lenora_rose: (Default)
The other day I got a call from Conner Cochran of Conlan Press, mentioning that I had won his monthly draw from all the fans who were at the Last Unicorn tour; any one item from the tour page including expensive prints, etc.

Some of the stuff is really pretty, as I recall from buying during the tour.

I said no thanks. And that was that.

It's notable that he basically said Ok and that he'd draw another name until someone said yes. Notable because it means he gets a lot of people saying No, with or without thanks.

An honest business doesn't get a lot of people who went out of their way to get to a special event, purchased stuff there, and squeed all over a longtime favourite author, to later end up turning down lovely and sometimes fairly costly free stuff.

I wish I'd known about just how skeevy his operation was then; it's soured an event I quite enjoyed at the time, and a meeting with Beagle that I felt was nice.

Some people said they found the way Cochran pushed himself forward creepy and felt like Beagle was squished a bit out of his own event. I have to say I was not one of them.

I was clueless. I thought it was the natural way things fall in the teamwork of a born salesman and an introvert, and Cochran didn't give me quite the crawly feeling some aggressive salespeople do. I could see myself and someone with a bit of showmanship striking a similar balance. Beagle was charming and erudite and talked to fans with some pleasure.

I had no idea Beagle was basically being pushed to exhaustion, all the money from the lovely things there filtered away from him and into Cochran's pocket, and that anyone Beagle tried to talk to alone would get Cochran telling them how old and confused he was -- including cutting Beagle off from his own family.

That Cochran, after getting Beagle out from under a predatory contract, turned around and preyed on him all over again.

I had no idea, since I wasn't planning to buy anything that wasn't on the table at the time, that many, if not all, of the people who did sign up to pre-pay for special packages have never received them, that Cochran keeps promising late and later dates. Up to 12 years. (I did sign up to be notified when the tour book comes out, but wasn't going to pre-pay.)

I did find it unfortunate that the e-mail I sent requesting a copy of the photo taken with me and Beagle never got a reply, but I assumed it was because the tour was busy.

Not until the lawsuit against Cochran and Conlan Press was filed last year, alleging fraud and elder abuse.

It's soured me also on some of the stuff I bought there - not that I would lose one word of the books, and the art is lovely. But now I know Beagle, who was right in front of me, never saw a dime. I'd almost like to pay again, cash straight into his hand - and my only hesitation would be the awkwardness of it. (I wonder if the artists get their payments on time, or demand payment upfront before releasing stock? I hope so, but I have no idea. Fans Against Fraud has a reference to one of the artists not having been paid in full, but it's not one of the ones whose work I paid for.)

This isn't hearsay:

Beagle's legal Complaint

Another legal complaint, from a company that invested in the tour.

Fans Against Fraud (Collects a LOT of pull quotes. gets repetitive, but lays it all out.)

________________


One of the things I got, and it wasn't purchased but won, was a shirt that reads "Damn you, Peter S. Beagle, it's all your fault". It's meant to be referring to the Last Unicorn, and the fact that she's supposedly the first known reference to a female unicorn and unicorns as a feminine thing.

It feels a bit sour now, and I can't wear it.

I have considered marking it with editor's corrections in some form, some red pen to make it better. (The only one I am completely certain about, though, is to strike "damn" and put in "Thank".)

Even then, though, I'm still not positive I could wear it in comfort, and not ever in front of Beagle.

I still like my unicorn wand. I just really wish I knew for sure that THAT artist got her payment.
lenora_rose: (Roman Gossips)
As stated a few posts ago, I did in fact start sifting through my to-read books by reading the first chapters. It did help, but not as much as I had hoped. (I'm nowhere near done, either, though, so we'll see. But I'm somewhat on hold while I read the finalists for the Hugo awards instead.*)

I found the process more interesting than the individual reviews, though I kept notes for myself on the latter.


1: Almost none of the opening chapters were objectively bad. Opening chapters tend to be one of the parts of a book any writer will have practiced endlessly, far more than endings, so the likelihood of reading a chapter and throwing it aside as Badly Written is very low - even though I covered a genuinely broad range of styles.

I also, in examining this aspect, realized that the last book that I read to the end and basically hated - Shifra Horn's The Fairest Among Women*** - would have been kept based on the first chapter test. Not necessarily with enthusiasm, but not set aside. So a good hint why this is an imperfect tool.



2: Most of them also do set up, very well, the idea what sort of story this will be. Which is much more of a giveaway. Two examples:

- The first book to make my "definitely Not going to keep this one" pile was one where I caught myself starting in on the second chapter, because the breezy quick style was easy to read. The reasons I was not going to continue had to do with the sort of story it promised to be - one where the most sweeping generalizations about male or female behaviour are truisms, the war of the sexes permeates the supposedly loving central relationship, with both man and woman trying to out-alpha one another and use underhanded tricks to get their way, instead of talking. These were irritating me even as the word choices flowed.

- Two fat epic fantasies that promised relatively typical settings and probably overly straight white and male casts. One I'm keeping and will read, one I won't. The difference is:

- the first chapter of one was about the kid about to go off adventuring. Gave an idea of his personality, of his work ethic, and of what and why he's not happy at home (oh, and his parents were neither unloving nor murdered.) And some idea about this world's magic system and its rather elaborate concept, but only as integral to his dilemma and his parents' worldviews.

- The other offered a high stakes event - an assassination attempt from the assassin's pov - that, while it dropped a handful of character details, was mostly there to showcase "here's my cool concept for a magic system and here's how a clever magic-user would manipulate it." And some of the fight description seemed to coin phrases that I could tell I'd be seeing as shorthand in many future fights.

A LOT less happens in the first book's opening chapter, and the political consequences of the second are clearly going to matter hugely in the upcoming plot. But I cared, a little, about the kid in the first book, even though he was just a bored teenager. The weeping assassin and the king were just sorta there.


3: Short books get passes more easily than long books. Which is kind of depressing considering my own tendency to run long. (I also grant that this is countered somewhat in a bookstore by the price-point issue - a short book with the same price tag as a longer book looks like a worse deal). This only applies to books in the middle ground, of course. At least one short book went poof, at least one long one stayed.

Most of the shorter books are kids' books, which tend to a quicker simpler style where more happens fast. I'm wondering if it would be as true with all adult genres. But I know John D. MacDonald's almost-all-dialogue opening is the kind of writing style I'd feel highly daunted to be forced to follow at Jordanesque length.


4: Familiar authors don't necessarily get as much leeway as I'd expected. For the most part, if they're familiar enough that they would get a pass just for who they are, they were already set aside from this project. The ones getting looked at are ones I've enjoyed but not loved before.

The exception was a Charles de Lint, who had failed to get into the auto-read pile because I've been put off some of his growing flaws. But the flaws in the opening chapter (an excess reliance on the cliches of how High School works) are not his traditional flaws. In his case, his style felt so familiar I ended up taking the book off the heap and finishing it when I needed a comfort read and didn't want to reread something. Turned out okay, too - some of the high school cliches got less painful, and while a couple of his other flaws cropped up - inevitable cameos by his beloved characters from other stories - they weren't the ones that had put me off him.


5: UNfamiliar genres get more leeway. Because I know I don't know their bad book warning signs nearly as well as I do fantasy's warning signs. So a less awesome lit-fic or thriller opening might still get a yea. This follows: I AM more picky about certain kinds of fantasy these days even in the bookstore. Some other genres I'm reading to expand my horizons, and that leaves some obligation to try books that don't hit my buttons right away (or at all). I still reserve the right to throw aside anything actually awful, of course.


6: It's rare that I decided yea or nay right after finishing the first chapter. Because at that point I am mentally in the book's style. Unequivocal 10/10 yesses are the only ones to happen immediately, and they're a lot more rare than they feel like they should be (the first one was Doris Egan's The Gate of Ivory). It feels a lot like the way the top 5% of the slush pile has been described: all the actually bad work is filtered out, you're reading "good" and "great" and "we should maybe buy this" -- but the ones that make the editor leap and say "we must buy this!" are still to be treasured.

__________________________

* About which, you can safely skip all the short story nominees and know you didn't miss anything you'll regret. even the ones that are passable stories are not even close to the best of the year. Damn the puppies.**

** If you don't know what this means? It means DRAMA. OH SO MUCH DRAMA. Some people decided the Hugos were getting too Liberal and Feminist and decided to try and Fix that. Google some string like "Sad Puppies Hugo Awards" and you'll no doubt find a few cogent explanations and a lot of drama. Just don't risk looking up Rabid Puppies" until you have the gist of the story.

*** Interesting literary style, and at first I liked having a fat AND beautiful lead. But ultimately it fell into grotesque. And not for the weight.
lenora_rose: (Default)
Progress notes for September 23-30, 2014

Total words new or revised : - 657. Also, at least 70 single spaced MS pages (I usually work on the computer double spaced but no point in changing a file I'm using on the Dana every time I switch)
Music: Almost entirely the computer playlist and/or my MP3 player. Noteable that I seemed to get some songs to crop up some extra; Jim Moray's Seven Long Years, Lennie Gallant's Lifeline, a couple of Vienna Teng's, and on one particular day, the MP3 player seemed especially fond of Ukrainian trad/rock bands. (When I get Ukrainia and the Ukrainians back to back....)
Mean things: Unwanted gender-bending, being forced to either let someone be hurt or be something you don't want to be (for yet another character), basically everyone here is having their personality pushed to its limits.
Recently finished reading: Galen Beckett - The House on Durrow Street. Mostly good, but while it avoided the *exact* trope I was fretting it would hit, it chose to use its only slightly better second cousin instead. Because this is a spoiler, I'll append it as a postscript.
Currently Reading: Kate Elliott - Cold Steel
Next on the to-read pile - Martha Wells - The Serpent Sea and the Siren Depths

Progress notes for October 1, 2014

Total words new or revised : +400, darn it all. But I think the next segment retracts some of that.
Tea: Decaf apricot black tea with, I realised after, the herbal ginger-mint teabag left in, adding a bit of a nice aftertaste. I might do that again on purpose sometime)
Music: The computer playlist.
Mean Things: Not wanting to return what's not yours. Being okay that it means someone else will die. A rather final break-up.
Reason for stopping: Hit a chewy bit in the scene, then looked at the time and realised I should have roused Joseph from his nap about 25 minutes before.

Inevitable Asides:
- Had rather a nice SCA-related gathering on Saturday evening.
- A friend's son was born today, well and hale.
- Another friend is having extra tough times I can't say more about, but it sucks even to watch.
- Had a nice outing with Grandma on Tuesday, mildly dampened by some texting related to the prior point.
- Joseph is REALLY hard to keep still in a restaurant, though. I tend to let him run a circle or two about so long as he's not interfering with anyone else, because he's too young yet for trying to pin him down further to result in anything but a tantrum that would be MORE disruptive. But I'm not sure exactly how to communicate "You've grown too old for that" once I think he has.
- Tomorrow he restarts swimming classes.

____________
The trope I was afraid of in The House on Durrow Street is "The sole gay love affair (And only that one) MUST end with one of the lovers tragically dead." Instead, we got, "The gay lovers both live, but part tragically anyhow, because one is irreparably damaged." Not... exactly an improvement. This is one of those tropes that's pardonable if you meet it in one or two stories, so I'm not saying anything about Beckett as a person, but pernicious in its frequency over multiple stories.

In the rivets in the moving train land, though, considering it after the fact, I also have some questions about the gender essentialism of the magic system. It's almost a given that straight men are sorcerers, straight (? We've seen no lesbians or bisexuals as yet in this world that I recall) women are witches (One male character in the background appears to have some skill at manipulating wood once cut - is he a male witch or just another alternate talent?), and gay men are illusionists. There's not a lot of evidence - one glimpsed private moment with the man and woman in charge of the illusionist's theatre, which mostly involves holding hands - that even implies heterosexuals or bisexuals can be illusionists. If he doesn't want it to be quite that clear cut and dried (And it's been long enough since I read the first book, I can't remember if there were any exceptions therein, so I can grant I might have missed something), I hope the next book makes that clearer.

I have to wonder what Beckett thinks a trans* person (Or, heaven forbid, a non-binary) would end up being? The gender they were originally assigned or the gender they really are? Or some fourth form of magic? Or maybe that's why our humble wood-manipulator can do his thing; he's not 100% "he", he's just too minor for it to be known to the reader?
lenora_rose: Happy JoJo @ 2.3333 (YAAAY3)
I've been wanting to write a general stuff happening post but was kind of stalled by the fact that i had a heap of words sitting here in saved form on another topic. SO. Stuff happened:

JoJo:

- has been quite enjoying going to the park again, and getting outside.
- he also seems to be enjoying getting out of his clothes more. We've had a couple of interesting moments and had to get a bit more creative with his sleep gear.
- Began potty training in earnest about, oh, today.

Household:

- My in-laws are here (And were gone until yesterday for a week in Ottawa). Probably to the end of July, though the exact day of departure is still kind of open.
- The last patch of garden to be dug out this year was finally planted Today. This, a month after I should be saying this, has been par for the course for the year. The previous garden beds, done just over a week ago, have had days of morning sunshine followed by afternoon rain, or daytime sun and nighttime storm, or... from a newly planted plant's perspective, probably perfect weather, though the humans could have used less rain and more sun. It has been a coolish summer thus far, after our horrifically late spring.
- Mostly flowers this year, but we have tomatoes and cukes too (And mint). I tried a raspberry bush, but we'll see if, in its establishing year, any of the fruit makes it to humans. I may toss down some basil seeds just to see if anything comes; it's an annual here anyhow so no sweat if the season is too short for it to establish.
- Our neighbourhood bunnies include a bitty one who's possibly a baby but definitely adorable. Thus far, they seem to be favouring eating the dandelions over the plants I care about.

Family:
- My grandmother has had a steady decline in her health, and the end result is that she is now in a nursing home, albeit on the low-care end as far as they're concerned. Her mind is fine but her strength is gone and she needed a lot more help than Mom and her other children and grandchildren could give - and more than home-care alone would support. The place she's in seems nice as these things go (more after hearing someone else's story about the place her aunt is staying), with her own room and a fair amount of respect. The big disadvantage is that it's far across the city from pretty much everyone's place. She's on a waiting list for a closer one.
- Even grandma, now she's there, seems to agree this is an improvement in her life. As long as her kids continue to visit. Next step; Get her the hearing aid she was supposed to be being fitted for right when her last hospital stay began. (Literally, as in they had to cancel the appointment)
- The symptoms of tiredness etc Mom was having, and even some of the sadness she attributed to the care for her own mom, proved to be B12 deficiency, and having learned that, she's already improving, after just a few days of it. (Jeff claims placebo effect. He would. But even if he's right, I think Mom's happy at any improvement. :P )


Writing:
- A nightmare, an old story idea, and a second nightmare seem to be coming together as yetanother vague idea for novel or at minimum novella, this one about a world where everyone has one of two kinds of dopplegangers, one usually evil (Nemeses) and one usually not (Greens). And a weird creepy take on faerie and attempts to lure children away from the mortal world. And evil ice cream. For now I've been using the code name Nemesis, though the only Nemesis so far on screen is actually a good guy. I'm debating about whether he's up front about the fact or not.
- The issue I have with this is that I already have one relatively new half-baked story idea that's about perfect for using for NaNoWriMo if I want to participate again. I don't need another. But I have at least one scene to write along with all the notes I've scribbled so far before I set it aside wholesale.
- Otherwise, I have just switched from trying to make forward progress on older works and into the (much dreaded And much anticipated, at least by me) rewrite for Labyrinth. So far it's been the extremely crude cut and paste, forcing scenes into what seems like a reasonable order from the two separate files I had (there being two separate plotlines), and almost no in-scene work other than a few typos. I'm half afraid skimming over it enough to organize the scenes and move them around has already made me too aware of what's on paper to rewrite it with the harsh objectivity the job requires, but I'm gonna give it a go anyhow. (The other possibility is that it has given me the shape of the story sufficiently firmly that I know what I'm aiming for much better and can thus make my rather shoddy prose that much closer to the ideal in my head.)
- My main ambition is that by the end, I *will* have a better title, and fewer total words. (I would rather 120 than the current 150, and I know several spots I dither and the characters just talk -- I also know of at least two scenes that need writing out, alas.) I make zero promises of quality. :P

Other:
- Folk fest getting fearfully awesomely close.
- Fringe soon after. It's THAT month coming, alright.
- Life feels pretty good overall.
- Books recently finished, all pretty good: Silvia Moreno-Garcia's This Strange Way of Dying, Sherwood Smith's Banner of the Damned, Chris Hadfield's An Astronaut's Guide to life on Earth.
- Smith's book took me a while; it starts at what feels like a slow pace, and it's only afterwards that one realises how very important all that puttering about in Colend and Colendi politics and romances and their more-alien-than-it-first-seems mindset is - how much MORE important than the "action", ie, violence, which the lead finds so reprehensible yet which we as readers are likely to find more familiar ground. Also, the unreliability of the narrator (who claims, correctly, to be able to state the definite truth about other peoples' opinions and perspectives) doesn't become clear, or relevant, until about halfway or more. and then it starts getting scary how much she denies - to herself - along the way down. I was actually reminded a bit of my reaction to Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, and how it felt at the start, because it was so alien, and how it took time to sink into the culture and grasp what was going on from that internal perspective (Or at least the reader/watcher's illusion thereof).

- painting the mural has been going painfully slowly (As in very few opportunities to do so) and I've mostly been working on landscape details, but here's an update pic:

lenora_rose: Happy JoJo @ 2.3333 (YAAAY3)
While I can't quite give it as high an acclaim as [livejournal.com profile] matociquala, the Last Unicorn has a pretty strong place of honour in my childhood formative experiences. I showed the movie for both my seventh and eighth birthdays (I think. Might have been eighth and ninth) by accident, and while I was a bit embarrassed at the gaffe, I also couldn't understand why my friend was complaining. I cannot at this late date say whether I read the book before or after seeing the movie, but it was definitely in close proximity, though I think I understood the book and the differences better ... later.

I've rewatched the movie semi-regularly since, rather quirky German-peasant animation style and all. I got seriously peeved when, in my sixth-grade year or so, a second grader got into the creative writing anthology our school division put out by literally rewriting the plot of the movie in a single short paragraph, because obviously the teacher should have KNOWN it wasn't original. (Where I was writing, seriously, a fantasy-based tragic melodrama.) And I had some distinct stretches of being All About Unicorns. These days, I try to restrain that, partly because of some of the associations that have attached themselves to unicorns with rainbows and hearts and My Little Pony pastels and sentiments**. (Although a longtime favourite sweater has unicorns, hearts and flowers on it, and pastel pink and purple touches, it's partly so because it looks nothing like that description probably made you imagine. And if I'd been thinking straight, I'd have been wearing it on Monday. oh, well.)

The last time I reread the book was February or March somewhere. I hadn't in some years, and I kept thinking I should. And the writing, oh god, the poetry. Yes, the book is as good as they say.

And the germinating seed for the Pretty Little Horses mural, before I ended up going in an actual horsey direction, was wondering if it was even possible to make a giant unicorn mural and not have it be considered girly. I thought a good starting place would be basing the unicorn directly on a warhorse or a workhorse, something big and not at all dainty, and probably brown or bay. This is enough against my personal conceptions of unicorns that I ended up with actual horses.

Monday Night was the Winnipeg stop in the Last Unicorn Tour, showing the film in full theatre and with Peter S. Beagle present to talk about it, and anything else his fans want to ask.

Officially it was a sold out show. Less officially, they ended up moving it to a bigger theatre and could have fit some extra people (Sorry, [livejournal.com profile] senekal, I didn't know in time to reach you). I arrived late enough that even without having had supper I opted to stay in my seat and not vanish to hunt nibbles.

I went, and met up with some friends there.

The talk was entertaining. I asked something I've occasionally wondered before, which was whether Beagle, who is a musician, had ever considered putting his own songs and lyrics into the movie, since they run throughout the book and even get the last word. The answer was that he was just so grateful that instead of the guy in charge of the studio doing it himself like usual (With the obvious expected results re: quality) they'd gotten a professional musician he respected to write for the movie. Which, fair enough. It's not like the music is, oh, Ladyhawke... even though Mia Farrow cannot pull off her song, I LOVE the main theme, and I like some of the other songs and the majority of the incidental music. But I always thought Beagle's own lyrics would have been an even quirkier counterpoint. Especially as a cure for the "standard love song" trope.

I liked better his added admission that the lyrics, as well as being his nod to Tolkien in existing at all, were also the one part of the book he actively enjoyed writing.

My favourite answer from the Q&A was actually Peter's admission that there's exactly one character in the book based on a real person, and it's the only time he has ever done it as such; the butterfly is based on himself. (I know exactly how those sorts of random-association song sets can go...)

I also liked his description of starting the first draft of the book.

Then they had a draw for a bunch of swag. Being the oldest among my friends, I was the fan for the longest. But for various reasons, when the draw came up, I was cheering for [personal profile] leonacarver. Partly because really I don't need a lot more swag, and partly just because she's awesome (I would have been just as pleased for A or T... I think in all honesty I was prioritizing writer over artists because Beagle is also a writer, though he said later he's from a rather artistic family). So when the final prize came up, a t-shirt whose detail was kept hidden, and also involves ending up down by the stage getting your picture taken with Peter, I was genuinely startled to have my number called.

(Squee!) I e-mailed after the fact to ask if I could get a copy of the picture. I probably look horrid, but hey.

So the story behind the shirt is as follows: apparently, until Peter S. Beagle wrote the line "The Unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone." they can find No Record of anyone else who'd ever written about a FEMALE unicorn.

Of course, these days, as I noted above, the unicorn as feminine thing is ubiquitous, painfully so.** Thus:
cut for some large photos, some more blather and the twice-referenced footnote. )
lenora_rose: (Roman Gossips)
Thanks to Its_in_the_water, I'm now set up on AO3. (As is Imaginary Colours).

Having a place to post fannish works maybe means I should finish a Firefly not-so-drabble that was once promised to forodwaith.

Anyhow, here I am, with my predictable user name of Lenora_rose. Nope, not hiding my fanfic association, such as it is, from my original fiction.

I also bookmarked some stuff (Some of astolat's stories of which I was most fond, in one case in spite of being in completely and utterly the wrong fandom for me, one by prairiecrow - so far - and one series someone else recced that I haven't gotten around to.) I think this feature might be much more useful to me overall than the ability to post my fanfic in one more place to be ignored.

Anyhow, if anyone is on there under a name I don't know, do tell me.
lenora_rose: (Default)
JoJO had a cold - nothing serious, not much changed in the house. Other than that, the only change is that we're going to Pan Am twice a week for activities in the pools. Life goes on.

Cold Magic - Kate Elliott

Awesome worldbuilding, good characters, complex storyline, obvious first in a trilogy (Book three is coming out in June so don't let this put you off.)

In an alternate Europe (in which Rome didn't fall, at least not the same way, and the Manse people from the former empire of Mali make a large part of the population - as well as Cat's own Phoenician people) Cat Hassi-Barahal, along with her cousin Bee, is a student learning about the new sciences - gas lighting and airships - at her college. Bee is having odd dreams, which she records in her sketchbbook along with many other things. Cat can essentially pass unseen when she wants (The description of this, of her sinking into her environment, is quite effective, I thought). Things go along pretty normally for the pair of them until a Cold Mage comes to their house, demanding the eldest Hassi-Barahal daughter to fulfill and old contract. Cat goes with him, and - things get complicated.

Cold Mages don't work well with modern tech (Some of it is the obvious factor of their cold - fires go out around them.) An airship is destroyed. Some of the mages try to kill her, while others seem bent on preserving her life. A protest movement for the common folk and their poor working conditions is gaining momentum. Cat wanders around in the spirit world and meets a most unexpected thing - her brother. There's a lawyer from a race of small sentient dinosaurs that survived to the modern age. There's a Legate of a Roman legion who may or may not be Cat and Bee's ally. There's a Napoleon equivalent who just escaped from his Elba equivalent.

It's busy.

The first part of the book takes time to build things up, to show the alternate world and how it's formed, to show peoples' manners and habits in this weird blend of cultures; there's not as much plot, and some solemn travelling, but I didn't find it slow, as some did, because there was a lot of world-building to absorb, and a lot of very tense and conflicted interpersonal stuff, the little plots before the bigger plot kicks in. In some ways, the worldbuilding might have been easier with a wholly new world, rather than having to knock apart our assumptions when we see a map of Europe.

The second half involves a lot of running and escaping and higher paced plot. Both involve deep personal betrayals and shifting views of the world. It pauses at the end at a moment that's both a reasonable breather and book break, and an obvious jumping off point for a greater plot.

My one brief doubt in any of it was learning that the trolls (the dinosaur lawyers) come from North America - there was a moment when it looked like this might turn into a Pat Wrede - where otherwise good worldbuilding is badly marred by casually erasing the existence of a whole continent's worth of real human beings. But it's made clear that there are *also* human nations still extant in North and South America, and in fact, they, (and the Caribbean, which is the major setting for book two) are in much better shape in this world, with rather less genocide.

I think it does most everything right.


Throne of the Crescent Moon - Saladin Ahmed

Intriguing first book in a series set in a Middle-Eastern flavoured other world; stands alone as well. Solidly recommended to anyone who likes adventure.

It was mentioned that it has a little bit of an RPG campaign feel to it, and I can see that, in rather the way my brother noted that the run through the Mines of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring *movie* (not book) had that feeling.

Adoulla is the last ghul-hunter, at least in his country and city, a devotee of his God who uses his faith to rid the world of certain kinds of pestilential evil, and his assistant and trainee is a Dervish, a master swordsman with an even more strict religious code, somewhat scandalized by his master's rather mroe casual approach to Godly matters. Their city is ruled by a khalif who'd rather squeeze his people dry then leave them alone. The Falcon Prince is a dashing hero of the people who rescues children from execution and shows up the Khalif's injustice - but is himself a pragmatic and death-dealing mercenary and thief. Zamia is a woman who can take the shape of a Lioness, a power meant to be used to protect her desert tribe -- except that now her people have been slaughtered by ghuls and she is torn between the need to revenge them, and the need to someday rebuild and re-establish the tribe.

I quite liked having an older and experienced man (chubby and fond of food and books and looking at pretty women - but no less passionately devoted to serving his God and eradicating evil for it) as the main character, with the heroic teenager who takes himself oh so seriously as more of a sidekick.

Things happened fast, and with energy, but not without a core of very human emotion. There were some details that I found a bit more gruesome than absolutely necessary, but the characters are dealing with ghuls, monsters that devour human hearts, and the sorcerers who create them. I was pleasantly surprised at least twice that he didn't do what I thought he would with the villain and the plot twists.

And I kept craving cardamom tea.


Jack the Giant Killer

Went to this as part of a friend's birthday celebration. It's one of those movies; everyone who went seemed to have fun watching it, but I don't think any one of us mistook it for a *good* movie. It's a B-movie, shameless about being a bit silly without falling into the excess camp that can ruin such a thing. The plot is mostly pretty predictable, at least in its broad strokes, but it had a few clever moments in the execution.

Good things:
- I liked that Jack was actually reasonably clever when not being head-in-the-clouds, and not just "we're told he's clever but..." I liked more that he really wasn't a fighter, and never pulled magic "Look, I can wield a sword I just picked up" skills - he defeats giants by thinking, and being fast on his feet. He runs away a lot.
- The horse (Not cow) Jack is trying to sell. That cart horse is probably the best horse in the kingdom.
- Isabel, the princess, sometimes did have agency. I liked those moments.
- Elmont, the Captain of the guard (or whatever his invented equivalent title was) was the more standard hero type, and a good minor character overall. AND he got to share a damsel in distress moment with the princess (actually, his part was even less dignified) without losing that sense of him being a heroic swordfighter and good manly dude type, which is awesome. Oh, wait. Ewan McGregor. That explains it.
- some of the things that have more consequences and fallout than they are often given. Ranging from the big ones, like the fact that killing a giant by dropping him off the edge of the floating land results in almost getting killed by your allies deciding to chop down the beanstalk. To a number of little ones.
- Mostly the acting was pretty good, actually.
- A number of fun lines.
- While we see exactly one farm, one city, and a bit of countryside between, there are details enough to give an idea this is more than a Disney set dressing kingdom, that people actually work and do things here in between balls (of royal dances there were thankfully none). When the king travels, he has a huge entourage. And people take advantage in the vicinity to create a makeshift market and entertainments. I get more impression of *viable* common life and daily life than I did from all of Lord of the Rings other than the Shire.
- The first glimpse of the monk; honestly, he looked like Rowan Atkinson. That would have been genius casting, even though it's a dead serious role and a really minor character.

Things that made me facepalm, but didn't ruin the movie for me:
- The "gravity doesn't work that way" beanstalk falling down and the unlikely "jumping in a crashing elevator" methods each of the characters used to survive that fall. Truly you can't imagine.
- if there's a floating land hidden in the clouds that most people don't believe in, this land has to be pretty much ALWAYS cloudy. (Then we learn it's called Albion and will eventually become England. Okay. Point covered. :P)
- Okay, if this is going to be England, how come it had a King named ERIC? I get the impression it was meant to be Eric the Red. which, no.
- several other times people should have died and didn't. Because PLOT.
- So we're not supposed to get the beans wet, ever. But Jack has them in a leather pouch while hiding in a pond, and/or inside a wooden locket while splashing about in a stream. How does this - ah, nevermind. It's not like the physics work.
- the smarmy arranged-marriage fiance. (Stanley Tucci) Well acted, and not entirely incompetent (He's beaten fair and square in a fight, after showing some decided skill at survival, not just at conniving). Just so much a stock character.
- The "But I don't love him!" argument against arranged marriage. At least this princess is given a demi-plausible reason for disagreeing with standard practice, but really.
- The "But I don't want to be a princess". Handled reasonably well; it's less that Isabel doesn't want the job - in fact, her mother did a good job of instilling in her what the responsibility and role would allow her to be - and to do for the people under her. She's mostly rebelling against her father's more stifling and different opinions what a princess should be. Still runs dangerously close to a bad trope.
- would have been nice to have more living women on screen. Elmont would have been even cooler as an Eleanore, though it would lose the whole "But... Ewan McGregor" aspect. I'm sure many people could name actresses they'd love to see battling competently with a sword in good armour. Sigh; it would have meant both women ended up damsels in distress in that one scene. Still, the only other options on screen long enough would have been the smarmy fiance or his sidekick, the giants, a character who gets their head bitten off or pushed off a cliff, or the King. Ah, the King could have been the Queen; flip the attitudes of the respective parents and kill off the father for once. I could also go with that.

Things that made me go argh in a bad way
- the damsel in distress moments.
- Everyone is exactly what they appear to be when first presented to the movie watcher, if not to the other characters. Especially the smarmy arranged-marriage fiance. I'd have liked it if this once, the smarmy fiance and his snickering sidekick turned out to be decent guys, not the orchestrator of evil plots. (Although that would probably have necessitated turning Elmont, as well as the monk, into the secret plotting villain. Which would have made me sad but been also kind of satisfying as an unexpected twist.)
- The giants' hair. No, really. Dark, coarse and in some cases explicitly crinkly/nappy. There was even one especially obvious afro. The giants were already dirty and misshapen human eating villains. Did we have to add something that has strong racial coding? Just no. (Doubt the racial coding? Then name me a story where the sign of evil is that disgusting thin pale hair that just drips straight down the back even when it's clean, unlike real, good, decent hair which of course is dark and crinkly and grows thickly upward).

The crowning moment:

There's already some spoilers above. But this is about the climax of the movie, so skip if you want no spoilers.



One of the key points is that the ancient King Eric's crown controls the giants. One of the leaders of the giants has it at the end, and of course, Jack kills him when he and the princess are alone, and gets the crown. So, with the Heir to the kingdom beside him, and the actual King only part of the castle away on the front lines ... Jack puts on the crown. And walks out in front of the king thus bedecked.

The princess being beside him and apparently approving seems to be a reasonable explanation why he's not shot for treason on the spot, but I would have thought that being told, "Good, the giants are gone, now HAND OVER THE ROYAL TREASURE OR DIE." would have been the obvious aftermath. People's hero isn't enough when you're holding the most priceless artifact around and the people who have a right to it are standing right there.

My theory, aired immediately after the movie, was that he went to give it to the princess, and *she* said "Dude. Put it on. The one way they'll let us get married is if you're too big a hero for them to ignore. I'll back you, trust me." A friend pointed out one more bit of support for this theory, which was that he'd obviously brushed his hair before he put it on. Jack wouldn't think of that. Isabel might.

Sounds like a minor plot hole, and there were others as egregious, but it caused the most discussion of the whole movie when it was over (Even more than the "gravity doesn't work like that" falling beanstalk).
lenora_rose: (Default)
So I'm just going to post my last two facebook updates pretty much verbatim.

YESTERDAY:

Okay. I am officially doing this. As of now, having snagged the not-otherwise-available e-books highest on my must-have list (for Kindle's app for the PC, not for an actual e-reader, I'm still not going there), and being essentially without income, I am going to attempt to buy NO MORE BOOKS for the rest of 2013. If I see something not on my to read bookshelf I MUST read, there is a LIBRARY.

Let's see if I can even make it to June. :P

(The comments were entirely about ereaders and alternatives, shockingly, not people laughing at me about the book pledge.)

TODAY:

(Nathaniel) has managed to do it again.

So yesterday I was talking about not wanting an e-reader. Or rather, in the real world, wanting one but not being able to afford it and already having too many books to read. So not having one seemed a good way to try to cut down on the possible future books to be added to the to-read pile. (Thus my simultaneous pledge to not buy more books.) (Also as an aside, for all I chose to use a free Kindle app, I did NOT want a Kindle.)

Then this morning, (Nathaniel) pipes up that he has one, but doesn't use it, and would I take it? Sort of like the way we got our last TWO TVs (Actually I think Colin paid him for one)

Result: I have a Kobo ereader sitting here. And therefore can now actually read my own digital copy of my own e-book. :)

The pledge to not buy any more books still stands.

___________________

(He seems to have also left a few books on it. Not counting the public domain classics, many of which look like they must come pre-loaded, all but 3 are books I've read, and most of those even books I own.)

(Colin is also talking about buying his projector and movie screen. But for that, while Nathaniel would give us a deal, he's NOT coming even close to handing it over free.)
lenora_rose: (Roman Gossips)
Especially apropos Icon, since the chatty Roman women are from the Colosseum's artifact collection.

Just finished Rick Riordan's The Mark of Athena, third in his Heroes of Olympus series. This series plays on the differences between Greek and Roman mythology. And the third book actually makes it to the classical world; Rome, for now, but Greece is promised in the future volumes.

Overall, it's a yes; it keeps the adventure pace going and ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. The usual weird modern takes on mythological figures appear. The characters are smart-assed as ever, and enthusiastic, and their battles, as usual, reflect who they are, and their strengths and weaknesses. A couple of the quests are too easy, considering (Annabeth's in particular) but Leo's "duel" with Narcissus is a singular piece of awesome. He plays well to his strengths. He's been stretching a bit by expanding the number of points of view - and succeeding in making their priorities and in some cases their observations different enough. And points again for making some of his characters people of colour, even if they're still POCs from North America, and sometimes the other cultures feel forced or surfacy. There's nothing in this series that will sell him to people who find him not to their taste, but there's also nothing that will disappoint his fans. I'm buying the next book. Possibly just as soon after it comes out.

However, I have one gripe. It's not that big, considering most of the action takes place in semi-otherworldly places. And I didn't find a review on a casual scan of 4 to 1 star reviews on Amazon that even noticed. Yet, I did notice, and I've been in Rome four days in my life.

The problem? I am about 95% positive Rick Riordan has never been to Rome. The remaining 5% is the off chance that he was but his experience was so drastically different from mine as to seem like he hasn't, or his characters were meant to be that kind of clueless American tourist. (Well, they are. But there are still details that made me go "Bwah?")

(He says he HAS been to Greece, so I hold out hope for the future volumes)

Details, from lesser to greater:
Read more... )

Question: Couldn't Mr. Riordan have got his work checked over by someone who'd notice?


* For those who don't know, nothing in Rome is allowed to be built taller than St. Peter's basilica.
lenora_rose: (Labyrinth)
I Really need to buckle down on this stupid book if I really intend it to be done before the baby makes an appearance.

Of course, things were complicated by going back to make a POV change for several major scenes. I had to go through the scenes a couple of times to be sure where I should have the changes, which I can't do easily on the Dana, so the usual solution of "Run off to the library to type without distractions" wasn't as feasible as it should be.

__________________

Green Arrow: Year One (Andy Diggle and Jock)

This comic is four years old, nigh on five, so not exactly new, but I decided to pick it up because I always liked Green Arrow, and a Year One story, being a retelling of a character's origin, is going to be a newcomer-friendly entry point. (Not, I grant you, usually a major issue with your average superhero, but I've read enough other comics of other genres, especially manga, where that isn't the case, I'm allergic to reading too much out of order).

Anyhow, I recall the Green Arrow origin story always involved him being stranded on a random island with a bow and a need to survive. I don't recall if it always involved discovering criminals on said island, and beating them to get off, but it sounds like typical super-hero stuff, and that twist didn't feel new.

This version of the story is well written considering how much was crammed into its length, and the usual restrictions and assumptions of comic-book heroism (this version of Green Arrow is right back to maiming rather than killing people, and devising trick arrows to prevent needing to shoot deadly bolts at anything other than animals), but falls right into the obnoxious, noxious and undesirable territory of "What these people need is a Honky" when the current incarnation of criminals on the island turn out to have enslaved the local population (Those they didn't just murder and dump down a well -- that particular discovery scene was... effective), to grow their massive secret poppy crop. Of course, they're helpless to save themselves until some blond guy comes by and does it for them. I *don't* recall the original story being one of these, so if I'm right, that's a regression.

On that basis, I'd dismiss it as an uninteresting entry. But there's *one* character who does interest me, because in a story whose base narrative type was a bit less pernicious, she could have been a lot more. Taiana first appears as a helpless slave, heavily pregnant. She looks like a wide-eyed innocent with the only note of interest being her willingness to approach the site of a helicopter crash and try to help the men therein. Classic lovely native waif stuff, also classic set-up for the person who draws the Honky in to the local culture if anyone does (In this case, there's no time for that step in the mini-series, so they skip nigh straight from "White man meets natives" to "white man saves natives".)

However, on her reappearances, it turns out that Taiana is a fully-trained doctor, even if one forced to work with primitive tools, and a calm leader of her people. When Green Arrow is slow getting back to rescuing the slaves, she makes her own attempt to free them, which GA mostly aids and abets by creating a distraction to keep her from getting shot in the back. She's the one who gets the slaves to a boat, and finds them guns. Ultimately, she saves his life at least once by pointing a gun at someone (But not shooting, of course. The only people who kill are bad guys.) And, if certain hints in the last pages are to be taken, is doing the last section while in early labour (She gives birth pretty much instantly once her people are free).

I'd call that a thoroughly awesome character, and I would totally read a book just about her and what she does then and afterward (Opening a free clinic, or a series of them, wrangling to get adequate medical supplies against the odds, turning over assumptions about what her people, and particularly a woman therefrom, can do, all while raising a toddler alone) ... except that she spends too much dialogue telling Oliver Queen he's important and he's special and he made all the difference. Because that's the narrative voice of the "What these people need is a honky". (To some degree, it's also a part of this mini-series being Green Arrow's story, and partly a flaw in superhero comics that the super-hero must always be the most important person). But it doesn't matter how awesome the woman who does it all backwards and in high heels while heavily pregnant is. The guy has to be that little bit better -- or at minimum, she has to think so.

_______________

There are times I really want to write the story of Therien Damina.
The gist of the story idea is, he comes to the New World with the Hudson's Bay Company (And yes, there's a background story behind someone with a French name ending up with a British company -- but I don't know that one), and starts to talk to the native population. But then Therien, in his eagerness to help and his too-shallow understanding of the Cree nation, makes some severe mistakes and screws up royally, causing the actual central problem (the only part of which I really know at this point is that it involves a very angry Bear Spirit, which he reads as A Bad Guy, something to be rid of, when it's nothing of the sort). Things only get better when he gets out of the way of the Cree people and lets them fix what he made wrong. The actual heroes I rather intended to be the elders of the people, with some hope that, with sufficient study, I can be sure the ultimate hero is a woman.

Then there are all the times I know why this story is not for me to tell. At minimum, not yet. No chops, no research, no research discipline, not nearly enough grasp of the history or the people. Not nearly enough of the actual story nuggets (Most of which would need to come from the research - even the bear spirit thought popped up due to an essay read for another subject - so won't hit spontaneously the way that the Serpent Prince plot kernels did, which only required looking at an extant story sidelong and asking a stupid question.)

_______________

A thought I mentioned in passing a few times, but which I think is worth chewing on.

When shopping for baby clothes, I looked at what i have so far, and the question "what if we're all wrong and this turns out to be a girl?" popped up.

My conclusion on the spot, and which still seems true looking at what I have, seems to be that there's not a thing clothes-wise that i wouldn't also put on a girl, no problem. NO shade of green or blue that screams boy to me, though some will to other people, no depiction of animals, or dinosaurs, or rocket-ships, that couldn't be put on a female body. The only one that felt even fractionally iffy was the one with the construction trucks, and that one I probably wouldn't have bought for a boy, either, left to my own devices (mom did. And it's pale blue and fuzzy, so I decided it was acceptable.)

The reverse would not have been true. There are still some colours (and I include colours I like, like lavender, not just the pinks I often don't) and some subjects that I would have bought for a girl and hesitated about using if surprised by a boy.A girl can wear blue, dammit, and who cares if she's taken for a boy by random strangers, but a boy can't wear lavender with flowers. Gasp. He might be *mistaken for a girl*. And that would be awful.

Fortunately, I don't seem to have this same sticking point, so far, about picture books (The only children's playstuff I have already in the house besides the everygender-safe stuffed animals), whose stories might actually influence the growing mind, or about most toys (The majority of baby toys and many toddler toys I've seen are pretty gender neutral. This changes as they get older, and turns into a whole different ball game. But the worst examples of female-gendered toys, the ones I would consider the least suited to give to a boy, are the ones *I* didn't much play with as a child and wouldn't buy -- like Barbie.)

But I do see this as a hint of what has been pointed out about current attempts to address gender equality - girls can be more masculine than they used to be and still be girls, but woe betide the boy who is feminine.* Even though the latter takes (at least) as much personal courage.

(Random side point. I've always thought I'd take "men's rights" groups more seriously if, rather than wanting to reclaim already-masculine things from those grubby female hands, they wanted entry into traditionally female spheres. If, rather than wanting to have men-only gaming groups to counter womens' desire to occasionally game with each other instead of always pushing into a male-majority space, men's rights advocates wanted to have men's nights that involved giving one another manicures, or learning embroidery and crochet, instead of being the minority, if present at all, at famale-majority get-togethers of this kind. And that's before you get to the "Men's Rights" types who are effectively rape apologists, a group for whom I have two words.)


* Transgender and genderqueerness add piles of complication on both sides. This point, however, is mostly about the cisgendered cissexual boy who still likes 'girly' things, or the cisgendered cissexual girl who likes "boy stuff".
lenora_rose: (Roman Gossips)
I think I liked this book nigh unreservedly. I noticed some rough bits in the writing (Mostly very compressed time), but it seemed to be just what I wanted; a brisk read with lots of creepy and unusual monsters, a good mystery at the heart, many steamed buns (food is a major motif), a whole series of lands and otherworlds and god-places explored, and a smidgin of romance not overdone. It's a classic YA adventure, and I think it deserves more attention.

I will also say I loved the hardcover cover, in spite of the shade of pink the heroine is wearing, and think the paperback cover is bleah and generic.
lenora_rose: (Baby)
That long since I posted. Eep! Not that the last DDOS attack on LJ helped any, since I think in the middle of it was the last time I rather wanted to.

And it sounds like the DDOS was again politically motivated, trying to silence dissent in Russia. Which... rargh. How do you even start to discuss that sanely? But it does suggest that, for every 13-year-old blurting out their life, and every Lenora Rose not saying much, there really are things this tool is useful for above and beyond the advantages of community and fanfiction I see.

The fact that I'm technically writing this in Dreamwidth notwithstanding, LJ is still where I get most of my comments and reading (Though I have journals I read on both, the majority on DW - crowdog66 is the biggest exception -- are journals I follow but who don't follow me. I still think of DW as the backup for LJ, in case the political stresses there get big enough to put the kibosh on the whole place. I don't want to have to either lost the text or scramble to save it all last minute.

Anyhow. Life.

Gestation continues. Colin and I have had the serious name discussions and the silly ones, sometimes all in one. Colin doesn't want to name our child Cornelius, but he likes to bring it up. I'm not actually quite as sure about Yorick, though he concedes it doesn't go with Patrick at all. So far I think my only vaguely silly suggestion is Gilead, which I might name a character, but not a baby. But we were having a lot of fun with initials, too (My two loudest objections to Y.H.W.H. were "Too many parents give their kids inflated egos as is." and "OH, god. That puts Yorick back int he running."), and jokes about multiplying his middle names ("We could include all the Prophets! So-and-so Ezekiel Elijah Jeremiah Mohammed ...")

So far, my second choice seems to be the front runner. The only problem I have with this is that my brain keeps trying to imprint my first choice on the baby already.

A part of me has suggested that since Colin doesn't like my first choice as much, we save it to use if something goes badly wrong and we lose him still. (Both the miscarriages ended up with names, though I'm not telling them to anyone but Colin. it's a reasonable grieving mechanism, especially for the one where I KNOW I touched it with my own hands.) But that way the name we both agreed on doesn't end up used, and he still gets a name that says eh was loved.

Yeah. I still have some pretty dreadful anxieties. Even though it's all going well.

We've made it swimming twice this week, too, which is good, both from a bit of back relief (Floatation!) and from exercise perspective.

Which leads me to a positive thing with Colin; he's been going to the gym with R., a friend of ours, most of this week. Some of it is his therapist giving him one more push, part of it is that they've been talking about it for weeks, if not more. He bought the pass during one of our swimming trips (It also gives him access to the pool, so it's only me paying day by day.) I've reminded him not to push it, and I don't think he's been exercising LONG each time, but it's a good start. My only worry is that it might continue to put other exercise forms aside. We've neither of us arched this summer. And September event isn't so far away as that.

I have my own gym thing I've been wanting to do, but for the moment, I decided that trying to figure out an annual pass with maternity in the middle was a bad idea, so I'm hoping to start a month or two after Baby is born, depending on healing, general craziness, and at what point it becomes as much a way to get out of the house for an hour or so and do something adult. I'm also thinking very much that one of the things I'm likely to be asking for at Christmas will be Mom & Baby Aqua classes.

(And there is is again. My brain is mentally substituting name choice #1 on that sentence. Bad Brain. Baby is not named. Husband DOES get input...)

_____________________


My in-laws are away this weekend, down in Morden; possibly returning tonight, possibly as late as Monday, depending on who they get hold of to visit (They weren't done phoning before they left.) Sicne no reno can really happen over the weekend at this point, this makes sense. So the house is suddenly quiet. This... is pleasant to my introvert brain.

My M-i-l is leaving us for home a week Monday. My f-i-l is staying until the renovations are done or near enough for Colin to settle for himself. Since we're still in the phase when other workers are doing the work, he's mostly acting as contractor and contact point, which is no small thing.

The Framers are done. We have the solid wood shape of our extension, including roof. The roofer and the windows are coming this week. HVAC has at least been here to make the first arrangements. Other than that, I believe it's my F-i-l and Colin doing most of the insulation and electrical and drywalling. (Back to "Sunday electricians" and the fact that, yes, I believe when it's inspected, Colin's work will be up to code.) And taking out the still-standing wall to the rest of the house, patching the floor, and putting down whatever flooring we're using. As far as I know, we haven't decided at all on interior paint colours, or flooring on either floor (Not carpet for either,t hat's all I know. And what that does to the carpeting in my study, if they're not putting BACK a wall in the new extension, which we probably aren't, I don't know. But I haven't been asked to move the computer or desk because they're on the "safe" side of the room) We only just finally picked the *siding* colour, and we'll need that rather sooner.

Some setbacks:

Our original framers backed out a week before they said they could start, but gave us an alternate who A) Could start DAYS sooner, which is a plus, B) As far as those who do woodworking could determine, did good solid work we won't have any reason to regret, and C) finished a day earlier than their original estimate. Even though one other day was a half day based on the heat last week. So. 4 1/2 days fee instead of 6. So... I can't really consider that a setback. But it sure felt like it the moment the first set backed out.

Our roofer backed out this last week - though he was supposed to start yesterday. (Even those who think he had a legit point still looked on his behaviour about it as... unimpressive. I wasn't even told he backed out until the next day, though, so I can't swear as to the validity of his reason. But it does strike me as being kind of like backing out on a wedding on the day instead of bringing up the problems at the usually numerous chances beforehand to run away.) We've had some other names recommended, but they may not be able to start as soon as we want.

________________

Writing: I kind of took time off to work on a project that was wholly for fun, but I managed to pull some good progress on Soldier of the Road yesterday.

I rather want to be able to call the book done, and have made a good way into the next, before Baby comes. It's, if nothing else, an obvious deadline...

________________

Just finished Malinda Lo's Ash. It's a good solid YA book, strongly based on Cinderella.

I had a few nitpicks. Her stepmother's motivation in turning her into a servant is never made clear. Did her father legitimately leave them in a pile of debt? It's implied that he might not have, that the real reason for selling property and any further debt is the stepmother spending their wealth on herself and on presenting her daughters as rich and attractive enough to marry. But it's not sure. And it's also not clear whether Ash could, if she stood up for herself in court, make a legitimate complaint of being defrauded. I got this nagging feeling that if anyone looked at inheritance laws and her father's will, she could have done a lot more than just walk away. Now, it's true Ash wouldn't care enough to do so, but it still felt like an unexplored corner. (I grant you, if she knew when she finally walked away that her stepmother wouldn't dare make a fuss, because if she did, **things** would come to light, it might undercut some of the courage of that step.)

Similarly, we nee nothing of her brief life with her stepmother AND her father, or much relation between her and her stepsisters. The only time we see Ana before her father's death, Ash snubs her. We don't see Clara much at all until later. Yes, Ash is absorbed in her own grief, and her stepmother doesn't help, and certainly in the long run, none of her stepfamily treat her well, even the almost-sympathetic Clara. But ... were there overtures on either side? I wanted a bit more flesh on the stepsisters.

I also felt a bit cheated at not actually seeing the fairy world at the end. I can understand why that bit is skipped; Ash has already come to all but the very end of her character arc, as has Sidhean. And we've had glimpses throughout the story. But... a part of me wanted even a few lines, even in retrospect after the fact.

But I liked the story, the writing was solid, Kaisa was an appealing romantic interest, and Sidhean was given more substance, and more legitimate lure than the cold appeal of being a fairy. I am curious about the next book.
lenora_rose: (Default)
Life goes on apace. Had birthday dinner with mom Jeff & Colin at a very nice Vietnamese and Thai restaurant recommended by some friends. Writing proceeds apace. Baby proceeds apace (20 weeks and counting...).

There's a recent meme going about about SF writers who started their careers in the 1970s. Specifically, female SF writers.
The Original is simply:
Italicize the authors you've heard of before reading this list of authors, bold the ones you've read at least one work by, underline the ones of whose work you own at least one example of.

[personal profile] rachelmanija changed this slightly. New rules: Drop the authors you don't know to the bottom. For the remainder, discuss or rec at least one of their books with at least one sentence of explanation about why you do or don’t like it. Ask your readers to tell you about the authors you’ve never read.

My list feels embarrassingly small.
Read more... )
lenora_rose: (Default)
Hmm. A while since I posted. Colin and I did our little run out of town, I went to Keycon, we watched a verra good concert with S. J. Tucker and Heather Dale and their musical teams, we've been making lots or prep work for house renovations with my father-in-law, and am now at 17 1/2 weeks, or over 4 months. Yow.

I'll try not to blather too long about any of the above, but I do have a few things I thought were interesting and/or cool.
_____________

On a writing-related note, there is *nothing* more frustrating than waiting for an answer from an agent.

To be specific, during Keycon, I got an e-mail from one agent that she'd like to see my full MS (Dance! Dance!).

So I e-mailed the agent who's had the partial for a while and might want the full -- in hopes of speeding up the response now she knows there's other interest. I thought sicne she requested the partial first, this was the appropriate order. No reply yet.

Of course, to me, this is *TWO WEEKS AUGH EEK!* but for her, I presume she's swamped with work for her current clients. (Not least because she replied to my earlier "You've had that 4 months now" with "Sorry. Swamped. I still have it, but haven't had a chance to read." (In more professional words on both sides, of course).

But really. NOW would be nice, says the writer-anxiety brain. I don't suppose anyone knows how much longer before I should push again? I really would like to be able to say something to the one who requested the full.

____________

Keycon was fun, I missed a lot of panels, and did a lot more singing. A good year, and good to catch up with a number of people I hadn't seen, especially among the filkers. I danced a bit at the social, spent a lot less time than you'd expect in the Consuites, and listened to yet more music. I was completely floored by Lanna (I THINK that's the right spelling) and Wolfgang's costume pairing of a young Steampunk scientist and his Igor, who was complaining about this newfangled steam tech and how the old days, and the lightning, were so much better. (Lanna was inside the Igor puppet, melting to death and Not Dropping character.) Also cheered Suninherhair's gorgeous dress , and a highly impressive Red Queen who used an amazing wig and makeup job to make her head look genuinely big. Did catch a good panel with Robert Sawyer, Derryl Murphy and Craig Russel (Not to be confused with P. Craig...) on writing, which was entertaining but mostly 101 level writing advice. I didn't get into the writing pitch and advice session as it was full.

More interesting, though not necessarily to his benefit, was the talk I heard by the author GoH, L.E. Modesitt. The first thing that annoyed me was how he interspersed interesting remarks with things that struck me as painfully over-generalized, especially as regards gender (Your examples of humans as a tool-using species are "Look at any man's garage and any woman's kitchen"? Really, if you'd dropped the "any", I might not have gnashed my teeth).

Although the one that really stuck for me was when he was talking about his magic system, which seems to combine magic-as-engineering, IE, people will develop reproducible results where possible, and the "You need to HAVE the innate talent to do it at all" approach. But he did concede that not everyone who has the talent has the same amount -- but most of them, except the least talented, go to the big equivalent of Engineering school, if one had no choice but to go to engineering school if one had the aptitude. So I asked, "So nobody in your world ever does magic as a hobby? The way people who don't have or want the formal training still paint watercolours on Sunday?"

He answered very quickly, "Put it this way. You don't see very many ... surviving ... Sunday Electricians."

Which admittedly got a laugh, even from me. But also had me immediately think that Colin has done a fair bit of the wiring in our house, has done it safely, and up to Code (And no, I have no fear of out house ever showing up on those "worst mistakes" type renovation shows. Not, at least, for unsafe electricity.) By actually reading up on it of his own free will, and being shown things by other people who've done it at what is, effectively, a hobby level -- and at least a couple of times, by watching the mistakes people have made that might be dangerous and vowing not to repeat that. And knowing when (as with the reno coming up), he wants a real electrician to do the work, or look over it.

I didn't say so, but I was thinking it over ever since. Really. Is there no way to get a hobbyist magician in a world where magic has as strict and firm rules as physics and chemistry? No text for how to do it safely? And if not, then doesn't that make people with a smidgin of power MORE dangerous than hobbyists?

(It seems unlikely in my particular fictional world, but it really doesn't seem to contradict his stated rules for Recluse)

I have no idea right now if that's a plot kernel or merely a cool toy for my brain to play with. But there it is.

______________

Everyone in my local circle (Though not necessarily everyone on LJ/DW) has a pretty good idea who Heather Dale is. (Lookie, official video!) But I felt like I was about the only one outside the filkers who had heard of S.J. Tucker, and that was via the band Tricky Pixie.

I discovered the existence of Tricky Pixie because Alexander James Adams is one of the members, and I've been a fan of his since around 1992, but the very first song sample I heard din't impress me much; it was kind of rough around the edges (Plus Alec was obviously still getting used to a different vocal range, and was not singing terribly well). Later, someone (either aymaera or Greek_Amazon, I genuinely don't remember and don't really want to dig through OMG journal entries to figure out) linked to their version of Tam Lin, which was much smoother, much more impressive, and told me the band had really come together since the first sample (Also, that Alec's voice had settled nicely). Anyhow, once I registered that this was *that*( singer, I decided that Sooj solo would also be a pretty fair bet. Yay! I was right.

Turns out S.J. also brought fellow Pixie Betsy Tinney, the cellist, so I got to meet the other 2/3 of the band. And S.J., in spite of some of her banter being about how little sleep and how little brain she had, was also quite good at the between song banter and the overall performance, as well as writing interesting and enjoyable songs. (Sometimes in live concerts, the presentation itself is key. Loreena McKennitt, for instance, barely spoke in the concert I saw, which, from reports I hear from her being pretty boring when she does, via those who saw her at the folk fest, meant she gave exemplary concert by not doing banter. Where, with Heather, I think you'd lose a lot from the live show by *not* hearing her and Ben doing commentary.)

Sooj's style is a bit closer to the singer-songwriter folk, with an occasional gospel-like bit thrown in, but her lyrics are strongly fantastical. I especially liked Ravens in the Library myself (And the very silly Alligator In the House, which she blamed on Betsy songwriting wise, though the album credits them together). Of the two albums of hers, I found the current one, Mischief, mostly good, and the 2005 one, Tangles, rather more generic; had I bought it before hearing her, or the recent work, I'd have dismissed her as promising but not really interesting.

Anyhow, two superb acts. Lots of fun. Plus, of course, getting to see the Bhigg House crew and others of that ilk.

_____________

House reno plans are ... a lot bigger than they were when we started talking about it idly in march/April. Like, a whole extension. Colin has been toiling away at the computer on the plans (He has an amazing program for doing so, plus it's exactly the sort of thing he's skilled at.) We got the surveyor to confirm the actual property lines, he had an engineer in twice to look over Colin's drafts of the project (Ha approved them, confirmed this would be fairly easy, but also told him exactly what he'd need for the actual permit that he hadn't drawn out in detail yet) and a concrete guy to give is price estimates on foundations.

My Father in law was intending to return to BC on Friday, but had to cancel his flight due to illness. He seems a bit better, though far from well, and he has antibiotics. And I'm under firm orders not to go near him (My mother-in-law is exceedingly protective of her unborn grandchild, even if she has to call from BC to be so. I do want to remind her that I'm ALSO very interested in the fate of said little one and am indeed taking care of myself. But some things, like walking up or down a flight of stairs, don't exactly worry me yet. Not until the bump is much larger. And exercising is strongly in my interest. Though I agree that exposing myself to ill people, even ones I care a good deal about, is not. So I'm fretting at a distance.)
______________

Doctor Who this season seems to be aiming for cracktastically weird as its gold standard. Which the emphasis on the cracktastic, not the gold, or even the Who. It doesn't quite feel Whovian as I'm used to thinking of it, even less than last season, but whatever it is, it's having fun.
______________

The Sea Thy Mistress just cemented Bear's Edda of Burdens as my favourite of her series'. (Okay, I'd have to read all three and the two Stratford Man books in rapid succession to be sure, but I think if I tried that just now, my head might explode). Though it seemed to me for the first half of the book that there was a lot of not-much happening, most of it did turn out to have accomplished more than it first looked like, and the second half more than paid for the slow start. Wow.

______________

Similar wows for N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Kingdoms. (If you haven't read the first one, the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and you've ever wanted to read something a little different and a lot amazingly good in fantasy, FIND IT. NOW.)
lenora_rose: (Roman Gossips)
Surprised myself the other day: I read a Mercedes Lackey book I pretty much liked without reservations -- that being Phoenix and Ashes. This generally doesn't happen anymore. If I like one (The Serpent's Shadow, the Winds Trilogy) it's usually with some strong caveats.

Lackey has two really big and obvious flaws that tend to get away from her: one is a tendency to lecture or preach, sometimes through a character, sometimes within the narrative.

Her second is to insert "progressive notions" into every book of hers, where progressive notions actually means 20th/21st century North American liberal morality.

This happens in an unconsidered way, too, so that the default good people generally agree with notions of equality, while the villains, almost to a man/woman, believe hidebound regressive things (In some cases typical of the actual time period, but in others a parody even of that, more recognizable as 20th/21st century regressive notions); it is not possible to try and do something moral in her books and hold some prejudice. (Also, she occasionally slips up, so that an egregious piece of unconsidered sexism makes it into the Black Swan on the supposed side of light, even as the main story is about a sexist villain, and an abused female taking back her own life. Or places her depiction of those 'equal' minorities is a bit surfacy, because 'we're all the same deep down'.)

Whether the fact that the majority of her protagonists are misfit teenagers, often abused, who discover they're Special then grow up (in that order) is a plus or a minus depends on whether you're a high-strung fourteen-year-old or a rather calmer 34. (There are exceptions, too; she's fond of her adolescents but not limited to them.)

Thing is, Phoenix and Ashes is set in World War I Britain (1917, specifically), mostly in one small town and a nearby manor. This, it turns out, is a very good place for her to set her story, because there are reasons for modern progressive notions to overlay the setting. This is a town with very few men in it; those that are here are either too old to fight, too young, or wounded badly enough to be taken out of action. This is the time period when the women began to do men's work because no men were around to do it, when suffrage was gaining strong ground, when the Russian Revolution was taking place and socialism and class warfare were on the ground. So women talking about equality, and people challenging the classist notion that the lord of the manor is better than they are make some sense. It's still a bit heavy-handed at moments, but it doesn't clash with the background the way it does with castles and magical horses.

Eleanor is a woman from a rich merchant's family who wants to go to Oxford. This plan is derailed, badly, when her father first marries a despicable woman, then dies in the trenches. When it comes out that her father still willed his whole estate and merchant empire to his daughter, and his new wife, Alison, would get nothing, Alison, an elemental master of earth binds Eleanor with a spell that effectively turns her into a slave in her own house, unable to leave, forced to mindlessly serve.

Reggie is the son of a Duke, and a flying ace. (Also a master of the elemental magic of air.) His life is derailed when he's shot down over the trenches, and ends up buried in rubble, and, as if the sorts of explosions and disasters that filled WWI trench life weren't enough, magically assaulted by the sorts of Earth Elementals who thrive on the conditions of slaughter and horror in those trenches. He's injured and shell-shocked (Depicted better than I was afraid of), and sent home to recuperate. Where Alison the evil stepmother hatches a plan to manipulate him into marrying one of her daughters.

Eventually, Eleanor starts to work herself free of the magic binding her, a bit at a time, partly led by discovering she has magical talents with fire. And re-meets Reggie, an old crush. You can guess how things go from here.

All the Elemental Masters books are retellings of fairy tales, so no, the blatant Cinderella rip-off isn't accidental. There's even a ball, though Eleanor's reason for sneaking into the manor has nothing to do with love.

Overall, though, it's well done. The first time Reggie casually says, "And why not go to Oxford, women can do what they want" I was prepared to roll my eyes a lot, but he's given reasons to think so (Not least of which is Maya, the heroine of a prior book, and a doctor), and his coming around to other progressive notions is built logically from the war, is imperfect (Eleanor calls him on at least one unconsidered moment), and seems realistic compared to some places it's shown up in Lackey books.

Some of the lectures are derailed before they can happen, others are put in the mouths of reasonable people. It's good at catching *some* of the feel of the era, the mood of a town where the war is talked around, not about, because it's too big and terrible, at the changes, some small, some huge, the war has made on daily life. The villainess is too evil, and so a bit flat, but it's at least the recognizable evil of an ambition which will let nothing get in its way, and it feels grounded. Lackey's prose will never be poetic, but she keeps the action and interest going nicely, and I felt these were real figures, not tokens. Even the two godmothers (one each) helping the heroes along didn't seem TOO over the top. Basically, as I said, I liked it without feeling I was doing so in spite of her flaws.

(While talking book, I wanted to talk about the contrasting endings of two other books I recently finished, but I should have left the house half an hour ago, so bye for now.)
lenora_rose: (Roman Gossips)
Well, the response to the last post was somewhat gratifying, and somewhat embarrassing - since I kind of thought that the post was a bit whiny and self-pitying. But it was meant as a kick to get me to post more, and more of substance.

I will freely confess that some of it was being a little surprised at nary a comment on a post that started with a corpse in a car. But maybe there really wasn't that much to say.

Anyhow, I did my vanity/whine post. And I thank you call for answering more graciously than I asked.

____________________

Just finished the fourth of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. I read the first based one someone's comments that it really was a book perfectly tailored to the tastes of ten-year-old-boys, as I wanted to see what she meant. And decided she was right, but couldn't quite point to exactly why and how. It was a fun read, but I could tell the target audience was an intelligent, pre-pubescent child, probably male (and hitting puberty as the series goes on).

it's also the ONLY children's or YA series I've read that actually seems to MERIT a comparison to Harry Potter. Even though it's almost cliche to do so in reviews and the like, because of the "Potter sold Hugemungousness, let's try and draw the same fans" effect.

Like Harry Potter, this is a fairly light story about a boy discovering his magical heritage and, by the way, nearly getting killed by some horrible monsters along the way. And book by book, a larger story arc develops, and the story gets darker, the stakes get higher, and people actually start dying and not coming back. The gods, including Percy's father, get nuanced the way the older generation in Harry Potter does, the good ones turning out to be less than perfect, some of the bad ones (Or at least the ones who don't like Percy) turning out to have some good sides. And partway through, there turns out to be a prophecy which *might* refer to Percy/Harry being the key to saving everyone from the Big Bad.

But I'm finding that there are a number of things it does better than Harry Potter as a series.

1) Consistency in worldbuilding. There seem to be fewer gaps in Riordan's magical world. it still doesn't quite mesh convincingly with the muggle/mortal world either, and THERE it seems to have more flaws and leave more questions than the Potterverse. But within itself, Riordan seems to have figured out a few more of the details of how his magical side works, and carries them through better. Some of this is because of the next:

2) Brevity. Riordan keeps a tight focus and keeps things coming. Potter sprawled. In that sprawl were two things - more room for complicated backstory, and more room for describing the OMGcool world Rowling was making.

The sprawl in the worldbuilding isn't *all* bad, though certainly it's part of why the books got bloated word-count wise (And the word count sprawl was an unqualified problem several times). Sprawl left Rowling room to imply there was a lot of the world she was making that Harry only barely touched on, a lot more recent history that affected what was on screen, a lot of implied futures, and suggestions of what happens in places other than Hogwarts. It has its weakness - leaving one wanting to fill in holes or unclear details - but it has the strength of making the world seem larger and grander.

In Riordan, everything we learn does come back to the current plot and to some major character, if not to Percy himself. There's a lot less recent history involved to use to build the characters on, though ANCIENT Greece has is obvious affects on the current story. There's less sense of a world beyond the US and the Greek Gods, that anyone Percy himself doesn't meet isn't important. But it has a strength, too; less room to make people go "Hold on, this and this don't work together." (EG, portkeys suddenly showing up in book 4)

However, Riordan has another trick, oft wished-for, which is that the attacking monsters and the action-packed incidents ALSO act as the moments to describe the backstory, illumine character, and show how the world he's invented works. Sometimes people explain things in between incidents, too (There's always *some* need for breathing space) but several times, a difficult decision on a quest is also a shining character moment.

3) Not everything is about Percy. Which sounds like it contradicts the above. Except, it works. In Harry Potter, after the first book or two, everything really does seem to come back to Harry being the Chosen One. By the last three books, Harry is always right, when he jumps to conclusions, however apparently illogical his reasoning is. Most of the people who like him take his side, and most of the people he doesn't get on with are pure baddies. (The exception is Snape, whom Rowling attempts to redeem a bit, with less than perfect success, but he seemed to be the one attempt to make a nuanced villain. Even Draco's inability to flat-out kill isn't painted as a redemption.) Harry's companions go away bit by bit, even the two he doesn't dump for no good reason, and that's it, it's all about Him.

In Riordan, Percy is wrong several times, torn several times. He's saved as often by his companions as they save him, and more importantly, some of his companions get their own significant quests, and their own personal triumphs, and this seems to happen more as the books go on, not less. There are story arcs other than his all over; for the daughter of Athena, for the cyclops, for the satyr. It may look more and more like the prophecy is pointing to him, period (And note I have not read the last book), but there are other prophecies, other duties. His potential love interests aren't Mary Sues (Ginny Weasley) or ciphers (Cho Chang), but girls who happen to be, in addition to other qualities, somewhat interested in him.

People who don't like him (Clarisse, Dionysus) turn out not to be all bad. People turn out to be good or evil independent of how they feel about Percy Jackson. (Some people get to dislike him because he blurts out nasty things about their hypocrisy or their cruddy behaviour, instead of their evil side being revealed by their treatment of him). People get upset about things he had nothing to do with. People triumph in things he has no part in except to stand and cheer, or bear witness.

The thing about all these traits is, they're present in the earlier Potter books, and less so in the later. The girls in Harry Potter either get less nuanced if they had nuances by the third book, or never develop them if they lacked them in the first few books.

The funny thing is, I still like the first Harry Potter books better, and I like the best moments in the later ones better. There's more ways to deal with a problem than to slice apart a monster until it poofs into dust. (Although even there, there are more moments where I wonder at the morality of the behaviour of 'good' characters in Potter).

The Philosopher's Stone is a stronger start than The Lightning Thief, even if the Goblet of Fire is a weaker middle book than the Battle of the Labyrinth. And the Prisoner of Azkaban is a pretty damn good book regardless.

But I think Riordan makes a better overall example of how to pull off a multi-book series for middle/YA readers, how to layer a multi-book arc over a fast-moving single-book plotline.

Next up: Complete change of pace. Georgette Heyer's Cotillion, and three other library books. Then either Martha Wells' The Cloud Roads (It arrived! At the end of February! It wasn't predicted to be shipped until April! Squee!) or SHerwood Smith's Coronets and Steel.

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