juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle Book 2)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrator: Stephen Hoye, Carrington MacDuffie
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (1966)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 125
Total Page Count: 217,315
Text Number: 685
Read Because: fan of the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: As a long winter approaches, outsiders threaten both of the planet's human civilizations, native and offworld immigrant. Lifecycle-long years and established offworld settlers combine to create a speculative premise that informs every aspect of the book: worldbuilding, social structure, point of view, plot, resolution; and while that last is too neat, it's just so satisfying to see concise worldbuilding with significant ramifications. The character dynamics operated within that are nearly absent, certainly underwritten—but I suspect this is exacerbated by audio narration, Hoye's in particular. But Le Guin's voice, powerful and sparse and precise, carefully balancing organic daily detail against larger speculative elements, is a sheer delight and offset other weaknesses. I see flaws here, but they don't particularly bother me; this is just what I wanted it to be.

Title: Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables Book 1)
Author: LM Montgomery
Published: Duke Classics, 2012 (1908)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 335
Total Page Count: 217,650
Text Number: 686
Read Because: reread, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library (but I own it, and it's on Gutenberg)
Review: The story of a young orphan girl's childhood at a farm on Prince Edward Island. This was one of my favorite books as a child and I owned multiple copies and reread it many times; but I haven't reread it in at least 15 years. It's​ aged surprisingly well, for me personally, but also in the hundred years since its publication. It's beautifully charming; Montgomery's descriptions of nature and the community of Avonlea is lovely, evocative escapism; her intense and playful compassion for Anne, for her dreaming whimsy and enthusiasm and the gentle process of her coming of age, was everything to me as a child and I find I love it still. The plot is uneven, speeding up in the final third, becoming less playful and episodic, more of a summary and interchangeably too idealized and too tragic. But I appreciate the quiet consistency of Anne's character growth, and the payoff of her relationships, especially with Marilla, justifies some of the shortcuts. LM Montgomery's wish fulfillment was my childhood wish fulfillment too, and I still bear it good will; this reread was everything I wanted, all my best memories but freshly engaging, enabling me to entirely gloss over some objective flaws.

Title: Dangerous Space
Author: Kelley Eskridge
Published: Seattle: Aqueduct Press, 2007
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 217,905
Text Number: 689
Read Because: fan of the author, paperback given to me by [personal profile] thobari
Review: A collection of only seven stories, although the titular "Dangerous Space" is nearly a novella. I picked this up for "Eye of the Storm," which became one of my favorite short stories after I read it elsewhere. It's as good as I remember: a sword and sorcery setting, but an interpersonal focus, looking at fluid queer polyamorous found families and the link between violence and sexuality. "Dangerous Space" has a contemporary setting and secondary science fictional elements, but a similar tone. This is where Eskridge shines brightest, even if the ending of "Dangerous Spaces" is underwhelming: when she writes id fiction, focusing on strange intimacies and art, queer relationships and examinations of sexuality, engaging dynamics and sympathetic character growth.

The other stories are decent to successful; the style and theme that Eskridge is experimenting with in each is frequently obvious and sometimes unconvincing (although the density and unusual language of "Somewhere Down the Diamondback Road" is fantastic), but her voice is strong—she's particularly adept at working a story's themes into its metaphors and language, which brings to life even the clumsier examples. This collection isn't perfect, but I admire the ongoing themes of sexuality and art; and, honestly, it would be worth owning just for "Eye of the Storm."

The aforementioned trio of ridiculously successful books, counteracting a slew of "okay, I guess" books. Weird story about the Eskridge, though: midway through the collection, I received a comment on my review of the anthology where I first encountered "Eye of the Storm" which included "I'll be checking out Kelley Eskridge though"—a coincidence which inspired me to go back and read my review, and discover I'd mentioned that Dangerous Space included two companion stories to "Eye of the Storm." Which is awesome! But I was already halfway through, and hadn't encountered them, so skimmed ahead and—

—those stories are not there. They've never, in fact, existed; I'm not sure where I got the impression, such a precise impression (two companion stories!), that they did; other stories in the original anthology have companion novels, but re: "Eye of the Storm" reviews include such notes as "I am only distraught that there is no novel (series, opus, canon, tie in anything) with these characters."

I chalked this up to parallel universes and/or a fragment of my truly awful memory and moved on, except that: "Dangerous Space," as it turns out, not only has overlapping themes/feeling, it also has reoccurring character names. This isn't hugely surprising—I know creators recycle & reinvent archetypes, characters, names, &c.; and it fits: there's an overlapping logic, to take a slantwise-similar approach to different settings and dynamics. But what a bizarre series of events, to write and unwrite a parallel universe in which there obvious were, were not, sort of were companion stories to this story.

(To be honest, "Eye of the Storm" stands alone. I would happily live in it forever, but it so well establishes what it needs to establish that more isn’t really necessary; if anything, the summary and departure of the last few paragraphs is ideal—it keeps the setting alive and enterable, without the hit-or-miss potential of expanding the canon. I don't need the companion stories that don't exist. I'm just confused about the nature of their existence.)
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Black Iris
Author: Leah Raeder
Published: New York: Atria, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 370
Total Page Count: 188,410
Text Number: 553
Read Because: queer author/content, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: As she enters college, troubled teenager Laney falls in with a pair of friends in the party scene. An aggressively unreliable narrator means the plot it not what it first seems; the non-linear narrative can be difficult to keep straight and is overtly contrived, and the scale is exaggerated, too intense and too smart—a stylization echoed in the lush, harsh language, psychological insights, promiscuity and drug use, and violent interpersonal dynamics. But also present are queer characters and relationships, power dynamics, obsession, vengeance, mental illness, poetry, and love. Black Iris is something in between Dangerous Liaisons, urban fantasy of manners, and a harsher Francesca Lia Block, and in larger quantity, I'd find it exhausting—but in this one novel, which is compulsively readable and a victorious labor of love, it's phenomenal.

A quote I need to preserve for posterity. )
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: The Sardonyx Net
Author: Elizabeth A. Lynn
Published: New York: Ace, 2001 (1981)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 440
Total Page Count: 183,950
Text Number: 542
Read Because: fan of the author, paperback purchased used from The Book Bin
Review: When a drug deal goes bad, smuggler and Starcaptian Dana finds himself in custody of a slaver and embroiled in the politics of the ruling families of the planet of Chabad. Of all Lynn books, this is reminiscent most of The Northern Girl: a political and personal drama about complicity and power, trauma and sympathy, how social systems effect and are changed by the individuals within them. Plot developments are logical rather than dramatic and three PoV characters makes for a lot of reiterated information, but this doesn't feel like an oversight because the emphasis is always on personal responses and motivations within a larger context. This isn't my favorite Lynn novel, but I am consistently in love with her work, with her interpersonal focus and diverse characters and dynamics, and The Sardonyx Net is no exception.

The Sardonyx Net takes place in the same universe as A Different Light, but can be read alone.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch Book 2)
Author: Ann Leckie
Published: New York: Orbit, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 181,820
Text Number: 535
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Breq is sent to Athoek Station, home to Lieutenant Awn's sister, to stabilize the region while public war breaks across Radchaai space. The plot here is a strange beast: the politics of Athoek's annexation are simultaneously heavyhanded and morally gray—like Radchaai's agender society, the issue of cultural discrimination isn't superbly handled but it is well intended, and I would rather it be there than not. The sense of place, politicking, and personal motivations knit well; foreshadowing to plot twists, however, is emphasized in a way that makes resolutions talky and transparent.

But while the plot's quality is uneven, the true focus is interpersonal. Leckie's antagonists/political conservatives—often the same thing—can be caricatured, but her sympathetic characters are superb, prickly and complex and beautifully drawn. And Breq, as a multi-instanced AI made singular, continues to be singularly phenomenal, a unique concept explored with conviction and insight. The emotional punch of this book should not to be underestimated. Ancillary Sword has its flaws and I just don't care—it's so rewarding to read.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Silently and Very Fast
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Published: Stirling: Wyrm Publishing, 2011
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 130
Total Page Count: 180,620
Text Number: 532
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Elefsis, a machine intelligence, traces her origin and the history of the family that helped create her. This is a superb work, and one that could only have been written by Valente. Rich imagery and mythic themes are her signature; here, those elements become a literal internal landscape and a tool for approximating—and creating—experience and feeling. This isn't hard scifi, but nor is it as soft or as fantastical as I was expecting: the emphasis is on identity and the interpersonal, but it's also a direct confrontation of the boundaries of intelligence, of how we define and create a self, of when we're willing to confer selfhood; an intelligent, pointed (and convincing, and trope-aware) examination of the concept of artificial intelligence. Valente is one of my favorite authors, but this still exceeded by expectations. It's a dense, beautiful, brilliant work, and I recommend it with enthusiasm. It was published free online by Clarkesworld.

I preserve these quotes both because they sum up the thrust of the text, and because they're perfect:

Read more... )
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)
Author: Ann Leckie
Published: New York: Orbit, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 179,310
Text Number: 527
Read Because: discussed by Books and Pieces, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Once an AI with numerous subsets and physical bodies, Breq is now left with one physical body and desperate, unformed plan. Ancillary Justice has an almost unforgivably slow start, due to an epic space opera scale, an intentionally oblique narrative, and some confusing names. But after the initial adjustment period, the book excels. It's satisfying to watch the wide-ranging plots coalesce, and Leckie's philosophical battles have subtle human faces. The central concept of multi-facet and -body intelligence is phenomenal, not just creative but well-realized; exploring Breq's pluralized point of view is broadening, and has effective reverberations throughout the plot. The non-gendered society I find less successful*, but it remains a welcome addition. I find it easy to overlook Ancillary Justice's flaws, not because I don't see them but because the book is so captivating that I just don't care. I look forward to reading the sequels.

* I am of many minds regarding the treatment of gender. The non-gendered "she" is an innate misnomer and erases non-gendered identities—which are not a speculative thought-experiment: non-gendered people exist, and so do non-gendered pronouns. That said, "she" as universal default is intentionally confrontational, demanding that the reader never develop assumptions about either gender or culture. I enjoy also the reversal of being confused by and dismissing gendered societies—but to remove all concepts of gender is also limiting. There are moment I love, Breq's view of concourse chief among them:

I saw them all, suddenly, for just a moment, through non-Radchaai eyes, an eddying crowd of unnervingly ambiguously gendered people. I saw all the features that would mark gender for non-Radchaii—never, to my annoyance and inconvenience, the same way in each place. Short hair or long, worn unbound (trailing down a back, or in a thick, curled nimbus) or bound (braided, pinned, tied). Thick-bodied or thin-, faces delicate-featured or coarse-, with cosmetics or none. A profusion of colors that would have been gender-marked in other places. All of this matched randomly with bodies curving at breast and hip or not, bodies that one moment moved in ways various non-Radchaai would call feminine, the next moment masculine. Twenty years of habit overtook me, and for an instant I despaired of choosing the right pronouns, the right terms of address. But I didn't need to do that here. I could drop that worry, a small but annoying weight I had carried all this time. I was home.

On an individual level, in Breq's grammatical troubles and the intentional crossover into the reader's experience, the execution is often successful. At a worldbuilding/conceptual level, the issue of gender can be clumsy. But what a joy to be given the opportunity to debate this issue at all.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers
Editor: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Published: New York: Open Road, 1998
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 176,955
Text Number: 518
Read Because: fan of the editors, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: 22 stories that combine fantasy with erotica by exploring seductive, magical, unearthly lovers and romances. Datlow and Windling, especially in combination, are accomplished anthologists, but this is the closest I've come to disappointed with their work. For one, only three stories feature queer relationships (two others have them in background roles); the heteronormativity is toxic and uncreative, a particular oversight in a collection of strange love. (Compare to something like Caitlín R. Kiernan's phenomenal The Ammonite Violin & Others.) At its worst, the heteronormativity is damning: the stories are magical and strange only because the attractive, desirable women have power that threatens their everyman partners. For another, the collection has an unforgivably slow start: you can skip the first seven stories and miss nothing.

There's a marked improvement with the first standout story: Elizabeth E. Wein's "No Human Hands to Touch," an unlovable, intimate retelling of Morgan LeFay's relationship with Mordred. Doris Egan's "The Sweet of Bitter Bark and Burning Clove" is less profound, but successfully explores power dynamics, violence, and sensuality. Kelley Eskridge's "The Eye of the Storm" is my favorite, no contest—its exploration of violence, sensuality, poly dynamics, and the balance between personal need and social interaction is engrossing.* The unique concept and sympathetic, quiet execution of Mark Tiedemann's "Private Words" makes for the last standout story. I found this collection worth it for those four, but the rest is passable at best and a waste of time at worst. I don't recommend it—

—But for finding Eskridge's short fiction, I'm glad I read it.

* See also: Elizabeth A. Lynn's Chronicles of Tornor: similar second world settings, similar fluid interpersonal relationships, similar fluid physical redefinition, similar id-level wish-fulfillment, similar focus on interpersonal intimacy and personal growth, also, just, really good, both of them.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show), series 5, 2014
There's something reaffirming about British reality TV. It's certainly edited for drama, as this series's Bingate proves. But it feels less exploitive and competitive, more heartfelt. This was just so lovely to watch, playful and passionate and with engaging variety. I'm not sure I'd feel the same if I watched multiple series, but all reality TV dulls with repetition. I enjoyed this for what it was, and didn't need more.

Jessica Jones, season 1, 2015
My dislike of Daredevil made me hesitant to watch this, despite positive fan response. I should have listened to my gut. It does so many things right in its depiction of rape and trauma survival, even female characters—female showrunners help immensely, who would have thought!—and I appreciate that. But the larger story failed me: the noir/action styling is tiresome, the tie-ins to Marvel movie-verse out of place, and the plot is a string of twists motivated by unreliable characters—sometimes unreliable because of Kilgrave's mind control, as often unreliable for unrelated reasons, all of it off-putting. It's not you, Marvel (okay, well, sometimes it is); it's me. This isn't my thing. (Longer thoughts on what didn't work for me here on Tumblr.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin, film, 2011, dir. Lynne Ramsay
A necessary DNF; I remembered at the halfway mark that narratives about unwilling mothers and problem children make my skin crawl. Half of the movie is enough to get a feel for it. Swinton's performance is powerful; other characters, even eponymous Kevin, feel stiff, their functions too singular. The jumpy piecemeal narrative is stressful, but creates tension. I have no doubt that this film does what it intends, but I feel like I've encountered the same narrative—as intriguing and unsettling, as ultimately unproductive—in more watchable form in Law & Order episodes, of all things. This was, intentionally, but for me fatally, unpleasant.

Hide and Seek (Amorous), film, 2015, dir. Joanna Coates
A group of young adults absent themselves from society to live in a beautiful house in the country and begin a closed poly relationship—my perfect premise. This does every predictable thing that can be done with this setup—a disruption by an outsider, the threat of monogamy—but it's unique in one respect: the relationship survives. That never happens in this sort of story! It's refreshing and idyllic. Otherwise: the plot is slim, characterization thin; the acting is acceptable, but sells the awkward start better than the established relationship. The style is light, hazy, sunny, indie-artsy. This isn't a profound film, but I appreciate that it exists. And! queer representation! that isn't entirely drowned out by hetero configurations! (but is somewhat.)

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Ringers, film, dir. David Cronenberg, 1988
If you're me—and, luckily for me, I am—this is a delight. This film could be made just for me: unnaturally close twins have their relationship brought into question by an outsider, who ironically highlights but also endangers their codependency. Its metaphors grow strung out and exaggerated, but in a way that remains successful: it's at once heavy-handed and dreamlike, the literal surgical separation of non-conjoined twins. (Of course Cronenberg also directed Crash, which shares thematic, fevered intimacy metaphors.) The slightly dated aesthetic and slowish pace didn't even bother me, so perfectly suited was this to my id.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder that Shocked the World (Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century)
Author: Peter Graham
Published: New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013 (2011)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 384
Total Page Count: 153,943
Text Number: 450
Read Because: interest in the subject, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Only the ebook's new title is exploitative; Graham is even-tempered and moderate. Extraneous information is burdened by excessive detail while the limited number of quotes from Pauline's diaries goes unexplained, but on the whole: well-grounded and informative, thoughtful and respectful. But what makes this book fascinating is purely its content: not the fact of a murder, but the circumstances surrounding it.

It's startling how similar So Brilliantly Clever is to Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures—which says something flattering about the research that went into Heavenly Creatures, but says something more significant about this book's tone and, perhaps, the Parker-Hulme murder. Graham takes a broader and more critical view that Jackson, and yet there remains something beautiful, enviable, and utterly convincing in the relationship between Juliet and Pauline; Graham refuses to condone the murder, and yet—in a way he struggles to adequately explain—it feels entirely logical, even justified—yet, still, harrowing. So Brilliantly Clever is exactly what I hoped for, flawed perhaps but more than adequate as a study of something I find entirely compelling.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
So I recently read Royal Assassin, the second book in Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy; I reviewed it, but I also want to talk about it all fannish-wise.

I'm not a particular Farseer fan. I never read them growing up, but have been impressed with them—not as great literature, but they're consistently compelling; Hobb takes a leisurely pace that stresses daily interpersonal relations over high concept worldbuilding, which I appreciate. I don't love the characters, but I adore the tropes, so let's talk tropes.

Companion Animals
That'd be psychic- and/or magical-human/animal bonds. (TV Tropes: Bond Creatures.) I've been reading a lot of this trope over the last ~two years. The companion animal trope is usually marked for its idealization: an animal is exempt from the burden of normal human socialization, they're usually subservient, and their love is dog-pure. Farseer has a lot of that, especially in the heart-wrenching end of the first book. But the Wit is taboo because society believes intimacy with animals corrupts a man, and it's about that too: the messiness and inhumanness of being bonded to a beast—in a way more reminiscent of Iskryne/A Companion to Wolves than Pern or Valdemar.

Unusually Intimate Relationships
This isn't an established trope but it's Juu's personal hobbyhorse: relationships which are unusually intimate and/or are intimate in unusual ways are my favorite thing in all media. In Royal Assassin, Fitz forms psychic bonds with Prince Verity that last for months; they share each other's sexual urges and even inclinations. He fights with the spirit of his bond wolf, ripping out enemy throats with his teeth. He envies the potential intimacy of the Skill-bonded coterie, groups half-dozen large who share a psychic link. The book wallows deep in weird over-intimacies and the difficulty of navigating interpersonal relationships, and it's messy and discomforting and slyly idealistic—and so while none of the characters or even relationships particularly interest me, the cumulative effect is fantastic. This is Forbidden Circle level intimacy, graceless and compelling.

There's a bit of hurt/comfort mixed in, too; perhaps what impresses me most is how tropey or, even more, how id-level the book is. Suitable, I suppose, for Fitz's adolescence: it's a book about unapologetic and impolite gut desires as much as it is about loyalty and coming of age. In other words: entirely my thing.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy Book 2)
Author: Robin Hobb
Published: New York: Random House, 2002 (1996)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 752
Total Page Count: 151,186
Text Number: 441
Read Because: interest in the companion animal trope/continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Recovering from the events that end the first book, Fitz returns to a country caught in the grip of raider attacks and budding civil unrest. The first book in this series surprised me for its eminent readability and leisurely, immersive pacing. This sequel felt like more of the same—still good, but unoriginal. But as it comes into itself, it shines. Royal Assassin is about relationships—weird, psychic, overly intimate relationships that make Fitz feel crowded and lonely at the same time; the effort of maintaining relationships; imperfect messy intimacies like fighting with your teeth while bonded to a wolf or lusting after a woman while bonded to her husband. It's at the level of Bradley's The Forbidden Circle, engaging intimacy and taboo with little grace but great effect; not subtle, not even skillful, but compelling.

The intrigues of the plot which surrounds these relationships aren't particularly robust, but they're sufficent; the characterization is rocky, and Fitz's adolescence feels, frankly, shallow. The series is by no means great: it's frequently predictable, trope-reliant, and indulgent. But it's good, consistently engaging, and the id-level upon which this book lingers is a personal delight.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: The Dancers of Arun (The Chronicles of Tornor Book 2)
Author: Elizabeth A. Lynn
Published: New York: Ace Trade, 2000 (1979)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 245
Total Page Count: 125,603
Text Number: 363
Read Because: recommended by [personal profile] century_eyes, borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Crippled as a child, Kerris lives in Tornor Keep and trains as a scribe. But he's long had an unusual psychic link to his older brother Kel—and one day Kel comes to him and offers to take him away with his chearis, a group of dancing warriors. The Dancers of Arun is a distant, indirect sequel to Watchtower, and each book stands alone; it's similar to its predecessor in all the best ways, and improves on some of that book's flaws. Characters and their relationships star, with plot serving only as a vehicle towards character growth (the plot here is both more local and unique than in Watchtower). Kerris is a superb protagonist, a convincing young adult—immature but not petty, with distinct potential for growth—whose disability is important but not exploited. Unusual, intriguing, and beautifully rendered relationships abound: Lynn violates almost every heteronormative expectation without fetishizing the violations, and the emotional landscape that grows around Kerris is varied and vibrant, ranging from friendship to romance, from a chosen family of intimate friends to joyful polyamory; there's enough situational difficulty and character depth that it doesn't read as a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Lynn's prose remains somewhat stilted, and while functional the plot is far from memorable. But this is what my id is full of—troubled characters, complex emotions, unusual and lovely interactions—and so I find it hard to view The Dancers of Arun objectively and I certainly don't mind its flaws. I recommend it enthusiastically to any reader that shares a similar interest in character and relationship.

Review posted here on Amazon.com.

([livejournal.com profile] phoenixfalls you should totally still read Watchtower if/when you get around to it—but this book? read it someday? soon? please yes good do it do it DO IT. Seriously though, this is a lot of the tropes we've been talking about, packed densely into one beautiful place. Also: polyamory.)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: The Forbidden Circle: The Spell Sword / The Forbidden Tower
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Published: New York: Daw Books, 2002 (1974, 1977)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 493 (153, 340)
Total Page Count: 124,990
Text Number: 361
Read Because: recommended by [livejournal.com profile] phoenixfalls, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In The Spell Sword, Andrew is drawn to the isolated planet Darkover by the psychic vision of a woman he's never met, and there sets out to save her life. In The Forbidden Tower, Andrew and his newfound companions build a life together, one heretical to Darkover's traditions. It makes for an interesting pair. Sword is a competent but unremarkable quest novel, underlaid by character-driven subtleties: clashing cultures, reexamined social and gender identities, and fledgling non-normative relationships. It also introduces a telepathic magic system and society which in and of itself isn't particularly interesting, but which has vast, complex, and fascinating impacts on the characters. Tower moves subtext into text; it's slower and longer, a domestic saga driven by character while plot takes a back seat until the powerful ending. The transition from the implied to the explicit has its flaws: gender essentialism abounds, and the focus on heterosexual relationships and pregnancy threatens to smother the non-normative aspects; the magic system crumbles somewhat under such heavy scrutiny. But imperfect execution doesn't stop this from being an intriguing and compelling duology. These are books set in a world of telepathy and ritually controlled magic, but ultimately they are about the impact on the individual: how the intimacy of telepathy effects a social bond; how restrictions on telepathic practice limit and define telepaths. It's a focus I found personally rewarding and thought-provoking, and I enjoy and recommend these books despite their flaws; I don't know if I'll read more from the Darkover universe.

Review posted here on Amazon.com.

There were a number of flaws—in the magic system, the cultural details, and Bradley's conceptions of sexual activity—which bothered me a lot by the end of The Forbidden Tower.

Spoilers, and/or details that make no sense without context. )
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Title: Watchtower (The Chronicles of Tornor Book 1)
Author: Elizabeth A. Lynn
Published: New York: Ace Books, 1999 (1979)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 220
Total Page Count: 123,597
Text Number: 360
Read Because: recommended by [personal profile] century_eyes, borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Tornor Keep is captured by southern raiders, Ryke must become one of the new Lord's guardsmen in order to protect the life of the Keep's overthrown Prince—until both can find an avenue of escape. Watchtower has a terse, staccato, repetitive style that gives it deceptive speed and simplicity, but at its heart it's a deeply personal tale. This is fantasy without magic: a familiar but foreign setting, intricately realized and intensely problematic; the conflict between worldviews that arises within it is predictable but the depth of those experiencing it give it new life and bring with them subtle, fraught, affecting interpersonal relationships (and fairly diverse ones, especially for the book's release date). Ryke is a standout character whose repressed inner monologue exposes a difficult and conflicted man; his core companions are also strong, although characters grow increasingly archetypal the further they are from the heart of the story. All in all, a good book but not a great one, but it hits just enough of my favorite notes to keep me engaged. This book stands alone, and I moderately recommend it; I will probably try out the next in the series.

(The Ace trade edition I read is chockablock full of typos.)

Review posted here on Amazon.com.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I only IM with a few people, and only two on a daily basis, and one of them is Express. Express is the reason that my video game Tumblr exists: that I would put my video game liveblogs and gigantic essays there, instead of rapid firing them into his IM window.

So now I liveblog manga into his IM window.

I'm reading the manhwa Let Dai (find it here) and it is giving me a lot of feelings. Jaehee is an average, obedient high schooler until he spots a local gang targeting a classmate and is introduced to Dai, the head of the gang. Dai's intense beauty and psychopathic behavior fascinates Jaehee even as it revolts him, and the two are drawn inexorably together. I will write a review one day when I have finished it (I'm two thirds the way there now), but when I say I'm having a lot of feelings what I mean is OH GOD HOLD ME, MY HEART.

So in lieu of a proper post, I'll do that thing where I harvest my IM monologues and turn them into edited sentences.

I found Let Dai by searching for "twisted relationships manga" because I am super predictable. The site where I'm reading it posts two pages at a time, set at a default size I have to squint to read; magnifying it aggravates my repetitive stress issues: I am literally suffering to read this thing and it is worth it.

Hilariously—in a story which, while sexually inexplicit, is still about gangs and hormonal teenage boys and a psychopath—for the first couple volumes swearing is sometimes rendered as F$#@ing. Really. This is particularly hilarious when Dai shows up with FUCK written on his bandanna and then this becomes an actual thing which actually happens:

It sorta kills the immersion if you know what I mean. (Also the sound effects are ridiculous, especially early in.)

"It's raining crazy hard!," says Naru. "On a day like this, you should lie on your stomach, eat junk food, and read comic books 'til you pass out." Okay yes sounds like a plan I agree.

But under that: it's perfect. SPOILERS EVERYWHERE. Please no end spoilers in comments. )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
That moment when one of the largest emotional apexes thus far in that manga you're reading looks like:

I'm doing okay; I would be doing better if I hadn't been triggered by a couple of discussions of mental illness, but that's okay too. I had here some venting about my responses to that sort of stimuli, but I don't want to dwell or repeat myself so let's move on to:

While in hide-under-the-covers mode, I'm binging on media, specifically more unusually intimate relationships with a side of the easily consumable—better yet, the taboo/guilty pleasure nature of the former, plus the fact that it's basically id-fic for me, tends to lead to the latter. If there was anything I took away from Forbidden it was "I do love me summa that," so I added some more incest stories to my to read pile. Incest is the easiest way to find taboo/unusually intimate relationships in mainstream media; it's hard to keyword search other unusual character dynamics and other "taboo" relationship types, like polyamory or homosexuality, either aren't or at least shouldn't be treated as unusual.

Along that line, I just finished reading Koi Kaze, which I swear looks fine on every page but the one above.

Title: Koi Kazi (Love Wind)
Mangaka: Yoshida Motoi
Length: 5 volumes
Rating: 4 of 5
27-year-old Koshiro meets a girl under a sakura tree and spends an impromptu, romantic day with her in the park—and then learns that she's Nanoka, his 15-year-old sister who has come to live with him and his father while she attends school in Tokyo. Kaze Koi is a surprisingly sensitive handling of sibling incest; it avoids fetishistic pitfalls and is mindful of the reader's discomfort, pushing boundaries without going too far, avoiding easy answers but still suffusing its story with hope or, at least, love. Koshiro is a particular gem, keenly flawed but sympathetic. While the art wavers just on the safe side of competent, which sometimes saps beauty from the most romantic moments (Nanoka in particular suffers), the story shines: not flawless, with a slow start and a scattered ending, and not always subtle, but rendered with sensitivity and heart. Recommended.

That's the short form. In more depth, in which spoilers abound:

Seinen romances, least of all seinen taboo romances, are a hit and miss business at best: they're often surfeited with male gaze and every awful trope of Japanese fetishism, including the sort of bulbous curvy female character which I find triggering for completely different reasons. Thus Koi Kaze was a pleasant surprise: an age difference without reeking of lolita fetishism, an adolescent female character not defined by breasts, brother/sister incest that flirts with but doesn't rely on sibling complexes; in many ways Koshiro is still a stereotypical seinen protagonist, but heavy emphasis is placed on his weakness and vulnerability and Nanoka somehow becomes the stable figure in their relationship.

The art suffers Puella Magi Madoka Magica-syndrome. big heads and round shapes and sometimes everyone starts to look the same; as such it's hard to fall in love with Nanoka when Koshiro does, because the beauty he purports to see isn't visible on the page. (Ironically, Koshiro is often drawn surprisingly well.) This translation also falters at the beginning, bogged down by stilted language.

The average hetero relationship bores me because I've seen it all before, and what it all is is often problematic; an unusually intimate one, emphasis on the unusual, has the potential to break from that—so it's a bit disappointing to see this one try to meet a number of hetero benchmarks (what about getting married? what about having babies?). On the whole, however, it's incest handled with such sensitivity—not naivety, as Koshiro is an intensely physical creature, large and hairy and sometimes horny, despite his emotional vulnerability—and honestly to succumb to convention. Nor does it diffuse its subject, either by revealing that there's no blood relation or that the siblings don't feel related: family bonding is almost as important as the romantic relationship. As stated it has its flaws, but I was consisted pleased with Koi Kaze, glad I found it and that I read it.

Aaaaand I've been watching Supernatural season 7, in between Netflix's technical difficulties (the dialog track was missing for a while; yes, really). In case you were wondering, 7.15. "Repo Man" fulfills this trope—not with much depth, as per usual (if you're not Dean, Sam, or functionally a family member, then neither they nor the show has much time for your emotions), but:

Proto-serial killer becomes full-fledged serial killer when possessed, and after an exorcism will do anything to get his demon back? that's some beautiful co-dependency and unusual identities within and expressions of a relationship; it alone could be a much bigger story, and I wish it were.

...Thus making up for the fact that the episode itself felt out of place in season 7, which has been a rocky season so far: the nature of the Big Bad makes it difficult to fit them into a progressive plot arc, but there's too many major events with major supporting characters to lead well into monster-of-the-week episodes, making those feel disconnected and irrelevant. I like what's happening with those supporting characters, and this is some of my favorite Sam and Dean (between PTSD and a reasonable sense of betrayal, their suffering finally reeks less of manpain and is actually a reaction to things that happened to them, bless). But somehow I was expecting something more like the children of Echidna from the Leviathan, more colorful and diverse, less conspiracy-theory.

Hiding under blankets but still full of thoughtful criticism—so basically: same old, same old.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Forbidden
Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Published: New York: Simon Pulse, 2010
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 454
Total Page Count: 119,065
Text Number: 346
Read Because: mentioned here by [livejournal.com profile] she_shies_away, borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Their absent, alcoholic mother leaves seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya to raise their three younger siblings, but the circumstances that force them into pseudo-parenthood make them realize something else: somehow, despite their relation, they've fallen in love. Forbidden is a gritty Flowers in the Attic with a side of Romeo and Juliet. In place of gothic trappings is the minutiae of parental abandonment, from the mother's drunken behavior to Lochan's struggles with anxiety; he and Maya fight poverty and exhaustion to raise three realistically problematic children, and the family interactions are strongly realized. The romance that blooms in the midst of this is distinctly teenage. It's hormone-fueled and exists in a state of constant exaggeration with a side of prosecution complex; every argument is catastrophic, and the teens stare balefully out windows and contemplate the futility of their continued existences. This gives the romance little dignity, but it makes it compelling and convincing, sometimes even evocative, despite the lackluster writing and a first person narrative which headhops between Lochan and Maya but never establishes a unique voice for either. Altogether, Forbidden is a transparent, problematic, often artless book, and its gritty setting and dramatic taboo romance never quite jive, creating something between them which is dark and emotional but too graceless to leave much impact. Nonetheless, I consumed it in a day. If the content interests you, by all means pick it up: it delves in without restraint, and ultimately succeeds. Still I recommend it only moderately; there are too many flaws to overlook.

Review posted here on Amazon.com.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles)
Author: Jean Cocteau
Translator: Rosamond Lehmann
Published: New York: New Directions, 1966 (1929)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 183
Total Page Count: 117,674
Text Number: 342
Read Because: fan of Gilbert Adair's The Holy Innocents/The Dreamers; borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The unusual, violent intimacy of adolescent siblings Paul and Elizabeth only grows when they're orphaned; between them they build a strange and private Room—but it is too fragile to be maintained forever. The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles) is a book equally strange and fragile, holding its subject in a dreamlike haze: time skips forward and then lingers; the voice (distinctly in translation, but strong) embraces nuance, finding it even when the siblings are at their most absurd, but maintains awareness of its audience and affects an almost mythical tone; nonetheless the story itself is keenly personal—as cascade of events driven forward by the siblings, coming to an unavoidable end. The New Directions publication is accompanied by illustrations by the author, and text and art resemble one another: equally stylized, deceptively bare, littered by specific and iconic detail, deeply surreal.

The Holy Terrors is a direct inspiration to Gilbert Adair's The Holy Innocents (republished as The Dreamers), and the parallels are strong; fans of Adair's book (or the derivative film) will do well to encounter this one. And it stands alone. I hesitate to recommend it widely, as it is a strange book both in style and in content: a stone skipping across a lake of taboo. Personally I adored it, although its sparse and dreamlike style imposes necessary limitations; like a dream, it threatens to be fleeting yet lingers.

Review posted here on Amazon.com.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I've been watching a ridiculous amount of Supernatural lately. Stop! Hold your fangirling! I do not actually like it that much. I've been going through a rough time—a few solid months now of back pain and comorbid depression; mindless distraction is about all I'm good for, and Supernatural is plentiful and precisely mindless. I nearly gave up during the first season (as I liveblogged at the time: "Yup, women in Supernatural are like Bond girls: all the appearances of power and autonomy and competence, except that they're all traditionally attractive (and white) and replaceable/interchangeable. It's as much chick of the week as it is monster of the week. Super classy guys, nice going."), but stuck with it because I liked the aesthetic (so much better in the first few seasons, when it's a Sleepy Hollow ever-autumn of midwestern forest and desaturated color) and it eventually developed a plot.

I started season six yesterday, and I'm still here mostly because it's there: with a few exceptions the plot works for me, but I've yet to develop an emotional attachment to almost anything. The "almost" is Castiel, who is perfect. Misha Collins is a superb actor; he pulls off the possession/multiple character aspect with a skill that the rest of the cast should envy, and brings enough depth and humor to his character that I actually give a damn. I don't give a damn about much else—the stakes should be huge, and the characters claim to suffer so much; eventually it even pulls away from women in refrigerators, a small blessing. But so help me, even when bad things are happening directly to the boys themselves do not pass go do not collect $200, it all reeks of manpain. Look, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes either, but you have family, biological and otherwise, to love you (so please put away the goddamn brotherly angst) and at least be thankful you're impervious to actual death or bodily harm—unlike the hundreds and thousand of civilians who suffer in the course of the show. It's not bad, a few specific episodes (5.9 "The Real Ghostbusters" goddamn) aside; it's perfectly watchable, an increasingly strong balance of episodic and overarching; I've yet to find either Sam or Dean attractive but that's okay because Cas and I will get married soon and have awkward angel babies.

But then some new films went up on Netflix instant, some of which were on my physical disc queue, so I took a break and watched them.

Did you know it's possible to tell compelling stories about female characters? To cast and costume women not as a decorated, sexualized Other, but rather as a diverse group of unique individuals? (Supernatural does subtle, natural makeup and grooming on men, but women must look made up, with visual makeup atop their traditionally attractive appearance—it's not just about being appealing, but about the cultural demand on women to make themselves appealing.) To have multiple women in a scene, having conversations among themselves, perhaps with no men present? Maybe even to explore the same aspects, like objectification and gender roles, which make Supernatural so innocuous but so troubling? See, I had forgotten.

I watched St. Trinian's—a group of students save a wacky private school for strange, erstwhile unschoolable girls. It's not meters deep but it's just what I expected, and delightful as such: colorful, silly, with some fantastic character design (amid plenty that's just okay) and an encouraging, if not entirely unproblematic, assumption that women can dress, speak, and do just about anything they want with any possible motivation. Who would have thought!

I watched Sleeping Beauty, which stars Emily Browning and is a fascinating inverse companion to Sucker Punch: Sucker Punch tries to have its cake and eat it too, exploring the issues of women's objectification and sexual exploitation while objectifying and sexually exploiting its cast, yet nonetheless creating a somehow fantastic exploration of sexual violence and dissociation (well discussed here). Sleeping Beauty is more about the desperate search for dissociation, prompted not by distinct sexual trauma but rather by an insidious prolonged culture of female objectification; it's explicitly sexual, but cold, almost sterile, and only once remotely titillating and there in the strangest way. It's almost too oblique and perhaps too cold to be completely successful, but it captivated me.

I watched Sister My Sister, a dramatization of the Papin murder case which is good but on the whole a poor cousin to Heavenly Creatures (read my nattering about that film here): same basis in true crime, where an unusually intimate relationship leads to murder, but Sister My Sister is less vibrant and more absurd in its mundanity, and so less memorable despite offering an compelling glimpse into class and family relationships. But it grabbed me in the opening credits, because nearly every name is female: producers, director, writer, and every actor (there are two male voiceovers, but no men seen in the entire production). Supernatural's credits are a predictable but depressing inverse.

I recommend all three films, by the way.

It's not that Supernatural is a horrible awful no-good egregious example of misogyny in media. It's that it's dead-center normal. It's that I would really like to watch something which is accessible and consumable enough for my addled brain, but has strong female characters or queer relationships or just about anything non-heteronormative and empowered which actually made me feel okay about being a living breathing human being, and my options for such range between limited and nonexistent: this run of good films is as miserable as it is refreshing, because I know too well that they're the exception to the general rule—a rule so general, so pervasive, that even when I see and know that it's being followed I may forget that it could ever be broken.


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

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