cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (love at the carnival)
For most of this, I was all EEEEEEEEEEE FIVE STARS FIVE STARS FIVE STARS. !!! This is Doctor Who at its finest! Pulpy science fiction adventure! Britishisms! Wit! Classic, memorable Doctor/Companion interactions! FIVE STARS SIR. Then in the last five minutes I was all RAWR YOU LOSE A WHOLE STAR for throwing Christina under the bus. So to speak. And besides, god help us all, could your Magical Negro be any more magical.* I appreciate that you tried to humanize her with the pork chops and the twice-weekly ten pounds and the spouse--and some fiddling props for not killing any minority extras--but come the fuck on.

The final two minutes saved it for me (saved it, I mean, from the five-minute-mark fail; it was doing beautifully until that point**). I forgive, on behalf of Christina, who's as perfect for the Doctor as she thinks she is, only because I know that David Tennant was already planning on leaving the show, and this particular brilliant Doctor/Companion pairing had no future anyway. But, damn. First Donna, now Christina--why does this show keep waving perfection in my face, only to whisk it away, at the last second? Stop that!

In conclusion: my favorite piece of Who in ages***. (Yes, I'm behind. I'm catching up.) (The Next Doctor was cute enough, but, weirdly enough, I liked the wormhole and the desert planet and Michelle Ryan more than steampunky London and identity theft and...whoever that dude was. I know, it's weird. Ryan, and the writing, just hit all the right notes for it to work.)

*She had great hair, though.

**Besides the Magical Jamaican Psychic Negro with great hair.

***Granted, it's been awhile. I'm kind of behind. God, I miss the Donna years. The Donna year, I mean. And the Martha years. Year. And the Rose years. And the Jack half-year.**** I can't really miss Torchwood, which was, at its best, still not good--which is what you get for designing a show to minimize the best qualities of your talented-and-charismatic-leading man, and to make a major character out of a rapist asshole, and generally, to suck--but I do miss Captain Jack on Doctor Who. He was good there.

****You may have noticed that this show goes through companions waaaaay too fast.


I will delete that last sucker whenever LJ stops breaking.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (swan princess)
Romance:

Beverley, Jo:

The Secret Duke
(I can't even remember what this book was about.

Okay, I looked it up. Damn! I wanted to love Ithorne, because he seemed all woobie and emotionally abandoned and hot in The Secret Marriage, but that silly twin-brother-pirate-captain shit was just...basically, I either don't don't have enough immunity built up against romance novel tropes, or it was just intolerably silly. And then there was the other big false-identity plot, since one wasn't enough. But, ridiculous plot contrivances aside, it was okay as a book? I foresee a lot of bedroom role-play for this couple).

An Arranged Marriage
(Hum. I think that this must be among my favorite of the Beverley novels. It reminded me a lot of The Secret Marriage, at least re: surprisingly sophisticated sexual politics and a genuinely interesting and charismatic male lead. The sex scenes are less hot than in her other books, but since the first sex scene between the male and female leads takes place like a month after the female lead has been raped, and after that, she's pregnant and he's sleeping with another woman--it's complicated--I'm okay with that. The romance is complicated and compelling and I basically loved it, and ship Nicholas/Eleanor in a way I rarely ship romance novel couples. Eleanor's one of those amazingly strong women who are pure, polished steel under a cloak of propriety and civility, and Nicholas is too brilliant and beautiful for his own good. Together, they are a frickin' Georgian power couple. And they fight crime. Kinda).

A Lady's Secret
(the famous cursing nun! The sex was hot, and I liked that the cursing nun was actually a nun, more or less, not a cosplayer just in disguise).

Carriger, Gail: Soulless
(This might be the first time I have ever liked a werewolf as a romantic lead. Normally I find them too hairy, but this rocked. It's straight-up Victorian manners, but with an extremely civilized iteration of the supernatural. Like Amelia Peabody, but with vampires and werewolves. And! Oh! They totally fight crime).


Science fiction:

Vinge, Vernor: Fire Upon the Deep
(this is by far the most visionary science fiction novel I've read since Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed, and the best book I've read since...I dunno. It's been a few years. I loved the pack mind entities especially--I don't think I've run across an execution of the hive-mind idea quite like that one before--and this envisioning of the galactic communication network, complete with a metadata skeleton and the concept of linguistic drift. I recommend this so hard, assuming you are into brilliant, game-changing science fiction).
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (Default)
Love this. Girlamatic on Mihara Mitsukazu: Part 1, Part 2. More to follow later, I hope. I am a huge fan of Mihara, both for her art style, which I dig--it's not the Gothic Lolita aesthetic specifically, although she's apparently kind of like a Gothic Lolita deity; she's just got this unique and distinctive style that works extremely well with her writing, to my eyes--and because, as I've commented before, and Shupe observes, Mihara is an interesting science fiction writer. Science fiction in its classic speculative, probing function, the kind that burrows into uncomfortable, unsettling questions about human existence, rather than the purely entertaining set dressing. Which I also like.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (Default)
Novels/prose books:

Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Second: The Reptile Room.

Stephenson, Neal: The Big U
(the wheels fell off somewhere in this book. It's still an enjoyable read, but I can see why he was reluctant to let it be brought back into print; god forbid someone should read this and imagine that this level of writing is what made Stephenson famous. Obviously, this is not as ambitious as one of the monster tomes, like Cryptonomicon, or the Baroque Cycle, but as a shorter work, it doesn't live up to the tighter, more focused plotting of Zodiac. Maybe I should excuse the lack of grounding as probably being intentional--it's very much about the university as a place that's insane and closed-off from the real world, higher education as a mental institution--but it was hard to connect to the book because of that).


Graphic novels:

Lemire, Jeff: Essex County vol. 3: The Country Nurse
(Top Shelf).

Campbell, Ross: Water Baby
(Minx. Wow, creepy. Campbell, doing that thing he does, so weirdly compelling and so well-illustrated).

Abel, Jessica, and Warren Pleece, artists (?), Gabe Soria, writer (?), Hialry Sycamore, colorist: Life Sucks
(First Second. Cute, but not exactly a work for the ages. I vastly prefer Abel's other work--La Perdida, Artbabe--which are better written, and frankly, much better illustrated as well. Abel's linework suffers from the coloring here).
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,

SUPER SPOILERY PLOT POINTS )


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 (Default)
This sonnet from "Epitaph for the Race of Man" might have been my first encounter with Millay aside from the ubiquitous "First Fig" ("My candle burns at both ends / It will not last the night / But ah my foes, and oh my friends-- / It gives a lovely light!"). It's quoted in Pamela Dean's (Tam Lin, The Secret Country) Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, which is not as well known on the geek circuit, and not quite as gripping as the above works, but excellent nonetheless, and a good book to read if you're feeling a lack of strong female friendships in fiction. Protagonist and title character Gentian is an amateur astronomer (and she has an attic room with a cupola, which is fucking awesome; I always wanted one of those), and her best friend and poet Becky reads this poem to her during of of their sleepovers.

When I started reading Millay, I bought a collection of her sonnets specifically to get the whole sequence of "Epitaph" so I could read this again.

XIII

His heatless room the watcher of the stars
Nightly inhabits when the night is clear;
Propping his mattress on the turning sphere,
Saturn his rings or Jupiter his bars
He follows, or the fleeing moons of Mars,
Till from his ticking lens they disappear....
Whereat he sighs, and yawns, and on his ear
The busy chirp of Earth remotely jars.
Peace at the void's heart through the wordless night,
A lamb cropping the awful grasses, grazed;
Earthward the trouble lies, where strikes his light
At dawn industrious Man, and unamazed
Goes forth to plough, flinging a ribald stone
At all endeavour alien to his own.
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.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (Default)
Cryptonomicon was kind of a letdown after The Baroque Cycle, not least because of the frankly distasteful sexual politics--there is, at best, one vaguely sympathetic and remotely interesting female character in the entire book, and even she is totally subsumed by the book's portrayal of women as receptacles for ejaculate, in an irritatingly vivid and memorable passage near the end, which pretty much became the dominant image of the book for me--but I remain in awe of Stephenson.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (Default)
I finally finished The Baroque Cycle. After about three months, with two short intervals to knock off a dozen or so fluffy Georgette Heyer Regency romances and half a dozen odd murder mysteries by Josephine Tey (just to clear my palate), I have finished reading ALL TWO THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN PAGES OF IT thank you herongale.

It's one of the best books I've ever read, period, hands down, no qualifications and no genre classifications. I recommend it to anyone who likes to read. Don't be scared by the page count; it's got a slow start, but within a few chapters, you'll be too caught up in the joy of Stephenson's prose* to even notice.

And now I go to read the earlier, yet chronologically later Cryptonomicon, which is a wussy thousand something pages, and I can probably knock off in under two weeks. HAH.

*He uses the word palimpsest. Repeatedly. People have been justly canonized for lesser accomplishments.

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