Friday, May 26, 2017

Into the Fire (Night Prince #4) by Jeaniene Frost

Vlad and Leila face an insidious threat – a connection to Leila that could kill her but can’t simply be burned away by Vlad’s vast power

And when an unknown force with unknown motives and powers co-opts that bonds, it forces them to seek new alliances and venues to ensure safety. This is a threat that direct confrontation and threat cannot defeat; instead a delicate cat-and-mouse game ensures

They enter the world of magic – of powers and abilities that may even outstrip Vlad’s terrifying fire.

One thing I like about this book is how it deals with some extremely powerful characters. I’ve seen many book series that have run into serious problems because they’ve allowed their characters to have such an immense power creep.

This series started with major power hitters from the beginning. Vlad is impossibly powerful and Mencheres just takes this to the next level. These characters are unassailably powerful and in many ways it should take out a lot of the conflict of the series. This usually leads to stories being pretty convoluted in ways to disapply their powers (or just have the characters forget they have these powers) – or we have constantly escalating enemies

Instead we have enemies using lots of cunning, hiding from Vlad’s direct powers, not allowing direct confrontation. The tension and frustration of these mighty characters trying to bring their powers to bear but being unable to actually really works. And it works that the ending becomes an anti-climax because of that – because cat and mouse can be wonderfully tense but when the cat actually finds the mouse? It’s short – and that’s ok. They set up a good dynamic besides that.

On top of that I like how Vlad’s arrogance is often a problem, he charges in expects everyone to cower in front of him and is generally absolutely terrible at any kind of investigation. Intimidation, death and power are his skill sets and none are applicable here.

The action scenes are interestingly well done, the tension and worry and the prices they have to pay are all well laid out. I am tired by Vlad’s eternal “protectiveness” of Leila but she does resist that nicely. If ineffectually.

I like how we get more of an insight into magic in this book. I wouldn’t say it actually added to the world building of this series in any great detail – instead I’ll say that it hinted a lot as to what could be possible and the power and forces that are out there. It laid the groundwork for Leila to become more of a power and laid out the possibility that there are forces out there that Vlad may have to respect.

There are a large number of dead people in this book. The collateral damage is immense. And I can buy that Vlad doesn’t care – after all, his whole persona is that he is ruthless beyond ruthless. But Leila appears to be equally uncaring. Oh she’ll give lip service but then we’ll move on leaving absolute carnage in their wake all the time and she won’t spare more than a second to consider this

The 100, Season Four, Episode Thirteen: Praimfaya

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From the beginning of the season we knew that humanity would somehow have to find a way to survive praimfaya and that sacrifices would have to be made. This would be the toughest challenge yet and to survive, humanity could no longer afford to engage in tribalism.  This means that the Grounders would have to let go of the slights and disagreements between themselves and that Skaikru would have to stop seeing themselves as superior.  Everyone is human now and everyone is facing death. 

Praimfaya begins with a sad goodbye between Octavia and Bellamy.  In the last episode, Octavia asserted herself as a leader of the bunker group.  Octavia is the member of Skaikru who learned Grounder traditions and even speaks their language and is clearly meant to function as a bridge between both sides. Unlike rulers before her, Octavia's leadership is based in her championship rather than the flame.  It means that while people may trust her for now, her hold on power is tenuous.  Because they are going to be separated for five years, this is Bellamy's last chance to give his sister his support. There has been a lot of hurt between these two but with death potentially being imminent, now is no time for grudges.  Octavia tells Bellamy that she loves him but doesn't get to hear Bellamy's reply because the connection is lost.  It's okay however because after everything, no one doubts how Bellamy feels about his little sister.  With Indra by her side, Octavia gives a rousing speech to the residents of the bunker.

The rest of the episode basically focuses on the race to get to space. Just like the bunker, everyone has a role to play.  They are at a critical point because they all have to work together in the face of so many things which could possibly go wrong. They must pack enough food to survive until they can start growing their own. They need to gather a machine to create oxygen on the arc. They have a limited amount of air until the oxygnator kicks in and the ship wasn't meant to carry that many people. In many ways the survival of Bellamy, Monty, Clarke, Emori, Echo, and Murphy is all dependent on Raven's ability to problem solve.  With each roadblock, Raven is all too aware that she doesn't have the advantage of the tech in her brain anymore. 

Monty and Murphy head to grab the oxyginator and to properly ensure that it will work, Monty is forced to take off his gloves and deal with the wiring. Murphy is suitably impressed, as Monty's hands begin to burn immediately but he keeps working. Monty even tries to help carry the oxyginator back. To keep Monty focused on the task at hand, Murphy talks about the redemptive power of love and questions Monty's relationship with Harper. Unfortunately, the pain becomes too much for Monty and he passes out.  Murphy chooses to carry the oxyginator back himself and return with Bellamy to get Monty.  This earns Murphy a hug from the pragmatic Monty, who is happy that Murphy chose to save the tech over him. 

Clarke is off to a satellite dish to send a message to the arc to turn the power on. With the wave bearing down upon them, Clarke doesn't have much time. It becomes apparent quickly that Clarke isn't going to make it back when she discovers that she has to manually override the satellite dish. At this point, Clarke is certain that she's dead and that the only things she can do is give her friends a chance to survive.

As the preparations to leave go on, Echo has separated herself and plans to perform a ritualised suicide. Bellamy intervenes and talks Echo out of it, though he tells her that he will never trust her.  It doesn't take long for Echo to choose life. I knew that human cockroach would survive.

iZombie, Season 3, Episode 8: Eat a Knievel

I seem to be saying this every week – but again we have Clive and Liv, the brain and the criminal case all be somewhat tangential to, well, everything else. In some ways this is because we don’t have filler episodes – every episode the metaplot is growing and developing which just means the criminal cases feel more and more irrelevant.

So we have a Jackass-style… I don’t even know what to call these people? Stunt people? Prankster? Professional faith-in-the-human-race destroyers? Either way he’s murdered by one of his fellows. There’s much investigating and Clive, with some help from Liv’s visions, an affair and a murder. There’s not really much to add to that recap – I mean I can but it’s not exactly relevant. I will note, again, that we’re definitely seeing Clive take point and show his full investigative skills far more than relying on Liv’s abilities.

Liv ate the damn fool brains which means we have to endure one of the more annoying Liv’s ever. She also convinces Justin – who she is definitely dating – to join her with the brain (which she explains thatpreviously he and her date have eaten different brains and the personality hasnot always matched up) and have fun with Lawn Darts. I can’t believe there was ever a time when we considered these appropriate toys for children. Or that any of those children survived.

A main storyline here is Blaine’s evil dad and Donny – Donny is getting more and more resentful of Daddy Blaine freezing him out – especially as Daddy Blaine learns about the zombies of Fillmore-Graves which gives him inspiration for a new high earning venture

Which doesn’t go ahead – because Blaine is still alive, despite the bullet wounds. He plots and plans, terrorising Daddy Blaine and Donny – until he craftily sneaks himself into Daddy Blaine’s office, killing his minions and kidnapping his father. We get more insight as to how Daddy Blaine was definitely never going to earn Father of the Year. Blaine is also not going to be bribed by his evil father – refusing to take the bait of all the money he’s going to make

Of course he also breaks my main rule of dealing with an enemy – he fits his dad with some concrete shoes, literally, and drops him in a well. STOP! When you have an enemy at your mercy, I don’t care how much you want them to suffer, just KILL THEM. No more leaving them to suffer and them inevitably escaping!

Blaine then quickly recruits Donny back on side with a simple promise of money as he takes over his evil daddy’s business empire.

Star Trek Inclusion & the Presumed SJW Narrative

When Star Trek first hit the airwaves, there was nothing like it on television. Sure, they had shows about aliens in space but until Gene Roddenberry’s creation, no one had envisioned a future for humanity based upon the principles of equality. Star Trek’s first episode aired on September 8, 1966 right in the midst of the civil rights movements while cold war tensions were running high. In this time of great turbulence and social upheaval it would have been far easier to picture a dystopian future for humanity rather than a global government where all people and cultures are united in a common purpose. Roddenberry dared to dream that the better angels of our nature would assert itself and present a far more hopeful future for humanity, one where a Black woman, a Japanese man, a Russian and an alien from Vulcan could all serve on the bridge of the same ship. One where they would sacrifice for each other and form a bond of friendship so strong that it would last all the days of their lives. This is the world that Roddenberry created and it is without doubt beautiful.

Like many fans, I’ve been waiting for Star Trek to return to television since the cancellation of Enterprise. Sure we’ve had movies for the first time in a long time but they seemed to play more to special effects than the heart of the Star Trek franchise. And yes, I blame J. J. Abrams, just as any loyal Trekkie would. Star Trek Discovery promises a return to the Roddenberry’s vision with Star Trek introducing its first gay character (which is reported as something Gene Roddenberry did want even if the franchise has grossly and shamefully erased LGBT people up until this very belated moment). Michelle Yeoh is the first Asian-American captain and the second female captain and Sonequa Martin-Green is the first female African-American first officer. This new Star Trek looks like North America because it reflects its diversity.  Unlike many shows which are content to white wash, straight wash and simply erase, Star Trek Discovery is placing marginalised people front and center because without diversity, there is no Star Trek.

Unfortunately there are those who claim to be Trekkies but seem to have conveniently forgotten Roddenberry’s original vision. The news of two women of colour leading the charge - one of them with a non-American accent - has brought out a rash of white male fragility.  How can humanity possibly function in space without a white male leading the charge?  Are we really supposed to believe that women of colour could be competent or have the strength of will to make the hard decisions? Yes, all of this is possible and so much more.  In Roddenberry’s vision, neither gender nor race were factors which would have limited someone’s potential. And those who object so strenuously to Michelle Yeoh’s accent have clearly forgotten Chekhov. Anthony Rapp plays Lt. Stamets (which has the added bonus of being one of the few times we actually have a gay man play a gay character), an “astromycologist,” fungus expert, and Starfleet Science Officer aboard the Starship Discovery. Stamets’s Whiteness cannot be denied but because of his sexuality, the snowflakes are emasculating him. Since when does being gay, erase one’s race? Oh the logic of homophobes. There have been no shortage of straight white male characters on Star Trek, particularly when it comes to leadership positions so the very idea that this new incarnation represents a sort of race and gender based genocide on straight, het, men in space is beyond nonsense. It’s an affront to everything that Star Trek is, to everything Roddenberry envisioned and to everything it hopes to be. Bigotry and intolerance have no place on any star ship and any real fan would know that.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Midnight Blue-light Special (Incryptid #2) by Seanan McGuire

The Price family, Verity’s family, broke from the Covenenant of St George several generations ago – preferring to study and understand the cruptids out there rather than call them all monsters and unleash genocide on them.

The Covenant was not supportive of this split. And now they’ve arrived to perform a purge of New York City, Verity has a major problem trying to keep the local Cryptids safe – and to keep herself below the radar. Because if there’s one thing the Covenant want more than destroying “monsters” it’s destroying the Price “traitors”

The Arboreal Priestess Returns! Hail!

I have said it before and I will say it again, if you don’t love the Aislinn mice then you simply have no soul. And if I have one complaint about this book is that there needs to be so many more Aislinn Mice. More Aislinn mice. Moooore.

There’s also more Istas, the Waheela, who thinks everything can be solved with more carnage. I approve of her carnage approval.

There’s also some excellent development of Sarah, her powers, her nature, and her own awesome emotion and characterisation as her natural powers fail or don’t apply. That’s one thing that is so excellent about the world building of these books – everything is thought through, implications are considered – there’s depth as well as breadth. Like Sarah being unable to recognise people by facial features because she’s a telepathy – and recognises people by their thoughts.

This whole book is excellently balanced with the awesome world building (and I could go into it again – but really it’s a repeat of the same awesomeness I mentioned in the first book – just read that because it’s awesomely well done), the excellent action scenes, some really awesome characters who work so well together with some truly perfect familial bonds on display and all lightened with an excellent amount of humour to keep things light and action packed and deep and awesome.

Verity continues to be awesome as well, with her own conflicts about what she actually wants to do, the idea that she doesn’t have a choice any more – but how that resentment could grow to make her loathe her life. There’s a lot put into this that I really like – her own dreams facing the harsh reality of her family legacy.

As another bonus there’s less De Luca. Or it feels that way – since they spend far more time worrying about what he’s going to do and which side he’s on rather than actually dealing with his blandly bland self. Maybe I’m being unfair – I mean the whole debate over him is actually really well done. There’s a great acknowledgement that while Dominic no longer agrees with his extreme brethren – there’s still a huge step from that and turning his back on everything he believes him. The reaction of Dominic and Verity are both good – because Verity is hurt but reasonable, grudgingly; nor does she allow affection or their relationship to cloud her simple judgement. At the same time Dominic is excellently conflicted because loyalty vs new revelations is a hard thing to get through

I still don’t like him though… I find him bland next to the awesomeness that is the other characters, especially Verity

Leftovers, Season 3, Episode 6: Certified

So, there’s a decent chance everyone just died on Leftovers. But before we get to this I need to consult some spiritual guidance on how to get through this show.

Ah, excellent advice

So this episode focuses on Laurie, how she was a psychotherapist before the Departure but trying to counsel people who have lost loved ones to the departure was so traumatic it nearly drove Laurie to suicide – and it did drive her to the Guilty Remnant.

And now she’s arrived in Australia and everyone seems to need her services as a counsellor. Her attention is split between two groups of people.

I don’t know if it’s my own thinking or the acting or directing or what but I get a distinct feeling that Laurie is adopting an “oh fuck this” attitude.

Split chronologically (which isn’t how the show did it because chronology is just so old fashioned these days, apparently) Laurie ends up with Nora and Matt trying to track down the scientists with this claimed cure. Laurie pretty much feels this is a suicide machine- but she doesn’t try to talk her out of it. She also refers to Matt, clarifying that he has cancer and isn’t seeking treatment, as also being suicidal. Again, she doesn’t seem to be trying to change their mind.

As they drive, Nora is pretty passive aggressive towards Laurie and her work as a therapist – I think this is because Nora is constantly waiting for Laurie to stop her; she’s pre-emptively defending herself, going on the attack. We have an altercation over Laurie’s lighter – a gift from Jill, her daughter and lots of poking at therapy and what she does with John. She explains excellently why she doesn’t provide therapy to people who are grieving the Departed but she does those grieving the dead (and why she won’t work on Nora). Those grieving the dead want closure – but those grieving the departed don’t. It may not even count as closure (after all, how many of the family of the Departed want hope rather then closure?)

Nora wants closure. Which is definitely ominous.

Nora has a moment of despair with a rather beautiful tragic story asking, basically, why someone who spoil everyone’s fun and hope. It’s really clear she’s talking about herself and her job debunking Departure frauds. Laurie is there to provide gentle reality: because if someone didn’t there’d be chaos.

We also have a nice aside with some reported religious explanation for our naked French sailor nuking an island – and Matt saying his beliefs are ridiculous. Nora duly expresses her opinion of that hypocrisy.

When they arrive at the scientists Nora goes to them after making a rather tearful goodbye – Laurie accepts her as a client so she can claim confidentiality should anyone ask about her. Matt also decides to stay

Whether they’re using the machine believing they will Depart or they’re committing suicide… I’m not sure and I don’t think even they care now.

The Handmaid's Tale, Season One, Episode Seven: The Other Side

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We know that Luke, Hannah, and June, were desperately trying to cross the border into Canada when they were seperated.  June and Hannah were taken and from June's perspective, Luke was probably dead at the side of the road.  This is absolutely true in Atwood's brilliant book.  Because Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, is going to be a series, rather than a miniseries, it's necessary to enlarge Atwood's world and perhaps fill in gaps Atwood originally allowed the reader to do for themselves.  The first such attempt at this is The Other Side, when we see what happens to Luke. 

In the book as well as the show, Luke, while concerned for the well being of his wife and daughter, doesn't seem to quite get how dangerous life is rapidly becoming for them.  In the book, Luke stops June from going to protest. On the show, he valiantly promises to protect June and Hannah though he clearly doesn't have the skill set to do so.  This is a man who doesn't know how to load or fire a gun but is too proud to admit it, even when the lives of his wife and daughter depend upon it. Luke may be a good man but he's short sighted.

Rather than dying on the roadside, Luke is shot and placed in an ambulance, so that he can receive enough medical care to be well enough to be questioned. Fortunately for Luke, the ambulance that he is traveling in ends up slipping on ice and crashing, leaving him the only survivor. Luke then makes his way back to where is car went off the road and walks into the woods. There he finds the torn family album, he and June tried to preserve, along with Hannah's stuffed animal. Luke continues to travel and makes his way through an abandoned town. The store fronts are graffitied  with "gender traitor" and "fag". Luke makes his way into an abandoned business and collapses.

Fortunately for Luke, he's found by a group of people who are also fleeing the Gilead.  He's resistant to even going with them though he is warned repeatedly about patrols and the fact that he won't make it far on his own and is injured. Even now, Luke cannot grasp the reality of his situation.  His fellow travellers are “an Army brat, two strays, a gay, and a nun”. One woman is so traumatized after being repeatedly raped that she doesn't even speak.  Even in the face of this, Luke is determined to get out of the van to somehow get back to Boston and find June.  It's only when a gun is pulled on him that Luke is forced to settle the hell down.  

When the van finally stops and Luke is free to go, the Nun says a little prayer for his safety.  Luke doesn't fully grasp his situation until Zoe, the woman who saved him, drags him into a church to see the bodies hanging from the ceiling. Apparently, people tried to hide the fertile women and the Gilead responded by hanging them all in retribution.  Luke is informed that there are places like this in every small town because this is how the Gilead deals with resistance.  It's the sight of the dead bodies hanging from the ceiling which finally wakes Luke up.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

American Gods, Season 1, Episode 4: Git Gone

This episode is all about Laura Moon – and I think this is a definite improvement and was definitely needed to add some flesh on the flawed and slightly more complex character we see here. It would be easy to just have demonised her – had her be the cheating wife who betrayed Shadow so thoroughly, had the last words about her be from Audrey lavishly bathing her memory in the most exquisite venom. But instead we get this, from her eyes

As is often the case with American Gods, it’s less the individual scenes, the details of Laura’s daily life that make up the story so much as the collected images and scenes together that tell the full story. I love the artistry of this, how we can see Laura’s personality and life build in all these little scenes. Even things like her work getting automatic card shufflers when she preferred to shuffle them. Through grim repetition and her excellent acting we see Laura’s life – a life she clearly finds dull, boring, lonely, unchallenging and pretty much hellish up to her openly considering suicide.

And then Shadow walks into her life when he tries to rob her casino. And she warns him off, saving him from being caught with his very bad plan. She takes him home and they have sex

We see a real difference here between Laura’s view of their relationship and Shadow’s – from the very beginning Shadow has put her on a pedestal – his love for her is all consuming. He is happy, super super happy just being with her. He tells her he would be super happy with Laura even if they were living in cardboard box

But from the beginning this is clearly not enough for Laura. Even his sweet, gentle sex with her bores her and she pushes for something harder, rougher. Laura was clearly intrigued by the danger represented by Shadow the thief – but they quickly fall into the same domestic routine, boring jobs, boring lives, sex which doesn’t really do it for her and again we see Laura flirting with suicide.

She tries to explain this to Shadow but he just doesn’t get it – he takes her unhappiness as a personal insult, confused and lost with the idea that love is not enough. And I love this message – I love the idea presented in media that you can love someone deeply and passionately but still need more from life for it to be fulfilling – that love isn’t always enough for happiness and that doesn’t mean the love is lacking or inferior; it’s just that there’s more to life.

I can’t stress enough how really well done Laura’s boredom is, how much her life is a prison to her. And from that we see her motive to encourage Shadow to rob he casino – with a better plan. Not for the money but for SOMETHING, something different. Something to give her life meaning, something exciting, interesting, something other than the agonising hellish routine she lives.

And it all goes wrong