If you want to read my thoughts on fiction or occasionally some other things (such as certain political views), such thoughts are inflicted upon the world.
If, for some reason, you want to hear about my life, random things, and occasionally more subjects (such as politics), those posts are friends-only.
You can comment here to be added! Though I will need reasonable basis for adding you, most likely of the "I've seen you around [insert place here]" kind.
"There was the People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road (Truth! Justice! Freedom! Reasonably-Priced Love! And a Hard-Boiled Egg!), which would live for all of a few hours, a strange candle that burned briefly and died like a firework."
And a glorious 25th of May to you all.
Or: why I am disinterested in BBC's Sherlock
and dislike the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies. (Yeah my first real dreamwidth post will be complaining about two very popular things. Sorry about that.)
I have two works which have largely formed how I approach mystery fiction- the television series Homicide: Life on the Street
and the Watch books in Discworld
. These are, admittedly, two rather atypical sources of influence. Homicide
is in a lot of ways a workplace drama where the workplace happens to be the Homicide Unit in Baltimore, and the Watch books are, well, Discworld
. But among the other things I've picked up from these works are two attitudes which are really relevant to this post.
1- Detectives solve cases, major and minor, through a combination of a lot of hard work and sheer luck. In Homicide
a detective can spend weeks going through anything that might
be evidence before getting to a breakthrough, and sometimes cases are solved just because the criminal is dumb enough to write things down and the detective is lucky enough to find it.
2- Genius observational deductions are frequently pretty stupid. There's a point in one book, I forget which one, where Vimes outright dismisses Clues like a guy having plaster on his sleeve, because while that could mean he's a professional plasterer, it could also mean his house or office are in the process of being replastered or are falling apart, or a number of other things. That passage always struck me as a jab at a particular type of fictional detective, but a jab I happen to agree with.
These actually cause problems with me and a number of works, but you can probably see how it's a particular issue when dealing with Holmes.
But that's not to say I'm against Holmes in any form. I admit I've never read the stories, but a few years ago I was introduced to the Granada t.v. series
starring Jeremy Brett, and I genuinely love it. For one, Jeremy Brett is brilliant and the casts of the week are usually pretty strong, for another, it does in many ways frequently take something of a procedural approach. But I think it also does two things that other adaptations don't always do. First- Holmes may be the smartest guy in the room, but that doesn't mean we're instantly supposed to admire him and it doesn't mean he's infallible. And second- for the vast majority of the series, Holmes is challenging himself not by battling an evil genius, but by solving ordinary crimes committed by ordinary people in a way that is more competent than the police seem able to manage. In 36 episodes, Professor Moriarty appears in...3. And he's in none of the 5 movies.
Now the 2009 movie, which I did end up sitting through, is a different story (for one, I do not think it is a good film, but I'll leave that issue aside for the moment). Holmes is so much of a genius
that we're clearly supposed to find him just irresistibly cool. His quirks seem meant to be strange but charming, and also cool. Basically, instead of just a brilliant detective and questionable human being, Downey Jr.'s Holmes seems meant to be a totally awesome
action-mystery hero! And frankly, I find that uninspired and I don't think the movie pulls it off. But worse than that, it's all about Holmes thwarting a HUGE CONSPIRACY and also about setting up the great criminal genius Holmes will take on in a later movie! And while I am frequently fine with huge conspiracies and criminal geniuses in my fiction, there's an assumption of "this great genius is only suited to battle another great genius or at least someone who is vastly powerful" in this approach to Holmes that just doesn't sit well with me at all. (Not to mention it's pretty rare for screenwriters to really pull a battle between geniuses off.)
To be fair to BBC's Sherlock
, I haven't seen it and if it happens to be on or if my parents happen to be watching it I'll give it a try. And from what I hear about it it doesn't seem like it takes the "above us mere mortals" approach to Holmes' character. But what I've heard about Moriarty's prominence in the show makes me wary enough that I am not going to seek the series out.
I'll be over here praying for a Wallander
series 3 instead.
(Thanks to Homicide
episode one for the quote I used in the title.)
Hollywood, I know you're making a boxing movie
that just happens to have robots because you need a way to make a boxing movie "different," but.
I really think that someone should have noticed that there is another robot named Atom.
He's kind of THE MOST FAMOUS ROBOT IN THE WORLD
(Also, if you were going to steal from Tezuka, have the grace to steal more accurately and have your robot be a small, cute, female model who beats everyone else up. Uran
was the robotting champion. Atom never participated.)
Before he was given an assignment that involved hours of staring at the Berlin Wall while he grew angrier and angrier, with the eventual result of him tearing into the page with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carre wrote two mystery novels. Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality star a familiar figure for le Carre fans- George Smiley. But this is a somewhat different Smiley than the one who became famous in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; le Carre rewrote Smiley's backstory for the later novels in order to have him fit the timeline, and characters such as Peter Guillam received some much more extensive retconning. "You know, Fielding," he said at last, "we just don't know what people are like, we can never tell; there just isn't any truth about human beings, no formula that meets each one of us."
In Call for the Dead the disillusioned middle-aged spy George Smiley finds that a man he recently interviewed on account of some Communist activity when he was in university has apparently killed himself. This alone would be bad for Smiley's career, but what Smiley finds really compelling is the ways in which this suicide just doesn't add up. So he devotes himself to uncovering the truth. Call for the Dead is, well, definitely a first novel. There are passages in which you can really feel the influence Graham Greene had on le Carre, the pacing is uneven and things end up unfortunately drawn out, the heroes whose intelligence the narration assures us of take way too long to spot the obvious answer, and there is at least one really remarkable coincidence. In a lot of ways it's also a warm-up for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold- it has a definite interest in East Germany and in the aftermath of the war for particularly affected groups (most importantly, the Jews). There are some flashes of le Carre's style, characterization, and thematic interests, but they're still being developed here.
A Murder of Quality is, on the other hand, a quite competent mystery novel. Smiley, now retired, is called up by a friend of his who he worked with during the war and asked to look into events at a school which bears no resemblance at all to Eton or other prominent public schools, really. The plotting is much tighter in this one, the characterization is competent if not as focused, and the whole thing has a sort of Agatha Christie format (and it has a twist at the end which I associate with a particular Christie work and which I have to admit I particularly dislike). It's a decent little whodunit to read during the long nights. It's also, actually, a very angry book in its way- it's very clear that le Carre has serious issues with the post-war behavior of the upper class (though the way the issue of class is treated in the book is not without problems).
I have to say that in spite of its flaws, I like Call for the Dead more. You can feel le Carre reaching for the character-based drama in a spy setting that he achieves in later books, and the ambiguity and themes brought up in the end are pointed but very much in keeping with his work as a whole. Call for the Dead feels like le Carre straining to create his own formula, for better or worse, while A Murder of Quality feels like le Carre slotting a few of his characters and interests very neatly into someone else's formula. A Murder of Quality is undeniably a better book, but I don't find it as interesting a read. One has to wonder what would have happened if le Carre hadn't gotten that assignment in Berlin- would he have just ended up a decent mystery writer with some espionage flourishes to distinguish him a bit?
In the end, I'd only recommend these two to someone who is as interested in Smiley's character as I am. They're an interesting quick read for fans, but not quite skilled or original enough to justify a recommendation to anyone else. If you're starting on le Carre, I say skip ahead to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
How much of the future are you willing to risk for the sake of the present? If you're a government, the answer is "a lot." Build up a deficit today, and maybe you'll be in good enough shape tomorrow to pay it off. After all, there's a problem now, and the future is such a nebulous thing.
It's this conflict between short-term and long-term thought that is the heart of [C] - Control: the Money of Soul and Possibility
, a new 11-episode anime directed by Nakamura Kenji (the man who brought you this show
) that just finished airing.[C]
is set in a Japan that is supposedly recovering from an economic crisis but in which many people are still struggling and the crime rate is high (this may see vaguely familiar). But it's also set in a connected, bizarre dimension called the "Financial District," a place that arises when people desire wealth. Certain people are offered a loan from the Midas Bank with their futures as collateral, and if they accept (and the bank is very good at getting you to accept) they are allowed into the Financial District, where they use the "assets" that represent their futures in fights that are called "deals." If you win, you gain Midas money, which can be used like real money in the real world. If you loose, you loose not only money, but some of your future. As this is a Nakamura work, the premise is taken full advantage of for trippy visuals, gradually increasing horror, and jump cuts. The whole thing is on a little acid.( cut for images!Collapse )
I hear a lot of people are turned off by episode 1, which I admit to being confused by since I was totally enthralled. I guess it is a bit of a strange way to start? But if you see the first two episodes and aren't interested, the show's probably not for you. It is one of those series that is easier to be fascinated by than it is to love. But it is only 11 episodes, so it's not too much of a time investment, and it's all on hulu
and youtube for you, so if you feel like whiling away an afternoon with economics, I'd say go for it.
A while back I picked up Kristin Cashore's Fire
, and about...a month ago now I finally read it. Fire
is set in the same world as Graceling
, but a different part of that world, and the stories exist independently enough that Fire
can be read without having read Graceling
is about, well, Fire, a human monster in the land known as the Dells. Monster in this case is a term for a specific type of being, supernaturally beautiful creatures with the power to mesmerize and control thoughts. Fire is the last of the human monsters, and has lived most of her life in relative isolation on an estate in the north. Meanwhile, the Dells have been falling apart politically, largely due to the effects that Fire's father, the monster Cansrel, had on the previous king and his court. A strange threat comes to Fire at the estate, and during a visit south she starts to become more involved in the politics of the land. Eventually her presence is requested in the capital, and she accepts, putting strain on her already tense relationship with her childhood friend and sometimes lover Archer while she starts to understand and grow closer to the military commander Prince Brigan.
Some things I liked!
- Fire's relationship with Cansrel. This was, honestly, my favorite thing in the book. Cansrel was a terrible, horrible person who inflicted incredible damage on other people and the country. Fire knows that. But Cansrel was also a doting father, and Fire still cherishes memories of that. You can see the end of their relationship coming from pretty much the start, but it's still done very effectively.
- Fire likes children and wishes she could have could have her own, and that does not in any way make her weak. Other women get pregnant out of wedlock, and while that might have been a mistake it does not make them weak, pitiable, or any less competent than they already were. This is something that I don't think gets said much in YA fiction, or fantasy in general, and it's nice to see that as an addition to the fact that all the women own their own sexuality.
- Fire herself! Some other characters, like the former Queen, deserve mention too, but Fire is very much the viewpoint character and we stick to her very closely. This works. For all that she is in her way a different species, Fire is pretty relatable, admirable in some ways and less in others, someone who doesn't quite get the world or the people in it but who comes to care for them and fight for them in her way.
- The Dells are a pretty evocative setting. The place is largely rock, with some dirt and trees and rather little grass. You understand why the bright colors of the monsters are considered so striking.
Some things I did not like ( are spoilersCollapse )
While I do not like Fire
without reservation, I did like it, and would recommend it under the right circumstances. And I recently bought Graceling
at Half-Price. I think I'll be following Cashore for a while.
So. X-Men First Class
. Definite racefail. Definite sexism. (see this plurk
for some details) ...definite large amounts of Magneto. Definite kudos for the set decorators.
I think these things can be agreed on. The part where I disagree with most of my internet friends is regarding the relationship between Professor X and Magneto. A lot of people have come back from this movie thinking there is overwhelming romantic subtext between them. I didn't.
What I saw was a privileged young man with a history of adopting and helping (in his way, which is not always best) strays encounter a more challenging case than he had faced before. And a young man with very few connections in this world encounter someone who can to a certain extent understand and help him. I saw two people using each other- strategically (for power, for a way to get at a goal) and emotionally (to feel better about yourself, to gain control). I don't find this romantic or sexual. And frankly, I don't want to find it romantic or sexual, because I think it would be a lot less interesting.
See, when a canon offers me a way to see something as non-romantic, odds are I'll take it. X-Men First Class
presented me with that pretty much right off, through the way I could see the characters. Which meant that when I saw the stuff later in the movie, it was still non-romantic to me. Just as when I rewatch the first few episodes of Princess Tutu
, I don't see sexual subtext between Fakir and Mytho because I know from the later episodes that Fakir's relationship with Mytho encompasses a whole host of different, complex feelings (protective instincts, guilt, a direction in life, serious fear). In the case of Fakir and Mytho, I actually can get genuinely angry at people who have seen the whole series and still ship them, because I feel that if you simplify Fakir's feelings to romantic love or sexual attraction you are missing a huge part of his character, and thus a lot of what the show is doing.
And when a canon offers me very little romance, I like
it that way. One of the things I tend to mention most when promoting Michelle West's Sun Sword
series is how even though it is giant it has almost no romance and instead focuses on familial relationships, adopted familial relationships, friendships, and ways of using others.
I know that a lot of people find fictional romance satisfying, and I'm not here to bash that. If that's what you want, cool. Sometimes I ship things terribly! And sometimes what I do is basically reverse shipping, casting something that has a good chance of being romantic in a deliberately unromantic light, because that's what I
want. There are a lot more relationships in life than romance and enmity, and personally I look for that in my fiction.
So I have gotten sick two weekends in a row! It is a skill. But more to the point, one of the ways I cope with being sick is by reading things. The weekend before last featured me devouring Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum, one of the few Discworld books I still hadn't read, rather than food. And so, some thoughts:
- I think that Carpe Jugulum, despite the ridiculous premise, is right up there with Monstrous Regiment for "actually quite serious Discworld book." It's funny, of course, but the humor is weighted towards the beginning of the book and there's a lot of genuine horror and straightforwardly serious character development in it as a whole. My knee-jerk reaction is actually to say this is the most serious Discworld book I've read, but it's been a while since I reread Monstrous Regiment and I remember that one being quite serious too.
- I think I see why Pratchett moved to the Tiffany books after this, instead of continuing with the main witches books. One reason is that I know he's said that he actually finds it easier to be serious when writing for children, and he's certainly demonstrated a willingness to be serious here. Another reason may be that the witches books (which I have read, I'm missing the earliest) deal with people interacting directly with certain kinds of stories, and moving to children's literature lets him use different stories. And another reason may be that he just wasn't sure how to handle the generation shift in the coven, which is an impression I got from this book.
- I absolutely love the take on mind-control in this, it's one of those glorious examples of Pratchett stepping back from a common plot element and being brilliantly logical about why it should be different. Of course people who waffle on things and second guess themselves are more difficult to figure out and thus to control than determined people with great willpower who think in a straight line.
- I kind of seriously adore Agnes (and Perdita).
- I also kind of seriously adore Mightily Oats. Faith is something that interests me a lot in characters and narratives, and I really like his whole character arc.
- ...I should probably have more to say, but...it's Pratchett doing vampires! With the witches! That is basically all you need to know.
"All the little angels rise up, rise up
All the little angels rise up high
How do they rise up, rise up, rise up
How do they rise up, rise up high?
They rise heads up, heads up, heads up
They rise heads up, heads up high"
A glorious 25th of May to everyone.
"I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.
Now, if you please."
This is not, perhaps, the opening you expect from a young adult fantasy novel. But if Franny Billingsley has demonstrated anything in her work, it's that her heroines are refreshingly real, complex, and unexpected.
Chime is Billingsley's latest work. It's also her most ambitious to date, twice as long as Well-Wished or The Folk Keeper and with a stated, rather than vague, historical setting. But it's still very much a Billingsley book, very involved with words and set in a world where sometimes deeply unsettling magic is just a matter of fact.
Our heroine and narrator is Briony Larkin, one of the twin daughters of the Reverend Larkin, living in a small village in a swampy area of Northern England. Briony is the sane daughter, it should be said, and she spends a lot of time looking after the not-altogether-there twin, Rose. The girls' mother died very early on, and their stepmother, who was basically a genuine mother figure, died recently. Now, Briony lives wracked by guilt and bitterness, the Reverend Larkin is distant, and Rose continues to be out there. But, as Briony knows, the story doesn't start until a handsome stranger walks in. Enter one Eldric Clayborne, self-confessed bad boy and intelligent but less than diligent student, son of the man who is draining the swamp. Eldric introduces some new elements to life in town, even as things start to unravel all around (there are a good many supernatural elements that are, for one reason or another, not happy).
Briony tells us early on that while she may twist around and hide things from others, she is always completely honest with herself and is reporting things in a way that reflects that, which of course actually means that her own view of herself (and some things around her) is distorted and she is a deliciously unreliable narrator. Guys, I kind of seriously love Briony. She's smart, fairly educated, curious. She has both that element of a love for the wild and that deep connection to words which are typical of Billingsley heroines. She is, for various reasons which get a slow reveal, laden with guilt and convinced that she should be hated, especially by herself. She has a strong streak of dry humor, most of which gets directed at herself. Briony also manages to be extremely distinct from Billingsley's other first-person narrator, Corinna of The Folk Keeper, even while Billingsley's distinct gift for language, especially imagery, is on display.
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, is not as strong. Rose is alright but she needs more page time for proper development, Reverent Larkin is interesting but frequently dismissed from the narration for very understandable reasons, and Eldric just rubs me the wrong way. Eldric shares a few traits with The Folk Keeper's Finian, but the traits specific to Eldric are ones I find rather annoying, and while Eldric is theoretically more complex he come off as flatter than Finian. I am sure there are people who find Eldric charming, but I am not one of them, though I do appreciate aspects of his relationship with Briony. And while the worldbuilding and Briony's characterization benefit from the length of the book, the plot has a lot of very predictable elements that grow more annoying the longer you are expected not to figure them out, and some of the twists (if it's right to call them that) left me dissatisfied. The occasional time jumps in the narration, which happen more frequently later in the book, can be disconcerting. I also have some issues with the class implications of the accents most of the villagers and supernatural creatures are portrayed as having and the way attempted sexual assault is handled.
These things being said, it really is a beautifully written exploration of guilt, and I thought the emotional abuse aspect was actually handled pretty well. I wouldn't say Chime is Billingsley's best book, I think The Folk Keeper holds together better, but I would definitely say that Briony is Billingsley's best lead. I will pretty much always recommend Billingsley on the beauty of her writing and the strength of her heroines, and Chime is no exception.
And as a petty side-note because I can, I hate the cover for this book. I hate the whole trend of ~darkly mysterious sultry photoshopped girl~ on the covers of a lot of YA, especially if it has supernatural elements, and that kind of cover especially does not suit a Billingsley book. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LOVELY LEONID GORE COVERS SHE USED TO GET?
So a little while ago I finally watched my box set of Ergo Proxy
. It only took me...two years of owning it to get around to it. That is honestly faster than with some things I own.Ergo Proxy
is set in a future in which most of the earth has been rendered inhabitable, and people now live in domed cities where they are reproduced artificially. Alongside the humans are the Autorievs, which is what they call androids, which come in two types: Entourage (the kind that are basically work partners) and Companion (the kind that say, serve as a child when you haven't been authorized to be given one yet). The series opens in Romdeau, a domed city in which things have started to go wrong. Autorievs are being infected by a virus with the very symbolic name of "Cogito," which causes them to become self-aware. Unfortunately, this tends to make them homicidal. And if that wasn't bad enough, there are mysterious monsters called "Proxies" which can cause immense damage and seem to have a lot of secrets behind them. Inspector Re-l Mayer of the Intelligence Bureau begins to investigate, which causes her to get caught up with the immigrant Vincent Law, who seems to attract a lot of trouble. Vincent also gains a cute robot sidekick in the form of Pino, a child-sized Companion Autoriev infected with Cogito. After Vincent, along with Pino, and Re-l all go through some incidents on their own, the three eventually team up and set out into the world to discover things. Meanwhile, things get worse for the characters back in Romdeau.
It honestly took me a while to warm up to Ergo Proxy
. The first few episodes are kind of enthralling, but then it lags for a while and the characters start to grate before it picks up seriously. The turning point for me, where I started to love it instead of just being interested by it, was episode 15 (the quiz show episode), and from then on I kind of devoured it. I have a feeling it will actually be a little better watching it a second time around. It's one of those series I can't honestly give more than a 7/10, but which I like
a little more than that.( and now for characters and vague hints of spoilersCollapse )
I should say that if you don't think you'll have patience for 1) Sato Dai (the head writer) proving that he knows some philosophy, 2) Murase Shuko (the director) demonstrating that he thought The X-Files
looked cool, or 3) episodes which take place entirely inside characters' heads, you'll want to avoid this series.
If, on the other hand, you find slow builds and lots of glimpses into different parts of a world interesting, and like a show that realizes that having a serious business plot doesn't mean it can't have fun with the fourth wall, Ergo Proxy
is worth checking out.
- Tags:anime, ergo proxy
- Music:"Kiri," Monral (Ergo Proxy opening theme)
Another recently completed canon is Puella Magi Madoka Magica
! Which means it is time for me to imitate bookelfe
again and give you picspam. I will try not to include any major spoilers, which will probably make this post fairly short.Puella Magi Madoka Magica
's creators and marketing team would like you to think it is a nice magical girl show! They would like you to think this so that you will be all the more CRUSHED by the serious deconstruction going on for most of the series (before they relent and give some reconstruction at the end).
In this world, there are magical girls. They become magical girls by forming a contract with a cute creature whose face never changes- in exchange for having a wish granted (which can be anything from wanting a cake to changing the world), the girls agree to fight witches, creatures which cause destructive behavior (frequently of the suicidal type). Magical girls are born from wishes and hope, while witches are born from curses and despair. Setup for your cute and touching power of love overcoming hate story, right? Of course not. The world is far from being that simple. And the writing on the wall is a quote from Goethe's Faust
But onto picspam!( And life's new quest commenceCollapse )
The show is just really well-done overall. The writing is strong, the direction is excellent (jump cuts! that lighting!), and Kajiura's soundtrack is pitch-perfect. A special mention has to go to the way they use the fact that witches live in special alternate dimensions. Each barrier is animated in a different style, varying from this
, which gives the fights a distinctly surreal and unsettling edge. I know some people have found the character designs to be a turnoff, but to that I say watch up through episode 3, and see how they use cute.
It's been a long time since a new anime series has been able to make me this excited. Definitely recommended.