Lyra-between earth and heaven

Friends only except not exactly

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.
Vimes-do solemnly swear

"Crime makes you stupid."

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.)
Kyoko-I am too normal for this storyline

I can only imagine how insulted the Japanese are

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.


Not. Cool.

(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.)

after the war and before the cold

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.
Medicine Seller-do you see

I have wanted to talk about this series here for months

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.

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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.
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Utena-what's burning is me

burning bright

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.

Fire 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 Collapse )

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.
Lyra-between earth and heaven

in which I do not ship things

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.