Writing

Book Reviews: Harbinger of the Storm, Bodard; The Forbidden Wish, Khoury; Elysium, Brissett

Title: Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian and Blood Book 2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Angry Robot, 2012 (2011)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 210,345
Text Number: 640
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Acatl investigates the murder of a councilman whose death imperils the election of the city's next leader. As a murder mystery, this is better than Servant of the Underworld—clues and politics are nicely entangled, and the mystery is more solvable. The scale is as grand as in the first book, and the setting is broader. Once again, the protagonist experiences significant character growth. Unfortunately, these elements don't always make for a compelling narrative—a lot of time is simply spent in transit—but the overall effort is solid, and it's a testament to Bodard's technical skill that the reader can keep track of so many names and characters despite the unfamiliarity of the Aztec setting. But Bodard's artistic skill still leaves me wanting: her descriptions are predominantly visual, and as such I found them flat and inaccessible when they needed to be what sells the magic and scale. Occasionally, there's a fantastic image or turn of phrase (and I came to Bodard's long fiction because I loved her short story "Immersion"—I think its shifts between second and third person bring the language to life); visually-inclined readers may have better luck, and Bodard has potential regardless—and there's even more in the setting. But this series just isn't working out for me, so it's time to put it down.

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Title: The Forbidden Wish
Author: Jessica Khoury
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published: Tantor Audio, 2016
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 210,710
Text Number: 641
Read Because: mentioned on "YA Books about PoC by PoC," audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An Aladdin retelling focusing on a female jinni named Zahra. Zahra's point of view is a strong starting premise. It emphasizes magic, and while Khoury's voice isn't robust enough to be truly transporting, the imagery and abilities are creative. It also emphasizes the fantastic female characters, and there are many: the princess is even better than the protagonist, and the narrative is frequently addressed to a long-dead queen—an engaging technique that ties nicely to the main plot, and fails only because the story of Zahra and the queen is more interesting than the story of Zahra and Aladdin. Their relationship is a predictable and obtrusively saccharine romance, meant to be the emotional core of the book. The rest of the plot is also predictable, largely due to overdrawn antagonists, so there's not much to counterbalance the romance. There's plenty of potential here, in the premise and the setting; with a more evocative voice and the willingness to defy genre convention, it could work. But the book as it is unexpectedly boring.


Title: Elysium: or, The World After
Author: Jennifer Marie Brissett
Narrator: Jamye Méri Grant
Published: Skyboat Media, 2015 (2014)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 210
Total Page Count: 210,920
Text Number: 642
Read Because: mentioned in Nisi Shawl's "A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction," audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:
A pair of iterated entities experience the downfall of human civilization. This is an ambitious, fluid narrative, reinventing its core characters in different dynamics and settings and points in time. The concrete reality of their identities is unimportant; their various selves represent the human condition within the events of the plot. I admire this willingness to forgo structure and conventional characterization, and despite its strangeness this is a swift read, setting mundane sorrows against increasingly diverse (and, eventually, excessively numerous) speculative concepts, united by an eerie tone.

But the many interesting questions this narrative raises—what forms an identity or a relationship? what part of a person persists when their consciousness is iterated and their setting changed? how is personhood effected by body, gender, orientation? what is an artificial intelligence's relationship with, and how is it changed by, their programming, the society that created them, and their personal experience?—go almost entirely unaddressed. There's not enough throughline, no uniting identity—except for the reoccurring names and events, these characters could be unrelated. I'm in love with the book this could have been; the book it is unsuccessful, but I'd still love to see more stories like it, with unconventional narratives and diverse casts* and similar but better-explored themes.

(The aliens are pretty great, though.)

* Caveat: despite that the entities experience multiple genders and orientations, the treatment of transgendered individuals is awful.

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Writing

Watched: Person of Interest, For the Love of Spock, After the Dark, Star Trek: DS9 s6-7, Voltron s2

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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Bear

Book Review: Fire by Kirstin Cashore

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

Best of 2016 in media

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

Book Reviews: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, Valente; Gate of Ivrel & Well of Shiuan, Cherryh

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.

Besides, in the Land of Wom, we bite to show we like a thing. And that we don't like a thing. And that we think a thing is delicious. And that we think it is ours! Because anything you bite is yours, that's just obvious! We bite when we are angry and hungry and joyful and excited to go to the cinema and frightened of wild dogs and because it is Tuesday but also because it is Sunday and especially when we are DELIGHTED but NERVOUS. Nothing says I AM HAVING FEELINGS like a bite!



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

Watched: JS&MN, Dark Matter, They Look Like People, The Girl in the Book, Twin Peaks & FWwM

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 aas weird. Crossposted below, for posterity.


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Book reviews: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson; The Family Plot, Priest; Unexpected Stories, Butler

Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Robert Lewis Stevenson
Published: New York: Penguin Classics, 1979 (1886)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 70
Total Page Count: 206,930
Text Number: 613
Read Because: personal enjoyment, paperback from my personal collection
Review: Mr Utterson worries that his friend Mr Jekyll, a doctor of good nature and great skill, is being blackmailed by his apprentice, an uncannily cruel man named Mr Hyde. This holds up surprisingly well, despite that the late reveal of its identities is now no mystery. The gothic atmosphere and short, punchy chapters are engaging, and the relationships between Jekyll and Hyde is more compelling than I expected—largely because it's not what I expected: this is more a story about the necessity and danger of acknowledging the innate evil of all personalities than it is a simple good/evil dichotomy—a subtle, thorny theme nestled within a swift narrative. I was entirely satisfied with this, and recommend it.

Thoughts on source material vs. cultural osmosis/adaptation, originally posted on Tumblr:

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Title: The Family Plot
Author: Cherie Priest
Published: New York: Tor, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 201,290
Text Number: 614
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Music City Salvage buys the rights to a Victorian-era estate, they get more than they bargained for: a family of ghosts resides in the old house. This is a haunted house novel that gets a lot of things right. It refuses to engage skepticism, and the time that could be wasted on establishing genre conventions is instead given to a dreamy, surreal ghost story with a slow build and some sincerely haunting moments. Priest has an eye for detail, and here it makes the house and salvage operation come alive. But while the house is a character and a half, the human cast is overwhelmingly prosaic (it took me half the book to tell the male characters apart) and the mystery becomes less compelling the more it's revealed, until the atmosphere is entirely ruined by an overexplained ending and corny final scene. I like the book this could have been, and wish all haunted houses had such a convincing sense of place, but this is ultimately underwhelming and I can't recommend it.


Title: Unexpected Stories
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: New York: Open Road, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 85
Total Page Count: 201,375
Text Number: 615
Read Because: fan of the author/alerted to its existence by [personal profile] ambyr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: These are two of Butler's early works, written in the 1970s (before her published work) but only published posthumously. As a result, Butler's writing—which is frequently workmanlike—is especially stiff here, most obviously in the action sequences. But these stories are a fascinating insight into the themes Butler would return to throughout her work, and her first efforts to balance speculative worldbuilding, power dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and plot. The effort is occasionally uneven (the end of "A Necessary Being" lags, but its protagonist's complicated situation is reminiscent of Dawn; "Childfinder" is almost so brief as to be abrupt, but its worldbuilding reveals are organic), but is always engaging and thematically successful, and despite their posthumous release these are finished stories. As brief as this collection is, it's a welcome addition to her body of work.

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Anime/Game

Book reviews: The Tower of the Swallow, Dead Mountain, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland...

Title: The Tower of the Swallow (Witcher Book 6)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2016 (1997)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 450
Total Page Count: 206,220
Text Number: 610
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Unusual phenomena usher in an early autumn as Ciri is orphaned from the Rats and sets off on a quest to meet her destiny. The chronology here is all over the place, alternating between the autumn equinox and Saovine as it backtracks to explain the sequence of events. It's also the longest book so far, with a politics-heavy middle section and a huge cast--often confusing as a result, but it's still rewarding to watch the pieces come together. Structure aside, this has a strong atmosphere (a perfect autumn book, haunted and eerie) and gives Ciri generous page time and development. She's as phenomenal as always--here, traumatized, impetuous, but brilliant in her adolescence, foiled by the aged hermit that takes her in. Yennefer's ruthless pursuit of her daughter is equally compelling. (These fantastic female characters doesn't excuse the sexism seeded in the larger worldbuilding.) This isn't the most effective of the Witcher novels, but it's one of the most engaging by virtue its mythic leanings and core cast.

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Title: Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
Author: Donnie Eichar
Published: San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 206,510
Text Number: 611
Read Because: reviewed by ViennaWaitsBooks, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An investigation into the Dyatlov Pass incident, in which nine experienced ski hikers died after fleeing their camp--underdressed, in sub-zero temperatures--for unknown reasons. Eichar interweaves three timelines: the original ski hike, the search for the missing hikers, and his own investigations into the case 50 years later; the last of these threatens to overwhelm the book, but the pacing works overall--until Eichar presents his hypothetical solution to the mystery in an unintegrated, abrupt conclusion. But it's a convincing solution, and this researched and humanized without being bogged down by minutiae, and unsensationalized while maintaining an eerie atmosphere. It has the compulsive readability I look for in this variety of nonfiction, despite Eichar's clunky writing, and is satisfying both in question and answer.


Title: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland Book 3)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 206,760
Text Number: 612
Read Because: continuing the series, hardcover from my personal library (originally a holiday gift from my parents, I think)
Review: September journeys to Fairyland's moon, there to rediscover her traveling companions and face a Yeti. The framework of this series has begun to weary me, despite that this book has a stronger structure than the second; Valente's writing is as rich as always, but the one-off locations and speaking characters still bleed together. (And there are weird stumbles like characters popping in and out of scenes--perhaps corrected in later editions?) But while I don't think the rest of this series is as independently successful as the first book, the cumulative emotional elements have stolen my heart. They're perfectly balanced between private complexity and explicit, cathartic address; it almost feels too complicated for the intended audience, but in a way I admire--respecting the capacity of younger readers and being willing to age with them.

September suddenly realized something. "But Ell, Orrery begins with O! How can you know so much about it?"

The Wyverary soared high, his neck stretching into a long red ribbon, full of words and pies and relief and flying.

"I'm growing up!" he cried.


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Anime/Game

The election, grief, self-care

Yesterday I woke early (~4 hours of sleep) due to election anxiety, and I played video games all day long in desperate escapism, and it was such a long day, and it only got worse. Nothing sunk in until I woke this morning. The language I keep hearing is "grief" and that is what it feels like—a distant, difficult to access, sincere loss.

Loss of faith, I suppose. I'm politically aware and I voted, but I think I didn't believe Trump was an existing threat; it felt absurd, surreal, a practical joke in particularly bad taste. And I know bigots exist, but I forget the ways in which my privilege and sheltered life and physical location save me from seeing most of them—they too had a distance. And in that space between me and these forces of hate there was a sort of faith, that despite our stellar examples of bad humanity we were not that at our core.

I've been proactively keeping occupied. Last night, after the results, I made baked whole apples (stuffed with oats and brown sugar), escaped into a book, took a sleep aid & passed out. Today I swept downstairs and brushed the dog, and then made superb apple crumble. I winged the recipe, but Dee bought vanilla ice cream and the apples were tender but not mushy and the spices were robust and the topping was rich and toasted—this small and objectively useless but pure good thing. I did everything while listening to podcasts, uninterrupted hours of The Black Tapes and Tanis. And I called home, and talked to my mom—as I told her, not because there was anything she could do, but just for the solidarity and comfort. She spent the day a haircut and manicure, and binge watching a show on Netflix. Tumblr today was a quiet comfort, most people I follow only flooding their feeds with forms of distraction.

It felt like self-care was all that many of us could do today.

Mental illness means that self-care is my entire life; I'm not sure what that will say about what comes next. I'm in a position of limited personal danger, but that's largely because I've absented myself from ... well, everything. (E.g. as an unemployed dependent, I would benefit from national healthcare—but am consistently too sick to seek care. I want the system to benefit other people, but its benefits or lack thereof doesn't effect me—most things don't effect me—I don't pay taxes I don't leave the house I don't, significantly, exist.) It's a weird place of privilege that originates from a disability. I'm terrified for those less privileged and more at risk. I'm not sure I'm in a position to help anyone.

But there was help in what I saw today from the communities I'm invested in. On one hand, this rude awakening, this shame and fear and rage, that the apparently impossible has happened & has always been possible. But on the other, our communal grief and terror, and our communal soothing, matters.

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