Friday, July 8, 2011

Thoughts on Kevin Hearne's Hammered

Hammered is the third book in The Iron Druid chronicles. You can find the review for book one here and book two here.  Paul, Tami and I have officially declared ourselves fan poodles of The Hearne (as my children have come to call him) with good reason.  The Iron Druid Chronicles are the kind of books that you stay up late to finish, and mourn sadly when you reach the last page.  I waited anxiously to get my hands on Hammered, and even stalked Kevin on twitter begging for some sort of spoiler. Yes, I am one of those fans.

Hammered once again centers on Hearne's protagonist Atticus, a 2000+ year old druid and his interactions with various creatures from mythology, Jesus, vampires and werewolves.  In Hexed Atticus met with the Virgin Mary and asked her to tell Jesus that they should get together for a beer and in Hounded that is exactly what they do.  Jesus appears wearing a tie dyed T-shirt in predominately reds, yellows, and greens, with a white peace sign screen-printed on the front of it.  He also wore a pair of relaxed fit blue jeans and classically black Chuck Taylors. Hearne even went as far as to suggest that "Jesus looked like the guy from the Old Spice bodywash commercials".  I dare you to tell me one single place that you can find Jesus described in this way?  What ensues is an irreverent exchange, with Jesus providing fish and chips to a crowded bar, explaining that "miracles are so much more fun when people are expecting them of you," while pounding back 60 year old whiskey. I laughed until my tears poured from my eyes.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Problem with Fandom in Urban Fantasy

As you know, I have been watching and reviewing Buffy The Vampire Slayer for a project that I am working on. I have written a review for each season, and each time I do so, some silly fan nonsense occurs.  I am of the belief that because we live in an imperfect world, that you simply have to say fuck it I like it from time to time, otherwise you would never be able to listen to music, read a book, or watch a movie or television for that matter.  There is however a line between saying fuck it I like it, and ignoring the multitude of isms that are perpetrated daily in our mainstream culture. It is more than possible to think critically about a text and still enjoy it. Warts should never disappear, because when they do, it means that we are internalizing an ism that is harmful, or we are openly and passively denying our various privileges.

On a post I wrote regarding the chaste lesbian relationship in season four of Buffy the vampire slayer, quite a few of the people who follow us on tumblr were upset, but one response really stood out to me.
Uh just so you know, the network that Buffy was airing on at the time, the WB, wouldn’t allow them to do anything more than hold hands. They weren’t allowed to kiss, they weren’t allowed to be shown in bed together. Joss Whedon wasn’t the culprit in that area, and what he did with their relationship with the boundaries set, was absolutely amazing to the point where Alyson and Amber got letters from fans saying they didn’t kill themselves because they were in that relationship in Buffy.
What the flying fuck.  Yes, to defend the fact that two meters of air were kept between Alyson and Amber throughout the season, except when it encouraged the sexual fantasies of a straight male, the author decided to invoke gay suicide.  My head began to spin. The rate of gay teens committing suicide is absolutely horrendous, and to invoke this to defend Buffy is unconscionable.  Something this serious should never ever be used as a ploy.

Even if I were to believe in the veracity of the above statement, how exactly does this change the fact that the relationship between Willow and Tara is unreasonably chaste in comparison to the heterosexual relationships on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? If people embraced the relationship, it was not because it was good, but because it was the best of the bad at the time.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have been progressive in terms of the GLBT community for its time, but it is far from progressive.

Fangs for the Fantasy Podcast - Episode 22

This week we discuss the latest episode of True Blood!

We also talk about Changeling by Yasmine Galenorn and other books we are currently reading

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Hit List by Laurell K Hamilton, Book 20 of the Anita Blake series

Yes, here I am getting fully up to date with Anita Blake so I can have another break before I have to face this again. So, Hit List, by Laurell K Hamilton

Anita finds herself called all around the US and finally to Seattle in her role as US Marshall of the preternatural branch. The Harlequin loyal to the Mother of All Darkness are hunting tigers – weretigers – and leaving a trail of butchered bodies in their wake. Anita, away from St. Louis and her powerful magical foundation there, as well as her mighty and numerous – oh-so-numerous – allies now must face Harlequin and Mother Darkness with a few body guards and her fellow US Marshalls, including Edward, Bernardo and Olaf.

In some ways I was relieved when the focus of this book became clear. It was another Obsidian Buttferly, another rescue from the endless sex, another holiday from the angst. Another attempt to return to what Anita Blake was – Necromancer, kick arse fighter, strong, powerful, driven by justice and finding the bad guy. Rather than what she had become – sex addicted, surrounded by angst and personal issues, constantly emotionally crashing, constantly fretting about her loves and marvelling at the new shiny power du jour.

Already we've removed many of the problems that normally make me cringe at Anita Blake. Without the 10 zillion extra characters, we're not going to get stuck on unnecessary tangents and side-plots. Without her harem we're not going to have page and page of sex. Without all their emotional baggage to juggle, we're not going to get the endless angst pages. This made me happy! Less so when Anita picked up a new tiger boyfriend to put some of the sex and angst back, but still, it was an improvement

Unfortunately, I'm never happy am I? Well, sometimes I am, but not in this book. The plot just kind of flailed around madly. There was no direction, no plan, no purpose from the main characters. This is something of a problem all the Anita Blake novels have – they're far more reactive than active – but it seemed much worse in this one. Whether it was the de-emphasis on humping and angst, the book's plot felt vaguely weak to me. There's a reason why my plot synopsis is pretty weak up there – there's just not a lot to report on.

Anita & the Marshalls don't really DO anything to try and solve these crimes. Not really, they just hang around passing the time until *gasp* they're attacked! Then they save themselves! Yay! Then it's back to twiddling their thumbs until the next attack. It's not just that they're reactive, but they're reactive to a level that is ridiculous for their role. It's like police who hang around the police station waiting for the criminals to try and rob them. Anita does very little to foil Harlquin except be attacked several times and survive.

The problem for me is that it meant the book had no focus. The real focus – the Harlequin and Mother Darkness – were so strongly de-emphasised that it seemed to be far more a book about Olaf lusting after Anita (someone kill the man already. No, really. He was an interesting side-plot, but there's zero reason why this increasingly unstable and vile man has been left alive by Anita, her harem, Edward or just about ANYONE for this long. And I don't care what extra shiny skill he has that is so important – all we've seen are easily replicated abilities. I don't want to see another book where they all watch him cuddle YET ANOTHER small, dark haired woman and say “oh how scary, Olaf is thinking of torturing and raping her to death” and everyone think how creepy that is without one of them just saying “screw this” and shooting him) or the dramas with the Red Tigers, or Ethan, her new multi-coloured tiger sex toy's issues, or dealing with Marshalls who loathed Anita or were too much a rookie to be in the position they were in. The Harlequin was almost a distraction to their niggling little side plots, rather than the main focus of the book. In the end, it felt like a day in the life of Anita which these annoying Harlequin folk kept interrupting, the pests. And the ending (which felt kinda rushed and tacked on -because, again, zero focus on Harlequin) was grossly anticlimactic, abrupt and over far too damn soon. It left me feeling dissatisfied and disappointed, without any sense of victory or epicness or even major conflict.

For more detail I have to resort to spoilers:

Spoiler break!

Monday, July 4, 2011

True Blood: You Smell Like Dinner

Last week, at the end of episode one, like many others, I did the mad dash to HBO to watch episode two, only to discover that it was and in fact still is, restricted to residents of the 50 states.  HBO has no problem accepting my subscriber fee that I pay every month, but somehow, I was not entitled, like every other fan, to get a sneak peek. Yeah, I am still bitter as hell over that one.  I had to spend the week carefully avoiding spoilers, because I didn't want last nights episode ruined for me.

Okay, rant off my chest, let's dig in shall we?  Last nights episode really made up for the crappy start last week.  I must admit that I was worried when I saw the terrible sci-fi effects in the first episode.  I am always the type that thinks when it comes to urban fantasy, more is better, and so I was really worried that we would be subjected to more cheap effects.  Here's the deal HBO, True Blood is making y'all a killing, and since you already got off way to cheap on the wolves, as far as I am concerned, you need to spend some money and do some actual special effects. (okay, so I lied, I had one more rant in me) Back on topic now.

There were several things going on this episode and rather than do a recap, I thought I would just talk about what I loved, what made no sense, and what I outright hated.  Pam once again stole the show for me, though she really did not have a huge part to play in the episode.  When she stopped Jessica from intervening in Hoyt's fight saying, "that technology has taken all of the fun out of being a vampire," because someone was recording made me laugh. My other favourite Pam line came when Sookie approached her to enlist her help in getting Eric to sell her back her home.  Pam looked dead pan at Sookie and said, "Did I miss something?  Are we girls now?  Did we join a book club and read some queer chick lit memoir and so now we're bonded together by estrogen, or sisterhood, or some other feminist drivel?"How can that possibly be beat?  Sookie's problem is that she is used to being able to bend people to her will and Pam is one of the few that consistently puts herself first, and no amount batting eyelashes will change that.  Only Pam could be that cool in the ugliest red dress under creation.

The other scene I liked also involved Sookie, except this time it included Jessica. After struggling to get together with Hoyt last season Jessica is quickly finding out domestic bliss is not everything she thought it might be.  Not only must Jessica adjust to her vampire nature, at 17 years old and coming from a Christian conservative family, Jessica has never had any freedom.  Hoyt may have seemed like a valid escape at first but now he is slowly becoming dead weight around her neck.  After he refuses to drink her blood to help him heal, she tells him that she is going to get him some Advil for the pain and instead heads straight to Fangtasia to hunt. After hearing Jessica drinking blood, Sookie being Sookie i.e. a woman that does not what is and is not her business decides to intervene.  After explaining to Sookie how much she hurts Bill, Jessica tells her, "stop acting like my step mom. I hated it before and I like it even less now. Just go away. This ain't got nothing to do with you. I can eat who I want."  And there you have it folks, twice in one night Sookie got told off and I loved it.  As much as love True Blood, Sookie is one of the least empathetic heroines I have come across in a long time.  Not even the talented Alan Ball, can undo the horror of Charlaine Harris.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The particular race fail of urban fantasy is not so particular

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has been sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read for a year. The book concerns a girl who, when she eats, can taste the emotions of the food's preparer. Lemon Cake is not urban fantasy but magical realism. Now, around here, we give urban fantasy a lot of grief, but it's important to remember that one needn't read fantasy to uncover racial "fails." For instance, the tendency of authors to identify only the race of non-white characters spans many literary genres. Check out this positive review of Lemon Cake by Jennifer at Mixed Race America, where she calls out the author Aimee Bender for exactly that writing error:
But even if Rose and her family live in a very white neighborhood (which seems to be the case), the fact that whiteness is the default setting--the universally taken-for-granted identity--the identity that need not be named--remains a point of annoyance for me. Rose's best friend--her neighbors--her class mates and teachers--are not racially marked and thus I think most readers assume that they must be white--a point emphasized through the way that Bender has clearly marked George as mixed-race within the first 6 chapters of the book. The fact that she goes to the trouble to mark the nurse as black, even though her blackness seems to do nothing for the narrative, again highlights the seeming racelessness of all other characters--a racelessness we are to see as synonymous with being white.
Which is a problem. To believe that whiteness is a universal--that it is a form of racelessness--is a HUGE problem in our day and age when trying to understand the ways in which people of color are racialized and the ways in which racism operates--because this IS one of the very subtle ways that racism operates--as a form of normalizing certain races (white) and emphasizing difference for all others (the non-white). Read more...