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14th-Apr-2017 08:59 pm - State of the (Live)Journal
I should have been born a cat
This journal is now defunct, and I will probably not be using LJ for reading or commenting. Instead, please come find me on Dreamwidth!
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.

One great quoteCollapse )

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
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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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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9th-Feb-2017 07:06 pm - 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.

On Fire's river mare.Collapse )

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8th-Jan-2017 04:38 pm - 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.


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.

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
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.

Dale Cooper vs. Professor LaytonCollapse )

David Lynch uncritically presenting the Other as weirdCollapse )

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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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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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9th-Nov-2016 11:18 pm - 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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Title: Time of Contempt (The Witcher Book 4)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2013 (1995)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 205,160
Text Number: 607
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Picking up where the previous book left off, the Northern Kingdoms plot their war against Nilfgaard while Yennefer attempts to send Ciri off to school. This is a disjointed book, due mostly to the politics. They clog the middle third with the a litany of names and double-crosses, seen moment to moment from characters's PoVs instead of summarized from the narrator's perspective—a worthy device but not a particularly successful one. But the first third is about the family dynamics between Ciri and Yen, between Yen and Geralt, in turns comic and heartfelt; the first hovers claustrophobically over Ciri on her harrowing solo journey. There are takeaway bits I love (Yen and Geralt's reunion, especially), but this isn't nearly as successful a book as Blood of Elves: the tone is inconsistent, the plot lacks structure, and sexism-as-worldbuilding returns in force when the scale of the narrative increases. Still, I'll continue the series.

To say I knew her would be an exaggeration. I think that, apart from the Witcher and the enchantress, no one really knew her. When I saw her for the first time she did not make a great impression on me at all, even in spite of the quite extraordinary accompanying circumstances. I have known people who said that, right away, from the very first encounter, they sensed the foretaste of death striding behind the girl. To me she seemed utterly ordinary, though I knew that ordinary she was not; for which reason I tried to discern, discover—sense—the singularity in her. But I noticed nothing and sensed nothing. Nothing that could have been a signal, a presentiment or a harbinger of those subsequent, tragic events. Events caused by her very existence. And those caused by her actions.

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Title: Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 5)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2014 (1996)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 205,510
Text Number: 608
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Geralt sets off across the war-torn countryside in search of Ciri, collecting a group of misfits along the way. This the view of war that Time of Contempt failed to successfully realize, seen through hapless individuals on the ground rather than an omniscient narrator. It makes for a slow plot and rambling journey, without dignity but chock full of the domestic details of survival. Geralt's ability to attract devoted followers—despite his copious personality flaws—is at its most endearing in this book. Baptism of Fire offers everything I love best of the series, and what the games most omit: Geralt's weaknesses; the grim reality of the worldbuilding set against the intimacy and loyalty that both Geralt and Ciri inspire. It's a lovely installment in the series.

Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland Book 2)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2012
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 205,770
Text Number: 609
Read Because: continuing the series, hardback from my personal collection
Review: September returns to Fairyland to find it once again endangered, this time by her own shadow-self, stealing shadows down to Fairyland-Below. This is, fittingly, a darker book. September grows up, grows a heart; her journey is bittersweet and her relationships more complicated—and the trinity of September, Halloween, and Maud is particularly subtle and compelling. But the travelogue-esque Questing is less successful here than in the first book: each chapter is creative, whimsical, and disconnected, especially in the middle third where the plot seems to lag. But it's a small flaw. I've been hesitant to continue this series simply because I love the first book too much, but this is what I wanted: a story equally magical, but of a different tone, gently building its own complexity.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While (Fairyland Novella)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Published: New York: Tor, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 30
Total Page Count: 204,305
Text Number: 604
Read Because: continuing the series, free on Tor.com
Review: Long before the events of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Mallow lives a quiet life on the edge of a fairy village—until a grand event in the capital draws her into the wider world and its dread Politicks. Valente's voice is particularly lovely in short form, where her distinctive imagery and rich language can run rampant. Fairyland is the perfect setting for that style, and tolerant of prequels with their cameos and backstories; the bittersweet tone keeps the whimsy in check. Mallow, reserved and appropriately genre-aware, is fantastic, especially in view of her eventual fate. I love the first Fairyland book so much that I've avoided the rest of the series, afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations. This feels different, more grown-up and sketched out, but it's satisfying in its own right.

Title: Central Station
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Published: San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 275
Total Page Count: 204,580
Text Number: 605
Read Because: reviewed by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A piecemeal narrative about the various individuals and cultures that reside around Central Station, a spaceport in Tel Aviv. The chapters were originally written as independently published short stories, and that origin shows: interconnecting characters and threads run through the novel, but each chapter its own experiment. Although the Middle Eastern setting is vivid and alive, the worldbuilding is never convincing—but I'm not sure it's intended to be. This is Science Fiction by the way of New Weird or Magical Realism: creative, even whimsical, big ideas in experimental arrangement, fueled by culture and desire more than logic. The characters are unremarkable in comparison, and their small dramas underwhelm. This an idea novel, an experiment of form and concept; perhaps not successful as a finished work, but certainly engaging.

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Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Published: New York: Dell Publishing, 1986 (1958)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 204,830
Text Number: 606
Read Because: this Tumblr quote, paperback from my personal collection
Review: Kit leaves Barbados for a bleak Connecticut colony to discover a challenging life entirely unlike the one she lived before. The title and cover of my edition made me remember more witches, but sadly there are none; everything else lives up to my memory. The plot relies on a couple boring tropes, the ending is far too neat, and the romantic relationships are excessively broadcasted—approximately the flaws one would expect—but otherwise this is lovely, both as a book from my childhood and a book from 1958. It's a coming of age within an American colonial setting, engaging historical detail and the shadow of the witch trials to frame a narrative about outsiders and girls who don't conform, about learning to respect society while maintaining personal independence. Speare's descriptions of the colonial landscape are fantastic, characters are distinct and nuanced, and I appreciate the themes. This isn't perfect, but it's held up remarkably well and I enjoyed revisiting it.

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I remain something like 4 book reviews behind; please send help. I feel like my reading has slowed to a crawl this month because I've been playing a lot of video games, but apparently it is still fast enough that I am forever behind on writing things up.

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Stonehearst Asylum/Eliza Graves, film, 2014, dir. Brad Anderson
There's so much going on here, all of it about halfways successful. The movie can never decide if it's horror, romance, satire, or just an excuse for Gothic extravagance, so is all of those things without total success—it has a fantastic aesthetic, but the tone often contradicts itself. But I'm surprised how watchable this is as an asylum movie—it's a narrative that makes me nervous, but the "inmates take over the aslyum" premise means that representations of institutionalized violence are limited in scope and cast as overtly problematic; that said, the implied farce of the inmates in control is its own microaggression; that said, the narrative affords them a surprising amountof respect, despite the occasional condescension. Eliza is well developed, and her gendered condition treated with the respect—which the obligatory romance and "cure" undermine. It's complicated! The plot's fine, the aesthetic is great, the tone is inconsistent—but it's the themes at play which I find myself remembering.

The Silenced (Gyeongseong School: Disappeared Girls), film, 2015, dir. Lee Hae-young
This makes a tonal shift in the second half, from gothic mystery to action thriller; I appreciate the first half more, but to my surprise the shift didn't lose me—largely because the writing remains solid, no dumb twists, just foreshadowing carried through. This is visually superb, so beautiful with such luscious imagery; I love the themes, the female intimacies (this movie has one (1) male character, bless), and the exploration of sick bodies, revenge/cure fantasies, and the social manipulation of women. This is a quiet gem, and I want more people to watch it.

Tumblr posts: visuals; women and illness narratives, this last copied below for safekeeping.

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Penny Dreadful, complete series, 2014-2016
I am so conflicted! This is an aesthetic treat, and the way it engages gothic genre and penny dreadful reiteration of urban fables is compelling; there's some solid casting and the dialog is fantastic—and Eva Green steals the show with the depth of her affect and the way she epitomizes the show's aesthetic. But the plotting goes south midway through season 2, growing messier and more predictable (especially in character deaths and villain motivations, see: killing minority groups, vilifying female power), and the end—both the focus on Ethan in s3, and Vanessa's death—are especially flat. There's fantastic tropes at play here (especially the found family dynamic) and some truly phenomenal episodes (especially the flashbacks); I'm surprised how effectively and respectfully it elides trauma, mental illness, and speculative elements. But it comes out to be a bit of a mess, and not inevitability: the overarching plotting could've been better.

Supernatural, season 11, 2015-2016
The big bad of this season wildly overreaches while managing to remain entirely predictable—I don't know how the show could ever have pulled off a big-G God arc, and it shouldn't have tried; Amara's character arc is simplistic and her imagery underwhelming. Yet, somehow, this season has some of my favorite stand-alones, chief among them 11.4 "Baby," a Impala PoV about the daily grind of hunting which is everything I love of this show; I also adored the return of Lucifer, and Misha Collin's acting; and Enemy Mine of the last few episodes; and developments in the Sam/Dean dynamic. Supernatural is always inconsistent, but this was an unusual inconsistency: the small and personal parts of this work beautifully while the overarching plot spirals, forgotten, into the sun.

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These are many months belated, and I am ashamed—but better late and incomplete than nothing, because what I don't record I'll forget I watched and never be able to recommend. The takeaways from this batch were: Ravenous, a cult movie that I'm surprised I hadn't encountered before because it is such fun—it feels like it should have overlap with the Saints Row and Repo! "not quite a fandom because it's so small, but there's so many feels in this intense aesthetic and bombastic themes" crowd; Weekend, which has some 201 conversations especially re: gay marriage and a lot of justified anger and convincing intimacy; The Falling, which—I remember watching Heavenly Creatures for the first time and being blindsided by the intimacy and aesthetic and the complex but identifiable themes, and Heavenly Creatures has been for me like The Secret History, a narrative so distinct and compelling that I revisit it frequently while constantly looking for something that satisfies the same hitherto unknown but now ever-present narrative desire—and The Falling does that.

Ravenous, film, 1999, dir. Antonia Bird
The gayest film about cannibalism not based on Hannibal. The humor can be overbearing, but it creates a surreal, overwrought tone which absolutely works. The pacing is strong, and while the second half is fairly predictable the content and character dynamic are so good—I love these themes, bodily intimacy and the taboo and power dynamics and coercion and cannibalism and homosexual overtones, and Ravenous fulfills them with bombast and dark humor and great imagery.

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Tomorrow, When the War Began, film, 2010, dir. Stuart Beattie
An unquestionable waste of time. Everything is horrible, from the stock characters (and improbable overage casting) to the telegraphed relationships to the oppressive action sequences and soundtrack to the petty stupidity which fuels much of the plot. And that's to say nothing of the xenophobia and racism! This is awful, and I should have stopped watching at the midway point when I realized as much. (Great title, though.)

The Road Within, film, 2016, dir. Gren Wells
The acting is consistently good, the relationships work overall, and there some empathetic depictions of frustration without tipping the film into the territory of dour. But it's all too predictable, easy, even saccharine. I'm glad to see narratives about mental illness, and so would rather this than nothing, this doesn't contribute much to the conversation. Still, a watchable 90 minutes.

Weekend, film, 2011, dir. Andrew Haigh
A very close, somewhat rambling character study. There's not much movement or plot to speak of, and it manages to hit a dozen predictable gay story touchstones (coming out, gay marriage, infidelity) and indie movie clichés, but it's utterly convincing and often compelling: a lived, diverse experience, an intimate conversation with a stranger, exponentially more complex than many similar narratives—and the mumbled impromptu dialog never goes too far off the rails. I didn't always enjoy this, but it's unquestionably strong.

The Hallow, film, 2015, dir. Corin Hardy
Supremely mediocre. There's such potential in the imagery and setting, and I admire the unexpected lack of subtlety with the speculative elements, but the horror has extraordinarily predictable timing which makes the pacing feel manipulative and hollow (no pun intended). It leaves no lasting impression, and also fails to have any personal or metaphorical depth: characters barely exist and next to nothing is said about the changing social role of the fairies, despite the deforestation premise. An uninspired work with some great imagery.

Uncanny, film, 2015, dir. Matthew Leutwyler
The first half is promising, the second half a disappointment—because the narrative hinges on a plot twist which manages to be predictable without having any convincing foreshadowing or build-up, which undermines the otherwise interesting premise and destroys almost all character development. There's icky gender/rape issues at play here, too, and the final twist/sequel bait is laughably awful. I love android narratives but still wish I hadn't bothered: skip it.

The Falling, film, 2014, dir. Carol Morley
There's little plot to speak of here, and much of it is buried under the intense school girl/English countryside/coming of age/sexual awakening/psychosomatic illness/mental illness in (young) women/intimate relationships/lesbian/incest aesthetic—and I don't care, because every one of those descriptors is phenomenal and this film fulfills them. The ending is too neat, undermining a lot of early work done to explore the inextricable relationship between the socialization of young women, concepts of illness, and proscribed/natural/enforced behavior. But all the rest is pretty fantastic. This reminded me a lot of Heavenly Creatures and Cracks.

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In bulk again, to prevent spamming again. And I'm still not caught up! I've been reading a lot, but more than that I've had a lot to say—about The Witcher, because I'm so invested in Ciri and her family and because I've watched Devon play the games and so we've had a lot to discuss about adaptation; about The Cursed Child, not because it's remotely good but because there's some great character dynamics and Snape's cameo engages all my feelings about his character; about every other thing [profile] lassmichrein has been consuming because she's been working through some of my absolute favorite narratives and authors. I've been excited about the media input and media-related output, and "excited about" is not something I often feel—a welcome remedy to the birthday-related angst.

Title: The Purple Cloud
Author: M.P. Shiel
Published: Project Gutenberg, 2004 (1901)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: ~250 of 450
Total Page Count: 202,135
Text Number: 596
Read Because: interest in Weird fiction, ebook obtained though Project Gutenberg
Review: A vast purple cloud sweeps the globe, leaving only one survivor. An early example of a "last man" novel and apocalyptic genre, this is at best a desolate, sweeping landscape, haunted—even by its sole survivor and his struggle to find purpose—and surreal. But the book is dated, with many slow sections (some of which are literal itemized lists) and repetitive pacing. I DNF'd this somewhere past the 50% mark, which I regret because when I was immersed I loved this for its bleak, profound beauty and for place in genre history. But I couldn't push past the weaknesses, and I wouldn't recommend it.

Title: Blood of Elves (The Witcher Book 3)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: Danusia Stok
Published: London: Orbit, 2009 (1994)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 202,535
Text Number: 597
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
The story of Ciri's childhood, raised by witchers at Kaer Morhen and then taught magic by Yennefer, and of the prophecies and politics that surround this remarkable girl. The folklore-as-worldbuilding of the short stories is largely absent, and I hope it returns in the sequels; the sexism-as-worldbuilding is also absent and good riddance, but the cast of fantastic female characters persists. Politics and the larger plot occur piecemeal, which keeps them from flooding the book but also makes this a prelude rather than a narrative entire. Instead, Blood of Elves is an extended training montage, focusing on Ciri's interactions with taciturn and devoted Geralt and Yennefer who begins as an unforgiving tutor and becomes a mother, and on the imperfect ties that bind this strange family—and it's phenomenal, full of flawed characters and small moments of rewarding emotional transparency.

I have a love/hate relationship with the game series and short stories, and so I'm blown away by my unreserved love of this book, which is everything perfect about Ciri's presence in The Witcher 3, but more indulgent and more cogent. I look forward to continuing the series, but treasure this book in particular and highly recommend it.

Some feels and rants about the process of reading Blood of Elves on my Tumblr: 1, 2, 3. Copied below for safekeeping:

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3: False equivalencies

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—Parts One and Two (Harry Potter Book 8)
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Published: New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 202,865
Text Number: 598
Read Because: Harry Potter fan, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nineteen years after the end of the book series, Harry and Draco's sons set off to Hogwarts, to become best friends and get in all sorts of trouble. The Cursed Child suffers a bad case of sequelitis, borrowing fanfiction tropes and characterization, and relying on the emotional appeal of numerous cameo appearances. The plot's a mess of predictable tropes, and the emotional messages—especially revolving around cameo characters—grow trite. But seeing familiar characters and Slytherin house in a new light provides interesting insight, and Scorpius and Albus are the play's saving grace: they're well-characterized and engaging, and their relationship is fantastic—despite the compulsory heterosexuality that looms over what's obviously a romance. Come to this for the characters, not the plot, and lower your expectations to allow for reiteration and artless indulgence, and it's not awful. But—like the questionable content of the Pottermore extended universe—it's not a must-read, even for fans.

Liveblogging notes and immediate reactions, including an essay about Snape's scene, on my Tumblr: part one and part two. Crossposted below for posterity:

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Title: Forty Thousand in Gehenna (Unionside Book 1)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: Daw Books, 1984 (1983)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 445
Total Page Count: 201,290
Text Number: 593
Read Because: fan of the author/bond animal trope, purchased used from Powell's (as a gift from [personal profile] century_eyes)
Review: The Union settlers that come to Gehenna as part of a political expansion find themselves abandoned there in the company of the native giant lizards who may have more sapience than it first seemed. This novel chronicles the fall and creation of civilizations, and as such has a strange structure. The first two thirds is an overview of broad swaths of time, seen in glimpses from various denizens; the staccato pacing helps balance the distant narrative. Only the final third introduces characters to appeal to reader investment; it also engages some bond animal tropes and brings to fruition issues of civilization, definitions of sapience, and a truly alien species interfacing with humans. Cherryh's novels are often one part politics and one part id—and Forty Thousand in Gehenna is a particularly pronounced example. It's a slow burn with a too-quick end, but pays off for readers that enjoy Cherryh's style or the tropes at play. I imagine it holds up well to rereads.

On Tumblr: regarding maps, crossposted below:

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Title: The Last Wish (The Witcher Book 1)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: Danusia Stok
Published: London, Orbit: 2008 (1990)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 199,730
Text Number: 589
Read Because: familiar with the video game series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: As Geralt recovers from an injury, six short stories explore his various struggles with morality, the end of the era of Witchers, and Yennefer. The early stories are the more successful; they're more folklore than fantasy, some directly retelling fairy tales, with closely-integrated magic, lush imagery, and a grim, deadly tone. The later stories are less successful, some because they're character-driven and much of the dialog is wooden and some characters are grating, others because the plots are lackluster and the larger worldbuilding is, at this point, underwhelming. But while individual quality differs, this is certainly an apt introduction. It's everything the video games lead me to expect, but somehow condensed and even more emphatic, which includes the dark tone, engaging magic, and the moral quandaries that Geralt is forced into, but also includes the omnipresent sexism (at both a narrative- and worldbuilding-level) which is slightly elevated by some fantastic—if, as always, exploited—female characters. It's a mixed bag, but I will continue the series.

Reading The Witcher is a most bizarre experience because it feels like fanfiction when it's actually the source material. I think this is less because I experienced the games first, and more because The Last Wish at least is a condensed journey through Witcher Aesthetic and Witcher Themes, featuring:

Geralt: I hunt monsters; I am not involved in human politics.
Plot: lol here's some politics

Geralt: I hunt monsters; I do not encounter moral quandaries.
Plot: lollllllll *seventeen intense moral quandaries*
Geralt: When presented with a moral question against my express desires, I will refuse to answer; I am not involved.
Plot: You must choose, this issue directly involves you, inaction is an action, and cry moar.

Sexism, inexplicably naked women, even more inexplicable "mid combat her seam tore and then breast were everywhere," and lots of rape—set, bizarrely, against complicated, powerful, ambiguous female characters who motivate plot and are a dozen times more interesting than Geralt.

Worldbuilding that is more folklore than fantasy; fairy tale retellings and inversions; lush imagery with a persistent, almost indulgent grimness.

So grim tho; but, somehow, it's not grimdark, it differs from default crapsack; the thematic emphasis on gray morality changes things. Geralt isn't attempting to perpetuate suffering—he'd prefer to perpetuate not much at all—but the storytelling refuses him both cathartic cruelty and righteous exemption from evil; he is complicit and involved.

Geralt: Dandelion would you shut up for five minutes, your quips and insults could land us in moral danger.
Geralt: *cannot forbear from sarcasm and insults, even if it puts him in mortal danger*

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Title: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Published: New York: Magic Carpet Books, 1996 (1974)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 193,760
Text Number: 570
Read Because: fan of the author, purchased used from The Book Bin
Review: A distant wizard woman charged with the keeping of a menagerie of Beasts is drawn into the human realm when she adopts the heir to a war-torn kingdom. At her best, McKillip writes mythic fairy tales that develop into subtle, human narratives—and this is McKillip at her best. The lyrical voice, fantastical Beasts, second-world setting, and fantasy archetypes create an original fairy tale, but the protagonist's emotional journey deftly avoids convention and is instead subtle and sincere, exploring trauma and revenge and the function and value of interpersonal connections while maintaining that evocative, magical atmosphere. The climax and resolution are both superb. I even cared about the hetero romance! (I never care about the hetero romance!) This isn't my favorite McKillip, but it's a strong contender and would make a fantastic introduction to her work.

A favorite quote:

The prince of Ilf went one day with fifty men to capture the lovely daughter of Mak, Lord of Macon; on the way Ilf saw a black mountain Cat with fur that gleamed like a polished jewel. The Cat looked at him out of her green eyes, and Ilf gave chase and no one saw him or his fifty men on earth again. The three strong son of King Pwill went with their friends hunting one day and saw a silver-bristled Boar with great tusks white as the breasts of their highborn wives, and Pwill waited for them to come home, waited seven days and seven nights, and of those fifteen young men only his youngest son ever returned from that hunt. And he returned half-mad.

#I am fascinated by Wild Hunts and White Stags #by supernatural chases by and of animals which function as a transportation into/out of fairyland and other supernatural realms #and thus (logically) I collect appearances of Hunts and Stags in novels #from the hunt that leads them back to the lamppost at the end of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe #to the dog chase that is the unequivocal highlight of Diana Wynne Jones's sometimes-frivolous sometimes-profound Dogsbody #and that is what the Beasts of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld are #a bridge between the supernatural and the human #a threat a chase a goal and a conduit of the supernatural and divine #(among other things)

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Title: Rose Daughter
Author: Robin McKinley
Published: New York: Ace, 1998 (1997)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 189,550
Text Number: 555
Read Because: reread, borrowed from Dee
Review: A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, about three lively sisters and a cottage covered in roses. Once upon a time, this was one of the first McKinley novels I read—and, after Deerskin, it felt insubstantial. But I've read more McKinley since, and come to appreciate her breadth of style. This was much better upon reread, cozy and charming and enchanting; the haunted atmosphere of the Beast's castle is particularly well done. McKinley has knack for finding definitive moments, and Beauty's monologues, as she gives herself voice and carves her own experience out of her fairytale setting, are the unequivocal highlight of the book. The ending is half that: beautiful, intimate, character-driven; but it's also half talky, confusing, and largely divorced from the core plot and characters, which sours things. This isn't my favorite of McKinley's retellings (that would be Spindle's End)—I see too many flaws in it, and its messages lack personal appeal. But it's lovely comfort reading, as McKinley often is, and I recommend it.

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Title: Ship of Magic (The Liveship Traders Book 1)
Author: Robin Hobb
Published: New York: Del Rey, 2004 (1999)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 800
Total Page Count: 186,520
Text Number: 548
Read Because: continuing the Realm of the Elderlings, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The Liveship Vivacia awakes to sentience while upheaval unsettles both the ship's owning family and the larger array of trade and pirate ports that stretch along the Cursed Shores. 800 pages is almost inexcusably long, especially given Hobb's repetitive wording and the fact that—though it lacks a cliffhanger, and while both characters and plot progress—this novel has no significant resolution. But there's something deeply immersive in Ship of Magic. The slow pacing helps, as does the large cast, well-lived word, and strong seafaring aesthetic; the plot's ethos is that all that can go wrong must go wrong (but things can always get worse) and central themes concern sexism and slavery—and while this sparks painful frustration-by-proxy it is also keenly sympathetic. I suspect I'm only so patient with this series because my love of the Farseer trilogy makes me trust Hobb to her long-form, slow stories—but I adored this, despite its obvious weaknesses, and look forward to the next book.

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