A Heinlein juvenile about a family that joins a colony terraforming Ganymede. I read it as a kid, but didn’t remember much. Continuing my theme of surprise!grimdark, I thought it would be a charming tale of explorer spirit and space farming, and it turned out to be awesomely depressing despite a pasted on yay semi-upbeat conclusion. That is not the normal tone of a Heinlein juvenile, which could have dark aspects but were overall optimistic. It also has my least favorite of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes, Bill. He’s clearly meant to have flaws and learn to be better, but I really disliked him for a good 80% of the book.

Bill, an Eagle Scout, lives with his father after their mother’s death in a glum dystopian Earth with food rationing and few opportunities. (It does have microwave dinners, though – good prediction, Heinlein!) Due to being bad tempered and insecure in that awful teenage way that manifests in constantly trying to prove himself and thinking he’s better than everyone, he doesn’t play well with others. Also, he despises girls and women. The misogyny is partly a sign of the times thing and partly a character trait that he’ll mostly get over, but it’s really grating.

He begs his father to let him go be a colonist and farmer on Ganymede, and is pleased when his dad, after testing him to see if he’ll flip out if his father goes without him, tells him they’re going. But first he has to get married! Right now! To a woman Bill barely knows, with a daughter he’s never met before!

You can see where Bill gets his interpersonal skills.

Bill sulks, is mean to the daughter (Peggy, who is younger than him and clearly adores him), and refuses to go to the wedding. Nevertheless, they embark. The space voyage involves Bill running a scout troop, learning to be slightly less of a colossal jerkwad, and saving a bunch of lives by plugging a hole in the ship with his precious scout uniform after a meteorite strike. There are also multiple pages of math and physics explaining… stuff. I skipped those.

At Ganymede, the colonists find that they have been victims of a bait and switch: the farms they were promised are not available and won’t be for years, and the existing colonists don’t want them. It’s hard or impossible to go back, and conditions suck. Poor Peggy can’t adjust to the low air pressure and has to be lodged in a special pressurized room for as long as they’re there. This is super depressing, but the gloom lets up a bit when Bill sharecrops for a nice family who has successfully farmed, and the family eventually gets a farm of their own though Peggy is still stuck in her room and can only leave it in a bubble stretcher.

The farming part is unusual. Due to the expense of transporting mass, there’s very little equipment and farmers need to pulverize rock into dust, then mix it with bacteria to create dirt. It’s backbreaking labor, and that’s most of the farming we see. I was a disappointed, as I wanted more “Little House on Ganymede” details, Bill learning about cows when he’s never seen one before, etc, but most of what we get is pulverizing rock.

And then! Depressing spoilers! Read more... )
A pair of '90s portal fantasies about veterinary students who travel to a fantasyland called Crossroads to treat centaurs, unicorns, griffins, and other magical beasts. I read these years ago and re-read recently with the intention of finally reading book three, which I had either failed to find or failed to read previously. Now that I have re-read, I understand why I never read the final book. I had remembered the fun parts (vet students figuring out how to treat magical creatures, and that is both accurate to my knowledge and very fun if you like that sort of thing) and forgotten about the truly amazing amount of awesome depressingness surrounding them.

I also have to mention that O'Donohoe also wrote an sf novel in a dystopian future, Too Too Solid Flesh about androids programmed with the personalities of the characters of Hamlet. This was also fairly depressing (though with way less torture), but more appropriate to the subject matter and I recall liking it a lot, despite a manic pixie dream girl.

Too, Too Solid Flesh

The Magic And The Healing

Under the Healing Sign

The Magic and the Healing

BJ Vaughan, a vet student, is understandably depressed. Her mother committed suicide out of the blue, leaving a note saying that she was dying of Huntington's Chorea (a horrific, fatal genetic disease) and BJ should be tested to see if she's going to get it too. BJ, who has been having mysterious symptoms lately, gets tested. Sure enough, she has it. She tells no one, but begins planning her suicide. I will cut to the chase and say that she continues telling no one and planning her suicide for the entire book, and in fact by the end of the second book, though she is no longer planning suicide, she has still told very, very few people and has not informed the people who most need to know.

But! Something more cheerful happens, and about time. BJ and some other students are invited on to a special exotic animal rotation, which of course turns out to be in Crossroads. The magical creatures, their cultures, and their ecologies are sketched-in but interesting and convincing. My favorite for cuteness was the flowerbinders, which are kittens the size of German Shepherds who catch their prey by winding flowers into their fur and camouflaging themselves as a bush or hillock of wildflowers. My favorite for interesting worldbuilding were the several sentient species which remain the prey of other sentient species, and how intelligent beings evolved cultures, laws, and rituals which account for that. There are a handful of human inhabitants of Crossroads, most of whom are essentially refugees who stumbled in while fleeing for their lives, but it's mostly populated by centaurs, fauns, griffins, etc.

As BJ and the other students ply their trade, they learn more about how the magic of Crossroads works, and BJ realizes that though traumatic injury and some diseases exist in Crossroads, cancer and degenerative diseases don't. If she stays, can she arrest or even cure her own degenerative illness? Is she willing to give up her entire previous life for the chance at a new one?

I think this is plenty of story for a novel, and if this had been the entire story, the book would have been much better, much less grim, and also much less ridiculous. Unfortunately, there is another plotline involving one of the most moustache-twirling villains I've ever come across. Her name is Morgan, and she is a sadistic genocidal sociopathic mass murderer whose hobbies include torture, mass graves, bathing in blood (literally), invasion, getting people hooked on drugs, slaughtering her own minions in front of her entire army just for the fun of it, and slaughtering everyone in sight. She plans to invade Crossroads, slaughter everyone, and then go to another world and slaughter everyone there. Rinse, repeat. Inexplicably, her army does not desert en masse despite her periodically torturing her own soldiers to death. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that she's immortal and invulnerable, so no one can just whack her?

She has a backstory. Sort of. It's the sort which introduces more plotholes than it resolves. Why is she the way she is? She's angry. NO SHIT. What's she angry about? Who knows! Why is she immortal? Because it was somehow a condition of booting her out of Crossroads earlier, when she was just a non-immortal homicidal maniac. Why the hell would you make a homicidal maniac immortal? Uh... the magic works that way! Why not kill her when you had the chance? Because the king was in love with her! WHY? Because she didn't seem evil right away. I realize this sort of thing happens in real life (the charming sociopath, I mean) but 1) we never see the charm, 2) if your choice is "kill the genocidal maniac you still kind of love, or make her immortal so she can come back and murder you and every citizen of your country," you need to suck it up and break out the guillotine.

Nobody in Crossroads thinks they have a chance of fighting her off, though they're planning a hopeless last stand anyway. Periodically Morgan sneaks in, tortures or kills some animals or people, and sneaks out. I don't mind reading about hurt animals in the context of veterinary medicine, but I draw the line at animal torture. Anyway, eventually the good guys beat her back, but it's just for now. They're still doomed. (Until book two! No, wait. Still doomed.)

There is also an extremely unconvincing romance between BJ and a faun named Stefan. They have no chemistry and nothing in common other than that they both like animals. They never have sex because BJ doesn't tell him she's dying but doesn't want to commit when she's dying. This entire plotline really didn't work for me. Alas, it continues in exactly the same vein in book two, except BJ is no longer dying and they do have sex... but she still doesn't tell him and continues to angst in the exact same way.

Approximately half of a pretty cool book melded to half of a pretty terrible book. Perhaps this was meant to be symbolic of Crossroads' many chimera-creatures... Nah.

Under the Healing Sign

My feelings about the sequel are summed up by an Amazon reader who wrote, "On the whole, it [the third book] is much better than the second book of the very same series, "Under The Healing Sign", which made me wish to commite suicide immediately upon reading the last chapter of it."

Despite the charmingly pastoral cover, what actually happens in this book is mostly death, despair, defeat, torture, animal and child harm, and the least triumphant "happy ending" I've ever read in a fantasy book. It does have some sweet scenes a la the good parts of the first book and introduces a really awesome character(who, shockingly, does not die), a gay and fabulous cross-dressing, swordfighting veterinarian, Dr. Esteban Protera, who needed to star or co-star in a cheerier book. But overall, I'm with the Amazon reviewer.

Spoilers, if anyone cares. I'll just hit a few of the grimdark highlights. Read more... )
This was my first time reading this book as the movie scared the living daylights out of me when I was in high school. I have no idea if the movie is actually as scary as I recall, because I don't actually remember much beyond "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," Jack Nicholson doing the homicidal maniac thing, and some incredibly creepy ghosts. So I also can't compare the movie to the book that much, other than that "All work and no play" isn't in the book and Jack being a writer isn't as important as I recall it being in the movie. My recollection is that the movie was essentially about a haunted hotel. The book is essentially about a family.

I mostly read the book because I wanted to read the sequel, Doctor Sleep, which several people recced. I had thought the book was pure horror, which is not really my thing, so I didn't expect to like it that much. I liked it a lot. It is horror, but it's got great characterization and is mostly the slow build, psychological type of horror rather than a cascade of jump-scares and gross-outs. Though it does have some very scary bits.

It takes a classic horror theme, a person with a flaw or weakness amplified by an evil or just powerful place until they crack, which is generally (in this case too) ambiguous about how much supernatural forces had to do with it and how much was the person making a choice to let their worst side run amuck. The Shining is weighted toward the side of choice, and is largely about choice and temptation.

Moderate spoilers. Read more... )
On the excellent rec of [personal profile] egelantier, who has a better (non-spoilery) intro with photos., I recently watched a 54-episode Chinese historical drama, Nirvana in Fire (Lang Ya Bang). It was awesome.

The plot is very complex, but it's basically the wuxia version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Twelve years before the story begins, the crown prince, his general, and the general's military genius teenage prodigy son, Lin Shu, went to fight on the emperor's behalf. Something went horribly wrong, and they were falsely accused of starting a rebellion. The paranoid emperor had them all killed, along with their 70,000-man army. Now it's a completely taboo topic which no one even dares to mention to the emperor.

But Lin Shu is not dead! Exactly. Due to a near-death experience, he survived at the cost of his martial arts skills, his physical strength and health, and his entire previous body and face. No longer the strong warrior he was, he is now completely unrecognizable, an extremely beautiful but physically weak strategist dying of magical consumption. Going by the name of Mei Changsu (also Mr. Su), he returns to the capital to clear the name of the supposed rebels, bring down the two princes currently maneuvering for the throne, institute his own former best friend (the disfavored Prince Jing) as the crown prince, and restore justice, set up good rule, and get revenge.

He does this by means of incredibly intricate plotting and the power of the sarcastic eyebrow lift. Here is a typical moment: Mei Changsu is smarter than you.

Mei Changsu/Lin Shu is a fascinating character whose motivations are slowly revealed over the course of the story. I don't want to spoil what's going on with him other than what I already said (and some of it is a matter of interpretation) but in addition to being really fun to watch (his body language is amazing), there's a lot more to him than the perfect genius who immediately meets the eye. If you're interested in issues of identity, I'll just say that there's a lot to enjoy in that direction. His refusal to tell almost anybody - including his former best friend - who he really is, even if they guess and confront him, starts out seeming to have legit plot reasons, but ends up clearly being much more about his psychology. It's frustrating to watch at times, but also really interesting and uncompromising.

On a less elevated level, his illness provides an immense amount of satisfying hurt-comfort carried to sometimes hilarious extremes, as literally everyone in his vicinity gets sucked into worrying about his health, helping him walk, providing him with fur cloaks and fluffy blankets because as apparently everyone knows and is very very concerned about, his health is very delicate and he cannot take the cold. (At one point he actually has an enemy providing him with fluffy blankets.) Also, he has really beautiful hands and a great array of sarcastic/cranky/smug glances.

But this is really an ensemble story, and it has a huge array of fascinating characters, all with their own motivations and stories. Just a few of my favorites were Consort Jing, Prince Jing's 50-something mother, who has spent nearly her entire life locked in the palace but slowly reveals a talent for intrigue which is the match of Mei Changsu's own and probably better in some ways; a pair of very different warrior women, one a general and one a sort of ninja detective, who served together in the army and whom I shipped; Mei Changsu's teenage bodyguard Fei Liu, who is developmentally disabled but great at kung fu, and has a really sweet relatationship with Mei Changsu which gets more and more heartbreaking as his death gets more imminent and Fei Liu can't accept or even really understand it; the antagonist Prince Yu, who is not a nice guy at all but has understandable motivations and solid, loving relationships with his equally scheming mother and concubine/strategic advisor; Mei Changsu's kung fu doctor buddy who turns up in the last five episodes and completely steals the show.

I could go on and on. I had to stop myself or I'd name twenty favorites. In general, I liked the large number of badass middle-aged moms and the multiple interesting and important mother-son relationships, which made a nice change from western media's ubiquitous daddy issues. Though there are also a lot of daddy issues. The emperor is terrible but a really great character and gave one of my favorite performances. He's responsible for all his own woes and a lot of everyone else's too, but if I had to sit there and watch all that scheming, I'd probably start throwing paperweights too.

The story is structured as a lot of careful set-up and dramatic or funny character bits (punctuated by kung fu battles - I swear, there must have been some contractual thing saying that no more than five episodes could go by without an attack by flying ninjas) building to spectacular pay-offs; the pay-offs are sprinkled throughout the story, but more frequent in the second half. I thought it got better and better as it went along, so if you're potentially interested, I would keep going for a while even if it's confusing/slow at first.

I think everyone who might possibly have any interest should watch it so I can talk about some spoilery aspects. The first episode was really confusing and the series picked up a lot as it went along and I started figuring out who everyone was (and stopped thinking stuff like, "Is that the favored prince, the disfavored prince, or the non-prince dude whose status I'm uncertain of, and is he talking to his girlfriend, his advisor, or his sister?" It doesn't help that a lot of people have multiple names.

Maybe you could start with episode two. I think most of what happens in episode one just sets up some stuff. Skip this paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled, read it if you might skip episode one. There are two contenders for the throne, the Crown Prince (a total tool) and Prince Yu, and that younger Prince Jing is not considered a contender. Mei Changsu is associated with Langya Hall (a sort of martial arts and strategy consulting firm)which puts out the Langya List (a sort of Forbes List of great martial artists, strategists, and rich people), and comes to the capital under the easily broken identity of "Mr. Su." (Most people investigate him, quickly find that he's really Mei Changsu, the brilliant strategist ("The Divine Talent"), and don't think to look farther.) As Lin Shu (aka Xiao Shu), he was engaged to the general and princess Nihuang, and was best friends with Prince Jing (Jingyan).

The only person who knows that Mr. Su/Mei Changsu is actually Lin Shu is General Meng, who helps him find an appropriate mansion and build a secret passageway so Mei Changsu can meet with Prince Jing (aka Jingyan). This leads to this hilarious exchange:

General Meng: "The passage is ready. Now you may have your secret midnight rendezvous with Prince Jing."

Mei Changsu: "Could you try phrasing that differently?"

(If you legit ship them, there is plenty to support that and it's really angsty and epic. I had what seems to be a minority ship, which was Mei Changsu/Lin Chen, the late-appearing doctor buddy who is the one person who actually calls him on all his asshole behavior and is the only person other than Fei Liu who ever gets him to smile. I liked his relationship with Nihuang, his ex-fiancee, but I couldn't ship it because even though she does extract a few hugs from him, they are hilariously awkward. He pats her on the back like he has no idea what he's supposed to do in such a bizarre situation. That had to be deliberate, because he otherwise uses his hands so beautifully that they sometimes distracted me from reading the subtitles. And while I'm on shipping, Nihuang and Xia Dong would do a lot better with each other.)

If I have sold you on starting, I suggest using the handy photographic character guide and some patience. The show is really rewarding once you get your bearings.

Watch on Viki

Watch on Youtube

Character guide with photos.

Has anyone seen this? I would love to discuss some spoilery aspects, but only if you've seen the whole thing.
In six months, Earth will be destroyed by a giant asteroid and everyone will die. Society is slowly disintegrating, with many services gone and lots of people bailing from their jobs or committing suicide. But some people are still hanging on... and one new detective is tackling his first murder case. But if everyone is going to be dead in six months anyway, does it matter if a single murder is solved?

I loved the premise of this story, which is such a great vehicle for exploring a lot of themes I'm interested in: does what we do matter if it's impermanent? What is worth doing if we know for a fact that our time is limited? What's worth doing if all the usual consequences are stripped away? And I liked the book to the degree that it explores those themes, and also to the degree that it does an interesting job of portraying life six months before the apocalypse.

That degree was mixed. Life before the apocalypse was pretty good, interesting, and convincing; things are falling apart, but not everyone reacts in the same way. My favorite moments were those concerning people doing stuff other than committing suicide in despair. (There were some of those, but John Wyndham did a more affecting depiction of that in The Day of the Triffids.) A new young cop chases a thief, gun ready, screaming, "Stop or I'll shoot, motherfucker!" and later confesses that she just didn't want to die without ever having done that; a barista sets up a game with coffee beans and paper cups for his customers to bet on where the asteroid will strike; a coroner stays on the job because it's what she's always wanted to do.

The main character, Hank Palace, also really wanted to be a cop, which partly explains his fixation on solving a case when he and the world only have six months left to live, but partly is also looking for something to take his mind off the apocalypse. The thematic issues I mentioned come up, but not in any great depth. They're suggested rather than explored, as Palace doggedly pursues leads while lots of people (but not all) question why he's even bothering. It's an issue which he seems to not want to dwell upon, which is understandable but which led me to expect him to have more of a revelation of or confrontation with his own motives at the climax. This doesn't really happen. He solves his case, which as with many mysteries is more interesting as a puzzle than a solution, and then the book ends abruptly. Not with an asteroid strike. With a "read the sequel!"

Worth reading if you like the premise, but not entirely satisfying. Not sure if I'll read the sequels; a skim of reviews suggested that they're pretty similar to this one.

The Last Policeman: A Novel (The Last Policeman Trilogy)
rachelmanija: (Autumn: small leaves)
( Sep. 28th, 2016 08:25 pm)
Dear Yuletide writer,

Thank you for writing for me! I am very non-fussy about Yuletide and love the fandoms I requested, so please don't stress too much about making me happy. Write me something in a fandom I love, and I will be happy. If you click on my Yuletide tag you will find past letters with lots of detail on what I like in general.

Two little FYIs: I started writing my letter at home, then left before I could finish it. I am currently away from home and can't write as much, so less tl;dr isn't indication of which I want most, just due to circumstances. The other is for any friends who might be trawling this letter for treat prompts. I still love anything I requested for any Yuletide in history, so if you don't know any of these fandoms, feel free to pick up anything from past letters that's in the Yuletide tag set.

Read more... )
Pamela Dean has a Patreon to enable her to edit and release the book she's been working on for years, Going North, and also to write new books. If you're a fan of her work, here's your chance to see more of it.

She and Patricia Wrede also released a collected edition of their Liavek stories, including two new stories. Points of Departure. Pamela Dean's Liavek stories are some of my favorites of her work. They're set in a shared world, but I think this edition makes sense on its own. Some stories are co-written with Patricia Wrede, but the majority were written separately.

The Wrede stories mostly concern a sharp-tongued old woman magician, and her travails trying to save her city from incursions by ill-intentioned Gods and magicians while (equally annoying to her) get her incredibly dysfunctional family to shape up. Dean's stories are about the dysfunctional family, some following the most resilient member, some backstage comedy-dramas about the brother who ran away to become an actor and playwright, and some (this is the main storyline) about the depressed daughter who is only living because she has a responsibility to her cat and is drawn into an odd religion, the Way of Responsible Life, which on the surface is an order of suicides but is actually much more than that (though it is also that.) I won't spoil it but I will say that despite the content, it is not depressing (though sometimes sad) but is also uplifting and often quite funny.

She also started up a press which has released two of her hard-to-find books in e-editions, The Dubious Hills and Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, at Blaisdell Press. If you have not read either of those books before, The Dubious Hills is where I'd start. It's a small-scale fantasy set in a very strange village in which all knowledge and understanding is magically parceled out to individual citizens, so they have to, say, go to the person in charge of feeling pain to know if they're hurt. The premise sounds like a thought experiment but it reads more like lyric fantasy a la Patricia McKillip, beautifully written and with a cozy atmosphere; I've never read anything quite like it. I would especially recommend it to Asakiyume, if you haven't read it yet.

ETA: Click on the author's name tag to read my previous review of the stories collected in Points of Departure and a novella, "Owlswater," which is upcoming if the Patreon works out.
This post is about the ending of the series, and by that I mean mostly the very end, the one that comes after King basically says, “You can stop here if you want to just imagine what happens next, and by the way that’s probably a good idea.” (It's a little complicated but there's at least two clearly marked "you can stop here" points. One is before the end, one is the actual end.) So, this entire post is hugely spoilery and not interesting if you haven't read everything there is to read. [Except for The Wind Through the Keyhole, which is a prequel that I haven't read yet either.]

If you just want to know how I felt about the conclusion or are trying to decide how far you want to go without getting spoiled, I liked both endings, and they work together in the sense that the second continues the story farther without contradicting the first. The second is darker, but there’s room for interpretation and I didn’t find it grimdark or invalidating anything that went before. However, other readers might disagree and I have the vague impression (vague because I was trying not to be spoiled) that the majority of readers did not like the ending.

Read more... )
The cover is gorgeous, the title is perfect, and the concept— a boarding school for teenagers who visited different fantasylands via portals, and are now misfits because they can’t get back— is fantastic.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t live up to its concept, except in lovely but brief and scattered flashes: a line, an image, a bit of dramatic irony. It was an incredibly frustrating read, because the idea was so great and every now and then it would actually be what I wanted from the idea. For one or two lines. And then it would go back to not being very good. The execution was simultaneously extremely shallow, underdeveloped, and full of uninteresting padding. (It’s a short novel, possibly technically a novella. It STILL feels both rushed and padded.)

The problem starts with the plot. The main character is Nancy, a girl who visited an Underworld and wants to go back, but whose parents are baffled by her disappearance, her return, and her insistence on wearing goth clothing. So she’s sent to Eleanor West’s Home For Wayward Children, which turns out to be a refuge for teenagers who lived a portal fantasy, then went home and are still seeking a way back. (There’s one character who doesn’t want to go back, but he’s the exception.)

The bewildered Nancy, who hates the fast, hot, bright world above and longs to return to the peace and stillness of the Halls of the Dead, is also baffled by the other teenagers, most of whom went to either some version of Fairyland or a wacky nonsense world a la Alice in Wonderland. But worse, a serial killer begins to stalk the school! Or is it one of the students!?


At least half the book consists of a poorly-executed and gruesome murder mystery. The incredibly obvious solution, which is postponed to the end of the book by the characters’ total failure to apply basic logic or make any normal investigations whatsoever like search the place, does turn out to be relevant to the concept. But I wanted to read a book that’s actually about its premise, and half the book consists of characters acting exactly like teenagers from an early slasher film, the ones pre-metafictional-awareness where they actually did stuff like know a serial killer is murdering them all one by one, hear creepy noises, and go alone into the basement. And because the characters are so flat, they seem weirdly unmoved by the slaughter of their classmates or the possibility that they might be next. So a big chunk of the story has nothing to do with the premise, is much less interesting than the premise, and is badly executed for what it is.

The parts of the book that deal with the premise are a mixed bag. All the good parts involve that, and if the whole book was like the good parts, I would have loved it. They’re mostly spoilery (Eleanor West’s heartbreaking plans for her own future; the tragic irony reveal of what was going on in one of the murder victims’ homes before and after her death) but there’s also some good lines and images involving the portal worlds. Sumi and Nancy’s conversation about masturbation was hilarious, and I was very intrigued by the little we saw of Christopher’s Dia de los Muertos world.

But they’re only snippets. We never get any solid sense of what most of the portal worlds were like. Nancy’s is the most solid, and even that is really vague and lacking in detail. It does explain for a few of the characters what drew them to specific worlds, but the explanations are mundane rather than interesting (a girl who was stereotyped as “the pretty one” got a chance to be smart) or lacking in depth (Nancy wanted stillness rather than movement. Why? The book sure isn’t saying. Other than that it had nothing to do with being asexual because that would be a stereotype.)

This premise could have either been very metafictional, or done very realistically. (It dabbles in both, but commits to neither.) Either way, developing the portal worlds more would have been a good idea. For metafiction, I would have loved interstitial chapters set in various portal worlds, done in different styles, so, say, Sumi gets a chapter written in the style of Lewis Carroll, Nancy gets in the style of Tanith Lee, and so forth. For a more realistic take, it would have needed more depth to both the characters and the worlds. Instead, we get a taxonomy of worlds that makes no sense (this is not helped by the characters saying it makes no sense) and is never explained, developed, or deconstructed beyond a couple lines saying maybe it’s more complicated than that. But how isn’t explained.

The characters have approximately one characteristic each, and some have zero beyond “He went to a world where everyone is skeletons.” There’s a lot of sexual and gender diversity, handled with mixed success. Nancy is asexual, resulting in several blog-like explanations of asexuality and aromanticism; a trans character has a really interesting-sounding backstory which is, of course, only given in tantalizing, undeveloped snippets.

A lot of the better-written lines, in terms of prose style, are social commentary or commentary on portal fantasy; they tend to sound clever but be nonsensical if you think about them. Most of the characters are girls, which I am all for, but this is explained by boys not being portal fantasy characters (incorrect in any era of fiction I’m aware of; there are ovewhelmingly girl-dominated fantasy genres but portal fantasy isn’t one) and society paying more attention to and caring more about boys so they’re not allowed to explore alone the way girls are (WHAT?) and people notice when they go missing (except everyone noticed when the girls went missing.) Sounds cool and feminist, does not match either reality or what is actually depicted on the book.

And while I’m complaining about metafiction, it kept seeming weird to me that so many characters went to childish nonsense worlds as teenagers, when in real fiction that’s a children’s book rather than YA thing, and so few went to darker worlds and most of the teenagers disapproved of that, when vampires and other dark elements are common in YA fantasy and in real life, teenagers are often into dark stuff.

In short, the book frustrated the hell out of me; I will probably buy at least one of the sequels to see if I like it better (probably not, I think I’m just not McGuire’s audience; I really disliked Rosemary and Rue) because the concept is so cool and I’m curious to see if a sequel will be more about the concept. If it has another murder mystery, I’m done.

Spoilers OK in comments.

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children)

ETA: Short story by Jo Walton that goes into similar themes. It also doesn't get into detail about the fantasy world, but it feels like the right level of detail for a short story. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2000/20001023/relentlessly_mundane.shtml
I want to write more about these books at my leisure, but for anyone who is wondering if I was still reading or what, I finished the sequence, and I'm really glad I did. It's weird and flawed and probably would have been better if King hadn't taken it in some of the directions he did, but I agree overall with Swantower's assessment: it really is his masterwork, not in the sense of "best book" (though I think it's among his best books, taken as a whole and certainly individually for some of them) but his key work, his most ambitious, possibly his most personal, and apparently what he thought of as his most important.

All my favorites of his books are flawed and weird and go on too long and have parts I don't like, and none but Firestarter have endings that I 100% love. This is all true of Dark Tower, but I liked the endings (yes, I read both) a lot more than I expected to. I especially want to talk about the second ending because it's such a fascinating example of a lot of spoilery writing/storytelling things, but I'll do so in another post; please don't spoil it here.

(At the end of Wizard In Glass, I thought I knew what the ending would be, or at least I knew how I'd write it. Then events went in a different direction, and the ending we got felt at least somewhat inevitable based on everything that went before. I might write my imagined ending as an AU fic spinning off from that point.)

As I mentioned before, I really like King's narrative voice even when I don't like the book otherwise, and in the books of his that I love, it's because I like the story, his voice is at its best, and I love the characters. Once I got past the first book, I loved the voice (his use of language and dialogue and made-up words is really impressive here, if sometimes uneven), loved a lot of the story and found it compelling even when I didn't like some of the places he took it, and I loved the main characters. I'm really glad I read it, there are parts I'm sure I'll re-read many times, and this was a good time for me to find something immersive.
I dreamed that LA mounted a regional production of Hamilton, with easily available tickets at $5.00 each. Of course, I immediately dragged basically everyone I knew, including a group of visiting sf fans from other countries. Most of the people I brought (about 20 of them) were unfamiliar with the play, but I was certain that they would be instant converts.

When it began, I realized that the director had inexplicably decided to combine the play with Three Penny Opera, which he also didn't understand - for instance, "Pirate Jenny" was done as a strip-tease. Also, all the actors were white.

This went on for 15 minutes while I vainly attempted to communicate in whispers to my friends that this was not the play. "This is like going to see Hamlet and finding that they've actually produced Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!" I whispered indignantly.

Then I was relieved that apparently they were actually going to do at least some Hamilton, as a black actor appeared and shouted "I'm Aaron Burr!"

Then the opening chords of "Alexander Hamilton" began.

I then found that the director had completely rewritten the lyrics to simplify them, and also to use an all-purpose, gender neutral pronoun of his own invention, "zoo."

All I remember was "Zoo are waiting around for zoo," when I woke up, greatly relieved that this travesty - and I don't mean Stoppard's-- does not actually exist.

Yet. (Thanks to Tool of Satan for the link.)
An abused wife, Rose, flees her psychopath husband, Norman, who unfortunately for her is a cop, and starts a new life. Because this is a Stephen King novel, her husband comes after her… and she finds an odd painting in a pawn shop that calls to her, depicting a woman in a chiton in front of a temple, and which slowly reveals magical properties, both of a helpful and a dangerous nature.

The opening scenes of Rose’s marriage, and then her flight, are an astonishing piece of writing, horrifying and gripping and completely psychologically believable. So, warning for horrific violence against women (and also against men, eventually, as Norman starts taking out people standing between him and her.) Sure, most domestic abusers are not also serial/spree killers, but I regret to say that absolutely none of the horrifying violence he does to her within their marriage is stuff that doesn’t happen in real life.

This is an odd book, of parts that don’t quite mesh together and aren’t all equally well-done.

Rose herself is a wonderful character, and I loved all the parts that are just her fleeing, learning to be her own person, and exploring the magic of the painting. Unlike most thrillers with abused women, she actually goes to a women’s shelter. That part is also very well done and there are a number of great characters there. The one part of Rose’s story that didn’t quite work for me is her romance. On the one hand, I did like that finds love with a non-abusive guy. My problem is that he’s too idealized and doesn’t feel as real as a lot of other characters in the book – he feels like Rose’s wish-fulfillment reward rather than a real person.

There are a lot of sections from Norman’s POV. They are really unpleasant to read, for obvious reasons, and I ended up skimming them and reading just enough to keep track of what he was doing. Those could and should have been edited down to the absolute minimum. I often don’t mind King’s lack of editing – like, I was perfectly happy to read abou Rose decorating her apartment – but only when I like the characters, and there is absolutely nothing likable about Norman. He’s also not that interesting compared to other King villians. Like, Annie Wilkes is also hard to read, but she’s a great character with interesting motivations. Norman is just a horrible, vicious sociopath.

Then there’s the world of the painting. I don’t want to spoil it (though you can in comments) but it went in some directions I expected and some I didn’t. It’s a thing of power that is never really explained, but makes sense on its own terms, some drawn from our world’s myths, some original. It’s darker than I expected; helpful to Rose, in general, but a dangerous thing and not one that she controls. A lot of it has the same “wellspring of myth” sense that I got from parts of The Dark Tower and is explicit in Lisey’s Story. It feels both dreamlike and real, nightmarish but also a source of power that can be used for good, if you’re clever and well-meaning and determined and wise.

Those, of course, are the qualities of a fairy-tale heroine on a quest. Rose Madder has some interesting fairy-tale references as well as mythic ones; the gap between the prologue and the first chapter could be read as an incredibly dark take on “Sleeping Beauty,” in which the heroine rescues herself by means of a single drop of blood, though it comes from something much worse than the prick of a thorn. There’s a lot of red and roses in the story: Rose herself, roses, the painting called (or signed?) Rose Madder, the color “red madder,” the chiton, blood, pomegranate seeds. For a book that in some ways feels like two or even three books stuck together, the themes (as opposed to the plot and tone) are extremely coherent.

I liked it a lot but it’s an odd book and I’m sure not for everyone. King himself said somewhere that he didn’t think it succeeded, but the parts that work really work; it does feel like he was pushing at his limits as a writer, so maybe he felt like he was over-ambitious and failed. If nothing else, I bet he learned a lot from writing it. As I mentioned, I skimmed Norman’s POV as much as possible and would skip it entirely on a re-read. Lisey’s Story, in contrast, benefits from completely omitting the villain’s POV.

Rose Madder
So this is King’s giant fantasy magnum opus. As you can see by clicking his tag, I did not much like the first book. However, if you read comments (they’re not spoilery) you will see many people suggesting that I give the second one a try because it doesn’t have the stuff I disliked about The Gunslinger, which was that it had a one-note tone, was overly grimdark, and the characters didn’t feel like real people and were almost universally unlikable, and did have the qualities that I like about King (varied tone, good dialogue, likable and real-feeling characters, great set-piece scenes, contains horror elements but not primarily horror) in addition to what I see as flaws but also seem to go with his books that I like best (sprawling, needs editing, all over the place, story falls apart to some degree or another toward the end.)

Upon advice, I started the second Dark Tower book while my knee was being iced at PT and was instantly sucked in. King, like Dick Francis, is excellent for when you really want to read about people having a worse day than you are. I usually have to care about characters to care about their predicaments, but this opened with such a compelling situation that I cared anyway. And then Roland got way more human and likable, and other likable and human characters were introduced. I was hooked.

I liked it SO MUCH more than The Gunslinger. In fact, if you didn’t like The Gunslinger, but you do like the sort of thing I’m about to describe, I would definitely recommend at least starting the second book. (You could even start The Gunslinger, and if you hate it you could read the summary in the front of the second book and just move on to that. If you don’t like the second book any better, give up, you probably won’t like the series.)

The tone is almost a 180 from that of The Gunslinger (the tone is all over the place, but I tend to like that), and likable characters appear THANK GOD. What it does keep from the first book is the sense of epicness, the western archetypes, and the density of references to all sorts of stuff. It and the next book are exciting, funny, and I just adored them.

I loved the characters. I loved the many brilliant set-pieces, including one sequence which I would use in a class to teach the use of suspense in which characters have to do something difficult while under extreme pressure and handicapped, with very high stakes if they screw up – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything better along those lines. It was the written equivalent of the climactic stunts in the Mission Impossible movies, only much more narratively complex. And also demonstrating how humor can add to rather than subtract from suspense.

These are HARD books to discuss without spoilers, but I want people who haven’t read them to get a sense of why they might be worth reading unspoiled. So I will use a spoiler cut for the opening scenes of book two. Read it if you’re not willing to just take a chance on it, don’t if you’ll take my word that you might really enjoy it.

Rushthatspeaks described Book Two as “it feels to me like a very specific kind of seventies movie, usually containing Pacino and/or De Niro, if you put that in a blender with high fantasy and hit frappe.” Sholio called it a hurt-comfort extravaganza. Both descriptions are absolutely correct. Those are both things that I like very much, so it is unsurprising that I adored the book. The sequel leaves behind the seventies movie aspects, and is about a sort of found family traveling around a fantasyland and having AWESOME adventures of AWESOMENESS. The fourth book concludes the hanging plotline of book three, and appears to mostly be a flashback to Roland’s past.

I have not begun the flashback, so please do not spoil me for it or anything past the part where his flashback begins in comments. But you may comment on or spoil anything up to his flashback (that is, through the first few chapters of Wizard in Glass which conclude the “Blaine” storyline and is as far as I've read.)

This cut spoils about the first fifth of The Drawing of the Three. It has minimal spoilers for The Gunslinger - really just the premise.

Read more... )

FUCKING AWESOMEST SCENE EVER WRITTEN. Except for the multiple, equally awesome scenes that are all over the next two books. I loved those two books (and the first few chapters of the fourth, which is all of the fourth I've read so no spoilers beyond that point) as much as anything I've ever read. It's not so much that it's perfect - it's not - it's that it contains so much that I happen to personally love. Those books just spoke to me, and I'm so glad to have something like that right now.

There are two more characters who show up in this book and become main characters and they are GREAT, but they are also hugely spoilery. You can discuss in comments, though. I will try to write more on them tomorrow.

Caveats: Book one is sexist. Book two is politically incorrect– I’m using that term deliberately because unlike book one, where the issues just seemed to be King’s unconscious issues, here he’s clearly thought about them, they make sense within the story, and they don’t involve sidelining the characters who are political minorities. The issues are there, but they may or may not offend you, depending on how much weight you place on context.

One of the main characters in the second two books is a black woman who has some spoilery things that on the one hand, are problematic to the max if described out of context, but there are in-story reasons that make sense. She is not sidelined by the men, and is badass and a great character, at least up to the point where I’ve read. (Though there are three male and one female protagonists, so not much interaction between women.)

The problem with explaining the issues is that they are hugely spoilery and if you can stand them, are also pretty cool to discover unspoiled. So, general warning and if you want to know, read the spoilers in comments here or in later posts I'll make. If you’re familiar with King, you can probably guess the general substance.

That being said, most of the main characters have a disability of some sort or another, and while they’re not done with total realism (for instance, the wrong label is used for a mental illness but it’s a mistake that a lot of writers made at that time) I generally liked how they worked within the story. King does not conveniently forget about them, ever. (Or yet, anyway.) He also clearly thought a lot about how the characters would deal with stuff given their disabilities – it’s a huge part of the story overall.

…and I will stop here or I will write all day. I will try to continue later, but again, feel free to discuss anything up to the flashback section of Wizard in Glass in comments.
Before this becomes all Stephen King, all the time, I thought I'd do some quick write-ups of nonfiction I read a while back. All of these are survival stories of plane crashes. I am putting them in order of quality, from best to worst.

Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival, by Laurence Gonzales. A meticulously researched and very readable account of the plane crash in a corn field fictionalized in Peter Weir's haunting movie Fearless. Gonzales (author of the fantastic Deep Survival) tells a gripping story of tragedy and heroism, of chance and courage and survival. I ended up skipping the chapter which gets into overly technical details of the exact cause of the mechanical failure that caused the crash, but otherwise it's a very well-done book about a tragedy that could have been so much worse.

About a third of the passengers died; if not for the quick thinking of the pilots (including one flying as a passenger who got recruited to help out), probably everyone would have; if not for their decision to try to land in a cornfield at great risk to their lives, probably people would have been killed on the ground. There are also a number of individual rescues, plus a fascinating account of the emergency response on the ground.

The book has a haunting quality, not just because of the deaths but because of the strangeness of the incident; many passengers found themselves lost in a cornfield, with the plane invisible, as if they'd been transported to another world. And like all large-scale incidents, some questions will never be answered. One man remembers a woman with perfect clarity, but no woman matching that description was on the flight. This is the crash where a man climbed back into the burning, smoke-filled plane to save a baby, whom he miraculously found unhurt in a luggage compartment. I knew that part, but there's a heartbreaking sequel that I didn't know: the baby girl committed suicide at the age of fifteen. No one knows why, or if the crash had anything to do with it.

Highly recommended, if you like that kind of thing and you're not feeling emotionally fragile.

81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska's Frozen Wilderness, by Brian Murphy is the story of Leon Crane, a WWII test pilot who was the sole survivor of a crash in Alaska, and made his way back to safety in 81 days despite virtually no supplies or wilderness training, through a combination of grit, intelligence, and some incredibly good luck involving where he crashed - even ten miles in any other direction might have led him to miss something without which he would have been very unlikely to survive.

This is biography, not memoir, and is somewhat hampered by Crane's reluctance to talk about what happened, apparently not due to trauma but to a combination of natural reticence, humility, and the sense that it was a profound experience which could not be put into words, or which words might spoil. So a lot of the story is reconstructed from second-hand accounts, yet gets into enough detail of what Crane might have been thinking and so forth that I would consider it creative nonfiction rather than strict nonfiction, as the next two books are.

If you like survival stories, you will like this. Despite some hiccups, it's generally well-written, clear, vivid, and engrossing. I would say it's good but not great.

My trade paperback omits dialogue marks apparently at random for the first few chapters; I assume this is an error, because if it's a writing choice it's inexplicable and distracting. Hopefully it is an error and your version will not have it.

Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds: The Tragedy & Triumph of ASA Flight 529, by Gary M. Pomerantz. This is similar to Gonzales' book, but tells the story of a different crash. It's good but not as good; it also has a lot of descriptions of horrific, month-long deaths by burns that I found hard to read. It's also haunting in other ways: the stewardess who saved many people's lives got PTSD and never really recovered; she had to stop flying, and while she finally did get on a plane many years later, as a passenger, she never managed to appreciate the lives she saved, but only blamed herself for the people she couldn't save.

As you can tell, I am fascinated by plane crashes. They seem to cause more and more severe PTSD in survivors than other types of accidents, perhaps because everyone but the pilots feel out of control and because survival is primarily about where you were sitting, not what you did. People don't seem to do well with terrible incidents that rub in how much chance is a factor. The freakish, unusual nature also seems to not help. (PTSD from car crashes occurs, but not that frequently. I think it's because drivers have some sense of control, and car crashes are relatively normal and common, unlike plane crashes.)

The Light of the Moon: Life, Death and the Birth of Advanced Trauma Life Support. A memoir by a man whose father, a doctor, crashed his small plane in a rural area at night with his entire family in it. His wife was killed, but his children survived with severe injuries. He was not happy with their treatment at the hospital they were initially transported to, and discovered that there were no nationwide guidelines for treating mass trauma victims. So he created and implemented them, nationwide, no doubt saving thousands and thousands of lives.

The author was a boy and unconscious after the crash, so he apparently interviewed his father to get an account of it. That part is very good. The rest of the book… Well, he's clearly not a pro author. There's endless accounts of the search for the plane which are sometimes interesting and sometimes incredibly tedious. His account of his own research as an adult into what happened is generally awful - he literally has pages and pages detailing how he googled stuff.

The parts I was really curious about - his and his family's recovery, and how his father managed to implement medical protocols nationwide - are mainly skipped over. He says that his nine-year-old brother lost ALL his memory of everything that happened before the crash. If he means his entire life, WOW do I want to hear about that and how he coped - he would have never remembered his mother, for instance. But since the author says nothing more about it, I assume it was a poorly worded sentence and he means that his brother had some degree of anteretrograde amnesia - maybe days, maybe even months - but not his whole life.

Interesting story, not told too well. Bad or flawed memoirs typically have this issue of too much filler and a failure to distinguish between what the author and reader is interested in.
Stephen King has written one of my favorite books ever (The Stand) in addition to one of my favorite psychic kids books (Firestarter) and also lots of books that I just like a lot, or are worth reading even if I didn't love them.

He is one of my exceptions to generally not liking horror and, in fact, I tend to enjoy his books in direct proportion to how horror-ish they actually are. This is why, unlike some fans, I tend to not like his short stories and prefer his novels. Yeah, sure, his novels tend to be flawed and sprawling and in need to editing while he can turn out an absolutely perfect little horror story… but I don't really like horror, and if I like the characters, I'm fine with unnecessary passages in which they go shopping and encounter random dangers and have lengthy discussions that aren't all that relevant to the story.

The other thing about King is that I tend to like him proportionally to how much I like his characters: hence my adoration of The Stand and why I like It quite a bit despite its weirdness and the fact that it has a fucking evil clown that makes me really hesitate to re-read because, sorry to be a cliche, but I am scared of clowns. But it has wonderful characters.

But I stopped reading him when he was writing some of his worst books (I might have given up at Tommyknockers), but then after reading his nonfiction book On Writing (one of the very few books on writing which I actually recommend, which explains that he was an addict for a while and it had a bad effect on his writing) and re-reading Pet Sematary for Yuletide (the definition of an objectively good book that nobody wants to read again) I checked up and found that popular opinion said he got good again once he sobered up. This turned out to be correct, and I am happily reading my way through his very large back catalogue.

I am currently engrossed in The Dark Tower and will shortly be blogging that. I just started book four, so DO NOT SPOIL anything about the series in comments here. I didn't like book one much, but loved the second and third books as much as I have ever loved anything written, so I want to wait to write them up for when I have a little more time. (I am about to take off to the Farmer's Market).

Meanwhile, I give you my brief thoughts on The Long Walk. It's a relatively short book in which a America has a Norman Rockwell surface but is clearly a dystopia, because it has an annual event in which one hundred boys must walk without stopping across America. If they stop for more than the count of three, they get shot in the head. The last boy standing wins something good, though no one has ever met a winner so clearly the last one is whisked off and then shot too, I assume. No explanation of why this is done. No one seems to think any of this is weird.

It manages to have an even more implausible premise than The Hunger Games by making this a voluntary event in which many boys volunteer, and the winners are selected by lottery. No one is starving, though some could use the supposed prize money, so I found this implausible. I mean, I believe that teenage boys would do it. I find it implausible that their families would be generally okay with it.

What The Long Walk does incredibly well is portray the walk itself, which happens essentially in real time. The boys are under-characterized for the most part, but the depiction of their slow physical and psychological disintegration under pressure is incredibly intense and well-done.

As a whole, the book falls in the Uncanny Valley for me of being too allegorical/implausible to work as fantasy but too realistic to work as allegory. Still, I give it major props for the sheer relentless atmosphere even though it's not really enjoyable to read for that exact reason.

I had a similar issue with The Gunslinger-- not the Uncanny Valley issue, but that the characters didn't feel three-dimensional/likable and while the atmosphere was very well-done, it was also so relentlessly unpleasant as to not be fun to read. The first part of The Stand is my perfect version of people reacting to an extreme event - it feels incredibly real, and the characters are human and likable enough to make it fun to read. It has a varied tone, which I prefer to even the most well-done one-note when the one note is "This sucks."

(The second two Dark Tower books have EXTREMELY varied tones. Probably too much so for some readers. I loved it.)
rachelmanija: (My brother and my mother?!)
( Jul. 3rd, 2016 01:16 pm)
I attempted to google this and got SO CONFUSED.

If there is a romantic couple whose parents are cousins, what familial relationship does the couple have to each other?

ETA: Let me see if I can make this more clear.

Alice Callahan and Beatrice Callahan are cousins. Alice has a daughter, Martha Callahan. Beatrice has a son, Mr. Callahan. (He's a loser and bails on his family before the story begins, he doesn't have a first name. I'll call him Bob for simplicity.)

Bob and Martha get married. What's their familial relationship? (If this is incest, help me figure out some way that both of them have parents with the same surname that isn't incest. In the US, cousin marriage is not considered incest.)
I am mostly concluding this review to point you to the comments in the DW version of the previous post on this book, in which Rydra Wong recommends a truly amazing set of books and articles, most of which I had never even heard of, by thoughtful athletes in unusual sports who write about why they do what they do and what it feels like. I am very interested in mind-body issues, and these sorts of books are an excellent source of writing on it that is actually good and not just an annoying stew of vagueness, fifth-hand Zen, and blaming the reader for sundry failures of body and mind.

The second half of Cox's book has her pursuing her US/Soviet swim, a darkly humorous endeavor in which she is spied on by some seriously incompetent FBI agents, repeatedly bangs her nose against the Iron Curtain, and ends up with the CIA and KGB simultaneously tapping her phone. No one can quite believe that she really is doing this because she wants to, and primarily because it's the most challenging thing she can think of, rather than for some dark political purpose in which she is merely the cover. (She does, in fact, have a political purpose, but it's secondary and personal: she hopes her swim might have a sort of butterfly effect on US-Soviet relations, showing both sides that they are human beings, not the Evil Other.)

However, the same persistence that makes her a great swimmer enables the swim to happen - she keeps banging down doors until both governments, rather bewilderedly, decide that maybe they can make political hay of it. She makes the swim, and the butterfly effect actually does seem to happen. So for a while Cox does a number of other swims intended to both challenge herself and act as gestures of goodwill between countries. These are all vividly described, as she faces off with sharks, ice bergs, sea snakes, ice sharp enough to slice a boat's hull in half, and her own cold and exhaustion.

But eventually, she can't resist the ultimate swim: Antarctica. This is in water so cold that no one is sure it is even survivable. Once again, she returns to the researchers and their rectal thermometers. This time technology has improved and they want her to swallow a mini-thermometer and data-gatherer, emphasizing that it's very expensive and they need to get it back, both to download the data and because it's re-usable - "Just use a plastic bag!" Cox, suspicious: "Am I the first person to swallow this thing?" The researcher assures her that she is, while accidentally also making it clear that she won't be the last.

The reason I read this book was a brief article on Cox's swim which noted that before the swim, her teeth had to be specially sealed and some of her fillings removed and replaced, because otherwise they would shatter from the cold. That, I thought, was hardcore. At the end of the book, she notes offhandedly that the nerve damage she sustained from the cold (which she only barely mentions otherwise) is repairing itself, and she's resting while looking forward to the next thing.

Once again, highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
I'm only halfway through this memoir of a world-record cold-water swimmer, which I am greatly enjoying, but I had to share a few excerpts.

Memoirs by athletes who are famous in non-famous sports are often very interesting: they're not about being famous and meeting other famous people and (often) getting addicted to drugs/fame/sex, they're about what it actually feels like to do their sport. (Also, they're way more likely to be written by the athlete rather than a ghost writer.)

The best ones are usually by people whose sports involve a lot of endurance and are at least somewhat solo (rather than team sports; you're competing as much against yourself as against others.) I am very interested in physicality, people's relationships to their bodies, the mind-body connection, and pushing the limits of the mind and body, so I like that sort of thing. Especially when interesting locales are involved. People who get seriously into things like rock climbing, long-distance swimming, mountaineering, etc, tend to have mindsets that would not be out of place in a Zen temple.

Cox discovered an aptitude for cold-water, long-distance swimming as a child; she was rather hilariously inept at all other sports, and had a three-year battle with a PE teacher who hated her and kept refusing to excuse her from volleyball to do stuff like train to set the world record swimming the English Channel at age fourteen. Cox was completely self-motivated; her family supported but did not push her.

At this point she is looking for new frontiers. This is all swimming in oceans, not pools. While stymied in her hope of swimming from Alaska to the Soviet Union by 1) everyone telling her that the water is so cold that she would die in ten minutes, 2) her only landing point being a Soviet SPY BASE which they understandably did not want to let an American on to, she joins a study on cold water swimming led by Dr. William McCafferty and Dr. Barbara Drinkwater (seriously), partly to pass the time and partly in the hope that she'll learn something that will enable her to swim in water that normally kills people.

Dr. Drinkwater explains that men have less body fat, and so tend to sink. Women have more, and so tend to float. But… "You're different. You have neutral buoyancy. That means your body density is exactly the same as seawater. Your proportion of fat to muscle is perfectly balanced so you don't float or sink in the water; you're at one with the water. We've never seen anything like this before."

Cox is fascinated by this finding, which meshes with both her abilities and her sense that she is, in fact, one with sea water. But they want to see how she reacts in a natural environment, not in a lab, so Dr. McCafferty and his wife walk their dog on the beach while she does her daily workout in the ocean.

Before and after these workouts, I'd hide behind a bush and take my core temperature using a rectal thermometer, the only way to get an accurate reading after an immersion in cold water. I always made a point of telling Dr. McCafferty my temperature just as joggers were passing; they'd give him quizzical looks, since it appeared to them that he was talking to the bushes.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
Strange fantasy by Stephen King, one of his earlier books. He later revised it to correct some minor-sounding issues of consistency with later books in the series; I read the revised version, which has a fantastic short essay by King at the beginning. I love his nonfiction writing.

It has a justly famous first line: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Like it says: a gunslinger relentlessly pursues a man in black who is very bad news. That’s not to say that the gunslinger has clean hands himself.

It’s a weird western, somewhere on the border between dark fantasy and horror, in an incredibly bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape. It has a lot of elements I like and does capture the epic, mythic, movie Old West atmosphere he was going for, but it’s also overly gloomy for my taste— the atmosphere felt very oppressive, which was clearly deliberate, but still— and, very unusually for King and me, I was not grabbed by the characters. He was clearly going for archetypal (the gunslinger’s name isn’t revealed till something like halfway through), but for me it just read as flat. His characterization tends to work via specific details and unique speech patterns, and this had few details and most people spoke more or less the same way. The characterization made sense given the overall conception, but it didn’t play to King's strengths as a writer.

However, I gather that the sequels go in very different directions. Should I read them? Am I more likely to like them? I also have a vague impression that the series ending was widely disliked. If you read it, without getting too spoilery, 1) did you hate it if you got that far, 2) did you hate it enough to retrospectively ruin the entire series, 3) if yes to both, is there a good pre-ending stopping point?

There have been rumors of a movie for forever, but it’s now actually happening and Idris Elba plays the gunslinger. This ups my interest in the series quite a bit. Of course I could just see the movies, but that’s a long wait for a lot of installments.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower)
This short graphic novel, which can be downloaded here or ordered as a paper review copy from the website, is subtitled “Struggling for Family Acceptance in Iran: the story of two gay men.”

It is that rare thing, a work of propaganda which is also a work of art. The entire genre of protest music contains many wonderful songs so it’s not rare there, but I can’t think of too many examples of written propaganda which are also good art. This is. Since I already agree with its message, I was expecting a “preaching to the choir” effect and enjoy the art more than the story. I loved both. It’s extremely well-written, easily gliding from lyrical metaphors to wisecracks to satisfying story moments. It makes its point, but it does so much more than that, too.

Yousuf and Farhad, which was commissioned by Outright, was created to promote the idea that there is nothing wrong with being gay and that gay people should be accepted both politically and personally, to raise awareness of the persecution and prejudice against LGBTQ people in Iran, and to support Iranian LGBTQ people. It’s also a lovely graphic novel which is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always moving. The art is expressive, and even the most minor characters feel like real people with their own stories. Actually, the supporting characters seem more like real people, while the heroes are more types, but that’s probably deliberately done to create an everyman effect and aid in reader identification.

It’s short and sweet, so I don’t want to give too much away. Yousuf and Farhad are two men in love in a place where their love is forbidden; they face prejudice, persecution, and despair, but also find comfort, support, and aid, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

On a literary level, it continues a very old tradition in Persian literature of linking Earthly love to Divine love with its comparisons of the beloved to holy places and things, and the love between the men with the love of God for his creations. The names of the heroes are taken from two of the most famous Persian works of literature, the heterosexual love stories of Farhad and Shirin and Yousef and Zuleikha. It obviously implies that gay love is equal to and as important as straight love and, more subtly, suggests that LGTQ people and the stories of their love should be as respected in Iran specifically, by tying them in to culturally important stories. (I’m using “Iran” to mean the modern country and “Persian” for its ancient literature; that seems to be the most common usage, but please correct me if it’s not the preferred one.)

This is a story which is radical given the current political context, but it does not appeal to radicalism. Instead, it says that there is nothing inherently radical or counterculture about same-sex love and it does not conflict with traditional values or with Islam, and it is homophobia which is a break from tradition and with Islam. I hope it gets through to the people for whom this would be a convincing argument or the only one they would accept.

I obviously read the English version, but it’s also available in Farsi. Contain people being homophobic and (decode at rot13com to see the spoilers) n aba-tencuvp fhvpvqr nggrzcg.

If you want to know if there’s a happy ending, gurl ner unccl naq gbtrgure ng gur raq.

If you would like to read more of Solani’s work, his graphic novel Zahra's Paradise was hugely acclaimed. Based on the subject matter— a young protestor who vanishes— it also looks hugely heartbreaking.

Jessica Stern of Outright wanted me to give a hard copy to the person who edited the latest Outright benefit anthology. (It's quite beautiful in paper and I wish it was more available that way.) So please email me with your address. ;)


rachelmanija: (Default)


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags