juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
List of book reviews for 2005 )

Year Long Total: 25 books



List of book reviews for 2006 )

Year Long Total: 64 books



List of book reviews for 2007 )

Year Long Total: 37 books



List of book reviews for 2008 )

Year Long Total: 67 books



List of book reviews for 2009 )

Year Long Total: 50 books



List of book reviews for 2010 )

Year Long Total: 37 books



List of book reviews for 2011 )

Year Long Total: 52 books



List of book reviews for 2012 )

Year Long Total: 32 books



List of book reviews for 2013 )

Year Long Total: 65 books



List of book reviews for 2014 )

Year Long Total: 16 books



List of book reviews for 2015 )

Year Long Total: 61 books



List of book reviews for 2016 )

Year Long Total: 123 books



List of book reviews for 2017 )

Year Long Total: 85 books



Also See:
Tags: book reviews, book reviews: recommended, book reviews: not recommended
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juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
August recently recovered from a five-day stint with the cat flu. It conformed exactly to expectations re: symptoms and recovery (she had a clear runny eye and nostril, just on her right side; some sneezing and squinting, but no breathing problems; mild decrease in activity but no decrease in appetite); it was still unenjoyable. I made a successful effort not to provide any contagious anxiety, because something like stress/going off her food could've lead to legitimately dangerous complications. And her vague self-pity and head-shake sprinkles of tears and snot were cute, in a gross way. But she's my baby and my lifeline, and I live in terror of anything bad happening to her ever. I'm glad it's behind us.

(Dee and I have no idea how she got sick! All the cats are indoor-only; August has limited physical contact with the other cats and zero contact with the dog (who obviously does go outside). None of the other cats have gotten sick. The windows have been open and we've had visiting porch cats, and that seems like the only possible vector: virus via early-summer open windows.)

* * *

My last set of overlapping books included a Le Guin (and is there anything more satisfying than Le Guin, than the strength of her language, the plot-wide influence of her worldbuilding elements); a revisit of my favorite short story of all time, Kelley Eskridge's "Eye of the Storm;" and Anne of Green Gables, a childhood favorite that I haven't reread in at least 15 years and which is remains just so delightful. It's been a decided upswing after a brief series of mediocre books.

I spent this afternoon in bed, just having finished the first and a story adjacent to the second, reading the third. August climbed under the blankets with me and lay down on my chest, and we took a nap together in an idyllic setting which echoes Green Gables: my computer was turned off, my blinds down; the room lit by diffused white light and the day cool for June; sleeping atop freshly-laundered sheets. Echoes Green Gables in specific not at all, but in that atmosphere, of finding the best of a thing; of making space and time to daydream. August's whiskers on my face brought me in and out of sleep for an hour until I finally got up to make dinner.

I have a lot of sleep issues, split equally between anxiety and back pain, which means I effectively never nap—it happens about three or four times a year, generally on accident. Pleasant when it occurs (if it doesn't fuck up my back), but not something I can do on purpose, because sleep is a carefully coordinated effort that I only have the energy for once a day.

It's one of the things I envy most in my cats, but sometimes, just sometimes, August shares it with me.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Season of Storms (Witcher Book 8)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: fan translation
Published: superNOWA, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 218,085
Text Number: 661
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the short stories and before the other novels, Geralt goes on a quest to recover his stolen swords. Insofar as the best part of the series is Ciri, and Ciri is not here present, this is something of a letdown. There's plenty of nods to central characters and plot, but this story feels both less urgent and heartfelt. It's almost prosaic: somewhere between comedy of errors/slice of life/travelogue, the daily life of a Witcher down on his luck, resembling the short story collections more than the novels. That setup allows Geralt's personality to shine through and he is, as always, a delight; the Witcher setdressing is present, the subplots are successful, and there's even some profound, if coy, worldbuilding in the frame narrative. But without the interpersonal relationships that made me care about this series, I came away underwhelmed.

I was chatting with Devon about the Witcher series and mentioned offhand that there are eight books, the two short story collections, the five novels, and the... —and then I realized that I had never reviewed this later prequel, never even written notes for it; granted, I read it late last December, when I was reading less and a lot of my reviews got delayed, but the fact that I entirely forgot this book says something about it, I suppose.


Title: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire Book 1)
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
Published: Solaris, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 218,470
Text Number: 662
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An infantry solider named Cheris is selected to host Jedao, a long-dead traitor and brilliant general, in order to combat a heretical uprising. This has the inconsistent, piecemeal feel of a first novel: the beginning is almost deliberately obtuse (coming in familiar with the author's short fiction makes the style and worldbuilding more accessible, but patience serves just as well) where later sections are over-explained. But the experience entire is a remarkable journey. Math-as-calendar/-as-technology/-as-society is an engaging high concept, but the system's limitations and complicated cultural effects are what make it convincing. Lee's voice is an intense sensory experience, with evocative and alien synesthetic descriptions. The interpersonal relationships remind me of CJ Cherryh's uniquely implicit/explicit dynamics, where everything is tersely understated but functions on an intense, tropey level. The format, especially as a series opener, reminds me of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch: it introduces an entire world and has a satisfying arc, but is obviously the first part of a longer battle.

I enjoyed Lee's short fiction, but also found it frustrating because iteration and length limitations turned otherwise fantastic voice and concepts into repetitive worldbuilding. His first novel is everything I hoped for. The same techniques and themes are here, but they're given more space and elaboration. It's distinctive, fulfilling, and fully realized. I recommend it, and look forward to the sequels.

A pair of quotes, for posterity; I adore the language, the weird math-fantasy-science, how unsettling and evocative and strange it all is.

Read more... )


Title: Home (Binti Book 2)
Author: Nnedi Okrafor
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 218,645
Text Number: 663
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: One year after the events of the first book, Binti makes a pilgrimage home. I enjoyed the first novella in this series, but wanted more from it, specifically more complexity. This is more. It's as vivid, with equally satisfying character growth (these books would make fantastic movies, they're subplot-free and just the right length, and the world is so engaging) but Binti is working between points of intense, unpretty emotional conflict, and her cultural background is rendered with increasing complexity—it's a more complicated, difficult story. But unlike the first book, which is complete almost to its detriment, this one ends at the conclusion of Binti's character arc and leaves the plot with a cliffhanger; I'd've preferred a finished, novel-length work. But I still enjoyed and recommend it, and will read the next installment.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I originally posted this on Tumblr, but it belongs on my rereads tag, aka my favorite tag in the history of all tags.



I’m doing another co-read with Missy, George Orwell’s 1984, a reread for both of us. He read it in school, and hasn’t reread it since then; I read it ages ago and many times since—but not in the last few years, so I suppose I was due.

My copy is inherited/gently stolen from my mother, and was published in 1961; there’s a typo on page 17 ("her sweep supple waist") and pencil notes on the first page, an about the author, to underline Orwell’s name and list "Winston—the everyman; Julia—the everywoman"; it has that distinct almost-musty scent of used books of this specific page weight and quality and era; it once sold for 95 cents; I remember reading it as a … preteen? young teen? while accompanying someone else’s trip to a college campus, and feeling very smug that I read literary canon of my own volition & and that’s why I, too, would belong at college some day.

It’s impossible for me to have a discrete experience with the book, to judge any sort of objective or relative quality or how it’s aged (objectively, relatively); I’m still tied up in that early encounter, because what I took away wasn’t the value of literary canon—rather, it was that the Important, Classic novels I would one day read for school* were also speculative; that genre was literature. It was the first time I encountered that overlap, between "real" books and speculative books. As speculative books go, it’s the definitive opposite of fun, even though dystopias have their own "what if" hook; it’s a weird book to memorize, to fondly recognize all these scenes were people are miserable, miserable in grindy petty banal ways atop the high-concept stuff. But there’s a perfect fondness: the velvet-smooth worn paperback, that distinctive scent, returning to a novel that literally changed me as a reader.

* I never did read it in school, but I did do projects comparing it to other dystopic novels!
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Title: Anathem
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 955
Total Page Count: 213,570
Text Number: 649
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Off-world influence forever alters life for the citizens of Arbre and its math-based monastic order. Math-as-philosophy/-as-speculative-concept/-as-worldbuilding is unique and engaging, and kudos to Stephenson for also making it accessible. There's an attempt to balance the math-heavy sections with daily detail, but these details are boring and there's a sincere dearth of interesting characters or interactions (or women); the worldbuilding is clumsy, especially the use of language, and I don't entirely buy the plot (in particular, the importance of human consciousness). A book this long and obnoxiously dense needs to be a virtuoso work. This isn't. Dump the first 50 pages and the middle action sequences, trim it to about 400 pages, and there's some clever concepts worth exploring. But as it is, it's in no ways enjoyable, nor worth the effort.


Title: China Mountain Zhang
Author: Maureen F. McHugh
Published: Orb Books, 1997 (1992)
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Page Count: 315
Total Page Count: 213,885
Text Number: 650
Read Because: recommended by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Chinese-headed socialism has become the leading world power, "Government is big, we are small. We are only free when we slip through the cracks." This is a local, personal-scale novel about individuals surviving within a larger political and social climate that's not quite a dystopia. It can be awful to read, occasionally in predictable or problematic-adjacent ways, and requires trigger warnings for rape and queer suicide. But neither is it tragedy porn; there's mundanity and profundity, too, and an emphasis on sanctuaries and the personal narratives that persist in any setting. The stories of the ensemble cast overlap, but not too neatly; not every section is equally strong, but there's a surprising amount of flow. Worldbuilding is secondary to these aspects without being coy. This is a quiet, unassuming book, and a sincere success.


Title: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 214,175
Text Number: 651
Read Because: recommended by literarymagpie, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Miel and Sam have been friends ever since she was found in a water tower as a child; now adolescents, their coming of age is sparked by Miel's magical curse, Sam's gender identity, and their burgeoning romance. There's a lean towards the delineated and repetitive in the imagery and character growth—a larger cast or more precise sense of place may have made the work broader and the themes less blatant. But it's all so fundamentally good as to overcome that weakness. The pumpkins and moons, the descriptions of food and color and scent, are lush and beautiful without slipping into pure purple prose. Everything about Sam's gender is handled with grace and respect,* and the cultural and racial diversity, exploration of women's power, depictions of racism and appropriation and self-presentation, are well-interrogated and complex while still providing a positive, productive resolution. This is a profoundly beautiful book, in style—which is best delivered in bite-sizes, which the chapter length encourages—as well as content. I recommend it.

* Miel's trauma isn't as successfully portrayed—while Sam's identity feels like a lived experience, Miel's history feels more metaphorical, to its detriment.


Anathem was Teja's suggestion, part of a list of books he brought with him while traveling, the only book he ended up getting to because of its grinding length; I power-read it for the sake of being done with it, and then ignored the rest of his SF-by-dudes TBR to read three books—two of them reviewed above—that were by/about women and/or PoC and which I knew would have a localized focus on actual characters and/or beautiful, intentional language. Those were not the fundamental flaws of Anathem—that would be worldbuilding and pacing—but they were the ones I most desperately needed to counteract.

And those three books were, independently, quite good; and they felt bonus extra good for the fact that almost anything with any competency would have at that point seemed amazing.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
This is my list of the best media that I consumed for the first time (but was probably not published) in 2016.

Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions in books

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

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

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

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




Video Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions in video games

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




Visual Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions in visual media

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

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

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


I just got back from a week visiting Devon in Corvallis, and the return journey was lovely. Mist over the fields and river out the train window; dense fog as we reached Portland, with the city and its bridges shadows in the gray. The 6am train trips in autumn are consistently my favorite of all things: the clear dark cold at the train station, the slow sunrises, the mist and the changing leaves.

August was ridiculously clingy when I was preparing to leave (she even followed me and my luggage downstairs to hang out by the door and look concerned) and she's been inseparable since I got back, because she loves me and also because it's autumn and she wants to sit on me and be warm. I held her on my tummy and sang Can't Take My Eyes Off You to her, my wonder keeping the stars apart.

It was a fantastic trip, and I appreciate the reminder that I have those—and that last month's misery visit was a birthday-related anomaly rather than a trend. I timed my visit for the Fall Festival; I accidentally slept through most of Saturday, but we stopped by on Sunday. It was too sunny and I am pale and pathetic, so we made but a brief circuit. My favorite of what I saw was Fantasy Figurative Art dolls by MARCA—I like my art dolls creepy/cute rather than Froud-esque, but there were blue goblin children and humaniod bird monsters and of that I approve. We also went to the library's book sale, and by the time we got there they had entered the $5/bag "please, take them away" final phase; slim pickings but a joy to comb through, in no small part because it was indoors this time. I picked up paperback copies of books I own in hardback (hardback is a pain to read, and I'm a big rereader), some new-to-me books by authors I'm familiar with, and a few random picks—because at a flat rate, mistakes are free.



The Cherryh I picked up on another night out. After dinner and dark, we got Starbucks and walked across to the Book Bin—bless their late hours. The checkers were looking at pictures of baby goats, there were no other customers, and because I'd already made a book run I wasn't working off my to-buy list: the laid-back book browsing I've always wanted. Having credit there allows me to make impulse purchases without stress.

One final highlight: a moment when Devon and I both walked down the hallway and Gigi the puppy, the best baby dog with the most love, came in from the kitchen, saw us both, and barreled past Devon to get to me because Dev is everyday and known and boring where I am Important Dog Auntie, and also the only one that will hold her paws.

I didn't see my family and other than the Fall Festival had no to-do list, which I think contributed to the successful visit; it was the private, quiet time that we needed.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
A bit ago, I got a message on dumb pet game website Flight Rising from a user who had found my book review of The Dark Wife offsite. They recognized my username, verified that it was the same Juu, and then mailed me to point out the small world and to say thank you, both because the review was helpful and because they found it comforting to know someone on dumb pet site was also a reader interested in YA lesbian literature. And if that isn't the best thing, and best reason to have a universal online identity—to have the chance to say, hell no, you're not the only queer lady out there who wants to read about Persephone and lesbians, even within this arbitrary audience; you're not alone and, here, have more books—then I don't know what is. It was a small, stand-alone interaction, but an absolute delight.

(Despite my caveats with The Dark Wife, I feel like this is what makes Diemer's work in particular valuable. All queer representation is, but she fills a particular niche: aesthetically-pleasing genre retellings where lesbians live happily ever after. The fact that can be someone's gateway into queer literature and a tool for exploring and validating their own sexuality makes me happy, even if I thought the narrative itself was just okay.)
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
(CW for offhand discussion of mental health issues and suicidal ideation.)

At the risk of jinxing it, we've been having unseasonably cool weather these last few weeks. I hate summer but live seasonally, in particular organizing my media consumption around the seasons, so this deviation is disorientating but not unwelcome. And I've been finding a lot of media to fill the gap in my media consumption as I push some things back (like sports anime, which is uniquely suited to warm weather).

I discovered Critical Role only approximately an eon behind everyone else, and it's phenomenal and also a gigantic timesink. Halfway through the second episode I stopped to make sure it was safe to binge watch and I wouldn't run into a sudden end, but the joke was on me because it's 50+ 3 hour-long episodes. I've never participated in a tabletop RPG and always wanted to, but never been interested in D&D because of my hatred of high fantasy; I still don't care about the setting, but I had underestimated how engaging this sort of by-user for-user creation could be, even when the source material is as generic as imaginable. (It does make me wish I could play something similar, which then reminds me that a lot of things aren't accessible to me because of my crazy; I receive that reminder often, and it always manages to sap away some joy, but the show is still fun to watch.)

(See also: Pokemon GO, which I would love to play but can't b/c no cell phone b/c mental health reasons, so that's a fun phenomenon to be excluded from.)

I've also been reading significantly more book series in the last few years, which has increased by book consumption considerably and contributes to the number of books I've reviewed this year. I still dislike the time and energy demand of series, still think a lot of them would benefit from brevity, and always keep to my habit of alternating between series-book and non-series book to prevent fatigue—but there's something satisfying about chewing through a sequence of books instead of a slew of stand-alones, and it's opened up some authors (Octavia Butler, a lot of children's/MG/YA literature, and, goodness knows, a ton of SF/F) that I previously would have avoided.

This last week or so I've been having some abnormal pain problems (neck and upper back, approximately unrelated to my normal back pain) that are affecting my sleep, and some amorphous low blood pressure issues. Both are annoying but niether particularly awful; less sleep just means more time for stories, and, as established, feeling cold in the summer is A-ok with me.

My mental health issues mean that I have constant suicidal ideation, not often with any particular desire or intent but with unflagging consistency; I would always rather not be, even when various symptoms are in remission; I have never found anything that justifies the effort of being present. And these stories still don't, but the sheer number of them, that I'm timesharing episodes to watch against series installments to finish, means that—for a rare occasion—I feel like there's not enough time, not enough of being, for all these things. That's not exactly a counterbalance but it's pretty close, as these things go.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I have tried and failed to give even one shit about Marvel, and my social circle has said only good things re: Captain America and Hydra, so I’ve basically been able to put the whole thing aside as addressed, if not resolved

but then I read Tor.com article (which I won't link) about how this is one of many drastic character changes in comic history, and will be forgotten in time, and exists mostly as an clever, bold bid for attention and money, and that they the writer plan to give Marvel both.

This is the thing about a self-selecting social group! I forget there are other people out there saying harmful, false things with the reasonable tone of a tempered majority opinion!

This is personal, and private, and not particularly reasonable, and all about Nazism. )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers Book 1)
Author: Becky Chambers
Published: New York: Harper Voyager, 2015 (2014)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 410
Total Page Count: 187,610
Text Number: 551
Read Because: about a thousand BookTube recommendations, buddy read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The crew of a wormhole-tunneling ship makes a long haul to their next job, a planet occupied by a strange, violent race. So: what it says on the tin, but only nominally because plot is not the point; rather, the journey is a mere vehicle for interpersonal exploration. The crew and their interactions span a wide variety (which is almost satisfactorily alien), and the messages within are often hamfisted but as obviously well-intended. It's creative, snappy, sappy, heartfelt; rather like Mass Effect on a smaller scale. But all of this was ruined for me by one plotline: Ohan's, which is ultimately about spoilers )—a message that hits me close to home and which I find inexcusable. This perhaps shouldn't eclipse the rest of the book's more successful diversity, but, for me, it does. I can't recommend this, or forgive it.


Longer form, more anger, explicit spoilers, as posted to tumblr:Read more... )


Shorter form, more swearing, as sent to Teja: Read more... )

Teja and I have remarkably similar responses to the novel, despite our different tastes (he has more tolerance for feelgood, I have more demands from narrative structure) and the fact that illness and autonomy isn't a hot button issue for him. We've had a lot of back and forth chatter about most character's arcs, which—while not always positive—certainly indicates that these arcs are engaging. We both were disappointed in the dearth of plot, and the fact that the mega-arc was the least developed and most redundant of the bunch. But the book is a promising combination of elements, and I can see why it's had such positive reception; to me it feels like Mass Effect, and he compared it to Firefly—speculative/found family opens the narrative to a lot of creativity and feels. If it hadn't been ruined for me by Ohan's storyline I still wouldn't've loved it, because the tone was too cheesy for me, and he didn't either. It's hard to call a book with such an obvious, weighty, and varied interpersonal focus "insubstantial," but it sort of is nonetheless.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Teja (he formerly known as Express) currently has a twice-weekly work commute and so has gone from being a very rare reader to a somewhat more frequent reader; our tastes have only partial overlap, but when he asked my opinion on Neuromancer I'd just never read it. Because it is what it is as a seminal cyberpunk novel, I bought it otherwise blind—about a million years ago, while visiting Dee in the Seattle area, from the marvelous Duvall Books. It's the used bookstore that daydreams are made of, with gently creaking hardwood floors, packed shelves, and nostalgic actually-used-bookstore prices—I bought Neuromancer for $1.50.

So Teja started reading it on his own, and was unsure what he thought of the first few chapters; so I started reading it along with him, with only the most casual of overlaps and conversations. He's read other books on my recommendation and we've discussed them, but co-reading was much more engaging. There's room in it for spoilers (instead of the perpetually frustrating "I have thoughts, but they take into context/reveal later events") and minutiae as well as larger reflections on narrative and genre. A+ experience; we reading his next book together as well.

The book itself, as expressed, left little impression. There is one particular exception:

"The Villa Straylight," said a jeweled thing on the pedestal, in a voice like music, "is a body grown in upon itself, a Gothic folly. Each space in Straylight is in some way secret, this endless series of chambers linked by passages, by stairwells vaulted like intestines, where the eye is trapped in narrow curves, carried past ornate screens, empty alcoves…"

[…] "In Straylight, the hull’s inner surface is overgrown with a desperate proliferation of structures, forms flowing, interlocking, rising toward a solid core of microcircuitry, our clan’s corporate heart, a cylinder of silicon wormholed with narrow maintenance tunnels, some no wider than a man’s hand. The bright crabs burrow there, the drones, alert for micromechanical decay or sabotage."


Predictably, I'm more invested in -punk as subgenre than as work. The subgenres have the potential to explore the push/pull of their central concept, but in practice rarely do. Steampunk has too much pull, too much idealization and aesthetic, forgetting the necessary anxiety about technology and society. Cyberpunk has too much push, and Neuromancer pushes especially hard: Gibson's novel is all grim and grit and awful characters and pervasive fatigue, even when he's inventing a new technological marvel—it's an awful world to be in.

Villa Straylight was for me the one exception, this interlocking manufactured techno-historical dreamscape populated by wasteful and corrupted residents trapped within their own recursive, futureless pseudo-incest—it's an excessive image but an effective one, and the decadence of the setting was such welcome counterpoint to the pervasive grim tone.

Harder for me to remember is that the novel has pull aspects that I just can't access. I think Case is an awful protagonist, but his male power fantasy isn't for me. Teja pointed out that Rivera even functions as a foil: the overtly misogynistic evil counterpart that turns the author and reader surrogate protagonist into a Nice Guy pseudo-antihero. And unlike modern steampunk, cyberpunk was a direct reflection of the era that birthed it. The pull, the optimism and burgeoning potential of cyber technology, doesn't need to be illustrated: it's innate to the technology of the time.

If cyberpunk is dead, then may it rest in peace; I care less for its contemporary examples than for its post-80s influences, which have a more seductive aesthetic to set against the anxiety of technology(/development/society/change), which I find more enjoyable and effective. And I care more about that push/pull interplay than the subgenres themselves—except mythpunk, which actually gets it right, and asylumpunk, which doesn't even properly exist but in which I am personally invested.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
When I was last down visiting Devon, we made two trips to the local used bookstore because I have a ridiculous amount of credit there that I never manage to spend. On the first trip, I picked up two books: Elizabeth A. Lynn's The Sardonyx Net, because I love everything Lynn and won't turn down a random mass market copy of her books especially since most or all of them are out of print, and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle which I read last year and fell in love with and thus needed to own. The second trip was made on a whim two days later, when I wouldn't have expected stock to change dramatically, and yet! four books: Elizabeth A. Lynn's The Dancers of Arun; two by CJ Cherryh, including telepathic bond horses Rider at the Gate, which the library doesn't have even in physical form; a new-to-me novel by Elizabeth Bear. The Dancers of Arun was a small miracle to find, because, as mentioned, it's out of print—and it's one of those quintessentially-me novels, far and above my favorite of her work, and I've wanted to own it since before I finished reading it the first time.

Meanwhile, I've been having an ongoing issues with Overdrive and Adobe Digital Editions which means that approximately 1 in 5 licenses doesn't fulfill. I've found reports of this issues online, with no Adobe-side resolution; users recommend either reverting to an older version of ADE (which for me also leads to failed fulfillment, although without the program crash that makes this troubleshooting process so time-consuming) or unverifying and then reverifying the user license (or verifying a new license) for ADE—the later of which doesn't work because 1) it requires a password, and my Adobe account is so old that, whatever password I used 15 years ago, I can't remember it now; 2) I can't do a password recovery process because the account is tied to a 15 year old, defunct email; 3) adding a secondary account to just try from scratch first requires unverifying the current account/license. This problem reoccurs frequently and there is no resolution except to get a different book, even after much troubleshooting; in the Adobe forum threads I saw another user write something along the lines of "I've spent four hours troubleshooting this, and it's so frustrating. I'm computer literate. How do casual users manage at all?" which expresses approximately my level of really, DRM, really?

The golden rule of DRM should be—but isn't—that it must be easier for the average user to legally obtain a product than to pirate it. The library's Overdrive service is in general phenomenal, especially in my area, where there are plenty of licenses and it's easy to request new titles. I read almost everything as ebooks now, because I can obtain digital copies from the comfort of my agoraphobia home, and because the backlight on my ereader allows me to read without the eyestrain caused by even the dimmest of lamps. But this a golden rule violation if I have ever seen one, and seeing the two set against each other recently, these magical perfect purchases against the frustration of yet another DRM snafu, has made me sad.

(The almost-worst of it is that it's not Overdrive's fault, and their tech support is also superb and timely and considerate; and the comments which I've seen by Adobe tech support, while in now ways productive, are also kind and patient. The problems is almost surely ADE side, but the real culprit the truly awful state of electronic publishing. There's no one to blame but that, and they don't have a tech support whom I can send a message that reads "really??????". Nor is there any true recourse.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I get some of my book (& other media) recommendations from friends and other individuals, but I take great pleasure in a good recommendations list, especially when they're thematic or otherwise curated. So, in a moment of meta:


A recommended list of recommendation lists
for speculative novels, with an emphasis on minority authors and/or characters, in precisely no order & non-exhaustive

Tor.com's Five Books About series (the official lists can be repetitive and white male heavy; I have better luck with post comments)

Jo Walton's OK, where do I start with that? series (this is nearly exhaustive, but where there’s gaps: again, check at comments)

Nisi Shawl's A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction

K Tempest Bradford's Mindblowing SF by Women and People of Color

[personal profile] oursin's The massive mega consolidated SF mistressworks list

perplexingly's LGBTQ+ Fantasy Book Rec List (see also)

The list of Wizard Schools (pre-Harry Potter)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu's Fantasy of Manners reading list (includes & differentiates between Mannerpunk; see comments)


Further reading (about reading)

[personal profile] rachelmanija's Sirens Panel: Women who Run with Wolves and Dance with Dragons (companion animal stories, uncollated, but with commentary)

Tor.com's Queering SFF series (more discussion than simple lists but, again: check comments)

Terri Windling's essays, both on her website and in introduction to her many short fiction anthologies, have phenomenal references and further reading lists

If you can narrow down your interest to a specific (sub)genre or trope, Wikipedia and TV Tropes have exhaustive (sometimes to their detriment) lists; Goodreads lists are equally exhaustive, but less curated

Awards and award nominees are fruitful sources for lists, especially if you ignore big names (Hugos, etc.) and look towards smaller awards (e.g. Gaylactic Spectrum Awards)

Authors that write books about books are fruitful sources of reading material, see: Jo Walton (Among Others), Caitlin R. Kiernan (The Red Tree, The Drowning Girl), Diana Wynne Jones (Fire and Hemlock), Pamela Dean (Tam Lin), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), my lists of books mentioned in books
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Traditionally, I am very bad at auditory media because I succumb to multitasking and then to not listening, and I'm not a strong auditory learner to begin with. But then I learned to take podcasts on walks, which limit the potential for multitasking considerably; it's what I did with Wolf 359 after [livejournal.com profile] junkmail recommended it to me. Wolf 359 is really good! You should listen to it! (The first half of the first season is overly episodic; atop the humor, it grows slight. But as the overarching plot emerges, it forms a lovely balance between a focus on high risk setting and comic relief, united by a focus on communication. I liked what I listened to of Welcome to Night Vale once upon a time, but never grew attached; Wolf 359 has that missing attachment in droves.) And then I ran out of episodes and felt bereft.

I'd love suggestions for ongoing genre narratives in podcast form! No for serious give me recs. I tried The Leviathan Chronicles but just could not—long episodes, slow build, stiff info-dump dialog, and, while I want to love the sci-fi meets Old Ones premise, in practice it errs towards hard sci-fi meets camp which ... is less enjoyable.

And then it occurred to me that short fiction podcasts were probably a thing; and lo, they are totally a thing: Escape Pod (sci-fi) and PodCastle (fantasy) ETA: and Psuedopod (horror) have solved all of my problems. I'm impressed by the quality and variety, and I appreciate the accessibility. AKA: reasons Juu was walking down residential roads crying single dignified tears (today).

I started walking a lot when August was having food issues (which, thankfully, resolved a few days after last mention), because being away and therefore temporarily immune to responsibility was such a relief. It was also comforting to be entirely engaged, or, rather, unable to split my engagement. Multitasking is my default state, physically but especially mentally: multiple running, exhausting, competitive interior monologues that create a desire to disappear into external stimuli and an inability to successfully do so simply because I can never pare down or shut off my thoughts are the underlying framework of my anxiety.

Walking while listening to stories doesn't make the mess in my head go away, but it gives me multiple concrete and consuming stimuli (physical, auditory) while removing the tempting access to secondary stimuli, multitasking that mimics and therefore encourages my mental multitasking. I am aware I am hardly the first to stumble into what's effectively neurotic people's dirty tricks for walking meditation, but I'm glad I have. With one catch-22 exception: since my usual ability to do stuff extends to one thing per day, and walking counts as a thing, having this healthy and productive outlet means I'm tired all the time.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
This is late! and I don’t care! This is way longer than usual—I suppose I just encountered a lot of strong stories this year—but it feels a shame to trim it down. So, I present: The best media that I encountered in 2015.


Best books:

Hexslinger Series by Gemma Files. The sequels live up to A Book of Tongues, as brutal, as lyrical, as distinctive in style. Chess's ruthless character growth exceeded my expectations, and there was no character not rendered complex. I expected this series to have a great voice and satisfying scale; I wasn't expecting it to be resonant, which came to be the quality I admired most.

Hannibal Lecter Series by Thomas Harris. There's a number of individual criticisms to be made of Harris's work—and Hannibal Rising in particular is an awful mess that should be avoided at all costs. But I find Hannibal compelling in all his iterations, and this source material provides invaluable context.

Octavia E. Butler. Butler's voice can feel raw, but her engaging speculative premises are grounded by unforgiving, confrontational issues of morality. It took me too long to discover her work, but I'm glad that I finally did. She's brilliant and intense and compulsively readable.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Quiet, picturesque, luminescent; bittersweet and beautiful and a delight to read. Books are rarely this successful—this achieves its precise intent, and does so with grace.

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley. I love most of the McKinley that I've read, but this may be my favorite. A darling book, sweet but not quite saccharine, suffused with a playful domestic magic; and important, thematically heavy-handed, perhaps, but necessary, and with effective emotional appeal. Comfort reading of the highest caliber.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. If there were just one book on this list, it would be Fire and Hemlock. Bittersweet, charming, magical, strange, and suffused with intent; easily the best book I read this year, and maybe one of the best I've ever read.

Goth by Otsuichi. As intimately familiar as I was with this story in its other iterations, the light novel still surprised me—it was just that good. The narrative techniques are manipulative but clever; the emotional register and atmosphere are subdued, amoral, thoughtful, and keenly compelling.

So Brilliantly Clever by Peter Graham. A rare non-fiction book! The Parker-Hulmes murder case is fascinating, and Graham's investigation is thorough, thoughtful, sympathetic but not forgiving—the best write-up I could have hoped on a subject I wished to know more about.

Honorable mentions in books:

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. While by no means "great" literature, this is one of the first second-world fantasy series that I've found compelling. I admire Hobb's attention to daily detail, which grounds the sometimes-angsty character building; the companion animal tropes are top-notch; these are id-level, rewarding books.

Jacob's Ladder Series by Elizabeth Bear. I loved Dust years ago when I first read it; it was worth rereading to finish up the series. The middle book is redundant, but the last is logical counterpoint to the first, viewing its culture from without in a way that forces it to change. Despite the evidence of this list, I'm wary of series; this one is more than a run-on story, instead pushing its premise beyond the confines of a single book.




Best video games:

Soma. This would be my pick for Game of the Year 2015, not for being flawless (it's not, and I often wish Frictional were more willing to leave their comfort zone) but for being bold: an unsettling, confrontational, somber narrative sold by earnest dialog, surprisingly well-written and aware, not at all horror but superb sci-fi. I watched this game twice in a row and still think about it constantly—it's stuck with me.

Dark Souls II. Dense, mournful, and quiet, in atmosphere as well as level design and worldbuilding; singularly punishing and intentional gameplay. It requires an active engagement both to survive combat and explore the world—few games are this consistently rewarding to play.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair. Bless these offbeat little games—there's a dozen missteps in both characterization and humor, but they're engaging murder mysteries (with such creative, grotesque deaths!) that feature a strong core cast, and the second game is a superb sequel especially on a narrative level: aware, self-referential, metatextual, clever and singularly satisfying.

Saya no Uta. I am never not impressed with Urobuchi. This early work is exactly what it sets out to be, questionable in all logical loli ways, but also grotesque, beautiful, and keenly romantic. I admire the interplay between the three endings, that each is most successful because of how it contrasts with the larger narrative/other ends.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. This fulfilled everything I wanted from a sequel, in ways I never expected: the metatextual vignettes create plentiful insight into elements left underexplored by base game, and, where it mattered most (Morishige), the game excelled.

E3 PC Gaming Show 2015. This talky, long-form new entry to the E3 roster was a breath of fresh air, allowing for more in-depth, less-hyped glimpses into some upcoming games. I'm not sure how sustainable it is, but it was my highlight of E3 2015.

Summer Games Done Quick 2015. My first time watching speedruns, and what an introduction. This was addicting, with a lively roster and great personalities and great games and a lovely variety of speedrun techniques; I barely slept for the week it was running and don't regret it.

Honorable mentions in video games:

Octodad: Dadliest Catch. SGDQ introduced me to this, and I've now watched four LPs of it and would happily watch more. It's charming and ridiculous and entirely to my sense of humor.

Dishonored. There are few fictional worlds which I find better designed or realized, from art style to flavor text: the worldbuilding is immersive and thought-provoking.

Halo 5. I am not as sold on campaign as I was Halo 4, but multiplayer, while it still warrants quibbles, introduces so many perfect additions: clambering and boosting makes for active and engaged gameplay, and I would find it hard to go back to any other Halo multiplayer.




Best visual media:

The Fall. This show succeeds where every other grim non-episodic murder mystery fails: it's an intelligent, pointed study of evil, confrontational even as it's romanticized, consistently compelling, and flawlessly cast.

How to Get Away with Murder. What a smart, tense, engaging show; how well-cast; how satisfying both in its diversity and in its smug id-level tropes. An utter delight.

Natsume Yuujinchou. There was a hole in my life I hadn't noticed, and this gentle, kind story fit right into that space; I can no longer imagine my inner landscape without it. The world needs more stories like this, small, private, bittersweet, about recovery from trauma and friendships forming and isolation and magic.

Honorable mentions in visual media:

Sense8. There's something captivating about this show, not in plot but in concept: it's a daydream of intimacy, dreamt with enthusiasm and sing-alongs and orgies. Flawed, but singularly satisfying.

Dead Ringers. An obscure little story that hit every single one of my buttons, absurd, intimate, discomforting, id-level, ridiculously indulgent. Is it good? I have no idea. Will I treasure it forever? Certainly.

Mirai Nikki. This fills a number of genre clichés, none the least in that it sparked a genre cliché, and yet: the core relationship surprised me, because it's authentically compelling, even romantic, not in defiance of but via the same aspects that make it unsettling.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
In Sense8, a trans woman undergoes forced hospitalization and is threatened with a lobotomy (for reasons unrelated to but not independent of her gender identity); in Sarah Waters's Fingersmith, one Victorian woman is committed to an asylum under false pretenses while the other is held captive. If you asked, I'd probably say that my biggest fears, other than the crippling agoraphobia which is at this point more a personality trait than a fear, are spiders, automatonophobia/life where life shouldn't be, and existential horror. It's surprising how often those things come up, in daily life and in video games and in the night sky. But let me tell you, I am fucking terrified of the idea of forced hospitalization, medical procedures, and institutionalization.

Terrified, almost, on the level of agoraphobia. My other fears have that push/pull of horror, and revulsion that can be manipulated into intrigue. But, while I think there's room to creatively explore and even idealize mental illness/institutionalization, specifically in/of women (see: my thoughts on Emilie Autumn's Fight Like a Girl), there's no potential in me for a pleasant thrill. I suppose it's too real. I've never been hospitalized, but it's always been at the fringe of my experience—offhand comments by authority figures, horror stories from peers; half the reason I'm afraid to seek any help is the fear of the form that help may take. On some level, I've always believed I deserved it—that I am sufficiently incapacitated that I should not be able to self-govern. What makes it worse is that these narratives are often about women who are not mentally ill: it's terrifying that the social standing innate to gender and perceived neurotypicality are used to control and punish women, but, even worse, these women don't even deserve it—and part of their punishment is being alongside actual crazies, who do. These women at least have the narrative to advocate for them; whether or not it ends well, we as consumers know that their situation is unfair. What advocate would I have?

(I think this is why Emilie Autumn's Fight Like a Girl doesn't bother me as much—nor, to some extent, American Horror Story: Asylum: the PoV is not solely "sane person punished by being viewed as crazy"; both have mentally ill characters that the narrative still acknowledges are undeserving victims of the system.)

It's not something that will happen, and on society's scale of crazies mine are pretty acceptable—it's probably not something that could happen. And even if it did, there's every possibility that I have a skewed perspective built on historical evidence and horror stories, and that some forms of forced/in-patient medial aid would help me. And it doesn't matter. The idea makes me so anxious and miserable that a bit of logical counterpoint means nothing.

As fate would have it, Sense8 and Fingersmith are the primary show I'm watching/book I'm reading right now. They're both quite good! But consuming them at the same time meant that last night when trying to wind down to sleep I couldn't even give up one piece of media for another that would be less anxiety-provoking. "I know!" I thought. "I'll grab the next Circle of Magic book, because middle-grade wish fulfillment about found families and personal ability will certainly sooth my anxiety." But my elibrary hold still hasn't come in, and I couldn't *cough* "find" an epub on the entire damn internet. But by some minor miracle, even though it was 3a, Devon was awake and he read to me the two last chapters of a Wizard of Oz book, and then I read two chapters of a Narnia book, and then I slept.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Cecelia and Kate #1)
Author: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Published: New York: Open Road Young Readers, 2012 (1988)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 164,976
Text Number: 482
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a sorcerer tries to poison Kate in London, she writes to her cousin in the country—and together they unravel a magical mystery. Sorcery & Cecelia is more novelty than success. The letter game that spawned it is brilliant, and the authors's engagement and joy in their joint story is infectious. But that extemporaneous style lacks refinement, and makes for a predictable, even repetitive story. I still recommend this—it lacks complexity but has a wealth of charm and good intentions.


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

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

Horace Walpole
Elgin Marbles
Lord Byron
The Monk, Mathew Lewis
Brutus, Sappho, Penthesilea (specifically their hair styles, as per Oliver's obsessions)
I Dilettanti (opera)
"Ill meet by moonlight" quoted by Kate, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare
Hansel and Gretel (as metaphor)
Anne Radcliffe
Caroline Lamb
Atalanta, Handel
Epicyclical Elaborations of Sorcery (a fictional text)
John Dee
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I just finished rereading this! I frequently start lists of media-mentioned-in books I love, and now that I'm making those lists on OneNote via my phone, it's remarkably easier to complete, edit, and publish them! Bless. So:


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

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


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

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

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

and/or

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

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

(And all of that is who I am, and what I do.)
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Since my favorite thing, of all possible things, is when a book turns out to be about books, and this particular book was about the way that we use narratives to understand, interpret, and create ourselves (and, also, was phenomenal), I present:

Book mentioned in Fire and Hemlock
(including plays, but excluding music, sorry; in approximate order of appearance; nearly but probably not exhaustive)

Times Out of Mind, ed. L. Perry (fictional)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (referred to as The Wizard of Oz), L. Frank Baum
The Treasure Seekers, E. Nesbit
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
The Box of Delights, John Masefield
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White
The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Black Beauty, Anne Sewell
Sherlock Holmes (collected stories), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
Popular Beliefs (Nina reads this one--it's a non-fiction book but probably fictional)
Author: Michael Moorcock (Seb reads this)
Author: Isaac Asimov
"East of the Sun and West of the Moon," traditional
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G.K. Chesterton
The Thirty-nine Steps, John Buchan
Tom's Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce
The Oxford Book of Ballads, ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch
The Castle of Adventure, Enid Blyton
Pierrot, traditional (Polly performs this)
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde (another forum performs this)
The Golden Bough, James George Frazer
Twelfth Night, Shakespeare (Polly performs this)
Shakespeare, in general (who borrows plots from everywhere!)
Tales from Nowhere (fictional)
"Ode To a Nightingale," John Keats
and, of course:
"Tam Lin," traditional
"Thomas the Rhymer," traditional

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juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
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