a garden in riotous bloom
Beautiful. Damn hard. Increasingly useful.
other gardeners 
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
spoilers )

There is a plea from one of the show's staff to avoid spoilers for the rest of this summer, btw.
26 July 2016 21:06 - No need for Mario!
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
If Princess Rowan Charming is in another castle, it is because she chose to go there!

Princess Charming: for a Few Princesses More Kickstarter
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
I finally put up the spoiler post about the conclusion to the series, League of Dragons, today. (Here's the entirely-spoiler-free review if that's what you're after.)

And I'm also doing daily Toast Retrospectives, looking back at what the Toast published three years ago each day, over at the ToastCrumbs subreddit.
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))
[personal profile] inkstone has started [community profile] pokestop as a community for people playing Pokemon Go to share tips, tricks, fanworks, etc. If that's something that interests you, take a look! I plan on lurking--Pokemon Go sounds very entertaining, but as someone who gets instant headaches walking around in the Louisiana heat, I'm unlikely to play it anytime soon. :p
swan_tower: (Default)

That phrase probably makes no sense, but it’s the best I can do.

There’s a thing certain writers are capable of: Dorothy Dunnett and Dorothy Sayers are the ones who come immediately to mind, and Sonya Taaffe (she has a Patreon for her movie reviews — I’m just sayin’), but I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of at the moment. These people are brilliant at describing characters. And what makes them brilliant is what, for lack of a better term, I keep thinking of as “oblique specificity.”

By this I mean something like the “telling detail” writing-advice books are always going on about, but leveled up. It’s the ability to find that one thing about a character, be it physical or psychological, that isn’t in the list of the top ten features that would probably come to mind if somebody said “describe a character,” but winds up encapsulating them in just a few words. And it’s the ability to make those words not the ones you expected: the line that sparked this post is from the Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise, where Lord Peter is playing a cricket match and accidentally goes to town when up ’til then he’s pretended to be just an ordinary guy. There are lots of phrases I would think of to describe how he starts showing a higher degree of power than he’s exhibited before, but “opening up wrathful shoulders” is not one of them — and yet, it works.

I want to read more authors like this. (Because I want to dissect what they’re doing until I’ve figured out how it ticks.) So: recommend authors to me?

I’d especially love to see this done in different contexts, because one thing Dunnett, Sayers, and Taaffe share is that they’re all writing from a more omniscient perspective than you’d ordinarily see in a modern novel. I think the added distance helps, because description doesn’t have to be delivered through the perspective of a character; not all characters are really suited to that kind of descriptive artistry. Though no examples are leaping to mind at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a variant of this done with first-person narrators, using the narrative voice to give descriptions more punch than they would otherwise have, but I’m not sure that’s always quite the same thing that I’m thinking of. (Since I’m kind of vague on what exactly I’m thinking of, this distinction is subject to debate.) I think I’ve seen it much less, though, with third-person limited narration, which lacks both the unfiltered individuality of good first-person narration and the analytical distance of omniscient. Then again, maybe that’s just a function of who I’ve been reading. I welcome any and all recommendations, especially if you can quote lines to show me how that author approaches it.

But do keep it limited to description of characters, rather than other things. Scene-setting and action and so forth are worthy topics in their own right, but right now it’s the evocation of character that I’m particularly interested in dissecting.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

26 July 2016 09:00 - Magic
ceciliatan: (darons guitar)

Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.

Here’s the thing about what happened during the show in Atlanta: everyone thought I was drunk off my ass.

I wasn’t. After what Clarice had said I didn’t dare sneak an extra drink in before the show, no matter how much I tried to justify to myself that I “needed” one.

I didn’t need one.

Read the rest of this entry » )
26 July 2016 05:00 - "It's one of those lazy days"
rosefox: Me looking out a window, pensive. (relaxed)
I'm on vacation! For two whole weeks! I hardly know what to do with myself. But here is a list of things that I would like to at least think about doing:

* sleep
* do some writing, or at least continue working in my writing journal
* spend time with friends
* phonebank for Hillary Clinton because when Michelle Obama says to get to work, I get to work
* take Kit to visit my mother and J's relatives
* maybe start a Patreon-based advice column for writers, if that seems like a thing anyone would be interested in
* read
* meditate
* sleep

Despite the prominence of sleep on this list, it is difficult to keep my sleep schedule intact when I'm not working. I mean, it's hard enough when I am working and even harder when I'm not. But I'm going to do my best. Yesterday I stayed up until 7:30 in the morning, which was a bit excessive, but I think I can drag myself back from that an hour or two at a time.

I wish the weather were at all conducive to going outside and walking around. I just renewed my membership at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens but I can't enjoy it in this oppressive heat, and today's storm was so fierce that even I didn't want to be out in it (though it was lovely to watch from indoors). Maybe next week it will be cool enough for me to take a couple of long walks.

Now that I have Zipcar membership again, it's very tempting to drive somewhere upstate or out on Long Island where there're lots of trees and it's cooler and the air has more oxygen. But if I do something like that I think I'll probably take the train; it's easier on my arms and more eco-friendly even if I do always rent a Prius. I just really like driving. And I'm much more comfortable with it now that I've done the drive back from Readercon. I drove out to New Jersey this past weekend to visit J's grandmother and it was amazingly easy. Anything less than six hours of evening/night driving with the baby in the back of the car feels like a piece of cake.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[livejournal.com profile] alexx_kay offered a definition of film noir in comments and my brain generated a textbrick in reply. It maxed out the character limits for LJ-comments, so as long as I'm thinking in public, I might as well stick it here.

That starts me thinking about how I define noir—if indeed I have a definition for it. I think of it as a style or a mood as much as a genre; I find it much easier to categorize by the themes it examines or the emotions it evokes than by the elements that comprise its plots. It's not precisely the cinematic counterpart of hardboiled or pulp fiction, although there's a lot of overlap and interaction between the two. Crime films can be noirs, but they don't have to be. I think it has phases, influenced by the prevailing concerns of the times. For me, I think all of the best examples of film noir are categorized by varying degrees of moral ambiguity and a theme of instability: the world isn't what you thought it was, the person you love isn't who you thought they were, you aren't who you thought you were. Something you have always taken for granted drops out from under you. It could be your scruples, it could be your heart. Why pick just one? I agree with you that a deep suspicion of institutions is part of it, whether that means the law or government or marriage or the American dream. Noir is the genre where things go wrong, where all the national anxieties come out to play. I think that's one of the reasons that—despite the visual and verbal stylization that are also hallmarks of the genre—it feels much more realistic to me than many of its contemporary genres. I don't think it's merely that my life has been on the rocks for months and therefore I am more inclined to believe a narrative full of bad decisions and moral fog than one which ties up all loose ends in a heteronormative Technicolor bow. The Production Code sold America the white picket fence and the sanctity of marriage, 2.5 children and a proper respect for authority; its Catholic morals permitted a very narrow range of acceptable behavior for its heroes, its good people who were both exemplars to the populace and assumed points of identification. Populate a genre with grifters and gangsters and social deviants and people with just plain bad judgment, on the other hand, and all of a sudden the range of representation explodes in all directions. It doesn't matter if the final curtain still sees the guilty punished and the good rewarded, sometimes with whiplash speed before the credits roll; all of the stuff outside the lines was still there. These last eight to nine months getting formally interested in film noir have reminded me of my initial plunge into pre-Code cinema, where all of a sudden I could find heroes with heroin habits and triumphantly promiscuous women and romantic Jewish bootleggers who bumped off any tough who roughed up the heroine. Noir has given me female heroes and antiheroes, sympathetic queer characters and monstrous men, failure modes for everything from personal integrity to the patriarchy, a skeptical scrutiny of all kinds of American myths and values. I don't mean you can't find anything interesting in other genres of the time—subversion gets in anywhere it can. Stories always say something about the people who tell them. You want to talk id-fests, anyway, check out an MGM musical sometime. Whoo boy. But I am starting to feel as though film noir is where a lot of the transgressiveness displaced from the pre-Code era ended up and then multiplied with new social issues like the independence of women during wartime or the shock of soldiers returning to civilian life or the whole question of America's postwar place in the world, not to mention the atom bomb.1 A lot of really good noir has an ethical dimension, not necessarily in that any of the characters are Aristotelian models, but in that the stories themselves care about exploring questions of ethics—loyalty, betrayal, identity, justice, what people hold on to, what they relinquish, what they'll acknowledge, how far they'll go—even if they have no answers. That, too, I find more realistic than being instructed as if by a primer for a school I don't believe in. I am making all of these statements based primarily on American film noir, of course. I have a decent knowledge of British noir and some familiarity with French noir, though mostly if it's by Jules Dassin—I think of Jean-Pierre Melville as moving into the neo-noir period. I know almost nothing about Japanese or Mexican noir and other nationalities are blinking question marks, though I'd like to learn more. Everything I say here could be wrong. I don't yet have a comprehensive data set. I am really enjoying the collection process, though.

Tagged for Patreon because it's still spinning off my thoughts on Criss Cross (1949). I appreciate the excuse to examine my own free-floating opinions and see if I can nail some of them down.

1. Pre-Code movies are still generally better about race, in that I associate them with shockingly unstereotyped black characters every now and then. I'm a little cautious of saying that any Hollywood era was really great on the subject. I still want to see some of the so-called race films, made outside of the Hollywood studio system by black production companies with black casts specifically for black audiences. Their existence fascinates me and very few of them have survived. I don't know if an equivalent existed for Asian-American audiences. That's an entire topic of its own.
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

Canadian-built 1916 Ford Model T Touring. Image Credit: Flickr/vinnyrvg

Life at Camp Borden
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))
For [personal profile] tbutler.

Prompt: folk songs.

The Librarian and the Rider

High in the mountains, past the borders of fox and fae, lived a young man who tended his town's small library. He spent his days among all manner of books: books bound in dark leather and inscribed with eldritch runes, books inked upon fine silk and wound around rods of fossilized dragonbone or polished agate; books stitched together with the hair of discordant mermaids, books whose pages had once been trees bearing fruit-of-everlasting-youth. Amid the books, the man thought himself content. In the mornings he would wake to the fall of light among the books, and he spent his days bent over them, unwinding their secrets and making notes in journals of his own.

One day a woman rode out of the borders of fox and fae, and stopped in the town. The town saw few visitors, and its inhabitants opened their houses to her. She was taller than anyone in the town, this woman, and dark, with a sword peace-knotted upon her back. Truth be told, a few of the townsfolk were intimidated by her bearing, but she spoke politely enough, in the trade-tongue of the region, and her smile was kind.

The elders of the town held a feast for her the next evening. Several of the town's children told the man at the library about the feast, for their parents knew that he would otherwise have missed it. Although he was loath to leave his library, sometimes travelers brought books they were willing to sell or trade.

At the feast, the townsfolk brought forth platters heaped high with roast pheasant and bitter fiddleheads gathered from the woods, bowls of rice and barley, bowls of small wild strawberries, tea of citrons and tea of quinces. For her part, the woman exclaimed over their generosity, and returned it with her own. She told stories of lands where it rained only once a year, and the people who made mead from the honey of those short-lived flowers; of poet-priests who shut themselves up in high spires to chant their threnodies to the gods of storm and sea; of citadels whose banners were sewn with the jewel-eyes of spiders, so that their commandants might never be surprised by an invading army.

The young man sat some distance from the woman, but she might as well have been the only person in the hall. He did not hear the musicians playing zither and flute and drum, or the chatter of the people next to him. (They didn't take it amiss; they were used to him being absentminded.) A yearning woke in him that he had never before thought possible when he watched her.

Afterward the man went up to the woman and bowed before her. "I will not rest until you are mine," the man said. He had perhaps read a few too many grand romances, or transcripts of ballads.

"Then you are doomed to wander the earth's bones until the moon falls out of the sky," the woman said, "for I have no interest in romance--whether with man or woman or other."

"Nothing will soften your heart?" he asked.

"'Soften'?" she said in surprise. "I have my horse for a travel companion, and the sun and the stars to guide my path. I have all the friends I have made in every town and city I have stopped by. My heart is fine as it is."

There were a great many things the man could have said to that, many of them wrong. He could have left his library, sold all its treasures for a horse and supplies, and followed her anyway. He could have read a curse out of one of the books bound in dark leather so that her footsteps would be wracked with needles of ice and thorn until she relented. He could have gone away from her in silence, and jumped into a ravine, grieved that she would not yield to his love.

But he looked at her kind eyes, and perhaps a little of the wisdom of the best of the books lent itself to him then, for he did none of those things. "If that is the case," he said, "then will you accept one more friend instead?"

She smiled at him, and for all that the smile broke his heart, another, better part of him was strengthened. "Of course," she said. "There is no such thing as too many friends."
swan_tower: (Default)

Quoting just the key bits:

Brennan explores the power of memory, self-realization, and destiny in this mix of survival story and self-discovery tale. […] Brennan delights readers with this exciting, fast-paced start to a fantasy novella series.

Cold-Forged Flame will be out on September 13th. (As will the UK edition of A Star Shall Fall, as it happens.) I can’t wait!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)

I blogged last week about the police shooting of a black man in Florida. I’ve talked about Black Lives Matter as well, and I’ve been trying to follow the reporting and discussion online. Recently on a friend’s Facebook page, a commenter talked about how the police should be trained to shoot to wound instead of shooting to kill. Which…isn’t how that works. It’s hard to have these conversations if all you know about law enforcement comes direct from Hollywood.

A U.S. police officer named Griffin weighed in and offered his perspective and experience. I appreciated the knowledge he shared. We chatted a bit more after my post last week, and I invited him to share some of his thoughts on the blog. His friend Adán, a retired police administrator from a department in an urban area, also contributed.

Both men recognize that our nation has systemic problems with race and other issues. That creates very real conflicts for the police. (As a police officer, your job is to enforce the law. What do you do when the law itself is racist?)

I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything. But their post gave me more to consider, and is a good reminder that these problems exist on multiple levels, from the individual to the global and everything in between.

Thank you to Griffin and Adán for taking the time to write this. Please remember they’re guests on my blog. I’d appreciate if we treat them as such.

The whole thing comes in at about 4400 words.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

25 July 2016 12:24 - Brother, what's my name?
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I wrote the following around six in the morning, sparked by finishing my writeup of Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949) and then showering and trying without much success to shut my brain off enough to sleep. I figured I would look at it when I woke up and see how much it resembled dreaming Dorothy Parker. Nothing in here rhymes with "passes" or "glasses," so it seemed safe to post. All of this is thinking out loud.

It is not that I don't believe in the archetype of the femme fatale. Film noir is full of dangerous, duplicitous women, as it is frequently full of dangerous, duplicitous men. I've met some examples already; I'm sure others exist. I just feel increasingly that the femme fatale, like the private eye, is a much more significant and frequently employed character in neo-noir—and film criticism—than in film noir itself. I would love to know when the term was coined and/or first applied within film noir, whether it happened during what I think of as the first wave of the genre (1940's), the second (1950's), or if it was even later, looking back from the neo-noir years. Most things look simpler in reception than in reality. Athene is not the goddess of wisdom.

I may have come to regard the term "femme fatale" in much the same way as I regard the term "Mary Sue"—I don't argue with the utility of a shorthand label for a class of fictional characters, even negative ones, but when I start seeing it misapplied to any female character at the center of a narrative, I start to side-eye its motives.

It is possible that I am skeptical of the concept of the femme fatale because I am approaching these movies from the perspective of a culture that no longer quite so uncritically accepts as a real factor in human interaction the irresistible attractiveness of women that absolves men of bad behavior committed while under its spell. This paradigm most often turns up in contexts of sexual consent, but I see no reason it shouldn't apply to crime. Probably for this reason, I really notice when noir filmmakers take care to point out the culpability of men as well as the incentive of women. It happens much more frequently than, even a few years ago, I might have thought.

If the deception isn't deliberate, if the seduction isn't part of the strategy, if she isn't using men to make up for the agency she can't otherwise obtain within the gendered confines of her society—or just for the fun of it—I don't think she's a femme fatale. She may be a bad idea, but so are a lot of romances that aren't La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

Tagged for Patreon by virtue of really being an extension of the previous review. I wouldn't have been able to fit it into a footnote.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
It's the last week of July and I haven't said anything substantial about a movie all month. Let's start with some noir.

The Brattle screened Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949) last week as part of their repertory series of femmes fatales. I had a great time seeing it with [personal profile] skygiants, but so far it's done nothing to disrupt my sense that the centrality of this archetype to first-generation film noir—the deceiving woman, the deadly woman, the woman who is the downfall of men—is overrated, because Burt Lancaster's Steve Thompson needs no encouragement from Yvonne De Carlo's Anna to drop his life down the drain. In point of fact, he makes his first and most fatal decision without any input from her at all: the decision to go looking for her in the first place.

I appreciate that the film warns us outright to take very little of its narrative at face value. It opens with a disembodied point-of-view shot floating high above nighttime Los Angeles, the camera's attention dropping like a falcon onto the theatrical tableau of a man and a woman embracing in a darkened lot, suddenly spotlit like horny teenagers in the high-beams of a parking car. Her name is the first and most important word in the film: "Anna." She answers him in kind: "Steve. I had to see you." Their dialogue is passionate and elliptical and what we can understand of it serves as a preview of the film's eponymous theme: they are affirming not only their loyalty to one another but their mutual resolve to betray another man. When they part, the camera follows Steve indoors, through the noisy bar and the crowded floor of the nightclub to which the parking lot belongs, into a violent confrontation in a private room which I can best describe as a fake that isn't. After all parties involved have unilaterally stonewalled the police, their conversation reveals that the staged fight, "a phony, strictly for the cop's benefit," flared briefly into the real thing when one of the participants pulled a knife—a small betrayal, but a further sign of things to come. By the time the routine of the next day's work dissolves into a flashback of Steve stepping off a trolley with his coat over his arm and his suitcase in his hand, we should be primed to question anything he tells us. He doesn't have to be lying to us. Lying to himself will do just as well.

In fine noir tradition, he is nonetheless our sole narrator, a drifter newly returned to Los Angeles after an aimless year odd-jobbing around the country in the wake of a disastrous seven-month marriage. His family and his friends know him better than he admits to knowing himself: they are all in agreement that he should not try to see his ex-wife again and to all of them he protests that the thought never even crossed his mind. His parents are getting older, his kid brother is getting married; it was time for him to come home and take care of things. "I'm not looking for Anna." Never mind that his first act back in town was to seek out their old hangout, the Round-Up—the nightclub of the opening scenes—and quiz the new bartender and the daytime barflies about the "old crowd" with such unconvincing casualness that they took him for a "checker," an undercover investigator for the state liquor board. He fidgets with a handful of nickels, darting edgy glances at the occupied phone booth. His old friend Detective Lieutenant Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally1) gently insists on driving him home and making sure he gets through the door, as though Steve's addiction to Anna were as physically disabling as drunkenness or a drug habit. When our hero winds up the night loitering at the edge of the dance floor where Anna shakes her hair and rolls her hips to the wild flute and percussion of Esy Morales and His Rhumba Band in the second great jazz scene I've seen filmed by Robert Siodmak,2 his voiceover is eager to impress on the audience the fatalism of a bad hand in a rigged game, an inescapable tragic destiny: "From the start, it all went one way. It was in the cards, or it was fate, or a jinx, or whatever you want to call it. But right from the start." It's a great line, but it's arrant horse puckey. He could have gone to the movies with the brother he hasn't seen in a year and the fiancée he's hardly met; he could have gone bowling with his father. He could have stayed at home and quietly read the news with his mother. Instead he goes straight for Anna and it turns out that his family and his friends were right. Not because she's a heartless schemer, not because he has better prospects, not because they don't still have a sexual current between them that snaps on humming like a power grid at nothing more than the catch and cling of gazes across a crowd. They should not be together because their relationship is toxic. They can't keep from sniping at one another, falling back into their old fights. Steve criticizes her clothes and her spending habits, possessively disparages her willingness to accept the attentions of sharp-dressed local crook Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea)—the man who pulled a knife in the opening scenes. Anna responds with defensive viciousness, mocking the idea of a man expecting fidelity from his divorced wife: "What did you expect me to do, sit at home and mope?" He mimicks her voice like a spiteful schoolboy. She needles him that he can be "a nice guy—when you want to." They catch themselves, apologize, start to separate, wind up making another date. Rinse, repeat. It staggers Steve like a thunderbolt, but the audience is not wholly surprised to find out a few months later that she's run off to Yuma to marry Slim. He's a bad choice—a bad man, a bad husband—but he always wanted her and he never called her a "cheap little no-good tramp" like Steve who alternately obsessed over her and left her dangling while his family wrote her off as a bad influence and his old friend Ramirez openly threatened her with jail time if she didn't leave his buddy alone. She tried to change her life for something better. She got something worse. Now Steve is horrified; now he wants to make it up to her. He's back at his old job, working for a respected security outfit as a driver of armored cars; he contacts Slim ("Why come to us?"–"'Cause you're the only crooks I know") and lays out his plan for Slim's gang to hijack the car in return for a two-way split with Steve.3 Conventional wisdom claims that the successful holdup of an armored car "can't be done," but Steve insists that "it can . . . if you have an inside man."

And of course this plan goes due south by way of pear-shaped, but it essential that none of it is Anna's idea. She betrays him in the end, but the heist itself has been such a welter of double-crosses all along—including on the part of Steve, who proposed it only in order to take his cut and run off with Anna, another man's wife—the wife of a man who beats her, whose big spending doesn't make up for his heartless jealousy—that the audience would be surprised only if she stayed true to him. The script takes unusual care to distinguish that she wasn't playing him from the start; she was just as hooked on their bad romance as her ex-husband until she wasn't and then she hoped he could get her away safe from Slim. Their love scenes were so seamlessly convincing because they were real. It's just that when the chips are down, she'll look out for herself before anyone else, and it bewilders her that Steve doesn't seem to feel the same. "People get hurt—I can't help it! I can't help it if people don't know how to take care of themselves!" But even that assessment, delivered half in frustration and half in pity as she prepares to run out on her wounded lover, is closer to Steve's version of himself than the truth. I have seen shockingly little of Burt Lancaster outside of classics like Sweet Smell of Success (1957) or curiosities like The Crimson Pirate (1952)—and like many people of my generation, I believe I met him first as Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams (1989)—but as Steve Thompson he does an impressive, anti-sympathetic job as a man who can neither admit what he wants nor own up to the actions he'll take to get it. He looks like a regular guy, a high school football hero perhaps with his rugged shoulders and his feathery hair and his slow grin; he's well-liked by his coworkers, well-loved by his family, and not undeserving of it. He's not a sociopath in disguise. He's just astoundingly passive-aggressive. The vagueness, the amiable passivity that looks at first like shyness or the aftershock of a bad marriage runs all the way to the core of him; he is fatally incapable of analyzing his own motives or even the potential consequences of his desires, perhaps because to do so might confront him with some aspects of himself he might not like very much. "A man eats an apple," he philosophizes in flashback, "he gets a piece of the core stuck between his teeth. He tries to work it out with some cellophane off a cigarette pack. What happens? The cellophane gets stuck in there, too. Anna. What was the use?" But he wasn't drifting helplessly on tides too strong to fight, overwhelmed by the siren song of fate in the form of a woman: he tracked her down, insisted on rekindling their relationship, made himself responsible for her happiness when all signs pointed to impossible. Anna at least owns her choices, even when she recognizes them as selfishly motivated or mistakes. In the last moments of his life, all Steve can find to say for himself, as though it had nothing to with him personally, is "What a pity it didn't work out."

Criss Cross screened as a double feature with the earlier Siodmak-Lancaster collaboration The Killers (1946), but its true complement is Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) with Fred MacMurray rationalizing and disclaiming his way "straight down the line" when any audience member with half an attention span can see that Barbara Stanwyck provided the excuse, not the inspiration, for murder. Steve is neither as clever nor as smug about his crimes, but he's about as self-aware. He's cheating himself from the start and he doesn't even know it. I can't say that Criss Cross is my favorite film by Robert Siodmak, though it has much to recommend it besides the characters I've sketched above. The dialogue by Daniel Fuchs is some of the most stylized I've heard in the genre, full of double-talk and rhetorical questions; the cinematography by Franz Planer can turn on a dime between expressionist interiors and unsentimental location shots of Los Angeles, including the now-familiar lost terraces and tenements of Bunker Hill. The smaller supporting parts like the long-suffering staff of the Round-Up are fantastic. I still probably prefer Phantom Lady (1944) despite its third-act collapse just because there's nothing in Criss Cross to equal Ella Raines and Elisha Cook, Jr., not even Dan Duryea.4 But it makes me wonder if, as with the housewife noirs I am now actively cataloguing, I can find a genre-making third example of a film noir where a man is not just an unreliable but an irresponsible narrator. Either way, I am in agreement with Skygiants that it's hard to count the female lead as a femme fatale when the male lead's independently terrible life decisions are what's driving the plot. This distinction brought to you by my backers with better impulse control at Patreon.

1. I like McNally—he's very good in the atomic-age noir Split Second (1953)—but Latino he is not. Don't tell me Ricardo Montalbán wasn't free that week.

2. Her dance partner is Tony Curtis in his screen debut, a baby-faced beauty with a side-combed crest of soft black hair, so young he doesn't even get a credit. He looks into Anna's face so intently as they dance, you expect him to be important, but he disappears back into the crowd as soon as she's done. He has no lines. He has those very dark eyebrows, that smiling full mouth. I looked for him in crowd scenes at the Round-Up thereafter, even when he kept not appearing, which I guess is what you call star quality.

3. The planning itself is a wonderful pulp interlude starring Alan Napier as Finchley, a slender, shabby, educated recluse who lives in a boarding house so dilapidated it approaches an illustration by Phiz and works as a sort of beta-reader for heists and robberies. He's an underworld legend, almost literally: "Gee whiz, I thought he was dead!" He plays chess with himself in his book-piled threadbare bedroom and his expertise can be bought for a month's credit at the local liquor store, with a down payment preferred in the form of a bottle on the table as he thinks out loud. His advice is precise, cautious, and unfailingly correct. Nothing that goes wrong with the heist is Finchley's fault. Then again, they didn't ask him for his opinions on the people involved.

4. I recognize that I have said almost nothing about Duryea when usually he's the only thing in a picture I can talk about. For much of Criss Cross' runtime, Slim is more of a plot motivation than a character, distinguished primarily by the flashiness of his attire—his boldly cut all-black ensemble with white suspenders and wide white 1940's tie has to be seen to be appreciated if not believed—and Duryea's ability to suggest a kind of vulpine amusement with his thin-toned dialogue; he only gets interesting in the second half. His best scene has him stepping out of the pure theatrical blackness of a door open to the night, a wounded avenging angel in plain shirtsleeves and an expression poised curiously between exhausted pain and grim humor. It is the only time he's vulnerable, physically, emotionally; he knows he's lost. He has one thing left to do. He blinks involuntarily at the first two shots, as if the report or the recoil or the effect of bullets fired at close range startles or hurts him; by the third shot he only tightens his mouth in a flickering wince. Even before he hears the sirens rising, his face is already troubled, strangely open now that there's no longer anyone to watch him. He steps painfully out into the darkness to an unknown but almost certainly unpleasant fate. The film leaves Anna and Steve where it found them, in each other's arms.
24 July 2016 22:32 - SW:Force Awakens
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
People really have no idea how big space is, do they?
24 July 2016 18:35 - how best
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
To explain the significance of a book being a Byron Preiss book?
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I appear to be somewhat aggressively vacationing. [livejournal.com profile] gaudior and I spent the afternoon at the New England Aquarium. It was great.

That's me with an Atlantic goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara), quite possibly the same one I've seen in the Caribbean blue hole exhibit for years. It's sort of Newfoundland-sized. I am in the picture for comparison and also perhaps to show off my Captain Sashay T-shirt. I got compliments on it from two identifiably genderqueer people and one apparent dude in a lab coat. I am not sure what the cuttlefish with which I had an inadvertent conversation thought. Mostly I am concerned that way I unfolded my fingers communicated something rude in Sepiida, because it startled back from the glass immediately and flung up two of its arms. Its colors fluttered in intensity, although not in hue. Later it was distracted by one of its fellows stalking and suddenly engulfing a crab with a movement rather like being attacked by a collapsing umbrella. One of the other cuttlefish already had a crab in its arms when we got there and was patiently crunching its way through the stiff carapace. I visited the electric eel as usual and Gaudior spent time with the leafy sea dragons. The renovated octopus exhibit is a beautiful little installation of transparent or patterned glass jars suspended on knotted ropes for the cephalopods to climb along or curl up inside. In the crowd around us, I heard at least two languages I couldn't recognize by ear. We weren't sure if the ungodly yells that echoed from the first floor as we were leaving belonged to a small child or a penguin.

Afterward we walked for dinner to Boston Public Market, where we split the fancy mac and ginger switchel from Jasper Hill Farm and the cabbage knish and jaw-dropping shakalatkes (shakshuka served over latkes: a great moment in Jewish food) from Inna's Kitchen and finished with apple crisp and cider slushies from Red Apple Farm, all of which was unexpectedly epic. Gaudior pointed out afterward that latkes and apple cider are autumn-to-winter foods and I said that I did not think Cernunnos, Lord of Summer was going to hold it against them. I was really limping badly by the time we got back to the car, but so far it doesn't look like there's blood. This cannot be the most inconvenient thing that has ever happened to one of my feet—the chillblains were pretty stupid—but it's pretty far up there.

In other home news, I am intrigued that the line of berbere I sprinkled along my threshold at four in the morning actually appears to have kept off the ants that were swarming into my room from the hallway where the next door over is the basement stairs—I kept seeing red pepper used as an ant deterrent in the Benjamin January books and then my mother independently mentioned it and I haven't had to contend with any foragers so far tonight, fingers crossed. I did not appreciate being bitten as I was trying to go to bed.

I have no idea why one of our neighbors just set off a string of firecrackers or cherry bombs. Maybe they also solved their ant problem and felt like celebrating.
23 July 2016 16:26 - Context is for the weak
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
His effect on conversation a bit like Saruman's on tree conservation, isn't it?
22 July 2016 22:52 - still reading, still listening
pantryslut: (Default)
I started "Between the World and Me" this week, coincidentally aligning with the Republican National Convention spectacle. It was kind of disturbing, actually, to read Coates' discussion of The [American] Dream and its costs while all that was going on. Exhibit A on display.

I had some drama around my column this week. But it got posted. Tagged and Tweeted and everything too.

sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
City-walking with [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel did not pan out since I am still limping like an elegiac couplet, but we did get dinner together at Bronwyn in Union Square, where they serve chilled borscht with sour cream and counterintuitive but successful cubes of watermelon, and walk (slowly) back under an apocalyptic sky of thunderheads at sunset, complete with cloud-to-cloud lightning and the kind of livid glare usually seen only in nineteenth-century paintings of the wrath of God. I am incredibly disappointed at the subsequent lack of hurled thunderbolts. If nothing else, it would have helped with the humidity.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
If I am to get up early without sleep, I much prefer catching a train to see an incredible stage production to looking at an apartment which I will probably not be able to rent, but the latter was this morning nonetheless. Let's get back to New York.

Essentially, I had four goals for this trip: see Hadestown, hang out with [livejournal.com profile] ladymondegreen (with bonus points if I got to talk to either [livejournal.com profile] akawil or [livejournal.com profile] pecunium for longer than the traditional forty-five seconds in the middle of Arisia), hang out with Michael Cisco, and buy books. All were achieved. I expected to sleep on the train down from Boston, but instead I wrote a poem.

I appreciate that Lady Mondegreen's work-mates seemed to be all right with me stashing my stuff under her desk and running off without much in the way of introduction. I got in a brief conversation about Tolkien with two of them. The security guard in the downstairs lobby apparently missed me coming through the first time, which worked fine until I tried to get back into the building. In hindsight of the state of my foot, possibly I should not have walked the mile and a half to the Strand, but since I will prioritize books over almost any other comfort I don't actually regret it, especially since I scored a hardcover of Barbara Hambly's Graveyard Dust (1999) and two Hard Case Crime reprints with superlatively pulp titles, namely David Goodis' The Wounded and the Slain (1955) and Ed McBain's The Gutter and the Grave (1958), which I did not intentionally purchase as a pair. I keep thinking about McBain's So Nude, So Dead (1953), but I'm genuinely not sure it will be able to live up to its title. I hadn't realized before that the bookstore ships, which of course makes sense if you're thinking about international business—Boston is objectively not that far off, but it still enabled me to send my mother a pair of Dick Francis hardcovers which would otherwise have been difficult for me to transport. No luck on the biographies of Van Heflin and Dorothy Arzner or the translated poetry of Aleksei Kruchonykh. I will bravely face of the prospect of more used book stores.

For dinner before the show, we ended up at Whole Foods, that being the easiest place to feed Lady Mondegreen and in this case about four blocks from the theater. I am weirdly unsurprised that Whole Foods in New York City carries the crunchy things of my childhood for which I have been searching fruitlessly in Boston for over a year now. I bought several bags. Then I had to carry them everywhere. Still worth it. I did not realize until we got there that the New York Theatre Workshop was next to KGB Bar, where I have been many times. We saw Hadestown and I loved it. Afterward we could have cut our time to the PATH by catching the subway, but we took the scenic route on foot. I didn't think we had walked as far as the Manhattan Bridge, but I don't have another explanation for the massive granite arch and colonnade that caused me to remark again that more cities should have monumental architecture. That said, I find the high-vaulted underground station at the World Trade Center a very strange space. Apparently it is supposed to resemble an eye or a bird in flight; I looked at its ribs and spines and sternum of marble and paint-whitened steel and could think of nothing unless a cathedral designed by H.R. Giger or Stanley Kubrick's idea of an ossuary. Lady Mondegreen informed me that part of it is also a mall. I am pretty sure you are not supposed to put a mall in an ossuary. I would also lose the gigantic American flag currently unfurled from one level to the next, although perhaps that's only because I am feeling very wary of the ways in which national symbols can be used these days. On yet the other hand, I asked for monumental architecture and I got it. It's an enormous art installation for the practical benefit of the public and it's even made out of materials designed to last more than a lifetime. I am probably happier that it exists than not. It's got the 1968 Penn Station beat sideways, that's for sure.

Most houses are mosaics of the people who live in them, but the one in which I was staying the night had an especially distinct personality—it featured a kitchen with about ten different kinds of honey on offer (I put two of them in my blueberry tea), a balcony garden containing etrogs, olives, and pomegranates (which I have just been informed are blooming), and a bathroom decorated with mermaid pictures. We could not figure out how to turn on the fan in my bedroom, but I opened a window; there are not many stars visible in the light-smudged sky over Jersey City, but there was an immense hunter's moon with craters like scrimshaw that had tracked us through the streets as we walked from the theater. I browsed Lady Mondegreen's shelves and we talked about children's books and early imprints and late, important discoveries. She gave me a shell from Israel as a down payment on further fragments of antiquity and the sea. We stayed up way too late and I slept almost nine hours, including through some insistent morning construction across the street.

Pecunium was still at home when I woke up the next afternoon and not only talked to me for more than forty-five seconds but helpfully provided some antibiotic cream and molefoam padding to cushion around my heel. I found my way back to Manhattan in time to meet Michael for what turned out to be dinner at Cha-an Teahouse: in my case, lavender mint tea, smoked salmon toast (nota bene: the toast is approximately the dimensions of a Roman brick and the salmon heavily layered underneath a mustard-dressed salad; this is a feature, not a bug), and black sesame crème brûlée, which came surmounted by black sesame ice cream and a savory, buttery, doily-ish object I can only describe as a black sesame Florentine. Afterward he treated me to a ceremonial shot of mezcal at La Palapa, having correctly diagnosed that I would like Del Maguey Minero because it is essentially the peat monster of mezcals. He charged me with writing either a story or a poem with the title "I Left My Heart with the Banana Slugs." Somebody hold me to that. Lady Mondegreen very kindly waited at her office so that I could retrieve my once again desk-stashed stuff and we parted on the far side of the shortcut through Café R, which is fortunately nowhere near as impassable as the Styx.

I always forget there's a tiny bookstore in Penn Station. I went in for a bottle of water and came out with Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman's The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Rescue (2009) because [livejournal.com profile] negothick had mentioned at Readercon that one of the co-authors was rather distressed at the romanticization of the story. Much to my surprise, I got back to Boston while the subway trains were still running. I did a lot of catch-up work and wrote about Hadestown. I didn't sleep at all, so we'll see how the rest of the day goes. It may involve city-walking with [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel, since I'm fond of the one I live in, too.

It was a really splendid forty-eight hours.
rosefox: A sci-fi landscape and the words "DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC". (patriotism-dissent)
Trump made a scary speech last night. Today Max Gladstone had some passionate thoughts on not being immobilized by that fear.

This is really, really important. It's JULY. Stop acting like Trump's already won!

I understand being scared. Take a day and feel the fear. Then let it power you into positive action.

Last night a friend asked what I thought they should be doing to prepare for helping people if Trump wins, which I guess meant "should we furnish our attic for the next Anne Frank" or something. I told them that I have the energy to either phonebank for Clinton or become a President Trump prepper, but not both. So I'm going to phonebank for Clinton.

(Is she perfect? No, obviously not. But she's not a dangerous fascist, and Trump is, so Clinton's got my vote and my activism. That seems pretty straightforward to me.)

Also, I refuse to treat fascism as the tipping point for helping those in need. Help the people who are in need now, and who will be that much worse off under a Trump presidency. The institutional equivalent of your furnished attic is your local shelter; perhaps you could give them some time or money. Or donate to the Ali Forney Center; while Trump makes grotesque claims about loving abstract theoretical LGBTQ people, the Ali Forney Center is helping real actual queer kids who've been kicked out by their families. Or fight felony disenfranchisement, which horribly skews the demographics of who can vote. Or support organizations helping Syrian refugees to counter Trump calling them all future terrorists, or tear down his wall before he can put it up by supporting organizations for just and humane border practices on the U.S.-Mexico border. He has so many odious policies and positions that there are a hundred different ways you can push back against them, so pick one that calls to you.

And phonebank for Clinton*--you can do it right now from your home, so throw a phonebanking party or make five quick calls before work every day or whatever suits you--or volunteer locally. Give money and/or time to the Democrats or MoveOn or Avaaz or your preferred organization. As Max says, don't let the fuckers think they already own tomorrow.


and we have four months to win this. That is not a lot of time, but it's enough time as long as we don't pause too long to wallow in despair.

Don't furnish your attic toward an inevitable fascist tomorrow. Fight NOW so that no one needs to hide in an attic ever again.

P.S. Lots of people have been dropped from voter rolls. Check your registration right now. Re-register if you need to. And then register your friends and neighbors and relatives. And then help them get to the polls, or make their postal votes. And bring your kids to the polls with you so they can see democracy in action and learn that when they're old enough voting will be important for them to do. We need all hands on deck, now and in the future--the future that we get to shape.

* You may need to disable ad blockers to get the Clinton phonebank page to work.

Feel free to share the link to this post as widely as you like.
22 July 2016 04:37 - That was not six months
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
[Begun on the regional Amtrak back to Boston, completed much, much later when the internet was reliable enough to allow me to finish my day's work first.]

The last time I caught an evening train out of Penn Station, it was early April and the sky at eight o'clock was already dark. Now I'm looking at railyards and construction scaffolding and cranes by that smoky peach-blue light for which there should be an English adjective, but I've never heard one. It's a wonderful color for seeing a city at a distance. The river looks like folded metal; the skyline looks like a set behind a scrim. I'm pretty sure I learned how to describe cities from Tanith Lee's Paradys. From a height, I glanced behind me once, and saw the river, a scimitar of pure metal, white-hot, as the City lapsed in the shallows of the dying afternoon.

I was not expecting to love Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin's Hadestown even better than the original album, but I am not entirely surprised. It is not just that the ellipses of the original songs are fleshed out into a full through-composed score which allows even its gods the depth of tragedy or that at least a third of the music is new since the original recording, although the new music is half of the show's power. The haunting opener "Any Way the Wind Blows" explicitly strengthens the Dust Bowl, Depression echoes of the original setting, pointing up the harshness of the world and the stakes for Eurydike who has already known what it is to starve: in the fever of a world in flames, in the season of the hurricanes, flood'll get you if the fire don't . . . in the valley of the exodus, in the belly of a bowl of dust . . . Sisters gone, gone the gypsy route. Brothers gone, gone for a job down south. Gone the same way as the shantytown and the traveling show—any way the wind blows. Where we were originally introduced to the lovers with the playfully combative call-and-response "Wedding Song," the show first gives them a courtship between Eurydike's experienced wariness and Orpheus' dreamy arrogance, to be echoed devastatingly when they meet again in the underworld: it is called "Come Home with Me." When steel-hard, coin-cold Hades is softened in the second act by Orpheus' simple retelling of his love for Persephone when it was awestruck and new, the Fates' "Word to the Wise" recalls him to his responsibilities as the unforgiving king of walls and floodlights, to the very same self-doubt and mistrust and anxiety that will in turn, inexorably, cause the poet to look back. It's not even just the sprechstimme narration of Hermes, the cardsharp of the gods with his hip flask and his rolled-up sleeves and his nattily feathered fedora, although his scratchy confidence man's storytelling ensures that the only moments of dialogue in the show without some kind of rhyme or musical support are the ones that land like blows. Blessed among epic traditions, it's the reperformance and the recontextualization.

I can explain this best with two songs that I happen to love, because they're katabatic. "Way Down Hadestown" is the third track on the original album, after Orpheus and Eurydike's "Wedding Song" and Orpheus' "Epic I," the first version of the song with which he will turn a god's heart. It is our introduction to Hermes, bawling "All aboard!" before the music kicks off; it is our introduction to Persephone, as if she just stepped onto the platform with a suitcase in her hand, waiting for the god of the railway depot to conduct her to the other world. In the show, Hermes has been our master of ceremonies for six or eight songs already; we have watched Orpheus and Eurydike fall in love in the blossoming days of spring and summer, "living it up on top" with Persephone who makes the most of her half-year in the light, patron of fruit and wine and flowers and things that grow, like love. Now it is autumn and all of a sudden the song takes on a specific and immediate importance: it is a New Orleans jazz funeral for Persephone, a trombone-wailing, fiddle-slanging processional—second line umbrella not excluded—accompanying her to her annual death. Winter's nigh and summer's over—I hear that high and lonesome sound of my husband coming for to bring me home to Hadestown. Way down Hadestown, way down under the ground. A train whistle wails twice, blown by Hermes; a dry white light makes a blinding tunnel between the audience's seats, the headlights of Hades' oncoming train.1 The god who should not be seen steps out of its nothing-colored glare, silhouetted in the haze like three-dimensional film noir. "You're early," his wife spits, her carpetbag full of flowers and a flask and even a little morphine—those multi-purpose poppies—against the worst of winter. His voice is dark and amused, deep as a seam of coal: "I missed you." And she's gone. Which brings me to "Wait for Me." In the original recording, it is the duet of Orpheus guided by Hades: the god whispering the perils and tricks of the underworld, the poet following, calling over and over to his lost love, Wait for me, I'm coming . . . Onstage, it is explicit that the "long way down" is the roundabout route that the living must take with no coin to cross the Styx—he's some kind of poet and he's penniless—but it is not a solitary journey. The Fates prepare the way, transforming the open sky of the upper world into the industrial ceiling of Hadestown with its fan-grilled electric lights instead of moon or sun or stars: set them swinging in time with Orpheus' singing, slow as the drag of a nightmare. The rest of the cast join in with him, the gods and the Moirai and the dead, Eurydike with her hood pulled up like Persephone, her light snuffed out, not knowing that anyone is coming for her. Wait for me, I'm coming with you, I'm coming, too . . . She will sing the same words to Orpheus as he begins the long walk out of the underworld and she follows with the same dreamlike slow motion, an insubstantial shade struggling against the event horizon of death. The expanded script of Hadestown parallels Hades/Persephone and Orpheus/Eurydike throughout, down to the casting of two white men and two women of color. Take it from an old man, Hades cynically counseled Orpheus, just as Persephone encouraged Eurydike to take the advice of a woman of my age, both of them speaking of the inevitable breaking of love. When Orpheus turns back at the threshold of the upper air with the light behind him, it is the same pattern, fixed and repeating as figures moving around the curve of a vase. "You're early," Eurydike breathes, the last thing she will ever say to her husband. Orpheus' voice is caught in his throat, small as the snapped stem of a flower: "I missed you." And she's gone. I loved both "Way Down Hadestown" and "Wait for Me" when I heard them for the first time six years ago; now they are a significant part of the reason I want a recording of this cast. ("Any Way the Wind Blows" is also incompletely stuck in my head.)

The set is simple. The theater looks like it would be a black box in its natural habitat; this show built it into an amphitheatre. The seven-piece orchestra occupies a section of bleachers opposite the audience's entrance, beneath the catwalk and the door in the blank brick wall that leads to the upper world. A tree grows out of the bandstand, twisting its branches like the tines of antlers up into the stage lighting; it sheds paper blossoms in spring for Persephone's return and autumn leaves the color of iron rust for her departure in the fall. The cast carry on a handful of props at best—kerosene lanterns for the Fates, Persephone's carpetbag, Orpheus' guitar. Eurydike's winter coat that is not heavy enough to keep the road-weary cold from her back. A coin. There are two or three old-time-radio-style microphones2 that can be moved from the bandstand to the circle of center stage; Hades commands one to seduce Eurydike with the deep black river of "Hey, Little Songbird" or catechize the denizens of Hadestown in the anti-revival "Why We Build the Wall," while another is reserved for intimate duets between mortal lovers or gods. The costumes suggest the 1930's and are full of little touches, entirely extratextual nods to the myth. The Fates are never named, but the tall lynx-slim blonde one must be Atropos because she wears a pair of shears in a holster at her side; the pendant on the breast of dark-skinned Lachesis with her tightly cropped crimson hair is a folded slide ruler in its leather sheath; sharp-smiling Klotho with her dark hair braided atop her head wears three cords of undyed yarn across her chest like a bandolier. Persephone is dressed in slinky, summery green wrapped ankle to shoulder with a trellis of blooming vines; the lacy edge of a poppy-red slip just peeks out from beneath its hem. There are flowers in her hair, but their petals are as split and red as pomegranates. Hades wears dark glasses—the signature of anonymity, as good in the movies as a helm of invisibility—which he removes only once safely under the earth and even then his eyes are narrowed in a skeptical sneer, except for one vulnerable, precisely timed moment when he is reminded of something he thought forever lost: the smell of the flowers she held in her hand and the pollen that fell from her fingertips . . . a man with a taste of nectar upon his lips. Hermes with the step-right-up showmanship of a carnival talker captions the first meeting of Eurydike with Hades as "Songbird vs. Rattlesnake," shivering a matchbox's rattle to signal that the god himself is the serpent that caused her death. And the Fates are not malevolent, but they are the immutable way the world goes: they do not drive the story to tragedy; it always was—was going to be, has been—one. There is a fragile hope in the parting of Hades and Persephone, the gods who have eternity to get it right. We who are human have one shot and sometimes we get it wrong. We try. Goodnight, brothers, goodnight.

The production runs through the end of the month, which means next Sunday; I strongly encourage anyone in the New York area and even some people who aren't to see about tickets if they can. I am told that there will be a recording of the NYTW cast, and I am just waiting until I can throw money at it, but some of the more piercing moments will not be audible, like the transformation of the instrumental "Lovers' Desire" into a dance between Persephone and Hades, their first moment of affectionate connection in millennia, or the way that Hades' token of promised wealth and luxury, folded into Eurydike's hand as he leaves her, is the same coin with which she pays Hermes for her own death. I saw all of the original cast except for Hermes and Atropos and I have to say that they were as iconic and indelible in their roles as everyone else onstage. The whole thing was eminently worth the exhaustion and flurry of travel, even if I seem to have paid for my own descent-and-return in the time-honored fashion, leaving behind part of my pants and an unexpected amount of blood.3 I will describe the rest of the trip tomorrow. It was also lovely. Right now I'm going to see about sleeping before dawn.

1. I realized then that I was hearing a different song inside my head, conjured by nothing more than the stagecraft and the slant chime of the folk tradition. Go tell the ballroom lady, dressed all in worldly pride, that death's dark train is coming—prepare to take a ride. There's a little black train a-coming . . . I can't prove it's intentional as opposed to a side effect of drawing on the same symbol-set as the relevant folk songs, because there are no lyrical or musical allusions that I was able to detect, but I found it extremely resonant either way. I always heard the owe my soul to the company store of Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons" behind Mitchell's Hades who rules over miners of mines, diggers of graves, they bowed down to Hades who gave them work and they bowed down to Hades who made them sweat, who paid them their wages and set them about digging and dredging and dragging the depths of the earth to turn its insides out yet whose realm is inescapable because Mr. Hades is a mean old boss with a silver whistle and a golden scale—an eye for an eye and he weighs the cost, a lie for a lie and your soul for sale, sold to the king on the chromium throne, thrown to the bottom of a Sing Sing cell, but the likeness leaps out even more strongly when Eurydike, newly arrived in Hadestown, literally signs her life away behind the closed doors of Hades' office. The show is scattered with moments like these, intermingled with the classical ones: two oral traditions in tandem.

2. [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel, if it turns out there's video of this show, I will play it for you and you will tell me exactly what make and model the microphones were, because I can describe them if you give me time but not so technically that the internet will cough up the documentation I want.

3. Due to wholly unrelated incidents, I hasten to add! I pay weird travel prices with New York. In April, my hat broke (and was resurrected thanks to the good offices of Salmagundi, but still). This time, the zipper on the fly of my corduroys rather startlingly disintegrated—tiny metal teeth went flying—requiring me to purchase some safety pins from a drugstore in order to go among decent people without comment and all I'm going to say about the blister on my heel is that my pain thresholds must have come back up in the last ten years, because I wasn't expecting to walk down Broadway from 31st Street to 12th and then from East 4th Street to the World Trade Center in perceptible but otherwise manageable discomfort and then take my shoes off to find that my sock looked like it belonged to one of Cinderella's older sisters according to Grimm. I just looked at my original statement and realized it sounded like Theseus, that one time he quite literally left his ass in Hades.
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)

“Just be more respectful to the police!”
“Comply and cooperate!”
“Black people wouldn’t keep getting shot if they stopped acting like criminals!”

A behavioral therapist and an autistic man. The therapist (black) was on the ground with his hands in the air. He identified himself to the police. He told them the other man was playing with a toy truck.

The police fired three shots. They hit the therapist in the leg. They handcuffed both men, and left the therapist bleeding in the street for 20 minutes.

When the therapist asked why he’d been shot, the officer allegedly said, “I don’t know.”

Later, he said he’d been aiming for the autistic man, but missed. (Three times.)

To those blaming unarmed black men for being shot by the police, how will you justify this one?

Yes, being a police officer is a difficult job. There are times when you have to shoot to stop the bad guy, to protect your life and the life of others. Apparently the police had received a call about a suicidal man with a gun earlier that day.

But if you can mistake a black man on the ground with his hands up and an autistic man playing with a truck for an immediate and deadly threat, maybe you shouldn’t be a police officer.

What will it take for this country to realize so many of these police shootings are unnecessary? To realize how many people are dead for no good reason. For no reason except our learned fear of black men?

And the fact that they’re trying to *justify* this by saying the officer was shooting at the autistic man? Horrifying. Frightening. Disgusting. And another example of our abysmal handling of psychological and mental health issues, both as a society in general, and in law enforcement specifically.

There are individual police departments working to do better. There are a lot of good cops out there. But it’s not enough. We need to do better as a nation. More training, accountability, and less-lethal options from the people we have empowered to enforce the law. (Better laws would help as well, in many cases.) We need to demand better from our elected leaders, and vote out those who refuse to push for changes that would help everyone, including the police.

Until we do, innocent people will continue to be shot. They will continue to die. And for what? The crime of being black? Of being mentally ill?

Stop making excuses. Stop letting people die while we look the other way. Stop pretending everything’s fine because acknowledging anything else might make you uncomfortable. Stop enabling a culture and a system that steals the lives of innocent people.

Did the officer consciously and deliberately set out to shoot an innocent, unarmed black man? I highly doubt it. He may be telling the truth when he says he was intending to save the therapist from an (imagined) threat.

But intentions don’t stop gunshots. They don’t heal bullet holes. They don’t bring back the dead.


North Miami Police Shoot Black Man Who Said His Hands Were Raised While He Tried to Help an Autistic Patient

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

21 July 2016 18:39 - A novel experience
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
The optometry student who did my exam today has the same eye condition. Stuff I struggle to explain to regular people, she got!
21 July 2016 16:03
yhlee: Texas bluebonnet (text: same). (TX bluebonnet (photo: snc2006 on sxc.hu))
Okay, I have to do something. I don't know if this will work, but...

Six slots for original flash fairy tales or hexarchate vignettes of at least 500 words. If I write extra words, no charge to you. I will deliver within three weeks by posting the story or vignette to DW.

The cost: Make a donation of at least $10 USD either to (a) a charity of your choice (I am personally fond of Doctors Without Borders [Médecins Sans Frontières], but it's your call) or (b) Hillary Clinton's campaign. [1]

[1] I'm a registered Democrat and I'm...very worried about a potential Trump presidency?

Leave a comment with your prompt (a brief phrase or scenario), then email a screencap of your donation receipt/confirmation to me at yoon at yoonhalee dot com (please feel free to black out any personal information using the graphics editor of your choice) when you claim your slot. I will reply to confirm.

I reserve the right to ask for an alternate prompt if the one you left is causing critical writer failure.

1. [personal profile] tbutler: folk songs/comedy. "The Librarian and the Rider."
2. [personal profile] storme: masks
3. [personal profile] sputnikhearts: cherry blossoms and corpses
4. [personal profile] cohomology : servitor math glitch/comedy
21 July 2016 11:20 - Roses and Rot
yhlee: blue rose (Andan blue rose (credit: <user name="tel)
It's been years since I read a Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer retelling, but I have been drawn to them ever since I imprinted on Elizabeth Marie Pope's children's novel The Perilous Gard, which I first encountered in elementary school. I also liked Pamela Dean's Tam Lin enough to read it several times in high school, and was sorely disappointed that the translation of Roman de la Rose that I got my hands on years later through the library wasn't nearly as entrancing as the version that Dean described in her novel.

I picked up Kat Howard's Roses and Rot out of the library because it promised a take on Tam Lin that involved sisters rather than lovers. Here, Faerie is connected to Melete, a prestigious artists' retreat whose fellows seem to emerge uplifted to extraordinary levels of creative success. Imogen, a writer, and her sister Marin, a dancer, are the first siblings to attend in the same year.

Imogen and Marin are close, very close, but their relationship has suffered ever since Imogen escaped their abusive mother by getting into a private school but leaving Marin behind. Reunited after years of silence and estrangement, they discover that Melete is not all it seems and that its promises will pit them against each other--for only one of them can win her heart's desire.

This is one of those unfortunate instances of a competently written book that I wanted to be better than it actually was. You would think that I would identify more with Imogen, despite my usual aversion for writer protagonists; and the whole trope of sisters supporting each other is one that I am drawn to. Imogen's mother encouraged Marin's dancing--Marin was the favored daughter--but was brutal toward Imogen's ambitions to become a writer. I was luckier. My parents told me repeatedly from the time I was in 3rd grade that writing was a complete waste of time, but they also patiently provided me with notebooks and writing implements and eventually a computer, and didn't, for instance, destroy my work. Read more... )

[cross-post: Patreon]
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
I’ve known Stephanie Clarkson since she was a young teen hanging around my game store. I saw her grow up and find her place as an adult. Recently, she struggled with major health problems. Just as she seemed to have turned the corner on that, she was diagnosed with cancer. Stephanie died on July 19th, 2016.

Patricia Washburn is raising funds for Stephanie’s final expenses. To help her in this, I am running a seventy-two hour sales: commissions are half off ($50 a review) and all funds raised from reviews commissioned between now and 10 AM, July 23rd will be forwarded to Patricia.

Aside from price, the usual terms apply.
21 July 2016 09:00 - Same Ol’ Situation
ceciliatan: (darons guitar)

Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.

[TW: Racism.]
I’ve been here before. I had that thought repeatedly at Lakewood Amphitheater. The loading dock was familiar. The men’s room was familiar. A particular part of concrete hallway was familiar.

Over there was where Jonathan kissed me. And there was the spot where Courtney tore Dave a new one. But most of all I was haunted by the image of a bandaged, fragile Ziggy here, there, and everywhere. We’d almost cancelled this show, I remembered.

I remembered having to put antibiotic drops in my eye and being unable to take a proper shower because of the need to keep the bandages dry.

Jeezus, let’s hope we never have to go through something like that again.

Read the rest of this entry » )
20 July 2016 21:47 - Borderline
yhlee: Fall-From-Grace from Planescape: Torment (PST FFG (art: maga))
I will own that I became intrigued by Mishell Baker's Borderline (apparently the first volume of a projected series, The Arcadia Project) mainly on the strength of the protagonist being a woman with borderline personality disorder (BPD; not to be confused with bipolar disorder, which, despite having a similar arrangement of letters, should not be abbreviated that way [1]). In Borderline, Millie, once a budding film director, is rebuilding her life after making a suicide attempt that resulted in her legs being amputated (she jumped and lived). It turns out that "rebuilding her life" means signing on with the Arcadia Project, which recruits unusual people to help enforce the Accords between the fae and human realms. But the initial assignment given her, meant to test her suitability for the project, turns complicated when a Sidhe goes missing.

[1] Full disclosure: I have a diagnosis of bipolar I.

I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did, given that it contains a number of tropes and elements that I am usually hostile to or actively bored by. There was a point in time when I was interested in novels that dealt with Faerie, but I burned out on them a long time ago. While some of the fae in this novel are entertaining, the whole deal with the Sidhe's unearthly beauty and flightiness didn't do much for me.

Given that the novel takes place around Los Angeles and Millie's background as a young director, Hollywood and Hollywood connections play a large part. I am also largely bored by Hollywood. Once in a while I look up an actor or TV show on IMDB and that's pretty much the extent of it.

And I am especially, especially done with the whole trope of muses. One of the key ideas in this novel is that all human creativity is sourced from contact with Faerie, which I personally find depressing beyond belief. Because the novel focuses on Hollywood, the kind of creativity referenced is usually movie-making, acting, art; there's a couple stray references that inventors also have fae muses. Human-fae partnerships are apparently tremendously fruitful for both parties (your counterpart in the other realm is called an Echo), as fae fuel creativity while humans provide, for lack of a better term, organizational skills--the ability to remember and do mathematics and so on. I honestly would have been far more interested in what the fae were getting from the partnership, but no, the focus was on the creativity magic, which, whatever. As someone with a math degree, I also think that people in STEM fields are getting short shrift--e.g. pure mathematics is in fact a highly creative endeavor; you are literally creating structures out of pure thought. I often think (and this is probably an unpopular opinion) that in some sense being a mathematician is more creative than being a sf writer. But I could be wrong; maybe in later books we'll find out about engineers and their Echoes.

While there is a reasonably logical rationale given for the Arcadia Project recruiting people with mental illnesses, as someone with a mental illness, the whole "band of crazy people doing things together because of their weird, special, crazy way of seeing the world" trope makes me tired. (Full disclosure: I also passionately hate Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire, but that's an entire post in itself.) It's really a credit to Baker's bravura characterizations that I was able to continue reading this at all; I won't lie, I almost put the book down about fifty pages in because I was very wary. What saves this from being awful is that while Millie is messed-up, she's also extremely compelling, and Baker treats her with compassion without flinching from her nastier traits.

The book remains a fun and relatively fast read, although I enjoyed the first half more than the second, when all the dominoes start falling down. Part of my problem with the latter part of the book was the apparently arbitrary way that information got shared. I get that Millie is in a trial period and they don't want to tell her all the top secret stuff straight off, but as the book progresses, a lot of things happen that could have been prevented by someone with the organizational skills of a bright high schooler putting together a two-page handout of procedures and Things to Know About the Fae, and it stretched my ability to take the plot seriously.

Overall, I don't regret reading the book. It was a fun way to pass a few hours. But I am not sure I'm going to seek out the sequel when it comes out.

Please note that I have no comment on the specific portrayal of BPD, which is a mental illness whose existence I know about, but that's it. In fact, I largely find BPD confusing; I remember asking a former therapist what the difference between it and bipolar disorder was because some of the symptoms look like they overlap. Said therapist told me that the two disorders are definitely distinct but wasn't able to explain it in a way that made sense to me. Which is fine, because I'm not a psychiatric professional. I also have no comment on the portrayal of disability--Millie is a double amputee and gets around both with prosthetics and a wheelchair. If anyone who does know about that wants to weigh in, I'm all ears.

Another note: Given that Millie is the survivor of a suicide attempt, this may be triggery for some readers. I'm damn near impossible to trigger with fictional depictions of suicide so I'm not the best judge, but if you have specific questions and want me to spoil you, I can try to answer them. There are also other depictions of self-harm.

[cross-post: Patreon]
20 July 2016 11:07 - Hugo Voting Ends July 31
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)

As you know, Bob, voting for the Hugo Awards closes at the end of the month.

I’m still working my way through the nominated material from the voters packet and online. Some thoughts on various categories…

Best Fanzine: I’ve been saying for about a year now that I think Mike Glyer’s File 770 earned this one, both for the ongoing coverage of last year’s Hugo mess — with links to a range of opinions — and for the sheer amount of fandom-related information the man manages to curate and present every day.

Best Professional Editor (Long Form): My own editor, Sheila Gilbert, is once again up for this one. I’m obviously biased here. Sheila has been wonderful to work with for the past ten years, and she’s made every one of my own books better.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): I struggled a bit with this one, but ultimately decided to go with The Martian for my number one spot. I love the pro-science, pro-intelligence, and generally optimistic and hopeful tone of the story. Plus, you know, poop potatoes and lines like “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Mad Max: Fury Road was a close second.

Best Related Work: I haven’t finished reading the nominees yet, but so far I’ve yet to read one that isn’t crap.

Best Short Story: Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures, Please” is my favorite so far, but I’m not done reading this category yet either. “If You Were An Award, My Love,” goes below No Award, but is interesting if only because it shows how obsessed the Rabid Puppies have been with pissing all over anything they don’t understand or personally approve of, to the point of including a threat against the author at the end. I love Chuck Tingle’s persona and his ongoing counter-trolling of Vox Day and the Rabid puppies, but “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” is also going below No Award. (Though it will be ranked above “If You Were An Award, My Love.”)

Best Fan Artist: This may be another No Award category. Thus far, I’ve got Kukuruyo at the very bottom, thanks in part to his penchant for drawing naked/sexual cartoons of underage SF/F girls.

Best Novella: Right now, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti is at the top of my list. (It’s also the only work that wasn’t on the Rabid Puppy slate. Coincidence?)


For those of you reading and voting, any particular stand-outs you’d like to recommend from this year’s nominees?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

20 July 2016 10:42 - This I Believe
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
That squirrel trick of interposing a tree between the squirrel and a human really requires the tree to be wider than the squirrel.
sovay: (Rotwang)
The smugness I feel at having successfully caught a train at an hour when I am usually just managing to fall asleep was somewhat mitigated by the discovery that Barbara's Bestsellers apparently keeps hours more like my usual and in consequence wasn't yet open for business. Good thing I brought Patricia McKillip's Kingfisher (2016). The last time I looked out at these tracks, everything was sugar-glossed with snow and the sky was winter-eating blue. Now the trees are the locust green of late summer and the sky is hazy with translucent cardings of cloud and the sunlight gets thickly in everywhere, even though I'm wearing my jacket against the quiet car's air conditioning; it was shirtsleeves weather already by the time I was waiting for the 85 bus, having packed as lightly as possible thanks to the prospect of shlepping my backpack around more of New York City than is ideal for either my lower back or the quarter-sized blister with which my right heel opportunistically presented me last night. I don't care. Our next stop is Providence. I can't wait to see the salt marshes.

[edit] I saw a doe. She was the red sesame color of a shiba inu; she sprang away from the train into the trees at the marsh's edge, showing the white flash of her tail. The water is the wind-flagged blue clouded under with green that makes me want to go swimming. I saw a line of ducks on the far side, nearer the houses, but I have seen ducks in salt marshes before: not deer.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
Well, I have run out of further Benjamin January to read until the library gets me a copy of Drinking Gourd (2016). I am having such fun with this series. I maintain that a television adaptation would be Dionysos' gift to actors of color and their audience.

Tonight I saw Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949) at the Brattle with [personal profile] skygiants. It's staccato and stylized and twisty and features the most deludedly self-disclaiming protagonist this side of Double Indemnity (1944); I'd like to write about it. My brain has felt like a blank wall since Readercon. The combination of catch-up work and heat wave utterly destroyed both my spare time and my sleep. I slept about nine hours last night, but that was under extenuating circumstances. I'd like to say that I'll see what I can get done on the train tomorrow, but in all probability I'll just sleep until Penn Station. I used to wake up at New Haven no matter where I was going. I suppose it's a good sign that I no longer always do.

I discovered this poet's first collection at a time when I could not afford to buy it, but I recommend this poem and all his other work you can find: Dan Taulapapa McMullin, "The Doors of the Sea."
19 July 2016 21:34 - The Alloy of Law
yhlee: wax seal (Default)
I got into Brandon Sanderson by way of my husband, with the original Mistborn trilogy (Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages). Joe and I like to read some of the same books, despite our frequently diverging tastes in sf/f, so that we can have something to discuss together. Mistborn turned out to be more to his tastes than mine: big, epic plot, a rigorously worked-out magic system (almost to the point of seeming mechanistic), and some great twists. I did enjoy it, but wished for deeper characterization. In particular, the heroine, Vin, never quite came as alive for me as I would have liked; it always seemed like she was overshadowed by her mentor Kelsier or some of the other epic figures floating around the setting.

Nevertheless, when Joe picked up Sanderson's follow-up The Alloy of Law and suggested that I read it, I was willing enough. I'm trying to avoid spoilers for the initial trilogy, but The Alloy of Law takes place some time after the end, in what's essentially a Western-inspired setting with bonus magic on top of the "Wild West" equivalent, trains, and advent of electricity. The magic in the Mistborn books is based on a number of specific metals, which people born with the appropriate magical abilities can use to create specific magical effects.

The protagonist, Waxillium (Wax) Ladrian, has two abilities: he can burn steel by ingesting it in order to Push on nearby metals, and he can use iron to alter his weight. These powers, plus his uncanny gun skills, make him formidable in a fight--which is good when you're a lawman in the Roughs. But the death of his uncle obliges Wax to return to head House Ladrian, which has been left destitute. Read more... )

[cross-post: Patreon]
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