sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
My poems "A Death of Hippolytos" and "The Other Lives," published last October in The Cascadia Subduction Zone 6.4, are now free to read online with the rest of their issue. The first was inspired by Jules Dassin's Phaedra (1962) and especially by this afterthought, the second was written for Rose Lemberg after discussing Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). [personal profile] gwynnega has poetry in the same issue.

I had heard absolutely nothing of Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017) until this afternoon, but the trailer makes it look like something I should very definitely see in December. It looks like William Alland and Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) retold through Jane Yolen's "The Lady and the Merman," which has haunted me since elementary school when I first read Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk (1982). It looks sea-deep.

Speaking of oceanic things for which I may existentially blame CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan: Delphine Cencig, "Poulpe Fiction."

In fact, I have another doctor's appointment tomorrow.

DICE TALES is out in the world!

Jul. 19th, 2017 10:29 am
swan_tower: (Default)
[personal profile] swan_tower

I should have posted this yesterday, but appropriately enough, I was too busy prepping for the game I ran last night. 🙂

Dice Tales: Essays on Roleplaying Games and Storytelling is out now! If you play RPGs and have an interest in them from the narrative side of things — the ways we use them to tell stories, and what GMs and players can do to make them work better in that regard — you may find it of interest. Follow the link to buy it from Book View Cafe, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or (in a first for me) DriveThruRPG. And if any parts of it wind up working their way into the games you play or run, let me know!

Also, the New Worlds Patreon has headed off into the wilds of rudeness, with two posts on “Gestures of Contempt” and “Insults.” The theme will continue through the end of this month before turning in a new direction for August. Remember that patrons at the $5 level and above can request topics, so if there’s something you’d like to see me discuss, you can make that happen!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
Second doctor's appointment in as many days, coming up. First, links.

1. [personal profile] spatch sent me this handy-dandy list: "Times Doctor Who Was Ruined Forever." The site is snarky and some of their tags are jerkass, but the article itself is gold. "21/03/1981 – The best Doctor ever is replaced by a vet. Doctor Who dies."

2. Following my belated discovery of Jack Buchanan, I am pleased to see that the HFA will be showing Ernst Lubitsch's Monte Carlo (1930) on Friday. I wonder if I have ever actually seen Jeanette MacDonald.

3. I had no idea one of the performers of "The Grass Is Always Greener" was Lauren Bacall (and I think I had forgotten the song came from a musical by Kander and Ebb, although listening to its brassy swing, I don't know who else it could have been). Standing Room Only on WERS used to play it all the time. I like how her voice softens on the repeated line That's wonderful, but her unimpressed What's so wonderful? could pass for Elaine Stritch. This makes me desperately sad that Bacall never recorded "The Ladies Who Lunch."

4. This is a gorgeous photoset, but I would love to see the on-set photos from the shoot. Like, the backstage stuff. People just standing around on snack breaks, being Klimt paintings.

5. This was true last weekend as well, but I was at Readercon and couldn't do anything about it: [personal profile] spatch swapped in for one of the hosts of the PMRP's Murders and Scandals: Poe and Doyle at the last minute, so I'll see him this weekend on one of the nights I'm not seeing Jack Buchanan.

impostors

Jul. 19th, 2017 09:37 am
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
[personal profile] jazzfish
"Impostors" are what the cookbook I pulled the recipe out of called them. I guess it's because they look like chocolate bars until you cut into the pan and discover the peanut buttery deliciousness underneath. I started making them in high school, when I needed a dessert to take to forensics potlucks and such. I've not made them in ages, though.

Last week I was going through the recipe box taking photos of the ones I wanted to save, and the impostors recipe was one of those. I transcribed it from the photo on the plane out here. And then in the grocery store I saw the boxes of Baker's chocolate and remembered that Erin, who doesn't normally like sweet things, likes Reeses's cups, and said "Hey, I could make impostors!"

The nice thing about this recipe is that it is basically impossible to screw up sugar, butter, and peanut butter. It's possible to ruin the chocolate, either by scorching it or apparently by allowing even a single drop of water to come in contact with it, but taking it slowly reduces the likelihood of that as well.

recipe )
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
[personal profile] sovay
Van Heflin's first starring role and the feature debut of director Fred Zinnemann, MGM's Kid Glove Killer is not a lost classic of crime cinema, but it is a fun little procedural of a B-picture with some sharp dialogue and more forensic detail than I've seen in this era until John Sturges' Mystery Street (1950); its technical tickyboxes include ballistic fingerprinting, fiber analysis, spectrography, endlessly labeled slides, and the first-rate chemistry in-joke of mocking up a reaction with dry ice so that the flask looks like it's got something really fancy going on inside it. The film's heroes are a pair of underpaid scientists working for the crime lab of the Chicago-ish city of Chatsburg, which has lately suffered the shocking double loss of both its crusading DA and its sincerely incorruptible mayor, neither of natural causes unless ropes, ponds, and car bombs can be filed under acts of God; despite the necessarily painstaking nature of their work, Heflin's Gordon McKay and Marsha Hunt's Jane Mitchell find themselves expected to deliver miracles on command, conjuring a killer's name out of the stray threads and burnt matches and dog hairs that might as well be so many oracle bones as far as the impatient police, press, and public are concerned. No one outright suggests railroading the small business owner seen loitering around the mayor's house the night before the explosion—furious that the new DA's vaunted crackdown on crime didn't extend to the hoods shaking him and his wife down for protection—but there's a lot of official pressure to connect the dots to Eddie Quillan's hot-headed innocent. In the meantime a sort of love triangle is progressing between the two scientists and one ambitious lawyer, although the viewer can't invest too much in the romantic suspense since our privileged information includes the identity of the murderer. I confess I'm not sure where the kid gloves came into it.

It is rare for me not to like Heflin in a film, even when he's playing kind of a dick, and he makes an engaging proto-nerd here, a slouchy, grouchy smart-ass in a lab coat who has managed to figure out that he's in love with his educated, attractive coworker but not yet that flirting by insult only works for Oscar Levant. (His eventual apology is legitimately adorable.) Hunt as Mitchell is nicely, unequivocally competent and has little time for her colleague's negging even as it's clear from space that she'd reciprocate his interest if he were only a little less schoolyard about it, but her character feels like a conservative compromise when she insists repeatedly—despite sufficient aptitude for chemistry that she has a master's degree in it—that forensics is "no career for a woman." I do appreciate that heteronormativity is defused at least once by McKay conceding wryly that it's "not much of a career for a man, either. No prestige, no glamour, no money. People holler at you when there are no miracles." I suppose it is also sociologically interesting that the script's anxiety about science and gender runs both ways—unless it's to prove that spending nine-tenths of your life behind a microscope doesn't make you less of a man, I have no idea why McKay is apparently incapable of confronting a suspect without a fight scene. He is otherwise not very macho, which I am fine with. He can't throw a dart straight to save his life. If the human heart were located in the right elbow, though, that firing-range target would have totally had it.

The extremely spoilery original trailer suggests that Kid Glove Killer was intended as the start of a series and I'm almost surprised it didn't happen—if Thin Man stand-ins Joel and Garda Sloane could get a trilogy, I don't see why we couldn't have enjoyed more McKay and Mitchell. As it is, the one film is all we've got. It runs 72 minutes and they are worth it all for the scene in which Heflin performs a precise, self-annotated mime of catching, cleaning, preparing, and then jettisoning a trout, all with the serious concentration of the slightly sloshed. He handles plain air so confidently, you can see the glint of the butter knife he's cleaning on the tablecloth and want to hand him one of those modern-day rubber grips for the ketchup bottle with the sticky cap. I have no idea if it was part of the original script or improvised on set or what on earth, but now I want to know where I can find more Van Heflin doing mime. He and Zinnemann would later reteam to superb and less comic effect in Act of Violence (1948). I appear to have seen Hunt as the Broadway-bent eldest of Frank Borzage's Seven Sweethearts (1942), but I don't hold it against her. Ava Gardner cameos as a cute married carhop. I hope to God mineral oil salad dressing is as much a thing of the past as the constant chain-smoking in chemically sensitive laboratory conditions. [edit: WHAT THE HELL IT'S NOT.] This investigation brought to you by my scientific backers at Patreon.

NIF: Eps 5-6, Palace Dynamics

Jul. 18th, 2017 05:35 pm
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
Episode 5

This and the next episode was the turning point for me: up until now I enjoyed the episodes, but didn’t feel much engaged. I know it’s different for different people, just as in anything else: one friend was hooked from the first episode at the sight of MC gliding in that flat boat as he played that compelling minor key melody on the flute. Another didn’t get hooked until a certain point in the story a few eps on, and then all of a sudden got hooked so hard that they had to mainline the entire thing until the end. And then promptly rewatch it all.

For me, it was the conviction that I got through this and the next episode, which I think of as a pair, that not only was Mei Changsu as brilliant as promised, but I was going to see proved, bit by bit. That intrigued me. And that intrigue began deepening slowly, until the emotional layers of friendship, loyalty, brotherhood, hidden and obvious—all the conflicting emotional currents—gripped me.
Read more... )
swan_tower: (Default)
[personal profile] swan_tower

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael F. Haspil at Denver Comic-Con recently, and he had me at the word “Egyptology.” The hero of his debut novel is a mummy and former pharaoh — how could I not be interested in that! But I’ll let Michael tell you about how it took a different character to bring his mummy’s story to, er, life for him.

***

cover art for GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Michael F. HaspilI wrote the original version of GRAVEYARD SHIFT during NaNoWriMo some time ago. However, I still remember when the story really jumped into gear and, regrettably, that wasn’t truly in the first draft, though at the time I thought it was.

As I began revisions and sorted through the aftermath of a NaNo first draft, certain aspects stood out as being decent. The main character, Alex Menkaure, an immortal pharaoh now working in a special supernatural police unit in modern-day Miami, and his partner, Marcus, a vampire born in ancient Rome, needed minor work. The climactic battle at the end against the villains needed a lot of polish. While the action was solid, I wrote the section in a blur and it showed. Also, there was something missing. While Alex and Marcus are formidable, the villains I’d set up for them to go against were more so, and they needed help.

The help came in the form of Rhuna Gallier, a young but vicious shapeshifter with her own agenda. I’d had an idea for her character while brainstorming another novel, but realized with some minor tweaks, Rhuna and “The Pack” could fit into GRAVEYARD SHIFT’s story and world.

When I wrote the next draft, as I seeded Rhuna’s presence throughout the book, she threatened to take over the entire thing and make it hers. This may sound weird to non-writers, but she didn’t seem to understand this was Alex’s story and she was a supporting character. So I promised her besides the climax she would get a cool action scene. I knew in the scene Rhuna needed to be mostly on her own with minimal support so I could showcase her lethality.

In GRAVEYARD SHIFT’s world, a practice goes by the underground name of S&B. It stands for Sangers, a derogatory name for vampires, and Bleeders, humans who willingly let vampires feed on them to experience the pleasurable sensations that come with it. Participants meet in bloodclubs, which are akin to prohibition-era speakeasies. Many unsavory activities such as human trafficking, blood and drug dealing, and murder, happen near the clubs and they are part of Miami’s criminal underbelly.

In the early draft, I had a criminal vampire who liked to prey on young girls, take one of his victims to the club. It was an unhappy chapter and ended with the vampire killing another victim. In the new draft, Rhuna showed up. That’s when the story jumped to life. Rhuna took the place of the victim and suddenly where I had a naĂŻve girl falling prey to an old vampire’s wiles, now I had Rhuna going in as a Trojan horse and the vampire and his companions never knew what hit them.

I rewrote the sequence, several chapters long, in one sitting. Now, I can’t wait to write Rhuna’s novel. It’s going to be great fun.

***

From the cover copy:

Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, born in ancient Rome, are vice cops in a special Miami police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, bootleg blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.

When poisoned artificial blood drives vampires to murder, the city threatens to tear itself apart. Only an unlikely alliance with former opponents can give Alex and Marcus a fighting chance against an ancient vampire conspiracy.

If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodier than any the world has ever seen.

Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have whispered directly to his soul. An avid gamer, he serves as a panelist on the popular “The Long War” webcasts and podcasts, which specializes in Warhammer 40,000 strategy, tactics, and stories. Graveyard Shift is his first novel. Find him online at michaelhaspil.com or @michaelhaspil.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

NIF: ep 4, rumbles of thunder

Jul. 17th, 2017 06:31 pm
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
On my first viewing, I found Nirvana in Fire pleasant to look at—beautiful people, excellent costumes and sets, gorgeous martial arts, what’s not to like? It wasn’t until the next couple of eps that I began to get hooked, but on subsequent viewings, when I know the layers below every glance, every line, it’s too compelling to stop, and I keep turning away from what I should be doing to watch just a little more. [The constant heat and stickiness don't help.]

The complexity is there, and so brilliant, and this ep finishes setting up one sequence so that we will in the next actually see MC’s brilliance, step by step, unfold before our eyes. We’ve been told—and now we’ll be shown. It was then that I got hooked.

But first, episode four, which sets up not just that aspect, but a whole lot of important emotional beats: we’re beginning to get clues to what happened twelve years ago, that no one dares talk about.

Read more... )
sovay: (Claude Rains)
[personal profile] sovay
So there is a famous scene in Sidney J. Furie's The Ipcress File (1965) in which Michael Caine's Harry Palmer impresses Sue Lloyd's attractive fellow counter-espionage agent with a home-cooked omelet prepared and plated as deftly as a fine restaurant; it impressed me, especially when he cracked the eggs one-handed (in a close-up cameo from author Len Deighton) without crumpling fragments of shell everywhere. I've still got this brace on my right hand, so [personal profile] spatch cooked me an omelet for dinner before he left for work tonight because he had made one for himself last night when he got home and it had looked beautiful and I'd have needed two working hands. With my one working hand, however, I can now crack an egg on the side of a bowl without crumpling fragments of shell everywhere two out of three times (the third time required some fishing) and I am genuinely pretty proud of this fact.

[tech, domesticity] Oy, Verizon

Jul. 17th, 2017 06:28 pm
siderea: (Default)
[personal profile] siderea
The one logistical thing that has not gone swimmingly with D's move to assisted living has been moving her landline.

The extent to which Verizon has screwed this up has been epic. [personal profile] tn3270 referred to it as a Russian novel.

Penultimately, I had a conversation with billing that went approximately thus:
Billing: Hello, Verizon Billing, this is [NAME]. How can I help you today?

Me: You can waive this month's bill because Verizon has screwed up two move orders so far, and the 90 year old account holder hasn't had access to her phone line for five days and counting. It's still not on at her new place, but I understand there's an expedited technician order for today. But who knows? You're the seventh Verizon employee I've talked to so far, and I've been told a variety of wrong and contradictory things every step of the way. This has been the worst corporate fiasco I've been involved with in years.

Billing: ...yes, we will totally credit the account for the month.

I had originally thought that we might have trouble because Verizon had security and stuff, and I wasn't the account holder (D) and I wasn't the contact on the account ([personal profile] tn3270). But no. I text chatted with Verizon in advance of putting in the order (CSR #1), and they told me what authentication tokens I needed to authorize the move order, I got them, and they worked fine when I put the order in.

No, everything went to hell apparently due to galloping incompetence on Verizon's (staff's) part(s).

Initially, I was told we didn't need a technician to come out for the line move, unless we wanted help plugging the phone into the wall; they could do it on their end. For the record, this is a good ol' fashioned POTS line, and moving within the same town. Fine. Once we'd nailed down the move date and booked movers – June 30th, to be precise – I got back in touch – btw, I was using the Verizon website realtime customer service chat, because I couldn't find a damn customer service phone number. It's 1800VERIZON, btw. So I fired up the chat thingy, and talked to a customer serv rep (CSR#2), who said they'd be happy to do the move order for me. Somewhere in the middle of the process, he apologized to me and said that the system was saying that a technician is required for that address; that there were no available technicians on the move in date, but could do the day after (7/13) between 1pm and 5pm, and it wouldn't cost anything to have the technician. I said to make it so, so he put the move order in. I asked him to confirm the service and he quotes me a price that I later find out is almost twice D's usual bill. I ask him whether he needs the account contact there to meet the technician, and he doesn't know, so he transfers me to another cust serv rep (CSR#3), who says, no, any adult who can let the tech in is fine, and who confirms the order is all complete, and (he specifically said this) the previous CSR did everything necessary.

Subsequently, [personal profile] tn3270 got a phone call from Verizon confirming the incipient move.

On Thursday, 7/13, 6pm no Verizon tech, and D's landline still has no dial tone at the new place, and is still working at her old place.

I am working until 9pm, so when I get home around 10pm, I get back on the text chat, and ask what happened. I'm informed they can find no move order on the account. The cust serv rep (CSR#4) asks if I have an ID number for the move order, and I don't have one. But they're happy to submit a new move order. Grrrrr. I say, yes, do it. After a long pause, the cust serv rep apologizes and says they can't do the move. Because it's a landline. The text-chat customer serv reps can't do landline moves. For that you have to call in. 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM EST Monday through Friday or 9:00AM to 5:00PM on Saturday. Also, he tells me, I might need to present paperwork in person at a local Verizon office.

It's after 10pm on Thursday, so I have to wait until the phone is staffed again. Why they can have 24/7 text chat CSRs but not 24/7 phone CSRs, I don't know.

Other stuff comes up, that has priority Friday, so I don't get to call Verizon until Saturday, 7/15. The rep I speak to (CSR#5) tells me she sees no record of the move order for Thursday, but she can totally put in a move order for right now immediately. I say the guy I talked to on Thursday said I needed a technician and special documentation; she said she had no idea what he was on about, no technician was needed, and no, they didn't need any special documentation. She said it would be done by "5 today, though maybe really more like by midnight". I make her give me the order number for this move order.

Sunday, 7/16, still no dialtone at her new place, dialtone at the old place. Verizon is closed for phone calls.

Today, Monday, 7/17, I call Verizon and ask WTELF. The CSR (CSR#6) calls up the account and says, "Oh, I see you had a move order for last Thursday." "WAIT. WUT. You can see that order? I was told you guys had no record of that order!" I make him read me the order number; so now I have the order numbers for both move orders that failed to happen. He then apologizes on Verizon's behalf and tells me they over-booked technicians, and that is why no technician came out. "BUT, BUT, WAIT. NOBODY EVER CALLED OR EMAILED. I WAS TOLD THERE WAS NO ORDER. THE LAST PERSON TOLD ME WE DIDN'T NEED A TECHNICIAN AT ALL." The CSR apologized again, and said he'd put the order in, and expedite it, and a technician would be by today.

Then I explained that I wanted the bill credited, and he referred me to billing (CSR#7), who both credited the bill ([personal profile] tn3270 has already got the confirmation email) and confirmed her service level and price, contra CSR#2.

Miraculously, a Verizon technician actually showed up at the assisted living facility today. He did a bunch of stuff, including something in the network closet and sticking some sort of probe in her wall socket, and assured us everything in the building is all set.

She still doesn't have dialtone, though; the technician confidently told [personal profile] tn3270 that the problem was on the pole outside. They'll have a lineman deal with that tomorrow (Tuesday, 7/18).

Next up, contacting the Mass DTC to see about filing an official complaint.
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
This extraordinarily popular series is based on a novel written by a woman, and was first published online. She published it serially, and it became enormously popular, so much so that a film company contacted her and she wrote the screenplay for the series. She has also published at least two revised editions online that I know of — none of this being translated into English; I’ve found out this much by trolling through sites where people who and speak English have talked about it.

So, on to episode three.
Read more... )

Book Recs, Signings, and Stuff

Jul. 17th, 2017 07:54 am
marthawells: (Reading)
[personal profile] marthawells
Signings and Stuff


* Here are some photos of me and Rachel Caine at our signing at Murder by the Book: https://marthawells.tumblr.com/post/163060728297/my-friend-tooks-some-photos-of-me-and-rachel-caine We had a good crowd, even though it was pouring rain and there were tornado warnings.

* Here's a post from me on Writers Read: https://whatarewritersreading.blogspot.com/2017/07/martha-wells.html about what I'm reading now (actually what I was reading when I wrote the post)

* And I'm not in this article but I know all these people: https://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/2017-07-14/writing-science-fiction-fantasy-and-horror-in-austin/



***

Books


(If you've been following my book rec and new book listing posts for a while, you may have noticed this already, but while most book lists emphasize books by popular straight white men, this one emphasizes everybody else. I include books by straight white men, but in about the same percentage that other book lists include everybody else. I also try to highlight books that are less well known.)

(I only link to one retail outlet in the book's listing, but most books are available at multiple outlets, like Kobo, iBooks, international Amazons, Barnes & Noble, etc. The short stories are usually on free online magazines.)


* Short Story: Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard


* Stranglehold by Rene Sears
Morgan Tenpenny has retreated from her painful, magical past, choosing to live quietly as a guardian of one of the gates between worlds. But her sister Gwen is married to a lord of the High Court of Faerie-and when Gwen asks her to protect her nieces, it's time for Morgan to emerge from her seclusion. The gates to Faerie have inexplicably closed, and no one knows why...


* Revision by Andrea Phillips
Mira is a trust fund baby playing at making it on her own as a Brooklyn barista. When Benji, her tech startup boyfriend, dumps her out of the blue, she decides a little revenge vandalism is in order. Mira updates his entry on Verity, Benji’s Wikipedia-style news aggregator, to say the two have become engaged. Hours later, he shows up at her place with an engagement ring. Chalk it up to coincidence, right? Soon after, Benji’s long-vanished co-founder Chandra shows up asking for Mira’s help. She claims Verity can nudge unlikely events into really happening — even change someone’s mind. And Chandra insists that Verity — and Mira’s newly minted fiance — can’t be trusted.


* Short Story: Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang


* Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Laksa Anthology Series: Speculative Fiction Book 3) edited by Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak


* All Things Violent by Nikki Dolson
Soon the ambitious Simon introduces her to Frank Joyce, a man who would teach her how to become a stone-cold professional killer. Laura learns her deadly trade and earns her money. Twenty-six years old and she thinks she’s found her happily ever after. Sadly it all falls apart when Simon leaves her for another. Now some other woman, blonde and polished, all shiny and new, is living Laura’s happy life.


* Telling the Map by Christopher Rowe
There are ten stories here including one readers have waited ten long years for: in new novel-la The Border State Rowe revisits the world of his much-lauded story The Voluntary State.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
I am home from Readercon and I have fed the cats and I think Autolycus has even forgiven me for not being around the last few nights to provide a keyboard for him to walk on, since he just sprang up and left the comment "ggggggggggggggggggggggggggcfghhhhhhhhh" on Facebook. (It was surprisingly apt in context. More people have liked it than have liked the actual-words comment I'd left just above.) Hestia has rubbed her head all over my shirt in order to reclaim me as part of the household rather than a hotel that doesn't even smell like cat. I had a really good weekend.

I had five program items on Friday. The first was my reading, which I think went well; it was recorded by both Readercon and Jim Freund of Hour of the Wolf, so I'll link to either or both as they're made available. I read from my recently completed, as yet unpublished short story "The Face of the Waters" with new poetry on either side and wore glasses in public for the first time, which was less a cosmetic issue than a matter of figuring out how to negotiate eye contact with my audience without bifocals. Of the panels that followed, I don't think any of them were trainwrecks: "I Am Become Death . . . No, I Mean Literally" went off-script almost immediately, but in an abstract, ethnographic way that the audience as well as the panelists seem to have enjoyed, and "The Works of Tanith Lee" was as wide-ranging as the literature we were talking about. I feel bad about overstating the degree to which I believe Owen Davies is a parental fuck-up during "Classic YA Book Club: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper," but I regret nothing about rhapsodically anti-recommending Kathleen Sky's Witchdame (1985) in "Terrible . . . but Great" because somebody turned to me abruptly in an elevator the next day and complimented me on my flailing. More seriously, someone else told me that they had scoured the dealer's room for Lee's work because of the way I talked about her on the panel and been rewarded by everything they had read so far. That was really nice to hear.

In the one non-programming group activity I managed all weekend, I joined [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, [personal profile] ashnistrike, [personal profile] skygiants, and [personal profile] kate_nepveu for dinner at Taipei Cuisine, with dessert at Yocha afterward. There was sweet corn with salty egg yolk and chili-fried shrimp with peanuts and lotus root with mushrooms and sesame chicken and a couple of dishes that didn't work out but were worth ordering just to see what they were like, although "with bones in" is not how anybody was expecting the popcorn frog. I hope I can get a coconut smoothie with lychee jelly other places than Yocha, because it's a really nice dessert. I would not be the person to write it, but I hope someone does a serious critical survey of that phase of '80's fantasy when it was all idtastic, all the time.

I do not know if I can promise a Patreon review of it, but I nonetheless recommend "Level Seven" (1966), a formerly lost episode of Out of the Unknown (1965–71) adapted by J.B. Priestley from Mordecai Roshwald's 1959 pre-and-post-apocalyptic novel of the same name; it is more streamlined and more of a parable than its source material, but pulls no more punches when it comes to the likelihood of surviving MAD. Young David Collings turns out to remind me of Peter Cushing. I think it's the cheekbones and the breakdowns.

The rest of Friday night was terrible. Between four and five in the morning, I had some kind of severe allergic reaction to an unknown trigger. It was like anaphylaxis with violent nausea: I took Benadryl as soon as I realized that my throat and mouth were prickling and swelling and I had suddenly stopped being able to breathe through my nose and for all I know it saved my life, but did not prevent the rash all over my body or the wheezing when I breathed. Sleep was not so much a thing for the rest of the night. I took Benadryl conscientiously round the clock until this evening and the symptoms gradually subsided, but it took a full twelve hours for my mouth to stop being numb. I have no known food allergies; I am hoping I have not suddenly developed any. The best medical guess right now is either one bad shrimp or some kind of slow-building reaction to a medication I started a week and a half ago. I will be calling my doctors about it on Monday. It was scary.

I had one panel on Saturday at noon and I feel slightly as though I hallucinated my way through it, but I remember talking about Phyllis Gotlieb and Yoon Ha Lee and The Robots of Death (1977), because the panel was "Life, Love, and Robots," and then I drifted briefly through the dealers' room with my mother and ran into [personal profile] aedifica for a very careful lunch (I dissected the chicken out of a chicken sandwich) and then I slept for the rest of the afternoon. I did not manage to have dinner with [personal profile] yhlee. I did not manage to have dinner at all. I did manage to spend portions of the evening hanging out with Yoon and [personal profile] choco_frosh and Rush-That-Speaks and Ashnistrike and [personal profile] nineweaving, cautiously drinking herbal tea and eating my way through the pocketful of ginger chews I stole from the green room. Instead of attending any of the con's numerous room parties, I went back upstairs and answered some e-mail and continued reading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising (1973), which I had brought in hardcover to the previous day's panel. [personal profile] spatch came out after his evening show and stayed with me just in case I stopped breathing in the middle of the night. I didn't.

I got the news about Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor right before arriving for "Disturbed by Her Song: Gender, Queerness, and Sexuality in the Works of Tanith Lee," so Rush-That-Speaks and Steve Berman and I talked about Doctor Who for the first five minutes and I maintain gender-changing, self-reinventing immortals are totally on point for a discussion of Tanith Lee anyway. It was an enormously fun panel and may have repercussions.

This was a good year for books. I came away from the convention with Michael Thomas Ford's Lily (2016), L.A. Fields' Homo Superiors (2016), John Maddox Roberts' The Seven Hills (2005), Michael Cisco's The Wretch of the Sun (2016), Yevgeny Zamyatin's The Dragon (ed. and trans. Mirra Ginsburg, 1967), and five pulp novels by Fredric Brown all courtesy of [personal profile] alexxkay: The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947), The Dead Ringer (1948), The Bloody Moonlight (1949), The Screaming Mimi (1949), and Compliments of a Fiend (1950). I could not afford the first edition of Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Apple-Stone (1965) on display at Somewhere in Time Books, but I am going to look for it in libraries because either I've read the Nesbit-like scene in which the children bring a Bonfire Night guy to life and it takes its face and voice from all of them by turns or someone once described it to me and either way it gave me the same jolt of half-recognition as Eleanor Farjeon's The Silver Curlew (1953), so I need to figure out what happened there. This was not a good year for seeing people, but I am glad to have caught the people I did, like [personal profile] lesser_celery and Gillian Daniels and briefly [personal profile] rosefox, and especially pleased that I managed to snag a conversation with Michael Cisco and Farah Rose Smith on Friday before my corporeal manifestation blew up. I did not take notes on any programming, but Kate Nepveu did.

(Can Martin Landau have played one of the first queer characters I ever saw in a movie? We can argue about the positive representation of "Call it my woman's intuition, if you will" Leonard in North by Northwest (1959), but he's not even subtext: I always read him and James Mason and Eva Marie Saint as a triangle. I found out he had died as soon as I got home; I had already seen the same about George Romero and Maryam Mirzakhani. Jeez, Sunday.)

Either to sum up or really bury the lede, I can now announce that Steve Berman of Lethe Press will be publishing a collection of my short fiction in 2018. Details are yet to be determined, but it will be my first fiction collection since Singing Innocence and Experience in 2005 and I am incredibly happy about it. I will share the details as soon as they exist.

My plans for the immediate future involve sleep.

NIF: Episode Two, we meet Prince Jing

Jul. 16th, 2017 11:43 am
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
Every man in the capital city wants to marry a princess.
Read more... )
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias

Last November, I posted about this series after my first watch. Some of the below is taken from that post, but I’ve expanded it.

 On the surface Nirvana in Fire (Lángyá BÇŽng in Chinese)

is about revenge, but that’s far too simplistic. Justice is truer, and so is recovering the truth.

 I suspect, especially these days, if Hollywood had made this story, they would probably have climaxed it when the Big Bad was taken down, and ended with the heroes trotting off for celebratory whoopie.

 Don’t think the final sequence taking down the Big Bad isn’t nail-bitingly intense, because it most definitely is, but the true climax is even more powerful—everyone, especially our hero, risking absolutely everything to gain justice for people not just killed but whose reputations had been destroyed thirteen years ago.

 

And those who did the deed—who begin the story arc wielding imperial power—don’t cynically shrug off the past. They will do anything to keep their secrets, which—one picks up through the subtleties of phenomenal acting, because the subtitles are at best adequate—haunt them.

 

It’s tense, passionate, romantic, full of great battle and ninja action as well as complicated political gamesmanship and quiet, tender moments. It’s funny, tragic, more tense, and always, always visually stunning.

 

And here’s the other thing I love. The female actors don’t have to strip in order to convey sexual politics or relations. And we don’t have to see tons of graphic torture scenes (though there is one, and the perpetrator is not who you'd think) for those dungeon scenes to be breathtakingly, harrowingly intense.

Some background 

 

I don’t speak Chinese, I’ve only read a handful of Chinese novels translated into English, and while I’ve read some Chinese history, the emphasis is on the ‘some’—a tiny fraction of the hundreds of books I’ve read over sixty years about European history.

China has such a long, fascinating, complicated history, which furnishes an equally long-view historical outlook that we just don’t find much of in the USA.  

 

When I compare this to those bits of early episodes of Game of Thrones that I saw, with the generic faux-medieval design and actors who seemed uncomfortable in their tunics and gowns, while I understand there was some fudging-for-modern-audience about the design of Nirvana in Fire, the characters wear the clothes naturally, their interpersonal customs flow naturally, even when rigidly constrained into ritual. Everything feels authentic, to the tiny steps mandated in court to the way men and women played their fans, and held aside their sleeves when pouring tea.

 

But that’s window dressing. What compelled me was the paradigm. Reputation is important—and not just to the good guys—especially family reputation, for it lasts beyond death. Friendship is important. Loyalty is vitally important. There are some things worth dying for. Given the news lately, I find recourse to this series not just entertaining, but necessary for sanity.

The series apparently comes out of the
wuxia tradition— the word “wuxia” being a compound composed of the elements wu (lit. “martial”, “military”, or “armed”) and xia (lit. “honourable”, “chivalrous”, or “hero”). And this genre of story has been popular for at least two thousand years; Chinese literary tradition mentions a critic making fun of wuxia back in the third century B.C.

 

When comics and film came along, wuxia spread into those media, and flourished. During my lifetime, the USA has  important tons of low-budget Chinese martial arts films, most of which more or less fall under the wuxia umbrella. On the plus side, these include badass female warriors who whirl through the air like balletic chainsaws, gracefully wielding as much power as the males—though female non-warriors still represent the traditional submissive female, whose power is covertly expressed.

 

This seeming contradiction isn’t contradictory to the Chinese, who have grown up with the jianghu tradition, which runs parallel to wuxia in a way I would love to understand better, but it seems even older. My still-tentative take is that the jianghu world is the world of the outsider, always fascinating to a complicated, repressive cultural order.

The jianghu world exists amorphously within the rest of China, in some stories with actual lands (formidably defended by martial artists, as in this story), and in others existing as a type of roaming martial art outsider.

 

Jianghu warriors paid no attention to the various governments, and dealt with high and low without any distinction, except maybe a preference for the latter, which made them popular, especially when they adhered to a code of honor.  In most English translations, jianghu seems to be rendered into the somewhat quaint ‘pugilist’ as in Pugilistic World.

 

So Nirvana in Fire is set in a sort of alt-600s, during the time of the Wei and Liang dynasties, in the north and south respectively. It will help you get into the story to know that the pugilistic world when this story occurs is represented by the Jiang Zuo Alliance, with its headquarters high in an amazing place called Langya Hall, which was the Google/Wikipedia of the 600s.

 

People can climb the billion steps to ask any question by putting a slip of paper in any of a number of boxes in a wall, and within a period of time get an answer, while overhead pigeons are constantly bringing messages from all over the world, keeping otherwise isolated Langya Hall up to the minute on all happenings great and small.

 

Early on in Episode One, we only see the data archive for a short time, but it is mind-bogglingly awesome, establishing its presence so vigorously we absolutely believe in its power and reach through the entire series.

 

Before I get into Episode One, let me provide an insight that only occurred after I’d seen the rest of the serial once, then twice: and that is, every single line of that first episode is important. Every single line packs a live mine that is going to explode during the rest of the series.

 

But!

 

I strongly encourage the English-speaking viewer, who is going to be compounding with subtitles (not always grammatically correct, sigh) not to worry about that.

 

Don’t try to make sense of the story in the first episode. There are a lot of characters to introduce, and all of them have their motivations and goals. Let the colors, the expressions, the action, and the mood begin to build impressions. By the third and fourth episodes, you will discover yourself recognizing characters and beginning to understand the main goals well enough.

 

Okay, Episode One.

 

The first minute or two is horrific—a truly nasty battle sequence. What we are seeing is nightmarish memory, as our main character fights, looks around in bewilderment and despair as everyone around him is slaughtered, and then clings to his father’s hand. His father lets him go, yelling at him to survive as he falls into the abyss . . .

. .

 

And our main character wakes up. We pull back to see him sit up in bed, hair hanging in his face, then we see his bloodshot eyes, and after that he fingers a silver bracelet on his hand. All these signs are important: the nightmare. The bloodshot eyes. And the bracelet.

 

But we don’t need to remember them—we’ll see them all again, and what they mean, when it’s necessary. It’s that second viewing when you gasp and think OMG because you know what everything means.

 

We go directly to a pigeon flying to Langya Hall, which we see in all its spectacular beauty. We see information arrive and get brought to Lin Chen, the Master of Langya Hall. The info brought is important, but again, don’t worry about remembering it. It will be re-introduced when it matters.

 

Then we meet Prince Yu, sixth of the Emperor of Da Liang’s nine sons. We also meet the Emperor, getting a message that Prince Yu has completed his inspection of distant provinces, and as the emperor talks with his trusted Head Eunuch, the talk touches on the intense rivalry between Prince Yu and the Crown Prince, to whom we’re briefly introduced next as he asks for news.

 

Again, don’t worry about memorizing all these guys. Their distinctive personalities will emerge as events do. Just watch, as the Crown Prince’s assassins try to take out Prince Yu. He doesn’t fight—his bodyguard dispatches the assassin—but we see that Prince Yu is cold and assured even when the assassin’s blade gets close enough to slice his hand. And he knows who sent the assassins. But as he evaluates international news (remember that pigeon in the earlier scene; he has his own methods of obtaining intel) he decides that he needs to visit Langya Hall, too, if the world’s royal power brokers are advancing by asking advice of the Hall.

 

We then see Lin Chen do an exquisite kata on a soaring cliff, in wuxia style, with lots of martial air ballet. So we’re establishing that this man is Master of Google/Wikipedia/Head Warrior Honcho . . . and we will also find out that he is a very skilled doctor. (And he will nearly steal the show in the last five episodes.)

 

He gives orders about what data to hand off to Prince Yu, which incidentally is also being sent to the Crown Prince. Langya Hall is utterly neutral, totally detached from political struggles in governments. Their alliance is a free-wheeling one, their lands fiercely protected, as we’re about to find out.

 

Prince Yu gets home, and he opens his message at the same time as the Crown Prince does, both pondering the disconcerting news: whoever possesses the Divine Talent will hold the world. Of course they begin politicking, meanwhile mentioning a mysterious case of a Duke Qing who is in trouble for real estate fraud (called land grabbing). Don’t worry about this. You will never meet Duke Qing—it’s the fallout of this case that will unfold over several episodes.

 

But first, assassins dispatched to chase some innocent servants of the duke, and kill them before they can talk, manage to slide into the waters of the Pugilist World. Three ships full of fierce armed guys encounter a slim boat with our hero standing up in it, playing the flute. It’s the only time we will ever see him play that flute, so enjoy it.

 

Also enjoy how the sight of him scares the sweat out of said three ships of fierce warriors. As our hero calmly remonstrates with them, a teenage boy, Fei Liu, lands from the sky into the boat, bringing a beautiful cloak to put around the shoulders of our hero. (We will see all through the story friends and enemies alike making sure he is warm enough.)

 

When one of the warriors starts talking tough, Fei Liu launches high into the air, plucks the burly guy up, and tosses him overboard, then lands lightly in the little boat again. So right here we learn two things: Fei Liu, small as he is, is an incredible badass, and 2) the Jiang Zuo Alliance (the Pugilists) have a really scary rep when you cross into their territory. The ships about face and creep off, leaving the little boat to skim by apparently magical power in the other direction.

 

 

So, what is a Divine Talent? A super-smart military strategist and an elder statesman rolled up in one, an eminence grise, or Richelieu, to those who know Western history.

 

We switch back to the emperor, who laughs comfortably at the idea of a Divine Talent disrupting his empire. “My empire is something he cannot take so easily,” he says. Famous Last Words.

 

We switch back to Langya Hall for the last time, as we see Lin Chen and our hero sitting face to face in their gorgeous flowing robes and hair. Lin Chen is now in his doctor guise, trying to talk our hero out of leaving, but he knows it’s a lost cause. Our hero tells him that he’s been planning for ten years—and he pleads for two—to get his goal accomplished. Lin Chen gives him some heart pills for when he's in bad shape, and when they are gone, he will come.

 

It’s a fairly elliptical scene. Again, I’d say let it flow over you. Every word strikes very hard on the second viewing—every single word.

 

For now, let me just say that our hero is going to have three identities in this story, and we’ll get to why the third is necessary a bit later. Right now: the young warrior in the horrible battle was nineteen year old General Lin Shu, brilliant leader and son of Lin Xie (last name first in Chinese), head of the Chiyan Army. But now he is Mei Changsu, head of the Jiang Zuo Alliance, even though he is unable to do martial arts: we get the sense that he is extremely ill. But that does not affect his mental abilities. Mei Changsu is the Divine Talent, first on one of Langya Hall’s Lists—each year they rate scholars and warriors according to ability, and other things besides.

 

Mei Changsu is heading for the capital city, which he has not seen since before that terrible battle. He will be going accompanied by two sprightly young men, Jingrui and Yuzin, who we meet shopping, when they are distracted by the arrival of some grim warriors. They comment on these guys, who have not dared come around for over ten years, and again, that will only make sense later. Just look and listen now.

 

We will be learning lots more about the boys, too—but right now they seem to be happy-go-lucky young guys in their early twenties, rich, well trained. Jingrui a Pugilist, trained by his adoptive brother (and we’ll be finding out a lot more about that relationship, hoo boy).

 

Jingrui’s father is the Marquis Xie—the sinister eminence grise behind the Crown Prince, though everyone else thinks he’s politically neutral.  Mei Changsu is going to be staying in his guest house.

 

The young guys Yuzin and Jingrui (sometimes called Xiao-Jingrui, Xiao being an honorary title that will pop up a lot for various young male characters; the female equivalent is jiejie, or jie) and their guest in his covered cart approach the capital, and we see Mei Changsu’s face as he looks up at the walls again. There is so much repressed emotion there.

 

But first the boys encounter another party, led by Princess Mu Nihuang of Yunnan. She attacks Jingrui and his buddy Yan Yujin, and defeats both, but compliments them on their learning. She wants to know who is inside the closed carriage with them, and they explain that it’s a sick friend coming to town to recover. She glances curiously, but inside, Mei Changsu/ Lin Shu listens with an expression of yearning, and we wonder if he and this gorgeous fighting princess have a history. In fact you just know they have a history.

 

Before they get to the fortified mansion belonging to the Marquis Xie, Mei Changsu asks the boys to introduce him as Su Zhe, a sickly traveling scholar. You’re thinking really? Three names, two of them disguises?

 

The thing you begin to pick up is that the Su Zhe guise doesn’t fool anyone long, but it forces everyone who wants to possess, bribe, threaten, or annex Mei Changsu to deal with the scholar fiction, if they want to save face. This fiction keeps a kind of polite balance, and it persists pretty much through the entire series, more or less.

 

Sometimes less, with dramatic results.

 

But that’s way later.

 

So Mei Changsu comes in behind the oblivious boys who are chattering, and the Marquis is about to ream Jingrui when he notices they have a guest. Meanwhile Mei Changsu (MC) experiences a few second flashback that is quite startling. It is so fast that I didn’t notice it the first time through. But on the second, I realize just how much he is masking his emotions as he greets Xie, and the men exchange polite bows.

 

The boys are oblivious to any undercurrents.

 

Then we switch back to the emperor, who tells the princess that it’s time for her to have a suitor. Now, on first watching, this doesn’t mean much, but I think it will help viewers to know that she is not at all up for this. She was engaged to Lin Shu (we find that out soon enough) and has stayed loyal to his memory all this time. What we don’t know in these early episodes is how extremely dangerous it would be to let the emperor get any hint of that.

 

Instead, she insists that there be not only a martial contest, but a scholarly one. She will consider the top ten winners . . . but if she beats any of them in martial arts, all bets are off. And she is on the Langya List, so we know she’s a badass.

 

Her best friend Xia Dong, an officer of the Xuanjing Bureau (FBI/secret police), arrives. The emperor assigns Xia Dong the Duke Qing case. The women leave together and talk, and we find out that Nihuang still feels loyal to Lin Shu, and that Xia Dong hates Lin Shu because of all the evidence provided by her own bureau that the Lin family was responsible for the death of her husband. So the women agree to disagree on that front. They are still friends . . . and the second-time viewer is shaking their head thinking, oh wow, Xia Dong, have you got some eye-openers ahead of you.

 

So that is episode one. So far,  we have:

 

Mei Changsu/Lin Shu, wearing the scholarly mask of Su Zhe.

 

Princess Nihuan, badass of Mu.

 

Prince Yu and the Crown Prince, rivals for the throne. (Crown Prince isn’t fixed. Far from it.)

 

The super-snakey Marquis Xie—whose house MC is staying at.

 

Jingrui and Yuzin, delightful young friends of MC.

 

The Emperor, his Empress and Consort Yue (briefly met), adoptive mother of Prince Yu and mother of Crown Prince respectively.

 

We will learn a lot more about them all, and meet our second hero, in the next episode.

 

Until it reaches the USA market in a professional form, you can find it at Viki.com here:

And at YouTube, Here:  but beware—some episodes in, the YouTube subtitles begin at the start of the title roll, and so are two minutes or so off.

 

I do recommend the German subtitles at Viki.com if you can read German—they are better than the English (definitely better grammar and spelling), but the English are okay. Watch the characters, whose acting is brilliant, and you can sift out  the emotional subtleties.

Another extravaganza, or not

Jul. 15th, 2017 01:44 pm
sartorias: (Default)
[personal profile] sartorias
I've been reading plenty, but all along I've felt that itch for the grand and powerful, as I felt when rereading Lord of the Rings. So I began a rewatch of Nirvana in Fire, which is even better, exponentially better, once one knows the story.

So my question is, should I live-blog it, or is no one but me interested?

Unsucking the Classics

Jul. 15th, 2017 07:12 am
sartorias: (Default)
[personal profile] sartorias
Which assigned stinkers and snores of days of yore have you reread that turned out to be pretty good?

Do you think kids should be exposed to the classics? And if so, how?

Read an excerpt from Provenance!

Jul. 14th, 2017 01:08 pm
ann_leckie: (AJ)
[personal profile] ann_leckie

Hey, you! Yeah, you. Wanna read an excerpt from Provenance?

Yeah, you can do that right here.

It’s round about the first half of the first chapter, actually.

I hope you enjoy it!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

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