Text: Empowered: Agent (Empowered, #1) by Dale Ivan Smith, which so far is the best Instafreebie book I've tried (a rather low bar). The world-building is simple but fun; it's not just that Empowered people (that is, people with superhero-type powers) exist, but it's also an alternate history - one in which Richard Nixon prevented a nuclear war from escalating into global destruction "after Washington DC had been destroyed by a Soviet nuke fired from Cuba." (So I guess Kennedy didn't stop the Soviets...) This only shows up incidentally, at least in this book, but I am charmed by Nixon being considered a hero in this universe.
Mat is a good character, an interesting woman with a skill - manipulating growing plants - that is clearly much more useful (and lethal) than anyone gives her credit for. The Hero Council choice of "join us if we can use you, otherwise you must swear to never use your power" seems rather terrible to me, a bit of shoddy world-building but I guess it's needed for the plot. Her choices and actions are reasonable, especially as circumstances paint her into a corner. I like that she has a family she cares about, and I also like the lack of romance (though I suspect one is building).
The writing is okay, not great, though it's mostly free of typos and technically adequate. There are few obvious errors (such as a character being identified by name before Mat would actually know her name) but also few flashes of brilliance. Mostly it's just somewhat flat. I didn't feel particularly pulled along or emotionally invested, and this, plus uneven pacing toward the end, contributed to a general feeling of anticlimax.
Audio: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama, which was a SYNC offering, and surprisingly enjoyable and novel for dystopian YA. This is set in an alternate future in which the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 led to the need for split-shift staffing of hospitals, a day set and a night set of doctors and nurses, which in turn proved so efficient that the division between day workers and night workers was expanded to all parts of life, formalized and codified and enforced by law. But as daylight living is more natural and presumably more enjoyable, gradually the night people ("Smudges") became stereotyped as stupid, undesirable, lesser than the day people ("Rays") - and it took me until about 3/4 through the book to realize this was a civil rights allegory.
Yes, there is some suspension of disbelief required, but no more than, say, teenagers fighting to the death broadcast on television, or a society discarding all but a hundred selected novels, songs, and films. And what makes this an actually good book is that the plot is legitimately interesting and complex, and goes in unexpected (but foreshadowed) ways. There is a romance, which is somewhat cutesy and predictable, but at least it's not a love triangle - and, speaking of YA tropes, though this is in first person it is in PAST TENSE THANK GOD.
I liked the ending, which is not pat or universally happy, and which leaves a lot of things open-ended for a sequel (or for fanfiction). I would like to have seen a more explicitly "fight the system" plot, with Sol and the other characters actively working to bring the system down - maybe this will be in a subsequent book? Finally, I ship Sol/Gigi la la la and will be nominating this for Yuletide.
The audio version also includes "Noma Girl", a prequel short story which is also available free online. It was a nice fleshing-out of incidents only alluded to in the novel, but there's no new worldbuilding or anything unexpected here. I did like the more sympathetic view of Gigi. I don't think it will make sense if you haven't read the novel.
Webcomic: For some reason I followed a link (from Goodreads, maybe?) to The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E. K. Weaver, which I'd vaguely heard of through osmosis but really didn't know anything about (I didn't realize it was a comic, for one; for some reason I thought it had to do with lesbians) and devoured it over the course of four or five days. It's a gay (m/m, and has some nsfw) roadtrip story in which the title characters get to know each other and find themselves (well, sort of). If you haven't read it, I recommend it! There is a tiny fandom, and I believe the comic was originally posted on LJ as a WIP.
What I'm reading now: Cibola Burn, the fourth Expanse book. So far I'm about 25% in and enjoying it more than the previous book, Abaddon's Gate. Also, wow, apparently all minor characters are gay in this universe, or at least every throwaway line about people being married refers to a same-sex relationship.
What I'm reading next: Now that I'm recommitted to this book series, I've got the next two on my phone.
What I've just finished watching:
Movie: I finally watched Hidden Figures, and it was every bit as awesome as I'd hoped. ♥ My mother was a chemist for the FDA before and during this era, and I realized that at least she had the advantage of being white (though she had the disadvantage of being Jewish). I can't imagine what it must have been like to have both racism and sexism barriers looming so hugely in one's life.
TV: We have finished S2 of The Expanse! I am still a little weirded out by the timelines of book series and show being off from each other. I also thought the Ganymede plot was done better by the show, but the Avasarala and Bobbie plot was done better in the books.
What I'm watching next: Nothing for a while, because on Saturday we are headed out for a week of backpacking in the wilderness and so we might as well hold off on starting anything new. I'm trying to talk B into getting a short-term subscription to HBO Now via Amazon Prime so we can watch Game of Thrones. (His objections are that a, he hates WIPs even more than I do and wants to be able to watch every day or every other day rather than waiting a week between episodes, and b, he is sure they will make it hard for us to cancel after a month or two.)
In the meantime, remixrevival has signups through Sunday, and crossovering has extended signups through Sunday, so if either of these interest you, you have a few more days to join up!
Today I found this beauty. The door itself is purple, but the panels have been painted pink and there are little flowers on the panels which have picked out in a deep violet. It's wonderful.
( Pictures )
The Disabled People Destroy SF Kickstarter*, to produce a disability-themed special issue of Uncanny magazine, is up and running here and well on its way to meeting the initial funding goal (about 80% funded with 29 days to go).
And the first of their personal essays on disability and SF is up here, a good piece on Mental Health/neurodiversity** getting in the way of growing up to be the SF protagonist you dreamed of, that the genre allows you to be, so sitting down and setting to work to change the genre to allow for protagonists with MH/neurodiversity. I'm so glad the first piece talks about MH/neurodiversity and invisible disability, as they're the most invisible/most often cured of SFnal disabilities.
* If you aren't familiar with the 'x' People Destroy series, it has already done POC Destroy SF and Queers Destroy SF to significant success. I was initially a little disconcerted it's swapped magazines for the disability issue, from Lightspeed to Uncanny, but the editors of Uncanny have a disabled child and they've assembled a solid team of disabled editors for the special issue, so my worries seem unfounded.
** The author talks about a bipolar diagnosis, but then settles on neurodiversity as their preferred community label. It's a view I have some sympathy with, though it can confuse people about non-MH related neurodiversity.
Yesterday bluemeridian posted a batch of MCU and Wonder Woman recs.
"‘Wrath of Khan’ Returning to Theaters for 35th Anniversary".
"Orbit Turns 10: Take a Look at a Decade of Milestones". [The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog]
Via misbegotten, the Cincinnati Zoo has successfully reunited Fiona-the-hop with both of her parents. Adorable hippo pictures ahoy!
From 2014, but via Twitter today: "BitchTapes: American Protest Music". [Bitch Media]
"The Fourth Messenger at the 2017 New York Musical Festival". [ViennaTeng.com] (Includes purchase links for the soundtrack and script.) [ETA: Refers to a concluded run, not an upcoming one.]
On Atlas Obscura:
--"NASA Just Released Hundreds of Historic Space and Aviation Videos".
--"These Endangered Pygmy Rabbits Survived a Wildfire by Heading Underground".
--"Why It Took Scientists So Long to Figure Out Where Babies Come From: Human conception was still basically a total mystery until as recently as 1875".
--"The Odor ‘Wheel’ Decoding the Smell of Old Books".
--"The Dormouse-Fattening Jars of Ancient Rome".
--"People in 1920s Berlin Nightclubs Flirted via Pneumatic Tubes".
--"Found: Never-Developed Photos of Mount St. Helens Erupting".
--"These Maps Reveal the Hidden Structures of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Books".
On Mental Floss:
--"The Golden Girls Are Starring in Their Own Version of Clue".
--"This Illustrated Periodic Table Shows How We Regularly Interact With Each Element".
What I read
A novella by Heather Rose Jones, Three Nights at the Opera (2014), prequel to Daughter of Mystery.
There was indeed a new Catherine Fox, Realms of Glory, delivered to my Kobo well in time to beguile my journeyings. Very good.
Alex Hall, Glitterland (2013): m/m contemporary romance, which was an absolute page-turner and I will even give it a degree of pass on the phonetic rendering of Estuarine speech, on the grounds that this might be down to the first-person narrator's attempt to depict Difference.
Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky (2016): I had a bit of a problem with the rather gender-stereotypical allocation of science vs magic, and also with the way that both of them, in particular Patricia, are shown as coming to their powers as a result of familial dysfunction and school bullying (are US high schools really quite so generally toxic as literature would have me believe?), which is not that dissimilar in its rather Spartan overtones to the ethos of the military school to which Laurence is briefly sent. But I read on.
Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni (2013) - there were parts where I thought this was a bit slow, and possibly about showing off the author's research, but then it all came together with all the threads meshing at the end.
On the go
The end is almost in sight with Prince of Tricksters. Also continuing with Rejected Essays and Buried Thoughts, as and when.
Well, I have lately had delivered to my Kobo Kate Elliott's Buried Heart (2017), conclusion (?) to the Court of Fives series. But I've also, finally, received Monica Ferris's cozy mystery, Knit Your Own Murder (2016), at last a) out in paperback and b) actually in the mailer received from the seller.
One of your favourite classical songs.
Because I always end up picking Fauré's Requiem every time I answer a meme about music, I'll stick to a strict definition of 'song' and go with Les roses d'Ispahan instead:
( video (singing over animation of the score) )
The story behind this is that I fell in love with Fauré when I heard the school choir singing the Requiem when I was 12, and the singing teacher saw me falling in love and decided to try to teach me to sing, even though I notoriously couldn't hold a tune. And we talked a lot about singing Christian sacred music, but she also pointed out that Fauré wrote plenty of secular stuff, so I could learn that. Alongside lots of simpler things more appropriate for a beginning singer. And I loved all the repertoire I learned, but Les roses d'Ispahan best. Spending absolutely months trying to learn songs that were too hard for me gave me an appreciation that just listening to them never would.
Or, if I'm going with a strict definition of Classical, to get even further away from always going on about Fauré... most of the music I like is either Baroque or Romantic really, but I'm not against the entire Classical period. So let's go with Schubert, whom I always reliably like. I'm choosing the song Heidenröslein for the tune, even though I'm not wholly enamoured of the lyrics. I mean, it's Goethe, but it's also about the poet destroying his lover to punish her for rejecting him. Also because I discovered recently that there's a Rammstein song alluding to it, so I'm using the meme as an excuse to tell you about that.
( video embed, containing religious violence )
Anyway, enough about me. The children spent some time thinking about why they love Tom, and came up with some brilliant answers; because he is funny, kind, caring, because he answers questions well, and understands what question you want to ask before you can find the words to ask it. Because he is imaginative, which means he both tells good stories and really understands people.
They landed, however, on what I think is the perfect description: we love him because he is full of love.
Thank you, darling. Here's to the next 40!
Logic Cassandra: Wait, I mean, sit on your hands all night, and nothing much will happen. No gods will give you a big pile of gold.
Trojans: Hah, no way you're putting one over on us. We'll sit here and take the gold, thanks.
Logic Cassandra: In fact, you're going to go on disbelieving everything I say.
Logic Cassandra: *level stare*
( Superb Blue Fairy Wren )
( New Holland Honeyeater )
The final volume of the AMacD commonplace books ends abruptly halfway through. Between two pages are inserted a large number of loose cuttings from assorted periodicals, reporting the death of Gervase Reveley, Viscount Raxdell, in a street accident which only his own skills as a whip prevented from being a far worse disaster, but leading to his being thrown clear of his own curricle and fatally injured. There are also a number of obituary notices. On the following page is written three times I must be philosophical with a heavy line drawn underneath.
Alexander MacDonald, MA, locks the volume away with the others in the secure press, and looks down at his hand. The effects of grief upon the physical body are surely a topic suited to the philosopher, he murmurs as he observes its faint persistent trembling.
But, he thinks, no-one will imagine it to be anything but the natural effects of his efforts over these past few days: no-one will suppose that the signs of lack of sleep upon his face due to anything but the business of organising the funeral, arranging for the succession of the new viscount, writing or causing to be written the vast number of letters that have been necessary, and having all in order for this present morning’s reading of the will.
At least he had been there to the last: it had been considered not in the least remarkable that Gervase desired to communicate last wishes to his dedicated secretary, when they brought in his broken body.
He bites his lip. The new viscount, a fellow of nearly Gervase’s own years that had never expected to inherit, any anticipations in the matter falling upon his son, shows considerable signs of wanting him to stay and steer an obscure country squire through the new paths he suddenly finds himself set upon. But to stay at Raxdell House, when there is no Gervase –
But first, the reading of the will. The servants were well instructed beforehand, but he should be there with His new Lordship to greet the lawyers as they arrive.
The relatives and the household have assembled. Jerome, Seraphine and Roberts all sit together. Old Fosticue – demonstrating respect for the ancient association of the firm with the Reveley family, it is Old Fosticue comes creaking about this ceremony – picks up the document.
There is a little – not quite a gasp, more the sounds of breaths being drawn in among the assembled company – and Old Fosticue looks up as the drawing-room door can be heard opening. A late-comer to the reading? He cannot think of anyone who should be there and isn’t - mayhap some family black sheep in hopes of some small legacy –
A rustle of silk. He turns to look.
Still able to glide like a swan into a room, though in this instance, a black swan, Clorinda, Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury, advances down the rows of chairs, clad in the deepest of mourning, and, gracefully resisting any efforts to direct her anywhere else, comes to sit beside him.
How could he have not known she would come? One must play the comedy out to the last act and the final bow, she has said in respect of so many stratagems and contrivances over the years. Of course she would be here. Under concealment of the full skirt, she takes and squeezes his hand.
A deal of the property is entailed but there was still a considerable amount entirely within Gervase’s disposal. In the will he has carefully detailed numerous minor bequests to various members of the household, distant relatives, and friends. Jerome is well-provided for, as he should be. His dear friend, the Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury, comes in for several pieces of his mother’s jewellery, a valuable snuff-box, and a painting by Raoul de Clérault: doubtless everyone will speculate that Gervase made some settlement upon her years ago, and guess that these are merely sentimental tokens of his esteem. And after all, she is known a well-left widow with no need to hang out for legacies
And to my devoted secretary, who has served me so well and so faithfully - of course, he had expected some remembrance –
- but not that it would be what could only be described as a generous independence, along with something about enabling him to devote his abilities to philosophy -
- at which he finds himself feeling quite the reverse of philosophical, but Clorinda grips his hand again and he does not faint or fall into a fit of weeping.
Afterwards, His new Lordship says all that is proper, but looks as though he is about to lead to the possibility of Sandy's remaining; but a weight leans upon his arm, a voice says in die-away tones, o, Mr MacDonald, I feel quite overset - no-one can apply a dainty handkerchief to her eyes as Clorinda can – might you see is my smelling-bottle in my reticule, sure I thought I had put it in – o, Your Lordship, I am indeed sorry to break in upon your conversation, but I find myself so exceeding faint I would prevail upon Mr MacDonald's kindness to escort me home.
Clorinda’s hair under the cap may be silver-gilt rather than golden these days, she is no longer a young woman, but she still has only to enter a room to draw a bevy of men, old and young, to her side. The new viscount swallows and says, indeed, he would not wish to detain Lady Bexbury here –
O, thank you, breathes Clorinda, and they leave the room quite as if he is rescuing her from the press rather than the reverse.
Once they are in her carriage, and driving away, she says, really! solicit you at such a time to remain about Raxdell House! shocking ton.
But -, he begins.
O, but me no buts, Sandy dear. Are there not young men among your connexion would jump at such a place? You need only say to Lord Raxdell that you have become so entire used to Milord’s particular ways that you confide you would find it hard, at your time of life, to have to change to suit his, but that you will ever be entire at his disposal and that of any secretary he appoints to give advice.
It is entirely true, utterly sensible, quite proper: and something that he had not even managed to begin to think in his frozen state.
My dear, she says, I confide that these past days you have barely slept, have been about all matter of arrangements and perform’d them all exceeding well, and 'tis entirely that consideration should prevent Lord Raxdell from approaching you until you have had time to think of what you will do now. In particular as you do not need to be hanging out for preference.
No… he says, wondering if having something to put his hand to would at least be a distraction, keep him from thinking, from remembering –
They arrive at Clorinda’s pretty house, where they have hatched so many plots and sounded so many mysteries. Hector makes exceeding civil condolences to him, and shows them into the pretty parlour. He goes sit in his accustomed chair.
Vaguely, he hears Clorinda give some instructions to Hector, then turn and say, and Hector, when you have spoke to Euphemia, send up someone with more coals to stir up the fire.
He thinks it might be one of Hector and Euphemia’s offspring that comes lay more coals and stir up the fire into a fine blaze.
Why, dearest C-, do we need a great fire? (For the weather has of a sudden become a deal milder than that cold snap, with ice upon the ground that contributed to the accident.)
Because, dear Sandy, you are shivering.
So he is.
Quite shortly afterwards comes Euphemia herself with a mug in her hand. He had been expecting coffee, has not coffee ever been almost immediately served whenever he comes here?
'Tis a posset, says Clorinda, a most sustaining thing. I daresay you have not eat a thing these several days. You cannot live upon coffee.
He wrinkles his nose but indeed, he cannot remember eating anything, though surely Seraphine must have been leaving food for him.
A little while later comes some excellent soup.
And then he remembers nothing more except for some faint remembrance of being conveyed upstairs by Hector.
and, now in progress:
Enjoy. (I will update this post as needed, to have everything in one place.)
I've just finished an anthology written by folks who work in higher education. I've noticed an ubiquitous and peculiar stylistic fillip that didn't appear in my textbooks when I was in college.
It appears most often as the bridging sentence between paragraphs, in the form:
[Things concluded & proven] comma then comma [introduce this new concept/approach/fact]
Where did this come from? Does this "comma then comma" replace an earlier rhetorical move I didn't notice?
How can I make it go away?
By now, I imagine most of my fellow geeks are aware that when Peter Capaldi leaves Doctor Who in the coming Christmas special, he’ll be replaced by Jodie Whittaker. Naturally, not everyone was happy about the next Doctor being…gasp…a woman.
As the conversation progressed, I started to see more people suggesting the backlash wasn’t a thing. All they were seeing was people complaining about the backlash, as opposed to anyone actually being unhappy about a woman playing the Doctor. The whole thing was people getting angry over nothing, and feeding on each other’s anger.
Now Steven Moffat himself has joined in to proclaim, “There has been so many press articles about a backlash among the Doctor Who fandom about casting a female Doctor. There has been no backlash at all. The story of the moment is that the notionally conservative Doctor Who fandom has utterly embraced that change completely.”
Oddly, most of the people I’ve seen saying the backlash is imaginary, made-up, and/or blown completely out of proportion, have been men. Perhaps — and I’m just guessing here — because it’s easier for men to overlook sexism? Misogyny doesn’t directly affect us, so we’re less likely to notice it?
It’s like white people denying racism, straight people denying the hatred and intolerance of homosexuality, and so on. Just because we don’t see it — perhaps because we choose not to look, or perhaps because we’ve never learned to look — doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
For all those who share Moffat’s confusion, here are just a few examples of the ignorant, sexist, hateful, and sometimes flat-out batshit responses to Whittaker taking over as the Doctor.
“The replacement of male with female is meant to erase femininity. In point of fact, and no matter what anyone thinks or wishes, readers and viewers have a different emotional relationship to female characters as male. This does not mean, obviously, that females cannot be protagonists or cannot be leaders. It means mothers cannot be fathers and queens cannot be kings.
“…I have been a fan of Dr Who since age seven, when Tom Baker was the Doctor. I have tolerated years of public service announcements in favor of sexual deviance that pepper the show. But this is too much to tolerate.
“The BBC has finally done what The Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen have failed to do. They killed off the Doctor.”
Twitter also has plenty of comments like this fellow’s woeful lament, “And again the PC brigade get their way. R.I.P Doctor Who” (Source)
British tabloid and shit-filled dumpster fire The Sun responded to the announcement by publishing nude photos of Judie Whittaker.
But remember everyone, it’s not about sexism!
“It’s a woman. That’s it, Doctor Who is ruined. Like I said, I’m not sexist, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” –Mark S.W.
Now, folks might argue that the majority of Doctor Who fans are excited about the Doctor being a woman. (Though there’s a very real and valid frustration that we’re on our fourteenth doctor and the character has still been exclusively white.) Others will say some of the negative comments are coming from trolls just looking to get a reaction, or that of course Daily Mail readers are being horrid about Whittaker’s casting.
You might be right. That doesn’t change the fact that the negativity exists. It’s not one or two isolated assholes. It’s a real and significant thing, and it’s closely tied to the kind of harassment and disdain and hatred and other forms of sexism women deal with every day. Sexism that men so often don’t see. Sexism we respond to by telling women they’re overreacting, or they’re just imagining things, or that if they’d just stop talking about it the problem would somehow magically go away.
I get it. You’re tired of hearing people complain about sexism. Gosh, can you imagine how tiring it must be when you’re constantly on the receiving end of that sexism. Constantly being told you shouldn’t be allowed to play the same kinds of roles. Constantly being told your only worth comes from your body. Constantly being told your inclusion is some kind of public service announcement. Constantly having your accomplishments belittled as “PC pandering.”
Look, I wish we didn’t have folks like Wright rolling around with his head up his ass every time his Straight White Manliness feels threatened by a cartoon or a TV show or whatever else he’s scared of this week, but we do. Pretending otherwise not only turns a blind eye to the pervasiveness of sexism and other forms of bigotry, it also means turning your back on those who are directly targeted by that intolerance every day.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I noticed - flitting past me on Twitter the other day - somebody eyerolling at, if not codfishing, some bloke's plaint that watching Dunkirk had made him realise that The Modern Man does not have these Manly Challenges To Rise To -
And being a historian, I thought that, actually, there have been long generations, at least in my country, where most men were not being called upon to take arms and fight, and the general attitude to the soldiery was summed up by Kipling in Tommy.
And that thing about Challenges to Rise To always tends to be seen in a context which leads to e.g. the Battle of the Somme, rather than to being a despised Conscientious Objector, a decision which history may read entirely differently -
Which possibly links on to that thing I also saw flit past me on Twitter apropos of alt-history narratives which allow the viewer to believe that they would be The Resistance, which reminded me of that nasty piece of work Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger going 'where are the good brave causes?', and really, one can think of a few relevant to the 1950s, not to mention, we do not, ourselves, envisage J Porter going off to Spain in the 30s.
And the whole notion of Heroic Actions and somehow, not here, not now.
And I thought, did not my beloved Dame Rebecca say somewhat to this point in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and while this has the rhetorical universalisation and generalisation to which she was (alas) prone, it does seem relevant to this notion of some kind of masculine Rite de Passage:
All men believe that some day they will do something supremely disagreeable, and that afterwards life will move on so exalted a plane that all considerations of the agreeable and disagreeable will prove petty and superfluous.
As opposed to, persistently beavering away at the moderately disagreeable in the hopes that it might become a little more agreeable.