Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hunger Games Makes The Top Ten Challenged Books in 2011

I don't know about you, but I have never understood the desire to burn or ban a book.  If you don't agree with the premiss of a story, the simple answer is don't read it.  The idea that free individuals in a so-called free society should not have the ability to choose their reading material is ridiculous. If it's a case of parental concern, it's a simple matter of keeping track of what your child is reading, rather than censoring it for everyone else. This makes to much sense for the small minded book banners of the world to consider however.

"The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) received 326 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011 include the following titles; each title is followed by the reasons given for challenging the book:" 

1) ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
2) The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
3) The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
4) My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
5) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
6) Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
7) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
8) What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
9) Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
10) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Offensive language; racism

Seeing the list of complaints against The Hunger Games Trilogy makes me wonder if these people have ever actually read the book.  Katniss volunteers to enter the games so that her sister does not have to.  She and Gale both apply for tesserae - an extra allotment of food for their families, even though they both know that by doing so, they exponentially increase their chances of being picked as a tribute from district 12.  After the death of her father, Katniss learned to hunt to support her family.  The majority of her motivation in this book revolves around her mother and her sister and yet somehow The Hunger Games is anti-family?

Review of Tainted by Julie Kenner Book 1 of The Blood Lily Chronicles

Lily Carlyle has had a very hard life.  Her mother died when she was only 14 years old, leaving her with a little sister to take care of and a drunken stepfather who quickly became to lost in his grief to be of any real help.  Lily made a promise to her little sister Rose that she would always keep her safe and if this meant lying, cheating and stealing to pay the bills, then so be it.  When Rose is raped and her attacker is released on a legal technicality, he begins stalking her.  Lily remembers her promise to protect her sister, and if that means committing murder to ensure that Rose is safe, then she is more than willing to do it.

What Lily does not count on, is that her act of vengeance will lead to her death. Lily dies knowing that with all of her past actions, that there is only one final destination for her - hell.  Lily is however offered a chance of redemption, when she is placed into the body of Alice Purdue and told that she is the girl who is prophesied to ensure that the demons amassing at the ninth gate are never able to escape.  She says yes to this challenge, because the alternative is an eternity of damnation, and so with the help of  Clarence and her fighting coach, an incubus named Zane, Lilly/Alice sets out to save the world and in the process keep her promise to her little sister.

As with all plans, things don't run smooth for Lily.  Each time she kills a demon, she takes on their essence and this means that she inherits all of the dark passions, crimes and urges.  Lily is terrified that she is becoming that which she is seeking to eradicate.

With Armageddon looming, Lily also find herself deeply attracted to a demon named Deacon.  It appears that Deacon and Alice had some sort of arrangement and he quickly surmises that though Lily now looks like Alice, something is very wrong.  There is an extremely strong attraction between the two of them, which Lily has great difficulty reconciling.  How is it possible that the chosen one - a demon killer, can be attracted to a demon?  Is it possible that things are not as black and white as she has been told?  Do demons possess the ability to be an agent of good?

The Evolution of Snow White

One of the newest trends we’re seeing in speculative fiction is the revisiting of fairy tales, especially in a modern setting - they’re almost a unique sub-genre of the Urban Fantasy and Fantasy genres.

And, in many ways, this is very important to do as fairy tales are some of the very first stories many of us are exposed to as children. Unfortunately, they’re also very old stories - and contain a lot of very old and sadly prevalent tropes that have stayed with us over the years. Generations of children have grown up with stories of helpless princesses, passively waiting for a handsome (and anonymous - after all, any man will do if he’s in the right place at the right time) prince to save them from abject peril. There is no question that this iconic image - repeated over and over again in fairy tales, has had a profound effect on our culture, our society and our view of gender roles and there have been numerous excellent posts deconstructing the damaging messages of fairy tales.

There is no fairy tale that can be considered more centre stage than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. An ancient tale, it rose to prominence when it became Disney’s first full length animated movie and was forever cemented front and centre as not just a fairy tale - but THE fairy tale. The ultimate tale of the protagonist - poor, helpless, sweet and oh-so-fair Snow White is attacked by her evil stepmother, while she helplessly sings to wildlife and eventually resides in a glass coffin to be rescued.

This is clearly an image that needs challenging - and, appropriately, Snow White is front and centre of the fairy tales that are being revised for the modern world. Between Once Upon A Time, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, we see a very different princess. The modern Snow White does not lay in glass coffins awaiting rescue. Her reaction is to attack, not to run away in fright, or maybe sing a little ditty to bluebirds. The modern Snow White kicks arse, she wields a sword, actively hunts down the Evil Queen and she stands shoulder to shoulder with her Prince Charming. One of the things that we love most about Once Upon a Time is that, while Mary Margaret may be the soggiest lettuce in town, Snow White is a highwaywoman, a fighter and a swashbuckler, every bit Prince James’s equal. Snow White is no longer a prize to be claimed, no longer an object to be won and no longer a passive element in what is supposed to be her own story. And if she needs rescuing, she is quite capable of rescuing herself, thank you very much.

This is both so very needed and very empowering. It’s powerful to not only create new stories that empower marginalised bodies, but re-examine these old tropes and challenge them in a way that not only sets a new paradigm but highlights how wrong the old paradigm was.

The problem, of course, is that strong woman still means straight, able bodied, cisgendered and White. Snow White may not necessarily be waiting in her coffin for true loves first kiss, but we do know that there will be a love interest and it will most certainly involve a man.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blood Ties Season 1, Episode 1 & 2: Blood Price

So we start with a pretty great introduction of Vicki Nelson calling her mother about a date gone wrong in which her mother has to worry about whether she hit him or not – and her frustration about a man treating her as someone who needs everything done for her. We also have an indication about her degenerating eye condition – she isn’t blind… yet. All in all, that was a lot of great introduction packed into a few seconds.

We cut to a guy doing some kind of summoning in Latin – and then watch a man in a long leather coat savagely beat and murder a bystander in front of Vicki – when she rushes to intervene the attacker has disappeared into thin air.

The investigating officers are Dave Graham and Mike Celluci – Vicki’s ex-partner when she was a police officer – and they instantly fall into snarking at each other – and her refusing to let him imply she’s useless because of her failing vision. He body has been bled out but with very little blood at the scene. Poor Dave is caught between Vicki and Celluci  throwing their many many issues and resentments at each other

At her day job as a private investigator, Vicki is approached by Coreen Fennel, the girlfriend of the murdered man. And Coreen is convinced he was killed by a vampire – which, of course, Vicki isn’t quick to believe. But she will investigate the killing.

And then we switch to Henry Fitzroy, a vampire, feeding on a woman and mesmerising her to go home – and he’s touchy about the newspapers calling the killer a vampire. He also crosses paths with Vicki as he sees more evidence of the demonic and she does some more investigating – and invites Carlucci round for Chinese so they can discuss the case – and Vicki seems to have come round to believing in vampires or at least beginning to be convinced

Further investigation takes Vicki to a club where the victim worked – and she runs into Vampire Henry again, who tries to mesmerise her – though it fails. She tries to question the bartender while he goes to question some unpleasant people and she almost catches him beating them down and feeding on them – he does a disappearing act just in time.

Vicki consults with the pathologist and finds more and more evidence that the attacker isn’t human – and starts tracking the murders as points on a pentagram. As does Henry who has had experience of the demonic in his long, undead, life.

The perpetrator of the demonic crimes is Norman, a walking, tired geek stereotype. And he’s using more blood laden demonic rituals to summon his demon to get him more toys and shinies – money, cars, clothes in the odd theory that this will somehow make women fall in love with him. Yes, he’s sacrificing people to demons because he can’t get a date. His trinkets don’t win any woman’s love – though the woman who rejects him is added to the sacrifice list. But if he completes the pentagram in blood on the city, a door will open and the demon promises a more powerful demon will be freed – one who can make women love Norman.

The demon attacks the girl the summoner specified but runs into Henry – and fighting a vampire isn’t nearly as easy as a human. Then Vicki runs into Henry, tries to take him down but gets knocked out – with Henry fleeing with her unconscious body when the police arrive.

She wakes up in Henry’s home and there begins some exposition about demons and vampires – albeit without any admission that Vicki believes in it. Henry even reveals he’s a 500 year old vampire (and the illegitimate son of Henry VIII) and explains why he would be hunting down something they both first believed to be a vampire – he can’t risk a sloppy vampire riling up the humans. We have some very impressive demonstrations of vampire powers allowing Henry to prove that he is actually a vampire – and that he can kill Vicki relatively easily. But he needs her – the demon works at night but the summoner lives by day – and Henry needs help to find him. Henry also tells Vicki how he knows about demons – and that he knows they want to let a big demon through, Astaroth, the demon Henry met 100 years ago and unleash hell on earth. We also get some of Henry’s back story and some exposition about vampires which is fairly well done for an info-dump.

Review: Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward, Book 10 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series.

Tohrment finally learns why the angel Lassiter is following him – his shellan, Wellsie, is lost in limbo and only Tohrment can free her. But he isn’t read to let her go and he still grieves her as if she were only just lost – and into that grief comes No’One.

No’One is still traumatised by her horrific past and has come through to bond with her daughter, Xhex, she lost so many years ago. But No’One still hardly knows who she is and still carries the burden of her own self-loathing.

Xhex and John Matthew are not finding their relationshiop eashy – especially as John Matthew insists on protecting

And byond all of that and the standard lesser attacks, Xcor and his band of Bastards are thoroughly entrenched in Caldwell – and have their sights set on Kling Wrath. Xcor wants the throne – and whether by politics or bullets, he intends to claim it.

This book has 2 main relationships in it that we focus on. The first I consider full of barely redeemed awfulness, the second I consider a lost opportunity. So let us begin with the barely redeemed awfulness.

The female (in Black Dagger Dudebro culture women are referred to as females and men as males. No I don’t know why either, especially since the humans keep forgetting and using the same terminology. At very least they should be fehmahles and mahles.) is No’One. Yes, No’One. Not the name she was born with – but many many decades ago she was kidnapped by a Symphath (evil sociopath vampire – and we know they’re evil because of their spooky androgyny), raped and impregnated. She had the baby and then committed suicide – but the Scribe Virgin (that would be the Vampire’s deity and embodiment of purity – you can tell by the whole “virgin” thing, in case the anti-female sex messages weren’t strong enough) resurrected her and she changed her name to No’One to represent what she now thought she was. She has spent the last few decades as a maid, wearing a hooded robe that hides her from everyone (because she is so good looking people treated her with respect which she couldn’t allow), out of self-imposed penance. Yes, penance. I would very much have liked someone to explain to me why her extreme victimisation was treated as something she had to do penance for and why none of the Chosen or the Scribe Virgin her holy self couldn’t have spent a little time in the centuries sitting down, talking with her and trying to instil her with some sense of worth.

Then there is Tohrment, still in deep deep mourning for Wellsie, his shellan (wife) of many many decades who died back in Lover Awakened. Since then he has been suicidal, the only thing stopping g him actively committing suicide is Lassiter, the angel sent down to save him, and the fact that the Scribe Virgin has Issues with suicides (as we can see from poor No’One). But he has tried many passive suicide attempts – such as being extremely reckless and starving himself.

Now, the basis for the “love”. Wellsie is not in the Fade (heaven) no, she is in the In Between (limbo) and she is stuck, in pain and slowly fading away. Lassiter is on Earth to save her – by making Tohrment move on and let go over her so she can pass into heaven probably with some twee music in the background.

I’m sorry, these 2 were together for, what, 200 freaking years? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow the man more than a couple of years to get over that. It is not an unreasonable amount of time to mourn here and I can’t imagine in a society where a) everyone lives for centuries and b) they biologically BOND with their mates in holy stalkerdom – sorry, love – that prolonged mourning periods and refusing to move on is in any way uncommon. The In Between must be standing room only.

Anyway, Lassiter’s solution to Tohrment needing to move on is, naturally, a grief counsellor and some intense therapy. HAH! Just kidding, nothing so sensible. I mean it’s not like they have an in-house therapist or anything, is it – oh hey there Mary! No, Lassiter wants Tohrment to find another woman – because of course nothing removes your deep and abiding grief for your murdered pregnant soulmate like the magical healing vagina, right?

Cover Snark: Just Plain Awful

Ok, so we have the basic quasi sexy urban fantasy cover. the woman’s back is to us so she’s nice and anonymous and then we have... broken necked hero. Is he injured? Does that hurt? C’mon that’s got to hurt. Also what is wrong with that man’s eyes? Is this supposed to be his smoldering look.

What is this... oh dear gods, hold me! Someone get me a priest, I need to exorcise my computer. Children of the Corn, is that you? It’s like a demonic Brady Bunch waxwork!

See, something good did come out of the Secret Circle TV series - these abominable covers were taken off the shelves and people are spared further exposure

And a special prize of ugly goes to covers that are not only less than pleasant to the eyes - but just don’t even make any remote sense.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review of Bad Blood by Kristen Painter Book Three of the House of Comarré series

When we last left Chrysabelle she had been stripped over her signum and her status as Comarré for daring to bring Creek,  Kubai Mata and Malkolm the cursed vampire onto sacred Comarré  land.  She is saved by in an infusion of Malkolm's blood, but instead of being grateful to be alive, Chrysabelle feels violated and that her pure blood has been defiled. Despite having her skin cut off her back, Chrysabelle is determined to see the Aurelian again to find out the identity of her brother.  To do this, she must find a sigmatist to re-tattoo her and since the only sanctified gold she has access to is currently in the form of the ring of sorrows, this means she must retrieve it. 

Though Chrysabelle is involved in her own drama - surprise surprise, Samhain is quickly approaching and this means that the protections that kept humans from seeing the supernatural world around them will finally be completely erased.  Doc is able to switch to his true form but it comes with a cost. Fi is desperate to find a way to save the man she loves, but because Mal is off once again with Chrysabelle she must marshal other sources. Creek is charged by KM to protect the mortals from the demons and various other worldly creatures that are appearing on the streets of Paradise City.  Dominic's fake comarré are being murdered and with the world completely going completely off kilter, this might have been ignored if one of the women hadn't been the mayor's daughter, who just happened to give birth to a half vampire child.  The witches of course are plotting but this time they have trapped a Castus [read: demon] in a fish tank of all things, to do their bidding.

Chrsyabelle is so determined to secure the ring of sorrows that she blocks this all out.  She heads off to New Orleans to deal with the fae.  Though this puts Mal at risk, because no vampires are allowed in the city of endless night, he accompanies her to keep her safe.  He does all of this because he loves Chrysabelle, though he does not feel worthy of her attentions.  For her part, Chrysabelle, spends most of the book ordering Mal around and charging around New Orleans.  Chrysabelle is in a city that she is not familiar with, immersed in fae politics, but she cannot be arsed to listen to Mortalis, her fae guide.  This is typical spunky agency at its best.  Why oh why are these people letting her lead? She is so worried about Mal over reacting and going all vamp, that it does not even occur to her that she could potentially be wrong about anything. This of course silences any reasonable dissent that Mal could present.

Review of Being Human U.S. Season Two, Episode 13: It's My Party and I'll Die If I Want to

Well we have finally reached the end of an uneventful season two of Being Human.  For all the promises of how dark this season was going to be the deviation from the original BBC program has turned the U.S. version into a pale and boring cousin.  


Sally is feeling guilty once again for everything that she has done.  She is desperate to make things right.  Sally wants to go into limbo to somehow save the spirits that she sent there through her reaping activities.  Her ex told her that she can get there by walking through someone else's door.  She waits in a hospital room for a woman to die but when her door appears and she confronts Sally, Sally backs away.

Sally tries to tell Josh and Aidan about her feelings of guilt and mentions her plan to head to limbo.  Aidan stops to ask her if she knows how to return and Sally admits that she does not and so he suggests that Sally stay home.  This of course is all the time that Josh and Aidan have to spend dealing with Sally's issues. It once again highlights the fact that Being Human is solidly focused on men's issues despite the fact that we are told that the story is supposed to reflect equally on Josh, Sally and Aidan.

After helping Josh to lure Ray's wife, Sally goes to the hospital to see her mother.  She begs her mother to shred her but she refuses saying that Sally needs to come to term with what she has done and move on.  As they get into a heated argument they are interrupted by Nora.  When Sally turns to talk to Nora, her mother uses this excuse to disappear.  When Sally returns home her mother shows up and she admits to not being there for Sally as much as she should have and pledges to spend as much time with her as possible now.  With these words, her mothers door appears.  Sally tells her mother to go but she offers to let Sally take her door in order to deal with her unfinished business.  Sally refuses to let her mother turn down her door for fear that this decision will lead to mental instability.

Okay, we are going to have to pause her for a moment.  I cannot stand the idea that someone's actions or decisions lead to a mental disability.  This may just be just a show about the supernatural but that does not make it any less disableist.  Becoming disabled is never a consequence of one's actions or a failure to conform to expected norms and considering Being Human's track record when it comes to disability, I am not the least bit surprised but I can say that as a disabled person, I am offended.

Sally decides to shred herself while her mother watches.  Later we are shown the empty house as the camera focuses on the radio playing in the kitchen. The radio dial begins to move until we hear Sally's voice crying out for Aidan and Josh.  It seems that now that she is in limbo, it has finally occurred to her that her little act of spunky agnecy might not have been such a good idea after all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review of The Watcher by Jeanne C. Stein Book 3 of the Anna Strong Series

Anna is still adjusting to the fact that she has been turned into a vampire but that does not mean that the world has slowed down.  She has gone back to work with David, chasing down bail jumpers and has taken on the role of a watcher - a vampire who polices other vampires at the behest of Williams - the chief of police. Anna still has to travel to Mexico to feed because she refuses to heed the advice of the shifter Culebra, Fray and Williams to get a human boyfriend to full fill her sustenance needs. Anna is determined master her vampire nature and stay in control.

Unfortunately for Anna mastering control turns difficult when David her partner hints that their partnership should be dissolved and her long time boyfriend Max goes missing. When Anna approaches Williams, she learns that she has been completely left out of the loop about the real dangers occurring in the supernatural world, because he deems her untrustworthy, due to the fact she does not think through her actions sufficiently. After revealing her true nature in front of a father and daughter, when she intervened in a domestic violence situation, Williams sends her off to Mexico to disappear while he deals with the threat of a coven of witches who are attempting to raise a demon.  What Williams does not realize is that his  decision will actually put her on the front line.  Anna now has to stop a demon killing vampire from rising, save her friend Culebra and her boyfriend Max.

I wish I could say that this book was compelling, but the plot seemed to just limp along, with Anna falling into situations without being active. This would be bad enough for a regular protagonist, but it makes zero sense given that Anna tracks down fugitives for a living.  This is now the third book in the series, and I have given up hope of actually seen her investigate anything.  To make matters worse, Anna is prone to fits of spunky agency and Kellie independence.

Review of Season One of Charmed

Charmed is the story of three witches. When we first meet Pru, Phoebe, and Piper, their grandmother who raised them has just passed on.  Pru and Piper are living together when Phoebe shows up from New York.  Piper is happy to see her but Pru is not. Pru believes that Piper stole her boyfriend.  In short order, the sisters are lead into the attic where they discover the book of shadows. When Phoebe says a spell at the beginning of the book, their powers are unbound and they become the charmed sisters.

Piper has the ability to stop time, Pru can move things with her mind and Phoebe can see the future.  Much of the first season is spent with the sisters learning how to use their powers and coming together as family. Each one of them is haunted by the early death of their mother and their very absentee father.  Each week some new form of demon makes an appearance and the sisters who are charged with saving the innocent must take action. They are never allowed to use their powers for personal gain because they are good witches.

This show takes place in San Francisco and yet there are very few people of colour and no GLBT people, though there is a lot of conversation about coming out as witches. Interesting how they don't mind using the language of a marginalization but have no problem including actual marginalized people. The people of colour are all extremely passive and essentially exist to be saved by the sisters, which essentially turns them into great earth mother. Darryl Morris is the only reoccurring character of colour on the show and he functions as a sidekick to his partner,  Inspector Andy Trudeau, Pru's love interest for much of season one.

Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 2: The Night Lands

I will begin by again linking to HBO’s most excellent guide to the 10,000 characters on this show, to help people keep up with who is who.

After neglecting her last week, we start this episode with Arya, disguised as a boy called Harry, heading north with the recruits (often criminals) of the Nights Watch and joined by one of King Robert’s illegitimate children, Gendry. The gold cloaks, the watch men of Kings Landing, have caught up with their camp with a royal warrant for one of the children. Arya assumes it’s for her. But they’re there for Gendry – to kill him as they have the rest of Robert’s illegitimate children.

But the Nights Watch is sovereign, not under the rule of the crown and the leader of the camp doesn’t see fit to hand him over and forces them to retreat to gather more men.

While washing up we see just how naive most of the boys going to the wall are.  Arya questions why Gendry is wanted by the Goldcloaks, but, of course, Gendry has no idea. All he knows is the Hands of the King were asking him questions – Lord Arryn and Lord Stark – and Gendry also reveals he knows Arya is a girl and Arya reveals who she is to him. I really like how they bounce off each other, it’s almost sibling-like

In Kings Landing, Tyrion the awesome walks in on Varys (and his carefully crafted insinuations) and Shae. Tyrion seems to form some kind of link with Varys, suggesting they both have disadvantages to overcome, while Varys takes steps to make it clear to Tyrion how very well informed he is, how discreet he is and how good a friend he can be. And Tyrion shows that he is his sister’s brother and he will use his power to crush Varys if Varys threatens him – Varys is, however, unimpressed, being rather better at this game than Baelish ever was. On that happy note they join Cersei in council

And Cersei has received Robb’s peace demands which, naturally, she feels rather disinclined to grant – though they send a return message back to check on Jaime. Grand Maester Pycelle, who is playing his own game – has a message from Castle Black and the Nights Watch – the Commander Mormont is asking for more men to man the wall as the “king of the wildlings” has raised a huge army and the dead are walking. Cersei and Pycelle dismiss him, but Tyrion, who has been to the wall, trusts Mormont

Also in Kings Landing we drop on Baelish who is, unsurprisingly, in a brothel (can’t have a Game of Thrones episode without a brothel, now, can we?) where Ros is crying over the baby who was murdered last episode. Baelish starts out comforting then threatens her because her grief is costing him custom – that he would sell her to someone cruel and perverse if necessary to recoup his coin, reminding Ros that she is nothing more than an investment for Baelish, not a person.

Tyrion is hosting the new Lord Lord Slynt to dinner (he was head of the city watch, raised to a lord by Cersei when he supported her rather than Ned Stark) and investigating the murder of the baby in Baelish’s brothel. Tyrion (who is most awesome) makes it rapidly clear that he holds Janos Slynt in high contempt and makes it very clear that he doesn’t trust him, that he has no friends, that he is a useful tool at best. And, of course, he is Cersei’s tool not Tyrion’s so he has Slynt sent off to the Nights Watch instead. He raises Bronn – his tool – to be head of the City Watch instead.

Cersei is most displeased by Tyrion’s actions. He warns her that she’s losing the people – and while she doesn’t care, Tyrion points out just how many people there actually are and how much she has given the people a rallying cry against her – or rather what Joffrey did by giving the order to have the babies murdered. Cersei lashes out by reminding Tyrion that his birth killed their mother

Up to the Nights Watch north of the wall where Sam and several other guards are all talking women and Sam has the chance to reassure one of Craster’s “wives”, Gilly who was scared by Jon’s giant Dire World, Ghost. Gilly is pregnant and wants to run away from Craster and Sam tries to convince Jon the Pouty to back him – against the direct orders of Commander Mormont. Jon obeys his orders and rebukes Sam for getting involved (what, now Jon decides to be obedient?) and pointing out Sam’s plan is so foolish and deeply flawed.

During the night, Jon sees Craster take a baby – a new boy – into the woods and abandon him in the snow where he is picked up by a figure with glowing blue eyes, one of the White Walkers. Before he can do anything, Craster sneaks up on him from behind and hits him over the head

Across the narrow sea we join Daenerys and Ser Jorah in the Red Waste. The horses of one of her bloodriders, Rekharo, who she sent out to scout has returned riderless – with his head in the saddlebag.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sneak Peek of 'What Is Dead May Never Die': Season Two, Episode Three of The Game of Thrones

Review: Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen, book 1 of the Living with the Dead Series

Sarah and Dave are attending marriage counseling to try and save their doomed relationship – not that it’s helping very much. But who would have thought that saving their marriage, would mean killing their marriage counselor?

To be fair, the counselor was trying to eat them at the time. A zombie outbreak has come to Seattle and before long, they’re outnumbering the living people. Faced with the shock of what has happened and then the desperate need to flee the city, Sarah and Dave have to come together as they never have before, as they scramble to survive, and try to find somewhere that is safe – or at least get out of the city and its hordes of the undead. Assuming, of course, that anywhere is safe as zombies spread further and further across the west coast

Of course, marital problems don’t just disappear – but there are few greater bonding experiences than  covering each other with stolen shotguns, as you try to survive the zombie hordes.

I did not expect this book to be nearly as funny as it was. After all, it’s a book about a zombie apocalypse. You expect fear and horror and loss and grief – you expect people to find out what they are capable of and the extremes of evil people can be pushed to in a crisis – and even the extremes of evil they will indulge in when they feel there is no-one to stop them. You expect to see people grow and develop as they learn what they are capable of an the extreme

And we have all of that. We have loss; we have some truly poignant scenes of loss and grief as they confront family and friends who die to the zombies – or who need killing before they turn into zombies. We have growth as they both step up to the necessities of a zombie infested world. We have hard choices as they have to choose what to do to be safe, as they lose people, as they have to leave people behind. In short, we have all the themes and epic moments and emotional moments you’d expect from a zombie apocalypse book.

Yet, despite all these major extreme issues, these heartrending issues, and these powerful scenes and character development it was still funny. Laugh out loud, shockingly funny at times – but without taking way from the power and the impact of those other scenes. Perhaps it was, overall, lighter than you normally see in zombie books, but not much more and those big, heavy scenes were still there – but alternated extremely well with the humor.

We also have growth of them as a couple – and that’s a really interesting twist to see. They started as a couple whose marriage was on the rocks with both of them considering divorce. The zombie apocalypse doesn’t make it all go away but yes, they actually work through their issues and grow as a couple resolving the problems that dogged their marriage even after they killed their marriage counselor who tried to eat them.

With all this growth and focus on these 2 characters I have to say that both of them were extremely real to me – in their interactions, as people before the apocalypse and as people during it. They were extremely well written and developed and I could easily identify with them as real, good people. They made few decisions that I would consider foolish and none that were ridiculous or unrealistic

I can’t think of any flaw in the writing and I usually try to think of some critique. It was well paced, managed to balance the various elements of the book – including elements of humor and grief that I never expected to work together – extremely well. It was clean without being overwritten but nor was it sparse and lacking appropriate scene setting or description. The plot was exciting and tense where appropriate – with the threat of zombies behind every corner, in every shop, at every stop. There is also an interesting element in that the newly turned zombies are as intelligent as they were in life. It adds an extra horror movie level of fear and tension as someone can be acting perfectly normal, even cunningly luring you in, while they are plotting how to bite you.

Inclusion-wise we very much focus on one couple who are, as far as I can tell, white. We have one Asian side-character they leave behind and a few Latino characters who are zombiefied but I think that’s the entirety of the inclusion. Sarah is a strong character who is every bit as powerful, capable and dangerous as Dave – if anything she may have the higher kill count. They make decisions after discussion – and arguing – about things together and at no point is she considered the weaker party.

Dresden Files, Season 1, Episode 2: The Boone Identity

This episode Harry has a client who wants him to communicate with the dead – which is far from his favourite thing but far be it from him to be picky. The client keeps feel his daughter’s presence, but Harry feels nothing. The girl was killed in a robbery at her father’s antique store – when a man killed her, stole an artefact then died stealing someone’s car to try and escape.

The ghost doesn’t take kindly to Harry not believing and treats him to a flash back of the events of her death.

Of course, speaking of annoying ghosts, we have to flip to Bob while Harry and Bob discuss exactly what the ghost was trying to show Harry and why, while Harry cooks dinner (I actually quite like to see protagonists do mundane things like cook – so many of them seem to live on air and none of them ever ever ever need to go to the bathroom).

But the ghost won’t move on so Harry is going to follow it up – so he goes to bug Murphy, his handy-dandy police contact, to get the files on the robbery (which involves an unnecessary side-trip to info-dump flirty lady) to find that the person who shot Boon (the thief) during the carjacking gone wrong was a very rich Mr. Miller. Info-dump lady also has the ancient Egyptian tablet – the lock of Anubis – that has been shattered.

Harry goes to visit Miller as a representative of his client to talk more about Boon’s death – and finding a statue of Anubis in his home. Of course, Bob is very very good at pointing out that this is hardly a massive coincidence, but his doubts are treated as unreasonable as opposed to, well, perfectly reasonable. I have to divert a little here to question the idea that so many Urban Fantasy writers think this kind of knowledge is soooo rare. Anubis is not exactly an obscure deity, someone having an Anubis statue should not instantly link them to any kind of Ancient Egyptian paraphernalia any more than a woman wearing Ankh jewellery is secretly an Egyptian Sorceress.

Still, we make the leap and decide that this points to a link between Miller and Boon, just in time for Murphy to turn up to ream Dresden out for harassing Miller – and thankfully Murphy also treats his Egyptian art link as highly dubious.

Of course Harry ignores this warning and goes to check up further – and finds that his client was selling the Lock of Anubis online – and finds that a prisoner bid on the item while it was for sale. A Professor Sabin, a professor ancient Egyptian mythology who mummified a kid alive (why… why would he do this? I mean, Egyptology 101 makes it clear that mummification is not something practiced on the living… how would obsession with Egyptology lead to this?). The ghost also helpfully nudges them towards Sabin.

So Harry goes off to see Sabin in prison and found that Sabin and Boon were friends who discussed Ancient Egyptian funerary rites and finds that Sabin has an Egyptian tattoo on his neck just as Miller has – and apparently so does Boon. This startling evidence he takes to Murphy who….. treats it with the contempt it deserves.

Of course, Dresden’s wild theories are justified when someone starts shooting at him from a car. Dresden takes it to Murphy – as he should – but then accuses Miller of copycatting Boon because the attacker wore a ski mask and carried a shotgun. Really? This is copycatting? Using a gun and concealing one’s face are not the hallmarks of a copycat. This isn’t an MO – this is drive-by shooting 101.

Then he gets to see the autopsy photos of Boon and sees he doesn’t have the tattoo Sabin mentioned. But looking back through the records they find he had them in prison.

And this leads to Murphy joining Harry to interrogate Miller… why this 180? Because Boone, a known criminal, has been researching Miller, a wealthy man. Uh-huh. She then goes with Harry to confront Miller on their evidence - an interest in Egyptology and similar Egyptian style tattoos. Yes, this is some crack evidence here. Murphy theorises that Boone stole the tablet for Miller and then dropped it – so Miller shot him (in the street in public no less) to punish him.

And then Harry strikes on the idea that Boone’s tattoo wasn’t transferred using the tablet allowing Boone to transfer bodies to Miller (and that he’s planning on moving to a new victim soon). Hey it makes as much sense as Murphy’s theory. And it’s right! So rather than dismissing Harry as being ridiculous, Miller snaps and holds Murphy at gun point – then kill himself and leap to Murphy’s body. Boone/Murphy shoots Harry – but his magical shield bracelet from his mother protects him.

Thankfully earlier in the episode Murphy cut her finger on Dresden’s door – allowing Harry to use it to create a voodoo doll (Voodoo as black magic again, alas this is an over-tired trope to say the least. It’s not like Harry doesn’t have enough options of sympathetic magic in European traditions that he actually draws upon) to attack Murphy’s body. Bob is not impressed by Harry’s use of black magic. Bob presents a great alternative plan but Harry is insistent on his plan. And he needs a banishing spell to get Boon out of Murphy, but Egyptian magic isn’t Bob’s speciality and Harry goes to Sabin instead – as a professor of Egyptology who told Boon about the lock of Anubis to begin with.

Next to flirty info-dump woman to get the lock of Anubis and then uses his voodoo doll to hurt Boone/Murphy and convince him he can reach Boon/Murphy wherever they go, goading him into hunting down Harry and kill him to be free.

Faceoff: Twilight Versus The Hunger Games


Protagonist: Bella Swan is the center of the Twilight universe and a more bland protagonist you could not find in any other series.  It probably does not help that the role is played by Kristen Stewart whose version of acting involves rolling her eyes, stuttering and biting her bottom lip to convey the appropriate amount of angst.  Bella essentially has no personality and all you really need to know about her is that she is desperately in love with Edward.   She is so in love with Edward that when he temporarily ends their relationship she takes to her bed like all good wilting flowers are wont to do in moments of crises.

The only time she acts against Edward’s wishes is when she decides to carry the White saviour baby to term.  She does not even pause to consider what giving up her life at the age of 18 to become a vampire means, but hey when it comes to the child, why have any doubt at all.  This is after all a classic Mormon love story. John Smith would be so proud.

World Setting: The story is set in dreary Forks.  Bella moves there after her mother goes on the road with her baseball boyfriend.  Little does she know that Forks is the ideal location for vampires because even the sun does not like the small town enough to shine on a regular basis. This means that Edward does not have to worry about sparkling in public.  [Note: I still have not forgiven Meyer for creating a sparkling vampire, and I don’t care that she blamed it on his venom]

Main Plot Theme:  The entire saga is essential a love triangle with Edward the stalking, controlling vampire vying against Jacob the werewolf who believes that the word no really means try harder.  

Conflict:  What conflict?  I suppose you could count the overly emo Edward who is convinced that he is evil.  

Inclusion/treatment of marginalised issues:  Twilight does have a disabled character and his name is Billy Black.  He is Charlie’s drinking buddy and instrumental in teaching the young werewolves how to deal with their change.  The werewolves in question are from the The Quileute tribe.  It would seem on the face of it that this is good inclusion; however, the Quileute people have no legends that match the one featured in Meyer’s book and so it amounts to pure fiction and appropriation.  It is further troubling that next to the whitesome and delightsome Cullens, they are poor and often constructed as savage.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Grimm, Season 1, Episode 16: The Thing with Feathers

“Sing my precious little golden bird, sing! I have hung my golden slipper around your neck.”

I need to brush up on my fairy tale lore, because I’m not recognising most of these references.

Nick is stressing with hank because he’s taking Juliette away for the weekend to ask her to marry him (though I have to say his choice of venue doesn’t impress me. “Whispering Pines for the rest of your life” sounds like a retirement home, a funeral parlour or a graveyard).

Meanwhile a woman called Robin is trying to flee a farm. Alas, her rescuer is having car trouble and she has to rain check her rescue and return home – where we see she is a bird wesen and deathly afraid of a cat wesen who is holding her prisoner and preparing her a really really vile milkshake. And their house just happens to be the place that Nick stops for directions looking for his romantic graveyard getaway.

In their cabin, Juliette can watch the 2 wesen and she sees cat wesen force bird wesen inside – she insists that Nick get involved and he calls the local police. In the house the cat wesen is forcing her to eat the vile milkshake, forcing it down her throat. The police arrive and leave without making an arrest – which perturbs Juliette watching, how little the police can or will do.

Seeing Juliette still unhappy he calls Grimmopedia Eddie to get some information on the guy – a Klaustreich, an alley-cat wesen that have a bad reputation with women.

The next day Robin runs into both her would-be-rescuer (who wants money and is arranging to help her at 6:00) and into Juliette in the local shop – and Juliette offers to help but her husband is there as well. The stress makes her go birdy and be seen by Nick’s Grimmy vision – who, of course, calls Eddie who describes her as a Zeltenvogel – almost extinct that produce highly precious golden egg (and with Rosalie he now has a second Grimmopedia!)

Later robin takes the chance to flee to her rescuer and Nick and Juliette see her – Nick going to see if she needs help. Which is fortunate, because her rescuer just got Klaustreiched to death, but he doesn’t get there in time to save Robin, only to find the clawed up body.

Nick rushes to Robin and the Klaustreich’s home and it’s to the rescue fight scene- and brings her to their cabin. But the sheriff arrives and he’s another Klaustreich, cousin to the first. Robin runs and Nick is forced to chase her to protect her and leave Juliette alone with her gun. He catches Robin but the egg in her neck has grown too big and is almost cutting off her air – he has to cut it out (after consulting Rose and Eddie amusingly upset because he’s gone to a different Grimmopedia).

The kitty wesen arrive for their golden egg but Nick takes down the sheriff and, leaving Juliette and her gun with Robin, takes off after the original Klaustreich, captures him and breaks the shiny golden egg which, for some reason, makes it worthless (if it’s value is its gold content then it wouldn’t matter if it were whole or in shards or even in dust).