about Mallory Ortberg's "Harry Potter and the Philosophies of Objectivism" and read from it right there. Mark totally thanked me for getting him to meet Mallory on his birthday. The panel totally became 100% about Ronbledore for a few minutes. Maya totally showed off her shirt. Mark was totally afraid Helen was going to ask him a trolly question but we totally left that up to Maya, who totally asked whether, if Harry went to Detroit City, he would be with Batman or Robocop. Mark totally did not answer the question. One of the panelists totally used to follow me on LiveJournal. I totally ate a chocolate pie from a Mark Does Stuff person dressed as Ned the Piemaker. I totally invited this stranger and non-stranger Helen up to my room and to dinner. We totally marveled at a man's ability to pack seven dolls into one box and have it not cost seven times the shipping for one doll. I totally payed $9.75 to ship home a free poster. Mojo Jojo and his robot minions were totally Irish stepping in the Irish pub. Olivia totally said I would be punished. Seanan and Olivia totally plotted to murder me. That night they totally smothered me with pillows.
Hallie totally sat behind Seanan and Olivia and me on our flight home.
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: Dido - See You When You're 40
July 20th, 2014
|11:00 am - Revolutionary Girl Utena? More Like Fence Fence Revolution!|
I was first recommended Revolutionary Girl Utena after watching Princess Tutu (obligatory PRINCESS TUTU IS THE BEST OMG) seven years ago, and I've been wanting to watch it ever since! While I wasn't able to watch it to follow along with Mark Watches Utena, I was put on a Worldcon panel about feminism and magical girls so now watching it became research.
When Utena Tenjou was a little girl, she met a prince, and the prince gave her a ring and told her to be noble, and she decided that when she grew up, she was going to be a prince. Not a princess, a prince. Now, as a teenager, she's at Ohtori Academy, and she discovers that her ring marks her as a Duelist, like the members of the Student Council, who duel for possession of the Rose Bride, Anthy Hememiya, who, as they have been told by "End of the World" (whatever or whoever the fuck that is), will grant them the power to bring revolution to the world.
You guys, this is the first episode.
On a superficial level, Utena is confusing and repetitive. Literally minutes of every episode are taken up with reused sequences either leading up to duels or transformations during duels—or, later...other things. Episodes begin to feel incredibly formulaic, designed to be written around these plots, and character motivations can feel muddled, more like "Welp, this character has not yet dueled Utena, so let's give them a very flimsy reason to do so" rather than anything approaching actual human feelings. Also, a great deal of what is shown onscreen makes so little sense it's unclear whether it's even real, from random kangaroos to, well, anything that happens in the dueling arena.
But Utena, like a lot of anime, speaks in metaphors and symbolism and emotions: deeper, emotional truths take priority over logic. I don't normally see subtext but this is the most homoerotic anime I have ever seen, a show where the subtext is practically text. At times, I wasn't even sure non-incestuous heterosexuality existed in this world. Oh, yes, homoerotic subtext, incestuous subtext, there is a lot of subtext here. There's bizarre sexual tension between siblings like it's not even weird. Sometimes the men just lie around with pretty hair and bare chests because that's what real men do, I guess. And this is a high school show so of course HORMONES, everyone is fucking. As a result, a lot of characters are driven by jealousy and competition for men or women, and it's simply turned up to anime levels. There is a lot going on about gender and sexuality, and the general theme is basically FUCK THE PATRIARCHY, as Utena consistently rejects traditional gender roles, from choosing to be a prince to wearing the boys' uniform at school. Roses symbolize lust, there are phallic symbols everywhere, who even knows how much meaning is really buried in this show beneath all the fucked-up manipulation and deceit.
It took me a while to really get into the series, and it probably wasn't until more than halfway through that I really got into it, as the plot began to thicken in more and more incoherent and coherent ways. And while I wasn't entirely satisfied by the ending, I think it's more a matter of my not having properly followed the story. Which is difficult to follow. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a challenging show, but with its strong focus on character relationships—particularly between Utena and Anthy—and thematics, it's ultimately rewarding.
Current Mood: dirty
Current Music: Howling Bells - Slowburn
July 15th, 2014
|11:37 pm - Comic-Con Condensation Collation Capitulation!|
Maybe I can be more prepared than last year! Or maybe not.
(Last Updated: Monday, July 21, 1:16 PM)
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As usual, once I find out signings, everything will get EVEN WORSE, and I don't really know what should be green and red. I made some things red just to mock myself. In any case, let's see if I can have a fun, not too stressful time! I am going to get to see a lot of friends and meet people from the Internet!!
Current Mood: anxious
Current Music: Frou Frou - Breathe In
June 23rd, 2014
June 19th, 2014
|10:32 pm - Orange Is the New Black? More Like Red Is the New White!|
Once again, the Internet was right: Orange Is the New Black is fucking fantastic. Mixing the cheeky humor of Weeds with the prison drama of Oz, it creates something fresh and original (based on a memoir).
Everything's going great for Piper Chapman: she's white, she's blonde, she's pretty, she's well off, she's engaged, she's arrested, wait, hold up, that's not supposed to happen. Just like that, a torrid lesbian relationship with a drug runner comes back to haunt her, and she's sentenced to a year in a women's prison in Litchfield. Piper is the audience's POV character, a fish out of water, and she is our gateway to a cast unlike any other on television: women, women, women, of all colors and sizes and backgrounds. White women, black women, Latina women, Chinese woman, Japanese-Scottish woman, transwoman, it's basically unreal. I loved how different everyone looked, not just from the usual women you see on television but also from each other. And even better, they sounded different; so many different (literal) voices on this show, from Morello's hybrid East Coast accent to Miss Claudette's authoritarian Caribbean accent, from Yoga Jones's Patty Mayonnaise voice to Miss Rosa's husky voice.
Although the show is ostensibly Piper's story, it's the stories surrounding her that are the most compelling. And there are so many because everyone has one. Todd VanDerWerff calls Orange Is the New Black one of the most empathetic shows in the history of television, and he's right: this show cares about its characters. Everyone is a person, for better or for worse. Through flashbacks, we learn how the characters ended up in prison, and many—perhaps too many—are victims of circumstance, committing crimes to get out of a bad situation, usually for love, familial or romantic. The show does not absolve them of guilt or responsibility, but, again, it empathizes with them. Even the few male characters, most of whom are pretty terrible people, are drawn well enough that we understand why they're terrible and, in some cases, even feel the teensiest bit bad for them. In the end, nearly everyone's story boils down to a story of identity: who are you? Who were you out of prison? Who are you in prison? Which is the real you? And what kind of power does it give you to answer that question?
I could wax rhapsodic about how much I love all the characters, about how Taystee is the best because she loves Harry Potter, about how Crazy Eyes lives up to her name but isn't just a joke, about how I have never seen an episode of television like the one focused on Sophia, a transwoman. I could marvel at how intricately plotted the show is, especially in its second season, where multiple character arcs interweave and converge upon each other. I could point out the major flaw, which is Larry, Piper's fiancé, who is supposed to be our eyes on the outside to show what Piper is missing, how the world moves on without her, but instead makes us wish the show would get back to Litchfield already.
I could do all of these things, but you've got 26 episodes on Netflix sitting right there, waiting to be watched.
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Jets Overhead - Blue Is Red
April 27th, 2014
|09:36 pm - The Dresden Files? More Like Wizard Detective, Dear Viewer!|
I love The Dresden Files, the book series, but I had not heard many good things about The Dresden Files, the TV series, even though it was the reason I first heard of the book series. But some people did like it, so I wanted to check it out.
My first reaction, of course, was EVERYTHING IS WRONG WHY DID THEY CHANGE ALL THIS AAAARGH. The basic premise of the series remains: Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, consults with the police department to solve cases involving the supernatural. But most of the details have been altered. Instead of wielding a rune-covered staff, Dresden wields a...hockey stick. Instead of being a crass, wisecracking talking skull, Bob is an occasionally crass, mostly proper British ghost who lives in a skull. And so on and so forth. Backstories, names, personalities: changed! They do make two notable changes to increase the racial diversity of the series, though: Lieutenant Murphy becomes Latina and Morgan becomes black. (Sadly, one of the few characters in the book series who is not white becomes white in the TV series, but since she's only in one episode, it kind of evens out? Over centuries of white supremacy? I don't know.)
But to judge the series as an adaptation would do it an injustice. You don't have to have read the books to enjoy the series (and, in fact, you're more likely to enjoy it if you haven't). How does the show work as an urban fantasy series?
Fairly well! The show does have its hands tied by making Murphy ignorant of magic, which makes her trust in Dresden slightly mystifying, but otherwise, it's as fun as expected to watch Dresden and Murphy solve cases together, with the help of a centuries-old ghost who has a treasure trove of knowledge. I appreciated that the show made up lots of cool magical detectiving ideas that are not in the books. Dresden does face some of the same foes from the books: vampires, werewolves, bodysnatchers, etc. But most of the stories are wholly original, and they acquit themselves well, frequently doing the Supernatural thing where you spend half the episode thinking the villain is one thing when in fact you've been looking at it all wrong.
(The special effects are crap, though.)
Even though the early episodes are a bit rough, the show's main strength is its excellent cast. Paul Blackthorne nails Harry Dresden, world-weary and sarcastic, delivering dry, noir-ish voiceovers. Terrence Mann, though not the Bob of the book, is a delight every time he's onscreen. Valerie Cruz, though not the Murphy of the book, balances warmth and tough-nosed cop. Conrad Coates leaves a lasting impression as Morgan, the Warden (wizard cop) who's always cleaning up after Harry and also blames him for everything because black magic.
For about half the series, we get worldbuilding and character development, and about halfway through, continuity begins to kick in, and the series upgrades from mediocre to good. And then its last few episodes, it upgrades to really good, as it finds its voice, how best to tell stories with the characters it has in the world it's created. You guys, obviously a ghost can't die and the show still made me fear for a ghost's life. It does such a great job grounding everything that the magical elements never seem absurd or out of place, and even though it keeps things light at times, it understands that it needs real emotional stakes, and it goes for them.
The Dresden Files only lasted 12 episodes, and although it never comes close to attaining the brilliance of the book series—which has a much larger scope—it had the potential to become something very special. Thankfully, it does not end on a painful cliffhanger. I'm glad Harry Dresden got to be on television, but it's too bad he didn't set SciFi on fire. Er, in a good way.
Current Mood: okay
Current Music: Frou Frou - Shh
April 2nd, 2014
|11:02 pm - Top of the Lake? More Like Drop of the Cake!|
When I—like the rest of the Internet—got hooked on True Detective, I—like the rest of the Internet—did note the very male focus and lack of strong female characters. Oh, for a show like True Detective with a female lead! The Internet informed me that the show I sought already existed in the Emmy-nominated miniseries Top of the Lake, which I had been vaguely interested in because of Elisabeth Moss. Now I was more than vaguely interested in it.
Top of the Lake begins with a pregnant 12-year-old half-Thai girl trying to drown herself in the lake, and it doesn't get any happier from there. Tui Mitcham soon disappears, the identity of the father of her child unknown, and the search begins. Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is visiting her New Zealand hometown to spend time with her sick mother, and she takes charge of the investigation. That's right, this woman is a true detective! And every single man in this town is super skeevy. Tui's father, Matt Mitcham, is easily the most compelling, complex character in the show, a man with a strong sense of family who will do something despicable a few scenes before performing an act of kindness. Robin's boss, Al, keeps hitting on her even though she's engaged. Even Tui's half-brother, Johno, with whom Robin has a history, has this lingering sense of skeeve all over him even though he's halfway decent; it's like that fucking town has tainted him. Fuck the patriarchy, and so on.
As if to deliberately contrast with the misogyny entrenched in Laketop, an enigmatic woman named GJ (Holly Hunter) sets up a commune for women on the outskirts of town called Paradise. They live in trailers and walk around naked and talk about their feelings. Boy, do they ever walk around naked. One thing that's cool about Top of the Lake is that everyone looks like a regular person. They're not all movie-star hot, and with the exception of the actual sex scenes, the show parades around non-sexualized nude bodies like it's completely normal. The group of women are mildly developed, only one or two getting real characterization, the most memorable being, of course, GJ, who is also the show's biggest misstep. She never makes any goddamn sense, she speaks completely in non sequiturs, and Holly Hunter's performance is, frankly, bizarre. She should be a female Rust Cohle and instead she's...who even knows what she is.
Like True Detective, however, it has a unified voice—every episode is written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee—and directorial vision—every episode is directed by Jane Campion and/or Garth Davis. The cinematography provides atmosphere. This isn't Middle Earth New Zealand, though; it's more about desolate mountains and sparkling lakes than lush forests with talking trees. I haven't seen any of Campion's films, but her storytelling style here is understated to an almost baffling degree. Huge moments are not highlighted, episodes often end on a downbeat with no hook, scenes play out with no apparent relevance. It's the kind of the show that will put a massive plot twist at the beginning of an episode instead of at the end of the previous episode. It's not the sort of storytelling I'm used to, and I found it hard to engage with for a while. Halfway through, however, I became much more invested, and the second half has more momentum, leading to a hell of a finale.
Top of the Lake ought to come with a bucketload of trigger warnings (the premise itself implies rape/child abuse), and critics more eloquent than I have talked about the show's portrayal of rape culture. There's much more to the show than its central mystery, but to be honest, I would be less positive about the show if the mystery resolution hadn't been satisfying (instead it makes little clues scattered throughout the series all fall into place, which is how I like it). Overall, I found the show to be a little too meandering and obtuse, but it was incredibly refreshing to watch a show with so many interesting, well-rounded female characters. Robin is not always sympathetic, but Elisabeth Moss shows us all the sides of her, however ugly they may be. The same goes for Peter Mullan, who plays Matt Mitcham. In conclusion, this show is pretty fucked-up.
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Jay-Z vs. Nena - 99 Luft Problems
February 23rd, 2014
|08:46 pm - Baccano!? More Like The Unkillables!|
Certain combinations of words pique your interest. Zombie dinosaurs. Guitar ninjas. Plane golem. So allow me to introduce you to Baccano! with the following two words:
Sold? Good, that was easy. But I'll continue. "Baccano" means "ruckus" in Italian, and, my God, is there ever a ruckus in this series. There are ruckuses. Rucki. Ruckus, ruckus, everywhere. The fantastic opening credits set the scene with a raucous, jazzy tune that takes you through the introductions of 17 characters. Not all of them are hugely significant, and not all significant characters in the series get introductions. But notice how the scenes transition fluidly from one to the other, through the simplest of connections. The interconnectedness of these characters' lives is at the heart of Baccano!
In fact, the series begins with two characters discussing who the main character of the story is. Whose story is it? The story focuses mostly on the years 1930, 1931, and 1932, centering on the hijacking of a train from Chicago to New York. How did the characters end up on that train? What did they do on it? What did they do afterward? With so many characters who all have their own agendas, how do you choose the "main" character? Isn't everyone the main character in their own story? Of note, the title of the first episode is "The Vice President Doesn't Say Anything about the Possibility of Him Being the Main Character." All the titles are like that. It's wonderful.
The first episode of the series makes no goddamn sense at all: it drops you into the world and into the story with no safety net. Clearly, this story is about warring gangster families. It also appears to be about immortals. Whatever happened on that train, it was bad. It shows you the aftermath and then tells you what happened.
In glorious, non-linear fashion. Baccano! adapts a series of light novels—each of which detail what happens to the characters in one year—by putting chronology into a blender. It jumps from 1930 to 1932 to 1931 with sheer audacity, sometimes cluing you in with a year card but most of the time expecting you to recognize what time period it is based on the circumstances. A scene will begin in one episode and continue five episodes later. A scene from one episode may be put into context three episodes later. It does have some mercy on the viewer, though, and tells most of each individual story in chronological order, but sometimes one character's story in 1930 will intersect with another character's story in 1930, and it turns out that one was before or the other, or vice-versa. It's not as confusing as I'm making it sound! It's very skillfully done.
None of this would matter, however, if the characters weren't so endearing. Sure, nearly all of them are thieves, bombers, murderers, or the like, but you still root for them. Even the psychotic killers have layers! Seriously, I was honestly surprised how much I liked some of the characters so full of wanton bloodlust that essentially no one was safe around them. Of course, to balance them out, you have the Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque comic-relief duo, Isaac and Miria, who are THE ABSOLUTE BEST because they are beyond naive and have no idea what the hell they've stumbled into, but, by God, they're going to make things right. By stealing. Throw in an explosives expert and a guy with a badass sword tattoo and a bounty on his head. How about a new initiate into the mob? Here's a mysterious young child. Who is that woman in fatigues? So many characters, you guys. But as we move backward and forward through time, we learn more about who they are and why they are. Wait, I didn't even mention the silent woman with the knives! So many characters, you guys.
For me, one reason I loved the characters so much was because of the dub, which is one of the most highly acclaimed dubs I've heard of, where even people who normally watch subs were recommending the dub. And I heartily endorse that course of action because this dub is so good it makes me want to watch more dubs. The dub director watched tons of gangster movies portraying the Prohibition era in order to get the right feel for the dialogue, and the voice actors use period accents, which helps bring the setting to life, not to mention distinguish the characters from different countries and cities.
Baccano! is a hell of a lot of fun, and I love the theme of interconnectedness that pervades the narrative. Some of these characters start off in completely different worlds and then end up becoming friends. Some of them do things that have unforeseen consequences for people they never meet. It's a bit overstuffed and could have used one or two fewer plots, but I really enjoyed trying to piece together the story, constantly being surprised and learning new things about the characters. It's bold storytelling that requires the viewer to put in some work, but it's a rewarding experience.
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Lorde - Team
February 9th, 2014
|10:49 pm - Dead Set? More Like Red Wet!|
After loving Black Mirror, I figured it was time to finally check out Charlie Brooker's zombie miniseries, which I'd heard good things about. The premise? Zombie apocalypse at the Big Brother house.
The series begins on Eviction Night, but what no one knows is that all of humanity is about to be evicted. I've never seen Big Brother, so I'm sure I missed lots of in-jokes (past members of the show [the UK version, obvs] guest starred, for instance), but everyone knows the basic idea: put a bunch of diverse personalities in a house and watch them yell at each other and hook up. And you've got everyone from a drag queen to a Scottish nitwit. Plus DS Ripley from Luther! Even though the characters are mostly stock types, the cast make them feel real and worth caring about, except for the Scottish nitwit, who remains annoying and insufferable. On the other side, we have the asshole producer and a plucky PA, among others. Plus, even more on the outside, the plucky PA's boyfriend (an Indian guy, because Indian guys appear on British shows with far greater frequency than they do in American shows). It's somewhat of a spoiler to even make note of the key characters since it implies they survive the zombie uprising, but it's fairly obvious they're going to be important from the outset.
Once nearly everyone is dead, it's time to survive! Good thing they have this big house to hole up in while Yorick tries to find out if his girlfriend is alive and go see her. It becomes a fairly typical zombie narrative, really: someone gets bit, someone makes a supply run, people die, you have to kill your friends, and so on. It's nothing we haven't seen before. The Big Brother element is cute, and while it does add an element of satire, it wasn't as prevalent as I expected. Yes, these people don't really matter, nor does their fame, and now nothing matters, so what was it all for?
I think my favorite thing about Dead Set is that the main character is a woman, honestly, because that's rare in zombie stories (and stories in general, of course, but that's another matter). I like that she goes from fetching coffee to essentially being the person in charge because the Big Brother residents recognize her as an authority figure because she is the only person they know from outside the house. She is the one with the most sense, although the contestants do display more sense than they might be given credit for based on footage. And, of course, any interpersonal conflicts do carry on even though people are being eaten. Kelly's got to hold them all together.
Although the first episode is an hour, the other four are a half-hour each, so the miniseries is even more mini than usual. I don't think I've seen a half-hour drama before, but Brooker makes the format work, largely because it's a miniseries, so each half-hour installment is a piece of the larger story. I thought Dead Set would be more engaging and compelling, based on its reputation, but it is a solid zombie story with frenetic gore and some black humor.
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Sohodolls - Bang Bang Bang Bang
February 2nd, 2014
|07:53 pm - Black Mirror? More Like Quack Peerer!|
A few months ago, I suddenly could not escape mentions of this show called Black Mirror; I'm pretty sure they were all in Entertainment Weekly. It wasn't even a new show! It premiered in December 2011 and wrapped its second season in February 2013. Why EW started talking about it, I don't know, but I'm very glad they did.
Black Mirror is a British sci-fi anthology series most frequently compared to The Twilight Zone, although a more apt comparison would be The Outer Limits, given the hourlong format and focus on science fiction. Each season has three episodes, and each one is distinct, with no connections between them, not even cast. What ties them all together is their near-future settings and examinations of our relationship with technology: the titular black mirror is the screen we peer into, be it a television, a computer, or a smartphone.
All that I had heard was true. Black Mirror is fantastic. It's emotional, intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi with a richness of character and sharp, satirical wit that isn't found in most sci-fi movies today, let alone television. Black Mirror is fucking brutal, but it hurts so good. Each episode is terrifyingly plausible; as creator Charlie Brooker says, "they're all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes' time if we're clumsy." Each episode forces you to think about who we are and where our society is headed.
Because each episode is entirely self-contained, part of the fun for me was not knowing what each episode was about. What the premise was, what the world was like, what kind of story I was going to be told. I've given this show my endorsement already, so if that's enough, fire up your client of choice (I don't know of any legal way to watch it online, although the first season is about to be released on DVD for $30, which is an absurd price for three hourlong episodes). If you need a little more convincing, let's dig into the six individual episodes.
"The National Anthem" is an odd start for the series, as it's the least sci-fi of the lot. It does, however, set the expectation that this series is going to go to some dark, fucked-up places: a princess is kidnapped—wow, this sounds more like a fairy tale—and the kidnapper's demand is for the Prime Minister to go on live television and commit an unthinkable act. The episode looks at the interplay between the media, social media, and politics, the power that public perception can have on political decisions. It's one of the more exciting, action-packed episodes.
"Fifteen Million Merits," a supersized episode, creates a dystopian future where reality shows rule. I had mixed feelings about the worldbuilding in this episode because it wasn't entirely clear to me how the world at large functioned like this, but I loved the way the episode slowly unfolds and lets you, the viewer, figure out how it works. It's meticulously constructed, down to the small details, and it's quite marvelous how fully realized it feels for a television episode (this is true of all Black Mirror episodes, but this one in particular requires a lot of sets and effects and such, as it's the one that least resembles our present). It feels more satirical than a realistic look at the future, but that doesn't lessen the emotional impact. (The main characters are played by Posh Kenneth from Skins and Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey; I never recognized actors from their other roles in this show because they were so different here.)
"The Entire History of You" is the show's best-known episode, thanks to Robert Downey, Jr., who bought the movie rights. In the future, people have an implant that records all their memories for easy access and playback. Certainly, there are many ways to tell a story with this technology—the movie will purportedly be a detective story—but Black Mirror chooses to examine how it affects human relationships. How does the ability to replay your job interview over and over affect how you feel about it? How does the ability to replay every single conversation you have ever had with your girlfriend affect her ability to fudge what she actually said? In the beginning of the episode, a seed of jealousy is planted, and it grows and escalates and mutates, all thanks to this wonderful technology. In the age of Google Glass, this is a must-watch.
"Be Right Back" is the most emotionally wrenching episode of the series, a meditation on grief and loss as well as a comment on online identity vs. personal identity. A woman loses her husband and is put into contact with a service that allows her to communicate with an artificially intelligent reconstruction of him. What I love about this episode is that she is always completely aware that the A.I. is not her husband; it's not that kind of story. The A.I. is alien and offputting, able to fake humanity only to a certain point, and it's one of the more interesting portrayals of A.I. I've seen. Even though she knows it's not really him, she can't let it/him go. Two fantastic performances in this episode—Black Mirror has consistently great acting, but this episode is a standout. I didn't even realize they were Peggy Carter and Bill Weasley until the end.
"White Bear" opens with a woman waking up in a room with no idea who she is or how she got there, and then she's being chased by a man who's trying to kill her. A classic setup. The Black Mirror twist is that not only is a man trying to kill her, but no one helps her because they're too busy taking pictures with their smartphones. She's trapped in a horror story that she doesn't understand, and neither do we, until we do, and holy shit. As in "Fifteen Million Merits," the worldbuilding strains plausibility a bit, but it makes an effective point. Plus, it features the delightfully named Tuppence Middleton. And Tyres from Spaced!
"The Waldo Moment" is generally regarded to be the weakest episode of the series, and I agree. It goes back to the political bent of "The National Anthem," this time using a raunchy animated bear character named Waldo to satirize the public's relationship with politics. Waldo appears on a comedy talk show (like The Daily Show, but British), and he begins to have a significant influence on a political race as the public embraces his no-nonsense, crude persona. Of course, Waldo is performed by a comedian with assistance from his producer: he's not real. But the public will take someone who's upfront about their not being real over a two-faced politician. As in most Black Mirror episodes, a small idea escalates over the course of the story, but it doesn't quite work in this one, and the ending isn't very satisfying. But it does feature Edmure Tully from Game of Thrones.
As you can see, Black Mirror tells very different stories about very different characters, including significant roles for women. It's only six episodes, with at least two more episodes coming in a third season, thankfully. If you are a fan of science fiction, you need to watch this.
Current Mood: pleased
Current Music: Freezepop - Manipulate
January 22nd, 2014
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
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