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I should have been born a cat
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are friends-only.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New LiveJournal friends are welcome: feel free to friend me, but please do leave a note (here or otherwise) and introduce yourself if you would like to be friended in return.
Anime/Game
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

PREVIEWb
Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.


You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
I should have been born a cat
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Website.

bpal_feedback avaliable here.

BPAL I have up for swap (locked).

My BPAL wishlist

I'm always willing to try new BPAL scents or to stock up on my favorites, but there are some scents that I desire more than others. I generally collect imps/decants because I go through oils slowly. You can fund my BPAL obsession through Paypal (swiftskyes AT hotmail DOT com) or ship them to me directly (can't see my contact info? want to? just ask).

I've included information about my favorite scents and notes (to give you an idea of what I like) and my wishlist for both limited edition and general catalog imps. Asterisks denote my highest priorities.

My favorite scents, notes, and tastesCollapse )


Limited Edition/Retired/Unimpable/etc WishlistCollapse )


General Catalog WishlistCollapse )


Non-BPAL & Miscellaneous WishlistCollapse )
Anime/Game
Title: Bitterblue (Graceling Realm Book 3)
Author: Kirstin Cashore
Narrator: Xanthe Elbrick
Published: Listening Library, 2012
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 570
Total Page Count: 206,535
Text Number: 629
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Almost a decade after Leck's death, Bitterblue is a young queen trying to usher her country out of the shadow of his rule. This has something of a slow start; the puzzle motif initially appears too shallow to sustain an entire book, and Bitterblue is slower than the reader to pick up on what motivates supporting characters. But it improves as it continues, opening into a deeper and more dynamic exploration of trauma and kingdom-building. Despite his death, Leck is more threatening here than he ever was in Graceling, and that narrative-in-absentia is skillful, haunting, and deeply compassionate. The romance is relatively decentralized, and other books in the series are neatly integrated into the worldbuilding. Watching Cashore mature as a writer has been just as enjoyable as reading the books themselves, and Bitterblue quietly blew past all my expectations. It's one of those books that achieves its central intent so completely that it enables me to overlook other niggling weaknesses—a truly satisfying experience.


(First five star book of the year! Like other favorite-so-far, Kiersten White's And I Darken, it's probably more of a 4.5; but as per final sentence, this is one of those books where the final effect is so successful that I can overlook other shortcomings.)

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Writing
Title: My Soul to Keep (African Immortals Book 1)
Author: Tananarive Due
Narrator: Peter Francis James
Published: Recorded Books, 1997
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 345
Total Page Count: 205,965
Text Number: 628
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Jessica's marriage is endangered by the revelation that her perfect husband is immortal. The supernatural elements here are surprisingly low-concept; the real focus is the psychological effects of immortality, a study which is convincing but not particularly exciting. There's more drama in the suspense, which is set against domestic details that are alternately idyllic and ominous—a balance that can tip towards the prosaic but has a strong finish. I think I would've had better luck with this book had I enjoyed either protagonist (or tolerated their child)—the psychological focus depends on personal engagement to be successful. But while I didn't love it, I did like it. It's a solid effort, thoughtfully conceived, grounded by researched details, and successfully paced. I give it a mild recommendation. (I don't feel compelled to pick up the sequels, but my impression from the ending is that they have stronger speculative elements—so we'll see.)


Re: reading statistics and authors of color.Collapse )

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Writing
Person of Interest, entire series, 2011-2016
This reminds me a lot of Fringe: a crime serial with a speculative premise that becomes increasingly predominant; an imperfect found family, confronted with apocalypses of increasing scale. (See also: Buffy, X-Files—the negotiation between episodic and overarching in speculative television has been a long conversation.) I'm a sucker for this setup, and a bigger sucker for the themes at play, for artificial intelligences and human/machine intimacies; and the premise also opens the door to creative tropes and narrative techniques, to flashbacks and alternate realities, to structural inversions (like the functions of the numbers in 2.22 "God Mode"). It's sometimes inconsistent, sometimes too playful, sometimes repetitive in structure (especially the pacing of the action sequences), but I sincerely love it, both for its genre-mashing premise and for the characters (especially Root and Shaw).

For the Love of Spock, film, 2016, dir. Adam Nimoy
This is endearing. It touches on a lot of things, all with approximately equal depth—and while some topics summarize nicely in eight minutes, others feel cursory: giving the gay guy a few sentences to talk about slash fandom is particularly insufficient. But the balance between Leonard Nimoy's private life, his career, and the character of Spock is more successful. There's an earnestness here, a sympathy, an active humor; it hits all the right notes and it's what I wanted it to be: informative in a non-exhaustive but honest and consumable way, and, primarily, cathartic.

After the Dark, film, 2013, dir. John Huddles
A shaggy dog story by way of an iterated thought experiment, which is both its strength and failure. The unexpected narrative style briefly engages some interesting tropes, and the parallels between classroom and experiment, and between iterations, may not live up to all the philosophical name-dropping but are interesting. It helps that, despite the slick, implausible teen styling, the acting is passably strong. But there's no real sum to the various parts, and the tone vacillates and fizzles out at the end. This is engaging but not quite satisfying.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9, s6-7, 1997-1999
I actually picked this rewatch back up midway through s5, which is where I'd left off (a few years ago), but as near as memory serves s6-7 were entirely new to me. (Their airdates overlap my family's residence in the UK, which may explain it.) I decided to continue my DS9 journey now because I wanted something socially-aware but escapist, and this is Devon's favorite show to rewatch and so it seemed like a safe bet. I was wrong. It was exhausting. The Dominion war means that late s5 and s6 alternate between grim war episodes and comedy relief episodes, many of them independently successful, but creating an inconsistent overall experience. (Devon later told me that he skips a lot of s6 episodes when rewatching.) S7 has a new major character and a large multi-part ending which stretches some plotlines too long yet still manages manages to back-weight and rush the finale. But this is still far and above the most ambitious and successful Star Trek. I adore a lot of individual tropes (Trill symbionts and Bajoran religion, primarily) (but also Odo!), but it's the cumulative effect which is most impressive: the uncompromising exploration of the Bajoran Occupation, a Black captain, the stationary setting which demands a larger and more consistent plot, even Armin Shimerman's quest to salvage the Ferengi make for an overarching set of themes which aren't always successful but are frequently, intelligently, pointed in the right direction, more demanding and more thorough than many equivalent themes in other Star Trek series. This wasn't the comfort watch I was expecting, but I think I value it more for that.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, s2, 2017
This has much better pacing than the first season! It's more cohesive, less pointlessly episodic while still maintaining that structure, and has better foreshadowing and ramp up; the cliffhanger is less pasted on. The personal/interpersonal focus is shifted: the strife/teamwork between the paladins is less emphasized, even taken for granted; but the focus on Shiro and Keith is bigger and more integrated into the worldbuilding than anything else so far. I could nitpick—the animation isn't as smooth as s1, and the unlockable power-ups is a predictable trope; but that last is occasionally really effective (as with Shiro) and the overall effort is just such a pleasure. This may be less iconic than s1, but it feels like the show has really settled into itself.

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Books Once More
Title: And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga Book 1)
Author: Kiersten White
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Published: Listening Library, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 480
Total Page Count: 204,720
Text Number: 627
Read Because: recommended by literarymagpie, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Lada and her brother are ransomed to the Ottoman empire, they meet the future sultan and become intimately familiar his nation's brutal politics. But Lada has only one goal: to use what she learns in preservation of her homeland, Wallachia. And I Darken is a reimagining of Vlad the Impaler with a female protagonist, an intimate, slow story with thorny gender issues, queer representation, and a nearly spiritual sincerity. I'm reminded distinctly of Nicola Griffith's Hild, as both books are about gender-nonconforming female protagonists loyal only to their homelands and both are slow burns, although this is the less skillful novel—but the payoff is that the more delineated narrative is also more approachable. Watching this cast grow from children to adolescents and charting their intimacies and troubled motivations is supremely satisfying, and it also sets up for a sequel. And I Darken is unpretty and passionate and it impressed me; I recommend it.

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9th-Feb-2017 07:06 pm - Book Review: Fire by Kirstin Cashore
Bear
Title: Fire (Graceling Realm Book 2)
Author: Kirstin Cashore
Narrator: Xanthe Elbrick
Published: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2009
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 204,240
Text Number: 626
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Fire is a Monster, born with an otherwordly beauty that makes her dangerously compelling. She must decide if she's willing to use her powers to help her country stave off civil war. The plot is adequate but not amazing, and the romance and love interest aren't as engaging as in Graceling (although I continue to appreciate Cashore's portrayal of sexual relationships). But the overall quality is so significantly improved over Graceling as to balance out a number of weaknesses, and the ethical explorations of Fire's abilities are subtle and complex. This is a significantly improved experience, more challenging, better written; I'd enjoy it just for the opportunity to watch Cashore's technical skill improve, but I also appreciate the tropes at play. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

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Writing
Title: Sister Mine
Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Narrator: Robin Miles
Published: Dreamscape Media, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 203,840
Text Number: 625
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Makeda is the odd one out in her unusual family--the half-mortal child of demigods, she was born without magic. Magical realist narratives have a tendency towards meandering, fluid creativity, and there's a lot of that on display here. The larger-than-life magics, the voice, and the issues of gender/sex/disability/race, presented with playful honesty, are all vivid and engaging. But the plot is a ramble of vignettes, many of which are individually successful but which as a whole sometimes drag. It gets in its own way, which to be honest is how I usually feel about the genre and so may be a reflection of personal taste. I'll probably pick up more by the author someday, and see if I have better luck.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: Graceling (Graceling Realm Book 1)
Author: Kirstin Cashore
Narrator: David Baker
Published: Full Cast Audio, 2009
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 203,520
Text Number: 624
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed via Hoopla from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the world of the Seven Kingdoms, some people, marked by heterochromia, have uncanny magical gifts called Graces. Katsa's makes her a dangerous warrior. Graceling has a slow start. The writing is almost unforgivably wooden (even worse in audio, where the repetitive sentence structure glares; the Full Cast recording also adds unfortunate musical bridges) and the book leans heavily on tiresome YA tropes. But it's the way that Cashore deconstructs these tropes which makes Graceling a success, emphasizing communication, decentralizing the romance, and interweaving interpersonal relationships and personal growth. This a debut and it feels like one, earnest but uneven—but it has a depth that surprised me, that made me invested and which kept me from bouncing off of it the way I do most YA. It stands alone, but I will probably read the sequels.

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Bear
Title: Bryony and Roses
Author: T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Published: Tantor Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 203,120
Text Number: 623
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed via Hoopla from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A Beauty and the Beast retelling, with a particularly sardonic cast and unusually haunted mansion. At onset, this feels a lot like Robin McKinley's Retellings, the result both of inspiration and parallel evolution; they have the same premise, same setting, similar magic and humor. Bryony and Roses distinguishes itself in its later half, as more of the house's magic is revealed and the tone becomes more diverse, haunting and even morbid, in successful contrast to the banter and irreverence. This isn't a revelatory retelling: it tweaks things and fleshes them out, but doesn't offer much commentary on the source material. But it's absolutely charming, and Justine Eyre's narration is lovely. This was the right book at the right time for me, escapism without being hollow or frivolous, and while hardly my favorite new fairy tale retelling, I'm grateful for it.


re: audiobooks, mental illness, politics obliquelyCollapse )

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Anime/Game
Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi), anime, 2016, A-1 Pictures
Time-traveler solves the disappearance of a fellow student from his childhood is a deceptively big concept with a deceptively small, interpersonal execution, and the truth is somewhere in between: the speculative elements are scaled down, secondary to the relationships that fuel the plot, but that plot grows increasingly convoluted and suspenseful. It's an ambitious effort, and successful in large part because of the way the many elements balance once another. (And I will never be over that fantastic gimmick with the opening credits.)

Voltron: Legendary Defender, season 1, 2016
I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this, but it's not perfect. The animation is fantastic, which gives the action and characters so much life; I genuinely love everyone except Lance (I wish the default protagonist weren't the male-gaze asshole) and every inter-character dynamic (even those with Lance). But after the overlong establishing sequences, the plot grows episodic and goes nowhere—it feels like watching any other serial SF show, with predictable premises and storylines. Against that stagnation, the sudden uptick in plot and the ridiculous cliffhanger at the end of the season feel like an insult. But while I normally have a hard time with "made for kids, accessible to all audiences" because I can't switch off my criticism (and can never tolerate comic relief), Voltron engaged me. I'll absolutely watch season 2. (That all said, I could never not laugh at Voltron's cat fists and fuzzy cat slippers and cat hat, I know this is the design Voltron has had forever and that they are being faithful to the source material, it still looks ridiculous, I'm sorry.)

Zootopia, film, 2016, Disney
Charming animation and worldbuilding, great dialog, and I'm a sucker both for mystery plots and cop buddy dynamics. But I'm not sure I loved the themes—"the disenfranchised also foster social unrest/aim to benefit from inequality" is a common trope that creates a false equivalency between the targeted hatred of oppressors and the justified anger of the oppressed, and while I think it's the exact opposite of the film's intended message, it's present and it's gross. This was a fun watching experience, but invites critical viewing it can't stand up to, and left me uneasy.

3%, season 1, 2016
I love survival games and in a similar way understand the appeal of dystopian meritocracies—but I hate the YA tropes/poor writing/unbelievable worldbuilding they tend to come packed in. 3% has pieces of all of that, and yet I sincerely enjoyed it. Television is a better format for this series than a book or film series because there's more room to flesh out the characters without constantly trying to reinvent the plot. That the competitors are 20 years old also helps—it's an appropriate age for the personal growth tropes and some of the interpersonal dramas of the genre, but sheds the adolescent-love-triangle tone. But maybe the best divergence is that there are so many people of color. This is less glamorized than most examples of the genre it hails from, despite maintaining a lot of genre concepts and tropes; I don't think it's necessarily revolutionary, but it's absolutely more successful. I'm glad to see Netflix diversifying the work they produce, and will watch season 2.

Yuri!!! on Ice, anime, 2016, MAPPA
As a sports anime, this isn't groundbreaking; as queer sports anime, it's not ideal representation—but I understand the source of its limitations and I think it navigates genre conventions and "appears subtextual, is actually textual" better than not. It does a lot in little space, with surprisingly clever plotting and details, but what really sold me is the sincerity of the character development and the romance. Yuuri's anxiety and its effects on his performance and interpersonal relationships mimic the emotional dramas of other sports anime, but have a more sincere, sympathetic arc; the central romance engages a number of queerbaiting tropes and then sidesteps them to explore sincere passion and how people build relationships and romantic intimacy. It's really just ... heartening to watch, not super angsty but emotionally accessible. I sincerely enjoyed it.

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8th-Jan-2017 04:38 pm - Best of 2016 in media
Writing
This is my list of the best media that I consumed for the first time (but was probably not published) in 2016.

Books

I read 128 books in 2016 and, unusually for me, almost all of them were new. It was also, independently, a great reading year. As such, this list is particularly long.

Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie. This was as good as the hype, but not always for the reasons I was lead to expect; the genre and setting is far-future space opera, but plot and investment are character-driven, and it was the ancillary experience and Lieutenant Tisarwat's violet eyes that really kept me engaged. This series is satisfying on the levels I value most.

Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. This isn't the first fantasy-which-is-actually-sci-fi genre crossover I've encountered, but it's by far the best. The genre-bending is fundamental to the narrative, but also to the protagonist’s PoV, as she uses and creates the scientific method, applying it to a reality which exceeds her comprehension--and which bleeds over into plot twists which exceed the reader’s expectations. I haven’t been this impressed by a book series in a long time.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre. Something like a sibling to the Steerswoman books, with a similar worldbuilding premise but a smaller focus--it's less about redefining knowledge of the world, and more about fostering knowledge in order to improve life on the local, private scale. It’s soothing and valuable.

Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. In particular, Blood of Elves--but this series entire lives on this list because of Ciri. The Witcher franchise is problematic, from its sexism-as-worldbuilding to its flawed balance of politics to plot. But while I rarely become attached to book characters, I am inordinately attached to Ciri, and to her family and those motivated by her. She's central. The books forget, sometimes, that that’s all I care about (and the games sometimes forget it entirely), but when the pieces align to star her I am in love.

The complete works of Octavia Butler. This isn’t the year that I began reading Butler, but is the year that I read most of and finished her work. I rarely find myself in such active conversation with an author, and as much as I’ve critiqued her for her style and occasional limitations, I’m blown away by what she achieved, and by the fact that her work is so compelling and complicated, so ambitious and successful in precisely the ways that matter.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette). This is the most feel-good that a novel has been while still leaving an impression on me--because it’s not frivolous or simplistic, but rather is about the stubborn effort to do good creating real good in the world: a particularly cathartic, empowering variety of wish-fulfillment

Hild by Nicola Griffith. This is half a story, and a laboriously intimate one at that--a gradual coming of age, dealing with issues of gender and faith and identity, the private and political; it took me a little to warm into it, but having done so I loved it--Hild’s PoV is incredibly immersive.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. What an experience! This is yet another SF/F mashup (it was a good year for those), but this is a particularly tropey one brought alive by the vivid and powerful use of dialect. This is a novella that feels bigger than that, that feels more distinct and dynamic than its page count.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I don't think the plot in this was entirely successful--but I love the premise so unreservedly as to recommend it on that basis alone. This is portal fantasy meta, looking at the afters and in-betweens of those who visit other worlds (and paralleling the reader experience of existing within/without fantasy), conjuring a bittersweet longing unlike anything I've experienced. I've always loved this genre, but didn't have a framework for my feelings about it until reading this book and:

Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente. I am of mixed opinions of this work, too. I love the first book beyond reason, but I don't know what the series as a whole lives up to it--the travelogue aspects grow stylistically repetitive, and on a technical level these come to feel rushed. But all the books have something charming to offer, and there's something sincerely valuable about the relationship between September, Halloween, Maud, Mallow, and the Marquess. Their dynamic is subtextual and complicated, and in ongoing conversation about portal fantasy, identity, and self-determination.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente. My favorite of Valente's novella so far. I'm surprised by how well her mythological and fairy tale imagery builds upon an AI premise, and by how concrete the AI is. There's a lot of depth in this little space, and it's particularly evocative, even for Valente.

Honorable mentions in books

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip. This isn't the best or most important McKillip, but I love its tropes to pieces (especially the way that the interpersonal dramas resolve) and it’s probably my favorite of the McKillip novels I've read so far.

The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet. I was sincerely impressed by this book, by its intimately-integrated magic system and the unforgiving, unsettling complexity of the interpersonal dynamics.

Multiple novels by CJ Cherryh. I'm continuing to read a lot of Cherryh, and I've yet to be disappointed by any of her work; her combination of deceptively terse writing style, intimate relationship dynamics, and worldbuilding concepts consistently hits on tropes that I adore.

Black Iris by Leah Raeder (Elliot Wake). New Adult isn't a genre I thought I would ever care about, but I care a lot about Wake's contributions to it, and Black Iris is the novel which has spoken to me strongest so far because its angry, intimate depiction of mental illness is cathartic and sincere while meshing well with the heightened passions which are a marker of the genre.




Video Games

Neko Atsume. I came late to this bandwagon, but it was worth the wait; what a charming, pure experience, and somehow even cuter than I expected. There's not really a lot to say about Neko Atsume, but I love it.

Deemo. Far and above the best rhythm game I've ever played, in song quality, aesthetic, narrative, and gameplay--the latter in particular is so natural, genuinely like playing a piano. I love this game to pieces and listen to the soundtrack all the time, yet I've never heard anyone talk about it. Please give it a try.

Overwatch. Is this art, no; but I have been playing 90min/day since launch, so that's something. I appreciate the changes Overwatch has brought to the genre and the active role Blizzard has taken in expanding and balancing it. It wouldn't be my pick for game of the year, but it’s important enough to earn that.

Pokémon Moon. This, frankly, would be my pick for game of the year. It benefits from the engine development of Gen VI, while continuing the narrative trends from Gen V--it looks fantastic, the UI and battle mechanics are great, but most importantly I cried three (three!) times while playing SuMo. The narrative has leveled up, the character development is phenomenal, and I treasure it.

Stardew Valley. This is a love letter to the farming and life simulator games that it draws from, and it almost exceeds them--I admire the depth and refinement of this game, and it's such a satisfying, soothing experience, exactly as it's meant to be.

Dark Souls III. The micro-level of this release, the cinder construct, isn't my series favorite, although I love the characters in this game; but on the macro-level, drawing the cycles of each installment together and to a close, Dark Souls III is incredibly fulfilling. I also appreciate the reintroduction of more varied enemy types and refinements to the combat system.

Honorable mentions in video games

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This is as beautiful as I wanted it to be, but not quite as weird as it needed to be--I miss the push-pull of the body horror in Human Revolution. But what a fantastic graphic engine, and the characters and plotting live up to series standard.




Visual Media

Critical Role. This monster of a show has without exaggeration been a life-changer. It's a huge investment of time and such an unassuming medium, but the payoff is intense. The live creative process has an innate energy, and the cast's obvious investment in character and narrative is contagious. It ate me alive this year, and I regret nothing.

Stranger Things. I wanted Stranger Things to be a smidge less neat (plotwise, especially the ending), but in all other ways adore it, from the conversation between genres to the unexpected but indulgent aesthetic to the character acting. I've rarely been so utterly consumed by a show, to the point where coming up for air between episodes made the real world feel surreal.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I expected to like this, but was surprised by how sincerely I enjoyed it; the character archetypes combining to develop complexity and depth translates well to a miniseries, and despite TV-quality effects this is an aesthetic and speculative delight.

Black Mirror "San Junipero". I can give or take Black Mirror on the whole, but I treasure this particular episode, both because I think it's one of the better realized of the series in terms of plot delivery and because victorious WLW was balm to my soul, especially in the face of so many dead queer women in television.

Penny Dreadful. The series takes a definite downturn by the third season, but the overall experience was worth it, in part of the surprisingly robust gothic retelling, delightful aesthetic, and found family tropes, but mostly because of Vanessa Ives and Eva Green, without which this would be half a show. The intimate depiction of her vulnerability, intelligence, competency, and honesty was particularly valuable to me; this is one of the few supernatural metaphors for mental illness which I've found successful.

Star Trek: The Original Series, and movies 1-5. I grew up with every Star Trek except this one, and had a cultural impression that TOS was corny and misogynistic--and it is, a little, but it holds up much better than I was expecting and has fundamental charm and value, both as franchise starter and in its own right.

Red vs Blue. I never believed I could be so consumed by a machinima comedy series, but the humor works and the eventual scale of Red vs Blue--its convoluted plot, surprisingly well-developed characters, strong pacing, and fantastic animation--is incredible.

Honorable mentions in visual media

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I had never watched the original Cosmos; this remake has some redundancy/direction issues in the middle but is on the whole all I wanted, vast and terrifying and beautiful, but also accessible, even personable.

Ravenous. The gayest narrative about cannibals that isn't Hannibal-related, and so delightful--and it only improves on repeat viewing, where the tonal shifts can be anticipated. Great imagery, fun acting, and such explicit cannibalism-as-metaphor violence-as-romance; it's become one of my favorite films.

The Falling. I love quiet little movies about gender, female experience, coming of age, and illness; this was my favorite of those that I watched this year (but see also: The Silenced), perhaps because it's the most convincing: an intimate, vaguely idealized, unsettling portrait of British girls's schools and female adolescence.


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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (Fairyland Book 4)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 202,450
Text Number: 620
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Back in our world, a young troll named Hawthorn becomes the changeling boy Thomas. After the third book, I felt that this series needed a shake-up to prevent it from growing repetitive—and this is that, and also not. It's a departure from September and from Fairyland, but many elements, including the structure of early chapters and the makeup of Hawthorn's entourage, mimic previous books. Both the departure and recycling are risks, but on the whole they work—thanks to the glorious Blunderbuss, the evocative creation of magic in our mundane world, and the chance to see our girl September from the outside. But this is a distinctly incomplete story, its rushed ending setting up for the last book in the series to put all the pieces together. I am of mixed opinions, but enjoyed it on the whole, and it makes me look forward to the finale.


Title: Gate of Ivrel (The Morgaine Saga Book 1)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: DAW Books, 2000 (1976)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 202,645
Text Number: 621
Read Because: fan of the author, used paperback purchased from The Book Bin
Review: Exiled by his family, Vayne's precarious social position makes him liege to the otherworldly Morgaine, come to destroy the Gates that link space and time. This is science fiction wrapped in the trappings of fantasy, and reminds me—especially in the rhythm and nature of the worldbuilding—of other books that share that premise. But the interpersonal aspects are uniquely Cherryh, and are the true seductive force within this slow-burning, politics- and nameplace-dense travelogue-cum-quest: the relationship between Vayne and Morgaine is unwilling but loyal, grounded in domestic detail, and develops a sincere intimacy; it's everything I love best of Cherryh, and to find it in her first published book is interesting insight into her longterm themes. This is probably my least favorite of the Cherryh I've read so far, but by no means a disappointment; I will read the sequels.


Title: Well of Shiuan (The Morgaine Saga Book 2)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: DAW Books, 2000 (1978)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 202,905
Text Number: 622
Read Because: fan of the author, used paperback purchased from The Book Bin
Review: Morgaine and Vayne chase Roh into a drowning world and encounter Jhirun, a young woman fleeing from her people. I wish that this installment were bolder—it spends a lot of time developing the local setting, and while the doomed landscape is evocative and the residents are eventually tied directly into the overarching science fictional plot, it's little and late and the book overall doesn't do much to expand the narrative's scale. The interpersonal aspects continue to be my favorite part of this series, and while they threaten to grow repetitive (Morgaine's suspicions of Vayne are particularly forced) they remain uniquely Cherryh, intimate but terse, personal conflict interweaving with plot conflict. Jhirun's desperate circumstances are reminiscent of Vayne, but she's repeatedly forced out of the narrative by Morgaine's cruel utilitarianism and Vayne's complicity, making her a bittersweet foil. This feels like a middle book and it isn't my favorite Cherryh, but I like it more than not and will absolutely finish the series.

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I should have been born a cat
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, miniseries, 2015
I'm surprised by how much I liked this, and I expected to like it. The set and costume and makeup are all beautiful; the special effects are sometimes TV-quality but still so evocative. I'd forgotten how successful this narrative is, and/or I'm a better consumer (I was particularly stricken by the women—not an impression I had when I first read it) or I liked this more than the book or I simply need to reread the book; the way in which these characters gain exponential depth as they interact, escaping the limitations of their respective tropes, is particularly fulfilling. What a pleasure to watch.

Dark Matter, seasons 1-2, 2015-2016
Six strangers forced to work together is how found families are born, and this absolutely lives up to its tropes. The cast is made up of heavy-handed archetypes but I love lots of them—especially all the women of the core cast (the android's character growth is especially good.) But mutual distrust also creates a lot of miscommunication-as-plot, which is a trope I detest. I've now mentioned tropes four times, which is indicative: this is pulpy Syfy-channel material, with appropriate pacing, plotting, budget, and the ideal arena to engage tropes with gusto, which this does, and I love it for that.

They Look Like People, film, dir. Perry Blackshear, 2016
I'm not sure how to discuss this one without spoilers, so be ye warned. I found this unexpectedly effective as a horror film—it has a strong grasp of tension and pacing and the evocative unseen. But these are also things that freak me out, personally (face blindness is not-infrequently the experience of "have people been replaced by not-people that I'm supposed to assume look the same?" and "is this face correct? is this what faces look like?"), which biases my reaction. Some have lauded this for its human, empathetic depiction of mental illness; it is that, but I'm still not on board with eliding mental illness and speculative themes, and constantly linking mental illness and violent actions. I find myself of a mixed but ultimately positive opinion, and this certainly does a lot with tone and horror despite its tiny cast and budget.

The Girl in the Book, film, dir. Marya Cohn, 2015
A thorny, private, messy personal trauma given a cathartic, neat resolution—so it hits all the right notes and I understand the intent, but it still feels limited. I like the narrative structure, though, exploring the sequences of events in one timeline, their longterm impact in the other. But I can't help negatively comparing this to Blue Car, which was thematically similar but much more messy and bittersweet in resolution: equally important representation, but refusing to be so neat.

Twin Peaks, season 1-2, 1990-1991
Fire Walk with Me, film, dir. David Lynch, 1992
(Spoilers be ye warned, again.) I made multiple false starts on this show before seeing it to conclusion, which I feel is in some way indicative of my overall experience. There's so much to talk about! I'm underwhelmed by some of the iconic elements, the soap opera plotting, laborious pacing, and "quirky" townsfolk—but I love the effect of the ominous and surreal set against that mundanity. The plotting goes off the rails after Laura's arc, and the new romances are a horrible choice—but I love the increasingly prominent role of the Black Lodge. (What imagery!) But I take strong issue with the way that Lynch uses disability to indicate strangeness, in the townsfolk and surreal dreams and the Lodge. I loved Fire Walk with Me, because as much as I admire a successful narrative in absentia it's empowering to make Laura subject (rather than object) of the narrative and Sheryl Lee's portrayal is intimate and convincing. Twin Peaks and I had a rocky start, and I couldn't imagine rewatching it for fun, but I came away with strong opinions and a lot of love for the bits I loved (speech in the Lodge & the entrance to the Lodge; the characterization of Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne in the first arc, and the relationship between them) and love, also, for for its ... intent and iconic cultural effect, I suppose, more than the actual product.

On Tumblr: Dale Cooper vs. Professor Layton; David Lynch uncritically presenting the Other was weird.

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Bear
There have been a number of interim posts since my last post that have not been written outside my head, because I am a perpetual bundle of busy and tired, consistently overstretching my limited capabilities to do politics and be scared about the state of the world.

One post: I did skip Thanksgiving, and my parents didn't come up after because inertia is a thing. But Dee went up to Washington for the holiday and Devon did drive up to see me for the day, just for a few hours. We made in-no-ways-traditional vegetarian hot dogs and mac & cheese (with hot dogs in it); it wasn't enough, but it was significantly better than nothing and I'm grateful.

Another post: practicing by doing the easy political phone calls on answering machines does (barely) make it easier to call real alive people. Somehow, that doesn't make it any less terrifying to forget about time zones and call places which are still open and unexpectedly staffed by alive people.

Another post: I have managed to leave the house, once or thrice. Snow helped (as sidenote: cats staring at snowland), because I missed the end of autumn and refuse to miss winter, too. We had snow + freezing rain, but then snow that stuck around, approximately pristine, for a few days. The latter was lovely.

* * *

Today my parents came through Portland and had lunch with me; they're headed northbound to spend the holidays traveling, including a trip to see my sister in Seattle. It was exhausting but in productive ways, almost entirely my fault—because over coffee I nonchalantly asked why I had which aspects of Jewish upbringing and how my extended family/various cultural aspects affected it, as one does.

I have, for obvious reasons, but especially as Hanukkah approaches, been thinking a lot about what it means to be Jewish and particularly to be Jewish in the face of forced assimilation and, you know, facism (how are these are sentences I'm writing and why is this the real world and can it stop), and also of the narrative of "Hanukkah isn't our most important holiday, and its cultural importance is actually a symptom of forced assimilation, but this year it certainly has extra thematic relevance"—because I was raised with Hanukkah and Passover and not much else, although my parents say there was an occasional Rosh Hashanah, which I think I remember; for me, there was no "more important holiday." It seems like some of that was because of how things lined up with Christmas/Easter and thus with school schedules, but it's also because that's what my father grew up with; his experience was inconsistent (Sabbat sometimes, but not always; Hebrew school and a bar mitzvah for him but not his brother; Hanukkah/Passover/Rosh Hashanah was all he celebrated, too) which has passed through the generations (Allie and I never had any formal religious education; our cousin did).

I grew up on the opposite side of the country from my Jewish grandparents, who always wished they could see us more often, who tried to cram a lot of Jewish Things into the whatever contact they had; they sent me Jewish novels and celebrated holidays with us less, I think, because those specific things were important—they weren't religious, their own practice was inconsistent—but because the identity was important.

White-passing half-Jewish cultural Jew is approximately as distant from the thing as one can be, and I understand the factors, the time, the literal distance, the way that assimilation works and why I have the background that I do. But I also have that identity, and its ... cultural expectation, I suppose, of persecution and persistence. My ancestors came from Russia, and immigrated before the Holocaust; that was not their personal story but it was their cultural story, and they taught me that, too.

I suppose I wanted an easy answer, an, "ah yes, your grandparents always wanted to practice these aspects of the faith with you, and you can now cling to them at least for their cultural significance even if you don't believe." But I didn't get that, I didn't get a "more important holiday" that can enable to me a real Jew. And I don't know where that leaves me, except that this diaspora experience is as real for me as it has been for my father and for his parents, and they are real Jews, so, maybe, I am too.

We also talked about how, for me, politics et al. isn't something to be countered by optimism or hope; that I live within communities where everyone will not (and has not) survived difficult times, and that but for the grace of Devon and August and my parent's financial support that could include me; and I think it's the first time I've ever mentioned suicidal ideation to my parents. My sister's cancer changed things for my family; we've learned to proactively accept and value of each other as we are, and the way that's effected how my parents view me—that they take me at my word when I talk about my experiences and health—as been huge. These are not things I would have felt comfortable sharing, years ago. I'm glad I can now, and the conversation wasn't all politics and Judaism and fascism, I also told them about Dare's antics and Dad showed me this video of him falling off his bike on the way to work. It was a worthwhile afternoon. But I am now very tired, and nothing really feels better.

I'm headed down to Corvallis soon, but we put it off a day and Devon is coming to get me, at some crazy early/late hour when we can skip holiday traffic, so that I can still see him and get my gifts without trying to navigate Amtrak/exhaustion/crazy.

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Writing
Title: The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes (Issues #1-8)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1988-1989
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 240
Total Page Count: 201,615
Text Number: 616
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library (I own this, but it's in the other city)
Review: In the attempt to capture Death, occultists instead imprison another of the Endless: Dream, whose absence sets the world out of sorts. I agree with Gaiman in his afterward: this is a scattered volume, in tone, worldbuilding, and narrative style; the comic cameos are particularly out of place (although Constantine fits in). The underlying worldbuilding, characterization of the Endless, and the aesthetic (especially the use of color) are more promising, but they don't get much chance to shine here. I've read this before, and it left as little impression then as now—but this time I'll continue the series.


Title: The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House (Issues #9-16)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1989-1990
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 230
Total Page Count: 201,845
Text Number: 617
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Rose Walker is a mortal woman reuniting with her grandmother; she is also a vortex, with the potential to destroy Dream's domain. The shift away from Dream is an interesting one; giving him a background role preserves his mystique, but other characters can't quite fill his place and, while Rose's identity is engaging, her emotional arc is predictable. But this is a tighter volume than the first; the uninspired questing framework is rescued by the interwoven plotlines, and the reliance on coincidence works in a mythic story like this one. It turns out that I've read this volume before too (I'm not sure when or how) and what I remember of it, the Cereal Convention, is less interesting than the narrative decisions at work. Ultimately, this isn't amazing but it is successful.


Title: The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country (Issues #17-20)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1990
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 160
Total Page Count: 202,005
Text Number: 618
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Four standalone stories on the nature of dreams and dreaming, none of which particularly engaged me: I don't love the PoV and art choices in "Calliope" or the entirety of "A Dream of a Thousand Cats;" "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the most ambitious and successful story, but does so much that it can't do it in much depth, and while I love Death's appearance in "Façade" the DC tie-in continues to feel out of place. These experiments with form and protagonist are admirable, but the short format makes each effort shallow; I'd prefer to return to a longer plotline.


Title: The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists (Issues #21-28)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1990–1991
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 190
Total Page Count: 202,195
Text Number: 619
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Lucifer abdicates, denizens of various realms and pantheons petition Death for the key to Hell. I find these larger arcs more satisfying, but still not as profound as the metaphysical premise promises to be. A lot of time is given to introducing swaths of unremarkable characters, with some exceptions—most particularly the glimpses of the other Endless. This steals space from the plot, rendering it anticlimactic. It's all strangely prosaic, even the musing on the nature of Hell, even the chance to see Dream in his domain. I hold out hope for something unexpected, and will continue the series—but it has yet to capture me.

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