Friday, July 21, 2017

even the cheese has got holes in it

Well, I thought I published this, like, two months ago. Whoops! I am not very successful at blogging; I only remember that I even have a blog when I want to complain about something. Relatedly, I have turned off comments so kind-hearted motherfuckers won't waste valuable time trying to think of something to say in response to my banality. (Also, I now hate this aesthetic passionately, and assume that I was drunk when I devised it. I'll deal with it later.)

I fixed up my blog a little! It's now pink, and features a mildly vaginal repeating pattern of poppies and poppy buds. So, neither a sea nor any rabbits, but at least the interface is visually acceptable. I had to sound unplumbed depths of moral fortitude not to include Comic Sans in my selection of custom fonts, but I managed to avoid it in the end; perhaps the urge only becomes irresistible once you've gone through menopause. I'm finding Blogger really reminiscent of mid-00s LiveJournal, though, both structurally and usability-wise — and I haven't been able to get my footnotes to work. That's a dealbreaker. Mama gotta have the footnotes. I'll keep working on it.

I don't have much to share today. I intend to post a long-ish essay about politics soon, but it's not finished yet and working on it would require me to do some online link-mongering, and also it is a depressing subject generally, so I'm putting it off until the pain of keeping my mouth shut drives me to overcome my aversion to reality. Also I don't feel like digging out any proper book reviews tonight. (I'm starting to be dissatisfied with the cover collages I put on the posts, too, have to look into that.)

I have been reading, of course, because I am alive. I gave up on The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry a couple of hours ago (I was about halfway through), because it was joyless and adorable and felt as though it had been constructed out of a commercially-produced postmodern-fiction erector set. It wanted to be Borges Revival very, very badly, but of course the primary obstacle to being Borges Revival is the desire to be Borges Revival. Borges Revival is like an orgasm, or the return of Christ; the more you want it to happen, the farther away from you it slips. I don't want to talk about The Manual of Detection at all, in fact, because it was both inconsequential and annoying, but I'm finding it impossible to just quit the thing, so shit on it here I go:

The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry A pseudo-mystery novel that gave the impression it had been assembled by a committee of mediocre professors of English during a brainstorming session in a writers' workshop. At gunpoint. During one obnoxious interlude, for example, the hapless accidental-detective protagonist is forced to participate in a poker game convened in a dive called "The Forty Winks" (the entire novel is arranged around a theme of 'magical' 'dream' 'imagery') with a couple of preciously Dick Tracy-adjacent twin gangsters; instead of money, though, the characters play for the right to ask each other questions. Or, rather, for the right to participate in a complex hierarchical information-gathering exercise — which is, amazingly, even more nauseating in context — and as if that wasn't bad enough, it becomes clear a little later in the book that the entire episode was confabulated specifically so Author could arrange to say, "They would not have taken Moore to the Forty Winks: too many questions to answer there." Because pastiche lol. This is what I mean when I say I hate postmodern fiction. And also that the only thing self-consciously postmodern writers care about is making sure you know they know you know they know how smart they are. I can feel myself turning into David Brooks, here, I have to quit.

I should say, in the spirit of full disclosure, that The Manual of Detection wasn't exactly poorly-written, and it had some attractive-looking sentences lurking within its inventory of pointless narrative signifiers — but Berry's talent was overshadowed at all times by his interest in devising an inorganic textual object. I think that if he'd leaven the Pynchon simulation with a bit of naturalism, or even some actual fantasy, I could be motivated to complete some of his novels one day.

Man, I feel a lot better.

For a change of pace — and because I am warming up the Hammond organ for a return to the Susanna Clarke fandom — I'll be reviewing a few non-fiction books here on the blog: Simon Schama's Landscape & Memory, Mark Fisher's The Weird and the Eerie, and Carolyne Larrington's King Arthur's Enchantresses. They're all moderately(+/-) complex works of popular criticism, so I may write about each of them a chapter (or so) at a time to give myself a reference guide for the future.

I feel as though the poppies have somehow affected the tenor of this post.
Next time, then.

Friday, March 17, 2017

uprooted, naomi novik

The shorter of this review is: The novel was thematically indiscriminate and inappropriately old-fashioned, and Novik seemed to have no control over the mechanism of the story — but I am always #dtf wizards. Here's the longer:


I have the same problem with Uprooted that I had with Novik's very successful genre franchise Temeraire/Her His Majesty's Dragon 1 (whoops!), which is that it is sordidly, pointlessly conservative and it makes me want to vomit. Temeraire is, in fact, much easier to detest than Uprooted, because it possesses an authority-worshipper's monomania for the war-theatrics of colonial-era England (and France), a temporal location for which hatred is painless — which, indeed, invites hatred. Everyone who matters has disavowed all the things that colonial Europe celebrated, pursued, and believed in; uninhabited now (or, "now inhabited only by barbarians"), it's become a safe place to romanticize, to cleanse of its intrinsic annihilative compulsions and retcon into a fairytale kingdom that only makes the kinds of mistakes that can be fixed.

This fills me with a mindless, igneous rage.2

Uprooted is more subversive even than that, though! It hides behind the same lopsided romanticization of a familiar elsewhere, but instead of occupying itself with various babyish wargames it attempts, among other objectionable goals, to equate goodness with guilelessness.

Begin at the beginning: Uprooted is a genre romance novel, sort of; looked at dispassionately, it's just a slightly dirty fanfiction dedicated to the popular pairing The Great Magician/Nerdy Female Reader. The novel's love object is a wizard called "the Dragon" (lol), who is mostly just a more athletic version of Snape, but tethered to the mystical architecture of Luthe the Mage-Master (we have discussed Luthe elsewhere) (if you don't know him, you should contrive to meet him forthwith) (basically Luthe is just a less-scary version of Galadriel) (but with a penis) (he self-reports a penis) and with a few elements of Howl stuck onto the back end of him to make the novel's conclusion look bittersweet and strange. And maybe also some Chrestomanci? The Dragon isn't as glamorous as Chrestomanci, for certain, but he shares that character's enthusiasm for dressing like Liberace. The much-less-interesting heroine is an amalgam of Hermione, Sophie, and, as I mentioned earlier, the Reader. I began to have some real trouble with the story because of this character, whose name is Enoby Agnieszka, because there was a very wide, very cold expanse of blank space separating her perception of the story's reality from my own (no, I don't think it was fancy postmodern backtalk). The fantasy landscape that surrounds the two protagonists is above average, in fact, but it includes some peculiar topography and is mostly just a map, if you see what I mean (you will).

The novel's plot is this —

In a fake version of feudal Poland, some shitty little rural towns are perpetually menaced by an evil enchanted Wood that ruins the people's crops and food animals and turns them intermittently into homicidal maniacs, by means of an impenetrable magic. Therefore, there are wizards. This one wizard collects girls, but he lets them go later, and on one special occasion he chooses to collect the novel's narrator instead of her importantly pretty friend. The wizard is very mean to the narrator, and doses her with invalidating insults at every encounter, while also saving the lives of the poor farmers that live around his castle. The narrator haphazardly performs tasks of domestic servitude for the wizard, while constantly and silently monologuing about how boring and ordinary she is, and how everything that happens to her is frightening in one way or another. It looks for awhile like the wizard has apprenticed the narrator in vain, because she sucks at magic — but later, after some scary things happen, it turns out that the narrator is actually really great at magic, because she has Feelings and also understands the tiny lives of the poor/the whispers of the wind. Suddenly the narrator's pretty friend has been eaten by the evil Wood! The narrator saves her, with Feelings, but the pretty friend is now a superhero. This is presented as a minor tragedy. Also there's a handsome and bellicose prince, who is both rapey and transiently villainous (he represents Toxic Masculinity) (much different from the masculinity practiced by the Dragon, which is 100% legit). Subsequently, many dumb and confusing events occur; they are all boring. The narrator is, for various reasons, forced to go to the City all by herself, where she finds that literally everyone is small-hearted, superficial, and vicious. They laugh at her because she's boring and ordinary and lived on a farm. This is presented as a tragedy of colossal proportions. Then the narrator realizes she loves the wizard, sort of, and other confusing and complicated things happen. They too are boring. The narrator, who has inexplicably become a powerful magician, goes back home and has sex with the wizard, but she is sad because he doesn't have Feelings, not like she does. There's an epic, unusual battle between the forces of Good and Evil, and then a long denouement which is not super-consistent in either its tone or structure. The reader learns the secret of the evil Wood. It is one million times more interesting than the rest of the book. Then there is a happy ending, for certain questionable definitions of the words "happy" and "ending."

love in the time of the flu (or something)

Reader, I had the flu. Or something. I had it badly. I was sick for two+ weeks. Everyone I know also had the flu (or something) and was sick for two+ weeks. This particular flu (or something) had the following unique characteristics (in my case, at least):

  • My temperature got so high I couldn't feel my hands or feet.
  • Normally I never get a fever, ever.
  • But this time my fever was 105ºF.
  • I stopped taking my temperature when it was 105ºF.
  • I had to control it with staggered doses of Tylenol and Advil in order to avoid having concerned family members call an ambulance for me.
  • The skin on my lips and in my ears turned red and peeled off.
  • The skin on the palms of my hands dried up and peeled off.
  • And itched.
  • Something happened to my hair
  • It got horribly brittle and dry, no matter what kinds of (expensive!) keratin & jojoba oil & esters of goat milk & other shit I put on it.
  • I cut it all off, Victorianly.
  • It's not quite BBC Sherlock: The Early Years, but I can see that haircut from here.
  • I took 2000mg of augmentin a day for ten days + cough syrup + chlorpheniramine maleate and I have just now started feeling like I am human again.
  • All the housework was waiting for me :[
I am posting that goddamned Uprooted review right this minute, because I am starting to believe it's cursed.

(I hope it's the Uprooted review.)

My hair!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

computers are like old testament gods; they suck

I have been having my what great-grandma Maudie would call "a time" with my computer. It turns out that those random, continual restarts it kept insisting on, for months, were its shy, understated, El Capitan way of performing a kernel panic. Like, it was constantly kernel panicking. Ten times a day, sometimes, and because I hadn't been reading the Apple Support site for fun since OS X became "macOS," I had no idea. By the time I figured it out, the System had become Corrupted. So I started backing things up, but during that process I discovered that my elderly FireWire drive was, in some subtle way, completely (as Great-grandma Maudie would say) borked, and had been quietly eating all the files I sent it. So, I had to go buy a new one (mine is silver). I slapped my entire user folder onto the new drive without enquiring further, and I made a bootable Sierra volume, thinking I would do a clean install and save myself a lot of grief trying to figure out what exactly had been fucking with my old system. That was when I started really having fun. First, I couldn't get the iMac's built-in HD to erase. Disk Utility said it was too full to work on (?), it wasn't a hard disk, it wasn't writable, whatever. I had to zero it out completely, twice, which took days. Then, there was something wrong with the copy of Sierra on the boot volume (still don't know what), and because my HD had been wiped I couldn't get in to download it again. I finally managed to borrow an old Macbook, redownload Sierra, and make a new boot volume (a week), but because the Macbook was so old it had limited available real-estate, so Sierra had just put the installer in the boot drive, to save space. So then I had to wait while the boot drive downloaded Sierra onto my computer (two days) before actually installing it. I ended up finally getting Sierra installed, and my electricity went out for three days. I was feeling really cheerful and relaxed at this point, as you might imagine, so when the time came to turn my iMac back on I was happy as a fucking clam to find myself continually rejecting the advances of Siri, a completely useless product feature Apple has decided to saddle their new desktopOS with for reasons that remain opaque to much of the marketplace. I would like to point out, here, that despite what you may have seen in various creatively-lit Apple commercials, Siri is completely useless for any purpose besides LARPing Star Trek: The Next Generation. Siri is also, even now, trying to turn herself on all the goddamn time, even though I keep telling her no. Siri is a PUA.

Anyway! After doing all the annoying set-up that any system would require, and requesting a PFA on Siri, Sierra asked me if I would like to host all my files and my desktop environment on iCloud (this would require me to pay money to Apple every month for the privilege), and I said HAHANO, but I allowed as how putting my iBooks library and my Notes and Mail and some other shit on there would be a good idea — and we are approaching Part Two of the narrative now, if you'd like to get up to refresh your beverage — and I sat still for hours playing mah-jongg while Sierra transferred files. Aaaaaaaaaand! And! Can you guess what happened next, Reader? iCloud destroyed my system. It fucked up every aspect of Safari, intermingled my bookmarks/Reading List with shit from my mom's c.2004 iTunes account (I don't even know how!), and destroyed by iBook library. And when I say "destroyed," I mean "first it refused to put the ebooks on my iPad, then it ate them and they disappeared, except for the ones I'd bought in the iBooks Store." We're talking about hundreds of books, here. We're talking about notes on hundreds of books. We're talking about my painfully close reading of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I spent another entire week trying to fix iBooks (none of the Apple Support solutions worked), before finally giving up, getting my old iBooks library out of my backed-up user folder, and turning iCloud off forever. I also retired Safari rather than waste further hours of my dwindling lifespan trying to figure out what happened to it and how to stop it from continuing to happen/happening again. I'm now using Chrome (business) and Firefox (party), and I sync my iBooks manually, just like it says to do in the Bible. After I got through all that, though, I began to have lots of peculiar, random click problems that basically made my freshly-waxed computer unusable, but I eventually figured out that my legacy Wacom drivers (I used a Bamboo tablet as a mouse) were causing system-wide instability. So I uninstalled every part of the driver architecture, got out the Magic Mouse that shipped with my iMac, and discovered that... it no longer worked. Cleaned it out with a can of air and a microfiber cloth, changed the batteries: nothing. So I conscientiously, despairingly navigated to Apple's website using a pink Hello Kitty mouse borrowed from my niece, and discovered that everyone hates the new Apple Magic Mouse because it has sharp edges that you can cut yourself on and you have to flip it over to charge it. So I bought a "like new" used old one, and it works fine and arrived, indeed, in out-of-the-box condition. (One.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

book reviews, part three of ∞


I feel like these sorts of posts might not be as exciting for other people as they are for me (lifelong tragedy), so I'll try to think of something else to post here. Naked pictures, maybe. (Not of me.)

Only four books, this time! Same rules:

Bryony And Roses, T. Kingfisher - A horrible knock-off of Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, but much less good. The author admits that McKinley’s book inspired her own in the introduction, but that isn’t any kind of an excuse. The only differences between the two treatments were the comparative awkwardness of Kingfisher’s fanfiction-y version, a bunch of hyper-boring gardening details, the worst and unsexiest Beast ever, and legitimacy. I’ve read several of this author’s other fairy tale novellas and found them brilliant and charming in ways that no other author (including McKinley) could touch, so I don’t quite know what happened here. I mean, the story was poisoned by a lack of originality, is what happened here, but I don’t know why. I feel like Kingfisher could have actually achieved something of historical interest if she had written her own, un-influenced version of Beauty & the Beast, and if that ever happens I will definitely give it a chance — but this one should be skipped by everyone. No, seriously: It tapdanced upon the knife-edge of actionable plagiarism, I am not even being a dick about it.

Child Of The River: The First Book of Confluence, Paul J. McAuley - Starring some evil pig people who live in a land of eternal electric night and who settle issues of inheritance by killing their fathers. Nope. (ETA: Fixed the title! Whoops, sorry. Apparently this is the first in a long series of fantasy novels grounded in Hindu mythology, or something. Still don't like it!)

Creatures Of Light And Darkness, Roger Zelazny - Another Riddled-sourced book selection! This one was much better than Astra & Flondrix, but to be honest that’s not much of a compliment. This book, however, is fantastic. It suffers from some unfortunate oldman-isms re: sex and gender, but they’re really not that bad considering the novel’s publication date. Unique employment of mythology and the narrative structures of science fiction, but transcendent of both traditions. I recommend this book very highly, especially if you’d like to see what 75% of the writers of modern scifi epics are trying and failing to achieve. Also, Creatures of Light & Darkness is clearly one of the references Douglas Adams incorporated into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (along with elements from Norstrilia, about which something will be said later), if you are the sort of person who cares about that sort of thing. I’m going to read more Zelazny soon, starting with Roadmarks or Jack of Shadows (I don’t know if I can handle the talking dog one yet).

Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Laini Taylor - Just the worst piece of shit ever. Really badly written, characters that the author clearly believes are transgressively unique but who actually resemble a week’s worth of Daily Deviations from 2009, disgustingly barfy adolescent love story, everyone is so beautiful you can’t hardly stand to look at them, etc. The kind of book that gives small-minded realism fetishists reason to sneer at genre fiction. Someone put this novel in a "if you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll love this book" Tumblr post awhile ago, and that should tell you everything you ever need to know about Tumblr’s Clarke fandom.

This one was pretty mean! The next batch will have some better books in it, I promise.

I'm going to be — "busy" is a strong word — occupied with all manner of shit until after the new year. I probably won't even have access to my exuberance of review notes until next weekend, so I will regale you then(ish) with more of my Important Opinions. Have a lovely New Year, friends and passersby, and try not to get too drunk/ill/weird/belligerent. Well, you know — getting too weird is usually a good idea. But not the other stuff. You could end up in the hospital, or in jail, or elected President of the United States of America.

Friday, December 23, 2016

book reviews, part two of ∞

Haha! I think you'll find that one day is just as good as — and in many ways nearly indistinguishable from — another.

Nothing particularly bad happened to me recently, I should vouchsafe. I was just busy with holiday shit. Although my washing machine did break down mid-cycle last week, whilst chock full of every pair of pajamas I own, and I had to wring out the entire load (it had rinsed) using my only good pair of hands. That was somewhat traumatic, from a feminist perspective.

I'm going to stop setting deadlines for myself here, because all I do is break them, just break them and break them and break them, but in my next post I'll put up a normal-length review of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, which I was surprised to discover had been recently nominated for a Hugo Award (ETA: And it won a Nebula Award). Maybe they have a "Best Dime-Store Romance Novel" category now, who knows? Anyway, same rules as last time, let's go:

Annabel, Kathleen Winter - A novel about an intersex child born to two annoying Canadian people in the 70s. Or 80s? The 60s?? I can’t remember. One of them is far more annoying than the other, and the answer to "which one is more annoying?" might surprise you. (SPOILER: They are both the most annoying.) The prose was mostly very beautiful, in a self-consciously "literary" way (excessive use of poetical metaphor, the blank verse-like exegesis of complex character motivation, etc.), but often it seemed to be trying too hard to get me to like it. The novel had a lovely, closely-woven plot involving Death and Dying and Realizing Your Dreams, and it was relatively interesting considering that there weren’t any fairies in it. I was delighted to read about someone growing into a non-binary gender as part of the ordinary bildungsroman-y processes of becoming an adult — and I identified with the characterization of gender-assignment as a potentially crippling extension of filial loyalty (an actual trans/intersex person might feel differently) — but I thought the story would be more fantastical than it was. If you see what I mean. I have zero interest in the elaborate woodcraft practiced by annoying rural Canadian people. I would read other books by Kathleen Winter.

Astra & Flondrix, Seamus Cullen - I saw this book mentioned at Riddled, and then I bought it. This was a very terrible decision. If you are a crazy religious person who would like to stop your adolescent children from having sex, ever, you should make them read this book many times. Provide them with a barfbucket first. Horrible, gross book. Suggestive of satire written by the tortured souls of the eternal damned in Hell, who have been burning for so long they no longer remember what laughter is. There are fairies in this novel, but I wish there hadn’t been. I would not read anything else written by Seamus Cullen, including a grocery list.

At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees, Kij Johnson - A very, very, very good "weird fiction" anthology. When successful, this story collection is an extension of the tradition of animal-mediated magic that (possibly) predates the origins of human storytelling, but which is often confined in modern fiction to the dated constructions of 18th century European fairytales. (I know, right? I didn't notice it before, either.) I really appreciated the way Johnson’s piercingly imaginative animism accepted the trappings of contemporary life without losing any of its mystery. The title story is one of my most favorite short stories ever, and I have no criticisms of either its structure or thesis. The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change was completely amazing as well — narratively sophisticated and well-written, and also a strenuous exercise of the Disney muscles around the eyes that control tearflow. Really great writing, also. I hope it won some awards. Some of the other stories weren’t as good; Fox Magic was weeaboo original fiction shit, and I couldn’t make myself finish The Horse Raiders, but mostly: The best. I will certainly make an effort to read other things by Kij Johnson.

Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat - An alternative history of Alaska; clockpunk or something, historypunk, geodesic-domepunk, who cares. Not my thing. No fairies. A very pretty and deceptive cover featuring a zeppelin, the Aurora Borealis, and a polar bear that looks like it might be capable of speech (but it is not). Probably no more Valtat, unless he writes something with talking animals (or elves) in it.

Beauty, Hubert Boulard and Kerascoet - A very famous comic that I mostly found annoying. I don’t like Kerascoet’s art, either. Made a statement in the first ten pages and then spent 125 more underlining it in purple glitter ink. Definitely not the worst thing ever — especially for adolescents struggling to define their self-image — just not for me.

Blindsight, Peter Watts - I saw this book recommended somewhere online (Crooked Timber?) (??), but I can’t remember where now. It was well-written and intelligent and probably very good, but it isn’t the sort of thing I like to read. I tapped out in the middle of the first chapter because I was suffocating to death under the story’s "science." I tried to wait around long enough to hang out with the vampire space captain (any port in a storm), but Watts kept insisting on telling me about how the boring spaceship worked and I had to save myself. I’m sorry. If you like this kind of book, this is the kind of book you will like. I probably wouldn’t read anything else by Watts, but not because he’s untalented.

Bloodchild, Octavia E. Butler - It seems as though a Butler short about male pregnancy and sexy alien bugmonsters would be good, but in fact it was nearly as bad as Astra & Flondrix. I found The Evening and the Morning and the Night too disturbing to finish. Near of Kin was a Bible-inflected slice-of-life story about REDACTED, no comment. Speech Sounds was really great, and if I were a college-level instructor introducing freshmen to theory, I would use it as an example of how to incorporate postmodern elements into traditional narrative without being a dick about it. Crossover: depressing but good. Of the newer stories, Amnesty was pretty clearly a dumb, failed early draft of ideas that would flower and bear fruit in the Xenogenesis Trilogy (eternal fave), and The Book of Martha was as legitimate a short story about the subjective experience of god as I have ever read. Both the essays are absolutely amazing, and should be required reading for anyone who thinks they want to write. Worth buying, especially if you’re a Butler fan. (I am a Butler fan.)

The Bone Knife, Intisar Khanani - Free, but too boring to read. Written in the first person, and suggestive of the AO3. Not the good parts of the AO3.

The Bread We Eat In Dreams, Catherynne M. Valente - Your reviewer’s first Valente! Some of these stories are favorites — especially White Lines on a Green Field, The Bread We Eat in Dreams, The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World, The Wolves of Brooklyn, and Silently And Very Fast — and the rest of them are merely very good. I would describe Valente, in this collection, as 'similar to Ray Bradbury, but also better in many ways, gay+, and not dead.' Highly recommended, and I have read and will continue to read Valente.

Brightness Falls From The Air, James Tiptree, Jr. - I am grateful for Tiptree’s trailblazing from the bottom of my heart, but I find her fiction boring as fuck. This novel went to extensive lengths to normalize non-heterosexual characters/behaviors, which I really appreciate — also, the protagonist was a heroine straight out of pulp adventure stories, but feministically re-centered into the middle of the narrative. Great! But it turned out that the fairies were actually unfuckable aliens, ugh, and I got so bored with them. So, so bored. It also looked like a couple of the human characters were warming up to engage in virtual incest, and I don’t get down like that. I’ve never managed to actually like any of Tiptree’s books, but I suppose I should keep trying if I want someone to ask me to the Feminist Nerd Prom this year.

I am actually being curtailed by Blogger's refusal to accept more than 200 characters in tags per post, here. I will post another batch tomorrow, on Christmas Eve (no, I will), and then we will commence upon our normal schedule after that.

More next time!