Aug. 15th, 2010 03:00 pm
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (NO NO NO NO)
The problem with having bought the e-ARC version of Cryoburn is that I have finished it months before publication and now I have no one to discuss it with. AND I REALLY REALLY NEED TO. NOW.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (don't stop the fun train)
So I had this conversation with my little sister--

No, she's not my older sister. Why does everybody think that? I am way more mature than her. Shut up.

This conversation, it was about Miles Vorkosigan, you know, Lois McMaster Bujold's best brainchild. We were punning about Miles' multiple identities (birthed in Brothers in Arms, and reaching their absurd peak in Mirror Dance), and Mikke said something about how, what was it...."Miles' little story about there being a dozen of them raised in a clone-creche is likely to have Admiral Naismith urban legends popping up for years."

So this made me imagine the best and most entertaining candidate, poor Ivan Vorpatril, on a mission in a galactic bar somewhere far, far away from Barrayar, encountering his very first Admiral Naismith impersonator (five foot six with grey eyes and brown hair and an energetic disposition; wearing grey and whites of the wrong hues, also sporting a beret). The impersonator is a genially expansive sort, and Ivan (bemused and amused and annoyed), buys him drinks and draws out all of not-Naismith's tales of galactic heroism, many of which are outright fabrications (accurate accounts of Naismith's career, of course, only sound like ridiculous lies). In the same scenario, Miles would have ended the experience with some sort of challenge, or a confrontation--a joke, a story, a reveal--but Ivan prefers to dodge the bombs, so he just leaves.

Months later, he's telling the story at some dinner party of elites with very high security clearances (probable guests: Miles, Ekaterin, Gregor, Laisa, Alys, Simon, Galeni but probably not Delia, maybe Vorthys; maybe also Mark, but if so, he has to grimace over this story, because to him, imitating Miles is less fun, more death deep-fried on a stick)--

--and mikke says: "Dinner parties are always good. They allow people to choke on wine."

Right. Thanks.

Anyway, we think Miles would be all indignant--okay, I'm just handing it back over to mikke:

mikke: miles would be like WHY DIDN'T YOU DO ANYTHING
mikke: and ivan would be like do what, exactly?
mikke: and miles would be like well at least did you report him to impsec?
mikke: and ivan would be like oh, fair
mikke: ivan would be like he's way too tall though
mikke: and miles would be like thanks, ivan.

Anyway, we wish someone would write this fic. I wish Mikke would write this fic, but she won't. Anyone?
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (...okay then)

Christie, Agatha: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
(Oh, Christie, you racist, xenophobic, conservative twit. You will just keep on doing your racist, xenophobic, conservative thing, won't you? But you wrote a lot, and you sold a lot, and now you're dead, and no one ever expected better of you, so no one ever bothers to call you on it. Sometimes I hate you for that.

Also, you are only okay as a writer, and for all your work, you really only wrote a tiny handful of books that are truly standouts in your preferred genre. Bite me, Agatha Christie).


Bujold, Lois McMaster: The Sharing Knife: Horizon
(I was in the shower when I had this sudden thought that oh hey, Bujold set up this world where the local predators atop the food chain, malices, subsist and thrive on birth-energies, and the only known method of destroying a malice requires the harnessing of death-energy. I find this quite fascinating, given both Bujold's general interest in reproductive issues as they pertain to both women's health and the construction of self-identity, and her regular thematic revisiting of parenthood, with its ability to exalt or to destroy the parent.

She probably covered this in the first book, but I read that years ago and don't remember.

I liked this, and I think the preceding volume of The Sharing Knife, more than I've liked any of Bujold's other fantasy novels excepting only The Curse of Chalion. Wow, did this series ever grow on me!

I adore Arkady, who would have been a jerk in anyone else's books, and I ended up unduly fond of Barr, probably because he was a jerk who outgrew it, and that trope appeals to me more than it has any right to).


Ariyoshi Kyoko: Swan, vol. 3
(Every time I read a volume of the classic ballet manga, Swan, I have to fight the urge to run out and buy the entire series so I can finish it tomorrow. Then I forget about it for six months).

Midorikawa Yuki: Natsume's Book of Friends, vol. 1.

Ono Natsume: not simple
(the art IS simple, but not the plot! Stuff like this is why, when I was ranting about the potential glories of that Matt Thorn/Fantagraphics manga line thing, I couldn't quite bring myself to claim that they'd bring over stuff we'd never seen before and would never see otherwise. I mean, have you seen the stuff that Viz puts in its Signature line? Quality. It's totally one of those high-end scanlation groups run by hardcore manga geeks with superb taste, except that it's legit. It's stuff like this that made it reeeaal easy for me to pretty much give up on fansubs and scanlations. And that they also have a line that picks up lovely titles like Natsume's Book of Friends, i.e. the Shoujo Beat line).

Otsuka Eiji, story, and Yamazaki Housui, art: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, vol. 10
(Dark Horse and Carl Gustav Horn also helped).

Toriko Gin: Song of the Hanging Sky, vol. 2
(this, too. The reason I fangirl all this stuff so hard, btw, is that manga is one of the only things I tend to buy instead of renting or borrowing, and I am presently fiscally unable to venture past titles that I think are just totally the shit to titles that are actual shit*).

*I would never, for instance, actually buy any of Agatha Christie's racist, sexist, xenophobic, conservative books except for the tiny handful that are genuinely innovative and clever. I mean, it's not like she's an actual master of genre writing like Stout or Heyer. The woman wrote fucking literary tissue paper stamped with her usual ugly nationalism and not even saved by a nice period denunciation of fascism. I cannot, I just cannot get over a book where a major character turns out to be a German Jew spying for Nazi Germany. That is so Agatha Christie. I fucking hate that woman.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (such a change from doing crosswords)
On what originally began as a vaguely related note to the Mihara post below:

I've been rereading Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books lately--I've read them so many times before, but they continue to reward immensely; as I grow older and wiser, I find them just as strong, just as thoughtful. There is nothing here I expect to outgrow. I continue to love Bujold's humanism, and now better appreciate that her science fiction speculates as well as entertains; she's just from the social science fiction tradition, rather than the hard science fiction tradition. More Ursula Le Guin than Isaac Asimov.

I never really noticed how good she is at straddling genres--when I was a kid, I read mainly science fiction and fantasy, and had little experience with other genres; as an adult, I've spent enormous amounts of time reading romance and mystery novels. In the afterword to the omnibus edition of Shards of Honor and Barrayar titled Cordelia's Honor, which I am borrowing to read for the first time, Bujold talks about the genesis of those two books--I'd never realized how much of Barrayar she had plotted out before Shards was ever published--and describes Shards as being a romance, and it clicked for me for the first time. Of course it's a romance! It's certainly as much a romance as a science fiction novel--and a damned compelling romance, too. It's a hugely romantic fantasy to fall in love with someone in a life-changing way, to love them enough to want to make huge sacrifices for them, and have an unfaltering, loving, romantic relationship with that person for the rest of your lives. Aral and Cordelia's romance is so compelling and convincing--and so understated, almost but not quite matter-of-fact--that I never quite thought about the fact that the book itself is a novel about romance as well as a science fiction novel. Would I have twigged to that if I'd read more romances prior to reading Bujold, I wonder? I should ask my her youth (long before Bujold began publishing), she apparently went through a period of reading nothing but romances before she switched over to reading mainly mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. Lots of practice reading those genres.

I've seen some interesting comments from Bujold on genre fiction--she said that romances are fantasies of love, and murder mysteries are fantasies of justice, and was talking about what science fiction would be a fantasy of--agency, maybe? I'm probably muddling it all up; it was an interesting interview, but I don't remember where I read it. Anyway, when I read Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books for the first time, particularly Murder Must Advertise, I realized what a debt Bujold's character of the brilliant Lord Miles Vorkosigan owes to the character of the brilliant Lord Peter Wimsey, from the high-strung-though-entertaining-personality and the profound personal damage, right down to the multiple identities. Most of Miles' stories are mysteries, even--Mountains of Mourning, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, Brothers in Arms, Memory, Komarr, Diplomatic Immunity--and it's not his story, but also Ethan of Athos is a mystery, and then Mark and Ivan each do some detecting in Mirror Dance and in A Civil Campaign, respectively. These stories are all more than just mysteries; they're character portraits, social commentaries, speculations about the nature of humanity and life and death and gender in a world of cloning, cryogenic revival, sophisticated genetic engineering, life-extension technology, and advanced reproductive technology. But a mystery is such a pleasurable way to tell a story, and makes such a wonderful vehicle for everything else Bujold wants to write about. No wonder she's written so many of them. Her characters tend to be extremely intelligent; how better to keep them within sight of the reader than to deny them information, and let us all find out at the same time? Intelligent Cordelia, in her books, is baffled and bemused by unfamiliar environments and alien social values, but her equally intelligent son Miles--Miles, who is, by virtue of his hybrid upbringing, more worldly than his mother was in her books--is baffled by circumstantial mysteries and plots which he is, for a satisfyingly complex and convincing variety of reasons, inevitably driven to solve.

(I haven't read Bujold's fantasy novels as many times over, but I seem to recall that mystery was a big element in A Paladin of Souls as well. Not Curse of Chalion, so much, and I can't remember about the one after Paladin. Or The Spirit Ring. Or the recent romance quartet.)

I have seen Sayers criticized as a mystery writer for her mystery plots not being something enough--people regularly accuse mystery writers, including all the greats, of cheating if they don't give the reader every single vital element with which to solve the mystery themselves. I suppose that's one way to approach the genre, but it's definitely not mine. (And, if you look into the history of the mystery genre, kind of dumb, since the seminal mystery writers were not remotely concerned with giving the readers sufficient clues with which to solve the puzzle. Actually, I think that's sort of an aberration in the field. It's fine to enjoy that, I suppose, but critiquing any given mystery writer for not doing something most mystery writers don't do consistently seems a little unreasonable.) I enjoy puzzle-solving enormously, but I expect more and different things from a novel than a puzzle. It's a bit like complaining that crossword puzzles are cheating, because unlike sudoku, they require more from the puzzle-solver than the exercise of pure logic; crossword puzzles require external knowledge (and more verbal acuity). But that's not cheating, it's simply being a different kind of thing, a thing which I assure you is also enormously fun, for the people that like it. Mystery novels contain more than just puzzles. Can contain, should contain.

Anyway, the brilliance of Sayers (and Bujold) lies not in the cunning nature of her plots (the plots are fine), but in the rich depths of her characterization, all the questions she asks about more than just the who and how of a mystery. I enjoy genre tropes--the genre tropes of mysteries and romance and science fiction, at least--but greatly appreciate the genre writer who can--I don't want to say, transcend genre--the writer who can use genre and genre tropes to tell a story that is transcendent. Bujold and Sayers both do that.

(And, as evidenced by my love also of Rex Stout and Georgette Heyer, I also greatly appreciate a writer who, using both genre tropes and a personal formula, consistently produces work that, though not transcendent, is absolutely perfect and brilliant within its chosen structural limits. I do put high value on solidly crafted entertainment. It's not easy to do!)
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (the covers of this book are too far apar)
I don't normally bother to rec this or even note this sort of thing, but this was pretty good fanfic for my favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold. It's Vorkosigan Saga fic, Miles/Gregor slash. It's good stuff!

E.E. Beck's (and her co-writers Stacy's and Sahiya's) A Deeper Season and sequel What Passing Bells, (and followed by one more must-read among some fragments, Seeds. There are a few other stories set in and out of this universe, and they're worth looking at).

There are some serious flaws in these stories. There are two really major totally bust-your-suspension-of-disbelief elements,


THAT SAID. If you can bring yourself to ignore these issues, the stories read pretty well. If Beck's prose doesn't cut as deep or sparkle as brightly or as often as Bujold's, remember, you're comparing her to the best. And though Beck has a tendency to pile on the drama and people get the drop on our protagonists a little too often, the pacing is overall excellent and the drama never loses its hold on you.

This is a world where Gregor has been in love with Miles even since the shenanigans of the The Vor Game (and admit it, folks, Gregor has never come off as aggressively interested in women, although canonically that's perfectly explainable by the fact that most of the women he knows are aggressively interested in his throne. Or are Cordelia), Laisa doesn't exist, or at least never shows up, and Miles--and yes, this really is a departure from canon, where Miles is shown to have actually thought about his sexuality, and is shown to be clearly and firmly heterosexual--is just flexible enough to be brought round to the idea of Gregor. The drama of the story stems as much from the adjustments they have to make to actually pull off a romance as all the lovely twisting and plotting of the adventure part, which is in the spirit of Brothers in Arms or Cetaganda.

What makes this such an utter pleasure to read is that Beck's drawing on and expanding the emotional intimacy that implicitly exists between Miles and Gregor. They were raised together as brothers, but the connection in adulthood comes also from their shared, insider's understanding of Barrayaran government, and the families of power, and the enormous sense of mutual responsibility and shared values. Beck totally gets Bujold's humanism and her value system and her romance. She excels at writing this aspect of Miles and Gregor's relationship, at making it a focus, and successfully puts a romantic gloss on it.

This could get long, so I will list everything else Beck does wonderfully right:

--Ivan. He's less stupid/faux-stupid here, but he was moving that way in canon anyway, and Beck makes his growing responsibility work. I love Ivan, she loves Ivan, it's all good.

--Miles and Ivan. Aren't they the most enormous fun? And they have the kind of cousin closeness that can be as close as brothers without quite being brothers. Beck really digs that, and though it's a little more dramatic and less funny than Miles and Ivan in canon, it's still wonderful.

--Ekaterin. Hah! I love this. I love this! How often will you see the canon love interest the fanfiction author is setting aside get a role this good? Beck obviously loves Ekaterin, she even loves Ekaterin and Miles. When Ekaterin shows up, Beck not only establishes them as close friends and has Ekaterin as a major character, she makes it clear that they share the attraction they did in canon, that Ekaterin and Miles would still have worked here--Miles just ended up with Gregor first. No, "Oh, we're just friends," or "sure I loved her, but she died, and I'mma move on to the slash now," or infidelity, or any of the nastier fates of romantic rivals in fanfic written by people who are less appreciative of the source material**--this is simply an alternate universe where things happened differently, and her Miles and Ekaterin are so close to the satisfaction of the canon version that I even don't miss that romance in this fic.

(You'll never guess who Ekaterin ends with...oh, okay, yes you will. She hooks up with Ivan, and it's plausible, because Ivan's grown up, and it's really sweet, and the two couples make a lovely family unit composed my favorite characters, emotionally intimate with each other and physically proximate for happy ending d'awww.)

--Alys. I would think it would be tough to get her nuances right, but Beck does it, and it helps to keep the feel of the Barrayaran setting properly wide and complex.

I am not sure about including Aral and Cordelia on that list, although they're prominent in What Passing Bells and I enjoy them there, I questioned at times whether they would really follow the course Beck lays out for them. I'm not sure I disagree, either; it's just harder to picture. And the scenes of Miles and Aral and Cordelia as a united family are total fanservice to me.

You won't see much of the galactic cast, and people like Mark and Illyan are essentially there only in cameos. Though I like all of Bujold's characters, I am okay with this, because Beck does right by them when they do cameo, and she's concentrating on my favorites. XD

So! Highly recommended with some caveats. This is purely derivative fanwork; at no point can it ever claim to surpass or even build on the amazingly awesome source material, which would really be a tall order;*** it's more of a case of a reasonably good imitation of genius. And again, although the flaws are big flaws, Beck's a good enough writer to keep you going despite them, when in the hands of a lesser writer, you wouldn't even be tempted to continue. Read these when you've read all the Vorkosigan books so many times you can recite all the dialogue, but you're desperate to read a good Vorkosigan story.****

*You'd be surprised how much this will not tick you off when you read Ethan of Athos. While the planet Athos was obviously settled by religiously fanatic, misogynistic, homosexual male separatists, their descendants are pleasant, peaceful farmers with surprisingly healthy attitudes towards reproduction, even if they do all think women are scary aliens and don't want to leave their planet. The remaining misogyny is only a lingering remnant--the kind of thing you're taught in Sunday School but never really believed, even though you never really questioned--buoyed by lack of exposure to women. It's rather harmless, and in the gentle, peaceful Ethan, forced to leave the planet on a Quest for New Ovaries, it's positively endearing, especially once he meets Elli Quinn. Nobody's prejudices survive Elli Quinn. Barely anybody survives Elli Quinn at all.

**Or where the source material is less worthy of appreciation. I'm not saying I always mind. This is just a rare exception, and in this context, a very welcome one.

***In contrast, while I was reading Dorothy Sayers and realizing how heavily Bujold drew on her style and characters, I was always impressed by how Bujold built on what she borrowed. That's a case of a phenomenal writer being inspired and influenced by a phenomenal writer, and creating a different thing that is just as good.

****Alternatively, you can read Dorothy Sayers at this point, but you may end up with the same problem in the long run, and she's not even around to eventually produce new books.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (smile)
Have just now finished Murder Must Advertise, and the Lord Peter Wimsey/Miles Vorkosigan parallel has become even more inescapable. I'll never be able to read Brothers in Arms the same way again. :D

Sayers had an unusually wonderful mind.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (lord peter wimsey)
I'd like to introduce you to this guy I know. His name is Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter Bredon Death Wimsey. Yes, you read that right: his middle name is Death. He is the most awesome fictional detective ever. Yes, I do love Arthur Conan Doyle; I own a complete Sherlock Holmes omnibus. And I have read the brilliant, mean Tey, and the clever, prolific Christie, and what-have you, but Lord Peter Bredon Death Wimsey is better then 'em all.

I have met the books of Dorothy Sayers, and we get along very well indeed. Weirdly, they were brought to my attention by my dear friend Sarah when I was complaining about how judgmental Tey and Christie are, and she commented that Sayers was like that too, and described Lord Peter Bredon Death Wimsey in the sort of detail bound to result in a long list of library requests. I say weird, because actually, Sayers really isn't very judgmental at all. She's not even very elitist, which is an amazing thing in someone who had apparently read the entire canon of English and French literature, circa 1920 something. She seems to be that holy thing that is the educated intellectual who embraces a wide experience of human existence; she knows not all people are like her, or could be like her, and she accepts that. And writes a cracking good murder mystery, to boot.

Sayers, like Heyer, seems to have been a major influence on Lois McMaster Bujold, for those of you who have read the Vorkosigan books: each time I cracked open one of the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries, I was reminded of Miles and Ekaterin. It's not a direct lift or anything, but Miles Vorkosigan is hugely a character of Peter Wimsey's imprint: a fantastic, idealistic authorial ideal. Not a self-insert or a self-gratification, neither tragic nor undamaged, but some kind of fiction-writer's imagining of a very good, very entertaining person.

On a slight side note, I was reminded, whilst reading Gaudy Night of Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics, so if you like one, you might like the other.

Lord Peter Bredon Death Wimsey, more commonly known as Lord Peter Wimsey, is an early-to-mid-20th-century English aristocrat who was educated at Oxford, went to fight in the Great War, got blown up and mentally fucked up in the Great War, came home, puttered around in London with his wicked cool photog manservant Bunter, collectin' first-edition books and detectin' for a hobby, and dropping his g's whenever it seemed most appropriate. Eventually, he met Harriet Vane, who was also educated at Oxford, wrote excellent murder mysteries, and was Peter's equal in every way except possibly in the atmospheric droppin' of g's.

The books are many and lovely. The most common recommendation for Peter/Harriet awesomeness is to start with Strong Poison, in which Peter meets Harriet and saves her from hanging from a false murder charge, and continue on with Gaudy Night, in which they hook up, and, with its Oxford setting, prompted author Jill Patton Walsh to attend said university. Personally, I would recommend starting with Whose Body?, the first Wimsey book, which establishes Wimsey and that most excellent manservant, Bunter, continuing on with Strong Poison, then Have His Carcase, which establishes Harriet better than Strong Poison, has many cool textual tricks and jokes, and gives you a really excellent Peter/Harriet rhythm, and finishing up with Gaudy Night, keeping Busman's Honeymoon for dessert. Busman's Honeymoon, which details Peter and Harriet's wedding and honeymoon, started life as a play, and shows it in the setting and structure. It is probably superfluous, but it is lovely, and deeply, profoundly, romantic.

Another side note: Sayers wrote contemporary settings. Her shell-shocked veteran of World War I would have been based on the real veterans of World War I surrounding her; the slowly creeping, pervasive dread of the war to come must have been reflective of the real creeping, pervasive nightmare of another hideous war that haunted England in the 1920's and 30's. She doesn't dwell on it greatly, but I could not get away from that thought while reading her books, and consequently, I'm sort of fixated on that whole period of history. Christie's rather fun, Tey is intelligent and occasionally, really profound, and not just cynically cruel, but on the whole, I prefer Sayer's vision of humanity: knowing, open-eyed, but kind. And her prose is crackin' good.

P.S. The BBC adaptations of Strong Poison, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night are excellent, and absolutely worth watching if you like to see good book-to-screen-adaptations, but do read the books first.

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