09 December 2013

Book review: Remnant Population

Remnant Population, by Elizabeth Moon

Ofelia is a woman in her 70s who lives on a colony world and works on a farm. As the story opens, she has just learned that Sims Bancorp, the company she "works" for and which owns the rights to colonizing that world, has lost their license and are not renewing it. When she gets the order to go into cryosleep, for which her son and daughter-in-law have to pay, because the company sees Ofelia as useless cargo likely to die on the way, she says to hell with that and stays behind.

After some time, another company makes a colonization attempt, except their chosen site is already occupied by sentient indigenous animals, who attack the landing party. Ofelia encounters them soon after, and she learns about their ways. A team comes to study them, and Ofelia has to convince them not to follow the Prime Directive, because she's already showed them human technology. Also, the aliens are really smart and curious.

This is a very slow-paced book. It's told primarily from the perspective of Ofelia, with occasional digressions to the aliens and other humans. It's about what it's like to be female in a society that has structural sexism built in (much like modern society!). Ofelia has been disrespected her entire life, by the people who wouldn't let her take the scholarship to study, by her parents, by her husbands (in succession, not simultaneously), her children, her daughter-in-law. When the survey team shows up, they dismiss her as a senile old woman.

When Ofelia is finally alone, with no one to give her dirty looks for not wearing shoes, for example, she discards her shoes. She discards her clothes, too, feeling free and without shame for the first time in her life. She starts wearing a shawl when she gets sunburned in her garden.

She is finally allowed to live for herself when everyone she had to take care of is gone.

There's a poignant moment when Ofelia discovers that the indigenes are highly intelligent and extremely curious. She muses that children were that curious, until adults beat the curiosity out of them.

On the whole, I liked this book. It tends toward the anthropological, but of our society. In addition to the look at what being a woman of a certain age is like, there are also some critiques of corporatism and an homage to the old company store days. If you can handle a slow-paced opening, you may enjoy it, too.

02 December 2013

What I'm reading

After the frenzy of reading between the Hugos and my Viable Paradise instructors, I was feeling a bit burned out on the whole reading thing. That, and I was trying to wrangle several stories to submittable quality while organizing a two-week stay in Germany.

I picked up my e-reader to see what the last thing I was reading was, and it's John Joseph Adams' post-apocalypse anthology, whose name I'm blanking on right now, and my e-reader is upstairs. I got about halfway through that and had some really weird dreams, so I set it aside for a time when I wouldn't be reading right before bed.

Then I re-read The Hobbit. I can't remember the last time I read it, and I found the first page of a North Carolina voter registration card tucked inside it. I registered to vote here in 1999. The tone is definitely different than that of LOTR; it's much more childish, like your slightly off uncle telling you a story. (There are a lot of asides and comments from an I-narrator, so it's framed without being explicitly set up as a frame story.)

While I was up at my college reunion, I picked up a few books at the Friends of the Library book sale. $1 each. One I got was Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. I wasn't sure what it was about, but I knew it wasn't in the middle of a series, and I'd heard a lot of people mention it. I'm about halfway through, so now I remember that it was mentioned in the context of having older female protagonist. I'll let you know what I think when I finish it.

I'm also reading a large stack of textbooks on language acquisition theory and didactic methodology, though I started taking the test on this module, so there's less reading and more "Oh, damn, where was that bit?" followed by *flip through the pages*, as well as scribbling notes that I'll turn into my answers. I don't really miss school.

29 November 2013

Raising funds for my education

I don't often post personal things here, because I have other online platforms for that, so people who only follow this blog (if that's anyone at all) don't get to read about the more mundane things going on in my life.

One thing I'm currently doing in addition to writing is studying to teach German as a foreign language. I'm taking a distance learning course through the Goethe Institute, at the end of which I'll get a certificate that says I am capable of teaching German as a foreign language. One of the requirements is either to get 120 hours of teaching experience (which, as you may know, is difficult to do without already having experience to get the job...) or to do a 50-hour practicum in an approved location. Because of various factors, like there not being any schools where I could get a 50-hour practicum anywhere within 200 miles of my house (yes, I emailed the local high schools that offer German, too, and asked about student teaching), I'm doing this practicum at the Goethe Institute Mannheim.

That means buying plane tickets, and paying for housing, public transit, food, and other incidentals. Which is expensive. I found a room in a shared flat for €90/week, which is much cheaper than a hotel (the cheapest of which I found was €32/night), and I procrastinated/was indecisive long enough on buying plane tickets that the price dropped $100+, so I got them for three digits instead of four.

Because I haven't been paid for working in a long time and I used my savings to pay for Viable Paradise, I've gone the route of many other people and started an online fundraising campaign at GoFundMe. I've offered a few reward levels for things like German lessons and translation assistance, because I feel weird just asking for money without anything in return. I may add a level of "digital photograph of something in Mannheim or Stuttgart" (I'm visiting a friend there after the practicum).

So if you have a few spare dollars that you want to toss in my basket because you like reading this blog, please do! Or if you liked reading my story U8: Alexanderplatz (1989), there's a PayPal button at the bottom of that page.

If you donate, I thank you. If you share this link with your friends, I'm grateful.

19 November 2013

This is a problem.

There's someone out there who thinks my email address is theirs. Normally it's just a nuisance, like the eye doctor in Wilmington who used it to apply for a job, or the law student in Chicago who put it down as the contact info for a reference for the bar, or the person who used it to sign up for a textbook rental site, or the person who put it for their Verizon contact info, or the guy who used it on his jobs.gov account and wondered why he wasn't getting any confirmation emails.

More annoying is the Charles Covington who is using it for athene live, which appears to be some sort of video sharing site. What makes this exciting is that I can actually log in to his billing information, because the billing company sends me a link directly to his billing that doesn't even require me to enter a password. (Note to web developers: THIS IS A REALLY FUCKING BAD IDEA.)

Most recently, however, it's gone a bit disturbing. Here are three screenshots from my mail recently.


I am quite sure I haven't signed up for porn cams or hookup sites. The IP address in the first one maps to a mobile device on T-Mobile in Kansas.

If any of you are brave enough to log in to that site, let me know what happens.

18 November 2013

In which I express my disdain for the idea of a Loki movie and enrage half the internet

I've seen calls across the web, like this one, for a standalone Loki movie. I am not on board with that at all.

Don't get me wrong: I think Tom Hiddleston is a great actor, and Loki is a very interesting, complicated villain. However, I'm going to argue that we don't need Yet Another Marvel Movie About A (White) Dude.

According to wikipedia, these are the solo Marvel movies made since 1998, including movies currently in production/planning.

1998 Blade
2002 Blade II
Spider-Man
2003 Daredevil
Hulk
2004 The Punisher
Spider-Man 2
Blade: Trinity
2005 Elektra
2007 Ghost Rider
Spider-Man 3
2008 Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Punisher: War Zone
2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2010 Iron Man 2
2011 Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
2012 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The Amazing Spider-Man Columbia Pictures
2013 Iron Man 3
The Wolverine
Thor: The Dark World
2014 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
2015 Ant-Man

That's 26 solo hero movies, only one of which stars a female hero (Elektra, 2005, which was reportedly a terrible movie). Twenty-five male-led superhero franchise movies. Twenty-five. If we just stick to the Avengers, there are nine. And is anyone seriously excited about an Ant-Man movie, starring serious asshole Hank Pym?

I get it. People love Loki because he's a giant woobie and Hiddles is cute and ridiculously talented. That doesn't earn him male-led movie number twenty-six.

The first page I linked to has links to petitions for a Loki movie and for a female-led superhero movie. The Loki petition currently (11:51 am 11/16) has 35,526 signatures. The female-led one? 275, and the hero on the cover is Sif.

Forty percent of the CIA's operatives are women. Black Widow is popular, though not as popular as Woobie-Destroyer-of-Worlds-Loki. A post which asks tumblr users to reblog if they think Black Widow should have a solo movie only has 3462 notes. This post, in which someone imagines a Black Widow trailer hijacking a "Loki" trailer has 29,500 notes, but humorous posts get a lot of notes on tumblr.

One popular reading of Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" was that it's Black Widow's movie, because she basically carries the story. If an ensemble movie starring a team of five (white) dudes and a lady (plus Coulson and Fury and Hill, but they're not The Avengers) is the best we can hope for a female hero movie, that is bullshit.

It's 2013. Movie studios no longer have the excuse that female-led action movies don't appeal to a broad audience (read: 18-25-year-old white males, who aren't even the biggest movie-going demographic, but that's another rant altogether). Strictly speaking, Sigourney Weaver (Alien) and Linda Hamilton (Terminator) proved them wrong back in the 80s, but this little movie about a girl named Katniss Everdeen, maybe you heard of it? The sequel's coming out this week? Yeah. And there are more. (Hanna. Oh god that movie.)

So why the fuck NOT have a Black Widow solo movie, where she's leaving the KGB and coming to work for SHIELD? Give me Natalia Romanova or Natasha Romanoff, spying, kicking ass, infiltrating, and being a goddamn HBIC. Or, if Hollywood requires a man in action movies because of bullshit reasons, I would settle for Clint and Natasha being snarky and competent, spying and kicking ass together. Or even a "when Natasha met Clint and they had to learn to trust each other and work together" movie. And they never sleep together, because god can't we just have a movie about a man and a woman who are friends but not lovers?

There has been a massive discussion about inclusivity in media (comics, movies, novels, games) and in fandom, and how fandom isn't welcoming to people who aren't (straight) white men. Supporting Yet Another Movie About A (white) Dude does not promote inclusivity, does not welcome women into fandom.

Yes, I certainly enjoy looking at Chris Hemsworth's biceps and Chris Evans' pecs, and I can't deny that attractive male actors are a draw. But I don't want to BE Thor or BE Steve Rogers. They aren't characters I can identify with.

When I see Scarlett Johansson on screen as Black Widow, I see a character I could fantasize about being. I've said that I want to be Black Widow when I grow up. I can identify with her. In Iron Man 2, she's patronized. (and this version has even better commentary.) She's probably had to put up with a lot of that shit in her life, as a relatively diminutive woman.

So, in conclusion, women also watch action movies for escapism, and you should support a female-led MCU film (especially if it's Black Widow) before a Loki movie.

11 November 2013

Armistice Day

"Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

08 November 2013

Friday things and a grammar rant

I currently have two short stories out on submission, and I'm working on revising a third, which I'd like to get out by Thanksgiving, possibly. This is highly unusual, because I don't generally write short fiction. Also, it's distracting me from finishing my current novel in progress, so I want to get it out of the way.

People who don't understand the difference between forms of to be as linking verbs, as past continuous, and as passive voice need to learn their grammar again. "was" does not mean "OMG PASSIVE VOICE! DELETE! DELETE!" I've run into people pontificating about the perils of the passive and how "was" is a terrible verb recently who clearly have no idea what they're talking about, so here's a little help.

For example, "The sky was a beautiful, brilliant blue the morning the world ended" does not contain passive voice, despite the presence of "was." It connects the sky (subject) to a predicate adjective (blue). Not passive! Yay!

"I was sitting at the table, drinking coffee and reading the paper, when the world ended" also does not contain passive voice. This is an example of the past continuous (aka past progressive), which indicates two things that happen simultaneously or one that is interrupted by the other. Not passive! Yay!

"When the world was invaded, billions of people were killed" is passive voice! Twice! Yay! If you can follow the verb with "by zombies" or "by aliens" or "by a swarm of killer bees" and have it make sense, then you have passive voice. Otherwise, you have either a linking verb or past progressive.

The world was invaded by aliens == makes sense == passive voice.

The sky was a beautiful blue by aliens == wtf? == not passive voice.

I was sitting at the table by aliens == wtf? == not passive voice.

This has been your grammar rant of the day.

06 November 2013

Current anime season roundup

I'm watching a lot of shows this season. Let's see if I can remember them all for this post.

Returning
Valvrave the Liberator: Picking up where it left off in summer, Valvrave continues the story of the space colonist high school students who think they can be a real government and outwit the other governments made up of real politicians. I'm finding that I hate it less than last season, because the increasing levels of WTFery seem to have plateaued. I mean, once you have space vampires and space nazis, an evil space illuminati isn't that much of a stretch. Also, there's more L-elf, who is actually competent and knows what he's doing, and he's in charge. They also appear to be pandering to fangirls with L-elf and Haruto. Watch it on Crunchyroll.

New
Gingitsune: Gintaro is a fox spirit in a shrine. Makoto is the priestess (in training) at the shrine. She can see Gin and other holy spirits. Her father invites the son of his teacher's fellow student to live with them, and when Satoru arrives, a young fox spirit is with him. I think this show is a lot of fun, mainly because I want a sarcastic fox spirit with a giant floofy tail of my very own. Makoto has traits that remind me of Tohru from Fruits Basket (relentlessly cheerful; helpful, if clumsy). Watch it on Crunchyroll.

Gundam Build Fighters: Bandai & Sunrise made a show about building plastic model kits (plamo or gunpla), because they knew fanboys would eat that shit up and also buy their plastic model kits. The trick is that they handwaved a magic game system where people put their models and fight other people's models, and the fighter's strength is based on how good the model work is. I'm not making this up, I swear. This show is targeted at avid Gundam fans, and it includes mecha from all the series. I'll be happy if I can buy a GP-02 model kit because of this show, though I'm reminded of the large stack of gunpla I need to build...

Kill La Kill: Ryuko Matoi arrives at Honnouji Academy to find out who killed her father and stole the other half of his magic scissors. Honnouji is under the control of Satsuki Kiryuin, who is working to take over all of Japan and turn it into a weird fascist system. School council members get special uniforms that grant them superhuman abilities. Ryuko finds a special uniform under the ruins of her family home. It is very strange, and every episode has homages to old anime. It treads a fine line between self-awareness of the trope of female armor that isn't really armor and fanservice pandering. (I think it falls slightly on the self-aware side.) Watch it on Crunchyroll.

Samurai Flamenco: Model and sentai-show fan Masayoshi Hazama decides to put on a costume and become a vigilante. He meets police officer Hidenori Goto, who tries to convince him to give it up and let the pros handle it. Hazama doesn't listen. He befriends an idol singer who is also a sentai-show fan, and she teams up with him. It's very silly. Watch it on Crunchyroll.

04 November 2013

Book review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora, as you may guess from the title, is a liar. He's very good at it, as a matter of fact, and he uses his skill at lying to separate rich fools from their money.

His little band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards, steals for the funsies. They don't know what to do with all the money they've amassed. They can't spend it, because Capa Barsavi, the mafioso-like head of the thieves' underworld, thinks they're just a little outfit set up in a fake temple. And, aside from that, stealing from the nobility is against the thieves' code.

A man styling himself the Grey King comes into Camorr, and he starts killing thieves. Locke finds himself entangled in the Grey King's plotting, much to his dismay.

Locke gets in way over his head, thanks to his own hubris. Very Greek, really.

Lynch's skill here is making Locke, someone you really wouldn't want to meet in person, unless you're joining his merry band, a protagonist the reader can root for. Locke is clever and witty, and his oversized personality sucks the reader in.

Lynch also manages to make not-strictly-linear storytelling work. The background of Locke's childhood, and why the Thiefmaker sold him to Father Chains, what his big sin was, is revealed at a pace that works to further the main plot. One section of plot is told in almost reverse chronological order, something like M-W-L-X-K-Y-J-Z-H-I. It seems overly complicated when I type it out like that, but it isn't at all in the book. And it's absolutely the right decision for the story.

If you enjoyed Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books, you will probably enjoy this. I haven't yet read the next two installments (have you seen my to-read pile?), but I intend to.

01 November 2013

Photo Friday

My 15-year college reunion was fun. I got to see my friends and the new things on campus. The leaves were turning, so the mountains were really pretty.

I'd forgotten just how beautiful and how depressing central Pennsylvania is. Driving on the highway in the mountains and seeing clouds casting shadows on the ground below, or on the next ridge over. The comforting feeling of being in a valley. The isolation and loneliness of rural life.

I grew up in Frederick, MD, back when it was an army base, a college, and a bedroom community for Bethesda. It's grown a lot since then, and badly. There's only so far you can widen roads, especially when public transit isn't on the table. My route north took me through there, and I hadn't been back in a few years, since my mom moved away.

The Blue Ridge Mountains were always part of my life. They were always just off to the west a bit, on the horizon. Where I live now, I'm nowhere near close enough to see them. The Piedmont is an hour or two west, the Blue Ridge another hour beyond that. I miss that.

I was hit with a wave of unexpected nostalgia when I went to campus to pick up my registration materials, so I took a walk. I always loved wandering campus at night.
Ellis Hall
Ellis Hall, the student union and cafeteria
von Liebig Science Center
The Justus von Liebig Center for Science (this didn't exist when I was a student!)
von Liebig theater
The von Liebig theater, attached to the old theater (this is also new)
north campus
A look from central campus toward the northern residence halls
Founders Hall
Founders Hall, expanded and renovated since I graduated

I took a drive out to the expanded field station, on land leased from the Army Corps of Engineers at Raystown Lake (which the ACE built). I'd never gone as a student, so I took this opportunity. Biology students can live out here for a semester, take classes, and do research. The new lodges and the main building are LEED certified, and they have composting toilets. Very eco-friendly.

25 October 2013

Regular posting will resume. Eventually.

I'm spending this weekend in my car (14 hours in 72) to go to my 15-year college reunion in Pennsylvania. At some point, my life will settle back down enough that I can spend a couple hours a week working on blog posts.

21 October 2013

Viable Paradise 17

It is extraordinarily difficult to encapsulate what happened during my week on Martha's Vineyard. I can give you a list of all the events that occurred, but it is insufficient to convey the emotional aspects. One of my classmates is working on a day by day series starting here, and I'm not going to go into quite as much detail as he is.

The listy, here's what happened part
Actually getting to Martha's Vineyard is an ordeal. For me it involved a flight on a 4-across plane up to Boston (2 hours), then a ride down to the ferry station at Woods Hole with the delightful Julia Rios, who I hadn't had much chance to talk with in a few years, (~1.75 hours), grabbing a sandwich while waiting for the ferry, the long water voyage (45 mins) for which the curing of scurvy would be required, and a ride over to the inn. I left my house around 7:15 am and got to the Inn around 3:30 pm (after a brief stop for groceries). I unpacked, settled in, and socialized until dinner/orientation.

The rest of the week followed a pattern: Monday through Wednesday we had group critique sessions from 9-10:30, lecture from 10:30 to noon, and an optional lunch session. Monday and Tuesday we had afternoon lecture/collegium from 1:30-4:15, followed by one-on-one sessions, then dinner at 6:30. Wednesday we had free after morning lecture, to give us time to work on our writing assignments. Thursday and Friday had no group critiques or one-on-ones, just lectures and collegia. All day. In uncomfortable chairs. Tuesday night was a round robin reading of a Shakespeare play, during which I got to play with my outrageous French accent.

The Monday evening excursion to see the bioluminescent jellyfish was worth it. There was another Friday night, when Bear walked around to all the rooms and said, "Jellyfish walk." Take the jellyfish walk.

There's a highly optional 6:30 am walk with Uncle Jim, which I was never awake for. Actually, technically, nothing is mandatory: we're all adults, and we can make our own decisions. At the same time, though, you paid your money and made the journey; skipping all the lectures is a complete waste of your time. (Only Mandatory Fun is mandatory.)

Because I finished my reading for Wednesday's critique session during the break before my one-on-one, I was able to hammer out my first draft of the writing assignment late Tuesday. That meant I had Wednesday afternoon mostly free (I needed to revise, after all), so I took a walk with staff member Pippin down to Methodist Munchkinland (technically the MV Methodist Camp something) while my classmates worked. I didn't want to bother them by being bored and talky, so I took my energy elsewhere. (I did feel really weird about writing such a short story that I was done so early, like I needed to make it longer. And now, for my sins, I have to revise it and make it longer.) I scouted what was still open in town, and after an excursion for dinner, I joined in the revision and a critique swap (until midnight, when I decided I was DONE and needed liquor).

The less boring part
One of the stories I was given to critique in my group was hard for me to read, because it hit close to home. And I started crying giving feedback in the circle. (The descriptions of losing a pet were very accurate and effective. One of my comments on the paper was "ugly sobbing.") I suppose that was a bonding experience for us...

The level of feedback from the students was good, especially by Wednesday, when we'd been through a couple rounds and learned more of what to look for. The instructors' feedback, both in group and one-on-ones, was helpful. One thing I kept reminding myself (and everyone else) when we expressed doubt that our writing was any good was that the instructors have no reason to inflate our egos by lying to us and telling us we're better writers than we are. We got in; there is some element in our writing that is not-quite-there-yet in a way that the instructors can teach us to fix.

The emotional part
Being at VP is a strange experience. You have your peers (classmates) and the instructors. But it's not really set up as strata, where the instructors dispense wisdom from on high. They're approachable. They'll answer your questions about submitting to markets, about what was discussed in lectures or critiques that day, about books in general, and everything else. Yes, many of them had their own normal work to do, but if they were in the common areas, they were game for socializing.

You spend a whole week thinking and talking about books and stories and writing, with side conversations about getting to know each other, current events (the day we got a government again was nice), fangirling the hell out of Pacific Rim (maybe that was just us), and just anything and everything. You have to read 40,000 words (max) and give critique on them. There is a kind of bonding that occurs through adversity, and another through proximity. VP gives both.

Viable Paradise is a liminal place. It's a temporary establishment on a place reached by a journey (across water!). The students are in a transition from good writers to professional writers. Lots of symbolism in liminality.

What I learned
I learned a lot of ways to be a more deliberate writer. I write subconsciously, so all the cool things like thematic ties and symbolism that people picked up on in my story weren't there by any deliberate act of mine. The subconscious is pretty cool, though, and it does things you don't even notice. But I'd like to be more deliberate in my work, so that will help.

I learned that I'm a better writer than I think I am. I learned that there are some types of lyrical prose that don't make me want to stab my eyeballs out, even if I'm not following the story at all. I learned that I can write outside my usual comfort zone.

I learned things I already sort of knew but at a higher level and with better explanations behind them. I had a few "OH THAT RIGHT" moments while frantically scribbling notes.

This was the right workshop at the right time for me. I'm glad I applied, and I'm glad I met everyone. Miss you already!

11 October 2013

Friday flailing

T minus 46 hours until I depart for Viable Paradise. Actually, that's when my plane leaves, so it's T minus 44 hours from when I leave my house. I haven't packed yet; my laundry is drying on the rack in the bathroom. I have tomorrow, after all, and a packing list.

My packing list is on a sheet of lined A4 paper (I have a lot of notebooks left over from my junior year of college in Germany), two columns, about 3/4 of the page, with notations, deletions, additions. I should make a to-do list that's full of "don't forget to get money from the ATM"-type things. Because I want to have some cash for incidentals like food at the grocery store and Dunkin Donuts at the airport (because fuck yeah donuts.)

I'm working on a short story to submit after the workshop is over. I've almost got it to a place I can send it to beta readers, so I hope I can get there today, since tomorrow is going to be a whirlwind of "do I need this?" "Where did I put that?" "Why won't this fit?"

I don't know if I'll have time to get any blogging in tomorrow (which is when I usually queue my posts for the week), so there may be nothing from me until after I get back next week.

09 October 2013

Anime you should watch: Gankutsuou

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, written by Natsuko Takahashi and Tomohiro Yamashita, directed by Mahiro Maeda/GONZO, 2004

This retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is set in the year 5053, in France. The art is very stylized, and GONZO was experimenting a lot with colors and textures in the animation.

Gankutsuou box set cover

A mysterious man calling himself the Count of Monte Cristo appears to young Albert Morcerf while Albert is on vacation on the moon colony, and the Count works his way into the Morcerf family's confidence when they return to Paris. The Count's secret identity is Edmond Dantes, who was Albert's mother's lover and who was unjustly imprisoned in the Chateau d'If.

In the Chateau d'If, Dantes met a demon, Gankutsuou, who made a deal for his freedom. Dantes is free, and he's seeking revenge.

I haven't actually read the classic novel, so I don't know how closely it follows the original. I don't think there are any literal demons involved in Dumas' version, just the usual figurative ones. This version focuses on Albert and his friends, and the new relationship between Albert and the Count.

It was originally released in the US by Geneon, who were among the casualties of the anime bubble burst. Funimation rescued the license and has released it in a value pack. You can watch all 24 episodes on Crunchyroll or hulu.

07 October 2013

Books I love: Swordspoint

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, 1987.

The book opens thus:

Snow was falling on Riverside, great white feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the fa├žades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the contours of jagged roof and fallen beam. [...]
Let the fairy tale begin on a winter's morning, then, one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff.

Richard St. Vier is a swordsman who lives in the mean streets of Riverside. Nobles from up on the Hill hire him to duel for their honor, to first blood or to the death. His signature is a killing blow straight to the heart, very difficult, but he's the best.

Alec Campion is a student with a secret past, and he has a bad habit of trying to get himself killed in bar fights. Fortunately (or not) for him, St. Vier took a liking to him and will defend him from the attackers. Sometimes Alec starts fights on purpose, just so he can watch Richard work.

The plot is twisty and full of intrigue, intricate and intimate. Richard and Alec's love story is at the heart of the novel, but there is another larger plot going on around them. There's a power play going on among the nobles, into which Richard and Alec are drawn, in no small part because of Alec's secret past*.

Alec isn't the most likable character; he's an ass, a drug addict, and a bit of a liar. Richard is a cold-blooded killer, with a soft spot for Alec.

Kushner has said that everyone in her books is bisexual; Richard had a wife, and Alec had several female lovers. (Yet people still classify them as "gay lovers;" the book is on lists of books with gay main characters. Bisexual erasure: it's a real thing.) This is wonderful and still rare in publishing.

The edition I own, Bantam Spectra 2003, includes three short stories: "The Swordsman Whose Name was Not Death," how Richard met Alec, "The Death of the Duke," as it says on the tin, and "Red-Cloak," a tale of a duel between Richard and a man who may not have been as he seemed, as well as an afterword by Kushner.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys political intrigue, romance between two extremely flawed individuals, and beautiful, evocative writing. I hope you love it as much as I do.

*SPOILER: he's the heir to Duchess Tremontaine.

04 October 2013

Friday miscellany

I'm getting my hair cut today. It's in dire need. My last haircut was in July, and I'm feeling awfully shaggy.

I'm working on a short story (I so rarely write them) this week, and I hope to get it out sometime this month. Most likely after VP... (OMG 9 days.)

My fifteen-year college reunion is coming up! And I'll be driving up to Pennsylvania less than a week after I get back from VP. I'm staying with a friend from college who still lives up there, because by the time I decided to go, all the hotels were booked out. Or over $100 a night. I still have the picture of the 15 chem majors I graduated with framed on my bookshelf. (And I'm really surprised that freshman enrollment is over 400; I started with about 250.)

02 October 2013

Anime season recap: summer 2013

The season has ended, and three shows I was watching concluded.

attack on titan
Attack on Titan: Recommended, with the caveat that it's brutal and bleak and bloody and giants eat (or squish) everyone you love. The animation quality is absurdly high. Not all of the plot threads are resolved: what is under the remains of Eren's house in Shiganshina? What secret about the titans will he find there? I hope there's another series in a few seasons that answers those questions.


genshiken nidaime
Genshiken Nidaime: Recommended if you liked original flavor Genshiken. This follows the current run of the manga, with Ogiue as club president and Ohno working on graduating, plus a handful of fujoshi who join the club. The cross-dressing subplot is handled ... (in comparison to other recent anime) not too horribly, but it may make some viewers in the trans* community uncomfortable.



free!
Free!: I won't recommend this (the story isn't anything to write home about), but it's definitely fun, if you enjoy bishounen reverse harem shows.

30 September 2013

Book review: Cast in Shadow

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Kaylin serves in the Hawks, a sort of police department, in Elantra. She's summoned to the Hawklord's office one morning to receive an assignment and two partners. One of the partners is an old friend who betrayed her seven years before and she hasn't forgiven him. (Her first instinct is to attack him.) The other is a Dragon.

The assignment is to find out who is killing children in the fief (borderland towns that are rather lawless) of Nightshade, just like children were killed seven years before, when strange markings appeared on Kaylin's arms and legs.

There are bird-people (Aerians), lion-people (Leontines), people with mind-reading tentacles (Tha'alani), mages, elves (Barrani), and, yes, dragons. Many of these creatures live happily together in Elantra and work together in the Hawks.

This book feels like it should be a second book when it begins. The reader is dropped right into the middle of things, with little explanation (why Kaylin hates Severn isn't told until almost 3/4 of the way through). Eventually things begin to make more sense, as Kaylin stumbles deeper into the mystery, but I was frustrated at many points in the first half of the book.

When the action started picking up in the middle, I became less frustrated. Except I wanted more explanations than people were giving to Kaylin.

Kaylin is a very imperfect protagonist: she's always late; she's impulsive; she has no desire to learn anything she doesn't consider useful. These are rare traits in female protagonists, and I applaud Sagara for giving them to Kaylin. I couldn't really identify with her (I'm punctual to a fault, and I like learning things), which may have put me off her character a bit. Sometimes I wanted to shake Kaylin for being a stubborn brat; sometimes I wanted to shake the people who weren't telling her everything she needed to know to make good decisions.

The ending was interesting and unexpected; I didn't understand Nightshade's explanation of why he didn't kill the villain. Sometimes I need things spelled out a lot more than authors give me. The romance felt a bit shoehorned in (it was published by a Harlequin imprint), but it was believable.

I liked this book well enough; if you like fantasy with emperors and dragons and magic (and old magic), you might enjoy it.

27 September 2013

Friday miscellany

Happy Friday!

Preparation for Viable Paradise continues apace. I went to Target for some food, a pair of leggings, and a new mini blender, and I also left with 3 new long-sleeved shirts and 4 bags of Halloween candy in addition. (Pumpkin spice M&Ms: pretty good. Caramel apple Milky Ways: OK. It's the same base as the Midnights, just flavored with apple.)

I saw a display of shirts as I was walking down one of the main aisles, and I said "oh hey, I could use these." So I got 3: red, purple, and brown. I didn't know they were buy 2 get $4 off, or I'd have gotten 4. Long-sleeved t-shirts are useful!

I need to make a packing list. I like lists; they keep me from forgetting important things.

In 16 days, I'm going to be on my way to Boston (where I'm getting a ride from a friend down to the island). Nervous! I've read something from all the instructors except Steven Gould; my library doesn't have any of his books. Except there was a change of plans, and Sherwood Smith can't come, so Scott Lynch is taking her place. Which means the copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora I bought last week for $0.99 on sale just got moved higher on my reading list. It's on my e-reader now.

I leave you with a video of a cat (not one of mine) with the most adorable squeaky meow.

25 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope, manga by Yuki Kodama, anime by Shinichirou Watanabe/Fuji TV, music by Yoko Kanno

High school freshman Kaoru Nishimi moves to a small town in Kyushu to live with relatives. He meets notorious bad boy Sentarou Kawabuchi and their classmate Ritsuko Megae, whose father owns a record shop with a rehearsal space in the basement.

Kids on the Slope

Kaoru's family insisted he study classical piano. He's a very serious boy, studious and a bit uptight. Sentarou gets into fights and likes playing jazz drums. As the two become friends, Kaoru starts to loosen up (a bit) and learns to play jazz. Much of the story revolves around a budding romance and the trio's daily school life.

Set in 1966, KotS also shows the conflict going on in society. Sentarou's role model, Jun, has gone to Tokyo to study, but he gets involved in a student protest movement. On a smaller scale, the trio's classmate Seiji wants to start a rock band like the Beatles, and he asks Sen to drum for him, which sparks a conflict between Sen and Kaoru.

US-based readers can watch all twelve episodes on Crunchyroll.

23 September 2013

Book review: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim, official movie novelization by Alex Irvine.

In case you hadn't heard, I really liked the movie Pacific Rim. It was fun and sad and happy and I loved it. There were a lot of feels involved. Here's my tumblr tag; there are (as I write this) 22 pages of posts.

So I ordered the novelization. I've never read a novelization before. Based on some things I'd read on tumblr before I got it, I knew there were some differences between the book and the movie, because the book is based on an earlier script (like I mentioned in last Monday's post).

One advantage novels have over movies is that you get exposition in novels and can give some backstory and explanations of characters and motives, like why Chuck Hansen has such a huge chip on his shoulder. Which is nice. There were a few notable differences between the book and the movie, but overall all the things happened. Book readers get a few extra things.

To sum up the plot of Pacific Rim, in the event you haven't heard of it, giant alien monsters invade Earth through a rift in the Marianas Trench. They attack major cities, and the governments nuke the first few (because missiles don't work). One man suggests building giant robots to fight the giant monsters. Neuroscientists work on brain-machine interfaces, and they discover that controlling the giant robot requires two people. The Jaeger Program is born.

It's 11 years into the Kaiju Wars, and pilot Raleigh Becket, who lost his brother in battle, is brought back to the program for a hail-Mary play to seal the Breach by his old mentor Stacker Pentecost (played spectacularly by Idris Elba). He meets Mako Mori, who was in charge of repairing and upgrading his old Jaeger. She wants to be a pilot; Pentecost doesn't want her to.

There's a little bulldog, a father and son team with emotional constipation; a pair of scientists, one grumpy, the other excitable; Chinese triplets; and surly Russians.

I loved the movie. I didn't love the novelization. I liked the bits of backstory added in, presumably from whatever notes Travis Beacham, the scriptwriter, sent in, and I dug the dossiers. There was a scene not in the movie that was extra FEELS knowing how it ends. (The foreshadowing, it burns us.)

The Weberian clunkiness got less pronounced later, as more action happened and less exposition was required, but there were a lot of sentences that could have been far more streamlined. I stopped wanting to take a red pen to them about halfway through, at least.

Fans of the movie will find it compelling, and completist fans will probably already own a copy. If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, it's worth the few hours (it's just over 300 pages) it'll take to read it, just for the Chuck and Herc backstory, and seeing the Weis and Kaidonovskys actually speak. Unless you're a completist, I'd recommend borrowing it from your library.

If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend watching it first.

20 September 2013

Friday miscellany

I keep forgetting to write Friday's post. This week I haven't!

I've downloaded the You Are Your Own Gym app for my phone, and I've made it through the first two weeks. I'm calling this Operation "what? dammit, those jeans fit three months ago. I don't want to buy new pants." Not much change as yet, but it's still quite early. Unfortunately, it's also getting into the time of year when pants are a necessity. Hopefully I'll at least be able to put on my jeans and, you know, move around while wearing them before November, when it starts to *actually* get cold here in Carolina.

What else? I got a room in the Hilton for next year's DragonCon. The host hotel land grab is absurd (the Hilton sold out in 20 minutes), but I prefer host hotels, especially if I'm costuming. They've added a bunch of overflow hotels within reasonable walking distance, but walking a mile in costume ... not really fun.

It's just over 3 weeks until Viable Paradise. ACK. I am not prepared. Aside from the fact that it's going to be COLD up there and Yankees apparently don't believe in heat (and I don't own a whole lot of layerable clothes because it just doesn't get that cold here, y'all...I've had Thanksgiving dinner on my deck), I'm nervous about getting the critique and feeling inadequate and getting sick. Apparently everyone feels that way, so I'm not alone, but it's still nerve-wracking.

18 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena, manga by Chiho Saito, anime directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, 1997

Utena Tenjou wanted to be a prince when she grew up. One day, she met a prince who gave her a ring that he said would give her the power to become a prince. She transfers to prestigious Ohtori Academy, where she learns that this ring entitles her to duel for the Rose Bride.

Utena and Anthy

The Rose Bride is in Saionji's possession, as the current dueling champion, when Utena arrives. She's pulled into the strange world of the student council and dueling as soon as they see her rose signet. She wins her first duel, and Anthy Himemiya comes to live with her and do anything she wants.

As Utena duels each member of the student council, her relationship with Anthy grows deeper and deeper, and when she loses her, she despairs.

There are layers upon layers of symbolism. The student council ascends to their meeting room in an elevator while reciting lines about breaking the world's shell. There are feminist readings (note: spoilers in that link) of the text. Here is tumblr user galegas's presentation on why you should watch Utena.

The series originally came out in the US around 1999 from Software Sculptors, who were then bought by Central Park Media, who perished in the great anime bubble burst. Right now, Nozomi Entertainment holds the license, and they released a remastered version in 2011. Nozomi has put all 39 episodes on YouTube, where you can watch for free.

(I have the original Software Sculptors and CPM DVD releases, and I'd like to sell them so I can buy the remasters. If anyone is interested, please contact me!)

16 September 2013

Monday book post

Between traveling for DragonCon and catching up on everything afterward, I haven't had much time to finish reading anything recently.

I'm currently reading the official Pacific Rim novelization, which is based on an early draft of the script (because of the lead time needed to get the book written, through editorial and revision, and printed, so it comes out around the same time as the movie). I'm not very far in (Newt is getting ready to drift with the kaiju the first time), and the writing fails to impress.

First, the narrative voice for Raleigh makes him a douchey jock asshole. I suppose it's *possible* that douchey things are going on in his mind in the movie, but the way Charlie Hunnam portrayed him is very not like the book. That could be a thing that changed as the script was revised.

Second, the exposition is absolutely David Weberian in its clunkiness. Yes, I know movies have a lot of pictures that need to be described, but you really don't have to disrupt the flow of the novel to explain how things work.

Third, what is copyediting? (You can also see some of the Weberian exposition in this photograph.) In the third to last paragraph, the big one there at the bottom, narration-Raleigh says there were no Mark V Jaegers like Striker Eureka when he was a pilot. Then at the very top of the next paragraph, he says he went on a mission with Striker Eureka once. JFC, you can't contradict yourself on the same page! Was this thing even copyedited??

On the positive side, I am a sucker for fake documentation, so all the dossier pages stuck in make me happy. Also, the section from Newt's perspective (the only one I've read so far, anyway) is something I can imagine movie-Newt thinking, and it's well in his voice. And the image of Sasha and Aleksis playing Ukrainian hard house (music) and pissing off the Weis amuses me forever.

11 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh; manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, anime by Hiyoshi Nishikori/JC Staff 2002.

Azumanga Daioh ran as a 4-panel gag comic in Dengeki Daioh. The title is a pun on Azuma+manga and Daioh (which, aside from being the book title, means "great king.")

The story revolves around six girls at an unnamed high school in Tokyo and their daily lives. One of them is a transfer student from Osaka, who speaks with Osaka dialect. Another is a child prodigy who is five years younger than the rest. A third wants to pet all the cute animals, but they all want to bite her.

characters from Azumanga Daioh

It's a slice of life in a Japanese high school, with sports, clubs, school festivals, homework, college entrance exams, and other assorted fun. It can be very silly at times, but it's cute.

The US license was held by now-defunct ADV Films, so it's out of print. Copies of the DVDs are available on Amazon for absurd prices ($75+ used, $150+ new, for a 26-episode series). None of the legitimate streaming sites have it. Netflix might; I'm not a member and can't search the catalog. There are other ways to see it, but you'll have to find them on your own with help of your favorite search engine.

09 September 2013

Book review: The Price of the Stars

The Price of the Stars by Debra Doyle and James MacDonald.

Beka Rosselin-Metadi, daughter of the leader of a world that was destroyed in the Mage Wars and the general who led the fight against the Mages, works on trader ship. On one port call, her father's aide calls her to a meeting with her father, who happens to be in the same port.

He tells her that her mother was assassinated and offers her his spaceship, the Warhammer, in exchange for finding out who killed her mother.

Beka left her family because she didn't want to be the Little Domina, her mother's heir apparent. She wanted to be independent, anonymous, free of her familial ties. She takes the ship, regardless of price.

Her quest to root out the conspiracy behind her mother's murder takes her to many worlds, where she joins up with her brother, an Adept (like a Mage, but not evil), a friend of her brother's, and a mysterious man she nicknames the Professor, who claims she was her family's servant on destroyed Entibor.

The conspiracy is rather deeper and twistier than they expected, with tendrils leading to surprising ends. There are two direct sequels, a couple prequels, and a next generation book, all of which I'm hoping to read.

It's a fun tale, with a lot of space ships and explosions and dry wit. It's Star Wars-esque, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing: for one, the dialogue is better and the characters a bit more well-rounded in this book. If you like space opera, you will probably enjoy this book.

06 September 2013

Friday!

I'm back from DragonCon, though I still haven't caught up on sleep. I had a lot of fun, though I only made it to a couple panels. I saw a lot of costumes, hung out with friends, and bought a Pacific Rim poster signed by Guillermo del Toro. (That was my top accomplishment of the con.) My costume was successful, and I only got mistaken twice: once for Daenarys (or however you spell it; I'm not a Game of Thrones fan), which was utterly mindboggling, and once for Starbuck from new BSG (which actually made *sense*).

I have a bunch of photos up on my tumblr. Disney set, anime set, superheroes set, miscellaneous, and *punk.

And here's a picture of me and another person cosplaying Sasha Kaidonovsky, from the Pacific Rim photoshoot. I'm on the right. The coat got really warm really fast.

two women dressed as Sasha Kaidonovsky

On a topic not related to DragonCon, once again/as usual people are attempting to gatekeep science fiction. Paul Cook wrote an essay on the Amazing Stories blog about how women can't write real SF because they put in things like feeling and descriptions of clothes, and also women are destroying SF with their writing about stupid girly things. Foz Meadows has an excellent deconstruction of his garbage.

Lightspeed Magazine has announced a special Women Destroying SF issue for next year.

04 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Giant Robo

Giant Robo, Yasuhiro Imagawa/Studio Mu based on manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama

Professor Shizuma invented a power source that eliminated the need for fossil fuels or nuclear power. Unfortunately, when he and his colleague Franken von Vogler were researching it, they nearly destroyed the world in what became known as the Tragedy of Bashtarle.

giant robo

Vogler disappeared in the Tragedy of Bashtarle, but ten years later, he's resurfaced and joined the Big Fire group, who are working to recreate the Tragedy. They have superhumans, robots, and monsters.

Working against BF are the International Police Organization. To counter the supernatural elements of BF, they have the Experts of Justice. There's also Daisaku Kusama, who has no superpowers, but he does have a giant robot. (And short shorts.)

There are spies, mecha fights, kung fu fights (including a drunken master), and hijinks. It's a lot of fun and very much in the style of 60s super robot shows.

It was licensed in the US by Media Blasters, which no longer exists, but you can still find copies on Amazon for relatively cheap. If you want to try before you buy, someone has uploaded the US dub opening to YouTube. (FYI: The dub is terrible and makes it sound awful.)

02 September 2013

Book review: The Crown and Court Duet

Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith

Meliara is the heiress of the County of Tlanth. Her father's deathbed wish is that she and her brother Branaric stop the king from breaking the Covenant with the Hill Folk and take the throne themselves. They gather a small army to attempt just that, and they are more successful than they'd expected to be until the Marquis of Shevraeth joins the fray.

The Covenant is that they won't cut down trees for wood, and that the Hill Folk will provide magic fire sticks to keep people warm during winter and fuel their stoves, etc.

Meliara is sixteen, and she is impetuous, impulsive, and has a chip on her shoulder the size of a castle. Her mother was murdered (by the King) when Mel was six, and Mel was never given lessons in being a Proper Lady. She hates courtiers and thinks they're all ridiculous. But after the king is deposed at the end of the first book, Bran moves to the capital and meets a lady to marry, while Mel sets about restoring the keep at Tlanth. They come to Tlanth to persuade Mel to come to the capital.

She receives a mysterious gift on her birthday, and she doesn't know who it's from, but I did. She begins a letter exchange with the mystery person, and it turns into a courtship. The revelation of the mystery person is actually really cute, even if I knew the whole time who it was and was just waiting for it. It's shy and sweet.

In the first book, Mel is extremely grating and irritating, because she just reacts without thinking--impetuously. But she's sixteen; I probably wasn't any better at that age. I wanted to shake some sense into her. By the end of the first book, she's started to realize that it's a problem, and throughout the second book she starts working to correct her mistakes. So she gets better!

Despite finding the protagonist irritating, I plowed through the first book in an evening, and the second one about the same. They're only around 200 pages each.

If you like YA coming of age stories and fantasy, horses and swordfights and magic, fancy dresses and banquets and balls, you might like this, too.

30 August 2013

I'm at DragonCon!

Come see me read! I'll be reading from "Something There Is" and probably also "The Dresden Ghost Orchestra." I'll have 18 minutes, which is longer than I've had before.

Saturday, 8/31, 4-6:30 pm in Vinings (Hyatt) [Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading]

I'm on from 5:40, though if anyone else doesn't use her full allotted time, I may be up earlier.

Also I'll be in costume, because why not.

28 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Ouran High School Host Club

Ouran High School Host Club manga by Bisco Hatori, anime directed by Takuya Igarashi/Bones

Haruhi Fujioka attends prestigious Ouran High School on a scholarship. On the first day of school, Haruhi stumbles upon the host club, a room where six attractive young men play host to their classmates. (It's like a hostess bar except with boys. And no alcohol.) Haruhi accidentally knocks over a very expensive vase and has to work in the club to pay it off.

Ouran High

This show is a lot better than it really ought to be. It's all the high school tropes smashed up together: the trouble-making trickster redhead twins, the gentle giant, the shota boy, the Serious One with the glasses, and the Class President. But the anime plays everything up for fun rather than taking itself seriously.

The Alice/Haruhi in Wonderland episode is brilliant. The rival Lobelia Academy's Takarazuka club makes for great comedy, too.

You can watch it here.

26 August 2013

Book review: Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, by Steven Brust

Billy plays banjo in a folk band that plays a lot of Irish songs. They auditioned for an evening gig at Feng's and ended up staying there. Except where "there" is has a tendency to change. Feng's can move through space and time, and the requisite fuel is a nuclear blast, which just happens to follow them everywhere they go.

There's a complicated battle going on behind the scenes between Feng's (the actual Feng, for whom the restaurant is named) people and a mysterious cabal, and Billy and company get dragged into it. All isn't as it seems, of course.

I didn't like this as much as I liked the Jhereg books. A lot of the focus in here was on bands and music, which don't really interest me. I had trouble connecting with the characters, and, while dialogue moves a story on quickly, there wasn't much narration (or dialogue tags) to get a feel for them.

It was still interesting, and there was a lot of talk about food (unsurprisingly). But it didn't hit enough of my "cool" buttons for me to be enthusiastic about it.

If you like space adventure and folk music, it may hit your "cool" buttons.

23 August 2013

Meta: fannish shibboleths

When I read Making Book, it spurred a lot of thoughts about fandom, fannish culture, inclusion, and modes of exclusion, and how these relate to the “fake geek girl” phenomenon.

A major aspect of fannish culture is the reliance on in-jokes and cultural references: reciting lines from Monty Python, Star Wars, or the Princess Bride, or any number of geek books or media quotables. "It's only a flesh wound." "As you wish." "When 900 years you reach, look so good you will not." "You remind me of the babe." "Fear is the mind-killer." "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." Et cetera.

These media references are relatively accessible to all. In some ways, these references act as shibboleths: you are one of us if you know this thing. The fan, hearing quotes from their favorite movie or book, may feel more comfortable, more at home. A new fan might not know where "As you wish" comes from, but they can ask (or google it), and then they can go watch Princess Bride.

It's part of human nature to want to belong, to fit in. For a lot of people, finding fandom was a revelation: There are more people who like these things. I have a complicated history with my relationship to being a geek, because I wasn't raised in a household where geekery was understood. I was given books, but they were random books Grandma found at the used book store and in any genre, from Gothic romance to crime. I missed out on a lot of the so-called geek kids' canon. I wrote a short series on this last year, so I won't go too far off on that tangent.

But finding fandom, meeting other people who liked weird, geeky things and had read Lord of the Rings a dozen times too, was a turning point in my life. I found people who understood me, if only on a certain level; I found people I could connect with over a mutual love of Legolas and Gimli.

And then I learned that some sections of fandom don't want to let other people in.

These fannish shibboleths can also be used a gatekeeping tool: to keep out the people who don't know the reference. This is the "fake geek" (usually "fake geek girl") phenomenon. Someone (usually a man) decided that unless you (usually a woman) can name every incarnation of the Green Lantern or every captain of the Enterprise or some other equally ridiculous piece of trivia, you're not a real geek, and you're only doing it for attention. A lot of other people, like Seanan McGuire and John Scalzi, have discussed this at length, so I won't rehash it here. My position on the matter is that you're a geek if you say you are.

Gatekeeping is a tool of exclusion, definitionally. Someone is an arbiter of who is allowed to belong to the group. Some exclusions can be passive, while others are active.

In Making Book, there are a lot of things referred to that aren't explained in the footnotes. A lot of the material wasn't for me as a reader, because I wasn't there for the referent. A lot of the essays were from fanzines, which were circulated among friend groups as a way to keep in touch with each other. (This was before the internet. A lot of the purpose of fanzines has been filled by blogs and livejournal.) I felt excluded from it. It wasn't her intent in writing it to exclude me-personally or anyone else in particular from the club, but that's how I felt when I read it. I wasn't part of the audience of the original fanzines, and that's fine! I certainly don't expect anyone I don't know to read my Dreamwidth journal and have it make sense. It's passive exclusion, and that's okay. Not everyone is going to be actively included in everything.

There's another sort of shibboleth: the shared experience and the in-jokes born from it. Every friend group, every family, has a few. There's comfort in the sense of belonging that comes from the knowing smile or shared laughter when someone shares a “Do you remember the time when...” story. It could be the time when your cousin spilled wine at your other cousin's wedding, or the time when you went to Disney World and saw Thumper. Or it could be a shared joke.

As I mentioned, I don't have a lot of the geek childhood reading canon. I'd never heard of a lot of these books until after college, sometimes years afterward. I don't share the experience of reading Ender's Game in seventh grade and finding it utterly transformative (I read it at 25 or so and found it overrated.) But I was picked on in school because I was smart (and overweight and also poor: the trifecta!), so I share that experience.

When it becomes a problem is when these passive exclusions are used to justify active exclusion. If you get married, your family starts teaching your new spouse the in-jokes and references to welcome them in. (Unless you don't have a good relationship with your family, which changes things.) If you make a new friend, you welcome them into the group by teaching them the references.

But in fandom, there are people who don't want to welcome new people in or see any changes. So they make up the “Fake geek girl” or decide that only certain methods of fannish expression are valid. I'll discuss this more in another post.

21 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Macross

Super Dimensional Fortress Macross et seq. Noburo Ishiguro, Shoji Kawamori, Ichiro Itano/Studio Nue/Tatsunoko Productions

People of a certain age may remember a show called Robotech that played on TV in the afternoons after school. Robotech was based (very loosely) on SDF Macross (and some other giant robot shows).

all the idol singers

The original series, SDF Macross, began in 1982. In 1999, a spaceship crashes on Earth. UN forces work to understand the technology. In 2009, they've figured it out, and they're about to launch the ship when aliens, the Zentradi--giant humanoids--, attack. The SDF launches, but it accidentally takes along a big chunk of the city around it, civilians and all. Roy Fokker is head of the Skull Squadron, which includes Hikaru Ichijou.

The civilians make the most of living in a giant spaceship (that also transforms), and they hold a pageant, where Lin Minmei (Lynn Minmay) sings. The Zentradi are horrified at Protoculture (music, kissing).

I'm not sure how best to summarize a franchise that's been running for thirty-one years. There are giant robots that transform into fighter jets (the original VF-1s are based on the F-14 Tomcat). There are aliens. There's pop music and love triangles. There are space battles. There's the Itano Circus.

Macross Plus is about a pair of test pilots who hate each other but love the same woman. The idol singer is a computer program named Sharon Apple.

In Macross, Zentradi ace pilot Myria Fallyna marries human ace pilot Max Jenius. They have many kids. They take command of Macross 7, a colonization fleet. She's the mayor, he's the ship's captain. Their youngest daughter Mylene plays bass in a rock band, Fire Bomber. The guitarist, Nekki Basara, prefers to sing at the enemy than fight them.

Macross Zero tells the story of how aliens got to Earth in the first place.

Macross Frontier tells the story of the Frontier, another colony fleet, which encounters the vajra, a hive-mind enemy of sorts. There are tons of references to SDF Macross, including episode titles. Ozma Lee, one of the main secondary characters, is a Fire Bomber fan, so the formations of his squadron (Skull Squadron, of course) are all named for Fire Bomber songs.

To properly enjoy the Macross franchise, you have to let go of seriousness. It's a show about pop music saving the world at the same time as it's a show about giant transforming robot-planes blowing up aliens.

Finding it to watch is another story. Because Harmony Gold bought the rights to original Macross in the US and then mashed it together with two other shows to make Robotech, and they claim the rights to all Macross everything. You can still find Do You Remember Love? and Macross Plus on Amazon, but any other DVDs with English subtitles are bootlegs and you shouldn't buy them. There are ways to get around these things, but you're on your own for that.

20 August 2013

No post today, sorry

So, I said there'd be a post today about some fannish meta stuff. It's not ready yet, and it may end up being two posts. I thought I'd be able to spend some time revising today, but I had to replace my phone instead. It decided it didn't want to read any SIM cards anymore. And it's about 45 days out of warranty. Lucky me!

19 August 2013

Book review: Making Book

Making Book, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

This is a collection of TNH's fannish writing, mostly from fanzines. From my standpoint, some of the essays are inaccessible, because they refer to things (mostly fannish in nature) I don't understand and don't have the context for.

The opening essay, "God and I," is the story of her excommunication from the Mormon Church. It's really interesting, and there were some aspects of Mormon theology discussed that I'd never really heard before. Like, apparently, it's easy to disprove half of the Book of Mormon with archaeological evidence.

The next few are some more personal reminiscences, musings on how much Rockefeller spent on a desk (three hundred years' wages for her at the time), growing up in the Cold War, and being a bureaucrat. The Disneyland story is also interesting.

Then it gets stuck in the land of "what is she talking about, and who are these people?" (I assume if you know who Claude Degler is, it's funny) with the exception of "The Big Z," in which she describes her severe narcolepsy and her struggle to get a diagnosis.

"Over Rough Terrain" is pieced together from scraps of personal correspondence that accumulated during her initial stage of narcolepsy. Parts of it are interesting, personal essays; parts are confusing fannish references (the Iguanacon rant? Huh?). The letter in which she describes aphasia for the word "mercenary" but not related things (like condottieri and soldier for pay) is interesting.

Then there's an essay for a con program book, which I assume makes sense if you know who Fred is. I don't get the joke, though.

"On Copyediting" is interesting. It grew out of Tor's copyediting manual. I learned some things, and some day they may be useful. The essay that follows is a review of American Psycho, the novel, which is a detailed critique of what is wrong with the book (basically everything). The final essay is "The Pastafazool Cycle," which discusses why "woo-woo" research on historical sources is bad. (To sum up: shoddy research published by a university press may make an unwitting young proto-scholar think it's good research.)

I'd say the book is worth buying for the first half dozen essays, plus "On Copyediting" and parts of "Over Rough Terrain." Reading it spawned some thoughts, which will be in tomorrow's blog post. (Since I forgot to post Friday, I'm making up for it.)

14 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Shinesman

Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman, manga by Kaimu Tachibana; anime directed by Shinya Sadamitsu/Production I.G, 1996

Shinesman

This is the only anime I'll ever tell you to preferentially watch the dub. It's that funny. I've never watched the original, even though it stars some of my favorite voice actors.

Earth is under threat from invaders from Planet Voice, who intend to use the power of marketing and big business to take over the world. They fund and gain profit from a sentai (think Power Rangers) show called Greatman.

Right Trading Company has a sentai team of their own to stop the invasion: the Shinesmen. They're all office workers who have to put on their costume suits when a new threat comes up. Their colors are red, moss green, grey, sepia, and salmon pink. Each team member has a particular quirk (Moss Green is a ladies' man: his most famous line is "I have a date with Turkish twins!").

Shinesman is a parody of sentai shows, and I think it stands up well without any knowledge of the genre. (I'd never seen any sentai shows before, unless you count Voltron as a sentai show.)

The US DVD is out of print, and it's not on any legal streaming sites that I know of. (A google search turns up a couple sites of dubious legality and a couple YouTube rips.) It's worth the hour it will take to watch the two episodes.

(I don't have Netflix, so I can't check if it's in their catalog.)

12 August 2013

Book (series) review: Jhereg

Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, Phoenix, by Steven Brust

Vladimir Taltos is a human living among Dragaerans (sort of elves who live thousands of years and can do sorcery). His grandfather is a witch, and he taught Vlad how to do witchcraft, including how to get a familiar. (He gets a jhereg, a sort of dragon the size of a large bird). His father bought a title in the Jhereg clan, earning them citizenship and the right to do sorcery. He's also an assassin and mob boss.

The Dragaerans are divided into 17 clans, each named for a type of animal. Each clan rules the empire for a set period, in an order in accordance with the great cycle. At the time of these novels, it is the reign of a Reborn Phoenix (phoenix gets to go twice in a row, at the end and beginning).

The Jhereg are hated because they're mostly criminals and outcasts; Easterners (humans) are hated because they're inferior. Vlad gets scorn heaped on him for both reasons.

The first five books tell the story of how Vlad prevented a Dragon-Jhereg war, how he defended his territory in his first turf war (and met his wife), how he got sucked into defending revolutionaries, how he originally met his few Dragaeran friends and made it out of the Paths of the Dead, and how the revolution ended. They're not in internal chronological order; that would be Taltos, Yendi, Jhereg, Teckla, Phoenix.

It took me a little while to get into Jhereg, but the rest were rather page-turners. The world is elaborately built and very detailed without bogging down. Brust lovingly details the food Vlad cooks, which seems largely based on Hungarian cuisine. (Vlad eats palacsinta at one point. Which made me wish I'd eaten more of them while I was in Budapest several years ago, and we ate them 3 or 4 times that week. They were cheap and delicious.)

I enjoyed these books, even Teckla, which has some very angry reviews on Goodreads. If you like cloak and dagger, mafia assassins, and politics, you might like them, too.

09 August 2013

Friday notes

I've read the first five Vlad Taltos books, and I'm going to review them collectively on Monday. The following Monday I'll talk about Making Book and the tangential thoughts it gave me.

DragonCon is soon. I am not prepared.

Have a picture of a cat.
Luna perching on the counter

And another.
Mylene in the comforter

07 August 2013

Anime you should watch: Voices of a Distant Star

Voices of a Distant Star, written, animated, and directed by Makoto Shinkai, 2002.

Back in 2002, digital animation was slowly increasing in popularity in Japan. CG backgrounds or CG battleships and hand-drawn people were becoming more common and starting to look less god-awful.

Then one day, everyone started talking about this guy Shinkai, who was releasing a 30-minute OVA he'd done entirely on his Power Mac G4, with friends supplying the voices. It was a hit.

In 2046, aliens attack Earth, and Mikako becomes a pilot to defend the planet. She keeps in touch with her best friend/boyfriend Noboru via text messages from her phone. As she goes further into space, the messages take longer and longer to arrive. They try to stay connected over increasing distance--and age.

Voices of a Distant Star

As a story, it's somewhat psychological, exploring emotional distance through literal physical distance. As to the animation quality, the blending of CG with hand-drawn elements is much better than its contemporaries, and it's almost seamless. (For an example of bad early attempts at blending CG and hand-drawn animation, I give you Blue Sub No 6.)

ADV brought this out in the US, and ADV went belly-up in the great US-anime-company bubble burst of 2008. (Technically, they split into multiple branches like a hydra, since ... well, it's complicated.) Copies--even used--are running upwards of $60 on Amazon right now, so good luck if you want to own a copy.

US-based readers can watch it streaming on Crunchyroll.

05 August 2013

Book review: Soccernomics

Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the US, Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, 2009.

This book is basically Moneyball for soccer. Kuper is a sports writer, and Szymanski is a sport economist. Together, they write a clever, easy-to-read book that is packed full of statistical analyses, anecdotes, and typical English dry wit.

The introductory chapter focuses on why England loses, despite every English soccer fan firmly believing that they're fated to win everything all the time, because they invented the game.

The first part covers bad transfer decisions, racism (which they use a very clever cost effectiveness analysis to determine played a huge role up until about 1991 in England), whether people who take penalty kicks have a set preference (they don't), why the smaller towns like Manchester have more titles than any of the London clubs, and whether American football will overtake soccer in popularity.

The chapter on smaller towns includes this bit:
Life in Manchester then [1878] was neither fun nor healthy, [Jim White] writes. "In the middle of the nineteenth century the average life expectancy in Little Ireland, the notorious part of Manchester...was as low as seventeen." This was still the same brutal Manchester where a few decades before Karl Marx's pal Friedrich Engels had run his father's factory, the industrial city so awful it inspired communism.

Part two covers the fans: which country loves soccer the most, whether fans are one-club loyalists, whether fans commit suicide if their teams lose, and why hosting a World Cup is a horrible economic decision but it makes people happy.

Part three is about national economies: why poor countries aren't competitive, which small country overperforms the most and which big country underperforms the most, and how in the future, the peripheral countries (ie outside of Europe) will dominate.

The over/underperformance stat is based on a model Szymanski built using multiple regression, to determine how much various factors account for in a win. Home games, rich countries, population size, etc, are all factors included in the model. It's some really cool statistical stuff.

If you're a soccer fan, you should definitely read the book. Most of the club examples come from the English Premier League, which I only know through osmosis and Twitter, but they were still fairly understandable.

I have trouble, as a soccer fan, guessing whether people who aren't interested in the beautiful game will enjoy reading a book about soccer. If you enjoy statistical analyses, if you liked reading Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com blog, if you liked Moneyball, you'll probably get some enjoyment out of this.

02 August 2013

Friday miscellany

I've been going to pub quiz night at my local since it started back in June. My team has come in first or second place every week. There's a lot of random stuff, like "how tall is the Statue of Liberty?" and movies and 60s band trivia. The guy running it is from England, so he tries to make it hard. Mean.

Pacific Rim was awesome. It's giant robots smashing giant monsters. The dialogue won't win any awards, and there are a few questionable things (no, your nuclear-powered robot isn't analog if you're using all those fancy electronic things...), but it was big and fun and MAKO MORI and the little bulldog and STACKER PENTECOST.

Progress on the current novel continues apace, even if it's mostly glacial. I'm at the point where I mostly handwaved a lot in my outline, so I need to figure things out. Don't wanna.

31 July 2013

Anime you should watch: Here is Greenwood

Here is Greenwood, manga by Yukie Nasu (1987-91), OVA series directed by Tomomi Michizuki/Studio Pierrot, Asia-Do (1991-93)

Kazuya Hasukawa arrives at Ryokuto Academy late, and the only room left is in Greenwood dorm with Shun Kisaragi, a very feminine-looking young man*. The heads of the dorm are Shinobu Tezuka, who has a rich family and a strange sister, and Mitsuru Ikeda.


Kazuya has to deal with the very eccentric people living in his dorm, like the motorcycle fanatic and Shinobu and Mitsuru (they're best friends and roommates; they count as a unit). His older brother married the girl Kazuya had a crush on when he was younger, and now the brother is the school doctor. Kazuya moved out of his home and into the dorm to get away from his brother and the girl he crushed on for years.

The six OVAs revolve around Kazuya and the guys in the dorm. One episode is about an inter-dorm competition for prize money, wherein the guys of Greenwood make a movie called "Here is Devilwood," a very tropey fantasy thing starring Shinobu as the evil wizard. The last two are about Kazuya meeting a girl his own age and falling for her and their budding romance.

*It's been a while since I watched this. The way Shun is introduced to Kazuya (he pretends to be a girl living in the boys' dorm For Reasons to haze the newbie) is problematic. Shun is not intended to portray a trans* person (he is decidedly a man). This may turn some people off. Decide for yourselves.

Getting a copy in the US is [currently] easy. Copies are available on Amazon for very reasonable prices, new and used. This may change in the future. Media Blasters' license expired, and Central Park Media relicensed (and redubbed) it. I'm not sure what the current license status is, because CPM went bankrupt in 2009.

29 July 2013

Monday book notes

I'm reading Soccernomics right now, and I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm about 3/4 of the way through, so you'll get to hear my further thoughts on it next Monday.

The instructors of Viable Paradise encourage the students to read something by each of them, so we can know more about their styles and the types of thing they have written. I've already read several books and some short stories by Elizabeth Bear, but I haven't read anything by the rest of the instructors. So I checked my local library's catalog online and tweeted about what I found, which was mostly a lack of these authors.

A friend replied that she has a lot of these books, and if I wanted to come over and get books from her library, I could. So I did that. I left with books by most of the instructors and a few extras she thought I'd enjoy. So my to-read stack has gotten big again.

a lot of books in a row on a table

Hugo voting closes at midnight Wednesday. I need to make sure I've voted in all the categories I plan to. I don't listen to podcasts, and I'm not really interested in voting for the best Doctor Who episode, since I don't watch that. Lots of people tell me I should listen to podcasts, but I really don't have the attention span. I can't do audiobooks, either. With this whole not having a regular job thing, I don't drive anywhere, and I can't just sit down and listen to something and pay attention to it for an hour or whatever. I need to be *doing* something.