rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-03-04 12:00 pm

Podcast Interview

Sherwood and I were interviewed on the Outer Alliance podcast by Julia Rios. Please feel free to ask follow-up questions here. (Spoilers are clearly stated in the interview, in "skip ahead a few minutes" format.)
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2015-02-26 09:22 am

Partner (the new Werewolf Marines book) is in stores now!

It's the sequel to Prisoner, which is FREE at all stores.

DJ Torres, the dyslexic werewolf Marine, and Echo, the genetically engineered assassin who is probably not a platypus shifter, return! Can they take on a shady government agency armed only with a playlist of the world's worst songs, the dubious assistance of a pack of dysfunctional made wolves, the power of love, and a whole lot of stolen weapons?

Features banter, movie and music references, about two bingo cards worth of hurt-comfort, PTSD and other mental illnesses (warning: suicide attempt), Russian meat jello, adventure, comedy, and way more sex than in the first book.

If you contributed to the posts requesting songs with odd subjects or terrible songs, some of your nominees appear in the book.

Echo has devoted her life to protecting her sister.

In all her years as a genetically engineered assassin, Echo never met anyone like DJ Torres before. The captured werewolf Marine offered her trust, friendship, love, and the hope of freedom— not only for herself, but for the frail clone-sister she won’t leave behind. But will Echo’s dark secret destroy their hopes for the future?

DJ Torres would give his life to save his buddy.

DJ has spent his life accomplishing the impossible. But now he’s faced with a dilemma that threatens to crush even his bright spirit. DJ can’t rescue his captured buddy without fleeing the lab. Echo can’t flee the lab without abandoning her hostage sister. Will DJ be forced to choose between his best friend and the woman he loves?

Will love keep them together or tear them apart?

Still held captive by the shady government agency running Wildfire Base, DJ and Echo are forced to go on a series of missions, from undercover escapades at an excruciatingly elegant diplomatic party to a desperate battle in a terrorist compound. Their relationship grows stronger under fire… until they are confronted with a terrible choice.

Partner has a happy ending and no cliffhanger.

You can get Partner as a $3.99 ebook here: Amazon. Amazon UK. Barnes and Noble. Kobo. Apple.

The paper version will come out later. You can also get it direct from me by Paypaling the cover price to Rphoenix2 at hotmail (NOT gmail.) If you feel so moved, you may add a tip/patron gift, but that is absolutely not necessary. I only mention it because several of you have mentioned thinking that the prices of my self-pubbed books are excessively cheap.

Please consider reviewing it. If you do, please mention that it's a sequel and the first book is free.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-23 03:40 pm

Frozen, by Meljean Brook

This short paranormal romance sounded right up my alley: two characters snowed into a cabin while battling hell-hounds and a curse! But it didn’t make much use of these delicious elements, other than the curse. Instead, it focused on the consent issues inherent in the old sex pollen trope. (Outside forces compel the characters to have sex.) Unfortunately, that didn’t work either, due to a combination of bringing up the issues without actually delving into them, plus a truly astounding amount of “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Olivia once shared a sizzling kiss with her co-worker Erik. He then shoved her away and proceeded to freeze her out for the next six months. Then she has to bring some documents to his woodsy cabin in the dead of winter. Next thing she knows, her car is wrecked, Erik has revealed himself to be part frost giant, and they’re both snowed in with a lot of poorly explained supernatural baddies banging down the door.

But it gets worse! Erik is under a curse, the nature of which he won’t explain except to repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly, demand that she shoot him in the head before he hurts her. After a lot of repetitive arguing, he finally tells her that the curse means he will be compelled to have sex with her in his part frost giant form, which is extremely well-hung.

She’s totally fine with this, since he’s now acting nicer, she’s had a crush on him all along, and she thinks he and his giant frost dick are super-hot. She does attempt to explain this, but gives up due to getting convinced that the reason he’s so dead-set against having sex with her is that he doesn’t want to have sex with her. Meanwhile, Erik is convinced that she doesn’t want to have sex with him, so any curse-driven sex they have will be rape. The “you need to kill me” argument repeats about five more times.

Some plot happens! They have sex! It’s a bit exhausting and rough but otherwise delightful! (His ice junk isn’t that big. It sounded a bit bigger than Liam Neeson’s.) Regarding consensuality, Olivia enthusiastically consents. Due to the curse, Erik doesn’t have a choice, but he would like to have sex with her under better circumstances and the reason he doesn’t want to have sex is that he can’t bring himself to believe that Olivia is actually consenting.

But due to Olivia again not being quite as direct as she probably could have been (by which I mean that she didn’t repeatedly bellow into his ear “YES I WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU I AM CONSENTING I AM CONSENTING THIS IS TOTALLY CONSENSUAL I LOVE FROST COCK YES I SAID YES I WILL YES”) and Erik again leaping to the worst possible conclusion, he decides that the curse-driven sex was rape and she hates him. She decides that he hates her and hated having sex with her. Then they finally manage to have an actual conversation and clear all that up. The end!

A very smooth, conversational, easy-reading style doesn’t save this paranormal romance from the Scylla of Stupid Decisions and the Charybdis of Communication Failures. Olivia was interesting but underdeveloped; Erik had very little characterization at all. As for exploring consent within the sex pollen trope, it probably it needed to be either much darker or to dig into the issues much more. “Murder/suicide or mildly rough but awesome sex that both parties would like to have with each other anyway” is right up there with “Cake or death” in terms of non-dilemmas.

The purpose of the sex pollen trope is typically guilt-free enjoyment of dubcon fantasies. You get all the trappings— “I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t help myself,” roughness, neediness, sex with someone who’s otherwise unavailable, swept away by passion, animal urges, spontaneity— without anyone being a rapist.

I have seen sex pollen fanfic that does explore consent issues, but it tends to go very dark. Typically, the characters really didn’t want to have sex and feel terrible afterward, or even if they did want to, they think the circumstances made it rape and feel terrible afterward. Neither scenario makes for a happily-ever-after without a whole lot of post-climax work.

Meljean Brook is a writer people keep reccing to me on the strength of good/unusual worldbuilding, lots of action, interesting characters, and cracktasticness. I will definitely try some of her other books! I think this was a bad one to start with. Other reviewers who didn’t like it mention that it’s very atypical of her usual style.

rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-18 11:32 am

Trade Me, by Courtney Milan

Tina Chen is a poor Chinese-American woman attending college with Blake Reynolds, a young white billionaire man. One day Blake opens his mouth in class once too often, to be mildly condescending about poor people. Smarting from the thousand other remarks from others that have come before, Tina lays into him and tells him that he couldn't survive two weeks of her life. To her amazement, he offers to trade lives for a month.

I love trading places novels. But oddly enough, the "trading places" storyline is minor. We see very little of Tina experiencing a rich person's life, and only a little more of Blake struggling to survive Tina's life. I would have found this disappointing, except that what we get instead is also satisfying: two young people with complex, likable, yet difficult families balancing their family duties with their inner struggles and a slow-burn love affair. It's a romance that reads more like a mainstream novel; the romance aspect takes second place to the family dramas.

Taken on its own terms and without any outside knowledge whatsoever - say, read by someone who doesn't know anything about the romance genre and hasn't read Milan before - Trade Me is simply a very enjoyable novel. If you happen to have any outside knowledge at all of a number of things, specifically Courtney Milan, the romance genre in general, and its current trends in particular, this is still a very enjoyable novel which is also spectacularly unusual.

It's a solid novel which, solely on the basis of quality, could have been published traditionally. Except that it couldn't be, because it's the first book in a set of three and the second novel is about the romance between an Asian-American man and a Latina trans woman. That book will be the only novel I'm aware of published as mainstream genre romance with a transgender main character. I can think of a few genre romances with Asian heroes. Every single one is historical, and most were written by Jeannie Lin.

Trade Me has a Chinese-American heroine. This wouldn't be extraordinary for a mainstream literary novel, but this is marketed as a romance novel. That's wildly unusual.

And then there's its weird relationship to various subgenres. The premise is about trading places, but the book isn't at all a fish out of water story. It's a romance with a billionaire hero that uses almost none of the billionaire romance tropes. I had expected it to be a deconstruction of the genre, but it's not that either: it doesn't engage at all with those tropes, one way or another. What it is a deconstruction of is American attitudes about class and wealth.

Oh, yeah, and the hero has an eating disorder. The hero. Not the heroine. Milan is usually extraordinarily good at depicting mental illness, so I was a little disappointed with how it's treated here: it's a problem until he goes into therapy, and then it drops out of the story. I think she does better in her historicals because the characters don't have the option of therapy, so they're forced to grapple with it all the way through. I appreciate the message that therapy is helpful and that your girlfriend is not your therapist, but sadly it removes most of the dramatic interest from that storyline - the therapy is mentioned but not shown, so the whole storyline just ends. There's nothing wrong with the storyline, it just feels shallow compared to how she handled similar issues in her historicals.

However, if you've been meaning to try Milan but were put off by historical inaccuracies, there are none here as it's a contemporary. It has much (not all) of the quirky charm of her historicals, and a stellar supporting cast. I was actually more interested in the protagonists' families than I was in them.

It's also the only billionaire romance I've ever read where I believed in the hero's company. Cyclone and its gadgets are characters in their own right, and I absolutely believe that the Cyclone Vortex would cause a stir equivalent to the iPod.

Trade Me (Cyclone Book 1)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-12 11:30 am

For any Werewolf Marines fans...

Partner is finished, polished, proofread, and DONE. It has been turned in for formatting, and will be published once that's complete.

Prisoner is currently free at all e-book vendors. Hopefully that will lure in some readers.

If you enjoyed the banter and hurt-comfort in Prisoner, there's lots more in Partner.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-11 10:00 am

Brontosaurus BDSM, Werewolf Marines, and Serious Social Issues: Self-Publishing in the Wild

I have an article on the reasons why people self-publish as a guest-post at Charlie Stross's blog. If you were one of the beta-readers, I added stuff to the post that's up now.

You are welcome to comment either here or there. However, if you comment here, one topic is banned. It is whether or not Amazon is evil. It is not banned at Charlie's blog, so feel free to discuss that over there. I just find it a dull topic, since nobody ever seems to have anything to say that doesn't summarize as "Why don't the writer-sheeple see that Amazon is evil?!!!"
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-02-09 12:14 pm

Requires Hate/Requires Love

If you are not already aware of the Requires Hate situation, there is a full report here. Briefly, a person who writes under the pen name of Benjanun Sriduangkaew was revealed to be the notorious harasser Winterfox/Requires Hate/Lesifoere/many other aliases.

For over ten years, Requires Hate made death threats and rape threats, and stalked and harassed many people, including myself. To date, she has not responded to my public request for her to promise to leave me alone.

She engaged in a systematic campaign to destroy the careers of writers whom she apparently saw as her competition, primarily women writers and writers of color, by abusing and intimidating anyone who reviewed their books, harassing and threatening the writers themselves, attempting to get the writers professionally ostracized, and engaging in blackmail. (The blackmail link goes to an anonymous report; however, I have personal knowledge of the blackmail and vouch for it.)

I am posting to state that I have reported her to the police. I previously didn't say so publicly because I didn't want to give her the pleasure of knowing that she succeeded in making me fear for my life. However, I believe that the chances of her retaliating violently against me or others, whether in person or by hiring someone, are lessened if she knows that the police are aware of the situation. If any harm comes to me, a detailed report is on file documenting that I have a longtime stalker with a history of threatening death and violent attacks, including acid-throwing.

Supporters of Requires Hate often try to garner support for her and suppress discussion of her abuse by saying that speaking out against her is inherently racist because she's a woman of color, and that to support women writers of color, one must support Requires Hate. This erases the many other women of color in the field - a number of whom have been abused by her. Despite her efforts to suppress other female writers of color, she is hardly the only one.

Marginalized people are often unfairly persecuted and falsely accused. It's reasonable to be suspicious when you first hear claims that a woman of color is abusive. But marginalized people are people, and some people are abusive. Some marginalized people are abusive. Supporting abusers is not justice.

If you would like to do something positive, I suggest that you make an effort to read and review the works of writers with marginalized identities, and to promote the writers themselves whenever possible, such as by considering them as convention guests, lecturers, columnists, and so forth. There are very genuine obstacles in their paths that non-marginalized writers don't face, and they could use your support. Also, I very much doubt that Requires Hate will revive her campaign of harassing reviewers, so it should now be safe to review again.

If you're not sure where to start, here is a non-exhaustive list of sff/mythic fiction writers with marginalized identities of various kinds. The majority are women writers of color. Writers who were targeted by Requires Hate are starred. Please consider purchasing and/or reviewing at least one book or story by one of these writers, or by another writer of your choice.

*Saladin Ahmed
*Athena Andreadis

Samhita Arni
Samit Basu
Joseph Bruchac
Joyce Chng/J. Damask
Zen Cho
Aliette de Bodard
Tananarive Due
Zetta Elliott
Andrea Hairston
Nalo Hopkinson
S. L. Huang
*N. K. Jemisin
Alaya Dawn Johnson
*Caitlin Kiernan
Yoon Ha Lee
Malinda Lo
*Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
*Karen Lord

Lyda Morehouse/Tate Halloway
Shweta Narayan
Ty Nolan
Nnedi Okorafor
*Cindy Pon
Michelle Sagara/Michelle West
Sofia Samatar
Cynthia Leitich Smith
*Kari Sperring
*Tricia Sullivan

Judith Tarr
Shveta Thakrar
*Liz Williams

If you want to talk about Requires Hate, feel free to email or PM me. Please do not discuss her in comments. Trolling and off-topic comments will be deleted.

I am enabling comments ONLY for the discussion or recommendation of works by marginalized writers other than her, and for topics related to that. (My book reviews are tagged by author: surname.) Feel free to state a subgenre or tropes that you like, and maybe I or other commenters can rec something for you.

Please note that you don't necessarily know exactly how people identify, so stating the nature of a writer's minority identity is not necessary. Let's not do any identity-policing or arguing over whether any given identity is sufficiently marginalized to be called that. Definitions differ, so we can all decide that question for ourselves.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-07 01:10 pm

The History of Publishing

Sherwood has a guest post at Charlie Stross's blog on the history of English-language publishing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It began when [Curll] first pirated Pope, prompting the poet and his publisher to meet Curll at the Swan, where they slipped a mega dose of "physic" (think ExLax) into his drink.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-03 04:33 pm

Biggles Learns to Fly, by Captain W. E. Johns

Johns was one of those British men of a certain era with a biography that sounds that it can’t possibly be true, featuring more heroics, odd incidents, narrow escapes, and prolific writing than one would expect from any twelve reasonably adventurous people. He was a fighter pilot in WWI, where he had a number of exciting incidents, including accidentally shooting off his own propeller, culminating in being shot down and taken prisoner. He then became an RAF recruiting officer, and rejected T. E. Lawrence for giving a false name. Mostly after this, he wrote 160 books, including 100 about ace pilot Biggles. (I cribbed this from his Wiki article, which is well worth reading.)

These books were hugely popular in the UK for while, and are probably still easier to find there. They were also reasonably popular in India when I was there. I virtually never see them in the US, and had I known this I would have obtained some before leaving India. They weren’t huge favorites of mine, but I did enjoy them and they are excellent for researching early aviation and fighting tactics, such as they were; Johns notes that WWI pilots were not formally taught to fight, but had to learn on the job. Casualty rates were high.

Biggles Learns to Fly is a solid, if episodic, adventure story; the interest is in the very realistic details. It takes new pilots time to learn to spot enemy aircraft while flying, even when a more experienced gunner is screaming that they’re on top of him, because they’re not used to scanning in three dimensions. It fascinated me to read the details of such early, primitive aircraft and aerial warfare. Pilots communicated with hand-signals, and Biggles was sent on his first combat mission after something like ten hours of solo flying.

Here’s an excerpt from the very last page, after yet another heroic action. Major Mullen shot a glance at Biggles, noting his white face and trembling hands. He had seen the signs. He had seen them too often not to recognize them. The pitcher can go too often to the well, and, as he knew from grim experience, the best of nerves cannot indefinitely stand the strain of air combat. The Major sends him off for a week’s rest.

This is what we would now call combat stress (acute stress in civilians), which may or may not be a precursor to PTSD. (It becomes PTSD if it doesn't go away.) I found it interesting because of how matter-of-fact and sympathetic Johns is, depicting it as something that happens to everyone and doesn’t reflect badly on Biggles. Some other writing from WWI sees it as a sign of cowardice or mental/moral deficiency. Possibly he would not have been so sympathetic if Biggles wasn’t back in reasonably good shape after his rest. Or possibly the RAF had a different attitude. Then again, the book was written in 1935. Benefit of hindsight?

That's also a good example of the tone in general; emotions are noted but not dwelled upon. We only get enough of anyone's interior life to make their actions make sense.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-02-02 01:13 pm

Two musical questions

1. What are the instruments playing in this song before the vocals come in? An organ? And... a piano? Chimes? Glockenspiel?

2. Please name a few songs with unusual subjects. Ideally, not pure novelty songs like "Mommy Got Run Over By A Reindeer."
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-30 02:09 pm

Recent Romances: The Heiress Effect, Summer Campaign, The Other Side of Us

Catching up on book notes; spot the theme!

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister), by Courtney Milan. Heiress Jane Fairfield has tons of money and suitors, but is determined not to marry; in my very favorite part of the book, she fends off her suitors with a combination of social obnoxiousness and spectacularly hideous dresses. Her sister Emily is shut in by her guardian due to epilepsy, but sneaks out and meets a sweet Indian law student.

A very enjoyable romance distinguished by excellent characterization, including of the minor characters, plenty of comedy, and good banter. I liked all the characters individually, but the heroines were much more interesting to me than the heroes, so this worked better for me as a novel than as a romance. It's the second in a series, but I accidentally read it first.

Look elsewhere for historical accuracy, though Milan does often use snippets of actual history: the hideous dye which plays a role in the story actually was a recent invention. Anjan could have been doing what he was doing in England at that time, but I don't think everyone would have been anywhere near as accepting of his romance with an English woman. The discussion of colonialism, the rights of disabled people and women, and other social issues are all important and true, but also a bit anvillicious. That being said, in terms of the actual portrayal of people with disabilities, both mental and physical, Milan is outstanding.

The Other Side of Us , by Sarah Mayberry. A woman filmmaker still recovering from disabling car crash injuries moves in next door to a man with an adorable dog. She too has an adorable dog! It must be fate. I liked the realistic treatment of her disabilities, but there were too many stupid misunderstandings for my taste.

Summer Campaign, by Carla Kelly. Genuinely heartwarming romance between Major Jack Hamilton, just returned from years at war and struggling with PTSD, and the bizarrely named Miss Onyx Hamilton, who is illegitimate and so considered lucky to marry anyone, let alone the vicar whom she doesn't love. (The name is explained, but still.) She is set upon by highwaymen! He is shot rescuing her! She does such a good job nursing him that he asks her to come nurse his dying brother. And their relationship slowly blossoms.

The social situation probably isn't historically accurate, but the medical details are. The characters' emotions and the slow growth of intimacy and love are very realistic and believable. If you're tired of insta-love and relationships driven by lust, this is the book for you. Kelly is one of the few romance writers who has heroes who are not particularly handsome, out of shape, etc. Her characters are ordinary people who value each other for their personality and kindness.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-01-24 10:06 am

Day 24: How to Find a Therapist

Sixbeforelunch asked about this. (Yes, month meme answers will spill into next month.)

I won't go much into logistics because those are so localized. However, I will mention that therapists frequently have dreadful websites, so I take those with a grain of salt and just look for giant red flags (for me) such as phrases like "holistically incentivizing inner growth via process-oriented 'out of the box' thinking" or "we shall dance together in the inner sphere of oneness" or "Byron Katie."

Statistically speaking, the most important predictor of the success of therapy is the rapport between the therapist and the client. So the most important questions to ask yourself are, "Do I like this person? Do I think this is someone I could come to trust? Do I think I could talk to this person about the stuff I want to talk about?"

If you hate the therapist on the first session, don't go back. If you're not sure, maybe try one more session. You should feel at least reasonably/tentatively good with them by session three. It's not just about how competent they are; it's about chemistry and having a good match. You can do OK with someone you don't bond with (especially with some very skills-oriented therapy like CBT) but if it's not skills-oriented or you actively dislike them, you probably won't get much out of it.

That being said, rapport alone will do just fine for life problems. It will also often do just fine for life problems plus mental illness or trauma that has already been treated and that you already have a reasonable grip on. If you have a mental illness or trauma that you're addressing for the first time, or have never successfully addressed, there are a lot of very specific treatments that not all therapists will know about or use. This is where experts come in handy.

(Including but not limited to OCD, ADHD, specific anxiety like phobias or social anxiety, and PTSD. If you have serious specific anxiety and you've never tried CBT, an anxiety specialist who uses CBT can be life-changing.)

Think about what's important to you and what you're worried will be misunderstood. What are your dealbreakers?

I had a phone conversation with my current therapist before ever meeting him in which I interrogated him at length about his opinions about the internet. Only when I was satisfied that he would treat internet-based relationships as real relationships and not judge me for caring about online interactions did I go to see him. I also sounded him out about certain issues involving being a therapist that I'd previously clashed with other therapists I knew over. Only when I was satisfied that we were on the same page about that did I go to meet him.

Feel free to ask questions!
rachelmanija: (Fowl: Evil Chicken)
2015-01-18 09:22 am

Day 17: Most Ridiculous Plot Twists

This is for bookelfe/skygiants. Of course. (Yes, I'm out of order.)

I’m sticking with books here. A lot of manga and anime operates on different narrative rules, so the bizarreness makes wacky internal sense. I do have to mention, though, the complete works of Kaori Yuki if you have any interest in things like random flying Heavenly whales, apocalypse by army of flying zombie angel embryos, and people getting turned into masses of writhing tentacles and kept in the bathtub.

Even so, it was very, very difficult to narrow this down to five. There are bizarre premises (“I will break every bone in my body because then they’ll grow back stronger and I WILL BE INVINCIBLE”), the sheer weight of ridiculousness in a single book (the bone-breaking book also featured the near-death of the hero’s milk-allergic brother when the hero’s cheating girlfriend ate pizza, then kissed the brother), the sudden intrusion of absurdity into a previously non-bizarre book (two-thirds sensitive exploration of sketchy power dynamics, one third EVIL BALL OF MASKED S&M SMALL PRESS POETS), and unwanted intrusions by the author’s peculiar id (of course the most desirable whores have hooves.) Not to mention Terry Goodkind's infamous evil chicken. How to choose?

I have so many contenders that I was forced to name winners in categories.

Most Stupid Protagonist

Runner-Up: Oscar, the hero of Myke Cole’s Control Point. When faced with the difficult decision of who he should get help from— a) his best friend, b) a friendly acquaintance, or c) the sociopathic supervillain who is currently locked up after going on a mass slaughter rampage but who promises to help him out if he’ll only release her from the magical wards laid on her to stop her from slaughtering everyone in sight— guess who he picks?

Winner: Summer in Mary Brown’s Master of Many Treasures, for failing to get rid of a traveling companion whom she easily could get rid of, after he repeatedly and deliberately endangers her and all the rest of her companions, including trying to kill a friend of hers in a random fit of temper. Also for ignoring all advice by people who clearly have her best interest in mind, and taking all advice by people holding up HI I AM EVIL signs, and for failing to learn from very consistent consequences, like falling into quicksand full of rotting corpses because she couldn’t bear to take her best friend’s advice that the left-hand path led to the Swamp of Rotting Corpses. Also for believing that a good excuse for stalking her dragon ex-boyfriend is explaining that she actually fell in love with him when she thought he was a flying pig.

This doesn’t have anything to do with her intelligence, but I just want to mention that during the course of the book, she lays an egg.

Once Is Tragedy, One Million Times Is Hilarity

Crazy-Beautiful, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Gee, if I'd known spilling my orange juice was this effective, I'd have spilled it in Dad's direction every day when I was younger. Then maybe he'd have made time to do things with me like, I don't know, play catch in the yard. Not that I'm complaining or playing the neglected child card. I'll never do that. I know what I've done. I know who's responsible for everything in my life, past, present, and future. Still, a little catch would have been fun, when I still had hands.

And what of me and my hands? Or, I should say, lack of hands.

I finish loading the dryer, hookload by hookload, use my hook to set the dial at seventy minutes, use my hook to depress the button.

Most Ridiculous Plot Twists


All books by Sheri Tepper. Future ones too. Every Sheri Tepper book in which infanticide is presented as the solution to the problems of the world. Also the one where the heroine turns out to be a de-aged squid-person. She might lay an egg too, I forget.

The indie gangster movie, name forgotten, in which the screenwriter’s poorly thought-through desire to add on one more surprise reveal meant that the entire action of the movie consisted of a drug lord hiring people to steal his own drugs.

The Isobelle Carmody books with the love quadrangle between two humans and two transformed dogs.

Dan Simmons’ The Rise of Endymion. The climactic revelation of the entire series is that quantum strings are made out of love.

Frank Herbert’s God-Emperor of Dune. It makes sense in context, but I still find it hilarious that the climax consists of the main character becoming a million worms.

Lord of Legends, by Susan Krinard. I still have no idea why the heroine’s housekeeper turned into a talking fox.

And finally… drum roll… the winner!

Spider Robinson’s Starseed. The heroine is paralyzed via drugs, has multiple bad guys holding guns on her, and isabout to be killed. As her last request, she asks for a moment to meditate. When they grant it, she achieves enlightenment. This enables her to become telepathic, overcome the effects of the paralyzing drug, and slaughter the bad guys with kung fu.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-15 11:18 am

Taylor's Temptation, by Suzanne Brockmann

I usually enjoy Brockmann's books a lot, but she can be uneven and has written a handful of stinkers. Unfortunately, this, an older book in her "Tall, Dark, and Dangerous" series, was one of them. It had the single least convincing romantic obstacle I've encountered in romance so far, and that's including Brockmann's own "Because I'm your boss... in this civilian temp job that you don't even need."

Navy SEAL Bobby Taylor, on leave after being wounded on a mission, is dispatched by his teammate and best buddy Wes to convince Wes's civilian little sister Colleen not to stupidly go to a war zone to try to rescue orphans. Wes, who comes across as creepily controlling AT BEST, is dead set against anyone dating his sister. Ever. Especially not Bobby, his best friend and a completely stand-up guy. If Bobby dates Colleen, Wes will feel terribly betrayed, punch him out, and never speak to him again. Colleen, by the way, is 23.

I gather that "no one is good enough for my little sister" is a known trope, though thankfully this is the first time I've encountered it so hopefully it's died the death. But it's a trope that only makes sense if the hero has an (undeserved) bad reputation or a shady past, so the brother has legitimate reasons for wanting to protect his sister from him. It makes NO SENSE if the hero is a completely great guy who is also the brother's best friend. Wes goes so berserk over the thought of Bobby dating his adult sister that it makes him seem creepy and batshit and possibly incestuous. (Luckily I read Wes's own romance first (it's much better) or I never would have picked it up.)

Then there's Bobby. He's a tough Navy SEAL, so why is he so cowed by his buddy's nutso fixation on nobody dating his sister? He's completely inconsistent, too, bouncing every five pages from kissing her to telling her he wants nothing to do with her because, horrors, Wes wouldn't approve. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kept thinking, "Grow a pair!" But sadly, he mostly only manages to be assertive when forbidding Colleen to do anything dangerous.

And Colleen. I actually mostly liked Colleen. At least she knew what she wanted and went for it. Except that I wanted to back her belief that if Bobby was allowed to do dangerous things he believed in, so was she, but her orphans in the war zone mission actually did sound like a terrible idea. I also lost a lot of sympathy for her when the orphan she had meant to adopt was killed, and she was boinking Bobby about two hours later and thereafter mostly seemed to forget about the death of her nearly-a-daughter.

There's an accidentally hilarious climax where Wes appears, goes berserk upon finding out that Colleen is dating a man even though he doesn't know who it is and forbids her from dating whoever it is, finds out that it's Bobby, goes even more berserk, punches Bobby, declares that the reason Colleen shouldn't date Bobby is that Navy SEALs are never home, says she can date a military man as long as he's an officer (Bobby and Wes are enlisted), says it's terrible if she and Bobby are dating casually but it would be fine if they were married so they must MARRY IMMEDIATELY, then suddenly and for no reason decides it's fine if she dates Bobby. If I was Wes's commanding officer, I would have sent him for a mandatory psychological evaluation. Also drug testing.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-14 12:10 pm

Reading Wednesday: Agatha Christie

I have been re-reading Agatha Christie mysteries. In some cases, the last time I read them was thirty years ago (I was very fond of them as a child) and so I might as well have been reading them for the first time. Or maybe I am reading some for the first time. Who knows.

The flaws in Christie are pretty obvious: stock characters, mostly serviceable prose, sometimes mechanical plots, and problematic views of the period up the wazoo. (Not just racial stereotyping, sexist opinions, etc, but also jarring bits like offhand references to a dessert called "N-Word in his Shirt.") Also, while even her less-good books are reasonably amusing if you like that sort of thing, the quality did vary widely.

But obviously, I like her writing or I wouldn't be reading, so I'd like to talk about what's good about it.

Though she gets criticized for writing the same book over and over, she actually experimented quite a lot within the basic form of the mystery/thriller. A lot of her innovations have since become standard, but they weren't at the time. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express are famous for unexpected outcomes, but the little-known Endless Night is a creepy, atmospheric Gothic that gets a lot of mileage over breaking various Gothic rules. Death Comes as the End is a very well-done murder mystery set in ancient Egypt that benefits from the characters being completely unaware of the existence of murder mysteries. And Then There Were None, the one with ten horrible people trapped on an island, has been imitated many times but never done better. It's genuinely scary.

She did cold cases and bottle stories and purely psychological mysteries, and played a lot with tone, writing books that varied from tragedy to farce. A Murder is Announced is hilarious for much of its length, but also contains one of the most affecting and tragic deaths she ever wrote.

If you want to learn how to introduce a very large cast of characters and make sure that the reader always knows who everyone is and what their relationships are with each other, you could do a lot worse than studying Christie. She was great at that, and did it so easily that you barely notice that you're reading a short novel with thirty distinct characters whose plot hinges on the reader remembering who's secretly in love with who.

Some of her characters are stock types, but others, though lightly sketched, are more than that: Miss Marple, the sweet old lady whose very dark worldview doesn't spoil her enjoyment of life; Lucy Eyelesbarrow, the charming and efficient young housekeeper-entrepreneur; Henrietta from The Hollow, the sculptress who can't help loving her art more than any human being; Elinor from Sad Cypress, desperately in love with a man who will only stay with her if she never reveals the depths of her feelings; Miss Hinch and Miss Murgatroyd, the dog-loving lesbian couple from A Murder is Announced. I could go on. Christie's characters may not be fully rounded, complex characters, but they're often believable and memorable.

Re-reading now, one thing that I didn't notice before was how precisely placed in time the books are. You always know exactly when they are in terms of WWII-- during, with rationing and many men are off fighting; just after, when lots of items are still scarce and people illegally trade coupons for butter; years after, when there's always men who are young but prematurely aged, adrift in a world they no longer belong in, changed forever by the single year they spent on the front. I wasn't surprised to find Christie sensitive and accurate about veterans' various reactions to war, from what we'd now call PTSD to the men who loved the excitement and will now never find anything to equal it. I see that in fiction of the period quite a bit. But she also writes about something I've seen less, which is what happened to the women who went abroad, and have similar reactions with the addition that no one thinks a woman should feel that way.

Even if you don't like mysteries, I highly recommend her Autobiography. It's idiosyncratic in the very best way, shamelessly (and fascinatingly) recounting the stories she imagined for her dolls, then skipping ahead to noting that her great-grand-daughter seems to tell similar stories to her own dolls. As a portrait of a time and place, it's wonderful. The childhood sections are especially good. She remembers not only the facts, but a child's perspective. (It also confirms that yes, all those women living together in cottages in her novels are supposed to be lesbians. She mentions basing those characters in her books on women like that whom she knew as a child and only later realized were couples.)

Please rot13.com spoilers at the level of "this is who the murderer is." I've read most of Christie's books, but don't always remember. ;)
rachelmanija: (X-Men: Best day ever)
2015-01-11 11:52 am

Day 11: Emergency Preparedness

Vass asked about emergency preparedness, which is an interest (and former occupation) of mine. If you click on the tags, you will find a number of stories in which cars and other objects burst into flames (this seems to happen often in my vicinity), and in which I locked myself in my bedroom, set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet, etc. (Moral: Do NOTHING before coffee.)

Information about the physical aspects of emergency preparedness (what to have around, where to store it, what training to get) is widely available and also localized. What you need depends on what you're likely to face. I have no idea what to do in case of tornados, because we don't get them where I live; a resident of Louisiana doesn't need to know about earthquakes. So I'll skip that part and instead discuss psychology, which is universal.

My experience is that not very many people are interested in emergency preparation, on any level, but that the people who are interested are very interested. And also that the people who are not interested tend to think that the people who are interested are deluded - that there is no actual value in being prepared, but that it functions as a mere security blanket of false comfort. I can't tell you how many times I hear, "Well, if it makes you feel better..."

Naturally, I find this quite annoying. I have used my training and equipment many times, and have very likely saved at least one life. It does make me feel better, but that's not its sole purpose. I also find it aggravating that the security blanket implication suggests that anyone who needs it is a coward. People interested in emergency preparedness frequently either have dangerous jobs or live in dangerous areas - that's how they got interested in the first place. If you ever take a class geared toward people who are there voluntarily, rather than being required for work, there tends to be a heavy emphasis on not being foolishly heroic. That's because the people taking the class tend to rush toward the danger, rather than running away. You don't need to warn people about things they'd never do anyway.

(Those of us who are interested can also annoy those who are not. That tends to go in the direction of "Just wait, you'll come running to me to save you when things go south.")

The most important aspect of preparedness is psychological. The place you start is believing that bad things happen, that at some point they will happen in your vicinity, that you may well be capable of doing something that will have positive results, and that you want to do so. People often don't believe (or don't want to contemplate) any or all four of those ideas. But once you consciously believe all those things, everything else follows.

(Number three is conditional because there's always the possibility that, for instance, the first thing that happened in the earthquake was that a brick fell on your head.)

The first time or first few times you're in an emergency situation, it's natural to freeze. It's also natural to freeze if something completely unexpected happens, no matter how experienced you are. If you deal with similar situations regularly, you stop freezing. However, the important thing to remember about freezing is that it's normal (so don't blame yourself) and it's temporary (so don't panic).

The freeze reflex is there, I believe, to force you to evaluate the situation rather than blindly plunging into counterproductive action. If you recognize it as that, you can use it to your advantage. So you're standing there thinking, "Oh my God, what's going on?!" Remember that this is the freeze response. Stay where you are (or take cover, as relevant) and see if you can figure out what's going on and what you can and should do about it. You only need a few seconds to evaluate. Take those seconds.

Many emergency situations are simple. Many useful and lifesaving responses are simple. Call emergency services. If someone's bleeding a lot, stop it. If someone's in danger of being hit by incoming traffic, stop the traffic and (if they don't have a possible spinal injury) remove them to a safe area. If someone does have a possible spinal injury, don't let them move. If things are falling, take cover. Stay away from live wires, including any conductive substances the wires are touching. If someone's having a psychological crisis, stay calm, listen, and let them see your sincere concern. Don't be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal. If someone says they intend to harm someone, believe them. If you're not sure whether or not someone is in trouble, ask. Etcetera.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-01-10 12:04 pm

Day 10: My favorite fusion food

Anglerfish07 wanted to know about my favorite fusion food. Though I live in the city of Korean tacos and sushi burritos (NO I am not going to try the latter without a sincere personal recommendation), there is one clear answer. It is, of course, Asian-Western pastries and other related desserts.

The form is Western (usually but not exclusively French), the flavors are Asian, and the presentation is exquisite. For instance, black sesame cream puffs, kinako (sweet soy powder)-dusted donuts made with just enough mochi dough to lend a delightful chewiness, mango pudding, white sesame panna cotta, and so forth.

While I enjoy both traditional Western and Asian desserts and pastries, their fusion incarnations lift them to a whole new level. Western desserts are often too sweet for my taste; fusion desserts are just sweet enough. Asian pastries can be too heavy and dense; fusion pastries are typically very light. I'm not that big on chocolate, so a wide array of alternate flavors is nice. Also tropical fruits are objectively superior to temperate fruits.

Japanese pastry chefs in Paris

Behold Chantilly!