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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.
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:

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 )
23rd-Aug-2015 11:25 pm - It were my birfday!
I should have been born a cat
It were my birfday, or, as per tradition:

I'm 30, and 30 feels weird; it's a nice round number upon which to rest all my recent anxiety about health issues, everyone in Devon's immediately circle marrying their girlfriends (of 18 months) and/or having kids, and that general sense of existential despair that comes often when you have no goals/occupation/future. My preoccupation with aging is strange. Because of what my life is like, I live outside of the passage of time as it effects most people, and I don't desire most of those landmarks, but I'm still cognizant of the fact that I'm no longer a child; self-aware neoteny comes with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

That said! It was a lovely birthday. Devon came up for the day—we didn't do much special, just went out to eat and watched a show together, but actually marking the event was enough. (I'm bad at both social instigation and the passage of time, so most events pass me unmarked, which I always regret.) And he gave me a 3DS XL! I saw my father for a quick dinner the next day, as he was in town for a flight; I also have a gift in the mail, Dee and I have an outting to make when it's not a) 100° b) smoky due to nearby wildfires c) both, and received birthday wishes from a number of people I care about, including some that I hadn't heard from in some time. Perfectly satisfying, and quite enjoyable.

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Title: Carnival
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Published: New York: Spectra, 2014 (2006)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 392
Total Page Count: 165,560
Text Number: 484
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Kusanagi-Jones and Katherinessen come to New Amazonia on a complex ambassadorial/espionage mission, further fraught by their troubled personal history and the sights they have set on treason. Carnival shoves the reader into the middle of a vast world, focusing equally on high-concept worldbuilding and intricate interpersonal relationships. But not enough differentiates the protagonists: similar names, headhopping, and identical POVs, focus on microexpressions, and ulterior motives mean that it wasn't until the two-thirds mark that I could begin to tell them apart. (This may not be a problem for readers who are better with names.) But the sci-fi is great, creative, far-reaching, with the philosophical and social bent—which, always, ties into the lives of the characters—that makes Bear's work resonate for me. Carnival feels like a first novel, suffused with the promise of things to come but with an abundance of the author's weaknesses and common tropes. I don't particularly recommend it, especially as a starting place for Bear, but I liked it.

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14th-Aug-2015 10:58 pm - Bullet points life update.
That massive depressive episode that began with my sister's cancer diagnosis finally died a lingering death (I gave up tracking its length by the end, it started in July 2014 and lasted until ~June 2015, so it was basically a year of my life), but a ~month later I had a resurgence of my normal month-long (I think, I hope, but I'm not measuring; I'm too tired for real records these days, I'm just trying to wait things out) episodes, so: I have been absent-ish from social spaces/friendships because I'm not feeling great; it's not a severe episode, but I was just beginning to feel hopeful about recovery when it began so it's bitter and gently spirit-crushing. You know, more than depressive episodes usually are.

- - - - -

May-June back pain episode did resolve a few days on Tramadol.

- - - - -

Dare is settling in well! When you adopt a pet, but especially a cat, you make an (informed, one hopes) gamble: they are their own people, so, while they do adapt, their underlying personality will shine through. We gambled well with Dare—her outgoing nature counterbalances her blindness, and makes her a good fit into the house's preexisting social structures. What amazes me most is how bright she is, how proactively engaged with her environment; she's more aware than anyone in the household, nevermind not having eyes.

- - - - -

Made a brief visit back home: my sister got a puppy, a Red Merle Australian Shepherd named Tiber who is currently 3 months old. She's still living at my family's home, so Jamie (who is now far into Old Lady territory) has to deal with him. He's ... well, he's a puppy, engaged and bright but overflowing with energy. They're doing pretty well by him training-wise; Jamie isn't pleased with the new dog.

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23rd-Jul-2015 12:48 am - Book Review: Piercing by Ryu Murakami
I should have been born a cat
Title: Piercing
Author: Ryu Murakami
Translator: Ralph McCarthy
Published: New York: Penguin, 2007 (1994)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 192
Total Page Count: 165,168
Text Number: 483
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Kawashima Masayuki believes he's put his troubled past behind him--until he becomes obsessed with stabbing his infant daughter with an ice pick, an obsession he can only elevate by murdering someone else instead. Piercing combines a dry, dark tone with a lack of restraint, and the combination works. It's short enough to suit the thematic transparency (but, unfortunately, also so short that the redundant aspects of the dual narratives are frustrating), and the wry gallows humor makes for an unromanticized but indulgent study of violence: creative, intentionally shocking, and put to good use in serving the themes. This is meant to be psychological horror rather than an accurate representation of child abuse, and lacks true complexity. But if the intent appeals, Piercing will satisfy. I recommend it, and plan to read more Murakami.

Media mentioned in Piercing by Ryu Murakami
(more or less exhaustive, in approximate order of appearance)

Nicolas de Staël (artist)
Basic Instinct (film)
Peter Pan syndrome
Wild at Heart (film)
Corpses (photograph collection)
Music of Afternoon Classics Volume III (specific songs: Chopin's Nocturnes, Schumann's Scenes from Childhood, Schubert's Moments Musicales)

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22nd-Jul-2015 07:03 pm - Book Review: Sorcery & Cecelia
I should have been born a cat
Title: Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Cecelia and Kate #1)
Author: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Published: New York: Open Road Young Readers, 2012 (1988)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 164,976
Text Number: 482
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a sorcerer tries to poison Kate in London, she writes to her cousin in the country—and together they unravel a magical mystery. Sorcery & Cecelia is more novelty than success. The letter game that spawned it is brilliant, and the authors's engagement and joy in their joint story is infectious. But that extemporaneous style lacks refinement, and makes for a predictable, even repetitive story. I still recommend this—it lacks complexity but has a wealth of charm and good intentions.

The historical name-dropping was heavy-handed but, like most things, still charming:

Allusions in Sorcery & Cecelia by Wrede & Stevermer
(historical figures, objects, authors, books, literary allusions, and otherwise, in approximate order of appearance, probably not exhaustive)

Horace Walpole
Elgin Marbles
Lord Byron
The Monk, Mathew Lewis
Brutus, Sappho, Penthesilea (specifically their hair styles, as per Oliver's obsessions)
I Dilettanti (opera)
"Ill meet by moonlight" quoted by Kate, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare
Hansel and Gretel (as metaphor)
Anne Radcliffe
Caroline Lamb
Atalanta, Handel
Epicyclical Elaborations of Sorcery (a fictional text)
John Dee

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Title: The Bird of the River (Lord Ermenwyr Book 3)
Author: Kage Baker
Published: New York: Tor, 2010
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 272
Total Page Count: 164,626
Text Number: 481
Read Because: recommended by phoenixfalls, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A small family joins the crew of a large river barge. This was far and away my favorite of the Ermenwyr books—no small thing, as I enjoyed the entire series. The Bird of the River is a smaller, softer book. It benefits from but doesn't add to the worldbuilding that occurred in other novels (although it can be read as a standalone); instead, it explores the local effects of clashing and developing societies. The tone is less humorous and more bittersweet, to great effect. There's a plot, but it's only as important as the daily bustle aboard the Bird; what matters most is the growth of the superbly rendered protagonist as she builds a life of her own. This is a domestic, intimate, lovely book, and I admire the restraint of its scale. I recommend this entire series, but if you read just one, read this one.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: Zombie
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Published: New York: HarperCollins, 2009 (1995)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 192
Total Page Count: 164,354
Text Number: 480
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The diary of a serial killer set on creating a lobotomized love slave. Disappointing, as Dahmer retellings go. If there's one thing that Zombie does well, it's that the messy murders remove any idealization or justification. But the truth is, there's not much to begin with. Quentin's obsessions are more redundant than compelling, in a book which should be too short for repetition. The voice (and why is the narrative so stylized, complete with doodles, if he explicitly keeps no record?) grows wearisome, the end is abrupt, and the book is problematic but in no meaningful way—most especially that both protagonist and narrative elevate the murder of a white boy over many victims of color. I'm the ideal audience for Zombie, yet it left little impression on me and I don't recommend it.

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A Simple Plan, film, 1998, dir. Sam Raimi
A straightforward but effective take on the premise of a small, uneasy group forced into a conspiracy. It's discomforting to watch for exactly the right reason: everything feels justified yet is obviously unacceptable, and that tension provides significant immersion and momentum. The ending is overwrought and hinges on coincidence, but to be honest I didn't much mind. If you can overlook the limited scope and obvious flaws of the film (the all-white, nearly all-male cast among them, although there's some interesting class dynamics at play), this entirely satisfying.

Jupiter Ascending, film, 2015, dirs. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
This reminds me of YA literature: consumable trash filmed through a female lens—which doesn't make it magically non-problematic, but does make it a refreshing take on wish fulfillment. I don't care for the amount of spectacle; the action scenes in particular grow wearisome. But to my surprise, I love the my-love-interest-the-bodyguard dynamic, male as powerful and useful but subservient to female choice—full disclosure, this is a trope I adore (see: my love for Enslaved), but I'm still surprised that Jupiter Ascending pulled it off so well; I shipped the hetero leads and, let me tell you, that never happens. Anyway: not great, but a different and much improved variety of trash, and worth two hours of my time.

Big Hero 6, film, 2014, dirs. Chris Williams and Don Hall,
This should feel like merch bait, and it's so emotionally heavy-handed, and the antagonist(s) are shallow and I could do without the manpain motivation, and the end is predictable. And yet: I cared; I cared immensely. It's manipulative but effective, the character design is simplistic but charming, and Baymax is phenomenal. This is how to do mascot characters! Make them adorable and a little silly but also make them central to the story, make them the emotional lynchpin as well as the comic relief. (Great soundtrack, too.)

Kill la Kill, anime, 2013, Trigger
I loved Gurren Lagann, which was successful because it looks a simple concept and spiraled (ahahaha) it larger and larger—it was a deceptive, brilliant, effective device. Kill la Kill isn't simple and it certainly isn't brilliant. It's so energetic and ridiculous that it takes some time to adjust, but I did—and I enjoyed the show. To my particular surprise, I like the emotional and interpersonal arcs; they're hamfisted and obvious but have just enough underlying nuance, and the result is endearing. (Most especially, Mako.) But the plot's a mess. Spiral Power is an entire show worth of fridge brilliance; clothing-is-evil-except-not-also-fanservice lacks cogency and purpose. Is it unfair to compare this to TTGL? Probably, but oh well. Kill la Kill had bits I liked but as a whole was an unsuccessful successor.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When the Cicadas Cry), anime, 2006, Studio Deen
Let's all take a moment to appreciate just how well the When They Cry series handles bad ends. They become tools to explore how a limited cast reacts to wildly different stressors, to explore multiple permeations and sides of the same story, and, best of all, the cumulative effect of the bad ends is the whole point. There's no frustrating dissonance between persistent viewer memory and reset character timelines—instead, the gap between them is the core the plot. Of course, the series originated as a visual novel—but games screw this up all the time! When They Cry is an aware, engaged, utterly satisfying take on the trope. (I've talked about this in length on Tumblr.)

The art is simplistic. The empty-eyed psychopathic tendencies of apparently all schoolchildren can be repetitive, although Keiichi's paranoia is a compelling change of pace. Higurashi isn't hugely refined, to be sure. But the scenery-chewing is its own delight, and what this series gets right I simply adore.

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I just finished rereading this! I frequently start lists of media-mentioned-in books I love, and now that I'm making those lists on OneNote via my phone, it's remarkably easier to complete, edit, and publish them! Bless. So:

Media and pop culture mentioned in The Cipher by Kathe Koja
(In order of appearance, except where references reoccur; including just about all media, but probably not exhaustive.)

From the epigraph: “Mukade”, Shikatsube no Magao (poem); Rick Lieder (author)
Wise Blood, Flannery O'Conner (novel); later, “The Enduring Chill”, Flannery O'Conner (short story)
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (mentioned multiple times, including: the Rabbit Hole, the White Queen)
Artists: Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Hieronymus Bosch; The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (mentioned in specific later)
The Twilight Zone (television)
Weekly World News (tabloid)
Typhoid Mary
Tabu (perfume) (some aspects of this list are weirdly exhaustive)
Films: Streetgirls II, Dead Giveaway, Dogs Gone Wild (cursory searching and common sense indicate these are fictional); later, also fictional: Booby Prizes, Mommy’s Little Massacre
Faces of Death, dir. Conan LeCilaire (film)
Wild Kingdom (television)
Art Now (magazine)
Artists: Caldwell (can’t pin down who this is), Richard deVore (Malcom’s mask is compared to these)
“Borscht Belt (Jewish comedy) parody of Hamlet (Shakespeare) doing humble”
Pied Piper
The New Testament: Peter on the water; the Old Testament: Shadrach
Romper Room (television)
Author: Ben Hecht; in the final epigraph: “Love is a hole in the heart.”
Vulcan (Roman mythology)
(Obliquely) Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Phantom of the Opera(’s face and mask)
“Saints and idiots, angels and children.” (“It’s a quote, you dipshit.” From where? I don’t know! Enlighten me.)

I started recording media mentioned in books because I'm a dork because, as I may have said about 40 times, using narratives to create or explain your narrative is my modus operandi and thus my favorite thing to see in narratives. (Narrative-ception.) There's a danger of creating self-referential and -congratulatory recursive narratives that require googling rather than reading because without immediate knowledge of the referenced material you're in the dark. That's occasionally lampshaded, particularly in books where the references are fictional and their excess is intentional (the navelgazing of House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski; the aesthetic and plotty footnotes of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke).

But, more often, narratives about narratives do one or both of these things:

The references create a palate. I've described The Cipher's atmosphere and aesthetic as "thriftstore decadence" and the characters as "gritty dirty poor horror-kids," but what describes it better is the book's references: Alice's rabbithole as metaphor for the Funhole, the grotesque art prints cut from art magazines, Flannery O'Conner's heartless black humor and the parody-titled sensationalist films; the combination of sleazy and Weird is never meant to be pleasant, but it has as strong an atmosphere as the most stylized, idealized fiction.


The narrative not only extends itself to contain the referenced material, but builds a whole greater than the sum of the references. Reader, I adore this: texts played against each other, narratives that address the reader/writer/character meta-relationship. This was what made Fire and Hemlock, Dianna Wynne Jones, so exceptional. Polly spends most of the novel internalizing, creating herself around Tom Lynn, but he also challenges her when she merely regurgitates the influences he throws her way—Tom Lynn's creation of Polly extends so far that he demands that she create herself, a contradiction they must both confront in the denouement. Fire and Hemlock borrows structures and dynamics that Polly is unaware of (Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot; Cupid and Psyche); it's about the dozens of books that she reads and internalizes; it's about the story that she turns around and writes herself, and about the necessity and limitation of the inspiration she's taken from what she's read. And it's so good.

Most examples—often the best examples—do all of these things. In Catherynne M. Valente's engaging The Labyrinth, some references are in Latin; the fantastic The Game of Kings, Dorothy Dunnett, made me read it with google in one hand and book in the other. Both are exhausting, both are worthwhile. Caitlín R. Kiernan is (obviously) my favorite, because in this way her brain works like mine: her stories are a web of narrative influence, mentioned by name and date or casually misquoted; the way I process wolves/werewolves/black dogs is how her protagonists process their experiences, from their ancient failed romances to their trespasses into the bizarre: these external narratives have become their internal metaphors, necessary tools for interpreting the world. The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl in particular are stories about telling stories, by necessity, imperfectly.

(And all of that is who I am, and what I do.)

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28th-Jun-2015 06:42 pm - New kitty! Meet Daredevil.
I should have been born a cat
Hello, internet! We have a new cat.

It's been long enough since Mama's passing that it finally feels like the right time. Dee's been watching the humane society's website for cats with special needs but affordable upkeep, and when Daredevil showed up see seemed like a good fit. She's blind due to a congenital defect, but well-adjusted, outgoing, and highly affectionate. She's also so teeny-tiny.

Medical details and her history.Collapse )

She came to us at two years old-ish and 6.5 pounds which, if you were counting, is super teeny omg. She's nearly half August's size. She makes tiny-man Gilly look big. She's a short-haired tortoiseshell.

Dare takes a little bit of time to adjust to new spaces and stimuli, but is proactively engaged with her environment; she's bright and observant, and has already conquered the bathroom and is eager to get out to the rest of the house. Disability isn't inspiration porn, even in cats, but the degree to which this cat is engaged with her environment is amazing. She tracks sound so well it seems like she's making eye contact with what she's "looking" at; she's a great example of how much cats use their whiskers to explore and navigate their environment. Being blind from birth probably helps, since she's unaware of what she's missing; it probably also helps that she's bold and friendly. She's refined the tools she has to engage with her environment, and damn but does she use them. She makes my cats look like lazy slackers.

She has a teeny little meow, and is moderately vocal (a good bit of meowing for attention, but so far no yowling for the pure pleasure of making atrocious noises), purrs persistently, and kneeds a lot—that last is winding down a touch as she gets a little less frantic for human interaction, but I'll still be maintaining the hell out of her claw trimmings. She's quite playful, and absolutely able to bat and chase cat toys. It will be interesting to see how her behaviors change as she adapts to living her and to plenty of human interaction—Gillian, for example, was very needy when he first came here and now is happy to take his humans for granted.

And she is so wildly different from Mama that there's no hidden regret or sense of betrayal. Dare is her own unique cat, not a replacement.

Juu, who cares, show us pictures.

(From the humane society's adoption page.)

(Taken by me, on her first day home.)

(Taken by Dee.)

(Taken by Dee.)

I do dumb liveblogging/picspamming on my tumblr (cat tag) these days, just fyi.

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Books Once More
Title: The House of the Stag (Lord Ermenwyr Book 2)
Author: Kage Baker
Published: New York: Tor, 2008 (2008)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 164,062
Text Number: 479
Read Because: recommended by phoenixfalls, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The story of the Yendri liberation from slavery, and their goddess's marriage to a demon lord. The House of the Stag has a slow start, one too epic, archetypal, and, frankly, predictable: it reads as parable more than a human story. But as the characters develop, the book improves. Baker has a knack for combining heavy-handed with surprisingly subtle. While less exuberant than Anvil, it benefits from that book's humor and varied worldbuilding; the politics are too clear-cut, but the interpersonal narratives have welcome nuance. The central cast has personality and charm, and (while I take issue with how Baker handles everything related to sexuality) the love story develops a quiet conviction. I preferred The Anvil of the World, but The House of the Stag lives up to expectations as a prequel—it's (anti)heroic enough to make history, but human enough to be a story worth telling.

It can also be read as a stand-alone.

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Books Once More
Title: The Anvil of the World (Lord Ermenwyr Book 1)
Author: Kage Baker
Published: New York: Tor, 2010 (2003)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 352
Total Page Count: 163,712
Text Number: 478
Read Because: recommended by phoenixfalls, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A trio of interconnected novellas. The first is a fraught caravan journey, and a particularly vivid, humorous example of worldbuilding via travelogue. The second is domestic, more successful for its colorful characters (many reoccurring) than for what it eventually reveals about their backstories. The third has a larger scale and stronger plot, and reads differently: it's not as fun as its predecessors, but has more weight and thus makes for a fitting conclusion. I tend to have no sense of humor as a reader, so I'm surprised by how much I liked this volume. Baker's voice, cast, and world are lively to excess, but there's intense variety in the worldbuilding, the cultures and their politics, the ethics, which introduces welcome subtlety and can't but be engaging. I doubt these books will leave a lasting impression, but this one was thoroughly enjoyable and I will continue the series.

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Books Once More
Title: Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey Book 11)
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Published: New York: Open Road, 2012 (1934)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 278
Total Page Count: 163,360
Text Number: 477
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Investigator Peter Wimsey stumbles into the sleepy village of Fenchurch St. Paul three months before an unidentified body is discovered in someone else's grave. Nine Tailors is charming and engaging. It's not the sort of mystery which, Holmes-style, the reader can solve, but twists are smart and easy to follow. The characters are proactively engaged with the mystery, yet given comical voices—it's unexpectedly wry, consistently humorous, and dialog is a delight. Over this, Sayers lays deft metaphors (the intricate bell-ringing, the rising river waters) and a strong sense of place. Nine Tailors is the epitome of a cozy mystery, self-aware and smartly written. I just wish I liked this genre! I dislike humor and I prefer my mysteries in short form or visual media, so while I admire this book it failed to click for me. Nonetheless, it's a great way to try out the series.

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Title: The Birthgrave (Birthgrave Book 1)
Author: Tanith Lee
Published: New York: Daw, 2015 (1975)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 408
Total Page Count: 163,082
Text Number: 476
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Awakening from apparent death with no memory of her past, one women sets out on a fraught journey of self-discovery. What she discovers is a bit trite and has tinges of a deus ex machina, but it exhibits a level of intent which recasts her journey in a far more interesting light—so, despite its weaknesses, the end is satisfying. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not. In the first three quarters, the protagonist meanders through a joyless* and repetitive world; in journey-centric plot it mimics a travelogue, but without the necessary sense of wonder. I dislike the sword and sorcery genre, so consider my opinion tainted—but to say I found The Birthgrave unsuccessful would be a vast understatement. I admire Tanith Lee, but her powerful gothic voice and good intentions can't save a book as tiresome as this one.

* There's numerous examples of institutionalized sexism—depressing, but perhaps necessary. But the protagonist's response to other female characters smacks of "not like other girls": she judges them by their social constraints, despite frequently being victim to same; in large part, it's only men that she sees as equals or allows to influence her. I found this to be the tipping point from unpleasant to distasteful.

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Alien Planet, television, Discovery Channel, 2005
This has all the caveats you'd expect: episodic pacing, dramatic bookends before trailers, interview clips clashing with CG imaginings, too strong an attempt at narrative, some weird personifications (and why are both robots male?). But who cares! If you enjoy speculative evolution, then this is fantastic. And if you've never explored speculative evolution, this is a fantastic starting place. Barlow's alien world is creative without trespassing into the ridiculous, and this version of it stands the test of time despite all the CG. (I should read the original book.)

The Future is Wild, television, 2002
In 13 episodes, this can grow repetitive—the episode formatting, but also the way each ecosystem is divided. Otherwise, this is lovely. It has a good balance of creative projection and current evolutionary examples, and the three future settings offer plenty of variety. While this lacks the intense thrill of some speculative evolutions—it's certainly less grand than Alien Planet—it's fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable.

Caprica, season 1, 2010
Although packed full of good intentions, this is so desperate for drama that it's frequently incoherent and sometimes lets action overshadow content. See: my thoughts on Caprica as soap opera. On the whole, this works as a Battlestar Galactica prequel, purely because it engages character backstory and similar themes: if you're invested in BSG, there's thoughtful content here. But as a standalone work, this is promising but fatally flawed.

Daredevil, season 1, 2015
The last three episodes nearly make this worth it: they have more momentum and weight; for as gritty as Daredevil intends to be, not much of significance happens to anyone whose name we remember until these final episodes, when the stakes finally raise. Otherwise, I found this tiresome. It has that trademark Marvel-film feel: hypersaturated because comic, gritty because live action. But it runs long, and the themes (vigilante angst in particular) get played out.

Manhunter, film, dir. Michael Mann, 1986
I disagree with general consensus: William Petersen is lovely, but he falls flat here. Nearly all the times he's meant to spill forth with repressed fervor are stilted, and throw the film's careful emotional balance askew. But I appreciate Dolarhyde (toned down and more convincing than his book appearance), and I liked this deceptively unassuming Hannibal. The film feels dated in a delightful way, synth soundtrack especially; it has some great small moments that work beautifully. But I regret that Will Graham failed to impress me.

Dead Ringers, film, dir. David Cronenberg, 1988
If you're me—and, luckily for me, I am—this is a delight. This film could be made just for me: unnaturally close twins have their relationship brought into question by an outsider, who ironically highlights but also endangers their codependency. Its metaphors grow strung out and exaggerated, but in a way that remains successful: it's at once heavy-handed and dreamlike, the literal surgical separation of non-conjoined twins. (Of course Cronenberg also directed Crash, which shares thematic, fevered intimacy metaphors.) The slightly dated aesthetic and slowish pace didn't even bother me, so perfectly suited was this to my id.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: Slow River
Author: Nicola Griffith
Published: New York: Ballantine Books, 1995
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 352
Total Page Count: 162,674
Text Number: 475
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After her abduction, once-wealthy Lore is left with nothing but the questionable aid of a backstreet hacker named Spanner. Slow River is subtle at its best, overwritten at its worst. The relationship between Lore and Spanner is a nuanced dialog about class, abuse, and trauma recovery; Lore is granted strong conflicting emotions about Spanner without erasing the problematic aspects of their relationship. But the book has a flow-sundering tripart narrative—each with a different tense/PoV—and hamfisted, repetitive themes. It's also set in a near future which is sometime secondary backdrop to the more interesting interpersonal aspects and sometimes involved ridiculously intricate explorations of theoretical sewage treatment. (I was reminded of Hugh Howey's Wool: the minute practical details are researched, convincing, strangely compelling, and yet inane upon reflection.) The sum is a strange little book, well-intended, sometimes heartbreaking in its subtlety, sometimes off-putting in its heavy-handedness. I don't particularly recommend it, but what I liked about it I truly loved.

(I was also struck by the similarity to Kelly Eskridge's Solitaire, and then discovered that the two are partners; I'm also not the first reviewer to make the connection. Of the two, I find Solitaire the more successful.)

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