Derik Badman's Journal

Content Tagged "Sci-Fi/Fantasy"

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2020-11-16 08:20

Finished Susanna Clarke's new novel Piranesi yesterday. I was entertained by it, but it felt thin as a whole. It starts out almost like some kind of Borgesian "Library of Babel" type fantasy, but it quickly becomes clear it is some kind of portal fantasy, one that starts on the other side of the portal. From there is is a bit mystery (what is going?), a bit psychological drama, a bit thriller, but also very little fantasy. We never really learn much more about the fantasy world (a vast series of halls filled with statues of all sorts) than is obvious from the physical/visual descriptions of it. We get to hear the theories of the man who discovered it, but there is never a real confirmation of his theories. The whole thing is also written as journal entries, but in that style where you just have to accept that the person writing the journal somehow remembers everything in excessive detail.

The reviews seem to be overwhelmingly positive. One wonders how much that is because of it being Clarke's first novel in many many years and that the whole "narrator stuck in some place he calls a 'House'" happens to fit nicely into a reviewer's ability to spin it in relation to the pandemic and staying home more.

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2020-11-09 07:53

Finished Le Guin's Powers yesterday. Was thinking about how the three novels in the series (hard to call it a trilogy exactly) are all about the protagonists growing up and leaving their homes, but in the first and third ones, they leave without really contributing to any solutions to the issues where they live. But in the second one Voices, the protagonist actively engages in if not solving the problem of her home at least progressing on a solution. I don't think this is necessarily bad, you can't always fix where you come from, but it is one (of the many) things that separate these books (and probably Le Guin's fantasy in general) from more conventional fantasy novels. Gav, in Powers, grows up a slave (though not born one) and learns to think outside the system he is enmeshed in and see how horrific it is. He escapes slavery, but, unlike a what a more traditional epic fantasy hero would do, he doesn't later go back and free the slaves or wage war on city state he grew up. He gets no revenge on family that enslaved him or the men that killed his sister (it is assumed one of them does die, but it's not through Gav's actions exactly). He meets a man at one point who claims to be planning an uprising to get all the slaves to take over, but that man is violent and abusive (to the woman around him especially) and eventually ends up killed by the slave holding states. He's the violent hypermasculine fantasy hero, and he comes to no good. Gav, instead, escapes, travels, learns, helps some people (when he can), and ends up becoming a student, possibly so he can write a history.

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2020-11-08 09:47

I'm not quite finished Le Guin's Powers and really enjoying it. The book is basically a sequence of the protagonist narrator learning about different societies in his world. He is a slave for a wealthy family who is educated to be a teacher to the children. We see him learning from his childhood, the classroom, then the society of the male slaves when he is old enough to move into their barracks. When war comes, he is sent to do hard labor where he deals with a different situation, then he ends up working with a bunch of other educated slaves. He runs away and lives in the woods with two different bandit/freed slave groups. He leaves them and goes into the marsh and lives with the people he was stolen from a child, his original family who have a very different society. He appears to be headed next to a different city. Each group and place is for him learning about different power structures and relations. He sees how the master/slave dynamic gets replicated in different forms, at different levels, between different types of people, even when in some cases the people are explicitly saying they are against slavery (and are mostle escaped slaves).

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2020-11-05 08:30

I finished the second of Le Guin's "Annals of the Western Shore" novels the other night, Voices. It turned out, contrary to my previous statements, that there is a connection with the first book. The narrator and main secondary character of the first novel, become important secondary characters in the second novel, which has a different narrator. They are now grown up (and married), and so the narrator switches to another teenage character (a woman this time) and as before we get a coming of age tale, this time set around a city and a struggle with an occupying force. Le Guin, not unexpectedly, constructs her plot to convey the power of words/books/voices and downplay the power of violence, which is not to say there isn't violence in the book, but that the resolution of the problems are not found in the violence exactly. Though also, the threat of violence by an occupied populous does play an important part in the resolution, but the words and books and poems provide a medium for communication that makes sure the final resolution is not just a lot of fighting and death. In thinking about it, there is difficult message within the plot about letting go of historical violence. The occupied people do not expel or overthrow the occupying force, despite all the death and damage they have caused.

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2020-10-31 10:48

Finished up Raised By Wolves yesterday, an engaging sci-fi show, but for me it feels like it constantly just raises more mysteries without resolving much of anything, which makes it not very narratively satisfying on some level, especially when the season ends with a whole host of new surprises and mysteries. How can the writers dig themselves out of that hole in a way that will end up being satisfying? Makes me think of Lost. Also, one of the bigger revelations at the end, was really pretty obvious from early on, which made it less "oh wow" and more "yeah, of course". For the most part the acting and production and setting are all really excellent, though the one lead guy who I know from Vikings feels like... he's kind of playing the same part.

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2020-10-28 08:21

Finished up Gifts the other night, a quiet fantasy novel. I guess it is considered YA and has a bit of that feel to it, which is hard for me to describe, but it's about children turning into adults and part of the conflict is with parents and taking on responsibility and education and the things that the children aren't told or don't know and also about moving away from home and loss and grief. Le Guin kind of works it all in, without having the protagonists travel far or get into high drama. I think there's only one fight/battle scene and it is extremely short/quick and decisive in its results. Also, I realized that I think this "trilogy" is more about setting than plot/characters, as my impression is the narrative/protagonist of the first book is not continued into the others (unless they are just secondary). Curious to see where the second one goes, but taking a break to read some other things before I start it.

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2020-10-26 08:38

Started the new Library of American collection of Ursula Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore trilogy. I'm always impressed with how she can evoke the cultures of her worlds, making them explicable and interesting without feeling like a massive information dump. We are told much by the narrator, but also must infer a good bit from what is said and unsaid. I'm about halfway through the first book Gifts and enjoying it.

Watched the second episode of the new Star Trek: Discovery season. The first episode was all about Burnham, so it was nice when this one brought back all the other characters, it is so much more interesting when the writers can have the main characters interacting with each other, as that is such a big part of Star Trek in general. I am concerned though that they've pulled the old hoary cliché of the enemy that seems defeated at the end of a season but then really managed to survive somehow. That's mostly an inference from what they chose to show in the recap, so I'm hoping I'm wrong about it.

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2020-10-24 10:48

Star Trek: Discovery came back for seasson 3, so I watched the first episode yesterday. The basic concept for the season is a novel one for Star Trek, the ship and main crew travelled forward in time at the end of last season, and in this one they arrive almost 1000 years in their future to a universe that is a lot different than the one they left, the main part being the Federation is no more. The first episode introduces a new character (one assumes to be the person who can tell the other characters stuff about their new present) and immediately falls in to a worn cliché, because he is a rogue with a heart of gold. Of course Burnham has to fight with him when they meet, and he has to steal from her, but then when faced with a common enemy they of course work together and come to realize the other isn't so bad after all and blah blah. It's such a tired plot device and nothing about how it was handled was interesting enough to make up for it.

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2020-10-19 08:27

Started John M. Ford's The Dragon Waiting and am just over halfway through. While I am enjoying it, I'm also not finding it to be as amazing as the essay I read about it, the introduction (which was really overdone), or the blurbs would have me believe. A lot of it just feels under explained. Wolfe has as a tendency to not explain everything and to leave large gaps, but it's all done via a specific intradiegetic narrator, who doesn't know everything, who forgets things, who purposefully omits things, who misses events for various reasons. This novel does not (as far as I can tell) have such a narrator, so when it under explains and keeps secrets it just feels cheap. There are points where I'm just like "what the hell is going on." It doesn't help that the motivation for and goal of the protagonists feels very opaque even halfway through. There is a lot to do with English kings and queens and succession but the quantity of similar names and my lack of knowledge in that arena makes it pretty confusing too, but at the same time I'm not even sure if its important to understand it all. I'll keep reading hoping things become clearer but so far I'm not overly impressed.

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2020-10-14 07:20

I finished up my reread of The Book of the New Sun last night. I think I enjoyed volume four a lot more this time, probably because on my first time I was reading much more for plot and to find out what happens next while this time I could slow down and read more for the subtler revelations that Wolfe works in at the end. That seems to be his modus operandi, many of his books, certainly The Wizard Knight and The Book of the Long Sun, also pack a lot into the end. They were a lot easier to understand on a reread.

Started watching Raised by Wolves on HBO, a science fiction show that is unusual and even in the first episode quite unexpected and really unclear where it's going which I quite appreciate. I don't have any immediate sense of what is going to happen or even what the main setup of the show is as it all feels very temporary. Most tv shows have a central premise that is easy to grasp, but this show is unfolding more like a movie or miniseries (maybe it is?) than an episodic narrative. So far though it is visually stark, well designed, well acted, and does a good job of world building without excessive dumps of information. I also like that the main conflict that pre-dates the show's timeline was between atheists and monotheists. You don't see many mainstream sci-fi that address religion at all (as always, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being a great exception).

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2020-10-04 11:00

I read the third of Lois Bujold McMaster's Penric & Desdemona novella series, Penric's Mission. More enjoyable than the second one, as it did more with the interactions between the two protagonists, and there were more secondary characters that were interesting and in conflict. Light, enjoyable, I've got one more from the library, we'll see if after that I am interested enough to request more of them (I think there's seven novellas total).

Gave up on the collection of Clark Ashton Smith I was reading. I might try a more specialized collection of his stories at some point (as I did prefer the more other/alternate world fantasy ones to the weird/horror/contemporary ones), but on the whole I found myself tiring of the overwrought language, which is even worse if one samples the prose poems and poetry (of which there is way too much in the collection).

Started rereading the Fritz Leiber "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" stories instead. I was rereading them awhile back and got stalled, so I started over from the beginning again. He is much more restrained in his language and descriptions than Smith or C.L. Moore (gave up on a Jirel of Joiry collection too), and the stories are less weird/horror and more fun.

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2020-09-26 08:52

Read McMaster's Penric and the Shaman the other day, a sequel to Penric's Demon. I did not find the former as interesting or amusing as the latter. It was a quick read and felt like it was missing something. Partially there was a lot less of the Desdemona character, the demon that possesses Penric, and their interactions were part of what made the former interesting. Also the plot of this one revolved around elements of the world's religion and magic that felt underexplained or not in such a way that the stakes of the plot were evident, particularly since the plot had very little in the way of actual conflict. It seemed obvious from early on what was going to happen and there was nothing in the way of surprise. I've got the next two in the series from the library already, so I'll read them to see if this one or the first were a fluke. I started the third one Penric's Mission which so far seems more interesting.

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2020-09-24 08:18

Finished up The Wizard Knight the other night. I really enjoyed it, will surely read it again. The plot moves really fast at the end, jamming in a lot of action and revelations. I'm not sure if Wolfe just needed to get everything into a certain space or whether there's some more literary purpose to it. It's kind of a war at the end, and Wolfe does seem mostly uninterested in going on at length about large fights and battles. Sometimes I think he likes to hide revelations about the plot/characters/history by making them happen quickly and without much fanfare. At one point at the very end, this woman seems to get possessed by the ghost/spirit of the protagonist's mother. It happens suddenly and without any real comment or explanation. They have a brief conversation and then it's not mentioned again. When things like that happen earlier in the text there is often time to revisit them with new context or awareness, but late in the novel it all just happens and then is done.

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2020-09-20 08:56

Ended up not pausing long on Wolfe's The Wizard Knight, I had too much momentum on it. By this point I've got about 100 pages to go and it keeps going places I don't expect. I'm sure that will continue right up to the very end. Like some of other Wolfe's novels he often elides important moments in the plot/action. Big events sometimes happen "off screen" or are summarized in an abbreviated format. In contrast, this novel has a lot of scenes of people talking, often just asking each other questions and negotiating over asking/answering questions ("I will give you a boon if you answer two questions truthfully"). There's very much a negotiation of knowledge at play, who knows what and when/how they know it. This gets a mirrored a bit for the reader who is often also trying to answer questions but is unable to ask them directly. I could be just imagining it, but I also feel like the style of the writing, of the protagonist's narration, is somehow based on Arthurian literature.

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2020-09-18 08:05

Finished up the first half of The Wizard Knight yesterday. Reading it was almost all I did. Still very enjoyable. It seems to me the protagonist is constantly side tracked and rarely actually completing anything he starts. The plot is constant series of interruptions of one goal or quest for another. By the end of the first half, he gets the sword he was searching for, but has left so many things undone (and promises unfulfilled). I might take a break before I read the second half to read a few of the other things I brought alone with me (like a couple zines).

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2020-09-17 08:07

Slightly better but still kind of slow is a collection of Clark Ashton Smith's work The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies. I've not really read Smith before, but I'm finding I prefer some of his work to others. The stories that are real world with horror (instrusive fantasy), very Lovecraft, are not to my interest. I do like the one's that take place in alternate histories though, sadly there are so far not many of those in this collection, which also features a lot of Smith's poetry, which I am not expecting I will like. As such, I've been cherry picking which stories I actually finish. I think I'll look up some more specific collections of his work, or else use some lists of the various "story cycles" he wrote and just read specific stories from his collected fiction (which the library luckily has in ebook).

After all this, it was such a delight to start Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight in its new omnibus edition. Returning to an author I really love was so comforting, even though I've not read this novel before. It's a portal/quest fantasy about a teenage boy in America who ends up somehow kidnapped by Aelfe's (I think they are based on Norse elves, so not Tolkien-y at all) and ends up in a fantasy world that is a mix of Norse and Arthurian myth. He doesn't remember his time with the Aelfe's in their level of the world and he didn't age during the time, but one of them (who he falls madly in love with) somehow undoes the stoppage of time and he suddenly becomes his actual age (around 10 years older). So he is this boy stuck in a man's body, and he decides to become a knight and try to get this magic sword his Aelfe love told him about. In summary like that it sounds much more conventional and banal than it really is (of course it's Wolfe), though it is not so far as esoteric as some of his other novels I've read. Like all those, the protagonist is the narrator (writing to his brother back in America) and not a totally reliable one. He openly admits to skipping things, or forgetting things. He occasionally mentions characters or events that he hasn't narrated yet. I'm less than 200 pages in of it's 900 total, so it's hard to say too much about it, but I am quite enjoying it.

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2020-09-16 08:24

Stumbled upon The Sword & Sorcery Anthology edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacon Weisman (2012) while searching for something else in the library catalog (I think it was Joanna Russ who is in this anthology). It's a collection of the subgenre spanning Conan to Song of Fire and Ice with a lot in between. Early stories like "The Tower of the Elephant" and C.L. Moore's "The Black God's Kiss," which I must have started once and never completed, as I remembered the beginning but not the middle or end. There's a Grey Mouser story by Fritz Leiber (a chronologically early one as Fafhrd is only hinted at); I've been meaning to reread those. A bunch of authors or stories new to me, some interesting, some not so much. I've read about Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories but the one here was my first. I enjoyed it enough I will look up some more and see how they are. The Joanna Russ story is her first Alyx one which I've read (and reread) recently. An Elric story that was... ok... I tried to reread some of those a little while back and did not get far. I just bought a Charles R. Saunders ebook the other day and there is a story of his here that I quite liked, an African inspired setting (I've gotta think Marlon James was inspired by Saunders for his Black Leopard, Red Wolf). I'm not sure I've actually read Poul Anderson before, his tale here was a viking story, good enough. A bunch of other stories that were fine, or that I couldn't even get a few pages into because of the language (looking at you Glen Cook). As the stories go on they get less conventional, going in different directions. Rachel Pollack's story felt a little more fairy tale-ish. A very short Gene Wolfe story was confusing to me at first, but on second read I realize it's a pastiche of the genre, probably a trifle to him, but well situated in the book to add to the sense of genre awareness that seems more prominent in the later work. I quite liked Caitlin R. Kiernan's "The Sea Troll's Daughter"; I'm not familiar with her, but will be looking her up (and in looking at her novels I can see it's not the type of fantasy I'm into). I've just got the last three stories to go, though I suspect I won't get through the George R.R. Martin story as in the past my attempts at reading him have failed (he seems a great lover of excessive description; I am not). All in all, worth some of my reading time, and pointing me in a few directions for future reading.

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2020-09-14 07:42

Finished my review and read Farah Mendlesohn's Rhetorics of Fantasy. Though to say I read it, I mean I read much of it and skipped a bunch of pages where she went on at length about books I'm not familiar in regards to analysis I didn't feel was to my interest either. But her concepts are interesting, looking at how fantasy enters a narrative and how that effects the rhetoric. She posits: portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal as her categories. Portal fantasy is from a point of view of a move from a known world to an unknown world, like The Chronicles of Narnia, which she also equates with quest fantasy because in quest fantasy while the known and unknown worlds are often the same world in a broader sense, the protagonist(s) are still experiencing the same move from known to unknown. For instance, Frodo and the hobbits move from the known world of the Shire into the unknown world of the rest of Middle-Earth. What I found most interesting in that chapter was the discussion of the way the protagonist learns about the world and how that knowledge is often accepted without question, indeed without the ability to question it. Gandalf, Aragorn, and many other characters tell Frodo a lot of history and prophecy but Frodo does not question that knowledge, it is accepted as true.

Immersive fantasy is when the fantastical is a known quantity, the protagonist exists in a world and has knowledge of it, of the fantasy aspect. Intrusion then is when the fantasy breaks into a world, an interruption, an unknown occurence, which can bleed into horror (Lovecraft being the easiest example of such) and also the gothic. And the liminal is harder to explain, and I don't really feel like explaining it. I was definitely more interested and engaged by the portal-quest and immersive chapters as they are the ones where I am most familiar with examples (including ones she referenced or discussed at length). I probably should have taken a few notes to better recall the minor things that struck my attention beyond this concept about the aquisition of knowledge and questioning/discussing it. I was happy to see her discuss Delany's Neveryona in that context as that is a frequent them in that novel and the series as a whole.

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2020-08-30 09:16

Finished up Carnival Row and am looking forward to season 2 (which apparently did finish filming). It's not a thematically rich show, in fact it is fairly consistent in its focus around the prejudice of the humans of this fantasy city/world against the refugee fairy folk. But it was well plotted, was not totally obvious in its plot twists (though some were very easy to see coming), and had excellent production design. By the end (which was pretty much a big downer), it seemed to be expanding the scope of the plot to a larger field, it will be interesting to see where it goes.

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2020-08-23 12:42

I think I've given up on A.K. Larkwood's The Unspoken Name, a recent fantasy novel that sounded interesting, but, almost 200 pages in, I just don't care about any of it: the characters, the setting, the plot. None of it has gelled into something I am curious or excited to read more about. I'm also a little annoyed that, in looking into it online, this is listed as the first part of a trilogy yet nowhere on the actual book is that hinted at. So even if I did get to the end of the volume, it wouldn't really have been the end anyway. I don't like these publishers trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to trilogies. They know people like trilogies but they know people might be reluctant to buy a new book by an unknown author that is part 1 of maybe never to show up 3 books. But it's a real disservice to the reader.

Started watching Carnival Row on Amazon, a pseudo Victorian-era fantasy series. While it is an imagined world setting, it is very much based on 19th century England/London mixed with fairies and Lovecraftian horror. Three episodes in, it is actually better than I was expecting. I'm not a huge fan of the things they are mashing together, but I think it helps that they did not just do "fairies in London" but rather created a world with elements that can be clearly mapped to reality (i.e. the religion references the "Martyr" in the same way Christian's would reference Jesus) but also leaves room to veer from it without squaring the difference.

Not sure I mentioned it, but I've been replaying the Witcher 3 on my PS4 and quite enjoying it, even when I know what the plot points are. It's just such a fully realized game, I continue to be impressed by the world building, detail, and writing of it.

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2020-08-18 08:13

Read an entertaining novella by Lois McMaster Bujold last night called Penric's Demon. It's a medieval style fantasy about a youngest son of a small noble who is accidentally (or fated depending) possessed by a demon. The world of the fantasy treats demon possession as a kind of cross between what one would first think of given such a term and something like the Trill in Star Trek, an entity that carries across knowledge and abilities from one host to the next. It's an interesting enough concept in a story that is light without being silly. McMaster Bujold is clearly a skillful plotter and writer, not particularly stylistically unusual, but also not prone to over description, excess (or maybe any) neologisms, or any of the things that often annoy me in fantasy novels. I've not read any of her work before, though I've certainly heard the name over the years, but I will be looking up more of this series (there are 7 or 8 novellas about these characters) as it was a quick enjoyable read.

On a whim, looking for something to look at over breakfast, I watched The Beastmaster the past couple days. Somehow I never saw that... classic... of 80s sword and sorcery. It is about what you expect from such a movie, though in many ways at least a bit more logically plotted than some. Limitations in special effects and fight scenes make it often pretty silly looking, though I couldn't help but be impressed by the use of trained ferrets in the movie, can't say I've ever seen that before. Surely a movie that plays better in the nostalgic tv of the mind for someone who watched it as a child.

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2020-08-06 11:55

I read Brian Attebery's Strategies of Fantasy from 1992. It's an academic text, though not a really dense one, about fantasy, mostly working to justify fantasy as a valid source of study, much like the so many articles and books arguing that comics are art/literature. In the end, I'm not sure it told me much. I think his analyses of fantasy works (with a heavy emphasis on Tolkien) are often too divorced from comparison to non-fantasy works and why anything he says is any less appropriate to other types of literature. He posits a sliding scale between the mimetic and fantasy modes but then I felt like his analysis all just sit in one place without a lot of concrete comparison to others. Much of what he talks about could be relevant to non-realistic fiction that is still not fantasy by any real sense of the term. For instance, a lot of Queneau's novels are set in the contemporary (to him) world, but have events and plots that aren't exactly "things that would really happen". It's fiction and he's not stuck on the idea of only writing was is real/possible/probably, but it's definitely not fantasy.

Or maybe I just shouldn't read academic books before bed when I'm sleepy.

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2020-07-29 08:14

This week's library books are so far much more on point for me than my previous selections. Jeanette Winterson's latest novel Frankissstein was intriguing, enjoyable, and even laugh out loud funny at a few points. As the title suggests there is a Frankenstein plot/theme. It starts with Mary Shelley narrating at the point where she first started working on the novel. Over the course of the novel it returns to her narration and life over a long period of time. This is interspersed with a contemporary (near future?) narration from Ry Shelley, a trans man who is in a relationship with a scientist named Victor Stein who is trying to create artificial intelligence. There's also a rather humorous thread going through it about sexbots and a thread about cryogenics. The whole thing revolves around ideas of creating life, ending death, and artificial life of various sorts. It's been a really long time since I've read any of Winterson's work, but this one was breezy and smart. My only real complaint is that the ending felt quite unresolved. Though, thinking about it, there are certain numerous endings/places she could have gone that would have gotten to science fictiony and too... expected from a story on those topics.

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2020-07-25 09:27

I've also been watching Cursed on Netflix, a Arthurian fantasy (apparently based on a Frank Miller YA book???) with a whole lot of twists on the expected setup: the protagonist is Nimue, future lady of the lake (I assume), Merlin is a drunk who lost his magic, Arthur is both black and a young ruffian, Morgana is also black and a lesbian, the enemies are the pope and these fanatical paladins (not all the Lawful Good warriors of AD&D), and there is a lot more of the "fey" people. The production design is decent enough (I do like the Roman ruins that occasionally appear) as are a number of the actors, but the writing/plotting seems off to me. I think I've decided the main issues are in regards to the "bad guys". They are all (with perhaps one exception) poorly acted, silly looking, and completely lame. Uther Pendragon is a petulant whiner (and the actor is truly bad). The leader of the paladins is a tubby looking old white dude who does not seem at all scary or charismatic enough to be leading all these fanatics. And there's the obligatory young mysterious dude who wears a cloak and is super good at everything, but has so far (I'm 6 episodes in) has no personality, backstory, motivation, or... really anything. It'd be a better show by far if we never even saw any of them, if the sense of the religious fanatics was solely based on their obsessively killing of the fey people (very crusades-y mixed with inquisition) without any cuts to leaders or what not.

I finished up my reread of volume 3 of The Book of the New Sun yesterday, a volume that feels a bit more picareseque than the previous volumes, perhaps because Severian the protagonist pretty much spends the whole book travelling from place to place, but also that he has no long term, regular companions to provide any extra sense of consistency. Sometimes the various events and characters he meet seem so random, but I can't help feel like there is some thematic purpose to all of them that if I tried hard enough I might find. I do feel like in this reread I am perhaps being more careful in my reading and getting more of the details and specifics (often rather subtle) out of the prose. On a first read through it is often too easy to get caught up in the "what happens next" and novelty of the events, that elements can go missing.

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2020-07-12 08:35

Finished up my rewatch of The Witcher yesterday. Even on second viewing the final episode felt like a long waste of effort. There just wasn't a need for a large extended, convoluted battle scene. It puts a lot of focus on characters that were otherwise undeveloped and seems to diminish this awful battle (never directly narrated in the books, only referred to afterwards) by making it a seen event. Ended up playing some of The Witcher 3 yesterday too, as I'm out of new games to play, and was feeling like doing something interactive.

I have been reading Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan but I think I'm giving up on it. I see it mentioned as a fantasy book/series well regarded and worth reading, but it's just not keeping me interested. Partially the plot is so far pretty non-existent and a lot more because the writing is just overly descriptive. There are just too many words describing rooms and characters and I just can't find that engaging over a long period of time. I've got a whole pile of books to pick up from the library this week, so I think this one will go back on a shelf or pile.

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2020-07-10 10:59

Now it's an all day rainy Friday off from work, and I've already reached past 11 and all I've really done is watch some tv. I started rewatching The Witcher the other day as something to do over breakfast/lunch. I feel like it holds up on second viewing. I think I'm catching more of the references about the differing time periods the characters are in, also more of the way the different storylines echo each other. In particular the way episode 3, with its story about Yennifer being changed physically and mentally, contrasts her story with the one of the princess cursed to be a monster in Geralt's half of the narrative. At one point, a shot of the striga (the monster the princess is) from behind showcases its hunched, bulbous back which immediately brought Yennifer's pre-transformation hunchback to mind.

One thing that annoyed me in my first watch and continues to now is the way the Nilfgaardian invaders are made to seem more evil and fanatical than any of the other kingdoms in the world. It makes them seem worse, and while they are aggressive invaders in this particular instance, it's also clear all the other kingdoms have not been better (in the series we mostly know about this via the various elves or mentions of elves).

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2020-06-28 09:47

I finished up the second part of The Book of the New Sun the other night. I continue, on my second read through, to be supremely impressed with the work as a whole. One thing Wolfe is so good at it, is not over explaining everything. Unlike Tolkien and a host of those that followed, Wolfe doesn't give us a full history of the world; he doesn't described the background for everything; and he shows us things via the narrating character. For instance, in one scene, Severian (the narrator) talks about seeing "flyers" moving back and forth high above in the night sky. These "flyers" have been mentioned before up to this point, but never described, never explained. They are some kind of ship or plane, some kind of advanced technology, but they are distant and mysterious from the people on the ground. Ditto, the way Severian discovers that his one travelling companion is some kind of cyborg or android. It's not all layed out, those words are not used, rather there is text about a metal hand, about other parts of him, and a picture is formed over time that let's you make conclusions.

I've been occasionally consulting the Lexicon Urthus for definitions of obscure words. Wolfe seems to not make up any words for his world, he just uses obscure real words that fit his needs. It has a similar effect to an author who makes up a lot of terminology, but it allows Wolfe to leave a lot of the words unexplained. For instance Severian references "cacogens", and in context you can gather they are some kind of humanoid... monsters or aliens... and you can actually look up the word and see what it really means to add to your understanding. The Lexicon makes this a little easier since it is just words from the novel, and also has a nice plot summary, chapter-by-chapter (usually just one sentence a chapter), which in its simple recitation of plot points can occasionally help with some of the subtler aspects of the plot.

As I'm rewatching Star Trek: Discovery realizing how much it looks like one of the movies because of its effects and, I assume, larger than the old shows budget, but narratively it feels more purposeful and restrained in the things that annoy me in the movies. In using the effects and action and such it doesn't ever stray away from being about the characters, their interactions, and their growth.

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2020-06-27 09:24

I've also been rewatching Star Trek: Discovery, having made it through TNG and a few of the related movies (which are... just not that good). I'm finding rewatching, knowing the major plot twists adds a level of understanding to a variety of scenes that you read/understand differently a first time through than a second time through. The writers did an excellent job of providing multiple explanations for certain surprises in a way that made the surprises, truly surprising, but also, on rewatching, makes you realize it was all well planned and plotted.

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2020-06-20 12:44

Having finished the tv series I watched one of the Star Trek TNG movies: Star Trek: Insurrection. The Star Trek movies always seem like movies written by tv writers who are a little too enthused by extra time and money and effects. The action scenes are always too long, the space battles too detailed, the explosions too big. The plots often feel like they walk away from what makes the episodes good: theme, characters, relationships, especially all those B and C plots. It's all the A plot. (Later I rewatched Star Trek: Nemesis which also suffered from the same problems.)

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2020-06-07 10:33

Still making my way through and really enjoying The Book of the New Sun, just reading a few chapters at a time. As it is another fantasy series I have not read yet, but that I've heard tons of good things about for years, I ordered a copy of the first Gormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake.

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2020-06-04 09:52

I started rereading Wolfe's Book of the New Sun last night, this time with my Lexicon Urthus at hand to look up the occasionaly obscure word or reference. Even just two chapters in, it's so obvious how much great Wolfe is compared to so many other writers, and having read the book(s) before, you can see how he foreshadows and makes references to places the book will go. It is well constructed, mysterious, and engaging. Will probably read a few more chapters today. Not sure I can watch any movies, as I'm not sure my laptop will charge (Lianne had issues charging her phone with the reduced power).

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2020-06-03 08:46

I finished the first half (one of two novels) of Jeroun: The Collected Omnibus by Zachary Jernigan, and I'm not sure I'll read the second half. Somewhere I saw raves for this series that made me think I'd like it, but when I picked it up last night to start on the second half/novel I just wasn't enthused. I think neither the writing nor the characters nor the general plot are just that exciting to me. The writing suffers from a lot of infodump world building, most of the characters are fairly annoying, and there's just so much special terms and fantasy world cruft. Jernigan is perhaps a lot more interested in world building than I am. And I also felt as I read, that too much was being explained. Everything was being explained.

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2020-05-27 16:15

So I've watched a lot more Star Trek: TNG. Noticing how rarely any of the crew who get to speak are women. They put a lot of young women in the background of scenes, standing at posts, or walking in hallways, but the only time they really get to do anything is if they are a love interest for one of the primary male cast members. The episodes are pretty inconsistent in quality, but somehow I keep watching them, because it is easy to just turn one on and not think too much about it, which is nice when I'm not feeling well. (Addendum a few weeks later: The issue with the women actually improves a lot in the later seasons. They seem to consistently have more minor female characters, than in earlier episodes, and not always just for a love interest. The addition of Ensign Ro to the cast helps too, though she is sadly not in a ton of episodes.)

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2020-05-25 10:44

Been watching a bunch of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, seasons 3 and now 4. They are good as partial attention background, while cooking or doing puzzles or something. At times it feels like all the characters are too well defined ahead of time. There are rarely any surprises about how anyone acts. I do think this is something that keeps the writers and audience engaged with Data the android, as they consistently play around with him and his search for humanity and emotions. This allows him to be a lot more dynamic over time than everyone else.

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2020-05-23 13:29

Finished up the last Neveryon book the other day. The last two stories return in different ways to the beginning of the series. "The Game of Time and Pain" returns to Gorgik "the Liberator" who is the protagonist of the first story in the series and plays varying roles both real and imagined throughout. In this story he narrates events from within the timeline of the first story and his return to the location of that event, showing his changed perspective along with his changed position in society. The second tale "The Tale of Rumor and Desire" takes place at various points across the series, telling the story of a bandit and ne'er-do-well who at first seems unconnected to any of the other stories or characters, but then at one point his narrative comes around to intersect with one of the earliest scenes in the first story of the series.

In "The Tale of Gorgik", the first story, which is also reprinted in this volume as the last story, Gorgik, as a youth, before being forced into slavery, is out in the city near his house and sees a young collared slave sitting against a cistern. He is fascinated by the slave and his collar and keeps coming back to look at him, finally, at one point, seeing the slave remove his collar and throw it into the cistern. This scene clearly effects Gorgik's later life, but we learn in "The Tale of Rumor and Desire" that that slave is the bandit, and he was wearing the collar, not because he was a slave, but because he was ostensibly using it to turn tricks with people who would be interested in such a thing. It's another one of the many cases in the series of symbols and interpretation that are turned over.

The book ends with a long afterward by Delany where he discusses many of his influences in particular the various theorists who inspired the work. The usage of semiotics and psychoanalysis is at least minimally obvious to anyone familiar with the topics, though I'm not sure knowing the sources and concepts add to the stories themselves. As Delany's interpretations and evocations of the theories it is probably better to take them as is, than to try to map them to any particular source. I've reread the series more than once now (I think the full series only twice but the earlier volumes perhaps thrice) yet somehow parts of it always come as a surprise. In fact this time through I had no recollection at all of the last story.

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2020-05-20 07:55

I finished up Flight from Neveryon on Sunday. The last part of the volume is The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals a novel from 1984 that is considered the first about the (at that point) emerging AIDS crisis. As an active gay man in New York City at the time, Delany brings autobiography into the novel. The narrative shifts between telling of a sexually transmitted plague in Neveryon, fictionalized autobiography about Delany and some acquaintances in contemporary New York City, and outright essayistic commentary both about the writing/novel and the disease. To the new reader it can be a bit of a jarring shift from the previous parts of the series, though not totally unexpected, as all the volumes also include various pre and post matter relating the stories both to Delany as a character/author and a related (fictional, but... set in the "real world") scholar who translates a (fictonal) ancient manuscript that Delany supposedly used as a basis for the setting/stories.

But with this novel, the "real world" intermingles with the sword & sorcery world at various levels. Not just the insertion of the narrative about Delany in NYC during the early days of AIDS, but also characters crossing between the two worlds. There are still long sections solely based in the fantasy world, that, as I suspected but didn't recall earlier, bring the "Master" who was the unheard recipient of the monologue in the previous story. Various (most? all?) of the characters from the previous stories also make smaller (subtler) or larger appearances throughout. In two important sections, we see people misinterpreting events from previous stories, a common theme throughout the series, as the interpreters make use of information to prove their views and are either naively or willfully ignorant of what goes against them.

In multiple postscripts from subsequent editions, Delany updates his information about AIDS, with quite a bit of information that can be surprising. In particular the very limited number of studies to understand how people actually got the HIV virus sexually (blood transfusions and sharing needles being much clearer methods). It is perhaps too a propos to be reading that as the world is enduring this current pandemic. At one point in the novel, when the source of AIDS, HIV, is discovered, it is announced that they think medical science is 2 years away from a vaccine. That was 1984. 36 years ago now.

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2020-05-14 08:28

Last night I finished up another story in Delany's Neveryon series. Probably about two thirds through the four books now. Noticing how much the stories... not exactly reflect each other... but keep switching perspectives from one to the next, to show different facets of the world and especially the characters. In Neveryona, Pryn, the protagonist meets a few of the characters from the stories in the first book. She also briefly spends time with two smugglers, who are really only seen a bit from her perspective. Then in the first story of Flight from Neveryon "The Tale of Fog and Granite", the protagonist and focalizing character is one of those smugglers (who... I believe we never get a name for), so we see him a bit later in life, still smuggling. At one point he is even reminded of Pryn (though he no longer remembers her name), and we get a brief moment of his perspective on a bit of the previous novel.

The subsequent short story (that I read last night), "The Mummer’s Tale" is a long monologue, a conversation where we only hear the one speaker, from one of the mummer's of a travelling show. The show appeared previously in Neveryona where Pryn ends the novel travelling with them, though I'm not aware the narrator of this story is explicitly mentioned. The mummer is talking to an old friend (unclear at this point to me if he is someone seem previously or not) and ends up telling a story about his other friend, who we eventually realize is the smuggler from the previous story. In this case the monologue is taking place a decade or more later (time has really passed!), and we learn about the smuggler, before he started smuggling. Do the later stories continue this kind of flip flopping of perspectives? I don't actually recall. I've definitely read the beginning of the series more times than I've read the end of the series.

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2020-05-12 08:01

This morning I finished Joanna Russ' The Two of Them (1978). I was so close to finishing last night but didn't want to get to that point where I was falling asleep while at the ending, and I didn't want to rush through just to finish it before I fell asleep. I've not read a ton of Russ' work, though I guess this is the third novel of hers I've read (and a short story or two). This short novel is about a "Trans-Temporal Authority" agent named Irene. As a youth in the 50's she ran off with an agent name Ernst (we see in flashback their first meeting) and then he becomes her trainer/lover/father-figure. About half the plot takes place on this other world that is vaguely futuristic arabic-islamic, where Irene ends up taking away the daughter of their hosts, because the girl wants to be a poet and on her world that is not allowed. Irene rages against the chauvinism/sexism of the culture on the planet, so she basically forces the father to sign some papers so she can "rescue" the daughter (who is not exactly abducted since she agrees to go).

I've seen some criticism of this book for its portrayal of the pseudo futuristic arabic-islamic world. It has plenty of clichéd elements and tropes, though I think that is partly on purpose, as the in-world logic of these people is that they basically started this planet and adopted this whole culture. The way they treat woman can seem facile and awful in its portrayal, but what becomes obvious in the second half of the novel, as Irene, Ernst, and the girl are travelling away from the planet on a ship, is that Irene's milieu is not really better. She begins to realize how much the organization she works for is sexist and how Ernst treats her is not all she thought it was. So the one cultural portrayal sheds light onto the other.

This is not the type of science fiction where everything is logical and explained. Whatever a "Trans-Temporal Authority" is remains vague at best. It's not about that, it's about the cultural criticism and the messaging and the women. Towards the end Russ starts to insert an I-author narrator, offering versions of the story "I was going to..." that at first is a little jarring, primarily I think for how late it comes into the book, and how unexpected it (still) is in science fiction. But I also think it works to bring... reality, the reality of this world the book exists in, to the fore as another part of the story.

I've got another book of Russ's work The Adventures of Alyx, which includes her earlier sword and sorcery stories, coming soon, and I am looking forward to reading it.

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2020-05-02 09:31

Also finished up Delany's Neveryona which in many ways is not organized around a traditional narrative arc. Pryn, the protagonist, leaves her home in the mountains, travels to the big city, travels to the land in the south, heads back to the city, the end. There is a moment that sort of acts as a climax in the penultimate chapter, but it is not really the result of a great build-up. It is sort of a resolution of a mystery that stretched across the novel and a few of the preceding stories in the series, but it also creates its own mystery as to what actually happens to Pryn, what is real, what is not. In a sense, it is the resolution of a quest. Pryn is told a story in the first chapter (by one of the many protagonists from the previous stories that she meets) about a treasure. In the end she sort of maybe finds that treasure. But in between the treasure or the quest is not really her goal or motivating factor or even a driver of the narrative events.

The novel is much more organized like a bildungsroman and a travelogue. Pryn gains knowledge and experience; she sees parts of the world; she meets all different sorts of people; she has a variety of experiences. In the end, is there resolution? No. But I expect part of the point is there is not resolution to the many situations and ideas and problems that she is faced with. It's a fascinating novel in a fascinating series, that is so unlike any other sword & sorcery or fantasy fiction. I wish there were more work like it (but I think there is not).

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2020-04-21 08:19

I've been working my way, a few chapters a night, through Delany's Neveryona the second volume in the series, which is a single novel. The protagonist is a young woman who quickly starts intersecting with the various protagonists and secondary characters from the first stories. She leaves home in the country and goes to the city, and her naivety to the setting allows for a lot of discourse by the other characters. Delany is interested in the discourse and allowing his characters to speak ideas, but does not, in my opinion, seem very concerned about the individual voices of the characters. The dialogue is not "realistic", it is often more like lecturing or storytelling. I always feel like I have to pay close attention for the subtle references to the previous stories or ongoing mysteries about the setting/story. Even just unnamed references to characters from previous stories that help weave the whole series together.

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2020-04-16 08:24

I got distracted the other day and didn't finish writing about Tales of Neveryon, and now I'm already gotten through three more of the stories. I'm still really enjoying them. As I read them I'm trying to piece together memories of how the stories interrelate and how small parts of each end up relating back to the whole. I often wonder how much Delany had the large elements planned out ahead of time and how much grew with the telling. I'm not sure I've read him talking much about the series, nor much of other people talking about it. But it has been awhile since I delved into his essays and interviews, or did any searching for writing about the series (there is some). That was a lot easier when I was working at the library and had a large library of book near at hand and access to tons of journals on and off line.

One thing I love about the series is how much it is using the genre but not falling into easy clichés or unexamined tropes. The world feels grounded, it is mysterious -- especially to most of the characters who have limited exposure to it, little learning, little way to learn more -- but also it has history and a sense of society and technological change. The introduction and spread of money as a concept is a topic in two of the stories (so far), and how it changes the way the people interact with each other. One character remembers in his lifetime when certain inventions that one takes for granted even in the genre become widely used. It's a world that seems to be always changing.

The characters talk a lot in ways that don't seem at all realistic, but it also doesn't feel wrong because Delany is such a good writer. Just sentence to sentence, he is enjoyable to read.

I wish my memory were better, as I'm always getting these flashes of memories about the stories in the series, but not always with any context to help me place them in relation to what I'm currently rereading.

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2020-04-14 08:33

Started rereading Samuel Delany's Return to Neveryon series, a sword and sorcery series in four books (compromising a number of short stories, novels, and novellas). Finished up the first story from Tales of Neveryon, "The Tale of Gorgik" which introduces a central figure in the series. I think the series doesn't get enough attention or credit because it is a bit difficult and unusual. Delany was highly influenced by "theory" (as in (post)structuralist, etc.) in the writing of it, so it's not just action and adventure (often very little of either), but it is often more about examining the society than magic or monsters (very little of either). They are enjoyable though, if you can alter your expectations for what a sword & sorcery story should be. I expect the introductory essay, written by a fictional contemporary academic (who Delany has used in a few books), would turn off a lot of people from the start, too.

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2020-04-03 07:14

I finished the short history of fantasy book which left me with a few recommendations to look up but mostly just left me disappointed. It is very hard from the given descriptions to have any sense many of these books are ones I might find interesting.

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2020-04-02 08:40

Making pretty quick work through A Short History of Fantasy. It's a rather broad overview often too focused on high level plot synopses. That's helpful in some sense, but doesn't really give any feel for the books under discussion. I don't think the summaries of some of my favorite fantasy works would have made me interested in them or given me any real idea of how unusual and unconventional those books are in comparison with most fantasy (thinking here of Delany's Neveryon or Wolfe's Latro books). The book's authors also, for the most part, avoid being very evaluative, though in some sense the inclusion of a book in the history is already a judgment of some kind. I have taken note of a couple books to look further into, though a lot of the works are ones in subgenres that I'm not so interested in, especially children's book, fairy tales (and various plays on same), and books that are ilke "real life" but with fantasy or where the character travels from the real world to a fantasy world. Those all seem very prevalent, and just not in general to my interest.

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2020-03-31 11:58

As a change of pace, last night I started reading A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. It is primarily about fantasy literature, but occasionally addresses other media. I thought since I started writing some fantasy, I'd try to see what gaps I can fill in on my knowledge of it as a genre. I'm also interested to see if I can find arguments for or against my thought that fantasy as a genre is for the most part very conservative, especially formalistically/stylistically. And if I am wrong what other authors/books I can look to besides the ones I already know (Wolfe, Delany, Le Guin).

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2020-03-22 08:50

Spend a lot of the day just reading, first a bunch of things online that have accumulated in my Feedly saved items folder and then finishing up the second of Gene Wolfe's Latro book, Soldier of Arete. That one gets a little crazy at the end, with a few large gaps of narrative, that puts the last section of the book into a weird estrangement. Since Latro forgets everything from day-to-day, when he doesn't write down the events and days pass then he becomes even more disconnected from who people are and what events have happened, causing his resumed narration to be even more obscure. Characters that have been present throughout the book are mentioned but nameless (and sometimes it takes a bit to figure out who is who), motivations and interpretations of motivations become confused, and a certain amount of cause and effect is lost (we see effects without causes). I definitely feel like even on this second read, I didn't totally follow all that was going on, or the significance of it. Feel like I could use a good summarization to help clarify a few things. Still, despite that, a really enjoyable read. There is a third novel, that Wolfe wrote much later than the first two, which creates newfound interpretation problems as it moves the action to Egypt thus mostly unmooring the narrative from all the places, characters, and deities that one has learned to identify in the first two. I won't be jumping right into that for a reread just yet.

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2020-03-08 13:04

Last night I finished up my reread of Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist, the first part of his series about Latro, a soldier in the Ancient Greek world who has been cursed to not remember anything. The whole book is his (with one exception) writings that he keeps of the events that happen to him as a memory aid. I really enjoyed my first read through of the series, and have been meaning to reread.

The rich historical setting makes use of the mythology of the ancient world in a rather realistic way. The dieties exist and are powerful, mysterious, awe-inspiring. They have many names and aspects which aids in the mystery and is increased by the way Latro sees them with fresh eyes each time. The whole narrative is one of mystery and elision. We only read what Latro writes after the fact, so we can only know what he says, not necessarily what is true, especially since each time he writes he mostly only knows what is happening and what others tell him of the past. He cannot easily make connections between events or characters. That can often lead to the reader having to work to remember who someone is based on non-obvious information.

Also, between each chapter there can be an unknowable gap of time. Sometimes it is obviously the next day, or even later the same day. Sometimes he remembers far enough back (from morning to night or one night to the next morning) that he can contextualize the gap, but sometimes time passes in silence and emptiness and we must learn a new situation, not always knowing why the situation of the characters have changed (until at times we get some other character reminding Latro).

The whole book is filled with this sort of elision and gaps. Even the way Latro refers to places is based on his translations from Greek to his language (I'm not remembering exactly, but he is not from the immediate area of the Greek pennisula or islands). So Athens is called "Thought" and the Spartans are called "Rope Makers", based on... some etymology I am not aware of. The first time I read the books that was often very confusing and geographically disorienting (in knowing where the chapters were taking place), but this time around (perhaps helped by all the Assassin's Creed Odyssey I played) I felt more confident in the geography and place names which helped in decipering the story.

I think I'm going to take a break before moving on to the second book.

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2020-02-09 08:15

Before sleep last night, I finished up Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire, a science fiction novel from last year that I saw on a lot of recommended lists, and they did not steer me wrong. I don't read a ton of space opera-esque science fiction, so my best touchstone is Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy (also excellent by the way). Both take place in non-Earth based societies (empires) and deal with identity and language and political maneuvering. Martine's book is focused on an ambassador who is put in a political thriller type situation while also focusing on her complicated relationship with the culture and language of the empire, which her people are trying to avoid being annexed into. To them she is a barbarian, but to her they are a culture that she mostly looks up to, having studied their language and poetry and dramas for most of her life. It was well written, tightly plotted, intellectually engaging, and, of course, left enough larger plot points unresolved so there can be a sequel. Though, I will say that the main protagonist's story is resolved sufficiently that I didn't feel like I was left just waiting for a sequel to find out what happened.

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2020-01-11 09:04

Still working my way through The Witcher season 1, 6 episodes in now. I'm noticing more and more how the show writers are altering the original story plots. Some of the changes are clearly to allow for the overlapping of timelines (so they don't have to wait until season 2 to show Ciri as anything but a little girl) and to fill in backstory (most of the Yennifer content so far). Other changes seem to be more about ramping up drama. And some, I'm not totally clear on their purpose or what they add to anything in comparison to the originals. The characters like to talk about destiny a lot, which is overdone, it almost makes the case for the opposite. If someone keeps urging you onto follow your destiny and do this and that, then it feels less like destiny and more like manipulation and choices. One of the major points in the early stories, when Geralt first meets Ciri as a child is that he isn't looking for her and, as I recall, doesn't even know who she is when he first meets her.

They also seem to be adding some kind of religious aspect to the Nilfgaardians, which I don't at all recall from the stories. I feel like that tempers the work some. Instead of just an invading nation of people, they are... religious fanatics or something? That seems more conventionally fantasy than just having all the war and death and chaos caused by an invading, expansionist kingdom.

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2020-01-09 08:16

Still enjoying the Witcher the way they are manipulating some of the timelines and plot threads of the stories allows for a wonderful mix of surprise at new scenes and new uses of characters but also delighted seeing familiar scenes played out on the screen.

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2020-01-07 08:32

We watched 2 episodes of His Darkest Materials on HBO last night. I've never read the books (I associated them, perhaps unfairly, with Harry Potter, which I have also avoided), so it is all new to me. I'm enjoying it so far, though it is not... amazing. The protagonist, Lyra, is engaging and the actor is doing good work. Ruth Wilson is awesome as a character who so far I do not have a handle on, but is clearly struggling internally with something (it's to Wilson's skill I think how much this is evident in her expressions and actions without her having to explicitly say anything). The effects of the characters' daemons (some kind of animal representation of one's soul?) is well done too and looks pretty seamless.

Where the show falls down a bit is the context of the fantasy world. At one point Lyra opens the door of her new keeper's (Ruth Wilson's Mrs. Coulter) private office and sees her monkey daemon in there. Lyra looks shocked and afraid, though it is not clear why. She turns and Coulter turns around the corner down a long hallway. It is only in their following conversation that we learn the daemons are not supposed to be that far away from the person. By not explaining that world context to us sooner, the show completely deflates any feeling we have about Lyra's shock when she opens that door. We have no explanation for why she is shocked, and by the time we do the effect is gone.

It's almost like the showrunners wanted to avoid doing any info dumps (though they do put in a few lines of text right at the beginning to spell out some very basics), but then failed to naturally work the context in at the right time. Two episodes in and I'm still unclear about what the "Magisterium" actually is (I think a theocratic government), or who exactly the Gyptians are (I think a Romani stand-in). Also, in that regards, a plot thread involving the Gyptians searching for some lost children is oddly used, as it gets a decent amount of screentime, but we never really get much sense of any of the characters. There's a mom who does clichéd dramatic grieving mom things. There's a brother who... wants to help, but is told he's too young. There is a gruff guy who is somehow in charge. It's telling I remember none of their names. Maybe their plot line is not an ongoing part of the story, but it feels like its more important by dint of screentime than it does by the depth of attention given to the characters involved.

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2020-01-06 11:43

Through episode 3 of The Witcher and I keep being impressed with it. The writers are doing a so far excellent job in adapting and modifying the original source material into something that tracks Geralt, Yennifer, and Ciri simultanously, but also cleverly mixes the timelines and what stories they are showing to resonate with each other.

It's getting compared with Game of Thrones a lot, but so far I think The Witcher is much more of a fantasy show, and a much more interesting show. GoT was so much about tons of characters being moved along by a slowly (so slowly) moving plot. It took forever to learn about the different characters and the world and it was much more about political maneuvering than a fantasy world. The Witcher on the other hand, by focusing on a few main characters let's one learn about them faster. It also is already much more fantastical in nature, which is likely, a reason it won't ever be as popular as GoT.

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2020-01-05 13:19

Started on The Witcher series on Netflix. Two episodes in, I quite like it, and am impressed with how they are handling the adaptation. They are showing multiple timelines simultaneous, which is pretty interesting. I've heard that viewers have complained about being confused by that, though the first episode offered some dialogue for those paying attention to clue us in that Geralt's and Ciri's plots were happening at different times.

They are also adding elements to the story, in particular, episode 2 starts giving us backstory on Yennifer as a girl. That's not in the books, though I know some of it is mentioned, and the show is using it to work in various character, location, and setting introductions, in an effective way.

The fight scenes are well done so far. In episode 1 there is a brutal fight between Geralt and some thugs. It is violent and there are cut off limbs and the like but it all happens really fast (as it would in a fight) without the camera lingering on the blood or the mutilations. It makes the action brutal but doesn't make it seem glorified.

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2020-01-01 15:42

Work up at 3am this morning feeling shitty, and it has not totally abated as the day has gone on. Hopefully not an omen of the new year. Going to go drink gin and watch... probably more of The Expanse, as I've been working my way through the new 4th season. It's really good so far. It's a show that I kind of forget about, and am not too excited about a new season until I actually start watching it. They really manage to keep the plot interesting and to work with a surprising number of new and old characters. Often the disparate storylines feel completely separate until something late in the season pulls it all together.

I did read the first book the series is based on and was completely underwhelmed. A case where the adaptation is much better than the original.

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  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy

2019-12-12 17:11

I finished up the fourth volume of Kentaro Miura's Berserk deluxe edition this morning. I don't think I've written anything about this manga before. I read a bunch of volumes last year when there was a really cheap sale on the ebook version, and then these deluxe editions started coming out so I never finished the series in the electonic version. These are nice black hardcovers, slightly larger then normal, collecting three of the regular volumes.

Berserk is dark fantasy of a very manga sort. It is not really interested in world building, throughout the volumes I've read I never had any sense of geography or society. There is a lot of generic pseudo-medieval backgrounds, but one never gets a sense of anything specific beyond the few characters that are required. There are undifferentiated kingdoms at war, and various leaders how mostly all seem awful, and generic peasants in the background.

It's also very human centric for fantasy. There's one elf, who is more like a fairy, and there are demons, crazy, weird, awful, creepy demons that seem to grow in variety as the story continues.

There's really no epic quest (to the point I've read), rather, like many manga, it has a lot of focus (at least in the early parts) on characters and their "be the best at a thing" (fighting) and their "dreams". But unlike a general "fight to the top" storyline this one is filled with creepiness and horror and a sense that the dreams of the different characters are in direct conflict.

The first section of the manga, also like many manga, is a little different, generic, kind of confusing. But then it jumps back in time (narratively, the characters don't time travel), and the story really picks up. At the point I've read the story hasn't returned to that first point in time. I kind of wonder if it ever does, or if that first section is written off as a kind of trial run, first draft. One thing I've learned in reading manga, is often the first volume and the second volume are dramatically different in one way or another as the creators and editors seemingly react to serialization and make changes to the concept. It can make it hard to make any judgemenets based on one volume (great for sales I guess), as I've read a few manga where the first volume was lackluster but I ended up really enjoying the rest of the series. Berserk is one of those cases.

One thing that bothers me about the manga is it's occasionally leering gaze. This volume of the deluxe edition, for instance, has a creepy scene where the decrepid king (who the protagonists are currently working for) basically molests his daughter (she's an older teen I guess). It's awful and the king is not drawn with any sympathy for his actions, yet, the daughter is also drawn in such a way that she is sexualized and perhaps shown a little too much from the view of the king, in a way that is uncomfortable on a meta level.

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2019-12-11 22:02

Read Ursula Le Guin's The Beginning Place over the past couple days. It's a fantasy novel that starts in real life and follows two lonely characters who somehow walk into a fantasy world. A lot of fantasy like this works on two level, the literal, a fantasy world and an adventure story, and the metaphorical, a story about growing up or friendship or power. In this one makes the metaphorical story, two lonely characters finding each other, the foregound, and fails at the literal level. The fantasy world and the sort of quest that they undertake feels almost completely unnecessary, under developed, and underexplained, which is odd as normally Le Guin is really good at the world building and tying that into a broader theme. The interactions the two protagonists have with the people in the fantasy world, and the sort of quest they go on, all seem to be hinting at something else going on, some deeper mystery, perhaps even some kind of manipulation of the protagonists by the towns people who send them on the quest, yet none of it every plays out. Nothing is revealed about the world or what is going on. The characters leave it. End of story. For me, this was just a pleasant but unsatisfying novel. I don't need narratives to answer all my questions, but I also want to feel like major elements of the narrative are serving a purpose.

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2019-11-30 10:08

Just watched What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a documentary from this year the head writer of the show made about it. One cool part of it was a series of scenes where a bunch of the writers (including Ronald Moore from BSG) got together and broke a story for a hypothetical season 8, 20 years later. It would have been even more interesting if we heard a little more of the back and forth between them, as it was edited down heavily to their final decisions. For fans of the show, it's a good look a bit behind the scenes and also about how the show was a lot ahead of its times in respect to the medium. A lot of the Amazon reviews of it are all "why did they inject politics into this" which really annoys me. I don't see how anyone watching any Star Trek but particular DS9 can miss a lot of the overt liberal politics. DS9 especially is strong on nationalism (or the planetary form of that), isolationism, and equality, all still pretty relevant (and one reason the show has still held up so well).

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2019-11-29 09:51

After almost 4 months of watching during lunch or while making dinner, I finished up my latest rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Still really enjoyed it, even when I knew all the major (and many minor) plot threads. It does get a little rushed in the final part of the last season as they try to resolve all the larger plot elements and provide various characters with some kind of final narrative resolution. At lot of the small B and C lines get jettisoned from the episodes, and some of the major results feel anticlimactic. In particular the resolution of the Captain Sisko and the Bajoran Prophets and Pah-Wraiths storyline feels like a long slow burn with an abrupt and sort of stupid ending. After spending all this time building to some kind of Pah-Wraith return and great evil, they are defeated by one guy pushing another guy and a book into a fire pit. It's like the writers ran out of time to make the climax match all that came before it, so they just made it all happen as quickly and simply as possible.

I also feel like the religious themes of the show felt rather one-sided. The Bajoran "Prophets" are from the beginning viewed as just some weird kind of alien by the non-Bajorans. They somehow exist out of time and live in a wormhole. Sisko over time basically shifts to the religious view of them. All the other non-Bajoran characters just... seem to stop caring, but act as if the aliens are still somehow magic. It feels like no one is ever just "well if they exist out of time then the fact that make prophecies is perfectly logically and maybe we should pay attention to what they communicate". There's not anyone who takes a nice middle way approach to the issue.

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2019-11-11 08:41

Finished up Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will and Temper yesterday afternoon (spend a long time reading in the afternoon, since I finished my video game). It's a gothic fantasy that draws from Picture of Dorian Gray in a way that I'm sure I did not totally pick up on since it's been decades since I read Wilde's book. The obvious things like "Dorina Gray" and a prominent portrait (though not of her) and aspects of long life, but I don't remember the Wilde well enough to pick up on anything more. I enjoyed the novel as a fun read, finished it in probably 3 sittings, but it felt like it ended as a different book than it started as. A very slow build-up of romance and a bit of mystery ended up as a sudden climax of action and violence. It was a rather jarring change in the mood. I see there is a second book that is... not a sequel, but... I guess just a book in the same setting, that has gotten better reviews. I'll see if the library has it.

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2019-11-05 08:20

The new collection of John Crowley stories And Go Like This arrived yesterday from Small Beer Press. I stumbled upon its existence a few months ago when looking up some other book they published. At the time it was a pre-order, so I kind of forget it would be coming out in the beginning of November. I jumped into the first story last night, one I had already read in an issue of Conjunctions many years ago. Very excited to read the rest (all or at least most of which I've not read before). I remember first finding Crowley's Little, Big on the shelves of the public library I worked in high school. A fantasy paperback, but for some reason one of those shelved with the regular fiction rather than the much less organized sci-fi/fantasy books. I no longer remember what attracted me to it, but I ended up reading it and loving it. And then reading more of his novels, and then waiting endlessly for the various sequels to Aegypt (now called The Solitudes since the four book tetralogy now has the former name). I've read the whole series through only once I think, but the earlier books I've read multiple times, and there are still scenes from them stuck in my head, like parts of a film, which doesn't happen with a ton of books I read.

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2019-11-03 07:46

Finished up The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki last night, another one of my library books from earlier in the week. It started out well enough, a sci-fi setting that was at least partially dystopic, with some kind of religion having started a new era on Earth. Technology was clearly not too advanced (there's a train and a later spaceships, but not a lot of tech evident early on). There was a young naive character, passing an exam to be in the "sacred service" (basically some kind of sort of religion/science work), and trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. But the longer the book went on the more it devolved into this dreamlike Surrealistic fugue about repetition or rebirth or something. The plot sort of dropped away, and the protagonist was pretty much completely passive, just going along without making decisions or taking any actions or really having much in the way of thoughts. In the end I was just bored and confused about the point of the whole thing.

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2019-10-30 08:10

Picked up two books at the library and ended up reading one of them through last night. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a sci-fi novella (~100 pages) that I read about somewhere. The sample on Amazon seemed interesting, and our local library had a copy. It was enjoyable enough, a story of a telepath that works with the idea of a prison of the mind. The writing was often too long, such that I think it could have worked just fine as a short story. The beginning was interesting, then the not-so shocking reveal, then a middle section that sketched in a larger world and situation, and then the ending kind of abandoned that situation for another not-so shocking reveal. In the end, the story was more of a romance than the political/adventure story it is wrapped in.

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2019-10-25 08:04

I reread the first volume of Akira over the past week or so. For some reason it got stuck in my head to read it again, so I picked up a copy of the first volume. Long ago I had all the old Epic color issues. I discovered that series when it was still coming out regularly, but only shortly before it started appearing increasingly less frequent. I'm not sure what was going on behind the scenes, but sometimes it was like half a year before the next issue would appear. At some point a number of years back I sold the whole set on ebay for a chunk of money.

There is a certain allure to these sci-fi action manga, and I'm sure some of it is an element of nostalgia for me. At the time it felt so different than everything else (back then, manga was still pretty new to the American comics scene), but now it feels a little empty. Otomo's (and his assistants one assumes) art is dynamic and detailed but the story is primarily (in the first volume at least) a bunch of extended action scenes. Almost all the characters are rather one dimensional and there is a total of one female character who appears in more than one scene (and she mostly remains opaque as far as who she is or what she is up to). I can't help but compare it to Shirow's Appleseed another sci-fi manga I first read about the same time and find it lacking in comparison. The latter is a very similar genre (near future sci-fi action), but is a lot more character driven, though, again, I only read the first volume of Akira so maybe it changes as it goes on, I only remember the broader outlines of the story. But I'm not convinced I'll keep rereading. If I want to reread manga I've certainly got a number of other options laying around already (like Lone Wolf & Cub).

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2019-10-22 08:18

We started watching the HBO miniseries Years and Years last night, which is by Russel T. Davies who did the Doctor Who reboot. The show is a near future family drama, that feels very... of the moment. There are refugees/asylum seekers in camps and firey right wing politicians and tech that is just the other side of contemporary. Like the novel I read last month Infinite Detail it's at times a little too realistic feeling. In it, Trump, in his last days of office (later followed by Pence as President) drops a nuclear missile on a contested man-made Chinese island. The one we just watched had a bank collapsing with people losing their savings and desperately mobbed around banks trying to do something about it. It's enjoyable to watch but also, so far, rather a downbeat type of enjoyment.

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2019-10-07 07:50

Up early again, though thankfully not as early as last week. Yesterday, after getting to a boss (well two bosses at once) in Code Vein that I didn't easily beat, I decided to watch a movie, and, as it was still early in the afternoon, picked Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Been wanting to watch it for awhile, but it's over 2.5 hours long, so I needed a good long block of time where I wasn't going to be distracted (cause I knew it was going to be slow).

At the start the movie's filmed in black and white toned in a sepia color, it's like the whole world is trapped is amber. Whatever method Tarkovsky used to film, it really brings out all the textures of everything. The walls in the protagonist's home are rough and dirty and probably plaster and you can see all of that in the film. The french doors to his bedroom look like they are hundreds of years old encrusted with time. The floor in the bar he goes to is stained and you can see all the lines of the wood. It's really amazing and looks really different to me than almost anything else I've watched.

The movie is slow: lots of long takes, few cuts, slow camera movement (a number of very slow forward tracking shots), dead time before and after characters enter/leave a shot. That slowness is aided a lot by the beauty of the compositions. You can look at the frame for awhile even if nothing is moving in it. Almost everything in the setting is old or decayed or rundown. It's almost post-apocalyptic in the human elements, but on the other hand there is a lot of lush greenery in different scenes.

Based on a science fiction novel, one of the Criterion extras taught me that in the process of adapting and making the movie, Tarkovsky moved away from the book in many ways. This is one of those quiet science fiction movies that doesn't have spaceships or aliens or time travel, but it does have... something. The three protagonists go into this place called "The Zone" where something happened and all the people left and the government walled it off. Inside The Zone is "The Room" which supposedly will give you whatever is your deepest desire.

There is no explanation for these elements, and one can almost watch the movie and believe that it is all a story made-up by the protagonist "Stalker". It's that kind of narrative. But the way it's filmed and the way the actors/characters react to everything, even though for almost all the film you see no indication of anything weird or unusual, somehow you believe that "The Zone" is weird and dangerous. I was almost expecting some kind of 2001 psychadelic thing at the end, but Tarkovsky is a lot more restrained than that and nothing really weird happens at all. The protagonists don't enter The Room. They return home.

And then right at the very end, there is this scene of Stalker's daughter sitting at a table silently. After a while you looks at a glass on the table and... the glass shudders a bit then slowly slides across the table. Then she looks at another glass and slowly it slides across the table and falls off it. End of movie. I'm not totally sure what to make of that ending, other than as a way to refute the idea that all the weirdness was just in the three protagonists heads as they were in The Zone. You can't read the daughter's telekinetic skills as the result of anyone else's imagination or fear. It just happens.

At times I did start getting a little tired of the movie, mostly in some of the scenes with the characters talking. Though on a second viewing I might better be able to relate their conversations to the rest of the filmic content. But something would always happen to draw me back in.

One really stunning (and I'm sure famous) scene, happens early on. There is a really long tracking shot in the sepia tone as the characters ride a rail car into The Zone. The foreground movies between their three faces in closeup with out of focus background moving by in the background. It lasts a long time and then there is a cut and the film is in color, a green landscape of trees and sky. It's a shocking change (up to that point I just assumed the whole film would be sepia), and also creates this wonderful sense of The Zone as other, as more vibrant and special then the rest of the world.

Geoff Dyer wrote a whole book about Stalker which I am now very tempted to read.

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2019-09-16 08:03

Started Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun over the weekend in a nice collected book club edition I found online. This one, contrary to Long Sun, is definitely a sequel to its predecessor. The narrator was a minor character in Long Sun (and narratively, the author of the in world book that is The Book of the Long Sun) and there are numerous other characters and references to characters and events from the previous series. My understanding is that this one then ties back around somehow to New Sun, and I'm quite curious to see how that happens. So far, this one, also starts off with a man going off on a voyage, with much less preamble to the voyage. It's also written as a partially retrospective autobiographical text by the protagonists. He is both writing about his past, which is so far the greater part of the narration, but also referencing his present (as yet mostly obscure) situation. That he is also referencing events from Long Sun or the time of that narration and events in between that series and the start of this one, provides quite the conflagration of timelines. This is definitely not a book where one should start reading Wolfe's work.

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2019-09-08 21:26

Also just finished Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail which I quite enjoyed, though the central apocalyptic event, a virus that hits the infrastructure of the internet so hard that basically the whole internet is destroyed, is a little too real for comfort. It feels like the kind of thing where security probably isn't ever as good as it should be, and yes, if communications broke down, what, in this global economy, would people actually be able to live on. What can actually be manufactured without parts from all over the place? The novel doesn't actually delve too deeply into that, leaving that rather as a hole in the center of the plot that is alluded to and occasionally made evident by the "After" chapters. In a way it was a little scary reading this book, not in a horror novel way but in a "this feels too close to reality" way. It was a pretty quick read, and throughout, for me, maintained that cyberpunk genre feel, at least, unexpectedly, the ending was not a totally downbeat.

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  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy

2019-09-06 07:55

I also took another break from James Tiptree Jr to start something new. A few books showed up for me at the library (I also overestimate how long interlibrary loan takes and end up ordering a few books and having them all show up at once), so I started Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan. So far it reads like a 80's cyberpunk novel by Gibson or Sterling, using the same futuristic time period, but, being written recently, more up-to-date/realistic with its tech and political thematics. Part futurism, part thriller, part commentary, part... mystery I guess, it's written in alternating chapters of "Before" and "After" some as yet unclear event. I'm about 80 pages in already (text is a bit large on the page) and really enjoying it.

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2019-09-05 08:11

I gave up on A Stranger in Olondria after about 50 pages. The writing is just too much, too descriptive for me, and that, the narrator's impressions of everything, seems very much the point of the novel (the plot is so far quite light). I wanted to like it, but it's either just not for me, or it's the wrong time for me to be reading it. On the other hand I finished another 2 James Tiptree Jr. stories from the collection I am reading. I'm still enjoying them, but the longer one felt like it had a lot of setup that didn't pay out in the end. There was all this political and personal strife going on with the crew of this longterm space voyage, with a lot of really interesting setup and concepts, but then the primary climax about this weird alien creature felt like it had very little connection to all that set-up, unless that maybe that was the whole point. That all the human cruft that concerned the characters, in the end, was pointless in the face of something... not human. Hmm, I actually like that, maybe that was the point.

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2019-08-22 08:11

Still plowing through The Book of the Long Sun, into the 3rd volume now. Still have no idea how it connects to the New Sun books. Still lots of skipping ahead in time and then slowly filling in what happened. I think it mainly works in the context of this book because of how Silk the protagonist has spent a large portion of the narrative injured in different ways and occasionally unconscious. The gaps in the narrative time help mirror the gaps in his consciousness and also the overwhelming events happening to him.

Each of the volumes has been starting with a list of characters, and reading it in volume 4 I noticed how much the descriptions give away elements of the plot that haven't been revealed in the book. Not only does it list characters that haven't shown up in the narrative yet, but also a few major character reveals that I don't believe were at all clear up to that point. For instance there are a couple reveals about character parentage that seen very important to the plot that get spoiled. I don't quite get the impetus of such a thing and why Wolfe would do that.

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2019-08-16 08:19

Walked down to the theater last night to see the "director's cut" of Blade Runner. So many people showed up that by the time I got into the largest of their rooms I had to sit in the second row, which is not my normal preferred viewing spot. I haven't seen the movie in a few years, and I really enjoyed it for the most part. The cinematography and set design/effects are amazing. The active exteriors and the moody interiors all with a certain type of lighting that I don't have the words to describe. The film noir vibe of a lot of the characters and fashions (as well as the deep shadows and harsh lighting in tight interiors) really appeals to me. I also noticed a lot of places where really bright light blows out the film.

The movie early on states it is November 2019, which provides that level of amusement you get from any science fiction of the past that dared give specific dates. We have about two months left to catch up with flying cars, outer space colonies, and replicants. On the other hand, Deckard has to use a video pay phone in a bar in one scene and doesn't appear to even have a radio to call for back-up.

The main part of the movie that I always feel is overdone is the confrontation at the end between Deckard and Roy. What is previously mostly a movie about atmosphere and ideas becomes an extended fight/thriller sequence that doesn't do much to enhance my thoughts or feelings about any of the movie's themes. It feels like a bone to some kind of action genre tropes and probably Hollywood.

I was conscious this time of watching for the "Deckard is a replicant too" theory, and in the end it does seem inconclusive but quite plausible. I guess I'll have to watch the 2049 sequel at some point now, even though I haven't heard great things about it. Makes me want to look up some other cyberpunk style movies.

After the movie I finished up the first half of The Book of the Long Sun where it again takes some surprising turns to move the plot along and expand the conception of the background world. On the whole so far it feels a lot more cohesive and linear than New Sun, less a picaresque, more epic narrative. As a protagonist, Silk's forward progress is more clearly divined than Severian's, who spends a lot of time going from place to place without much of a clear endpoint (I think it's not until the fourth book that he actually gets some clarity on that).

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2019-08-12 08:09

I started back into The Book of the Long Sun, after taking a short break when I finished book 1. I was going to give it longer to breath and read something else (like some more Tiptree stories), but I just kept thinking about it. The first book ends with a few important revelations, that start the process, continuing in book 2, of expanding the world, both as a setting and for the protagonist. Through the first book, Silk, an augur, talks and thinks about the gods, and it being a science fiction novel (and knowing how New Sun went), I knew there was going to be some technical explanation for them at some point. The end of book 1 and then an early chapter in book 2 start that process, and seem to confirm my suspicious earlier that they gods are some kind of AIs (in sans-serif font that looks too much like multiple guys named Al).

The plot also seems to be moving to get Silk out of the neighborhood that is his home and the primary setting of book 1, which is a common trope in fantasy literature, going out into the world on an journey/adventure. I'm curious to see if Wolfe is leading to some kind of outward expanding journey or if the focus will stay rooted in the original setting.

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2019-08-06 12:50

Moving pretty quickly through the first volume of The Book of the Long Sun. Really enjoying it, and also surprised at how, in comparison with The Book of the New Sun there has been very little plot as of yet. New Sun is almost picaresque in the way Severian ends up wandering all over the place, while in Long Sun so far Silk, the focalizer, barely goes anywhere. Curious to see if that will change, or if this series is more enclosed than the previous.

Still rewatching Deep Space Nine in dribs and drabs (mostly during lunch and while making dinner), and I'm impressed this time with how well the writers deal with some of the minor characters, particularly the ones that are (or seem to be) the "bad guys." A few recurring characters of that sort (like Gul Dukat or Garak) are given enough time and story to be often sympathetic even when you know they have done awful things.

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2019-08-05 08:10

Started Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun this weekend. Like The Book of the New Sun it starts with a lot of unexplained setting content and unfamiliar words. A world that is a mix of low and high technology in what I am beginning to think is some kind of O'Neill cylinder, as the characters seem to see another landscape in the sky above them that is lit when they are at night and some kind of "shade" that makes me think there is a central column with a rotating sun-like light source (that would also lend credence to the term "long sun"). Curious to see where it is going, and of course the writing is amazing.

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2019-08-02 08:11

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a collection of fiction by James Tiptree Jr. (a.k.a. Alice Sheldon) showed up two days ago and I dove into it. Only a few stories in and I'm even more regretting not reading her work sooner. "The Screwfly Solution" is a dark story that is at once both about misogyny and aliens, but the latter only when you get to the very end after finding yourself believing in a more mundane explanation for the horrifying events.

I had to restart one of the stories. I got a handful of pages in the previous night, but last night, just needed to restart to reorient myself. So many science fiction (and fantasy) stories require a certain period of adjustment when you start them. There are unfamiliar words; the setting is often of an unclear place or time; the rules of reality are unclear, expected, or unknown; and it can take awhile to reorient your reading to fit the story. To me this stands in contrast to most realistic fiction where the time, place, and rules of the setting are often clearly posted before you even start reading.

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2019-07-31 08:13

Finished up rereading Wittgenstein's Mistress last night. I came around a little more to the "the narrator is mad" point of view by the end. That's the view the back of the book takes, that she's mad and that everyone in the world didn't really just disappear suddenly. But I like the idea of her not being mad, or of her being mad but that everyone really did just disappear. That requires a science fictional reading, but one that doesn't provide any of the normal elements you expect from science fiction, like some kind of explanation for the event, or at least a protagonist who seems interesting in the explanation for the event. The narrator of the novel doesn't really address the "everyone disappeared" problem at all. In one of his essays about science fiction and language Samuel Delany writes about the phrase "his world exploded" (I may not have that exactly right) and how in a conventional novel that is a metaphorical statement, but in a science fiction novel that can be a literal statement. Wittgenstein's Mistress straddles that divide, offering both the metaphorical and the literal reading.

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2019-07-30 08:14

On one of my book buying whims awhile back I picked up a cheap copy of The Freebooters by Barry Windsor-Smith. After reading some of his old Conan stories, I was curious about his rare, more recent work in comics (though even this is from awhile ago now). It's a beautifully illustrated sword and sorcery story about a has-been hero (Conan stand-in, clearly) and company in a pseudo-arabian setting. The setting gives BWS an excuse for a certain type of decorative visuals (lots of fabrics and colors) that would be absent in a more European medieval type setting. It's a decent enough story, but nothing that isn't mostly shopworn, and the only female characters in the whole thing are all these half-naked serving girls at the tavern the hero owns, who act as a kind of twittering background noise in various scenes. Only one of them really differentiates themselves, and that for being mute and interested in the young man who shows up with a prophecy of doom for the hero.

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2019-07-21 10:41

Somehow ███ and I ended up watching the first episode of Firefly last night. He's never seen it and seemed to enjoy it. Probably my fifth time, at least, seeing it, though it's been a few years. The first episode does a really effective job at both world building and character establishment. If it does have to work in some slightly awkward exposition at different points, it also establishes a lot via less explicit methods, via the set dressing, the locations, and how the characters respond to various objects and events (Kaylee pulling a strawberry out of a wooden box and then eating it in rapture says a lot about the food). At times the dialogue works too hard to reiterate information we can already infer from actions, for instance some of the characters spend too much time describing Mal's character to us, even though we can already get all that information from his actions. The ship set is also really impressive as are most of the actors (it's telling how many of them are now familiar for other more recent work). The set-up and plot are perfect sci-fi rpg fodder.

Finished up reading James Tiptree Jr's Houston, Houston, Do You Read? the other half of that double novel I got. It's a really effective feminist sci-fi story about three mostly contemporary male astronauts who end up time travelling into the future. Tiptree manages to slowly and effectively reveal the situation via focalization of one of the astronauts and exposes the misogyny of the astronauts in a pretty brutal (but in many ways positive) ending. I really need to read more of her work.

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2019-07-19 08:14

Along with The Unfortunates I picked up from Powells recently, one of the old Tor double novels: Houston Houston Where are You by James Tiptree, Jr. and_Souls_ by Joanna Russ. The book is a small paperback with two covers so you can start reading at the either side with both short novels ending in the middle. This is a double shot of two pioneering female science fiction authors. I read the Russ side of the book between last night and this morning. It's a historical science fiction story in that it takes place in medieval Germany at an abbey raided by vikings, but the protagonist of the story is fantastical in at first a subtle then an increasingly obvious way. The whole thing is narrated by a man looking back on the events from his childhood, so it allows for a mingling of both the child's naivety and the man's experience. In the end I'm not sure how well the ending succeeded. This is a short, limited story and I'm wondering if I missed something important, as the final lines didn't really land with me like I feel they were supposed to. It's a quick read so maybe I'll reread at some point.

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2019-07-15 08:13

As part of my payment for writing the essay on Crepax for The Comics Journal online the other week I got a bunch of free books from Fantagraphics that showed up on Saturday. Yesterday I read Inés Estrada's Alienation, a near future science fiction dystopia (well, depending on how you read it I guess), about ubiquitous virtual reality, transhumanism, and, kind of, the singularity. I've not read much of her work before because her art style is not stylistically what attracts me, more cartoony, often simple and flat (visually speaking). She breaks out of that fairly often in this book with landscapes, VR UIs, and some of the VR worlds/programs shown. Those slight stylistic changes help make the "real" world of the story a bit different than the virtual one, but I think that could have been played up to better effect. The whole comic is printed in a dark ballpoint pen blue that makes everything a bit drab and grey. I feel like, based on the content, that making the VR scenes somehow less drab, more realistic, would have improved the real/VR divide visually and added to the theme. All in all it is an interesting read, projecting a future world that feels believable in many ways, but it also feels like it doesn't give enough attention to some of its elements. One of the characters (the partner of the protagonist) often acted in ways I didn't understand the motivation for, and the ending seemed a little rushed.

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2019-07-08 08:08

It's a grey overcast sky for this Monday. I made myself an egg sandwich and watched part of an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine over coffee. After many recommendations, ███ was watching the pilot episode the other day when I went over for lunch (to get out of the house while the cleaning lady was here), and then I ended up watching more later when I was looking for something casual to watch over lunch. This is probably my... fourth? at least third time restarting the series, still my favorite of the Star Trek's and the only one I've managed to watch fully through more than once. It's attention to larger plot lines amongst all the problem of the week episodes always attracts me (yes, that is a theme in my television interest when a series is not a hyper-focused modern single plot series).

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2019-07-07 00:00

Another recent read, also picked up at a bookstore up in Massachusetts was James Tiptree Jr.'s Brightness Falls From the Air. I'm not sure I've read her work before (maybe something short when I took Samuel Delany's sci-fi lit course), but as I've been reading more sci-fi and fantasy lately I thought I'd try it out. It is a really engaging novel that takes place in basically a single location over a single day. In reading it, like much sci-fi from the past, you have to suspend the disconnect between the futuristic technology in the book and our current tech, but she does a great job of creating an interesting web of characters and generating suspense. The point of view in the chapters shifts a few times in an effective way.

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