bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So not a lot of great stuff has been happening since the election, but a brief moment of relief arrived yesterday in the form of a brand-new shiny Shadowshaper novella from Daniel José Older, which only cost $0.99 on Kindle. I promptly cancelled my evening plans to bug out about stuff on Twitter and bought Ghost Girl in the Corner. I then had a lovely evening with Tee and Iz and three glasses of boxed wine and it was the best I’ve felt in three weeks.

Anyway, as for the novella itself: Most of the most-beloved characters from Shadowshaper are here, but the main action surrounds Tee and Izzy, with a big helping of Uncle Neville. The mischief all starts when Tee sees the ghost of a teenage girl in the basement where she’s taken over Manny’s local newspaper after he died in the last book. Tee has acquired some sort of community journalism grant and has a small crew of intrepid teenage reporters, including a white girl from Staten Island whose grandma is the creepy old lady with the creepy dolls from one of the short stories in Salsa Nocturna. There is also a dude who writes about sports, but when he’s first introduced he says “I write about esports” and I thought he meant eSports like competitive video gaming and then got all confused when he was covering local baseball games and not, like, CS:GO tournaments, but no, it’s just that Older writes out people’s accents and I am a huge fucking nerd.

Anyway, the local baseball games are important because, while Tee is trying to figure out who the ghost in the corner is and simultaneously screwing up her relationship with Izzy, one of the local teams’ star players mysteriously disappears. The cops are, predictably, zero help. The ghost girl in the corner, on the other hand, is, as are the giant printing press and Uncle Neville. How do all these things fit together? You can find out for $0.99.

While the plot is very heavy, the characters are delightful. The dialogue is witty and vivid, which will be surprising to no one who has read anything else by Older or heard him speak at a convention or reading. The social commentary is sharp and incisive—mean, yes, but insightful and hilarious with an eye for detail, like Jane Austen except about modern urban Latinx communities instead of 18th century English countryside gentry nonsense. (If you’re thinking “So not like Jane Austen at all, then,” let me know and I will gladly subject you to three hours of rambling about social satire and economics.) It's also full of fun little references to things, from Older's other work (I mentioned the creepy dolls lady above) to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  There is also a brief but very timely and satisfying instance of straight-up Nazi fighting.

Overall, it is a wonderful and much-needed morsel of awesomeness to tide people over until Shadowhouse Fall comes out.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
A book club I am theoretically still in read Tove Janssen's The Summer Book, and my library copy got in the day after the book club met. Great timing, library. Anyway, I was curious about it, and it was short, so I read it.

Tove Janssen is best known for her books about the Moomins, a family of adorable little troll creatures. I was big on the Moomins when I was little. I still adore them; I bought a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll in Swedish when I was in Stockholm, which meant that at one point I had three copies of Finn Family Moomintroll.

The Summer Book is all about humans but there's a distinct similarity of style, and hints of the same sense of humor, although The Summer Book is overall much less whimsical. Janssen apparently wrote it in a period of deep grief over the death of her mother, although this is not explicitly covered at any point in the book.

The main character is a little girl called Sophia, and the other main character is her grandmother, who lives on a tiny remote island way out in the Gulf of Finland, where Sophia and her father spend their summers. The book is structured like a bunch of unrelated vignettes, so while I'm fairly certain all the stories are supposed to take place in the same summer, it's not 100% clear that that's really the case.

The book overall does not have a plot, and some of the vignettes sort of do and some of them sort of don't. I'm not usually huge on litfic that has no plot, but these are just charming and melancholy enough to pull it off. They are often sort of wild and sad and mundane all at the same time, and they illustrate a lot about being very young and about being very old, with everyone in the middle sort of off in the distance being distracted by doing things, which is probably about right. There is a blink-and-you-miss it reference to the fact that Sophia and her father are here at her grandmother's house this summer because her mother recently died, which lends some extra weight to some of the volatile conversations Sophia has with her grandmother about God and angels and other sorts of Big Questions that Sophia is too young to understand and the grandmother is too old to pretend to.

Sophia is very much a young child in all the most awkward and embarrassing and real ways that you forget about when you grow up unless any of it turns into stories that your family torments you with for years, but reading this book brings some of it back. (I'm specifically thinking of The Phase Where You Can't Handle Small Animal Death, which I used to think was just me, but apparently if it's not everybody it's at least not just me.) It's pretty annoying to read, but that is not a criticism. I haven't been old yet so I can't be embarrassed by the grandmother; I think she's pretty awesome, actually.

The book is very short, only 150 pages, and while I'm sure there are many things to be said about it, I sort of feel like if I try to say too many of them it will ruin it. It's a very quiet, subtle sort of book and I do not tend to have quiet or subtle opinions/analyses.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So I was vaguely intending on only reading nonfiction from now through March but then I discovered the Bloodsucking Feminists podcast and realized I'd never read John Polidori's The Vampyre: A Tale, so of course then I went and read The Vampyre. After listening to the episode about it, because that's how I roll. (That is not how I prefer  to roll but sometimes I mess up.)

The Vampyre is best known for being one of the entries in the famous horror story contest between Polidori, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It... didn't win. Frankenstein won, in the process basically inventing science fiction generally and the cyborg story in particular. The Vampyre is also a pretty genre-kicking-off piece of work, being one of the earliest or possibly the earliest instances of vampire prose fiction in the English language, but if you read it you will understand why Frankenstein is generally considered the winner, even with Percy Shelley's terrible copy edits.

That said, it was a pretty valuable read, I think. It's short, so despite its flaws and the extremely eighteenth-century nature of those flaws, it's not too much of a slog (unlike, say, the thousand-plus-page Varney the Vampire, which I have been avoiding reading for at least two years now).

The story itself is fairly simple. A good-natured but flighty young dandy named Aubrey is introduced into society and befriends the aristocratic Lord Ruthven, who is a cold brooding sort but very handsome, and who only hangs out with the most virtuous of women. Aubrey and Ruthven go on a trip through Europe, which was a tradition for well-born young men at the time, and during the trip Aubrey notices that the virtuous young women Aubrey hangs out with all have their reputations ruined by the time they skip town. Ruthven also gambles a lot, and while Ruthven doesn't necessarily always win, the people he's playing with all manage to lose, and to exhibit horrendous bankroll management while they're at it. Aubrey eventually grows disgusted with the trail of fallen women and busto family men with hungry children that his friend is leaving in their wake, and bounces to Greece by himself, where he develops a flirtation with an "unspoilt" (this is a term with a large number of very specific meanings when applied to young maidens in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Brit lit) young Greek maiden, who tries to warn him about vampires. But he thinks she is just being adorably quaint and superstitious, so he goes to look at some ancient ruins or something and has to walk back home through the woods in the dark, where he finds a fancy knife and also the dead body of his Greek girlfriend, who has clearly died of being bitten in the neck. Ruthven shows back up and they keep traveling together, then Ruthven is shot by bandits and dies, but first he makes Aubrey promise not to tell anyone anything about what a terrible person he is for a year and a day. Aubrey agrees, and the dead Ruthven's body mysteriously disappears.

Aubrey goes back to England where it's time for him to bring his sister out into society. At one of these society parties he espies Lord Ruthven, apparently no longer dead, and he can't say anything because he is a Man Of His Word and also he is apparently hallucinating Ruthven in his head saying "Don't you dare," which oddly is a thing that happens in the second Twilight book nearly two hundred years later. Aubrey runs away and has a fit, and spends the next several months descending further into the depths of fever, incoherence, and unspecified trauma-induced mental illness. As he gets closer to the deadline where he can finally tell people how terrible Ruthven is, he starts to feel better, and someone tells him that his sister is going to marry the Earl of Marsden, and he's happy for like ten seconds until he finds out that the Earl of Marsden is, of course, Lord Ruthven. Instead of being able to say anything, he has a stroke and his sister marries Ruthven and is promptly et, THE END. Seriously, that's the story. The vampire wins.

The storyline is entertaining enough, I suppose, but the real joy of The Vampyre lies in its epically poor pacing, wobbling unevenly through long atmospheric scenes with actual details and quotations and stuff, and passages that read more like the author's outline or synopsis for a scene rather than a scene itself. And it tends to be all the most important, exciting bits of the story that are rushed through like this, with vague, telling-not-showing sorts of descriptions that add two centuries' worth of dust on top of what are apparently some pretty action-packed chase scenes and intense histrionics. It has an amusingly Plan Nine from Outer Space-y feel to it, sometimes, with a palpable amateur earnestness that renders the clumsy wordcraft endearing.

This story, obviously, is of enormous historical importance to the development of the vampire story generally and the rise of the Byronic anti-hero character archetype in particular, and it also provides a good amount of fodder for discussion of at least two of the four pillars of British Romanticism Fuckery that my British Romanticism class focused on (race, class, gender, and imperialism--in this case, mostly gender and class, although you could have a good time deconstructing the portrayal of the Greeks a bit). For a much more thorough look into the weird gender politics of the story in particular, I strongly recommend checking out the relevant episode of Bloodsucking Feminists.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I picked up Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners at last year’s Readercon because Readercon always makes me have good intentions to read more short fiction. Then I got it signed at the Monstrous Affections event in October, which gave me even more good intentions to read it. Then I decided to do the Women in Genre Fiction challenge this year, which seems to have finally been the critical mass of good intentions needed to motivate me to actually pick the book up and read it, when the exact thing happened that I was expecting to happen, which is that I began kicking myself for not reading it earlier.

Magic for Beginners is weird. It’s fantasy, but the sort of fantasy that also skirts the borders of literary fiction and of magical realism and of translations of really old stories that sound weird to a modern audience because they use a different kind of story logic than we’re quite used to. There’s nine stories in the compilation and none of them are boring. The collection sort of eases you into the weird by starting off with The Faery Handbag, which uses a lot of traditional elements of well-known fairy tales from a variety of traditions, and weaves it into a new and increasingly unsettling fairy tale. After that, the stories are full of recognizable elements like ghosts and zombies but they don’t work the way you’re used to them working and they’re not in quite the sorts of stories you’re used to seeing them in. The zombies, for example, don’t seem to be taking over the world or spreading or eating people or really causing much mayhem at all—certainly not a zombie apocalypse—they just keep showing up at an all-night convenience store and not buying anything. The real creepy element in that story is the pajamas.

Any one individual story could probably yield several really fun literary criticism papers, even the ones about people’s marriages falling apart. One of the ones about a marriage falling apart is also about a haunted house, although it’s not haunted by ghosts; it’s haunted by bunnies. Another story about a marriage falling apart is an alien invasion story with lots of cloning. I personally prefer The Faery Handbag, and the one about the ghost television show, and—well, any of the ones where the main character is too young to be in a falling-apart marriage. That’s on me as a reader, though. That I did like all nine of the stories no matter how much about marriage they were is a pretty impressive feat of writing by Kelly Link. There’s quite a lot to say about any one of these stories, but I feel like I might have to be in conversation with someone else who’s also read them in order to tease out what it is exactly I have to say. There’s a lot of seemingly random, dreamlike stuff going on in all these pieces that I’m pretty sure are metaphor or analogues or catalysts or something like that for all the issues of regular life, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what they are. It’s not as obvious as it usually is. Like, the zombies aren’t mindlessly eating everybody in a thinly-veiled metaphor for inescapable consumerism and the insatiable demands of a growth-based capitalist economy. The zombies are the creatures that don’t buy anything at the convenience store. So what are they and what are we supposed to do with them? I’m going to have to think about it.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I picked up Daniel José Older’s Salsa Nocturna pretty much the second I put down Half-Resurrection Blues, although I probably should have picked it up earlier, considering it was published a few years ago and I bought it in July. But I am a philistine and am terrible about actually reading short story collections, which is dumb, because I often enjoy them when I do pick them up.

One thing that is particularly fun in this short story collection is that they are all connected: They all take place in the same universe—indeed, the same Brooklyn—as Half-Resurrection Blues, and feature a lot of the same characters. A bunch of the stories are from Carlos’ point of view; others are from the POV of other supernatural-affiliated characters, most of whom know Carlos and get all mixed up in his plans of trying to sabotage whatever nasty power-grubbing nonsense the Council of the Dead is up to.

While the Council gets up to quite a bit of nasty nonsense, including an attempted hostile takeover of a neighborhood in Manhattan that had been outside of its jurisdiction, not all the stories in the collection involve the CoD. Some involve various other malevolent ghosts, sorcery-wielding miscreants, and other weird shit. There’s a great one about creepy possessed vintage porcelain dolls, although Carlos has to go and continually be such a dude and keeps referring to them as American Girl dolls even though they clearly can’t be. There is also one about the ghost of a giant woolly mammoth, and that’s possibly the least weird story in there.

There’s a good balance of creepy and funny in this selection, with pretty much all of the stories being creepy and some of them being funnier than others depending on who’s in them: Any time Carlos’ ghost cop partner Riley shows up trying to be macho it’s going to be goofy sort of funny; whereas CiCi’s stories have a warmer, more subtle sort of humor, in an indulgent-grandma kind of way. (Like the old people IMing bit, which is… old people IMing. IT’S ADORABLE.) Carlos on the occasions when he’s being a total dork continues to be the most fun, in my opinion.

Unrelated to the content, but a thing which I nevertheless have opinions about: This book is published by Crossed Genres, a funky small press here in MA, which is awesome. They also decided to use straight quotes instead of smart quotes for the whole book and really compressed ellipses, which is less awesome. I feel bad bagging on a small press for things like this but I really hate straight quotes in print.

ANYWAY. Do you like ghosts? This book has all the ghosts. Ghost elephants. Ghost bureaucrats. Ghost shit-stirring Black magicians from the 1800s (I think 1800s?). A ghost bus driver with a ghost bus. This book is only like 150 pages but it’s got a whole shadow universe of New York in it full of weirdo ghosts doing weirdo ghost things, and it’s great.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
One of the very cool things about attending nerdy literary conventions like Readercon is that you can pick up unusual little hard-to-find books. This past Readercon, in honor of the awesome Memorial Guest of Honor, Mary Shelley, I picked up a little limited-run paperback--scarcely more than a pamphlet--called The Mortal Immortal: The Complete Supernatural Short Fiction. While Mary Shelley wrote a lot of things besides Frankenstein, it looks like she only wrote five pieces of supernatural short fiction. But now I have all of them!

First off, the cover is gorgeous, a textured gray with the the text made to look like a gravestone rubbing. The text is a nice atmospheric sort of tiny cramped round serif font, which is very old-timey, but it gets a little wearing to read, and also it's not right-justified and suffers from random line breaks. Overall, though, it is a very pretty book.

Before getting to the five stories, there is a meandering and somewhat self-indulgent introduction, framed as a short story wherein a middle-aged Mary Shelley returns from the dead and snarks at the book's editor. But only a little--I think it would have improved with some additional snarking, honestly. The reanimation conceit fits very well with Mary Shelley's works, as it is a theme she returned to time and time again; it works slightly less well in that the narrator manages to not narrate himself enough to establish himself as a character I care about, but enough that I feel like I'm sitting through him talking about himself. Also, he seems to be mimicking the highly detailed, overwritten prose style of the period, which, dude, there's a reason we stopped writing like that when we invented proper editing software. It does provide some solid background information on what Mary Shelley did with her life and her writing after all the fun exciting bits with Frankenstein and Percy Shelley getting his fool self drowned that you always hear about, at any rate.

The first story is The Mortal Immortal: A Tale, which brings us into the fun madcap world of Agrippa and alchemy, and reminded me that I still need to read that third Deb Harkness book. Our narrator is a hapless former apprentice of the famed alchemist, who has a haughy, demanding girlfriend, and is also an idiot who doesn't know the first thing about lab safety (literally the first thing you learn in a modern school, which is don't put anything in your fucking mouth). Idiot narrator eats a science experiment that causes him to age imperceptibly slowly, which causes issues in his marriage with Haughty Demanding Lady. (Her name is actually Bertha, as in the apropos Grateful Dead lyric, "Bertha, don't you come around here anymore.") Overall, it is an endearing story about two idiots, which eventually turns into a meditation on how age affects our relationships.

The second story is entitled Transformation, about a reckless young Italian lad who is, quite frankly, an asshole. He is in love with his guardian's daughter, but then he goes off to Paris and makes reckless party boy friends and spends all his money and becomes even more of an asshole, which results in a big family drama wherein he tries to kidnap the girl he wants to marry--twice. All this changes when, wandering around in a penniless rage, he meets a magical dwarf. No, he seriously does meet a magical dwarf, who offers to switch their bodies for three days in exchange for all sorts of riches, so that he can attempt to woo his girlfriend again (don't ask me how this was supposed to work) but then there are plot twists and he almost dies and becomes less of an asshole, the end. This story was really quite a lot of fun, what with all the kidnappings and fight scenes and almost dying.

The third story, Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman, is not only the weirdest story in the book, but possibly the weirdest use of epistolary form I have ever seen. It's in the form of a newspaper article, that basically apologizes for not being able to get an interview with Mr. Dodsworth, and then goes on about the science of how he reanimated (cryogenics, basically), and the circumstances under which he was found, and then proceeds to speculate about what it must have been like for him. I'm not used to "speculative fiction" meaning "fiction in which people sit around speculating about stuff," but that seems to be what this is. Anyone who complains about Roger Walton should very definitely not read this story.

The Dream gets us back to more conventional storytelling form, with a regular third-person narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. This is also my favorite piece in the book, possibly because it's the only one with a female protagonist. Our heroine, Constance, is planning on getting herself to a nunnery, because her whole family is dead after a brutal fight with her boyfriend's family, as they have been enemies for years yadda yadda medieval stuff. The King of France visits her to try and talk her into not going to the nunnery, and her boyfriend, also the only surviving member of his family, comes to convince her to take him back or else he will go off to die heroically in Palestine. Constance decides to let St. Catherine decide for her by spending the night on a religiously significant ledge over a river. I must wonder how often this is actually how people made major life decisions back in olden times.

The last story, Valerius: The Reanimated Romani, at least has the good grace to feature actual transcriptions of our reanimated dude talking and thinking about things, although there's not much of a story arc to this one. To be quite honest, it is like 90% bitching about how terrible and degraded 19th century Italy was and how the Roman Republic was so much better. (It's a bit funny if you know about how much Mary Shelley hated Italy.) Also the friendship he strikes up with a young married English lady sounds . . . not solely friendlike.

I'm super excited that I read this, but honestly, Frankenstein is clearly still the masterpiece.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Gail Carriger seems to have received my complaint that I have to wait until November for more wacky steampunk books, and recently blessed the Internet with a short story, a prequel to the Parasol Protectorate books called The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t, the Mummy that Was, and the Cat in the Jar. It is about Alexia’s father, Alessandro Tarabotti.

We knew going into this that Mr. Tarabotti (a) has no soul, (b) used to work for the Templars, and (c) was not what most people would generally consider a nice man. This all turns out to be quite true. Mr. Tarabotti is about as judgy as the Dowager Countess Grantham, although with a much greater propensity to engage in fisticuffs. He is very at ease shooting archaeologists, setting priceless historical artifacts on fire, and causing dirigible crashes that kill off the younger brothers of college boyfriends. All in all, he is a fairly detestable person, but he is still quite a fun character, in that way that “the smart asshole in a room full of dumb assholes” is always a fun character when done properly. Mr. Tarabotti is done very properly.

Floote shows up in this story, as does Alexia’s mother Letitia, although she neither says nor does anything much. We also get some intriguing hints about further mysteries of this fictional universe. (I would like a short story about the cat-embalming aunt, particularly.)
All in all it was quite a good read and an excellent way to spend 99 cents. Now, back to your regularly scheduled whining about how long I have to wait for the third Finishing School book.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
For my writing group’s next book club I read Matthew Pearl’s The Technologists, which I borrowed as an ebook from the Boston Public Library because I just figured out how to do fancy things like that. I think The Technologists is a fitting first title for me to have checked out for this futuristic new way of availing myself of the venerable BPL’s services, because The Technologists is very much about technological advancement, and it is also very much about Boston.

The Technologists is a historical fiction/mystery/thriller concerning several members of the first graduating class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, back in 1868. At this time, the school was known as Boston Tech, and rather than occupying its current stretch of Cambridge, its first location was in the then-newly-filled-in Back Bay area. The first main buildings of the Boston Tech campus, the Rogers and Walker buildings, were part of a lot between Boylston and Newbury streets, between Clarendon and Berkeley. These buildings were later torn down to build the New England Mutual Life Insurance Building at 501 Boylston Street, which currently houses Pearson Education’s Boston headquarters, and where I worked for most of two years. Needless to say, I think this is very exciting! It is particularly exciting to me because The Technologists is  one of those books that is very, very intimately tied into the place it takes place in, and Matthew Pearl does an excellent job of showing us nineteenth century Boston in vivid, meticulously researched detail. It’s really fascinating to hear about all these streets and gardens and buildings that I know pretty well from living here for the past three years, and to hear about what they were like 150 years ago (some of which I am already familiar with), and to, for once, be able to actually have a good geographical sense of where the action of the story is taking place, the way that people who actually know their way around New York must feel about 95% of the rest of American storytelling.

It’s also very interesting to me to hear about how very controversial MIT was, and the degree of disdain that so much of the establishment had for it—particularly the recurring sentiment that technological studies weren’t real education, and that MIT was for dunces who couldn’t manage to get into a real college. Basically the exact opposite of MIT’s reputation now.

The premise of The Technologists is that someone is somehow engineering crazy mad science disasters around Boston and throwing everybody into a panic, and nobody is able to figure out how. The Boston police, being the BPD even back then, are loathe to admit they are in over their heads, and when they do decide to have a scientific consultant, they go to a pompous biology teacher at Harvard who is more concerned with mocking evolution than actually solving the mystery, because it would be politically dangerous to consult “Tech,” even though “Tech” is the school that actually studies this sort of thing. The administrators at Boston Tech/MIT, facing funding issues and an increasingly hostile public perception, vote not to take any initiative to investigate or offer help to the BPD.

This doesn’t sit well with Marcus Mansfield, our protagonist, a charity scholar who served in the Union army during the Civil War and then worked as a machine engineer in a locomotive shop. Marcus and a couple of fellow students—handsome and charming Bob Richards, the first non-Harvard man from a family of Harvard men; quiet and nervous Edwin Hoyt, who actually transferred to Tech out of Harvard; Ellen Swallow, Tech’s only female student; and Hammie, eccentric genius and son of the owner of the locomotive shop Marcus used to work at—begin their own investigation into the events, under the guise of being a regular college society, called the Technologists. Their investigation leads them to discover lots of cool science and engineering things, but it also brings them into the line of fire of a wealthy but maddened burn victim, a supposedly disbanded and very douchebaggy Harvard secret society and its entitled twit of a leader, a traitorous professor, the BPD again, some very self-centered captains of industry, and, of course, the evil mastermind behind the whole thing.

One thing I particularly liked about this novel was that it’s not just a straight whodunit; the big engineered disasters—compasses failing so boats crash into each other in Boston Harbor in the fog; all the glass in the Financial District melting at once, mass ergot poisoning, industrial boilers bursting simultaneously—are intricately woven into the political and social issues the characters are dealing with, from the fallout of the Civil War to academic squabbling over university funding, plus the never-ending peculiarities of the very nineteenth century restriction on Ellen Swallow. (The ergot poisoning bit, for instance, only happened after someone stole Miss Swallow’s notes studying rye—that it was the disaster engineer who had stolen them was not immediately apparent, due to the degree of harassment and sabotage Miss Swallow was subjected to regularly.) The students’ investigation is also very tied up with the Institute’s president, William Rogers, who suffers a stroke or something like it early in the novel, thus leading Marcus to steal a bunch of his papers and strike up a flirtation with his chambermaid Agnes, who helps out doing what is essentially spy work for their investigation. I found Agnes to be a pretty compelling character, particularly for a designated love interest who is a secondary character; she is a pragmatic, good little Irish Catholic girl who mourns having had to abandon her “unladylike” girlhood interest in science in order to secure a respectable position. She is also the only character who just thinks Ellen Swallow must be the bee’s knees before even meeting her.

Ellen Swallow was always going to be my favorite character because pioneering lady scientist, and she did not disappoint! Miss Swallow is eccentric in a stiff, very Puritan sort of fashion, although she is affectionate toward her cat, Baby. She is an excellent analytical chemist and has an interest in food science (she was a real person, who did go on to become a pioneer in food science and food safety and that sort of thing, go Wikipedia her right now); her introduction to the story is off-puttingly weird in the tradition of all the best major supporting characters, and while we eventually get to know her and find her more sympathetic and comprehensible, she never loses the curt stiffness and Puritanism that initially characterize her. She is extremely New Englandy, even in a book full of extremely New Englandy people.

I think my biggest issue with this book was probably the pacing; it starts off at a nice leisurely pace that might bore a lot of readers of thrillers but which I found to be perfectly fine—the initial disaster at the Harbor opens the book and then we get a lot of characterization and backstory and academic politics before anyone really even starts figuring out how it happened, let alone who did it or why. Near the end, though, the story picks up to an almost frenzied pace, cycling quickly through about four different suspects before landing on discovering the final bad guy. I also was somewhat disappointed with who it actually turned out to be; it was a character I had liked, and his reasoning for turning out all evil and stuff didn’t really make that much sense to me. I had my own guess about who the bad guy was, and while it would have been a bit more obvious, I feel like my guess would have made more sense.
The book features a lot of philosophical discussion about technology and its role in society and questions of scientific ethics, access, that sort of thing—all the questions that people in the nineteenth century were up in arms about, many of which are similar to the questions people ask about technology today (sometimes unfortunately… the anti-evolutionists might have finally left Harvard but it looks like they’ve all moved to Congress and the Texas school board instead). There are also a lot of questions about technology and labor, although not a lot of answers are given, other than that everyone hates trade unionists but that doesn’t always mean the guy hating on trade unionists with you is on your side. (The trade unionists in this book are also engaging in PETA-like levels of Bad Activism.)

I was surprised to learn that the author of this novel went to Harvard, considering that Harvard is here portrayed as unmitigatedly assbaggy. The most satisfying moments in the novel are like five different variations of punching Harvard dudes in the face and/or exploding things in their face. They’re pretentious, entitled, and belligerently behind the times in all things. It makes 1868 Harvard sound like a college populated entirely by clones of Mitt Romney, which is quite possibly historically accurate.

The ebook of The Technologists comes with a not-very-short short story called The Professor’s Assassin, which is a dramatization of a real event, the murder of University of Virginia President Davis. The protagonist here is William Barton Rogers, a professor at the University at the time, who would go on to found Boston Tech/MIT. The murder takes place during a spate of riots on the University campus where a bunch of very gentlemanly Southern gentlemen wish to be able to go about armed in the classroom, and, much like gun nuts today, decide to prove themselves totally responsible and absolutely to be trusted with deadly weaponry by going about masked and anonymously smashing things up and threatening people with guns. After somebody threatens Rogers with a gun and somebody else murders President Davis, Rogers teams up with a couple of other characters around the campus to be all detective-y and solve the murder, eventually finding the culprit and turning him into the police. It’s a short and satisfying little murder mystery, although the reader must wonder how all these dead people would feel about being fictionalized.

I would recommend The Technologists and The Professor’s Assassin to people who don’t mind books that can’t really be fit neatly into one genre, who like dealing with multiple kinds of nerdery at once, and who love Boston.
 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been a fan of Laini Taylor since her debut novel, Fairies of Dreamdark: Blackbringer, and I have been thrilled to see her new series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, really breaking out to make her one of the current big names in YA fantasy. Her stuff is funny, poignant, dramatic, and lyrical, and she is basically one of the very few authors for whom I would spend money to read a short story that is somebody’s first date. (I don’t get invested in romantic pairings in books and I am allergic to dating.) But it is several months until Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and the first date in question is Zuzana and Mik’s, so I picked up Night of Cake and Puppets the day it was released.

For starters, let’s read that title again: Night of Cake and Puppets. That is an awesome title.

This short story (actually I think it’s more of a novella?) is split into four parts, two from Zuzana’s point of view and two from Mik’s. I am biased in favor of Zuzana’s POV because Zuzana is sarcastic and unromantic and hilarious, and I relate to her viewpoint a lot, except that she is funnier and waaay fiercer than me. As someone who was a very cranky teenager and who still has extremely less-than-generous views on the desirability of like 99.999999999999999% of the opposite sex and is deathly allergic to most traditional forms of pink fluffy romance-as-entertainment stuff, I was very sympathetic to Zuzana’s surprise, confusion, and bouts of self-scolding about her own behavior when she finally found someone fanciable and started engaging in thought patterns and behaviors that she’d always found intolerably stupid. I have been there, little rabid fairy! It’s a very jarring experience. Anyway, Zuzana’s disdain for other people is too awesomely phrased for me to want her to lighten up even a little bit (“There are boys you look at and want to touch with your mouth, and there are boys you look at and want to wear one of those surgical masks everyone in China had during bird flu”), and even when she’s feeling all the sappy feelings her narration on it is pretty sharp (“This must be what feelings are. This is why people write poems! I get it now”).

Mik, a.k.a. “violin boy,” is a bit more even-keeled, less angry although a bit despondent that his life is boring and he is too boring to talk to Zuzana, who he fancies because she seems weird and clearly not boring at all (he is correct on this count).  Mik is maybe a little… generic? Normal? Idunno… compared to Zuzana, but she is a hard act to follow, and his earnestness and optimism provide a bit of balance so the pairing doesn’t descend into mutual superior snarkitude, because face it, those people are annoying (I know this from both inside and outside perspective, sorry).

Because Zuzana is too awesome to do stuff the normal way, instead of talking to Mik and asking him for coffee or something mundane like that, she sets up an elaborate treasure hunt leading to herself, which involves riddles, puppets (Zuzana is a puppet-maker art student, from a family of puppet-makers; apparently this is a thing in the Czech Republic), a literal hand-drawn treasure map, and a couple of “scuppies,” which are the smallest sort of wishes. The scuppies are gifts from Karou (Zuzana’s best friend and the protagonist of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series proper), and Zuzana uses them to perform small and artistically awesome acts of magic during the treasure hunt. It is all very romantic in not only the squishy lovey-dovey sense of romantic, although that too, but also in the broader and more awesome sense of the word romantic, the one involving poetry and imagination and stylization and atmosphere and wonder and the whole wide human range of intense feelings. In this particular instance, there is also snow and cake and sugar bowls labeled “Arsenic.” Also text messaging; Zuzana and Karou’s idea of moral support is perfectly in character and perfectly hilarious.

Near the end there are fewer sarcastic jokes and more traditional love-story stuff, which by definition means I liked the first half better, but Laini Taylor’s gorgeous imagery and nuanced, emotionally insightful handling of the feelings stuff kept me quite engaged. Also, Mik and Zuzana never quite entirely let go of the weirdness and the fantastical games; it’s all peacock footprints and Romans riding unicycles (their togas get caught in the spokes) right up until the end, so there are no real moments of “Ugh this is completely interchangeable with nearly any other story you could name at random”, which is one of my biggest issues with romances usually.

Overall this was a great way to spend a freezing December morning (and thematically appropriate because SNOW) (my other thematically appropriate activity that day was going to see Frozen), and was a gorgeous little treat to tide me over as I wait impatiently for Dreams of Gods and Monsters.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
The latest installment of the Bane Chronicles that I’ve picked up is Cassandra Clare’s and Maureen Johnson’s The Fall of the Hotel Dumort, sequel of sorts to The Rise of the Hotel Dumort. It is, of course, about vampires, and specifically about the vampires of New York, and even more specifically about the NY clan that is led, at various times, by Camille and Raphael, and who live in the former Hotel Dumont, now the Hotel Dumort.
The Fall of the Hotel Dumort takes place in the seventies, which surprised me initially, because the vampires are still living in the hotel for decades afterwards, but I guess that’s vampires for you. We get a lot of Stuff About New York In The Seventies (another trend in Bane Chronicles authorship: the Maureen Johnson ones seem to be more… historically grounded? Like, they all tie into or at least reference the important historical events going on at the time, which follows in an esteemed tradition in fantasy of using immortal characters to Explore Interesting Time Periods. I am a huge sucker for this tradition), like that it totally sucked; nobody was picking up the garbage and the Son of Sam was murdering people in the face all the time and everyone was on coke.
This story is largely about cocaine. While it does involve some fairly serious discussion about addiction, it avoids after-school-specialness by largely being about vampires on coke. Now, vampires can’t actually do coke… but they can feed on people who are on coke, and then apparently all hell breaks loose, even by vampire standards.
One of the things I like about the vampires in the Shadowhunter world is that, while in most aspects they fit the modern literary vampire mold of being elegant, fashionable, worldly, usually well-travelled, seductive, etc. etc., they are also often really gross. From all accounts they seem to eat very messily, and they tend to live like the craziest, most dysfunctional kinds of rock stars, moving into lavish expensive apartments and completely trashing them, somehow miraculously managing to keep super stylin’ wardrobes at all times despite housing themselves and therefore, presumably, their clothes in utter squalor. Apparently the squalor and trashing-of-the-places gets ten times worse when all the vampires are on drugs.
This story is tense, with Magnus and a bunch of werewolves trying to rein in the vampires before the Shadowhunters realize how out of control they’ve gotten and taking care of it in their Shadowhuntery way; within that, Magnus, who still cares about Camille even though they’ve been broken  up for like a hundred years, tries to reason with Camille and get her to dry herself and her clan out, while the werewolves play bad cop and basically say that it’s war if the vampires don’t shape up pronto. The last chance for the vampires happens during the New York City blackout of 1977, where the widespread arson is used to cover up the last and most brutal spate of coked-up-vampire murders.
Overall, it was much more serious than I would have expected a story about “Magnus Bane and coked-out vampires” to be,  but that is probably a good thing. Not as tightly plotted as some of the other Maureen Johnson co-authored Bane Chronicles stories, but a good story all the same.
PS I am glad I did not live in New York City in the seventies; it sounds terrible.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
After again falling behind on paying attention to my Bane Chronicles news, I picked up the lengthily titled What to Buy the Shadowhunter Who Has Everything (And Who You’re Not Officially Dating Anyway), by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan.
This one is about Malec! Malec is the semi-official ship name for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood; they are generally pretty cute in the novels, in a sort of mismatched way. This short story takes place about the time that Magnus and Alec have started seeing each other/going on dates, but are not really a couple yet. (Still cute though.) The main conflict in this plot is largely internal, Magnus’ feels for Alec versus his uncertainty about their relationship, manifesting as a dilemma over whether to get Alec a present for his eighteenth birthday and, if so, what it should be.
The story takes place over about two days, during which Magnus intersperses wibbling over the present thing with random absurdities, providing a vehicle for lots of jokes. He has to summon a demon for a particularly irritating but wealthy client; the demon in question is slimy, nonthreatening, and a bit stuck in the eighties (kiiiind of doesn’t mesh with what we know of demons in the Shadowhunter universe like at all, but I don’t care, Fleetwood Mac jokes FTW). He calls his two best warlock friends, both of whom basically tell him to stuff it. There are lots of jokes about Ragnor Fell and Raphael Santiago’s friendship, which might be my actual favorite part of the story. Magnus’ internal narration is still so… affectedly judgmental that I cannot even see him as whiny no matter how much he complains, because he seems to just be telling himself jokes about everyone and everything, rather than actually being particularly down about stuff.
Then there is an appearance by ISABELLE! YAY! Where we get the important stuff about love and family and the best gifts being what the people they are given to actually want, and all that meaningful stuff, but there are still some jokes. (Can you tell I am not in a feelingsy mood right now? I may have spent all my capacity for feelings watching Frozen. Jokes only from now on.)
I am definitely noticing a continuance of the trend where the stories co-written by Maureen Johnson seem to be short stories that contain jokes, and the stories co-written by Sarah Rees Brennan are comic stories; i.e., the point is really the jokes, and the story serves largely as a vehicle for jokes. I lean somewhat towards Team Jokes in this sort-of-split (it is not as great a split as I make it sound), since I am an unromantic little nutter. 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So far, Saving Raphael Santiago may be my favorite installment of the Bane Chronicles.

In this one, Magnus, styling himself as a private eye sometime in the fifties, gets an assignment from a woman who says that her son disappeared when he went off with his gang to hunt vampires, and she wants Magnus to find him and save him. Magnus finds the boy, who has already been turned into a vampire and is really unhappy about it (ß that is what we literary types call understatement), and helps him train to control his vampire weaknesses (allergy to religion, etc.) enough to fool his mother into thinking he’s human.

Once I pulled my head out of my arse and remembered what joke goes with what story, I was able to have Thoughts on this story, and my Thoughts are that so far this is the best balance of for-realz story and funny jokes. It has a solid plot, and is well structured and well paced, and it gives us some very insightful background into a character we are already familiar with—it doesn’t leave us at loose ends, since we pretty much know what happens to Raphael in the next fifty years or so. The bits about Guadaloupe’s fear for her son and Raphael’s absolute determination to see his mother again—and to hide her transformation from him—are poignant. The ending is sweet in a fucked-up way, as Raphael returns to his family and successfully fools them into thinking he’s alive with an enormous pack of lies.

However, this story also doesn’t give up on pure Magnus hilarity. The opening paragraphs, about Magnus’ decision to become a private eye, are perfection; and the dynamic between Magnus and Raphael—who are both enormously judgy in polar opposite ways—is wittily antagonistic. Things get even funnier when the green, ever-cranky warlock Ragnor Fell shows up, and strikes up a sort of friendship with Raphael that seems to consist entirely of bonding over making fun of Magnus. Magnus does not appreciate this. Everyone’s banter and snotty comments are as fabulous as Magnus’ wardrobe. There are a lot of allusions to things that happen in the future—at one point, Magnus vows that as soon as he’s rid of Raphael he is going to get a cat and throw it a birthday party every year—and some adorable drunk vampires that Raphael speechifies at.

Overall, both Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan are in very good form in this one.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I done fallen behind in my Bane Chronicles reading! But yesterday I finally was able to read The Rise of the Hotel Dumort, which I had purchased immediately prior to my Kindle shitting the bed.

This one is by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson, whose stuff I still really need to get around to reading. It is a properly structured short story, rather than a set of vignettes or a weird prologuey thing, taking place at the tail end of the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan. Magnus has been taking a well-deserved break from Downworlder politics and is having a grand old time running a speakeasy, because of course. This all goes swimmingly until Magnus gets a visit from the police, who smash up his bar, and also a visit from a little flapper vampire, who tells him something vaguely portentous, and then a third visit, this time from a batty, ancient warlock who is also saying vaguely portentous things.

Magnus, attempting to get away from all the random people crashing at his hotel room now that he doesn’t have a bar anymore, investigates, and discovers that the batty old warlock is holed up in the shiny new Hotel Dumont, where he entertains some rich mundanes who are trying to summon a demon or something ill-advised like that. It is around this time that the stock market crashes and all the mundanes freak out, and also when the demons show up, and therefore the Shadowhunters as well, and there is general mass chaos and panic. It’s fun.

This installment stood alone better than the last one, and while it wasn’t quite as funny as some of the others, it still had a fair amount of Magnus being Magnus, and his dry, judgmental commentary on everything fills my decadent Gothy heart with glee, as always. The story kicks off with some jokes about Magnus deciding to become a private eye, and I am not sure the rest of the jokes ever quite top the opening two or three paragraphs, but that is okay, as they are quite excellent paragraphs. EDIT: This is the next Bane Chronicles story. That's what I get for reading them both in one sitting. Jesus, I have not misremembered something I've read this badly since I forgot about Nick going shirtless in The Demon's Lexicon. What is happening to my close reading skillz?! Anyway, if I am not still totally misremembering, I think this means that this installment is generally just more serious and its humor is much more dry and understated than some of the other ones.

It was also fun to read this in a fancy historic hotel and I think if I ever get around to writing an urban fantasy something, 88 Exeter Street will have to feature in it prominently.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In my ongoing quests to read more science fiction, read more short stories, support more non-big-name authors, and spend the last of my Amazon Promotional Credit, I decided to kill... *counts* four birds with one stone and purchase the ebook (which is the only form) of Dystopian Love by Jay O'Connell. Jay O'Connell is in the writing group I recently joined because the writing group is full of fancy creative people who actually finish stuff.

Dystopian Love contains eight stories, seven of which are solidly not just science fiction but truly speculative science fiction, with a science- or technology-based premise building into a story that explores how it affects us as humans. (The eighth story is essentially an extended sci-fi nerd joke.) The collection kicks off with a very well-done male pregnancy story (this surprised me, as the entirety of my experience with mpreg is Lord of the Rings fanfiction) and gets thoughtfully weirder from there. While there is one space story, most of these pieces deal with Earth-based issues--computerized banking, disease, self-aware and/or rogue AI, alternate timelines, human evolution, the dangers of living entirely off of peanut butter and oatmeal. The major theme in this collection is relationships, and the stories explore how the various sci-fi premises allow the protagonists to pursue familial or romantic relationships--or, in some cases, very convincing facsimiles thereof--in ways that would be impossible in our current reality. I think the AI stories are particularly well done, or perhaps just particularly well suited to this theme, but either way, I found them the most intriguing and enjoyable stories in the collection. The one about the guy trying to buy an illegal body for his AI son was a particularly great mix of cute, sad, and thought-provoking. (I do love a well-done baby cyborg story.)

This collection is self-published, but I believe many of the individual stories have been published in various places over the last several years.

Overall I very much enjoyed this collection, and it also got me thinking, which are two things that go very well together. If you like sci-fi and have a bit of a dark sense of humor, I would recommend it pretty strongly.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So the latest installment of The Bane Chronicles came out last week—The Midnight Heir, by Cassie Clare and the ever-fabulous Sarah Rees Brennan. (Has anyone noticed I have a huge girlcrush on Sarah Rees Brennan yet?)

In this one, which takes place in the very early twentieth century, Magnus goes back to London to check out a commission from Tatiana Blackthorn, who has gone certifiably batshit. Before he meets with her, he runs into—of all the unlikely things—a drunk, melodramatic, teenage Herondale boy making an arse of himself in semi-public! I believe this is the third generation of Herondales that Magnus has had this experience with, at this point. At any rate, this one is James Herondale, Will and Tessa’s son, and he can turn into shadow sometimes, and he keeps going on about being damned and shooting at things. Magnus finds this tiresome, and so deposits James back at the Institute, where he meets with Will and Tessa a Jem-now-Brother-Zachariah, and the authors work very hard to punch us in the feelings.

After this, Magnus has his meeting with Tatiana Batshit-thorn, and meets her ethereally beautiful ward, Grace. Tatiana won’t tell Magnus quite what her whole scheme is that she requires his services for, plus she’s rude to him in a typically Shadowhunter way even after going on a long angry speech about how she’s totally not a Shadowhunter, so Magnus politely tells her to bugger off and goes back home to New York. Also, he figures out that James is in such a teenage-Herondale-ish state because he’s in love with Grace and has no prior experience with unrequited love.

While I think this was probably the most well-written Bane Chronicles story so far in a lot of ways, I think I enjoyed it the least, because it wasn’t as funny as the others, and because it doesn’t really stand on its own—it seems to be more of a prologue to another novel. I think Magnus barely mentions his clothes once during this one! The authors seemed to be going more for a feelings-punching story than a vehicle-for-jokes story, which didn’t work for me. SRB is usually quite good at punching me in the feelings in her original stuff, but pretty much none of Cassandra Clare’s work does. I find both of their jokes very funny, though, which seems to make me the only fangirl who found What Really Happened in Peru more effective than The Midnight Heir.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, I’ve never tried to review a magazine before, but Clarkesworld magazines count as short story collections, so here goes.

First of all, Clarkesworld, Issue 73 has a fabulous cover, as always. I think this one has been nominated for something. We will pause to admire it.



All set? Good.

The first story in this issue is Genevieve Valentine’s A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones, which takes place in a human colony on Europa. Europa at this point is in the middle of a long and tenuous process of terraforming; humans have lived on it and slowly set up a permanent base over the course of five generations or so. Refugee ships periodically come from Earth, which is becoming increasingly uninhabitable due to unstable weather. (I find this bit rather depressing because I have serious doubts about whether or not humanity will get its shit together enough to start a workable space colony by the time Earth becomes too unstable to live on.) The main character in this story is Henry, an isolated youth who moved to Europa as a child and never really felt it to be home, hoping instead that the voyage to another of Jupiter’s moons—currently in the late planning stages—will yield a proper home instead. Henry works at the communications station, and starts a laconic (due to the time delay) but heartbreaking correspondence with Preetha, the woman working the comm station at Bangalore Ground Control. Though the story, like Henry and Preetha’s correspondence, is short, Valentine manages to explore a number of serious questions in it, about what “home” is, and the connection of humans to the rest of Earth’s natural life, and the significance of names and mythologies.

The second story is Theodora Goss’ England Under the White Witch, an alternate-history fantasy that takes place just after the Second (I think) World War, in which the White Witch comes down from the North and establishes herself as Empress of England. The story is told from the point of view of Ann, who was a young girl when the Empress first came down, and who establishes herself over the years as a decorated member of the Empress’ girl army. The thing I really like about this story is that it isn’t simplistic. A lot of people sympathize with the Empress and are more than willing to join her, and happily allow her to take over England, where she really does provide employment, equality, stability, etc. The only real, physical drawback is that wherever the Empress rules, it is always winter—meaning food needs to be either grown in greenhouses or imported, rendering it pale, tasteless, and expensive. The other main drawback is that, as a totalitarian state, it comes with many of the stifling loyalty and censorship issues characteristic of totalitarian states. It all strikes me as a metaphor for Communism, in a much more nuanced way than we usually talk about Communism—that there are real reasons so many people are eager to try it, and a lot of problems with the system itself and the system it replaces. It isn’t a coincidence that the women of England rally so eagerly behind the Empress from so early on, and the story never seems to condemn anyone for doing so. There’s also a strong thread about fairy tales running through this story, and the way they change as the world changes. I found this story to be simultaneously charming and disturbing, and it definitely made me think.

The third story, Yoon Ha Lee’s The Battle of Candle Arc, also made me think, but less about real-world history and politics and more about trying to figure out what was going on in the story. It’s a military story and an impressive feat of original sci-fi worldbuilding. As far as I can tell, the universe it takes place in is run by a coalition of various tribes that all have very different cultures; their ruling parties coalesce into a heptarchate. Power in this universe is heavily dependent upon a high calendar, which somehow seems to translate into real, tangible power that affects machinery and military tactics and stuff. I had no idea what mental images to even start building when Lee uses terms like “calendrical terrain” but the general effect of mapping military tactics onto a religious calendar isn’t that hard to follow if you have a basic grasp of both calendars and military tactics. The only thing I dislike about this short story is that it is a short story; it’s something I’d really like to see explored on an epic scale and explained enough that I could picture it. The storyline for this one follows Jedao, a military commander of the Shuos tribe/race/something, who are the scheming assassin ones. He’s been pulled off military leave to command a force of Kel, a highly disciplined military tribe, to fight off a force of Lanterners—a rebelling/heretical sect—after the Lanterners had given the main coalition a very embarrassing defeat. Jedao is engaging in psychological warfare as well as physical warfare, trying to figure out how to outwit the unknown Lanterner general despite being outnumbered. In some ways this is a fun, knotty strategy game of a story, but the tone is very serious, and it has some serious things to say about warfare, loyalty, and management.

Clarkesworld also features some nonfiction pieces after its featured stories; in this case, there was a really good essay about technological progress and some of the fallacious assumptions about technological progress that science fiction authors (and people in general) have tended to engage in; an interview with author John Varley about his newest apocalypse novel and being a hippie; and a short essay about book reviews, critique, and “practicing dissatisfaction”—in short, the author of this essay, Daniel Abraham, stopped writing book reviews when he realized it was causing him to look for stuff to criticize, and he’d rather just enjoy reading. I feel I should probably not have read all three pieces in one go, as they all deserve to be sat with and thought about separately.

The letter from the editor is at the back. Is this usual? I feel like I’ve only ever seen letters from the editor in the front. At any rate, it’s now slightly dated, which happens. Perhaps that’s why he decided to put it after all the literary stuff.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, the third Bane Chronicles story came out, and I forgot to review it, because I am a genius like that. I read it a few weeks ago, while in the middle of reading Snuff, so we'll see what I remember.

Vampires, Scones, and Edmund Herondale is the third installment of the Bane Chronicles, by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. In this one, Magnus is in London for the negotiations surrounding the Accords, the peace treaty between the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders. Magnus is bored by the treaties, annoyed at the condescension from the Shadowhunters, and makes lots of fabulous snarky comments about how stuck up they are. He also meets the lovely vampire Camille Belcourt, who is one of my favorite characters in the novels.

Besides the Accords stuff and the beginnings of Magnus' romance with Camille, the main plotline in this novella concerns Magnus befriending and going out clubbing (nineteenth-century style) with a young Shadowhunter named Edmund Herondale. Edmund is blond and handsome and likes excitement and gambling. He saves a lovely Welsh lady from a demon (while heavily intoxicated); when the lady takes it all very much in stride because, despite being a "mundane", she is a badass, Edmund falls in love with her.

So, Magnus' flirting with the lovely blonde Camille Belcourt covers the "Vampires" part of the title, and his hijiinks-ridden brief friendship and subsequent Deep Thoughts about the lovely blond Edmund Herondale cover the "Edmund Herondale" part, but where, you may be asking, do the scones fit into it? Basically, the scones are a running joke in which the only Shadowhunter who seems to be making any effort at all not to totally offend the Downworlders keeps breaking up the most awkward moments by offering tea and scones. The scones, apparently, are quite good. Even the mermaid liked them.

Overall, I do feel like the story itself, while having some interesting things to say about interspecies bigotry and the downsides of institutions that put a higher premium on duty than anything else, largely serves as a vehicle for jokes, which is something I am A-OK with in shorter pieces (my definition of a shorter piece being something that can be read, viewed, or performed in under three hours). The jokes are very good, even the ones that are not all that original are played really well (there's an instance of the old "Awesome Thing X doesn't fall out of the sky!" *X falls out of sky* "...Even More Awesome Thing Y doesn't fall out of the sky!" bit in there; I generally think that one's always funny but this was particularly so), and it's fun to play Guess Which Joke Is Cassie's And Which Is Sarah's (well, it's fun if you don't care that you'll never find out the answers). I would list more of my favorite jokes but since I feel like the point of the piece is jokes, they would all be spoilers. I will note that I think one joke is lifted directly from the Hunger Games; I do hope this was done purposely as an allusion/pop culture reference, and will assume that it was, since it is a very well-known line.

Anyway: Yay Magnus!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I read The Runaway Queen, the next installment of The Bane Chronicles, this one by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson, whose stuff I have not read but probably should.

This one is a bit less overtly silly than What Really Happened in Peru, although it does have its humorous bits, such as all of Magnus' clothes, and the time he accidentally winds up with a pet monkey and names it Ragnor.

Basically, Magnus gets roped into an attempt to help the royal family escape from the Tuilieries during the French Revolution, due to the amazingly attractive Count who pitches the job. On the same night, Magnus also has to attend a vampire party, otherwise he'll piss off the Paris vampires, and you do not want to piss off Paris vampires. Due to the royal family's general inability to get anything right, there end up being some problems with the escape plan.

Hot air balloons also feature heavily in this story.

I would say more but my head is terribly stuffed up so I'm not doing so great on the thinking front today. But this is a good story! I promise I read it and decided it was good before getting sick.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been unsure of whether or not I should blog What Really Happened in Peru has a whole book or not; it is a short story, possibly flirting with novella length (being about fifty pages); it will eventually be but one entry in a book entitled The Bane Chronicles, but right now it lives as its own ebook.

Anyway, it is by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. It concerns Magnus Bane, the most awesome character in Clare's Shadowhunter books, and also the only one who shows up in all of the books, because I think if there were a Shadowhunter book with no Magnus Bane in it all the fans would pine away and die. He is to be played by Godfrey Gao in the movie.

Godfrey Gao with a kitten, because all pretty boys are even prettier when holding kittens. Cue Sarah Rees Brennan saying "MORE LIKE MAGNUS BABE, AMIRITE LADIES?"

So... is this Cassandra Clare and her friends basically writing fanfiction of her own character? YES. Yes, it definitely is.
Do I give a shit? NO. NO I DO NOT.

This utterly lolarious little novella gives us a series of vignettes about Magnus' adventures in Peru with his cranky green warlock buddy Ragnor Fell and, in some cases, charming blue warlock friend Catarina Loss.

The writing style can mostly be described as "Identical to Sarah Rees Brennan's tumblr," which I am quite okay with, because SRB's tumblr is a great frickin' read. Even if she does use the word "beam" a lot.

The editing is not very tight and the amount of drinking that happens is reminiscent of nothing so much as a D&D game among people who are too young to actually drink. Again, I end up not really caring, because the things Magnus does while drunk are too funny, and more importantly, they're not portrayed en-scene; they are recounted to Magnus as he is dying of hangover as a means to embarrass him, which is amusing. Although not as amusing as the hangover cure they attempt.

The vignettes involve such wacky hijinks as Magnus almost getting attacked by an angry monkey in the rainforest, Magnus attempting to learn an instrument to impress a cute boy and failing utterly miserably, and Magnus being hired to guard an export ship filled with guano while wearing a jaunty hat. (While composing that sentence, I originally typed "guard an export shit".)

Most of all, this story is just full of lots of hilarious jokes. I first read it while eating ice cream and quickly learned that this was not going to work because ice cream is very painful when it winds up in your nose.

This story does not actually tell us why Magnus Bane was banned from Peru. Apparently a lot of people on Amazon are really upset about this. Too bad for them; it's not good to go into a story with too many expectations. Story is still funny and features lots of jaunty hats.

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