bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I started reading Elizabeth Bear's One-Eyed Jack: A Novel of the Promethean Age a little over a year ago, in the bathtub at Mohegan Sun.

It has taken me so long to finish the book not because it wasn't good, but because I have only read it in the bath — sometimes at casinos but also sometimes not, otherwise it would have taken me even longer, especially considering the last casino I stayed at only had a shower. My copy is now very water damaged.

Anyway. I had picked One-Eyed Jack for my casino bath reading because it's about the spirit of Las Vegas fighting to keep his city from being annexed by the spirit of Los Angeles, so it seemed topical.

There are actually two spirits (or genii) of Las Vegas: the One-Eyed Jack, who has one normal eye and one magical eye he keeps hidden under an eyepatch; and the Suicide King, otherwise known as Stewart, who seems to have a magical ability to kill himself and then resurrect again. Jackie and Stewart are boyfriends in addition to sharing the job of genius of Las Vegas. This seems like it would break a lot of workplace regulations but it looks like being a magical symbol isn’t a very well-regulated field considering all the other stuff that goes down in this book.

Jackie and Stewart eventually form a coalition with several interesting characters, including two ghosts of different John Henrys, some "media ghosts" of unnamed TV spies, and vampire Elvis (though this vampire Elvis is very different from the vampire Elvis of the Sookie Stackhouse books). The antagonists include Angel (the genius of Los Angeles, in the form of a young ingénue), a character known only as “the assassin,” a Promethean Mage, and the ghost of Bugsy Siegel.

I was a bit confused about who precisely all these people were, since I am not much up on my ‘60s TV spies — nor on my Las Vegas history, really, although I do at least know who Bugsy Siegel is. But once I got used to identifying the spies by their descriptors instead of names, it was all easy enough to follow.

The book takes place mostly in 2002, and as is usually the case, I still find it a bit jarring to realize how long ago the mid-2000s were and how much it really was a different era — it makes me feel old — but it’s impossible to miss because stuff in Vegas changes so fast that, even without ever having been there, I know a bunch of the properties mentioned in the book have since shut down and new ones opened; also, Jackie wears black leather cargo pants because he is terribly cool, and it’s become hard to remember that there was a time when cargo pants really were cool and not just a shorthand for sartorial laziness. Other bits of the book take place in 1964, because that’s when all the media ghosts come from. The time travel isn’t flashy; it just sort of happens—there’s enough ghosts in the story already that visiting the ghost of 1964 isn’t that big a deal.

Since this is a spy story I don’t want to talk too much about the plot but suffice to say that, in keeping with the general theme, it, like a game of poker, features long stretches of quietly waiting and thinking about things (I don’t believe poker is ever boring) interspersed with moments of high drama that vastly change the dynamics at the table. (Poor Angel spends the first three-quarters of the book chipping up relentlessly only to spew off her entire stack in one dumb play. Been there done that; it’s awful.) All the disparate threads and meticulously solved riddles finally come together near the end to put a fast-paced and deceptively simple end to the conspiracy.

One of the unifying principles of how magic works in this book is that it relies very heavily on symbolism and stories and beliefs, reminding me a lot of Discworld if the Discworld books were about twelve thousand percent more serious. Genre savviness is important for our heroes to figure out what is going on. Gaming-related symbolism abounds, which is fitting, because gaming-related symbolism abounds in English writing anyway, only this time it’s all looked at a lot more closely than usual.

Like the other Elizabeth Bear books I’ve read, this was pretty weird and I think I’d have to read it again to figure out some of the weird stuff I didn’t get the first time around, but I’m probably not going to because I have at least three unread Elizabeth Bear books on my shelf at the moment. I always like her stuff but it tends to end up taking me a lot longer to get through than I think it’s going to.

I recommend it to anyone who likes metafictional genre-savvy stuff. Pairs well with a Lush bath bomb, a nice hotel room, and an adult beverage.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
On my mother's coffee table there is a book.

It is a beautiful, beautiful book, a perfect blending of the best of old and new book styles, with deckle-edged pages and full-color illustrations and a glorious Baskerville-esque font.

It is the Hamiltome.

More properly known as Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter's history/look behind the scenes/giant scrapbook of the making of Hamilton: An American Musical is pretty much everything an obsessed Hamilton fan could want. My mother had this thing pre-ordered almost the second it became available for pre-order. The only thing that would make it better is if it came with a pair of tickets to the show, but alas, that would probably also raise the price several thousand percent.

It contains, obviously, the full lyrics of the show, annotated with goofy good humor by the Internet's wacky uncle himself, Lin-Manuel. It also contains biographical sketches of and interviews with nearly everyone involved in the show -- cast members and producers and designers and choreographers and all the other brilliant, dedicated people who make theater magic happen.

The story it tells is pretty awesome, and it's aware of its own awesomeness, but not in a smug way. It's just full of joy and pride and nerdy LOOK AT THIS COOL THING WE DID and it's great.

I almost cried multiple times, although frankly that happens when I listen to the soundtrack too, so it's not surprising.

If you are not an obsessed Hamilton fan and want to know why everyone else has suddenly become one over the past year, this book will certainly answer that question at length! Although I do also recommend just listening to the soundtrack and letting it eat your soul.

Anyway, book and soundtrack are both recommended for any and all humans who like musical theater, history, hip-hop, weird genre mashups, strange new things, clever wordplay, displays of genius, sass, joy, laughter, crying, or any combination thereof (I am particularly fond of sass + crying), and also for people who do not like or are unfamiliar with any or all of these things, because even if you don't like it normally you'll like it here. Like, I couldn't tell hip-hop from a hole in the wall until I heard Hamilton, and it doesn't matter.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
GOOD LORD AM I BEHIND ON MY MARK READS OR WHAT.
Anyway, last weekend I finally caught up on Witches Abroad, which I vaguely remember as being "the Cinderella one." Which it is! But I'd forgotten most of the rest of it.
Like many Discworld books, this one is about stories; like many of the Witches books in particular, it is about fairy tales; but this Witches Discworld book, specifically, is about Disneyfication.
The "abroad" where the witches go is a city-state called Genua, which seems to be based in part on New Orleans, but which is being sanitized and forced into basically becoming the Magic Kingdom (it also reminds me of the walled city in ´╗┐Shrek´╗┐). It's really just Magrat who is supposed to go, officially—after all, Desiderata Hollow left the magic wand to her when she died—but obviously Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax aren't going to let Magrat go off and do anything on her own, so all three of them go, with Granny complaining about "forn parts" the whole way.
While Granny is staunchly (and meanly) provincial, Nanny Ogg is a belligerently enthusiastic and clueless tourist, bulldozing her way through Genua with a hodgepodge of incorrect common phrases from a variety of languages, apparently under the impression that "foreign" is a language and she speaks it. It's hilarious, and probably very embarrassing for Magrat. Magrat is, as usual, ineptly well-intentioned, and can't figure out how to do anything with the wand except turn things into pumpkins.
The entity Disneyfying (Disnifying? Disnefying?) Genua is a fairy godmother named Lilith, who uses mirror magic. This Evil Queen trope makes her scary as hell because she can basically always be spying on people; her whole magical system bears more resemblance to George Orwell's Big Brother than anything else: She's always watching, and she can have you disappeared if you don't behave according to the exact code expected of you. Her goal is to provide everyone with a happy ending, whether they like it or not, which on second thought also has weird Communist dictatorship overtones. I think there's some underhandedly political commentary about authoritarian utopianism going on in this book, y'all. I always missed it because I was too busy focusing on the fairy tales aspect and the puns!
The fairy tale tropes are deconstructed mercilessly, especially once you find out more about Lilith. It involves more mirroring, in a way.
While the sanitized/gentrified/Disneyfied aspect of Genua is handled brilliantly, the New Orleans-y stuff underneath falls a bit flat sometimes—Pratchett is clearly very familiar with his fairy tale tropes and the way they differ from messy reality generally, but he's not as familiar with the voodoo stuff he's incorporating as he is with the rural British cultures he draws on in places like the Ramtops, so some of the jokes feel more obvious than I generally expect from Pratchett and some of them are just plain racially awkward. (Lilith's whitewashing of Genua would have been SUCH a powerful layer if it had been handled a bit better!)
Overall, though, it is basically everything you'd expect and want out of a Witches book, and then a little bit more.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I hadn't remembered Reaper Man as being one of the mid-series Discworld novels, but we're definitely getting into mid-series now. And mid-series Discworld is generally the best Discworld; I hadn't remembered it as being one of the particularly good ones either.

Upon rereading it with Mark who Reads Things, it turns out that this is likely just because I only read it once, in ninth grade. I vaguely remembered it as the one where Death becomes a farmer, although I'd forgotten why. Reaper Man is a thoughtful exploration of the role of death in our lives and what it means to have only finite time in our lives--at least, it is when it's not full of madcap puns and zombies and animated compost heap monsters.

I'd also forgotten that this book is where we are introduced to the Auditors, who are existentially terrifying.

The Auditors are much like Dementors except that they are terrifying in a boring soulless way instead of in a traditionally terrifying soul-sucking way. They have no personal identities and they keep the universe running in an orderly and predictable fashion, which is not really how it all ends up working once you get near the Discworld. They fire Death for, essentially, developing too much personality. (Because soulless business culture FOR THE UNIVERSE.)

Death, now with a small batch of time in his hourglass before he gets annihilated, goes to work on a farm down on the Discworld, harvesting crops for an old widow lady named Mrs. Flitworth. Here he becomes Bill Door, and learns about his neighbors in a more individualized and human fashion than he ever has known his assignments before. Unfortunately, with no Death, the natural circle of life is disrupted--people can't die, and neither can animals, really, and apparently neither can general nature life-energy organic matter stuff, hence the animated compost heap. As the extra life energy builds up and people who were supposed to die float around being ghosts or zombies or whatever and generally not passing on, some other unknown thing shows up, a parasitical thing that seems to want to leach all this extra life out of the city. Windle Poons, a very ancient wizard who manages to become a sort of zombie out of sheer willpower when he dies and can't reincarnate, investigates, along with a ragtag band of undead creatures and a bunch of typically useless wizards all hepped up on saying "yo." Along the way, Poons learns more about life than he'd ever arsed himself to learn while he was alive.

The friendship between Death/Bill Door and Mrs. Flitworth is far and away the most touching part of the book, especially the bittersweetly comic bits near the end as Death tries to make sure she has the best death ever in return for all she's taught him. Mrs. Flitworth also gets mad props for being so accepting of Death even when she finds out who he is.

The book is a good one to read after the recent passing of Sir Pterry himself, as it's all about accepting Death as a natural and necessary thing, and not in too cheesy a way, either.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
One of the books I was most excited for when Mark Oshiro started reading Discworld was Moving Pictures. Once he started reading it, to my surprise, I became even *more* excited, because I had not known that apparently he spent a good chunk of time living in Hollywood, and Moving Pictures is about Hollywood. Would Mark, for once, be prepared?

He was not. No one can ever be quite prepared for Moving Pictures, although it is good to have a solid background in movie references, to fully understand all the ungodly number of jokes.

Moving Pictures is strictly in the "a Modern Thing gets invented, Discworld-style, and chaos ensues" tradition of Discworld plotlines, which is unabashedly my favorite Discworld plot type. In this case, the movies are invented, as one might guess from the title, and a small town devoted to making movies springs up in a desert, and is called Holy Wood. People start being called to go there. Victor Tugelbend, a fairly boring, generically handsome, surpassingly lazy student wizard, is one of them. He is apparently called to be a fairly boring, generically handsome action hero/romantic lead with dashing moustaches, or something. He teams up with a talking mutt named Gaspode the Wonder Dog to try and figure out what is going on with this whole Holy Wood thing and why everyone is acting strange, especially why Victor's usual film opposite, Ginger--a smart, driven, interesting character whose role as a starlet means that in films all she gets to do is look sultry and be rescued--keeps sleepwalking and trying to dig a hole in the ground on the outskirts of the city.

This is the... tenth Discworld book, I think, and it does a lot to further establish and develop the rules of reality on the Discworld--especially the roles of story and belief, which are a huge theme throughout the entire series. It also has some pretty hilarious critiques of certain story tropes that are basically dumb, and a lot of fairly biting satire about the corrosive, greedy, exploitative, appearance-obsessed aspects of Hollywood culture. But it also shows love for the magic and splendor of movies and storytelling, and thus avoids becoming cranky elitist trash. Also it has a shameless cartoon-chase scene, which is not particularly elitist either. The metahumor and references certainly have created a monster in that so much comedy following Pratchett has gone down those paths so hard they've ended up well up their own arseholes, but in this case, it works beautifully--genre fiction, movie melodrama included, being a thing that relies so heavily on being "in conversation with" other stories in order to exist and function and to train its audience into understanding its shorthands.

Overall, definitely one of the more memorable Discworld books for me. Now let's see what happens when we get to Soul Music!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Catching up on my Reading Stuff With Mark while cleaning, I belatedly finished the reread of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, notable for being the first proper Witches book. Granny Weatherwax is a returning character by this time, but this is the first time we get the full coven of Granny, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick.

Wyrd Sisters is, basically, Macbeth. But Discworld-style, of course. It takes place in the tiny sad mountainous microkingdom of Lancre, where the villainous Duke Felmet—at the urging of his ruthless wife—murders King Verence, who was not really so much a good king as he was a not-particularly-bad king, and more importantly, he was a king who cared about Lancre. Duke Felmet does not care about Lancre, and Lancre can tell. Felmet is also all squidgy about anyone finding out that he killed Verence, which slowly drives him into a complete mental breakdown.
Granny, Nanny, and Magrat hide Verence’s baby boy with a troupe of traveling actors, a troupe which includes a dwarf playwright plagued with incessant inspiration. His name is Hwel. It’s probably pronounced “Will” because he’s definitely Shakespeare. Obviously, the baby has a destiny to come back and defeat Felmet and reclaim his throne. The witches have a plan to make this happen, but also obviously, nothing ever goes quite according to plan.

A lot of this book, like all the best Discworld books, is about stories, with the theater featuring quite heavily, but also a lot of awesome jokes about the tropes of witchcraft. As someone who grew up reading a lot of witch books and seeing a lot of Shakespeare performed, this is 100% right up my alley and unendingly hilarious to me. I also identify a lot with Magrat, the youngest witch, whose idea of witchcraft is much more Gothicy and druidessy and generally Wiccan than the older witches, and who has a mad case of impostor syndrome, and who is generally a gigantic dork.

The funny bits are, as usual, hilarious, but Pratchett is definitely starting to develop and further work in his serious opinions about things like power and stories and human nature, even if most of it is lumped under the amusing label “headology.” There are also many rather thought-provoking, if joke-laden, discussions about what constitutes “meddling.” The real thing that brings Pratchett a cut above most other comic writing, of course, is the characterization, which is often very absurd and very real at the same time, and the characters never run together. Granny, Nanny, and Magrat, in particular, are all very different, all larger-than-life characters in their own way, and there’s no way to have trouble keeping them apart, unless, apparently, you’re the typesetter, who seems to have mixed up a few “Nannys” with “Grannys,” but nobody’s perfect.

There is probably doctoral-thesis-level amounts of Stuff going on in this book that I could write about all night, but it’s too much and my brain would collapse. Just going to leave it at saying that the witches are some of my favorite of all the Discworld characters.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, despite generally falling super far behind on reading along with Mark Reads, I did manage to finish up Terry Pratchett’s Sourcery only a day or two after the final post went up.

Sourcery is one of the books that I have only read once ever, and therefore have forgotten basically everything about. There are quite a number of these, particularly early in the series. I’d had it mentally filed away as one of the “not very good” ones, comparatively speaking, and for some reason I thought it was a standalone (perhaps I was mashing it up with Eric in my head?), even though it is actually a Rincewind book.

This time around, I think it’s still not going to stick with me as a particular favorite Discworld book, but hopefully I’ll remember that it is good, because it’s worth remembering. Sourcery charts the rise and fall of Coin, a sourcerer—the eighth son of a wizard who was already the eighth son of an eighth son, and so who is himself a source of magic, instead of just someone with the ability to wield it. This is deeply, deeply dangerous, particularly as eight-year-old Coin, armed with his father’s deeply creepy staff, sets out to have wizards conquer the world. This, of course, causes chaos and death and destruction and, as usually happens, opens a path for the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions.

In all this, Rincewind, having run away, partly due to his own cowardice and partly on the urging of the Archchancellor’s Hat, falls in with a couple of weird adventurers and proceeds to have lots of chaotic shenanigans where Rincewind keeps trying to run away and his damn friends keep trying to save the world. Eventually, Rincewind, with the help of the Librarian, who continues to be awesome, manages to figure out what’s really going on with little Coin, and then things get deep and sad as well as chaotic and wacky, because that’s how Terry Pratchett books work.

There are some particularly excellent puns in this one that I am glad to have rediscovered, especially the one about appendectomies, and it’s great to start to see some more continuity and character development across books as the series starts settling into being a series, and with Rincewind’s sub-series specifically.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
After the embarrassing escapade where I wasn’t sure if Snuff existed for a while, I started paying much closer attention to Discworld book releases, and so I was aware of the release of Raising Steam well in advance. However, so were several dozen other people in the Boston metro area, so I had to wait several weeks for the ebook to become available at the library.

My two main thoughts on Raising Steam are one, that it is hilarious and great and I adored it and at one point it almost made me cry, and two, that it is not quite as good as most of the other Discworld books and it’s really sad to see that Terry Pratchett does appear to be losing some of his touch. I mean, Terry Pratchett at his most mediocre is still funnier than most other people at their funniest. But I was still unreasonably disappointed that they didn’t come up with any wacky Discworldian name for a railway, and just called it the railway—sure, there were cute names for the individual engines and stations and lines, but remember when they invented rock’n’roll and called it “Music With Rocks In”? That was awesome.

Anyway, Raising Steam follows pretty much immediately after the events of Snuff, and the events that aren’t directly to do with the railway are mostly sequelae to the more recent Vimes books—mainly Snuff and Thud!—and yet, Raising Steam would more properly be set in the Moist von Lipwig subseries. This is a bit confusing at Moist is not actually the man behind the railway.

The man behind the railway is Dick Simnel, a blacksmith’s son from Sto Lat who somehow manages to invent mechanical engineering properly and builds a steam engine. He takes it to Ankh-Morpork, which is, after all, where stuff happens, and presents it to Harry King, the sewage tycoon. Moist gets involved when a stern Vetinari tells him to make sure this locomotive business isn’t going to be bad for the city, which Moist manages to do by making the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, of which he is the head, a ten-percent owner in the company, thus solidifying Moist as a not completely random choice of protagonist.

The plot mostly involves a bunch of dwarf religious extremists, known colloquially as “the grags” even though a “grag” is a particular type of religious official and not all the grags are extremists, who are still annoyed about the Koom Valley Accord where they stopped fighting the trolls, and are deeply committed to returning to a sort of fundamentalist dwarfdom where they don’t interact with anybody else and they shun all inventions that other people have come up with as being intrusive abominations. The first big target of this is the clacks towers, the Discworld version of the telegram, but soon their wrath is turned to the locomotive, especially since Lord Vetinari now seems very keen on using the locomotive to connect Ankh-Morpork and Uberwald. There was also an odd subplot about the Low King and gender that I wanted to like but didn’t really, because we’ve done dwarves and gender already and it also popped up kind of weirdly late in the book.

There is still a great deal of delightful Discworldian absurdity and punning (and footnotes), featuring place-names such as the Effing Forest and Downsized Abbey and The Netherglades. I feel that Discworld might be tipping ever so into that self-referential sort of point where the humor gets dependent upon previous stuff in the series—like, my first Discworld book was The Truth, which is late enough in the series that I was fairly confused not having any prior knowledge, but funny enough to keep reading anyway, but here I think someone who hadn’t read all the other books would just be utterly lost and not entertained at all. As someone who has read all the other Discworld, I don’t mind so much, because it really is good to see characters like Otto Chriek and Sacharissa Crispslock randomly showing up a lot, and it’s definitely worth it to have Vimes and Moist both featuring fairly largely in the same book and having to interact with each other more than just in passing.

The end of the book was a lot tamer than I’m used to from Discworld; I was pretty sure things from the Dungeon Dimensions were going to show up at the end since that’s a common recurring theme in the A Powerful Thing Gets Invented On Discworld formula (sadly, it is a bit of a formula by now), but they didn’t, there was just cleverness and dwarf politicking.

I do love seeing Discworld getting increasingly steampunky, even as I’m not a huge fan of it getting more serious. I also think the later books could stand getting edited somewhat more tightly, but this is a complaint that seems to be inevitable when any author gets successful, the editors start getting all wary of messing with the golden goose and possibly pissing them off, so the books get not just longer but also more full of rambly extraneous stuff. I often like extraneous stuff, but sometimes it really is just… extraneous. In this case, I think the same footnote occurred more than once, but not in a way where the repetition was the joke; that sort of thing.

Anyway, it is what it is, and what it is is still a highly entertaining Discworld book, which is pretty much what I wanted, so I’m pretty happy.

 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Finishing out the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Mark Oshiro, and therefore I, just got through the fourth volume in the series, Talking to Dragons.

Talking to Dragons is the one I read the least frequently when I was younger, and as a result, it is the one I had forgotten the most about. I remembered that it took place several years after the end of Calling on Dragons, and that the main character was Daystar, and something about a fire-witch, and obviously that it wrapped  up the whole Wizards Have Imprisoned King Mendanbar plot. I also mostly remembered not liking it as much as the others, probably due to the relative lack of Cimorene.

While there was indeed a sad lack of Cimorene, I found I actually did like the book quite a bit this  time around! I cannot help but wonder if some of my change in opinion comes from knowing that this book was actually written before the other three, rather than before. The style is definitely a bit less developed than the other books, particularly the humor—it’s cute and silly and funny but I still feel like it’s a bit less polished than the rest of the series. I’m also really, really super impressed that the references to/summaries of the previous books match up exactly and quite specifically; I guess even if she wrote this book first she had the whole series outlined or something? I mean, I was basically listening with an ear towards seeing if she fucked up, and she didn’t, and I think that’s very impressive because honestly, there’s continuity errors between the first and second Discworld books and they’re just one story.

The basic plot of this book is that Daystar, son of Cimorene and Mendanbar, has no idea who he is, and is therefore very surprised when one day, following a visit by the wizard Antorell, his mother gives him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house in the general direction of the Enchanted Forest. Daystar survives the Enchanted Forest largely by being very polite to everyone and everything. He means a dreadfully impolite but sasstastic fire-witch named Shiara, a small excitable lizard named Suze, Morwen (yay), Telemain (also yay), a silly princess and her doofy knight, and a small, nameless, genderless, slightly whiny adolescent dragon, not necessarily in that order. At one point, Daystar, Shiara, and the dragon are in the Caves of Chance and they all meet an ineptly demanding pile of animated blackberry jelly, which is something I had clean forgotten about right up until they met it and then it all came flooding back to me that I had once thought this thing to be the cutest little monster ever.

`Overall I think it makes a solid conclusion to the series in most ways, but it will probably forever remain the odd one out for me.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I’ve been terribly, terribly exciting to be following along with Mark Reads, even more than usual, since Mark has finally started Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I have adored the crap out of Discworld since I first discovered it in… um, ninth grade? And there are now forty books in this series. Which means that, while I consider myself a pretty big fan and to have a pretty good grasp of Discworld, since I have spent so much time reading Discworld over so many years, there are actually a ton of things I’ve forgotten and am looking forward to rediscovering, since most of these books I’ve only read once or twice.

We’ve just gotten through the first book in the series, The Colour of Magic, and I am revising my opinion of this book from three stars to four. I didn’t read this book first when I started Discworld, so it struck me as being underdeveloped and episodic—and it is, compared to the later works, when more worldbuilding has been done. However, going through it slowly, pun by glorious pun, rather than ripping through the whole thing in one sentence, both made the episodic nature less obvious, and reminded me how absolutely glorious the puns are, even right at the very beginning. The turtle thing is truly bizarre, and I hadn’t thought to stop to think about quite how much bizarreness is squished even into just its first introduction (THAT BIG BANG PUN), having spent ten years being just like “Yeah it’s on a turtle lol”. Rincewind is never boring, even sans potato obsession. And the Luggage… the Luggage is perfection itself.

Ze plot, for the uniniated: Rincewind, an expert coward and gloriously failed wizard, is hired as translator and guide for Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist, an inn-sewer-ants analyst from the mysterious and wealthy Counterweight Continent. Rincewind is also tasked given a stern lecture on inflation by the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and tasked with making sure this tourism thing doesn’t catch on and that Morporkians don’t all decide to go get gold from the Counterweight Continent. Then there’s fire and fighting and running away, and then dragons and shipwrecks and running away, and basically a ton of absurd wacky hijinks that take them all over the Disc, particularly as they run away. And that is ze plot. Sort of. Plot isn’t really the point; groanworthy but clever puns and making fun of popular eighties fantasy tropes are the point.

Basically, it’s a pretty mediocre Discworld book, but even a mediocre Discworld book is better than most other books.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
For no particularly good reason, I didn’t read a lot of Diana Wynne Jones growing up. I read Howl’s Moving Castle in college, but if I read any of her stuff as an actual child I don’t really remember it (I have dim memories of checking out The Dark Lord of Derkholm but I don’t remember a damn thing about it except the cover art). I’ve just finished reading Deep Secret along with the Mark Reads community, and I definitely suspect I may need to reconsider this whole “not reading Diana Wynne Jones” thing. Because Deep Secret was a hell of a book. It definitely wants rereading (or relistening to, maybe) sometime.

The two main characters in this book are Rupert Venables, a “magid”, and Maree Mallory, a young woman with an unfortunately interesting family and a possible magid candidate. Magids are, essentially, people with magical powers whose job it is to do various behind-the-scenes fixing of stuff to keep a bunch of different worlds (there are lots of parallel universes here, it’s great) moving “ayewards,” which basically means closer to the more-magic-having end of the parallel universe spectrum.

Rupert has two, seemingly unrelated pieces of business to attend to: one involves the succession of the politically unstable Koryfonic Empire, a brutal sort of place inhabited by paranoid militants and some cranky matrilineal centaurs. The other is to suss out who is the best candidate from the list of possible magids given to him by Them Upstairs to replace his just-deceased mentor Stan (temporarily sticking around as a disembodied ghost voice confined to Rupert’s car), to which end he ties all their fate lines together to draw them to a fantasy/scifi convention at the eminently strange Hotel Babylon. While stuff with the Koryfonic Empire’s succession gets increasingly creepy and starts to spill over into the real world, most of this spillover goes generally unnoticed at the convention because cons are weird places anyway. Maree is mostly just trying to deal with her dad having cancer and being poor and going to vet school and having just been dumped and living with her terrible aunt Janine and taking care of her younger cousin Nick and trying to stop having weird dreams about a judgy thorn-lady, but weird Magid business will find her whether she knows anything about it or not.

The convention setting is possibly my favorite part of the book, now that I have actually been to a few conventions. It’s interesting seeing it from the perspective of a non-nerd who has no idea what the hell he’s getting into; it’s also a ton of fun seeing how absolutely spot-on it is about the kind of stuff that goes on and the people you meet at conventions. I also had fun playing SPOT THE NERDY REFERENCE. The grand poobah of all nerdy references in this book, though, is the scene of Nick eating breakfast before waking up, which is apparently based on a real-life incident with Neil Gaiman.

This story is impressively plotted in a way that makes me despair of every being a fraction as good. It’s full of seemingly random shit but, in the end, there are no coincidences whatsoever. All the disparate-seeming plotlines ON DIFFERENT WORLDS ultimately tie together into one big complex Game-of-Thronesian succession scenario, and none of it is obvious, and none of it feels strained either. It takes forever to figure out who the bad guys really are but once you do it’s all I NEVER LIKED THAT PERSON ANYWAY so it’s actually quite satisfying.

Additionally, Rupert and Maree have an adorable Elizabeth-and-Darcy kind of dynamic, where they hit it off really badly and annoy each other hilariously in the first part of the book, but keep getting thrown together for plot reasons until they learn that the other one is actually awesome. (The reader kind of gets to go through this discovery too because Rupert is a bit of a douchebag in the earlier part of the book.) By the end of the book they are almost as adorable as the quack chicks, which are basically cuddly little blue ducks.


This is a wug, not a quack chick. But it’s close. I think.

The magic system is a bit vague at times but what we do get to see of it is very physical, it reminds me a bit of the Wise Child books at times. A lot of it requires mundane, natural materials; the incantations are generally entire poems, and there’s a truly impressive bit where Rupert puts a geas on someone that sounds more like the world’s most severe court sentencing than anything else.

The book also has a very large range in tone that few authors can pull off without giving emotional whiplash (Sarah Rees Brennan is also quite good at this)—it goes from murdered children to nerds thinking a real centaur is just a really good cosplay in short order, but it all works. It’s distinctly, but not overwhelmingly, eighties and distinctly, but not overwhelmingly, British.

Overall I thought it was finely crafted and quite enjoyable, even during the times when I couldn’t stand any of the characters except Maree.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Calling on Dragons was possibly my favorite one of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles books when I was younger. It’s a little bit darker and a little bit weirder than the other ones, but this is offset by a heightened number of sassy talking animals.

Calling on Dragons is told from the perspective of the witch Morwen, who has been previously established as totally awesome in the first two volumes. While it’s great to hear a story from Morwen’s perspective just because Morwen is awesome, the real treat here is that Morwen is the only human who can understand her cats when they talk. Morwen owns nine cats—none of whom are black—and they are fantastically catlike, filling the whole range of cat personalities from lazy to snobbish to hungry. (Fiddlesticks in particular reminds me of our own lovely dumb cat Khaleesi.)

Morwen is dealing with her usual witchy business—namely, planning a garden show and trying to avoid the whinings of a cranky traditionalist named Arona Michelear Grinogian Vamist who thinks she’s not stereotypical enough—when her cats find a six-foot-tall white rabbit named Killer. Killer is not actually supposed to be six feet tall; he has accidentally gotten enchanted. In investigating Killer’s size issues, Morwen also finds evidence of wizards, who are supposed to be banned from the Enchanted Forest. With the help of the nerdtastic mage Telemain, one of the architects of the spell that is supposed to stop wizards from causing trouble, Morwen reports to King Mendanbar and Queen Cimorene of the Enchanted Forest, where they discover two very important things: one, Queen Cimorene is pregnant, and two, Mendanbar’s magical sword is missing.

You might think Mendanbar would be the most obvious member of the royal household to go a-questing for his sword, since it’s his sword and he’s not pregnant, but this is impossible due to nerdy magic reasons. (Mendanbar is predictably unhappy about this.) So Morwen, Telemain, Cimorene, Killer (who is now a floating blue donkey), Kazul the King of the Dragons, and two of Morwen’s cats go a-questing to get the sword back from the Society of Wizards instead. Killer picks up a few more unfortunate enchantments, we run into a lot of characters that make amusing meta references to other fairy tales (including one Farmer MacDonald), that annoying Vamist dude turns up again, and eventually, after many wacky hijinks and parody/metahumor/deconstruction of fairy tale conventions, the sword is retrieved. Unfortunately, they do not live happily ever after; they are instead mercilessly CLIFFHANGERED and then you have to go read the fourth book.

Rereading this book again as an adult (and being helped along by the perspective of someone who has no idea what’s going on… this person, as usual, being Mark Oshiro, my #1 source of cheating on my annual book challenge and of not passing out from boredom at work), I got to re-appreciate how clever a lot of the jokes are (you know how jokes start to seem more obvious than they are when you’re familiar with them), but also how some of the stuff dealt with in this book is a bit more… heavy? Real-world-y? There are a lot of ways in which this book is a little bit less about fairy tales and more about, like, regular bad people. The first two books were full of the heroes temporarily melting wizards; in this one, Kazul finally loses her patience giving them chances to regroup and starts actually eating them. Up until this point the series had really shied away from characters the reader has met actually dying. Arona Vamist is very much a garden-variety bully, conformist, and authoritarian; he’s not a magical creature in any way, just a busybody using fear, lies, and social pressure to screw innocent people over in the name of abstract ideas like “tradition.” And, of course, there’ s the ending, in which it turns out that it will take years to undo the mess the wizards left them in, rather than everything getting wrapped up in a nice shiny bow at the end of a few weeks. There’s also a strong message of “don’t eat random shit that you don’t know what it is, particularly when people tell you not to eat it.”

On the other hand, there’s also cranky magic mirrors and an always-hungry floating blue donkey who keeps getting insulted by sassy cats, so it’s not like the book is overall much of a downer.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Following up Dealing with Dragons, Mark has read the second book of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, this one titled Searching for Dragons. And so I have reread it as well because I could read this series all day every day.

Searching for Dragons has a different protagonist than the first book, although Cimorene is still in it, being sensible and awesome. Apparently it is considered a risky move to have the protagonists differ in the books of a series? I don’t get it; I have read a lot of good series with each book being from a different person’s POV. POV changes are awesome.

Anyway, our new protagonist is Mendanbar, the young King of the Enchanted Forest, a slightly awkward dude with little patience for much of the formality of kinging. Mendanbar is smart and effective but has a somewhat fuzzy grasp of the magic he uses, which is tied directly to his role as King of the Enchanted Forest—as King, he is the only person with the sort of access to the Enchanted Forests’ magic that he has, and the ability to manipulate it directly. It’s a really cool magic system, too—basically, the forest is full of threads of power, and Mendanbar can see and manipulate the threads. Mendanbar’s main failing as king seems to be his inability or unwillingness to delegate, meaning he does basically everything himself and has no time to get his hair cut. He has rather excellent advice-giving skills but seems to only be able to use the on other people. He is generally just super adorkable and I am pretty sure he was my first literary crush, and he is PERFECT for Cimorene and all other love stories are boring.

The plot in this one is a very odd sort of quest. Mendanbar finds a huge patch of his forest reduced to dusty wasteland and stripped of its magic, and goes to try and find someone who can tell him about it. This leads him to Morwen, who sends him to Kazul, except he meets Cimorene instead, who tells him that Kazul is missing and she was about to go looking for her. Mendanbar decides to accompany Cimorene, since he has to talk to Kazul, and his other option is going home to try and deal with wizards, who are being sneaky and possibly troublesome and who Mendanbar suspects are attempting to deliberately start a war between the Enchanted Forest and the dragons. Wizards are terrible. Magicians, on the other hand, are big nerds, and we meet one in the form of Telemain, a magician prone to going on long intellectual jargon-laden monologues about magical things. I remember thinking that Telemain’s lines were funny and unintelligible when I was wee, but now, after several years of reading billions of pages of academic-speak in a variety of disciplines, I understand basically everything he’s saying (even though he’s talking about magic and magic isn’t real!) and it kind of makes the rest of the cast—who are all ostensibly adults, even if young ones—seem a little dense. But that is really the only part of the book that has not grown up well. Other interesting personages they meet include a giant who has a cold and is getting a bit too old for marauding, a dwarf who can spin straw into gold and keeps getting stuck with people’s firstborn children, and a flying carpet repairman. It’s all metahumor all the way, mashed-up fairy-tale edition. (I believe this series was highly formative in turning me into the type of person who hosts a costume party for the season premiere of Once Upon a Time, which I did yesterday because I am a big dork.) (I went as Evil Queen Regina because she brings new meaning to the phrase “gothy fabulous”.)

Watching Mark read this was just as fun as the first book, whether he was tsk-ing at Mendanbar for being a princess bigot (he kind of is, although I kind of sympathize, because nothing makes a group of people seem more annoying than when they continually want something out of you that you don’t want to give… I feel like Mendanbar hates princesses kind of the way everyone else hates Jehovah’s Witnesses) or calling the wizards all sorts of nasty names, like comparing them to bronies. Sadly, there was no “Ford of Whispering Snapes” in this book, although his enthusiastic shipping of Cimorene and Mendanbar makes up for it.

Morwen’s cats are also amazing. They are much smarter than my cat. I can’t wait to see more of them in the third book—I vaguely remember them as being hilarious and awesome but other than that it’s been so long since I’ve read it that I don’t remember what was awesome about them!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Today in the wonderful world of “Mark Reads My Entire Childhood,” somebody commissioned Mark to read the first chapter of Patricia C. Wrede’s classic work of fairy tale deconstruction and metahumor, Dealing with Dragons. This first chapter is entitled In Which Cimorene Refuses to be Proper and has a Conversation with a Frog. I have eerily distinct memories of the first time I ever heard this, on audiobook in Pam’s car when we were in second grade. It turned out to be one of those Changed My Life moments because I have literally never stopped being wildly in love with this book.

It turns out that I am not the only person following Mark as he reads Tamora Pierce’s all-the-things and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted that turned out to be a big The Enchanted Forest Chronicles fan, and next thing I knew, the entire book was commissioned. Mark Reads community, you are truly magical.

So, Dealing with Dragons, the first book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles quartet, follows the adventures of Princess Cimorene, youngest princess of Linderwall, as she runs away to volunteer to be princess for a dragon in order to escape an arranged marriage to a golden-haired twit named Prince Therandil. Princess Cimorene is one of my favorite protagonists of all time, a rebellious, “improper” princess who doesn’t fall into that sort of “I’m so feisty and sassy, I do what I want!” kind of ham-handed rebelliousness that people who don’t understand feminism or characterization always seem to write when they’re assigned to write Strong Female Characters. Dealing with Dragons has strong elements of a comedy of manners (I’ve heard it called a fantasy of manners) and Cimorene’s characterization more resembles a Jane Austen heroine or my forever homegirl Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm. Cimorene has a strong practical streak and tries to keep things sensible and tidy; she’s domestically competent and the thing she hates about princessing is how little useful work it involves, not that it’s coded feminine—for Cimorene, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and other domestic and administrative work is just as much an escape from the uselessness of princessing as fencing, Latin, and magic lessons.

Cimorene is hired by a dry-witted, thoroughly awesome lady dragon named Kazul, and has a grand old time getting the caves in order, sorting treasure, organizing the dragon’s library, and all sorts of cool stuff. Obstacles soon crop up, though—first in the form of a bunch of irritating knights who try to rescue her, then her even more irritating fiancé Therandil who tries to rescue her and will not be dissuaded, then some creepy, condescending wizards who keep sneaking around and seem to be up to something. Also, Cimorene and her fellow princess Alianora are trying to perform a fire-proofing spell, and they can’t seem to find powdered hen’s teeth anywhere.

With the help of Morwen, a no-nonsense witch who lives in the Enchanted Forest, and the Stone Prince, a not-entirely-twitty adventurer burdened with expectations of greatness due to a prophecy (and additionally burdened with having turned into stone), Cimorene and Alianora discover, and manage to foil, a dastardly plot by the wizards and one particularly nasty dragon to seize the role of King of the Dragons. I’m obviously not going to tell you how, but it’s one of those satisfying endings that neatly incorporates elements from a gamut of amusing little subplots and episodes that happened earlier in the book, so everything fits together quite neatly and tidily, which is what you want in a fairy tale.

After nearly twenty years you’d have thought I’d be able to come up with coherent words for talking about how awesome I think this book is, but mostly I just squee and flail a lot. (Morwen would think me very silly.) It takes a good sharp look at a lot of the more silly, sexist, and harmful fairy tale tropes, but it does it with charm and humor and in a simple way that’s easy for small children to grasp. It has all the feel of a delightful fluffy merengue of a Disney movie but there’s some real Valuable Life Lessons, like what fairy tales were invented to teach, buried in there.

Mark is now on to Searching for Dragons, the sequel, so expect a review flailing about how awesome King Mendanbar is sometime in the next few weeks.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was the latest selection for my Classics book club; I only got around to actually reading the text yesterday, but nearly the first thing I did when I saw the book listed was run to Netflix and watch the 1990 movie production with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. I’d seen it once before, many years ago, and I think it was better this time around, possibly because I was somewhat prepared for how utterly weird it was and possibly just because I am older and better able to understand it.

The play, once I got around to reading it, was, as one would expect, pretty much the same as the movie, except that my favorite line was missing. Favorite line in question is the bit where Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz mentions Hamlet’s claim that he “knows a hawk from a handbag” and Tim-Roth-as-Guildenstern looks annoyed and goes “a HANDSAW” and Gary Oldmancrantz is like “…a handsaw.”

If you’re not familiar with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it’s an absurdist/existentialist tragicomedy sort of thing that follows two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet’s boyhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. SPOILER: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die! Some bits of the text are lifted straight from Hamlet as the two men appear in their proper scenes; when they are not in their on-scene parts from Hamlet, they speak in a more modern style—in prose rather than iambic pentameter—and argue themselves in circles about things like what is death and what are they doing here anyway, and why have they spun a coin and had it come down heads eighty or ninety times in a row. One of the ongoing conceits in the play is the two men seem to have very little identity, as they are unable to remember any of their lives before they are summoned to Elsinore, and also they (and everyone else) keep mixing up which of them is Rosencrantz and which of them is Guildenstern. They do have somewhat distinct personalities, though, with Guildenstern being shrewd, philosophical, and somewhat sharp-tempered, and Rosencrantz being usually more mild and cheerful but also frequently pretty dumb. Like so:

GUIL: And syllogism: One, he has never known anything like it. Two: he has never known anything  to write home about. Three, it's nothing to write home about... Home... What's the first thing you remember?
ROS: Oh, let's see... The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?
GUIL: No - the first thing you remember.
ROS: Ah. (Pause.) No, it's no good, it's gone. It was a long time ago.
GUIL (patient but edged): You don't get my meaning. What is the first thing after all the things you've forgotten?
ROS: Oh. I see. (Pause.) I've forgotten the question.

The whole play is basically like that, except for the bit where they’re on a boat, which is even more like that.

One of the big themes in this play is plays, as not only is it a play about a play, it is also a play that features bits of the other play, including the famous play-within-a-play, and then it’s turtles plays all the way down. The first other people that the two protagonists meet on their way to Elsinore are the troupe of Players that later put on the play-within-a-play, who talk a lot of self-aggrandizing but funny criticism about the state of theater and what it is that they do. The lead Player is egregiously annoying, but it seems fitting, particularly when contrasted against the earnest but constantly bewildered Guil and Ros. The lead Player’s belligerent love of theatrical death sets up a lot of discussion about the reality of death and death in art, although I do think that the best death-related musing in the play is the one between R and G about death possibly or not-possibly being a boat.

There are also many, many, many puns, and allusions to all sorts of famous-things-that-can-be-alluded-to, and double entendres, and other sorts of wordplay. I think this play bears repeated readings (or viewings), if only to untangle all of the jokes.

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