Saturday, September 7, 2013

Almighty Johnsons Season 3, Episode 10: Playing Gods

Axl and Zeb return home to find Stacey pole dancing on Yggdrasil applauded by Olaf and Ingrid. I’m sure there are stranger homecomings; the party breaks up a little and Stacey explains to Axl that Yggdrasil stick does different things for different goddesses. Michele arrives to collect Yggdrasil (but not Ingrid) and expresses her arch disapproval of using Yggdrasil as a prop in drinking sessions (hah, this is NORSE mythology. Drinking sessions are practically a sacred rite!)

Michele needs Yggdrasil to go to Anders’s place where he has a very sick man, dying of cancer, who they hope to extract a lot of cash from. However when he greets her with “you look more like a prostitute” she turns to leave saying “good luck with the cancer”. You go Michele. While it is, of course, deeply wrong to try and screw people for money for miracle cures, it’s always more comforting when said screwee is an arsehole.

And it’s prostate cancer – Anders hands her some gloves. Oh she will make him pay for this.

The next day she wakes up next to Mike for some awkwardly dodged questions and checking that Mike is still pouting with his brothers.

More happily, Dawn and Ty wake up in bed together. They’ve moved in together (that was fast) but Dawn reassures him that it’s not too fast (you sure Dawn) and they did discuss it (while having sex – worst time EVER to discuss ANYTHING. No-one wants to say no and completely ruin the mood). They’re incredibly cutesy together though there’s an issue – which Ty goes to get advice from Olaf about. Ty, worried about Dawn, is being super clinging and intense which is making Dawn take a bit of a step back. Olaf isn’t helpful

Zeb and Axl take Ingrid to breakfast to bribe her into their next plan to find Frigg – Yggdrasil. If Yggdrasil makes Ingrid super-smart then she should use it to find Frigg, though it may take some practice to get her used to it. Problem –Michele is very protective of Yggdrasil.

Dawn arrives at work and Axl has second thoughts about telling Dawn the big secret since she cracks up at Odin delivering pizza. Axl wants Anders to get the Yggdrasil stick from Michele (with a side order of “Mike’s not the boss of me”) which Anders isn’t a fan of because Michele will hurt him and he’s a cowards.

While Axl and Anders are out that leaves Olaf to meddle with Dawn and Ty’s affairs by talking and listening and feeding her cannabis biscuits. Both get promptly stoned and then Axl calls to tell her about a PR meeting with the dog food people he had scheduled and now can’t make. She has to. While stoned

Despite that, when she goes out for air, Olaf catches up with her and they end up eating more of his biscuits and staring at the clouds. Olaf tries to tell her why Ty is worried – leading with how dark and terrible things tend to happen to mortals who know about gods. Dawn runs away. Not the plan.

Olaf tracks her down to hiding in the bushes and asks if Ty’s going to freeze her – as he has before. Olaf’s current theory is that the Hodr powers are fuelled by dark thoughts (Ty’s guilt about lying to her) and so, no he won’t. She points out that Ty did kill Olaf – which bemuses Olaf because she’s talking about the myth – when Hodr killed Bladur. Olaf again doubts the realness of the stories. Dawn leaves again after confusing them both.

Ty drops in on the office with more clinging worry food to offer Dawn and finds the remains of Olaf’s dope biscuits. He joins Olaf at the children’s play area where Dawn is cowering at the top of a climbing frame. They talk at the top, Ty promises to use all his powers to stop bad things happening to Dawn and says that nothing bad will ever happen to her.

Anders is with Michele talking to Guy, the man she cured whose doctor is in shock because he is cured of terminal, untreatable cancer. He will pay her money he will do everything he can to help - and he wants in. To which Anders quickly shuffles him out the room – it seems Anders has been making plans without involving Michele. Anders dodges Michele’s questions – but Michele isn’t easily avoided, even when the $50,000 becomes $200,000. Anders works on Michele, mocking his brother and how he will “rain on their parade” questioning whether Michele is in love with him, whether she’d really be happy being “Michele the builder’s wife” and generally expertly hitting every insecurity she has. He tries to push her into dropping Mike

Friday, September 6, 2013

Her Ladyship's Curse (Disenchanted & Co #1) by Lynn Viehl

Kit is a curse breaker. She disenchants those suffering under curses and hexes.

And she doesn’t believe in magic. There always seems to be a rational reason for all of the magic people claim to be enduring and experiencing yet it doesn’t stop what seems to be an inordinate swarm of charlatans and con-artists trying to peddle magic to the unbelievably credulous masses.

Thankfully, she’s an able detective, able to find the truth behind the so-called curses, even if, as a woman working for herself in steampunk Toriana, she has to jump through a few hoops to do her job

But her latest job gets her involved with some of the top people in society – and lands her deeper than she imagined.

This world is fascinating. This world is truly excellent. This world is original and unique and contains so many facets that I could read a hundred books set there. The alternate America after losing the Revolutionary War, the clash of cultures, the different opinions and language that arose from it all come together to create a fascinatingly deep, alternate world all heavily laden with a wonderful touch of steampunk goodness, lovely little devices that are, perhaps, not as dramatic as iron soldiers but fun little detective devices nevertheless.

And on top of that we have magic. Actual real magic – or the widespread belief of it at least – twisting every part of society, creating new offices, new professions and shaping the culture accordingly. This combination of magic, classic steampunk and an entire alternate world comes together to create a world that is truly magnificent, extremely detailed and with so much to delve in that I want to wallow in it.

I love how Kit fits into it. Everyone believes she has a super talent for dispelling magic and curses so employ her – but she doesn’t believe in magic. Despite everyone else being sure it exists – and she goes around as a detective and exposes frauds and hoaxes (it’s not haunted, there’s an owl stuck in the chimney. It’s not a curse, the sewer pipe is broken allowing rats from the sewers. Etc etc etc etc) and becomes further convinced that magic is all a hoax. But is it all fraudulent or does she do what everyone claims – nullify magic with her mere presence? It’s a wonderful twist and adds so much to the book.

So it’s immensely frustrating that so little of this world is described. I know less is more when it comes to world building and it’s important to keep the info dumping to a minimum but there are innumerable references, random words used and history alluded to without any explanation or depth. I was constantly running to try and keep up, making big inferences about the world and hoping I was right because most of what I think is largely guess work. There is a glossary at the back of the book and it is sadly needed. If it had just been fleshed out a little more, broadened a little more, expanded a little more it would have been perfect.

The same applies to many of the side characters. She has some excellent people around her who she bounces off extremely well with lots of great interactions. I like them but they’re all a little… shallow. They’re Archetypes that need more work and development to make them more than Prostitute/Madam with heart of gold, Poor Girl Married Money, Eccentric Inventor Genius. I like them, but they need more layers; I think her police contact is the closest to a fully realised character but even then it’s notable that I’m going to have to look up his name.  It’s not that I disliked any of these characters – they’re all very very good characters with hints of excellent back stories, hints of excellent personalities and truly they’re going to be great assets

As to the story – well it’s interesting, it’s fun – but it’s largely used as a mechanism to introduce Kit, her world and what she does, with lots of foreshadowing and hints about her past that will become relevant, I assume. The main plot itself (investigating a woman suffering under a vindictive “curse”) is a little overwhelmed by Kit apparently uncovering a conspiracy we know nothing about, a ghost (she believes in ghosts), her father’s past, her “love interest” (more on that) and a few other distractions. And then it ends unfinished – there’s no closure to any of these story snippets, it’s all left rather hanging.

I’m a little annoyed actually by how short this book is, because a lot of the problems I’ve listed above could easily have been addressed; the book is short, there was space to widen the exposition and world building and to develop the side characters

More, there was room to actually tell the story. I’m slightly irritated that that “Part 1” doesn’t refer to the first book in a trilogy, it literally is a book cut into pieces. Nothing was resolved in this book, there was no closed story arc – the book didn’t end, it just stopped. It feels like a whole book was written then chopped randomly into pieces to be sold separately. It would have been easier to swallow if the book was already getting long – but it really isn’t. At least some of the problems above could have been addressed by adding a few more pages.

This is a period steampunk and it does have a lot of the prejudices of the time, including a lot of blatant misogyny and racism. The Native Americans are treated with utmost contempt and derision with a lot of offensive stereotypes. Similarly, women are regarded as vastly inferior beings with few legal rights or recourse and we have historical references to women being considered the property of men and available to be freely claimed if they didn’t have an owner. Both the sexism and racism is laid on extremely thickly but also, largely, challenged. We are presented with women being unable to hold property, with sexist laws both historic and present as well as the constant contempt women face and how helpless they are under the law, how women are not allowed to vote or manage their own funds. Yet at the same time Kit challenges these laws, she constantly proves them wrong and speaks scathingly about them; her friends, while pretty much stock archtypes (the prostitute/madam with the heart of gold and the poor girl who married well) also challenge

Dead Like Me, Season 2, Episode 2: Ledger

We open with George thinking how different she is from normal girls, thinking about death and post its – and having a night time visit with Rube to ask him if he filled out her post it – the one that listed her Estimated Time of Death, the one that a Reaper took and then reaped her. Rube wants to know why that even matters – and George shifts to ask what more information does Rube get? All the other Reapers get is a name and time on a post it, what info does Rube get? And what did he get about her? Which leads to a powerful emotional rant about what it should have said – how young she was and how few experiences she’d had. He tries to distract her with an anecdote about balance, it all adding up and it all working out in the end - which doesn’t work – she wants to be young and silly and live. Rube points out she’s still there, she is still young (and silly)

And, yes, he did write out her post it. And if he had known what a wonderful person she is back then… he would have still written it, because that’s how the system works.

The next day George has an internal rant about nothing adding up or being balanced. It’s all down to luck – and she sees a new element of bad luck, the Las Household is up for sale.

Inside Joy talks about selling the house because she can’t afford to buy Clancy out – something Reggie resents and snarks about Joy being “lazy” for not going back to work; though Joy objects especially since her job as a legal secretary was one she hated and constantly made her miserable (though Reggie points out, not inaccurately, that Joy is pretty much always irritable).

Later Joy reminisces about their family when her kids were young, looking though memorabilia of George. And then goes through Clancy’s things for more sadness.

To contrast selling the house and argument, Clancy arrives with a big shiny new car with some more touching reminiscences before he ruins it all – being Clancy. There follows more squabbling over who gets what possessions when Reggie comes home. Awkwardness.

More of George upset and musing on luck as she joins the gang in the Waffle House who are already being immensely fun bouncing off each other with Roxy’s new job as a cop (and getting free food) and her gun and Mason liking her gun and she threatening to shoot him. And then actually shooting him (he did deserve it, it has to be said). After a bad-luck based Reap Rube joins them in time for Daisy’s new obsession with Catholic saints.

And someone has stolen George’s bike. Given her already bad mood, the news leads to a rather epic tantrum (for some reason the Rube’s wisdom becomes a “whose to blame” with the seeming message of “no-one” and “pretty things just disappear” um… I don’t think theft is a blameless incident)

Nathan Branford, Stop the Goodread Bullies and the "Abuse" of Negative Reviews

'You naughty boy' photo (c) 2007, Nathan Collins - license:

So we have to visit this drama yet again, as someone else has leaped up to defend the poor, persecuted authors from the deadly peril of not being universally loved by all reviewers. The horror, oh the horror these authors have to face.
Nathan Bransford is the new author, champion of the “bullied” and “dehumanised” authors who suffered the dreaded pain of a negative review. This is a link to his post, but it is being repeatedly edited, updated and twisted to try and remove the hot mess in a series of backtracks that don’t include any admissions for being wrong so I have no idea what it will say by the time you click that link.
There’s a lot wrong with this post – but in particular, what I found disturbing about Nathan Bransford’s post was that the reviews he singled out as “bullying” were anything but. They were critical, certainly – but none of them crossed the line into attacking the author.

I’m also going to take a moment here to say that I don’t even think that’s a hard and fast line, especially when it comes to awful minority depictions and how authors react to criticism. I have, for example, zero compunctions about calling Victoria Foyt, author of Save the Pearls, a racist, for example not just for the awful racist book but also for the racist way she reacted to criticism of that book. By their words you will know them and all that.
But these reviews didn’t go that far. In fact, they refused to cross a line that Mr. Bransford was quite willing to cross – he was the one who resorted to personal attacks, calling them “bullies” and even accusing them of “dehumanising the author” – this author they never once mentioned or addressed. This morning I stubbed my toe on my bedside book shelf (damn moved bed) and I cursed that shelf in the most extreme and vituperative of terms – I guess I just dehumanised a carpenter? Is that the standard we’re reaching here – where criticising someone’s product means removing their humanity?
I object, I object most strongly. I object to this insulting terminology when we are seeing repeated news reports of kids driven to suicide and self-harm by bullying. I object to this revolting interpretation when we are seeing hate crimes and murders soaring in places as far as Russia and Jamaica and still very much on our doorsteps because of dehumanising laws and rhetoric against marginalised people. I object to him calling these reviews “abuse” when so many suffer so much agony and lives are destroyed by actual abusive situations. I am physically revolted that Mr. Bransford is invoking these situations with his word choice to try and silence critical reviewers – it is offensive, it is repellent and it shows a shocking lack of even the slightest perspective.
But back to the reviews themselves - they were critical of the book – quite scathing about it, in fact – and vehement in their dislike and all the things they found wrong with the book. They were sharp, honest reviews that did exactly what I expected them to do – they gave me a solid impression of what the reviewers thought about the book and why. This is everything I think a review should be – in fact they were excellent negative reviews which we’ve said before is a good thing; everything about their rating and opinion was explained, they gave their opinion and enough information through which I could decide whether I agreed with it or not. In fact, because they were well written negative reviews including analysis and reasoning behind it, they have already prompted one person to buy the book, intrigued by what they described.
As for the “harshness” – I applaud it. If anything there is far too much sugar coating of some real problems out there. There have been innumerable times I’ve picked up a book that has a series of scrappy, or emptily praising, five star reviews and ended up with a story that feels like some kind of masochistic endurance trial to actually finish. I have seen reviewers out there who have never given a book less than three stars – and I pass right over them, what is the point? If a reviewer thinks everything is good then I cannot trust them to tell me if anything is actually good.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Beneath the Skin (Maker's Song #3) by Adrian Phoenix

Dante, Heather, Von and Annie head back to New Orleans, back home. But there are a lot of people hunting them after what happened in the last book – and Dante’s secret is now well and truly shattered

With multiple FBI agents, the Elohim from Gehenna, assassins, agents, vampires from several factions all vying for Dante’s attention, his life or his power, it’s a twisty maze to navigate

Especially since Dante’s mind is shattered, the past continually intruding into his daily senses and him constantly being brought down by agonising seizures as he tries to absorb his newly resorted memories and the horrors he’s lived through. Only Heather can anchor his damaged psyche to the present and control his omnipotent power.

I’m wondering if this book was held upside down and somehow this caused all the story to pour to the end?

Because it’s a 350 page book that has endless amounts of foreshadowing and the 8 gazillion characters all carefully moving into position before we actually get some stuff happening at about page 300.

It’s not that there’s nothing in the rest of the book – but it’s either from the VAST CAST of side characters or it’s repeating what we already know.

Dante is unstable, dangerous, has an extreme problem holding onto reality and keeps getting lost in flashbacks of his horrendous past which, unfortunately, means his quite literally omnipotent god powers go out of control. And it’s really well done – it’s extremely well written how these moments are described and you can feel the different realities colliding in his head. Sometimes with just a line of dialogue, sometimes a full seen which is brilliantly evocatively described. I take my hat off to this writing, it’s truly a master piece

And it was good the second time. And the third. And the fourth. The fifth was pretty good too and… ok, I get it! We don’t need more repetitions.

And Heather loves Dante and Dante loves Heather and Annie is disturbed and shouldn’t trusted. Repeated a hundred times.

Then there’s an FBI chase that gets called out. There’s an FBI cover up of the dramatic proportions – so we see all the detail. We see them discovering in shock and horror what happened, the sheer extent of Dante’s power and try desperately to put a lid on it. It’s, again, really well written, exciting and extremely evocative as FBI and SB agent after agent look at what happened and struggle to come to terms with the sheer power of what has happened. I love it, I love their realisation, I love their struggling to understand, I love their hurry to get control over it…

And then there’s a several page radio interview of civilians reporting on the FBI cover up… why? I already know what the FBI are doing. I saw them do it. Why do I need it rehashing? Why is this section even here.

Then there’s the FBI and SB agents running around and, in the revelation, more and more of them splintering into various factions as they grasp what is happening, what has happened and what that means for them.

So we have Merri and Emmet, vampire and human team who I like, agents of the SB they know their boss is lying to them and run away before being messed with. They go rogue and possibly hitting up a faction of vampires.

Then there’s their boss, Gillespie, who lied to them who has decided to go rogue and ignore his orders because of various reasons. He’s a separate rogue from them.

Then there’s Rutgers, who we remember went rogue last book, well she’s gone well and truly rogue now to be a full blown loose cannon.

Then there’s Underwood, the woman who drove Rutgers into going rogue. Guess what? She’s going rogue! Only less dramatically, she’s being all sneakily rogue instead.

We have Caterina, SB assassin, who already went rogue last book. But her handler is going rogue a DIFFERENT way to kill his boss because he disagrees with the rules. And she disagrees with both the boss and her handler, so she’s like rogue twice over.

Seriously, this many agents ready to go rogue it makes me wonder how such ethically questionable (in fact, let’s not mince words about assassins and torturers) managed to hold it together at all! How do they make any decisions without half of the organisation heading to the hills with guns to play loose cannon? I look forward to the day they switch to decaf – and then the caffeinated hordes of SB and FBI agents will head to the Starbucks, gun in hand ready to bring down the system and do what is right – no matter the cost (it sounds better if you read it in a dramatic movie voice over style).

And look at all those factions guys! That’s just the FBI and Shadow Branch – perhaps the most minor of the players in the book and we have a stunning 6 different factions and agenda. And every single last one of these characters has a backstory, some information about them. Ok, it’s wonderful to flesh out side characters but when you have this many there’s a huge amount of time spent on them. I know about Merri’s past as a slave when she was human. I know about Underwood’s murdered son. I know about Gillespie’s wife who left him and his drink problem. I know a whole lot about Rutger’s angst about Sherridan, one of her agents.

None of this is bad in and of itself – but when you add it all together you have an awful lot of trivia about an incredible number of characters.

Because from there we have 3 vampire factions and one, the Circle de Druide, led by Renata (Catrina’s mother, sort of) is actively involved and linked to the Shadow Branch. And her representative wings his way over the Atlantic. But the local vampires hate Dante for killing Etienne (remember him? I barely did) so they have their own agenda.

Then there’s the Elohim and Gabriel and Star and Lucien with their own machinations.

Under the Dome, Season 1, Episode 11: Speak of the Devil

The Children of the Dome are all gathered in the barn watching the pretty light display, trying to interpret the dots and looking at the pretty monarch butterfly chrysalis before Norrie finally loses her shit a little about them being “guardians of some secret cosmic mystery.” Yeah, you were the one who was pushing to include Junior the skeevy kidnapper in your circle and now you’re upset?

In response to which, Joe suggests telling Julia – because we desperately need to make this protagonist relevant somehow.  Since she saw the hallucination that said the monarch will be crowned they decide the Dome must trust her (and apparently the opinions of the big shiny thing cutting them off from the rest of civilisation is something they should rely on).

At which point Norrie and Joe leave Angie and Junior alone. Seriously? And Angie offers to make Junior breakfast. Under the Dome this is very very not ok. Junior reminds everyone how creepy he is by getting grabby with Angie and talking about how they’re fated to be together forever. He starts to kiss her and Angie pushes him away and reminds him of the whole kidnapping thing – and that as soon as the Dome comes down she’s gone and he’ll never see her again. To which Junior storms outside (into a brewing storm) because he’d rather they all be stuck in the Dome than be separated from Angie. He calls it love. I call it restraining-order-and-mace.

Jim did come into the police station to talk to Linda about the propane and he pretty much admits everything – they kept the town afloat by selling propane to a drug dealer, Max. But, hey, it’s a good thing they did because without that vast propane stockpile they’d have no power. Linda points out the Dome saved his arse – because without it, Jim would be in gaol. Instead Jim tells her to focus on the real criminal – apparently he means Barbie. He tells Linda about Barbie being Max’s gambling enforcer/collection agency and how Peter Shumway disappeared the same time Barbie showed up.

Uh… so did a lot of people. See, a little thing called the Dome happened and lots of people could no longer return home. Why, at the same time Joe and Angie’s parents disappeared as well! So did Linda’s fiancé, most of the fire department, all the town’s doctors… My gods, Barbie must be a mass murderer!

Barbie and Julia are finding their relationship a little tense given the whole murdering-her-husband thing. But Julia decides they need to go to Peter’s grave and seek closure so their relationship can go forwards! I try to fit the fact that Julia went from “zomg he killed my husband” to “I need to seek closure so we can move on to a new life together” in about, oh, 16 hours? This graveside bonding is delayed by Max turning up at Julia’s door and shooting her.

Barbie rushes downstairs, radios Linda and calls for help – he needs a ride to get Julia to the clinic (on Linda’s side of the radio, Jim is muttering lots of dire warnings about Barbie).

Unfortunately someone has stolen the petrol from Linda’s police car and she comes to stuttering halt and has to force Phil to stop (hey Phil, how’s life out of the plot hole?) to give her a ride. With the delay, Joe gets to Julia and Barbie before Linda and Barbie grabs him to drive them to the clinic (so he can stay with Julia and keep pressure on her wound).  They screech off into the storm with Joe saying that the Dome is angry with them.

They get to the clinic just as the tornado touches the ground. Barbie hurries to treat Julia for her bullet wound as the clinic nurse is called away to another storm disaster. Barbie knows what to do as he’s seen similar injuries in the army. We have a typical “zomg she’s dead!” moment before the plot armour kicks in and the heart monitor starts beeping again.

Jim emerges from the town hall and we see the storm is becoming weird – but he’s distracted from it by Max arriving. He confronts Max about shooting Julia – apparently Max did it because Barbie told her no. She makes a threat about going after people Jim cares about if he steps out of line – just as Junior comes through the door. Time for some not very-veiled-threats.

Jim takes Junior to his hidden bunker stash of guns and stuff to warn him about Max and how she’s trying to destroy him and the town. Junior offers to help, asserting that he’s a man and he can – but Jim is insistent he handle it alone. We even have a touching, loving moment between father and son, aww it’s all sweet and bonding. Until you remember they’re both evil anyway. Jim tells Junior to stay in the house and leaves him with a gun.

Where he remains all paranoid until Angie knocks on the door. Yes, Angie and Junior forced together again, to tell him that his abandoning the Minidome has angered their Domey Master and the massive storm is all their fault (a little narcissistic there aren’t you?) Junior is a little sceptical about being able to control the weather (Angie, you’re making Junior look like the reasonable one. Really). He only agrees to come when Angie turns “we need you” into “I need you.”  As they leave together, the storm calms.

At the radio station, Dodee checks the radio to see if lightning fixes anything. I’m not technically minded so I’m going to assume that makes sense. It works and she can hear the military outside – including them saying that they recognise Barbie – and they’ve been looking for him.

And in the clinic Joe says that Barbie saved Julia just like he saved Joe. Barbie is here to save them all. Oh gods, really – how did the actor even get through that line without cracking up? Barbie is the Monarch! Well that should confuse Barbie.

The Walking Dead Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves

This volume represents a big shift in the culture of the Walking Dead. To date they have been all about survival - just living day by day and trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse world. Now they’re moving from surviving to thriving - to actually growing and living.

We can see this in many little ways; Rick changes from focusing entirely on keeping his family safe (which, tangentially, may save the others) to focusing more on the community as whole. From looking for somewhere safe they are now making plans to making the place safe - taking ideas how to protect Alexandria from a zombie horde and securing the sight for the long term, including thoroughly mapping the streets around Alexandria. Rick is even making plans of staying there for decades - he is in a position to look decades into the future. And these plans require him to have a full community - people working together are a resource.

They have gone beyond surviving day by day - they intend to live. It’s an important change.

But one thing about surviving is that you keep moving and don’t have time to stop and think. Now they’re in Alexandria, their dead are even buried in graves. They have time to grieve - time to relearn how to grieve rather than operate - as Michonne mentions - by getting by day by day. Rick has a breakdown, he tries to encourage Carl to feel and grieve again (even while acknowledging that the traditional masculinity he has been brought up with leaves him unable to express grief either), they begin to feel what happened to them catch up.

As for the Alexandrian group, we have Nicholas’s little fake rebellion basically based on ego, anger and fear. Their little bubble has been burst, they’ve lost their false safety and now Rick is in charge - a perfect person to blame.A scapegoat for their illusions being shattered and them no longer being able to stick their head in the ground and live in denial.

It was quite a slow week as far as action went, but it did cover a major change in direction of the group.

On issues, we have a few:

There are only two women of colour at this point in the story: Rosita and Michonne. What they both have in common is that neither of them are fully realised characters in comparison to the rest of the cast. Rosita simply exists to be a love interest for Abraham. We don’t know anything about beyond this point.  Rather than investing in Rosita they have chosen to draw her in a very stereotypical fashion.Yes, Rosita is a Latina, but really? Big hoop earrings in a zombie apocalypse? And where the hell does she find the time to get her eyeliner so perfect? Yes there is a segment of the Latino population who looks like this but it is problematic that they have chosen this as the sole representative of Latino culture without once giving her a developed character.  I guess with the look they chose to give Rosita, I should be thankful that they didn’t have her running around calling Abraham Papi.

In this volume, Rosita revealed to Abraham that she is aware that he has been sleeping with Holly.  Abraham revealed that now that Rosita is not potentially the last woman in the world anymore that he wanted to explore his options.  While this was written as situational lechery, it in fact worked to show that women of colour are disposable. As soon as a White woman came along, Abraham could not possibly be content with a WOC.  I know that there will be trolls thinking about the Tyrese/Michonne/Carol love triangle but this is far from the same thing.  White women do not have a history of being cast aside and constructed as inferior the way that WOC do.

There’s also a problem with Holly and Rosita - both Abraham’s love interests and Holly is as much a non-character as Rosita. “Love interest” literally encompasses the entirety of their characters.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Iron Knight (Iron Fey #4) by Julie Kagawa

Ash made a promise to Meghan – he would find a way to be with her in the Iron Realm, a realm poisonous to the fae. Even if that means becoming human.

Which calls for a quest – first to find Grimalkin because he normally knows, well, everything and from there a quest to make Ash mortal. To find him a human soul. All the while accompanied with Puck for his own brand of randomness – and the deep underlying pain that still strains their broken friendship.

A pain that only becomes more acute when they find the surprising identity of the seer that can guide Ash to humanity – and to Meghan’s side

This book, as can be guessed by the title, focuses on Ash. Hmmmm…

Ok I’m going to confess a “your mileage may vary” moment, but I don’t like Ash. I don’t like the whole centuries old immortal falling head over heels for a teenager after spending 5 minutes with them trope. I don’t like the idea of a centuries old immortal deciding to give up his life, his allegiances – just about everything that defines him – to dedicate his whole being to a teenager he’s known for a month, if that. The whole concept of Ash from book 1 has annoyed me.

Especially since this relationship defines Ash. His relationship with Meghan and his relationship with Ariella are pretty much all there is to Ash. I’ll go a step further and say that the only defining characteristic about Ash is his angst. He angsts over Meghan and being with her. He angsts over Ariella and her dying. He angsts over Puck causing Ariella’s death and further angsts over their broken friendship. He angsts over being an Unseelie fae and the darkness within him and what that could mean. He angsts over the politics of the court. He even angsts over all the bad things he’s done in the past as an Unseelie fae.

Add to this that Ash isn’t exactly romantic and glamorous in his angst. He sulks, he pouts, he becomes passive aggressive and snarky and doles out the silent treatment. He’s moody and just a little petulant; I suspect he looks like a teenager, but he’s supposed to be several centuries old, we would hope for a little more maturity.

And this book feels like a grand show case for the angst and every encounter feels like another way to develop more angst into the tale. Puck comes along with him – allowing lots of angst about Ariella being dead, lots of angst about Puck loving Meghan and even a side order of angst from Puck about how he never took his chance to be with Meghan. (And, side point again – but uckies, ew, creepy! Puck has been watching Megahn since she was a baby. He watched her all her life until the age of 16. The idea that he missed the chance to make his feelings known is just intensely, skin crawly creepy here. She’s 16! He knew her as a baby! Get away from her you creepy creepy person you).

Summer's Crossing (Iron Fey #3.5) by Julie Kagawa

Ash has made an oath, he will find a way to be with Meghan. But before then the Leanansidhe would like to remind him that he owes her a favour. And a fae can never go back on his word.

He really should have known that she’d call it in at the worst time – and that the request would be far from simple

A story with lots of Puck’s point of view! Excellent!

I like Puck. I like his joy, I like his fun. I like his effortless competence. I like the fact he breezes through life secure in the knowledge that he can usually get himself out of whatever mess he gets into. I like his irreverence. I like his willingness to try anything and truly embrace his life and immortality. And I like that, under it all, there’s a hard edged core that shows you just how dangerous the Trickster can be

So a book following Puck’s POV primarily? Count me in.

And then Ash comes along – noooooooooo! Ash being Ash, he drags Puck into his angst aura and the moping begins.  In particular Puck’s unrequited love for Meghan. I hate this – I hate this when Ash is moping but even more so when it’s Puck. It strikes me as the worst character conversion since Marvel turned Loki from a source of utter chaos to Angsty McDaddyissues.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I do not like Puck’s crushing on Meghan. I find the idea of a centuries old being and a teenager creepy at the best of times, but add in that Puck has known her since she was a baby and it goes well beyond merely creepy. I don’t like it, don’t like it at all.

So there’s some angst and some moping and Puck wondering if he could let Ash die just so that he can then make moves on the grieving Meghan which turns the moping unrequitedness into a special kind of arseholery that leaves me yelling “whyyy Puck? You and Grimalkin are the only characters in this book that doesn’t make me want to slap them!”

I also hate that Titania is dragged in again. Now I would love the idea of the tumultuous and volatile Summer monarchs sparring passionately, playing devious little games against each other and generally being capricious, malicious and, well, fae. That would really work for me. I also like the idea that the Seelie court is not the source of light and goodness and even they will snatch mortals for their own ends.

Beowulf & Grendel

Beowulf & Grendel was released in 2005 and stars Hringur Ingvarsson, Spencer Wilding, Stellan Skarsgård. This movie is a retelling of a very old English poem. It begins when the Danish king  Hrothgar chases down a troll for the crime of stealing a fish.  The troll and his son Grendal run until they reach a very high cliff.  The troll orders his son Grendal to hide when it is clear that there is no escape. Hrothgar makes quick work of the troll tossing his body off the cliff.  When he looks down he sees a very young Grendal but for some reason decides not to kill him.  Grendal later grows to be as large and fearsome as his father and begins attacking the Danes in vengeance.  Nothing Hrothgar does will provoke Grendal to fight him directly.  The warrior Beowulf arrives and vows to kill Grendal and though he follows through on his vow along the way he learns about how and who we choose to value.

Not being familiar with the poem, this movie served as an introduction to me.  Set at time when Christianity was beginning to invade, Beowulf & Grendal shows a world at sort of crossroads. At this point Hrothgar is ready for absolution and is willing to become baptized and worship the new god of Christ if that is what will bring him peace. Superstition and fear for their lives causes many of Hrothgar's people to make the choice to be baptized. Beowulf seems much more aware and is simply content to go along with the flow and follow the task ahead. 

Though there was a host of characters Beowulf and Grendal is essentially the confrontation between the two titled characters.  Each seeks understanding from each other and each works from a set of morals.  Though Grendal has been wronged, he initially refuses to harm Beowulf's men because he knows that they are not Danes.  He is only interested in seeking vengeance for the death of his father.  When Grendal finally does attack, he only kills the man who desecrated his father's remains.  Ingvar E. Sigurdsson who plays Grendal manages to display great emotion with simple face impressions. Beowulf knows that his task is to kill Grendal but the first opportunity he gets, Beowulf tells Grendal that if he does not leave the area that he will be killed. Beowulf quickly realizes that there is more to the story than he has been told and though he is set upon a task he cannot change, it's clear that it bothers him. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chasing the Shadows (Nikki and Michael #3) by Keri Arthur

Michael has been spending a lot of time on missions for the Circle lately and not nearly enough time with Nikki; he misses her terribly. And Nikki misses him – but is equally frustrated that they’re apart because he won’t take her on missions with him. This comes to a head more and more as Nikki rejects his constant protectiveness, his refusal to let her go into any kind of danger and risk and his insistence that she stay at home.

Especially since she has a case – as a private detective with Jake – that takes her into the middle of Michael’s new mission. Women have been kidnapped only to later reappear mutilated and murdered – and vampires are definitely involved. Michael tries to get Nikki and Jake to stay out of harm’s way, but Nikki is ready to deal out an ultimatum on this; she will not be cossetted and cocooned and Michael has to accept that or their whole relationship may collapse.

The case also hits far closer to home than any of them realised

The story is pretty well done except for two big caveats. It’s decently paced, we have a nice mix of description and action, we have a series of slow reveals and clues that general home in on their target. It’s a nice, decent, well written detective story with a nice balance between action and adventure, exploration and discovery. I could have liked it because it’s a strongly written book with some decent elements and a nicely maintained sense of drama, tension and emotion.

Except for Nikki and Michael themselves.

One of the reasons I hate the insta-love or fastforwarded love tropes is because, when you actually introduce conflict to their relationship, I’m left wondering why they even bother with each other. Nikki, as is her wont, even lampshades the whole ridiculousness of it when she points out that all they have is good sex. This is true – so why do they have all these massive declarations of love – why do they even consider themselves in love when all we have ever seen of them together is arguing or having sex?

This is particularly glaring to me when Michael both spends months away from Nikki and has completely ramped up his condescending protective crap insisting on wrapping Nikki in cotton and putting her on the shelf because she’s just too delicate and fragile to handle what he does and the risks he takes.

It makes no sense. Nikki grew up on the streets in a gang, she’s a private investigator, she’s a psychic whose powers are growing at an almost Anita-like rate. She’s not some delicate fainting flower who may get woozy at the awful awful violence. She’s also a thrall. His thrall. That means unless you pulp her brain or decapitate her she’s actually immortal. He may actually be easier to kill than her, what with his vampire vulnerabilities. The only big weakness she has is that if he dies, she dies. So to keep her safe he decides he needs to head into danger all alone and leave her behind?

Utopia, Season 1, Episode 4

Open to utter chaos with Grant and Alice joining the gang in their getaway van, Wilson driving and Alice screaming and losing her mind after watching Arby kill her mother.

Everything calmed down, Wilson wants rid of Alice – to return her to some relative to look after; except there’s nowhere they can take her without exposing her, and themselves, to the Network. Wilson continues to talk about not bringing her while presenting no other options until Becky lays down the law – she comes. Wilson still thinks Alice needs help but Ian points out that they’re all she has. Becky has an angst moment realising Alice is frightened of them – because being on the run has made them scary. They’ve become like the Network

Be fair, Becky. The Network is efficient and effective, you’re nothing like them.

The team hides out in an abandoned manor house. They call Milner at the allotted time – and get no answer.

Cut to Arby in a café, visibly troubled reading the manuscript – and seeing himself as a child inside; a boy who eats raisin sweets as his only comfort. At Corvadt headquarters, the Assistant-who-is-namless-but-played-by-James-Foxx-so-is-probably-awesome-and-sinister let’s Conran know that Arby has the manuscript – but it’s not complete, Jessica Hyde removed some of the pages. And he thinks Arby let Jessica go.

Back at the abandoned manor, Grant hides the pages Jessica gave him and Alice wakes up to see his goth disguise. Grant tries to talk to her to see if she’s ok – and Alice panics about a paper she has due. I think that’s some powerful denial and avoidance there.

The adults aren’t doing much better – Wilson angry that Ian and Becky have decided to stay in one place rather than flee cross country with children in tow – and Becky is worried about her dwindling supplies of medication (does she have the same disease as her father – a Network created disease?). And Ian has a “date” with Becky, or he’s set out a really cute attempt at a “restaurant” meal with their limited junk food supplies for her. Awwww. They’re watched from outside by Jessica who touches the glass all poignantly.

Jessica finds Grant and asks if she has the pages – and he hugs her. She tells him not to tell anyone about them , that she’s leaving – and to keep his make up on or he’ll die. She’s not exactly warm and fuzzy but she tried. Wilson nearly catches him hiding the pages but grant gives him the drawings he did copying the Manuscript instead. Later that night Alice processes some more of her grief through homework freak out (or maybe she always does homework like this. She could be a very very excitable child) and Ian and Becky continue their date, Ian reminisces about his brother and Ian has some excellently sweet seductive lines for Becky and they can have sex without, and I quote “drunk sex or angry sex” or would if they weren’t interrupted by Wilson and with Grant’s pictures

The pictures depict Corvadt causing BSE but also show a depiction of Janos – the 2 headed Roman god that represents something. Wilson theorises because Mr. Rabbit is a Nazi, it’s a selective disease meant to kill off specific races, but Becky thinks of the news and suggests a selective vaccine – like the Russian flu vaccine Corvadt has just sold. Corvadt makes their weapons-grade flu virus and then creates a vaccine that only works on certain races. She points out that the flu outbreak was dramatic – if they have another like that with sufficient deaths people will scream for the vaccine even before it has been properly tested.

But that would require the flu getting into enough people – but they see a symbol constantly being used in the pictures and Wilson recognises it – Pergus Holdings’s logo. A massive company the size of Kraft or Nestle that makes a vast amount of food – even the crisps that Ian and Becky have just eaten.

The next day Ian wanders outside and runs into Jessica Hyde – who asks him about him and Becky. He’d rather know where she’s been to which she pulls a gun on him and demands he call Milner and leave a message saying “I’m with Jessica Hyde”, he does but points out that if there was a tap on her phone, she’s now dead. Jessica mocks his knowledge of the technology and, still holding a gun on him, kisses him.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris #2) by Jim C Hines

Isaac, Lena and Nidhi are developing their new relationship – but hardly have the chance to do so on peace before being called into the field again.

There’s been some murdered Wendigo – and Wendigo are pretty hard to kill.

But throw in some strange, lethal metal insects, creations of a dead Libriomancer and his far less fun father.

An ancient order of Chinese mages who have a severe beef with Gutenburg’s followers – and made extra uncomfortable by them maybe being right

Then throw in the Devourers, dryads and a dragon and there’s certainly a lot to handle; all confused further by Gutenburg’s secrets and that nagging question as to whether or not they’re actually on the right side.

I love the very concept of this world. The idea of pulling things out of books – and now e-readers – and both the wonder and the complexity that can come with that. I love the geeky shout outs to so many books I’ve read and loved. I love just how much the love of reading and the power of it and this genre which we adore so much is all just worshipped in this series.

And things have got complicated – wonderfully, gloriously complicated.  We have an enemy – who everyone hates, even his allies and rightly so. Then we have an enemy who Isaac kind of feels sympathetic towards with lots of recognition of past injustice. Then we have Gutenburg who may be their ally and super powerful and he may have some extremely good reasons for his decisions – but he’s still done a whole lot of evil, he’s still keeping a whole lot of secrets and Isaac still doesn’t trust, despite working for him. And under all that you have the big nasty monsters that may try to eat everyone.

It’s wonderfully complex.

And part of that complexity is the complexity of the characters (while still giving us someone who is evil and we can hate without having to be complicated about it – because that’s fun too). The entire history of the Libriomancers is a fascinating one that’s been really well developed. I love the dispensing of the idea that Gutenburg is the first Libriomancer – the Chinese have been printing long before him and already had their own variety. At first it seemed like a simple case of Gutenburg attacking, slaughtering and stealing from the Students of Bi Sheng. But then lots of nuance get added:

Are we judging someone based on what they did 500 years ago? With attitudes, standards and thought processes that were prevalent at the time?

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Alright, I fully admit that by doing a marathon on all of the Star Trek movies, I am stepping completely outside of our stated genre, but as a life long Trekkie, this simply had to happen. Given the success of this franchise, I'm betting that at least a few of our readers are also Star Trek fans. Of course, I will stick to the usual social justice perspective, as we work our way through the series.

The Enterprise finally makes it back to earth after holding a funeral and  jettisoning Spock's body.  Before they reach earth, Kirk is notified that someone has broken into Spock's cabin.  He immediately rushes there and finds McCoy, who seems quite delusional.  Bones asks for help and why he has been left behind on Genesis.  What Kirk does not now is that just before Spock's death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he transferred his katra (living spirit) to McCoy. 

When the crew checks in, they are told that Genesis is now classified and that they are not to speak of what happened.  They are given an extended shore leave with the exception of Scotty, who is sent to USS Excelsior. When Scotty says that he would like to stay and get the enterprise refitted, they are all informed that because the enterprise is 20 years old, it is being decommissioned. 

In the meantime, aboard the Grissom, David and and Lieutenant Saavik are scanning the Genesis planet when they pick up life signs.  They ask to bring it on board and are denied by the captain and so instead beam down to the planet to investigate.  Once on the planet, they discover the capsule which held Spock's body now only contains his funeral garb.

What would a Star Trek movie be without Klingons? Well, Commander Kruge picks up on Kirks report about what happened on the Genesis planet, cloaks is bird-of-prey and heads there because he believes that Genesis is a weapon of great power.

Back on earth, Sarek seeks Kirk out to discover what happened to Spock's katra.  Kirk puts two and two together and realises that Spock gave it to Mccoy. Kirk then approaches Star Fleet in the hope of retrieving Spock's body and is denied, so he hatches a plan with crew, steals the Enterprise and takes off.

What follows are the Star Trek basics: show down with the Klingons, a big fight scene for Kirk, and triumph for the crew.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, also includes the first time ever on screen that The Enterprise is destroyed. Fans of the series know that this will happen again, in a later movie.