kaigou: Skeptical Mike is skeptical. (1 skeptical mike)
omg, wtf is up with all the hoods on fantasy covers? I'd seen reviewers complaining but I figured, oh, it can't be that bad. omfg, it's worse. who started this trend? someone find that person and punch them. please.

Quick reviews for: The Thousand Names, The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, The Siren Depths, The Tainted City, The Wall of Night, The Briar King, The Magpie Lord, A Case of Possession, Too Many Fairy Princes, Traitor's Blade, The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension )

Now reading:
The Red Wolf Conspiracy - Robert Redick
The Innocent Mage - Karen Miller
Throne of the Crescent Moon - Saladin Ahmed

Up next:
The Killing Moon - NK Jemisin
Sword of Fire and Sea - Erin Hoffman
The War with the Mein - David Anthony Durham
kaigou: so when do we destroy the world already? (3 destroy the world)
Two stories now that I really would've liked to like, but the more I read of each, the harder a time I had with them. Here's the relevant parts from each teaser. From The Lascar's Dagger:
Saker appears to be a simple priest, but in truth he's a spy for the head of his faith. Wounded in the line of duty by a Lascar sailor's blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility it brings, Saker can only follow its lead.

And from The Alchemist of Souls:
When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods--and a skrayling ambassador--to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

The problem is that in both cases, these seemingly magical beings are real people.

I've run across lascars a few times in my own research, but they're not a well-known culture in the west. Wikipedia has a halfway decent entry on them, which summarizes things well enough:
A lascar (Lashkar, Laskar) ... was a sailor or militiaman from the Indian Subcontinent or other countries east of the Cape of Good Hope, employed on European ships from the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century. The word comes from the Persian Lashkar, meaning military camp or army, and al-askar, the Arabic word for a guard or soldier. The Portuguese adapted this term to lascarim, meaning an Asian militiaman or seaman, especially those from the Indian Subcontinent. Lascars served on British ships under 'lascar' agreements. ... The name lascar was also used to refer to Indian servants, typically engaged by British military officers.

Despite much digging on my part, there isn't a lot of Western/English study on the lascars. )
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (2 candy mountain)
The Coffee Trader, Whitefire Crossing, Arcanum. I really think the The Lascar's Dagger deserves its own post, for reasons that will become clear.

First: I really, really want to like David Liss' work. It's historical fiction, covering a place and time and culture that really doesn't get enough press: the Jewish finance community in Amsterdam, in the late sixteen-hundreds or thereabouts. This one in particular is about a Portuguese-Jew who moved to Amsterdam with the exodus, and was doing alright until a few bad decisions have landed him in hard times and hot water with just about everyone. A non-Jewish widow of his acquaintance has an idea to corner the market on this new commodity called coffee, but wrapped up in that is the character's sister-in-law, a meddling and somewhat abusive maid, another Jewish trader of major social standing who has it in for the protagonist, the aforementioned widow, a guy ruined by his investments in the protagonist's financial disaster, and a whole bunch more, all of whom have their own agendas and methods and motivations.

It's just... they're all such jerks, even our hero, who seems to want to put himself forward as a helpless ninny who's been cast about by fortune's disfavor, but sheesh. If I wanted suffocating world-building, the tiny and (apparently) leaning-towards-orthodox, highly regimented and self-supervised community of Jews in Amsterdam are clearly it. Given the narrative makes clear the Dutch are pretty live-and-let-live, it's almost insane that the Jews create a community for themselves that's almost as repressive as any Soviet regime. I mean, it's crazy-making. I fail to see how any of the characters haven't just broken and run mad down the street.

Various comments and complaints and whatnot behind the cut. )

Alright, onto the one that I really, really did want to like, as much as I want to like The Coffee Trader -- similar time-period to Liss' work, alt-history, taking the bones of the original and grinding a lot of it up with a heaping of original ideas, much like The Thief series. Except some important stuff got left out while something bordering on appropriation got left in, among other things.
kaigou: (2 using mainly spoons)
Went through a storm of book-reading: The Goblin Emporer, The Coffee Trader, The Thief/The Queen of Attolia/The King of Attolia/A Conspiracy of Kings, Whitefire Crossing, The Spirit Thief, Arcanum, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Lascar's Dagger.

To get a few out of the way: yes, I adored The Goblin Emperor. Maia is non-angsty (but damaged all the same), lonely, compassionate, and above all else, genuinely good. There were more than a few scenes that in a quiet, understated way, simply broke my heart. It's not a YA-style everything-amped-to-eleven. It's a quiet story; when complete, you realize there wasn't truly a bad guy in the classic fantasy sense, and the one main conflict hinged on building a bridge over a river, but somehow it all works despite that, or maybe because of that.

The one major complaint? I would've much preferred if the naming scheme had been introduced before the story, rather than after it; it was damn hard to keep track of who-was-who, and I say that as someone pretty well-versed in reading extensive historical treatises where names change and/or are fluid and most definitely are not in English. I just couldn't parse the pattern from the text, and a short intro note would've been helpful.

Many things I liked (Maia chiefly, of course), but especially how his world -- no matter how suffocating, as it consists entirely of the court -- is still immensely populated. The author is really skillful at giving you enough people in a scene to make it feel crowded, without the sense that you'll be quizzed later on these teeny details; what's important to remember gets emphasized in just enough way that it stands out even more. In terms of craft, that's a rare and valuable skill.

Behind the cut: Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Spirit Thief, The Thief/Queen of Attolia/King of Attolia/Conspiracy of Kings. )

Any way you look at it, minor quibbles are minor. I'd still recommend The Goblin Emperor and the four Thief books, unequivocally. The others, YMMV, and who knows, I may change my take if the stories pick up.

More in next part.
kaigou: so when do we destroy the world already? (3 destroy the world)
Reading several of the books I got in Philly (among them, currently, Berry's Hideyoshi and Borschberg/Roy's The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre), but also just yesterday got a hankering for fiction and picked up three more, although The Goblin Emporer has been set aside as an award for later.

Short comments about 'The Coffee Trader' and 'The Boy with the Porcelain Blade'. )

Eh, well. I'll keep slogging.
kaigou: fangirling so hard right now (3 fangirling so hard)
Went to see Pacific Rim (ohmygodholyfuckthatwasawesome). Had been letting lots of it stew and leaving the intelligent conversation to so many better commentaries across the web. Then [personal profile] margrave had some stuff to say about it. What tweaked me into posting was specifically this part:

It was why I loved Transformers; it was part of my childhood, and seeing Optimus Prime in an live action film was amazing. But it still didn't hit the spot because there was NO human pilot. It also lacked the parent-and-child theme that almost every giant robot series had. The need to do better, to be different or the same as their parent, to live up to, or to surpass their legacy, and just, it was such a Western film.

My take:

Bay's Transformers was a love letter... if the person writing had only ever read Letters to Hustler. That kind of lust love letter, complete with "it was SO BIG" and random exclamations of ridiculously physically-impossible feats concerning ridiculously numbers of orgasms. And big boobs.

Del Toro's Pacific Rim is a true love letter, paying homage to what's good and casting a forgiving eye on what's bad, and taking all the everyday things (like cliches) and seeing them as something to celebrate.

For me, though, being in tech and having to deal with the constant sense that if I want half the chance of the guys around me that I have to work twice as hard and prove myself three times more often, I think the point where I felt most despondent (in a "yeah, so not surprised") sense was when Raleigh asked Mako about the simulations and she admitted she'd gotten 51... out of 51. And yet not a pilot! Up to that point there had been only hints about the father/daughter relationship (and throwaway lines about how she'd re-engineered the Gipsy Danger and we'll ignore the quiet racism in that name), and I was all, well of course she's proven herself three times over and still gets no credit or chances. Then things move to the sparring scene and she proceeds to kick Raleigh's ass (without stripping down or getting her clothes ripped, no less) -- and I was totally expecting a sudden jump to the left, where she's the cocky rookie and Raleigh would be all like, no way are you sticking me with a rookie and somehow the story is about him learning to give her a chance and how he grows by leading blah blah blah.

But when they finish and she's won, there's not even a single instant of him being upset at being beaten. Instead he looks thrilled, so when he said (really loudly, too), this is my co-pilot. I was all like FUCK YEAH RECOGNIZE. There was no conflict apparent on his part, no worries about being shown up, but there also wasn't any machismo (the flip side of 'no worries' when Average White Guy Hero isn't intimidated because hey, he's the guy, he's naturally the best and doesn't have to prove himself the way everyone else does). It came across as pure and simple respect for Mako, and nothing to do with being a girl (or not being a girl) or being sexualized or not. She's his match and then some, and he doesn't require any intense soul-searching to want to be partnered with her, nor any agony on his part about not being the best himself. She is, and after that he doesn't waver from wanting to partner with her. Which makes sense -- if you know you're outgunned, why waste time with egos, you want the best chances to survive -- but that kind of common sense rarely enters the Hollywood equation. This time it did.

It was just icing on the cake to see that reaction to someone who is NOT the usual Average White Guy counterpart, the pinup big-boobed blonde leggy supermodel -- but a WoC who's petite, intelligent, a little introverted, self-aware, and ambitious. Let's be honest, the few women who ever get recognition (outside of the extreme outliers like Ripley) are inevitably ones who fit into the slender-and-leggy-and-white mold. Usually with long hair, at that.

Paragraph o' mild euphemistic spoilers behind the cut. )

Now if only Del Toro had made the two scientists women, the movie would pass the Bechdel and be truly flawless. I'd be sending the man a love letter myself if he'd made one of them of color while he was at it. In my head, the german scientist is actually an Indian woman educated in Berlin and the american scientist is a short round black woman from Chicago. But if we get a sequel, maybe then he'd get to push things a bit farther, because from what I've seen of him in the past, he's not ignorant of women on-screen (as if Mako doesn't prove that ten times over). He just needs to add more women, and if there's any director who might (and do it well), it might be Del Toro.

ETA more thoughts. )

Also, in the Japanese theatrical dub, the woman voicing Mako Mori is not the actress, Rinko Kikuchi, although she is native Japanese and an experienced seiyuu -- idk, maybe work schedules played a role in her availability? Anyway, the seiyuu selected is, drumroll, Megumi Hayashibara -- who also voiced Rei, from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

It's like the recipient of the love letter just wrote back and said, the feeling is mutual.
kaigou: And now I, chaos butterfly, shall flap my wings and destroy the world! (2 chaos butterfly)
I'm going to keep writing, but before I dig back into the current wip, I've been contemplating the treatment of intersexed characters in fantasy/alt-history (setting aside strict SF where we get into advanced tech that allows for gender-switching, surgical changes, and various other jazz not applicable to my wip and thus kind of outside my focus right now). First of all, there do seem to be a growing number (if still very, very tiny overall, but more than twenty years ago) of transgender and crossdressing characters, though it's much harder to find self-identified intersexed characters.

By "crossdressing" I mean the plot device whererin our hero/ine must dress/hide via clothes (or, in at least one case, via magic) as the opposite sex, in order to achieve some goal or escape some evil. (Incidentally, all the crossdressing I can think of are female-to-male, not the other way around, but it's not like I've read everything.) However, in 99% of that kind, so far, that I've read (excepting one lesbian historical fantasy work wherein the lead simply preferred to dress/act along masculine gender lines, but made no attempt to hide or lie about being a woman), the cross-dressing character is quick to return to original gender roles as soon as the evil is passed. Or alternately, as soon as the character's decloaked and forced to find a way forward despite the handicap of appearing-as-original-gender.

And in most cases, 'transgender' doesn't get used as a phrase in fantasy, probably because it's a very modern, relatively recent, notion, so its use does feel somewhat anachronistic. But authors with some sensitivity do seem to be somewhat good at signaling in many other ways that a character -- if moved to our day and age -- would effectively consider hieself 'transgender'.

So far I've only been able to find two alt-history/fantasy works with intersexed main characters, and... I'm a little bothered by something. )
kaigou: Edward, losing it. (1 Edward conniption)
From an interview with the author:
Q: I’ve studied Japanese for six years and been to Japan yet still may not have been able to execute a Japanese-inspired world as real and sensational as yours. What was the research involved in bringing the world of Stormdancer to life? Or did you drink some magical sake and try your luck?

A: I’ve had a few people say that, and it’s really flattering, but honestly I think most of my research was done via osmosis. I’ve always had an interest in Japanese cinema and manga, so I absorbed a lot of knowledge through that over the years. Wikipedia was really my go-to source for information, plus a few specialized sites dealing with the Tokugawa age.

The cool thing about writing a setting that’s inspired by Japan, but not actually Japan, is that you can take what you want from history and mythology and leave the rest. Take thunder tigers, for example – there’s nothing close to griffins in Japanese folklore. But without thunder tigers, there would be no Stormdancer.

My theory has been that if you want a place inspired by Japan (or anywhere) that's not actually Japan (or wherever), then you must avoid all non-English words that are not long-standing loan-words, for starters. At the simplest level. Otherwise, you're obviously writing about a certain place because the non-Englishness is going to act as a red flag, and pull people back into the concrete this-place that's the analogue to your wherever. This is why authors make up their own words & phrases in fantasy and science fiction, except in those cases where they specifically want you to be thinking France, Japan, Mozambique, or wherever.

But I'll let other folks do the talking, since that's hardly the only thing wrong with this story. Oh, Goodreads, why do you recommend stuff that just makes my blood boil?

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/365384575
Discounting manga/anime, I can count on two fingers how many Asian-inspired fantasies I know of. Stormdancer gets the middle one.


Have a small link roundup. )

And some useful posts, for you guys and also for me:
http://whatfreshhellisthis.tumblr.com/post/5261084308/whats-wrong-with-cultural-appropriation-i-mean-i
http://thesadnessofpencils.tumblr.com/post/3485124248/do-you-have-any-guidelines-on-how-a-white-not-english
kaigou: Skeptical Mike is skeptical. (1 skeptical mike)
Went through a spate of books recently. A few got DNF'd, but I finished more than half, which is decent. But still.

One notable exception: a story I liked, wanted to like, until the point of an attempted-rape. Now, that's not the issue (and I should note, it was considerably less triggery since the characters were in wolf-form at the time, which tends to distance things slightly). No, the issue was that when the cavalry came charging in to save the day, the accusation they leveled at the would-be rapist was that he'd attempted to rape a mated wolf.

At which point my brain said: so, if she was single, it would've been okay?

I have no idea whether the author was just tooling along on her own train (we all do that) and didn't realize the implications. I would certainly hope that she didn't really intend to say that rape is far more rape-y if you're in a relationship than it is if you're single, but on the other hand, I don't actually care what she intended. There, on the page, the characters make no bones about it (and then proceed to repeat the same phrase -- attempted to rape a mated woman -- several more times).

Disgusting.

Less disgusting but equally annoying in different ways is the use of intro paragraphs in epic fantasy. Also, a bit on the evolution of fanfic into profic. )
kaigou: Skeptical Mike is skeptical. (1 skeptical mike)
Okay, it's not quite questionable taste theater, and it's not [personal profile] glvalentine's usual cinematic stomping grounds, but some of these really need the snark liek woah. Since the esteemed madame isn't doing it, I might as well. I have screenshot power and I'm not afraid to use it.

First up: the decently good. Possibly even better than good, if you overlook the commentary prompted by the Yang clan's armor, which apparently looked too much like samurai armor for audience tastes. I'm not sure why, since the Yang family was Han/Song dynasty, so ranged from the late 900s to about 1040 CE. Which I'd take to mean that it's actually that samurai armor looks a lot like Chinese armor, not the other way around, but it's a tetchy subject all the same. Other than that, though, The Young Warriors is more historical with notes of wuxia, than full-blown wuxia. You can tell, too, because the costumes are fairly decent. Unfortunately, I didn't bother d/ling, so I've been watching on youtube, but hopefully it's enough to get the gist.

For starters, the older brothers are more subdued, with dad the most somber of all. The younger you go, the brighter the colors, unless you're a woman, in which case you also get bright colors. Plus, makes it easy to pick out the focal points onscreen: fifth brother's in brighter orange, and eighth brother is in purple/maroon. Mom's on the left, and Dad in deep brownish-red is to the left, behind her.



Costumes! Or attempted facsimiles, at least: 75% images, 25% text, 90% snark. )
kaigou: this is the captain. we may experience turbulence and then explode. (3 experience turbulence)
Spent the last three weeks either frozen in overwhelmed stress, or churning mentally through everything on the to-do list (and only managing to get motivated to tackle in the last-minute panic of being down to the wire), thanks to various relatives visiting for graduation week. Somehow I managed to make it through almost five days of parent & step-parent visiting without throttling anyone, or regressing into a petulant sixteen-year-old arguing with my father. Except for the last little bit of Saturday evening, when I was already exhausted from the morning at graduation followed by an afternoon and evening of a stream of guests for an open house, and I'm still rather pissed at my dad, but haven't decided what to do about it. Eh, well. Now I sit here, feeling like I should be going go-go-go in frantic mode, yet... there's no longer any reason to be frantic.

Meanwhile, got a copy of Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia Since Early Modern Times. (Also got The Signore: Shogun of the Warring States which is a really misleading sub-title, since Nobunaga was never shogun, but otherwise it's a great book, except it caught the MiL's eye and she asked to borrow it to have something to read on the plane. Figures.) Anyway, Gender Pluralism is a fascinating text. Well-written, nicely foot-noted but not overwhelmingly so, balanced between interpreting folklore/legend (ie Siva and other archetypal role-model gods) and contemporary eye-witness reports of the various cultures. Especially, doesn't conflate "this is acceptable, even expected, for gods" (ie intersexuality or bisexuality) with "this is therefore just fine for humans" since the opposite is too often true. All in all, fascinating text on systems of gender understandings that aren't dominated by the West's man vs woman premise.

Also, between following only three series this season (Mouretsu Pirates, Sakamitchi no Appollon, and Eureka Seven Ao), also been mainlining... wuxia. That's right, wuxia. I've come to the conclusion that wuxia is China's analogue to epic fantasy in the Western world, but with more fart jokes. Analogue as in: highly romanticized and somewhat sanitized take on ancient times, with magic and the usual extra heapings of chivalry and 'odd band of merry fellows'. Except that wuxia's band of merry fellows seems to be more likely to include fellow-ettes, who do their own fighting, thank you.

Various reviews: Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei, Chinese Paladin 3, and The Young Warriors. )

Currently downloading Dan Ren Wu (Big Shot), because I haven't seen anything with Nicolas Tse, and I figure the romantic storyline should be a nice change after Young Warriors (hedging my bets that the series will have some rocks fall, since it is the Yang Clan and they're kind of known for the rocks falling part). Also sitting around waiting for someone to show up and seed The Holy Pearl... which apparently is a Chinese live-action retelling/adaptation of -- I am so not making this up -- Inuyasha. Noticeably, Kagome (now Ding Yao) is not a school girl, but an archaeologist's daughter in her mid-twenties; if nothing else, wuxia doesn't seem to fetishize the prepubescent/adolescent female half so much as K-dramas and J-dramas. The whole bit about the sacred jewel has been Chinese-ified into a pearl leftover from when Nuwa created the world, and Wen Tian (the Inuyasha role) is now a human-dragon hybrid.

Me: I'd never heard anything about a live-action television adaptation of Inuyasha, but then, as soon as you have a jewel in pieces and a half-demon male protagonist, people always start crying that it's Inuyasha.

CP: It's not like Takahashi invented the idea of a sacred broken jewel.

Me: Or the idea of half-demons. But we'll see... if I can just get a seed. I'm just not convinced it's really based on Inuyasha. I mean, it's only thirty-two episodes! You can't possibly adapt Inuyasha in only thirty-two episodes.

CP: Unless each episode is ten hours long.

Also, my copy of The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China just arrived. Yay!

ETA2: I could've just cut to the chase and linked to [personal profile] dangermousie's list of things learned from wuxia. I'd add more, but then I realized some things are universal -- from wuxia to romcoms -- like when one character starts the story insisting on undying hatred. If the object of hatred is same-sex, then the story ends with forgiveness (even if mid-rock-falling). If the object of hatred is opposite sex, Houston, we have OTP.
kaigou: first I'm going to have a little drinkie, then I'm going to execute the whole bally lot of you. (2 execute all of you)
Honestly, when it gets to the point that I'm watching the newest Legend of Korra episodes because they're better than my other anime-options (and it's still 24 hours before the next Moretsu, anyway, so I'm dyin' heah), that's just... so many kinds of wrong. But still, voice-acting aside, it's a far more dynamic (camera-action-wise) cartoon than just about anything else I can ever name that came from a Western production company. And the background shots of the AU-Shanghai are just incredible. Sure, it's not Last Exile (but really, there is only ONE Gonzo), but it's head-and-shoulders with some anime I've seen, and several body-lengths above any cartoon I've ever seen, including the first Avatar series. (Then again, Nick isn't doing the awful compression-crap they did on the first Avatar, gawd, my eyes.)

I wanted to like Kuroko's Basketball, but by the third episode, it was showing its shonen roots, and not showing anything to break from that mold. Having a female coach doesn't save the day if you never actually see her, y'know, coach. Or produce a strategy, or tell the players what to do. Nice idea, but she's certainly no coach like Oofuri's Momo-kan. See, now that's a coach.

Sakamichi no Apollon, why oh why must you be only eight episodes? Talking about animation, I honestly do not think I have ever seen anyone animate music-playing to this degree. It's delightful. Even if the strong Kyushuu accent seems to be tripping CP up constantly.

And for those of you who'd wanted to know about potential yuri in Moretsu Pirates, well, my yuri goggles are a little cracked, so I'm not seeing it. But I can tell you that I was pleased and impressed with ep17 (the most recent). Here's the deal: it's an adaptation of a series of light novels, and somewhere in the pre-production, the director said in an interview that in order to adapt the story faithfully, something had to be cut... and the decision was made to cut the romantic storylines. Pretty gutsy, given that this might alienate some part of the shojo-tuned audience for whom romance is a make-or-break.

But! But! In the wiki, it mentions that Lynn, the now-president of the school's 'yacht' club (where 'yacht' = 'spaceship'), is a lesbian, and in love with Jenny, the previous president of the same club. I had expected that if all romance was being dropped, that this, too, would be set aside. I was okay with that, since it's not like the usual, where the non-traditional romances get set aside and only the heteronormative ones make it through adaptation decay. Except this time? The only romance that's so far made it into the adaptation is the lesbian relationship.

Let me clarify: it's not yuri. It's not primed for the male gaze. It's actually given the same respect and affection (and other characters' reactions) that I'd expect if one of the two were a guy. It's simply a relationship, and now it's canon for this adaptation, too. My love for Moretsu, it just grows exponentially with each episode.

Aaaaand then we have this season's Guilty Crown -- well, one of many, but the only one I took even a few minutes to bother watching, Hiiro no Kakera. Don't ask me why; I was bored. Reeeeeeally bored. (Then again, I marathoned the first 18 episodes of Guilty Crown in a fit of absolute crazy-contract-recovery madness. And then I sobered up and said NO MORE.) CP mentioned he was thinking of downloading it, since it ostensibly revolves around a priestess (a particular area of study of his, pop-culture-wise), and I had to break it to him. This show makes Guilty Crown look good. That takes quite a bit.

That's my new benchmark, incidentally. Is it as bad as Guilty Crown? If yes, it means that budget, voice-acting, backgrounds, and in-betweening is all decent to fairly high-quality... but that someone forgot to, y'know, actually hire someone to write a damn story.

Oh my gawd, the pain. I lost nine hours of my life watching that debacle AND I WILL NEVER GET THOSE HOURS BACK.
kaigou: under this playful boyish exterior beats the heart of a ruthless sadistic maniac (2 charming maniac)
Well, [personal profile] maire recommended The Riddle-master of Hed and Barry Hughart's stories, and I finally tracked down copies of each. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it past three pages of the first. It just felt too much like in media res, but not in a good way. More like I was expected to care about the siblings' squabbles, and the text was clearly indicating that I was expected to read characters in a certain way, but I'd barely even met them. It actually felt a little like I was walking into a sequel, and I was supposed to already know what was going on and who-was-who. So, guess it's a pass on that one.

Bridge of Birds... reminds me so much of the translations of Chinese stories. It's a particular style, influenced by the patterns of the original language, and Hughart does manage that. With a bit of dry humor, here and there.

However, I got sidetracked by another story, and I'm still not sure where I found the recommendation. Reiko Morgan's Over The Mountain Of The Moon is a m/m romance set vaguely during the early Sengoku, maybe, in Japan. Awfully florid and oh with the romance and declarations of luuuuuurve and the protagonist-uke veering into yandere, but relatively entertaining all the same. If you can get past the flowers and hearts of the so-romance-it-hurts variety. Not a complex plot and a bit of whump, but sometimes I guess a body's in the mood.

And then a rec from Dear Author, I think, that sent me after Master of Crows, which is your usual fantasy-romance, but with cultural elements of a steppes-influenced world bordering the, hrm, maybe central eastern European sort of world. The heroine isn't helpless nor stupid, which is a plus. Not a massively complex plot, but the hero is just as much a little off-beat as the heroine, so what might've ended up annoying spunkiness in her is toned down because he's not the usual all-bastard, all-the-time.

I quit halfway through Abraham's sequel, A Betrayal in Winter, even though I really did enjoy the first in the series, A Shadow in Summer. Abraham's managed a world that's substance of China, not so much trappings. It's very subtle, but it reminds me of stories about 19th-century Shanghai: cosmopolitan merchant-crossroads, but still China beneath the veneer of things from everywhere.

The problem for me was that the first book's emotional hinge is a triangle. Normally, I don't have a problem with this, and in the first book, it wasn't actually a problem. One hero leaves for a journey, and in his absence, his girlfriend and his closest friend become, erm, close. Things roll out that way, sometimes, after all. Technically, it's still cheating, but in the book's context, I had no issue with it.

The problem was that the second book... also hung its major emotional-plot elements on a woman cheating on her supposed intended/affianced. So again, uncomfortable triangle, with everything hanging on the woman's choice to split her attentions between two men. Once, okay, but twice is a little too much of a pattern. I had no interest in finishing the book once I realized that, and certainly no interest in carrying on to find out if the third and fourth books also turn on the emotional pivot of a two-timing woman. Pass.

Tried to read Maya Snow's Sisters of the Sword, but it's a little too YA-style for me. Not in content -- it's got some brutal scenes early on where the protagonist's family is murdered right in front of her, so I wouldn't recommend it for kids under, hm, twelve -- but stylistically. It's just a very YA kind of voice. I didn't like that at that age, and I like it less, now.

Never did finish Dragon in Chains. Awful lot of lyrical poetry, but I need a little more conflict to make me turn the page. Okay, I need conflict, period. Wasn't getting any.

On order: The Signore: Shogun of the Warring States, a fictionalized history of Oda Nobunaga by Kunio Tsuji, and The Samurai and the Long-Nosed Devils by Lensey Namioka. Ambivalent over the second, since it's been so long in print (and now out of print, I think) that I can't find an excerpt anywhere. So not really sure if I'm facing yet another YA-voiced story, even if a used copy is only a buck-fifty. (What a joke: shipping is more than twice the book itself.)

In related notes, the past night or so, we've been debating what it'd be like to have a Buddhist monk, a Catholic padre, a Daoist master, a Confucian scholar, and a Shinto priest in a room together. Although by the Heian or shortly after, the Buddhist and Shinto were probably close to the same in terms of ideology... but I still think the Confucian, the padre, and the Buddhist would be arguing over whether women are evil inherently or only evil if they don't follow the moral precepts of being barefoot and pregnant, while the Shinto priest would be in the corner playing one-sided Go. CP says by mid-Qing, the Daoist would be arguing right along with the rest, but I'd rather think of early Daoism, and that kind of priest would probably also be playing Go.

Although I'd be really curious to read anything that compared how each school of thought would react to meeting a yokai/demon in the flesh. (In the spirit?) Exorcise it? Beat it into submission to the Buddha? Instruct it in moral rules of behavior? Fear it? Or invite it to tea?
kaigou: Jung-In (Kim Jae-Wook) looking very please-no (1 oh dear heavens no)
I've been on a recent tear through a slew of non-European-inflected high/epic fantasy, and I'm starting to wonder if it's just me. Am I finding the cultural mixes in some stories to be awkward or badly-done because I know too much (or even only a little more than nothing!), or is it because I'm not fluent enough in the cultures to be comfortable with mixing them up?

In a three-way tie for most egregious, there's Shea Godfrey's Nightshade, which has this visual within the first few paragraphs. The numbers are me, counting the ways.
Jessa walked straight among them, a dark green sari[1] wrapped about her lower body in turns of silk and draped forward over her left shoulder with a long-sleeved golden choli[2] blouse beneath it. She wore a burka[3] that covered her head and face, though it was not quite long enough to hide the ends of her hair[4].

The men lounged upon the dais. The raised platform curved about the head of the vast oval room like a horseshoe and closed in on the wide aisle that led to the throne at its deepest point, the Jade Throne[5], which was the seat of all power within the land of Lyoness[6]. ... Jade was the province of the throne and these were the chairs for the sons of King Abdul-Majid[7] de Bharjah of Lyoness.

This was my brain's reaction as I read:
1, 2. Ah, okay, an Indian-inflected setting.
3. Why a burka? Wouldn't you just pull the end of the sari to drape over your head? Or maybe this is Pakistani-inflected, with a Muslim touch?
4. There is something really wrong with this burka. It's missing like, the rest of it. Or her hair is past her ankles. Wait, does the author actually mean she's wearing a chadri? That would make more sense.
5. Uhm, like the Jade Emperor? China's in here, now? Or Guatemala. (Mayans being the other major culture that had jade mining and prized the rocks highly.) Unless the author's thinking serpentine, which isn't jade, but gets mistaken for it often -- and serpentine was prized in the middle east.
6. ...Except for the French-styled name, whut.
7. Looking pretty middle-eastern, there.

I'm not saying I have an issue with middle-eastern-inflected stories, even if it sounds like name-dropping on Indian and Chinese. (I'll let it go with only a mention of the author portraying a quasi-middle-eastern family -- with their chained dogs two inches away from outright dog-fighting -- as barbaric and cruel. I think the only adjective missing here was 'swarthy'. Hello, typecasting 101.) Regardless, maybe if I didn't know there's a difference between a burka and a chadri, or didn't realize that not everyone east of the Tiber dresses like Gandhi extras, maybe I wouldn't be bothered. Or maybe if I knew costume and dress far better than the smatterings I do know, I wouldn't be under the impression that these things don't mix.

But then there's a different type of egregious; four of those, and two less so, behind the cut. )

But still, I could forgive a lot more, I think, if the names weren't so atrocious.
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
Continuation of yesterday's ruminations, because you had to know they wouldn't end there.

For starters, I'm well-aware that the previous post may have sounded like I was arguing for a gender binary (masculine/feminine), but I ended up going with that for the first go-round of thoughts, with intentions to address the underlying parts (the binary) in a second post. Go easier on you folks who aren't up to dissertation-length in one go, y'know.

Thing is, gender isn't always the means by which we 'position' a person, upon first meeting. I get the impression that in our Western/anglo so-called egalitarian society (where according to some people, we're post-class and post-race) it's just one of the easier ways to pigeonhole other people into expected behaviors, dress, manners, reactions, what-have-you. But there are instances where we use other means -- like whether someone is an officer or enlisted, an academic doctor or a medical doctor, or blue-collar versus white-collar. Or, it could be a caste-system, such as picking up the clues on whether someone is Brahman, Kshatria, Vaisia, Sudra, or untouchable. When you get into fiction, there's no reason you have to remain within a gender binary. You could sort people based on profession (academic, military, medical, craftswork, service, etc), whereby a military man and a military woman are more likely to have similar behaviors and dress (genders, if you will) than between a military man and a medical man. Or by religion, or musical style, or whatever else. Gender doesn't have to be the baseline.

For that matter, gender itself could be (and if you ask me, should be, at least minimum) tripartite -- male, female, third. Me, I prefer 'third' rather than 'other', because 'other' acts /reads as though it encapsulates 'all that is not male or female'. Third leaves the door open to a fourth, fifth, or sixth, whatever form those may take. There are indigenous societies which include a third sex (I'm thinking specifically of the Navajo, but there are many others), except that it seems to me that even these conflate the sex/physiology with the gender/construct. In other words, a woman who's just fine being sexed-female but prefers a masculine-coded dress or behavior is third sex, same as a man who feels distinctly at-odds with a male body and adopts a feminine gender-construct as a way to re-balance herself. In fiction, the author can have the freedom to make one third-sex and the other fourth-sex. Or give them, idk, directions (north, south, east, west, up, down) instead of implied hierarchy via cardinal order. But anyway.

More thoughts on binary language, political identity, and the big divide in romance. )
kaigou: (1 olivia is not impressed)
I've touched on this before but this weekend I read several novels that brought it back into focus for me. Then I came across a short blogpost about when a character defines herself as butch, and decided it was time to post. If you haven't read any of these titles, I recommend each (not unreservedly, but still more than mostly).

Sword of the Guardian -- Shannon, Merry )
Branded Ann -- Shannon, Merry )
Lady Knight -- Baker, LJ )
Backwards to Oregon -- Jae )

Click the cuts to see the summaries. Mostly I'd been trying to track down stories, any stories, which dealt with crossgender or crossdressing, stumbled on the first one, liked the author's voice enough to read the second, got the third recommended by virtue of the first two, and had to seriously google-fu to find the fourth, and read a little of a few others while looking.

(Warning: I DNF'd on the third due to warnings from reader reviews that the story not only doesn't HEA, it barely HFAs, and I'd pretty much hit my limit anyway from reading a warmed-over retelling of the Crusades, complete with Saladin's Arab world being cast as this side of barbaric, unintelligible devil-worshippers. Thanks, but I've done my time studying Crusades history, and if there were barbarians at the gates, it was the Christians. If you're equally skeptical about seeing the Christian Crusades as anything other than ambitious land-grabs by hordes of unwashed, uneducated masses, then expect this book to hit that annoyance button, hard.)

Along the way, I DNF'd on Shea Godfrey's Nightshade (the first three pages manages to fantasy-world-mashup India, the Middle East, and a bit of East Asia, and I like mashups but not quite to the degree of having to disconnect multiple culture clashes in my head while reading). I also DNF'd within a chapter on D.Jordan Redhawk's On Azrael's Wings because "worshipful slave falls in love with owner" is not, and hopefully never will be, a kink of mine. ("Recalcitrant and fiesty lower-level character fights back and gains equal standing in relationship with, and respect from, higher-level character," though, yes, but that didn't seem to be Redhawk's story.) Oh, and I started and stopped on Malinda Lo's Ash, too, mostly because I wasn't in the mood for YA; I wanted to read about adults in adult relationships with adult baggage. (Huntress remains on my TBR list, though, even if it is YA.)

Anyway, outside of the obvious that all these works focus on lesbian relationships, the other major factor is that at least one-half of every relationship is a woman claiming, or who has claimed, significant earthly power and respect. In all but Nightshade and Ash, I'd say, this respect is also military or naval, with rank. In other words, women in positions of power, either able to kill or trained to kill. Those two exceptions I didn't read far enough to meet the 'other half' of the intended relationship pairing, but of those I did read, in all but one, this powerful/respected female character is, at first, mistaken for a man.

And a bit more about each, along with how each character defines herself, versus what the text gives me. )
kaigou: (1 olivia is not impressed)
My current fascination is the Japanese Sengoku/Warring States period, more specifically, Oda Nobunaga (for reasons I won't go into here). Suffice it to say that he's partly a fascinating character just for doing what he did, but also for the reactions I see in his characterizations in modern/post-modern Japanese media. Remarkable that someone who pretty much set the stage for Tokugawa/Edo peace would also be excoriated to such a massive extent. Given what he achieved, I would've expected him to be among the greatest of Japanese heroes, not the embodiment of All Things Evil. Not to mention my curiosity in the unique circumstances that made him such a meritocratic personality. Quite unusual, culturally (and still that way, impression I get).

Anyway, there's an abridged English translation of a massive work on Nobunaga. It's clearly also only for academics, being priced at $95. Holy hell, I mean, seriously. That's only about $25 less than the 23" monitor I bought yesterday. What gives, pricing scheme? Or there's a biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Taiko, which sounds cool but is naturally only available in hardback. Time to find out if we can still check out books from the local university, courtesy CP.

In absence of any substantial texts in our house that go into the Sengoku (all of CP's texts either skip the Sengoku, or just skip Nobunaga), I figured I'd try the next best thing -- a taiga. I mean, the annual "here, let us essentialize our history into a nice sixty-episode package" should have some historical basis, right?

Uhm. Does it? Because something feels not-quite-right to me.

Are taigas basically soap-operatic, fictionalized, adapted-for-storytelling with highlights only? Do they assume you've studied Japanese history extensively so you don't need the extra explanations, or do they assume you know little pieces here and there and aren't concerned with something like, say, historical accuracy?

Okay, so I'm watching Toshiie to Matsu, since I could find it with subs and the impression I've gotten from random history-professor essays on academic webs is that Toshiie was almost as unconventional as Nobunaga. Plus, he was best friends with Hideyoshi, too. But the actual show has me kind of taking a big step back from taigas. Because, hunh. Let me count the ways (which you were probably expecting, anyway).

The women, the ages, the women, and who let Disney in here? )

I guess maybe I should look into saving up the pennies for that $95 book on Nobunaga, because clearly pop culture is falling way down on the job.
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
For some inexplicable reason (as in, no idea how I followed whatever links to end up there), this evening I ended up on a wiki page about the film, Mary Poppins. I have never liked this film, although as a kid I liked Julie Andrews well enough that she often saved films for me that I'd otherwise detest. But Mary Poppins, hm. And although CP calls this an example of a severe reinterpretation of the text (and one mostly unsupported by the text), it's still there, in my head, all these years later.

First, let's get this out of the way: Dick Van Dyke does the worst Cockney accent. Despite being born-and-raised American, when I finally saw Mary Poppins, I assumed he was from somewhere else in America, and not British (or Cockney, allegedly). This is because I'd already been to England and met several lovely elderly Cockneys while we were in London, and Dyke didn't talk anything like them. Plus, he was completely comprehensible, and right there, I knew he couldn't be really British, because you had to listen hard when someone from London spoke or else you couldn't figure out a word of it. Even the people in Aberdeen were easier to understand, with a little work, than the taxi drivers and bed/breakfast keepers we met in London.

So there's that level of a wrong note (so to speak), but there are deeper levels. One is that before I ever saw the film Mary Poppins, I'd read Kingsley's Water-Babies. (Later I saw some of the so-called filmic/animated adaptation of the book, and was disgusted with the fact that it was nothing like the book.) Water-Babies made a huge impact on me; while I was used to Dickens and his thorough applications of bathos for the sake of making his young protagonists (ie Oliver) sympathetic, Dickens also had later movies to deal with where Fagin and his crew were iffy and dirty but hardly, y'know, freaking terrifying like Oliver Reed. But Water-Babies pulls no punches about the life and tasks of its chimney sweep protagonist, and at the young age of maybe six or seven, trying to imagine a life of a chimney sweep came very close to giving me nightmares. If there is anything on this planet that I would never, ever, ever wish upon any child, it would be cleaning chimneys.

And then there's the song by Mrs Banks, about being a suffragette. I guess I was maybe nine or ten? when I finally saw Mary Poppins, and I already knew what suffragettes were. (Thank you, Mom, the feminist.) Except that in the movie -- relatively straightforward and crowd-rousing lyrics aside -- the movie-Mom wasn't treated like a hero. She was treated like a ditz who, I don't know, did suffragette-ing on the side, on Sunday afternoons, like a weekly hobby to keep herself busy between doing wash on Tuesdays and having other ladies over for high tea on Thursdays. And maybe some silver-polishing on Saturday morning. Or whatever upper-class British ladies did, which (in my admittedly young and inexperienced opinion) seemed to amount to a lot of dabbling. And looking ornamental.

But the film's pivotal role -- and the real bearer of any moral message -- is Mary Poppins herself, and she seems to treat (or so I recall) Mrs. Banks as though Mrs Banks is little more than a twittering ditz, and mostly useless. I knew my American history and that women fought for a long, long time before they got the vote, so I figured in Britain it was probably similar, and that (at the time) a lot of men saw women wanting the vote as something that should never happen, and would never amount to any good. So I completely expected Mr Banks' dismissive reaction to his wife's activism; it was Mary Poppins' dismissiveness that really baffled me, and then annoyed me. I mean, if Mary Poppins is supposed to be so smart, why would she a) treat another woman like she's stupid, and b) not respect and support a woman trying to make life better for all women?

Thus I was already a bit iffy on the film, first time I watched it, but the clincher was the song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. )
kaigou: Jung-In (Kim Jae-Wook) looking very please-no (1 oh dear heavens no)
Well, it's a kind of linear, but it's still not very good. I mean, watching Fam: the Silver Wing (sequel to Last Exile which was and remains a favorite of mine) and... it's like every episode is a timeskip. One episode ends with a cliffhanger of a character fighting what appears to be a major one-on-one fight -- and the very next episode opens with the same character now fleeing several miles away. What? Did I miss an entire episode between then and now? Apparently not. Apparently "end of an episode" is grounds for the director to just, idk, skip a few scenes or something. A mini-timeskip every time. It's driving me bonkers.

I think I'm only still watching out of affection for the original characters, because the new characters just don't have much going for them. Nor does the story, for that matter. That's not to say there isn't a good story in there, it's just not the story being told. That kind of almost-could-be is the worst, I think.

Anyway, those random interval timeskips make it especially wierd when I'm missing an episode. Not helping is the fact that some of the fansub groups have renumbered somewhere in there; an unexpected recap got skipped by some groups as tediously useless, but their numbering also skipped. So depending on the group, episode 12 is actually episode 13. And it's taken me to the (real, not renumbered) episode 17 to realize we did skip an episode in there, somewhere, which I think was episode 14. Or maybe 13. I'm not sure. I wouldn't even know for sure if I didn't follow a blogger who posts weekly reviews.

Meanwhile, Rinne no Lagrange is holding in there (and its humor remains undismayed, even as its plot thickens), but Mouretsu Pirates still holds my heart, this season. When was the last time you saw the bureaucratic aspects of owning/operating a ship (let alone a privateering vessel) -- and there isn't a shonen-mecha show I can think of that ever thought, let alone actually went and showed, sending its hero into a test situation before ever exposing him to true battle. What a freaking concept.

Ah, then again, turns out the author of the original story is an award-winner of the Japanese version of the Nebula. Well, now it makes a lot more sense how we can be seeing a hard SF anime that, well, makes so much sense.
kaigou: the kraken stirs, and ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance. (3 the kraken stirs)
In this post: GetBackers, Vampire Knight, D.Gray-man, Amatsuki, Di(e)ce.

I gave up on GetBackers, despite [personal profile] branchandroot's rec. Mostly, though, because of its discordance. Background, if you're not aware: it's the usual shonen bromance kind of story, with a fair bit of quasi-science-fiction/supernatural mixings, and plenty of the usual cliches. Two things about its development stuck in my head while reading. Hmm, make that three. I made it about halfway through the anime, then tried the manga, and quit about halfway through. While watching the anime, I also checked into the anime's development, and noted an unusual bit of info about the series' wrap-up (which happened prior to the story wrap-up, so there was the usual question of whether to do an anime-original ending).

Note: the story is actually a three-way invention, from what I gather. I think, not sure, but I seem to recall the author is actually a brother-sister penname, who work jointly with an artist. That is, the penname gives credit to brother and sister, but apparently (why am I surprised) the only mention of author quotations act like it's just one guy. So, dunno what the sister does. Anyway.

I can't find where I came across this bit -- I think in one of the articles cited in the wiki entry. Apparently, the anime director suggested making Kazuki's relationship canonical (anime canon, that is) with his second, Juubei. (Their respective weaponry, threads and needles, even suggest the pairing... among the many, many other things that do, including their own dialogue.) The mangaka-author refused, saying that Kazuki already had a destined pairing, Ren Radou.

Then I got to that character's introduction in the anime, and discovered the character isn't even real. She's part of the 3D/holographic construct. Alright, it's one thing if there's a flesh-and-blood half to match with the flesh-and-blood (err, in context, that is) character, but I have major issues with a story-author who'd insist there's a pairing, and choose a pairing in which one character is a computer program. It'd be one thing if the author insisted it be left undefined, but it says a lot to me about the author's agenda if he'd choose this real/nonreal pairing over the damn-near-text of a real/real pairing. There's erasure, and then there's replacement that reaches the level of ridiculous.

The second bit was the mangaka-artist, who -- based on the copious amounts of ho-yay artwork -- has some serious yaoi fanboi leanings. Like, not even leanings. I'd say that tree fell over in the forest awhile back... and other commentary, and then onto the rest of the list. )

...and that should be enough for now. Back to catching up on Amatsuki, and at some point, I really will finally finish Kekkaishi, and catch up on Nurarihyon no Mago. Well, once I finish two other major projects on my plate, and there's always the kitchen...

whois

kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
锴 angry fishtrap 狗

to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

October 2016

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