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books recently read

[btvs] Giles Librarian
Somehow it's been almost a year since I made one of these posts. I don't know how that happened. I've been reading fewer books than I used to, but not that many fewer.

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin. Told in Le Guin's usual effortless-looking prose, but for some reason it took me three tries to get through this, and it isn't even terribly long. I think my disinterest in myth and fairytale accounted for a lot of the difficulty; I find myself more interested in intimate character portrayals these days, rather than the distant, larger-than-life views such as the one Le Guin gives us of Ged. I still plan to read the rest of the series, because I feel I should, but I do not feel terribly enthused about the prospect.

Ubik, by Philip K. Dick. Reread. Oh, PKD. This was the first novel of his I ever read, and now, with a much more discriminating eye, I can still appreciate the sheer quantity of ideas he throws around in his novels. The plots are iffy, the prose functional at best, but the existential claustrophobia he wraps everything in is still plenty effective. I've no ambition to read the full PKD oeuvre - I've read enough of a hodgepodge already to know that some of them are just bad - but there is a handful I'd still like to get around to reading.

The Bible Made Impossible, by Christian Smith. Like The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which I read last fall, this is one of those books with so many "ah ha" moments of recognition I hardly knew where to start underlining or what to quote. If questions regarding the conservative evangelical doctrine of the Bible are at all of interest to you, then I heartily recommend this book. Its argument is very cautiously and carefully stated, well-supported, and quite readable.

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett. All the boys have gone off to war, so our main character joins the army - as a boy - to go find her brother. This novel immediately goes on my list of "top tier Pratchett," and has the benefit of standing alone very nicely, so I can recommend it to all of you who've been wanting a place to start! Pratchett takes on gender inequality handily and to excellent humorous effect. I especially love the running joke/euphemism of socks. (Certain of the plot twists are practically Shakespearean in the broadness of their comedy, but then again, given the subject matter, I suppose that's quite appropriate.)

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. Reread (if you can call it that?). You'd think the more times I take in this book, the more I'd be desensitized to the story and the gorgeous art, but the opposite seems to be the case. Now I tear up more often.

The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones. Tonino Montana, a son of a great Italian family of magicians, accidentally involves himself in saving Caprona from invasion. I've been dabbling in Jones for a while, working my way through her Chrestomanci omnibuses. I've found her pleasant, but that was all. Until now. Folks, I loved this one. I love the huge, rambling ensemble cast; I loved the setting of a rosy alternate Italy, bustling and colorful; I loved the plot, which was intricate and eventful. For anyone who's been thinking of trying this author, I strongly recommend this book. It is sheer delight.

Lawrence of Arabia

reading girl
Today I visited the theater for the second time this year, this time for the special one-day-only 50th anniversary showing of Lawrence of Arabia. My entire interest in the middle east was sparked when I first saw this eight or so years ago, and I was very much looking forward to seeing the spectacle of it on the big screen.

Apparently no one else felt that way, though. I showed up for the matinee showing, and I had the entire theater to myself. At first I was a little self-conscious, but eventually I got comfortable eating popcorn and propping my feat up on the armrest of the row in front of me.

Folks, it was gorgeous. The stunning scenery, the score, the beautiful image quality. This was absolutely not something I would have missed.

There were also some aspects I'd either forgotten or never realized the scope of before. spoilers for the filmCollapse )

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movies watched recently

movies
I continue to work through my list of "movies I've been meaning to see."

The Haunting (1963) - a not-bad-at-all adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel. I'm leery of movies that rely on voiceovers, but this one does a pretty decent job of conveying Eleanor's interior life without distracting from the visual aspects of the film, and Julie Harris is quite good as Eleanor herself. I'd have said The Haunting of Hill House was nigh-on unfilmable because so much of the tension is strictly internal, but the film manages to convey quite a lot of the paranoia of the novel.

My main complaint is how the film abandons what I've always read as Eleanor/Theo sexual tension in the novel in favor of totally unsupported and - I felt - painfully cliched tension between Eleanor and the professor. Bleah.

Code 46 - Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton doing science fiction? Yes please. I enjoyed the moody lived-in atmosphere of this future, in which the sun is deadly and all the catchphrases are Spanish (even in Shanghai, which seems peculiarly devoid of Chinese people). Alas, the story itself came across much more as fable than as a story between actual people, and the nonconsensual pregnancy termination and memory wipe midway through derailed any character arc Morton's character might have had, as well as adding a hinky plot-related aspect to her relationship with Robbins' character that seemed to be there solely for shock. I ended up turning the movie off soon after.

Fright Night (1985) - After I complained about the new Colin Farrell version, y'all told me I should watch the original and promised me Roddy McDowall. Other than a few quibbles - we spent rather too much time spent on the symbolic ravishing of the virgin, the finale action sequence went on about twenty minutes too long, and the actor playing the sidekick was atrociously bad - the movie was generally delightful.

In particular, though, Roddy McDowall as the washed-up actor was darling. I was literally flapping my hands in the air with glee about half the time he was on-screen. My Roddy McDowall crush was mostly dormant, you know, and now this. Apparently he was in a sequel as well - is that watchable? Do y'all recommend anything else in particular of his? His imdb page seems to consist of a lot of bit parts and B movies I've never heard of. Before this I knew him mostly from 60s Disney movies and, I suppose, the Planet of the Apes movies (although he was always in costume).

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movies watched recently

horror
In a dubious quest for cultural literacy (and the justification of my Netflix account), I've started watching a bunch of things that I was under the impression I "should" watch. So far, the results have not been great, but I suspect I've been dipping in the wrong end of the pool

Ghostbusters - This was... very silly. Very silly. The plotline was much more apocalyptic than I was expecting; the transition from ghosts to APOCALYPSE felt like an arc from the TV show Supernatural, but with even more camp. I felt sorry for Sigourney Weaver. However, I do definitely feel more culturally literate now.

The Evil Dead - I was told I should see this movie, and I have now seen it. Y’all, I need to quit watching horror movies, because they just aren’t for me. This was all spurting and screaming and make-up, and I was bored. I liked the ending, though.

Fright Night - Bleah. I looked this up based on semi-positive reviews, for its cast (Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant), and because sometimes I really like comedy horror. I got about half hour in and gave up; I never even got to see David Tennant. I couldn’t deal with the gross sexist language (from good guys and bad), I wanted everyone in it to get bitten and die, and it wasn’t even a tiny bit funny. Farrell looked like he was having fun, though.

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movies watched recently

reading girl
I've been working through my "movies to watch" list and actually making progress for the first time in ages.

Whip It (2009)
This was on the list because I said, "A movie with Ellen Page about roller derbies. I want to see that."

Y'all, this was so much fun. It's a movie all about girls doing stuff, basically. Bliss Cavendar, reluctant beauty pageant perennial, sneaks away and creates a secret life for herself as Babe Ruthless, star roller derby rookie. Her relationships with her best friend, her parents, and her derby teammates are messy and complicated and satisfying, and the cast is great. I loved it.

Daybreakers (2009)
It's the vampires + economics movie. I loved the premise of this, a world of vampires dealing with the limited resources, and I enjoyed the stylishness of it - once again, Ethan Hawke stars in an SF-ish thing that is all glass, chrome, harsh lighting, and sleek suits.

Those are the goods of this movie. The bads are everything else. There's much too much plot to pay proper attention to any of it, and the movie's too bent on shock-value gore to built any really satisfying character work.

Attack the Block (2010)
In which a bunch of wannabe gangster teens take on the aliens that are falling on London. There were some unexpected moments here, and the aliens themselves cracked me up - they're so black they can't be seen except in outline, which saves a whole lot on special effects. I also really appreciated how a certain apparently one-scene character early on gets integrated into the main storyline.

However, I don't think I need to see it twice. It wasn't clever, character-rich, or visually appealing enough to need a second viewing, at least not from me. Possibly I'm just not the right demographic for this one.

Rare Exports: a Christmas Tale (2010)
"In the frozen beauty of Finland, local reindeer herders race against the clock to capture an ancient evil: Santa Claus." Yep. I watched this on recommendation and based on this pretty fabulous trailer. I was expecting black comedy, and what I got was partly that and partly kid-hero wish-fulfillment fantasy, which I was a bit disappointed about.

The look of the thing and the worldbuilding are both quite a bit of fun, though. And the ending is... truly bizarre, though I've yet to decide whether it adds or detracts.

I'll give it this, though: it's not your average Christmas movie. And regardless of the movie, the trailer is awfully fun.

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pina colada oatmeal

reading girl
I have discovered a new way to flavor my oatmeal:

cooked oatmeal
dried pineapple, chopped
dried mango, chopped
dried coconut flakes
splash of half-and-half for creaminess
sugar to taste

Yummy!

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I'm just going to leave this here

[CH] Mayday!
Reports are out now for network TV's fall pilots. In particular, NBC's pilot schedule has been released. In particular, NBC is planning to air a pilot of the following description:

Revolution
A high-octane action drama that follows a group of characters struggling to survive and reunite with loved ones in a world where all forms of energy have mysteriously ceased to exist. Supernatural's Eric Kripke will write and executive-produce with J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk.

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quote for the day

[btvs] Giles Librarian
"How many talking tortoises have you met?" the tortoise said sarcastically.

"I don't know," said Brutha.

"What d'you mean, you don't know?"

"Well, they might all talk," said Brutha conscientiously, demonstrating the very personal kind of logic that got him Extra Melons. "They just might not say anything when I'm there."

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

movies seen recently

movies
I watch very few movies anymore; when I do feel like watching something, the first choice is usually whatever TV I'm working through at the moment, and the second choice (if I'm in a comfort-watch mood) is nature documentaries. (The latter is entirely fuzzyfostermom's fault.)

However, I've managed to watch several in the last few weeks, all quite different, that I thoroughly enjoyed. No spoilers.

Coraline, District 9, and True GritCollapse )

It's the Leonard Nimoy version of Die Hard

SF
Movies From an Alternate Universe. I think my favorite might be Avatar - William Shatner is so the perfect lead for that movie, and the costuming cracks me up - but all the SF ones are pretty fab.

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a follow-up to my graphic novel post

reading girl
Tansy Rayner Roberts has blogged her year in graphic novels, and included in her list are a number of very women-centric titles. I'm definitely referring to it for my next graphic novel binge

tentacles and t-shirts

reading girl
1. I just bought a copy of one of my favorite Woot! shirt designs in a while, I might need a bigger gun. Girl, gun, giant robot - how could you go wrong? The design will probably only be for sale for a few more days, though, based on low sales; get it now, if you're interested.

2. Okay, first, PLoS Biology, "a peer-reviewed open access journal published the Public Library of Science." Original research, in other words, which is always exciting, even I can't actually understand what it's saying (ie, most of the time).

But second, a just-published article on The Discovery of New Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Communities in the Southern Ocean and Implications for Biogeography. So, deep sea ecological communities based around volcanic vents. These newly-explored communities involve such nifty animals as a white octopus.

A survey of Antarctic waters along the East Scotia Ridge in the Southern Ocean reveals a new vent biogeographic province among previously uncharacterized deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities.

Le Guin on literary awards

reading girl
Ursula Le Guin has a lot to say about the value (or rather, in her estimate, the lack thereof) in literary awards. However, this comment, preparatory to something else, is by far my favorite thought:

I think good novels are written by writers who want to write this novel, their novel, which is like no other.

(emphasis author's)



(Via sartorias)

The Big Fat Comics Post

reading girl
Earlier this fall I binged on a bunch of comics and graphic novels, acquired both from the library and from one of my suppliers at church of things to read. (This is different than my supplier of Mark Noll and Mary Doria Russell, who is different again from the friend who lent me The Hunger Games. Yes, sometimes my church is awesome.)

Now, looking at the list, I realize I really did read a bunch of things. Warnings for length. Also beware that this is not my native stomping ground, and I can't promise my terms are the standard ones, especially in describing artwork.

comics ahoyCollapse )

General conclusions: Clearly I need to read more Warren Ellis; the two things by him were by far my favorites. Specifically I need to ILL the next volume of Fell when it comes out. Also I'll keep working on Sandman and Fables. Meanwhile, people have been telling me that I need to try Love and Rockets, which I shall definitely do next time I'm in the mood for this sort of thing.

so much more fun than The Untouchables

reading girl
Often while I'm reading I'll get to a funny bit or a passage I find particularly striking, and I'll want to tell you all but then I think, "Oh, I'll write a big review for the whole book when I'm done." But I don't, and instead the book gets lumped in with all the other books in the next recent reading post.

So, new policy: I shall post quotable bits whenever I feel like it.

From The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum, about forensic science developments in New York in the 20s and 30s:Collapse )

More generally, I'm learning a bunch about all the possible effects of wood alcohol, which was a popular kind of bootlegged alcohol during Prohibition. Nasty, nasty stuff.

books read through late November

reading girl
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. Surely everything has already been said about these that could possibly be said? I quite liked Katniss and found her coldness and self-isolation both compelling and convincing. I enjoyed all the survival bits.

However, I have this spoilery thing to say about the worldbuildingCollapse )

other books: a bunch of YA fantasy and some nonfictionCollapse )

things on Saturday morning

SF
1. Guess who just discovered that she has access to the OED through her local library system? I DID.

2. Next year Sirens, a conference "dedicated to women in fantasy literature," is changing venue from Colorado to a location only 2.5 hours' drive from where I live. I think maybe I might like to go. I've been hearing good things about the conference for several years now, and it's close, and... why not?

on writing my own homework problems

math
In terms of results, I’m really liking this whole write-my-own-homework approach. To recap: students in my calc II class do one homework assignment a week of 4-5 “problems,” each problem usually having multiple parts (mostly as hints to guide the students). They also have a list of recommended drill problems from the book - you know, the kind where you have a list of integrals and you say "Integrate this. Now integrate this. Now this..." I don't grade the drill problems, although I do encourage students to ask questions about them at the beginning of the class.

Here's why I like the new systemCollapse )

Relatedly, it seems my homework problems are developing a reputation over at the math tutoring center. The director of the center was telling me yesterday how she and the upper-level tutors get together to discuss whenever one of my students comes in. "They're just like Other Instructor's problems," she said, Other Instructor being the full-timer with the reputation of being a good-but-challenging teacher, and the person from whom I got the idea in the first place.

I am disproportionately tickled by this.

various movie-related thoughts

movies
1. I saw the new Jane Eyre. Y'all, this is my Jane Eyre. The creative team clearly understood the heart of the book: the desolate landscape and the isolation of the house and Jane Eyre herself. Mia Wasikowska, whom I first noticed in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, is wonderful as Jane; I can imagine no one doing a more perfect job of conveying the depths of a very internal character. The other casting is fine, too, and the score is gorgeous. I really cannot say enough about this movie. I loved it.

Also, I'm now willing to watch Mia Wasikowska do just about anything, I think. In particular, what I really want her to do when she's old enough - say ten years from now - is be Eleanor Vance in a proper adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. This movie proves she can play deeply internal characters, and I'd love to see her take on Eleanor's anxiety and fundamental instability. Gah, that'd be fabulous.

2. Speaking of movies, y'all need to go watch the fanvid Space Girl. It premiered at Wiscon last year, which means most of you who care may already have seen it, but for those who haven't: footage of women in 50+ years of media SF, set to pretty much the perfect song. Go watch.

3. So, Thor. Was it as stupid overall as the beginning and the end suggested it was? I skipped the middle. I couldn't stand Thor himself, I didn't care about the conflict in Asgard, and apparently the Star Wars prequels have ruined me on Natalie Portman forever. Also, Loki was clearly one of the most interesting characters, and we all knew how that was going to turn out (not the the end seemed to bear any particular resemblance to Norse mythology).

Possibly I am just really, really not the target audience for this film. I think I'm completely over the whole comic book movie genre.

4. I don't like HD. The roommates have acquired a huge new HD screen for our living room, and things just look wrong on it. Do you know how soap operas and behind-the-scenes footage just look different than actual TV/movies do? No one's ever been able to explain to me whether it has to do with filters or the lighting or what it is, but proper TV has this sheen of unreality to it that I personally need for the sake of narrative distance. HD destroys that sheen; suddenly I see actors rather than characters. I can barely stand to watch things on it.

Does anyone else have this problem, or am I just bizarre?

books read, late summer/early fall

reading girl
Here are the novels and non-fiction; I've also been reading various graphic novel and comic book kinds of things, but I'm saving them all for a separate post, as soon I get through this latest batch from the library.

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King. King's vampire novel, In which he confirms yet again that he is much better at people than monsters. The first half of the book, in which we're introduced to the population of 'Salem's Lot, Maine, was by far the more interesting half; the latter half involved the usual amount of blood and creeping and death and was in no way unpredictable. I really have got to stick to later King, I think; the ratio of people to monsters seems to have improved quite a bit in the last fifteen or twenty years.

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. Reread. A book about escaping to a new place and making a life there. I don't suppose I read this, properly speaking, but I did experience it in a linear fashion, and it was even lovelier than I remembered. There was more detail than I'd remembered, too, not just visually but in bits of the protagonist's story, like his fear of the pet with the spiky tail. I cried at the end.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. Though the sentence-level writing is excellent, this novel as a whole was not nearly as brilliant as I expected it to be, given the rave reviews. It's basically an exquisite formulation of the problem of pain, and I was expecting something a little more complex. I understand there is a sequel; perhaps it will answer some of my objections.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll. A broad overview of the intellectual history of the American evangelical church. This was excellent, an indictment of evangelical intellectual habits as written by a historian of American church history and an evangelical himself. Readable, thoughtful, grounded in historical developments, and with enough sources footnoted to keep me reading for several years straight. If the topic sounds even remotely your sort of thing, then I highly recommend this book to you.

housekeeping

reading girl
I've just made a friends cut of folks that I hadn't spoken with or heard from in quite a while. If that's you and you''d still like access to the f-locked content of this journal, just drop me a comment and I'll be happy to add you back.

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knitting season

reading girl
'Tis that time again, folks. The time of knitting patterns. Kept here largely for my own reference, though you're welcome to throw in your two cents.

Probablys
Little Flowers Scarf - probably what I'm working on next, because the scarf is a nice doable project and I already have the yarn for it.
Cable Skirt - this? is adorable. Definitely want to try this sometime. Yay skirts.
Diamond Tunic - this would be oh so fun to go with some of my wool skirts, if I picked the right color

Possiblys
Bitterroot Shawl - a bigger project than I'm willing to tackle right now, but gorgeous; I'd like to try it sometime
Seascape Lace Shawl - I love knitting gauzy lacy stuff
Laminaria - lace! gorgeous lace
Juno Regina - nifty lace scarf
Omelet Shawl - another gorgeous lace shawl
Lace Back Tank - a really cute tank; the big issue would be finding a bra to go with it.
Dunes and Waves Stole - another lacy thing

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Recipe: Creamy Lentil Soup

reading girl
I've recently been looking for recipes that are easy but a little off the beaten path, and I thought y'all might like to hear about my results.

This lentil soup is a very warming, satisfying soup on a cold day. It has ginger and a garnish of carmelized onions for flavor. I've been thinking it'd be interesting to try adding other things to the finished soup - yogurt, maybe? - but I haven't been that adventurous yet.

It's pretty easy to fix. The most complicated thing is running the cooked lentils through a food processor or similar device; I use a mixer.

Creamy Lentil Soup With Carmelized OnionsCollapse )

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Oh!

reading girl
I just cottoned onto the fact that Jane in the new Jane Eyre is played by Mia Wasikowska, whom I just recently adored in Alice in Wonderland. All the more reason to look up Jane Eyre when I get the chance.

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get off my lawn

reading girl
Someday, I'm going to find myself cackling to some ambitious young writer about how in my day, we had to submit stories to magazines by printing out a physical copy and going all the way to the post office to mail it. Which made sense, after all, since the magazines were also physical objects, and they used the postal service, too.

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various things

reading girl
1. Borders is dead. I always hate to see a bookstore go, even more so when it's the one nice book retailer in my hometown. Woe.

2. In my lackadaisical effort to find new blogs to read: author Tansy Rayner Roberts keeps an interesting one. See for example Pratchett's Women: The Boobs, the Bad, and the Broomsticks. (via aliettedb)

3. The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy, over at N. K. Jemisin's blog, about how "strong female character" shouldn't only mean "scary loner woman with a sword." (also via aliettedb)

You can't make this up

SF
I picked up Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Landfall for fifty cents the other day, because it involved a bunch of unlucky colonists trying to survive after crashlanding on the wrong planet, and that's totally my thing.

Oh, heavens, y'all, the awful. The laughably, atrociously awful.

* The gender relations here? Are very strange. I am undecided as to whether the author means the main character to be quite the clueless bore he is. Also whether the severe awkwardness of the society's supposed gender equality is meant to be a genuine exploration of such awkwardness or just shows the author's failure of imagination. I'm leaning towards the latter. So far, it's like a morality tale for why this whole gender equality idea is a little suspect. Wasn't The Mists of Avalon supposed to be a seminal work in feminist spec fic?

* We're measuring altitude by sea-level, even while admitting that we have no idea whether the planet has any seas, much less what their level is.

* The women take hormones once a month, midway between menstruation periods, to prevent ovulation. What?

* Our main character has the fabulous talent for perceiving things that have just been described as imperceptible.

* Also he has the talent of describing something as being "the furthest thing from his mind" without, you know, actually thinking of the thing itself. Because if he thought of it, then it wouldn't be the furthest thing from his mind anymore.

* We can establish our latitude on the planet in just one day by watching the sun's path across the sky. I'm not positive, but wouldn't the sun's path as viewed from a latitude near a pole during spring or fall look very much like that from a latitude nearer the equator during winter?

Yanno, I've always been a bit intimidated about writing honest-to-goodness SF because I didn't feel I had the science background, but I can do better than this.

The best part, though? The best? Is this. Hands down my favorite line of the book so far, and I promise you, context does not improve it:

Captain Leicester stared at the daylight orgy in consternation and began to weep.

SYTYCD

Ann Miller dance
Since I've been busy hanging out in the Land of Snow Unseasonable Cold, Moose, and Dial-Up (emphasis on dial-up), it's taken me a while to catch up with the dancing, and now I've forgotten a good half of what I was going to say. So, these are the very highest highlights!

Also, please note that I haven't seen last weeks performance or results episodes yet, so please don't spoil me for them.

Couples: Jordan and Tadd are my favorite, mostly because I've been impressed with Jordan's dancing ever since her audition. But also they seem to work really well together as a couple. Hands-down my favorite dance routine so far was the Viennese Waltz they did a couple of weeks ago. She's gorgeous and brings a lot of personality to the routine, and as fuzzyfostermom pointed out, Tadd does wonderful things with his arms. Also, I love Jordan's dress.

Up until Miranda and Robert got ousted, they were my second favorite couple; their jive was a lot of fun, but my favorite was the hip hop woodpecker routine. Mostly I just thought Miranda was adorable, though.

My favorite routine of the season so far, though, wasn't a competition dance at all, but this exhibition by professionals Eric Luna and Georgia Ambarian. Oh heavens, it's gorgeous, with physical feats like I've never seen before. The whole routine I kept thinking, "Okay, they've done all the cool things, they must have run out by now." But no!

Overall, I'm definitely more excited about the girls than the guys; the only guy I was really interested in for himself was the tap-dancer, Nick, who's long since gone, and whom I suspect I liked as much for his aw-shucks personality as his dancing anyway. Of the girls, however, I really like Jordan and Ryan and Sasha.

movies seen recently

movies
Alice in Wonderland. When I first heard Tim Burton was doing an Alice retelling, I said it seemed redundant, for what trademarked Burton insanity could he possibly add to Alice? Weirdly enough, the combination of incomprehensible source material and Burton's (to me) meaningless zaniness results in a movie with, yanno, a point and stuff. At times the point was rather too pointed, but overall the coming-of-age story about a girl taking her story in her own hands was pretty well done, I thought.

The cast was excellent: Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, of course, but also Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, and Alan Rickman doing voices, and Anne Hathaway (in a very peculiar good-princess role that didn't seem to aim to be taken entirely seriously). However, Mia Wasikowska (whom I'd never heard of), who played Alice, completely stole the show and made the character far more engaging and likable than I think she was on paper.

Overall, a win, and the second Burton film in a row that I liked - Sweeney Todd was the first.

Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. I'm pretty sure those wiser than I would have Issues with the characterization and motivations of the villain, but y'all, I was laughing too hard at the rest of it to care. These folks make humor look effortless. I adore every second of Gromit, I adore all the background details, I very much liked the lady poodle Fluffles. This was all around a win, and hands down the funniest movie-type thing I've seen this year. I loved it.

Ink (official website here). Moody, atmospheric independent fantasy film about redemption, with some very nice production values and truly fabulous child actress. I have not yet decided how I feel about the storyline, but it is definitely deep in fantasy territory, with plenty of stuff to think about.

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BCS e-anthology poll

reading girl
Last year webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies published my story "The Tinyman and Caroline" in the Best of BCS: Year One anthology; now there's a poll in which you can vote for what gets included in Best of BCS: Year Two.

A couple of my stories are eligible, "The Woman and the Mountain" and "As the Prairie Grasses Sing," as well as things written by such folks as Ian McHugh, Richard Parks, and Nancy Fulda. If you've been reading the zine lately and have opinions, go forth and vote!

her name has a certain Dickensian quality

reading girl
As mentioned, I'm rereading Mieville's The Scar, and I'm realizing this time around just how unpleasant a person Bellis Coldwine is. She's arrogant and childishly self-centered. Her disdain for nearly every person she meets is practicable a palpable thing. She practices brutal cynicism in her evaluations of other people even while recognizing and despising the same weaknesses in herself. There is no kindness there, no compassion. If she were a villain, she'd be accused of having too few dimensions.

As a protagonist, though, she fascinates me. I can't call her sympathetic, but despite all her unpleasantness she appeals to me, I suspect because she is, personified, a number of traits I have and/or admire, only taken to extremes. The self-sufficiency, the utter social confidence, the intellect, the intense sense of place, the capacity to act precisely as she decides to act (external circumstances allowing).

It hadn't occurred to me when I started this post, but the person I've described sounds suspiciously like Gregory House or Sherlock Holmes in his latest incarnation or any number of other genius psychopaths. Unlike their experience, however, Bellis's universe does not allow her regular success or acclaim. She is not right by universal fait; what she accomplishes, she accomplishes by sheer will. She is Sherlock Holmes without the protagonist privilege or the gleefully egotistical charisma. (Or, for that matter, the preternatural talent for puzzle-solving; her skills lie in other areas.)

What's more, she's all that, and a woman. This seems to be the key for me. I quite enjoy Steven Moffat's Sherlock, as much for the (sometimes) stellar writing and for the truly perfect casting of Sherlock as any of his personal characteristics. However, to see those traits in a female character, one for whom we're given no softening backstory, in whom we see no simplistic lesson learned, feels special.

So yes. It turns out I like the unlikable Bellis Coldwine a great deal.
reading girl
Anyone noticed how the Google Doodles (the graphical variations on the word 'Google' that appear on the search page for holidays and special occasions) are getting more interactive lately? Yesterday's, for Les Paul's birthday, was so popular that they kept it around an extra day. If you're in the US, you should check it out.

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about CJ Cherryh

SF
So say I wanted to finally read a Cherryh novel; is it it true that I can start pretty much anywhere in her future history sequence? Is there particular novel that's a good starting point?

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recent reading - Spring 2011

reading girl
It's been a slow spring, at least in terms of books finished, although I've read some really excellent fanfiction for Supernatural. I'm also halfway through a number non-fiction books, but reporting on those will have to wait until I'm done with them.

Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean. Reread. I was asked recently if I'd read anything else of Dean's, and I said no, I hadn't bothered, because this book was so obviously written directly to me that it seemed unlikely anything else could possibly have the same effect. The small Minnesota college town, the literary geekery, the occasional shiver of something more than natural, the authorial voice - I love it all.

This is my third time all the way through, and still I am catching things that I didn't catch before. I still do not quite understand the story of Victoria Thompson's ghost, although I'm beginning to think that this is less a failure on my part than a failure on Dean's to be quite clear at the point at the end when she clearly means to be explaining things. Peg Powell's role in it all, however, remains a tantalizing mystery. I'm open to suggestions.

Hamlet. Reread. Y'all, I guess I have to out myself here as a barbarian, because I've never liked Hamlet, and it seems I still don't. There are passages of it I enjoy, but the main thrust of the play just leaves me cold. Give me Julius Caesar any day, or Macbeth, or Othello.

The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer. Recced to me by breathingbooks. Alas, Breathing, I didn't like it as well you did. The plot is promising: For reasons of his own, the Earl of Rule proposes to Elizabeth Winwood. The younger sister, in order to both save her family from destitution and allow her elder sister to marry the man she really wants, goes to the earl and suggests he marry her instead. (She is, in fact, clearly the vivacious sister from A Civil Contract, who by rights ought to have been the main character of that book.)

It is definitely on the light, fun end of the scale, but it feels very much an early work. Characterization is sadly lacking, and scenes that would have warranted a whole chapter in a later Heyer novel - the occasion of the earl's sister first visiting her new in-laws-to-be, for example - are summarized in a paragraph. Meanwhile the earl's purposes are left as an exercise to the reader; I never did figure out why he suddenly decided to shuck his comfortable bachelorhood to find a wife. It all felt very thin. Alas.
Ann Miller dance
As far as I'm concerned, the audition episodes are what you watch because there aren't any performance episodes to watch yet. (Seems the first one is next Tuesday.) That said, the very first audition of episode 2 had a truly fabulous two-man stepping routine that was worth the whole episode all by itself. It's in the first couple of minutes; if you're in the States, check it out.

There was a lot of other fun stuff in the second episode as well. I loved the Irish step dancing girl, Mary Kate; glad to see she's going on to the next round. Loved the musical theater guy, Jess. Loved the hip-hop guy who closed out the solos.

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movies watched

Ann Miller dance
I have been seeing things lately. New things, even.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Pretty much exactly what one would expect. Captains Jack and Barbossa, Gibbs, and various and sundry run around banging swords and defying physics. Also: a surprise appearance by Judi Dench.

Mostly I watched this because I was desperately curious to see how much of Tim Powers' novel, of which I'm terribly fond, made it into the film. It should give you some idea to know that the film credits itself as being "suggested by" the Powers novel. It is true that both Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth appeared as elements. Oh! And also, the title was the same! (By far the classiest of any of the POTC titles, IMO.) Otherwise, yeah, no resemblance. I didn't really expect there would be.

Tangled - Much more fun than I was expected! Rapunzel's relationship with her (step)mother was quite interesting, I thought; much more psychologically complex than I expect from this sort of thing. And after a few moments of being annoyed by the Dashing Rogue, I grew to quite like him and his gradual friendship/romance with Rapunzel. The big climactic scene was quite moving, I thought.

One quibble, however: I could live happily without ever seeing another heroine with eyes half the size of her face. Ugh.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (rewatch) - This time I reread Hamlet before watching, and the film does make marginally more sense this time around. Honestly, I don't really understand about half of what happens in this film, but I don't mind. And one of these days I will use the coin-flipping scene in a probability class.

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Recent Fantasy I've Read

dragon
A while ago I made a list of all the SF written by men and by women in the last ten years that I'd read. My main observation at the time was that apparently I read more fantasy and less SF than I'd realized.

This is the companion to that post, inspired by la_marquise_de_'s informal compilation of the 'mistressworks' of fantasy. Here are lists of all recent fantasy I've read. For symmetry with the other post, I'm counting everything from 2000 onwards. Also, because penny_lane_42 asked, I've put asterisks next to my favorites.

Lists! Of books!Collapse )

Conclusions: Much, much more fantasy. I had no idea. Here we have 28 books by 15 female authors, and 17 novels by 7 male authors. Clearly, when it comes to fantasy I read a whole lot more written by women than by men, and also I have a lot more author loyalty than I do with SF.

(For the curious: the data for these lists come from my masterlist of every book I've read since 2003. I apparently took no photographs of any of my college or grad school apartments, but I know what books I read in them, you betcha.)

Full of glee

reading girl
* Apparently June 9 is International Archives Day, on which a number of archives around the world are hosting #AskArchivists Day on Twitter. Have a weird random question you want to ask someone in the know? It seems this is your chance. The very idea makes me giddy, even though I've no pressing questions to ask, and anyway don't have a Twitter account. Still.

* China Mieville. His prose, specifically. His prose in The Scar, specifically, because it's summer now and therefore the proper time to be reading The Scar. (Perdido Street Station is for dying leaves and decay and sopping through puddles, and therefore to be read in autumn) For example, the opening to the prologue:

A mile below the lowest cloud, rock breaches water and the sea begins.

It has been given many names. Each inlet and bay and stream has been classified as if it were discrete. But it is one thing, where borders are absurd. It fills the spaces between stones and sand, curling around coastlines and filling trenches between the continents.

At the edges of the world the salt water is cold enough to burn. Huge slabs of frozen sea mimic land, and break and crash and reform, crisscrossed with tunnels, the homes of frost-crabs, philosophers with shells of living ice. In the southern shallows there are forests of pipe-worms and kelp and predactory corals. Sunfish move with idiot grace. Trilobites make nests in bones and dissolving iron.

The sea throngs.

*shivers* Such vigorous active verbs. Such a wide-ranging vocabulary. And then, yanno, there's the worldbuilding and stuff.

publishing news: End of an Aeon

reading girl
It looks like the Aeon print anthology is happening at last. Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press has the project now and says publication is on track for July. Hurrah.

The anthology will include the story I always called my Shakespearean fanfic piece, "If We Shadows Have Offended," which I wrote while proctoring a final exam in grad school. (Hey, grad school did wonders for my writing career. So much homework to procrastinate from!) Research for it included looking up flowers via their archaic, Elizabethan names. (This included the marvelous tidbit that Shakespeare's musk rose did not actually refer to the musk rose but to another flower of the same name. I kid you not. Oh, Internet.)

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