Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 3

Sometimes the first steps are the hardest, and that certainly seems to describe Frodo's dilemma.  Now that the conclusion has been drawn that he must take the ring away from the Shire, he drags his feet in making plans and preparations.  After several weeks Gandalf pushes Frodo to make solid plans, with an agreed on leaving date on his 50th birthday, several months away.  Turns out I made a mistake in chapter two, I read it as his 50th birthday had passed, not that it was still approaching.  While Gandalf accepts the date, he is quite adamant that Frodo and Samwise leave no later than September 22nd.  Taking care to not cause gossip is important, but they are now running against the clock.

Of course, it's not just a matter of leaving, but having a place to go, and to where else but Rivendell?  Now there's a location both Frodo and Sam can look forward to visiting, and one that serves Gandalf's purposes well.  I think it's particularly interesting that Gandalf comments on the growing peril of the journey.  True, in The Hobbit, Bilbo and company encounter the trolls, but that was considered an oddity, and on the journey home there were no dangers between Rivendell and the Shire.  Now the journey through civilization to the Last Homely House is marked as dangerous enough to make note of it.

None of them want gossip about Frodo leaving, at least leaving the Shire.  With an enemy at large seeking the ring, the last thing they want to do is to bring attention to their journey.  That being said, they definitely create quite a stir about Frodo's relocation within the Shire.  The selling of Bag End to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins probably caused nearly as much gossip as Bilbo's return from presumed death regardless of the rather sensible reason of moving to a smaller home out near his extended family.

If you're only familiar with the film, much of this chapter is going to seem completely out of left field.  For the most part, this chapter is completely excised from the movie.  Honestly, as someone who has read the books several times many of the details slip through my memory.  More than anything the plot involving Frodo moving to Crickhollow, accompanied by Sam as a gardner, serves to show quite how large the Shire is, something that I've never gotten from either the movies or The Hobbit.

Several months after Gandalf has left, with no word despite his promises to return, Frodo turns fifty and walks from Hobbiton to Bucklebury Ferry with Samwise and Pippin.  The excuse of being tired of nosy neighbors works well, as Frodo has reason to feel that beyond the Ring.  The arrival of a mysterious black cloaked rider questioning the Gaffer about a Mr. Baggins just makes the caution all the more called for.

The journey isn't all darkness and hinted at dread.  A little aside concerning a fox most puzzled and amused by the camping hobbits makes for a moment of levity up against the dreadful and compelling encounters with the black rider along the road.  And something is certainly in the air, with the same song coming to Frodo as did to Bilbo, about the journey on the road.  Perhaps this lends credence to Gandalf's belief that there are forces beyond that of the Ring and Sauron at work in the matter at hand.

Their meeting with the elves also hints at forces beyond that of simple chance.  Not just any elves, but high elves by their singing of Elbereth, their silver light and silver voices banishing the black rider as if it never was.  In fact their mien is one of teasing, similar to the music of the elves at Rivendell in The Hobbit, until Pippin's mention of the black rider catches them off guard and sombers their mood.

Gildor knows something of what lies ahead of Frodo, even if he does not know in full what Frodo bears with him that very moment.  It's hard to tell exactly what he knows and does not, with the games that elves play to hide their knowledge.  We do know that news of Gandalf's absence was unknown to them before, and upsetting to learn now, and while he will not share fully, we know that certain terror lies ahead.

The elves provide more than just respite.  They help us connect our starting story to the world and history at large.
"But it is not your own Shire," said Gildor.  "Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more.  The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out."
The Hobbit involved events with wider impact, but the focus was narrow.  The scope of The Lord of the Rings is drastically wider.

"Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill."
I like this reflection on advice, it's a good piece to reflect on.  Of course, even with that and without knowing the full details Gildor does give advice to Frodo.  Advice that closely mirrors the words of Gandalf, both in general and in reflection of hobbits.  "Courage is found in unlikely places."

For the most part very little of this chapter makes it into the movie.  Gandalf starts Frodo and Sam on the road immediately, with no time set aside dawdling, let alone selling Bag End and making a show of moving across the Shire.  Pippin (and Merry) won't come into play until later on, and the elves are completely absent.  We will get the black rider, sniffing for the Ring, and Frodo's overwhelming compulsion to put the Ring on, but again, not until later.  I like how they do it, but it won't be slotted in until further in their journey.

Gandalf does go missing, leaving to meet with Saruman immediately after setting the two hobbits on their journey.  For the most part I'm going to leave this passage aside, as I think we'll partially come back to it later on.  But I really like what they did in terms of lighting and set design here.  The strong contrasts make for some visually stunning moments with Saruman throughout the film, one of the things that stuck with me after the theater all those years ago.  Putting Gandalf's conflict here makes sense, removing the need for exposition later on to explain his absence, in addition to ramping up the overall tension.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 2

Bilbo's leaving has ripples within the Shire far beyond a year's worth of gossip and bother.

Among other things, along with Frodo's behavior following Bilbo's leaving, there's pretty much a permanent black mark on that branch of of the Baggins family.  Bilbo dismisses the expected disturbance as a matter of gossip for "a year and a day," but people talk about it so long that it morphs into the Legend of Mad Baggins, confabulating his adventures into an urban legend about a hobbit who disappears in a flash of light only to return with treasure.  Outside the realm of urban legend, the general consensus is that Bilbo finally went completely off the rails, came to some sort of unfortunate end after running off, and that Gandalf is all generally to blame.  Not that they are entirely wrong, Gandalf is generally to blame, and the ring did mess with Bilbo's mental state.

Frodo steps right up into Bilbo's shoes as the local eccentric rather than settling down and developing some "hobbit-sense."  There's not settling down and starting a family for Frodo, rather he stays living alone and keeps an active social life, particularly among the younger (and more Tookish) hobbits.  Rather than mourning Bilbo, Frodo continues on Bilbo's birthday party tradition for so long that the Shire stopped even questioning it.  What really marks Frodo as eccentric is his predilection for wandering, sometimes with Merry and Pippin, who suspect that on his own Frodo visits with the elves.

In many ways Frodo's life is in a holding pattern for some 20 years. The regret of staying behind never leaves him, yet he's never quite ready to follow in Bilbo's footsteps.  A certain restlessness pervades his life, as well as a curiosity about the world at large.  I can't help but wonder how much of the tug-and-pull on his life is the influence of the Ring, and on that unnameless other power that Gandalf sees in Bilbo rather than an orc finding the Ring.

Regardless of the insularity of the Shire, rumors of strange, and sometimes dark, happenings at the world at large do creep in.  Even rumors of ents are heard by hobbits who would avoid any news of far away lands.  Elves passing westward to the sea and not returning, dwarfs on the road in unusual numbers, and other strangers briefly infringing on the boundaries of the Shire as roads wind on.  Perhaps Frodo alone seeks out these travelers and the news that they carry.

Tolkien drops a lot of knowledge and foreshadowing on us in this interim.  We learn about Mordor and the growing power there that was once in the Mirkwood, the elves leaving Middle-Earth, the appearance of intelligent orcs and trolls, and that there are worse creatures yet to be named.  We even learn about the ents, though not by name (regardless of their mention earlier in this post), a bit of lore almost as forgotten as that of the hobbits.  All of these rumors come to play significantly in the story to come, even if the initial significance is lost on a new reader.

Gandalf's final return is a signal of change, a catalyst for our story.  We now know that the rumors are more than just idle chatter, the Ring is fully revealed as a major player in its own right, and exactly how close the Ring was to gaining control of Bilbo.  The importance of free will is introduced as well, the willing and voluntary surrendering of power.  And while not said, the importance of free will in accepting power, free will that Gollum never knew enough to properly exercise, and free will that will come in to play with Frodo later on.

The poem of the rings of power itself is one of those enduring pieces of literature, with a strong meter, though I am always left wondering when the translation from another language retains its meter and rhyme.  Of interest in the following history lesson is that the rings of power distributed among the races were not of Sauron's making, that he exerted his power over them and corrupted them as they fell to his touch.  The rings of the Elf-lords were held out of Sauron's reach, but even those are at risk should Sauron regain control of the Master Ring.

The history of the Ring is one of betrayal and corruption, the death of kings the cost of its emancipation from Sauron's hand.  Then the betrayal of it's next bearer, slipping from Isildur's finger as he escapes from orcs.  I feel that while the Ring corrupts, it does so best when the seeds already lie there.  Isildur came from a line of great kings, known for their selflessness and wisdom, he had no need for greater power or wealth.  Smeagol's fall to me is indicative of the sprouting of characteristics already present, a twisting of his existing curiosity and strength.  That his first act is to kill for ownership of the Ring, at a time when it's power has lain largely dormant for time unknown, must give the ring a stronger measure of control over him, and his actions afterward do not serve to benefit him but contribute to the spread of strife and discord until Smeagol is driven away.  As Gandalf remarks, Bilbo was rewarded for demonstrating pity and mercy rather than striking Gollum down.

That Gandalf tortures the truth of of Gollum stands out as a particularly dark detail, even when left at the vague "I put the fear of fire on him."  While Gandalf makes shows of power, by and large that is not his primary method of navigation through the world, generally relying on subtly and study.  Though Gandalf demonstrates his normal foreknowledge in predicting that Gollum will have some significant part to play in the fate of the Ring.

Ultimately, Frodo must resolve to leave the Shire, for himself and for the life that he knows.
"I should like to save the Shire, if I could - though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants to stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them.  But I don't feel like that now.  I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable."
There's a definite emphasis on the importance of home, of a place of sanctuary and peace.  In some ways this is a very hobbitish feeling, but it's also something that transcends race and is one of the reflective ideas that Tolkien has included in his fiction.

The chapter is presented to us here out of order in the film, opening with scenes of Barad-dur, Gollum's torture by agents unknown, and riders heading out.  It's extrapolation to say that Sauron's minions tortured Gollum, but considering the general demeanor of the parties, it's a reasonable assumption, and more palatable to the audiences than seeing Gandalf torturing him.  Our footage of Gandalf in this is of research, sharing with us the finding of the ring of power and further history of Middle Earth.

There's a general compression of about 20 years here, cutting the story rather neatly and concisely.  In having watched the full trilogy of both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, this neat trimming is almost shocking in retrospect.  In this case I think the trimming is to the actual passage of time, not just exposition.  In terms of overall story-line, this only gets squirrely when looking at the specifics of ages and dates, with some potential to effectively shrink the size distances traveled by significantly downplaying the time passed.

Once back at the Shire we're treated to a happy night out with a foreboding return to Bag-End.  Gandalf here is one possessed with concern bordering on fear, a fear that is infectious.  The mood of the scene is clearly communicated through tight focus and dark lighting.

We don't get the full "birth" of Gollum, here, but just enough to remind us of his connection to the Ring.  We will get this done beautifully at the beginning of The Return of the King, with Andy Serkis embodying Smeagol just as well as he did as the motion-capture basis for Gollum.  I like the full filming of the discovery of the ring, rather than relegating it to pure exposition. especially as Gollum becomes such a dynamic character through the films.

The discovery of Samwise is a break in the mood, with a misunderstanding on the meaning of "eavesdropping" and a plea to not be turned into anything "unnatural."  We do lose Samwise's joy at the opportunity to meet elves, and instead only Sam's dread and Frodo's relief at the companionship in his journey.  From here we jump immediately to Gandalf leading Frodo and Samwise on a day-time journey, instructing them to be wary of spies and to leave the name Baggins behind, before leaving them for tasks of his own.  This jumps a little ahead of the book, but is consistent with the pressing urgency of the story as portrayed through the film.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Arisia 2016

Like always, Arisia was chaotic and awesome.  For the past few years I've attended primarily in the capacity of staff which takes up a good chunk of my time, and this year we had to truncate our attendance due to work on Friday and Monday.  I also took part in three panels this year over the two days we were in attendance, so fun times.  Next year we're going out early Friday and coming back Monday evening... it really does make a difference.

I only had a brief time in which to check out the art-show, after the auction closed Sunday night.  The one frustration I've regularly had with Arisia is the hours things are open.  I'm used to late opening vendor rooms, but usually hand-in-hand with a vendor room opening at 10am or later, is that it stays open until maybe 8 or 9 (or later).  Maybe the few fandom conventions that I'm used to are the exception to the rule.  I was excited that the vendor room was open later than normal, which meant until 7PM instead of 6.  Programming starts somewhere around 8 am and goes until midnight (not including the movie rooms and LARPs).  On the flip side, this does allow vendors to attend evening programs with more ease.  So no purchases were made this year, even my annual re-stock of Tea & Absinthe blends.

In addition to panels I also managed to attend the Scalzi reading on Saturday, and get my copy of Lock In signed on Sunday.  The reading was phenomenal, and while we were asked not to talk about the specific details, the book he has coming out I think this summer sounds amazing from the excerpt we were treated to. Cannot wait for it to come out (well, I obviously I am waiting, but very very eagerly).  He also read to us a incredible blog post he wrote last year after being asked about raising strong women, and a hilarious piece about the gossip of smart appliances about their owners.  The Q&A after the reading had some great moments, including a discussion on "punching up" vs. "punching down" in comedy and why he strives for "punching up" when he's in the privileged position where "punching down" would be easier, and then at the end someone asked him about the differences between raising cats vs. children.

I also got to chat briefly with Max Gladstone, who's totally awesome and humored me when he heard some random lady (me) make a comment in the elevator about an author in the wild.  I recommend reading his books.

As for the panels, I had fun taking part, but totally wish I had the time to attend some.

Lovecraftian Intimacy: Body Horror & Mind Melds
Can you have noneuclidean love triangles? In this panel, we'll discuss telepathic bonds & body horror & how they play upon themes of separation, alienation & intimacy. These two tropes present with very different connotations and judgments placed upon them. Telepathic bonds are often portrayed in positive terms, where body horror has its connotation in its name. Are there instances where the horror of telepathy comes forward or where change and melding of the physical body are seen as positive?
With Alexander Jablokov (mod), Gabriel Squailia, Jeanne Cavelos, Catt Kingsgrave-Ernstein, and myself

This panel was loads of fun, and ranged all over the place.  It also involved explaining "the tentacle thing" and "one person's squick is another's squee."  In explaining the latter I gave an example of needles/injections being something that deeply unsettle me, complete with involuntary shiver, at which point the panest next to me said "See that shiver?  That's a what a squick feels like!"

It was not, as one might suspect, a panel about naughty tentacles, those they did come up.  Sex, fetish, eroticism, and taboo are clearly a part of this topic in both modern and historical settings.  In case you were wondering, erotic paintings of tentacally women is not a modern phenomenon.  If you weren't aware of this existing at all, I do not recommend doing an image search without SafeSearch on, unless you really want an eyeful.  

One of the more interesting directions I think the panel took was to talk about pregnancy in regards to body horror.  That was utterly fascinating, and not a direction I expected the discussion to go, even as someone who had something to add to the topic.  Another topic that came up was body-horror as a positive force in relation to trans and non-binary gender identities.  After all, what is more horrifying than being trapped in the wrong body?

The idea of inflicted wrongness of body and loss of control were a big part of all the discussions of body horror and mind melds, and nearly all of our discussion of mind-melds was in the context of horror.  Maybe mind-melds are often presented in a more positive context per the panel's description, but there's plenty of mind and body horror fodder available.

The Drowning World
From The Water Knife to Hurricane Fever, how are science fiction and fantasy taking on climate change, and what second order consequences are we missing?
With Alexander Jablokov (mod), Terry Franklin, Ken Gale, and myself

Small turn out for this one.  I guess 8:30 on Saturday night people are looking for parties or the racier panels.  We had some really neat input on the part of one of the panelists who's been hosting a environmentalist radio show for over a decade.  Overall, I'd have liked a bigger pool of titles for us to pull on in conversation than we were able to provide, but there was some great knowledge of early climate change fiction.  I introduced some of the folks to the term "cli-fi" which I've been coming across as a label for climate change science fiction.  Really good questions and talking points from the audience, though some were asking questions for which we have no answers (and that scientists themselves are trying to answer).

The Future of Disability in Literature
ST:TNG was famously critiqued for having a bald captain. "Won't the cure for baldness be discovered by then?" Roddenberry replied, "By the 24th century, no one will care." Most SF novels, if they include disabled characters at all, focus on a cure narrative. For the most part, the disabled seem not to exist. Let's talk about SF with universal access, visible disabled characters, and societies that don't force a cure and choose instead to accommodate everyone, regardless of disability.
With myself (mod), JoSelle Vanderhooft, Selkie, and Shira Lipkin

This one started out with a little bit of a shake-up.  For one thing it was preceded by a really fantastic panel that also happened to have amazing authors on it.  Also, FFS, how did I fail to realize that one of them was Daniel Jose Older?  Goddammit.  The short version is the panel went long, then many individuals in the audience (very understandably) wanted to talk one on one with the panelists (hell, I'd have been right there with them if I wasn't trying to get things set up for the panel I was moderating).  One of my panelists didn't show up, and another technically stepped out (but was in the audience offering fantastic contributions).  The latter tapped a really wonderful replacement as a surprise addition.  The listed names above are what was printed in the program, and doesn't reflect reality.

I came into this incredibly excited about the topic, to the point where I put together a slide-show with talking point highlights and some titles that fit within the scope of the presentation.  If you're curious it can be found here (please ignore the fantasy titles hidden at the end, the presentation was on SF).  Before I use this again, it definitely needs some tweaking.  I need to improve my attribution at various points, add several titles, expand the subjects, and rearrange or possibly even remove several titles.  Among other things, the representation of DID in Blindsight was considered rather offensive, so I have to figure out if it works better within "Speculative Disability" since it is full of deliberately created "disabilities" or if it should be removed completely.

I want to fold "disability as a metaphor" into the section on coding after some really stellar points brought up by the panelists and the audience, and I definitely have non-comic book examples of coding now.  The DaVinci Code isn't what I'd normally call SF, but the whole science & God thing, as well as the anti-matter bump it in that direction, and that gives me the "evil albino" stereotype.  The Giver was brought up as an absolutely horrifying book as read by a child with partial impairment and who was slowly losing their remaining sight, and blindness is often used as a metaphor for ignorance.

I'm also thinking about adding in a disclaimer at the start of the presentation if I do something like this again.  Something along the lines of "this list is flawed" and "polite suggestions and corrections are gladly received."  Because the list of books I included is flawed, regardless of the care taken in curation.  There are problematic titles here, and I'm super happy to learn about other titles that should be included.  Overall, even with the problems, the effort put into collecting the titles and the length of the list was appreciated.

One addition that needs to go in, or else I blank completely on it, is on the social vs. medical models of disability.  I took an absolutely fascinating class on bioethics last year, and I definitely wanted to pull on it more in this panel (Introduction to Bioethics).  Fortunately, I had panelists who were familiar with the social model of disability.

What I should have expected, but utterly didn't, was the sorts of inflammatory comments that might come from audience members.  The topic is one that is incredibly personal and complex to start with, then is further complicated by misunderstanding.  In particular someone tried to claim that sign language wasn't a full language and another made statements along the lines that mental illness diagnosis and pharmacy was largely a way of dismissing the "unwanted" parts of society.  The former was shut down immediately, the latter caused quite a bit of angry rebuttal from present individuals who needed medication for biochemical equilibrium.  I actually had to step in and bring the discussion away from personal diagnosis and experience stories back to literature.  This probably made for a more difficult than normal first time as moderator experience.  Now I no going in it expect issues, both accidental and deliberate, with opinions expressed.

SF Disability Representation Book List:
  • The Speed of Dark / Elizabeth Moon
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy / Douglas Adams
  • Postal (graphic novel) / Brian Hill & Matt Hawkins
  • Blindsight / Peter Watts 
  • Cinder / Marissa Meyer
  • Hawkeye vs. Deadpool (graphic novel) / Gerry Duggan
  • The Annihilation Score / Charles Stross
  • Nexus / Ramez Naam
  • Saturn's Children / Charles Stross
  • Empty Zone (graphic novel) / Jason Shawn Alexander
  • The Ship Who Sang (series) / Anne McCaffrey
  • Accessing the Future : A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction / Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (eds)
  • Hammered (series) / Elizabeth Bear
  • Lock In / John Scalzi
I will be doing talks and panels similar to this in the future, though for those I intend to expand generally into speculative fiction, allowing me to pull in fantasy and likely horror.  I'm waiting to hear back about presenting at a conference next month on the subject, and at the very least I'll be applying to present at a local library conference.  This is a topic that is very close to my heart, and I likely have my mom to thank for that.  I want to expand my knowledge about the topic and see where I can go with it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 1

Our return to the Shire is filled with expectation and exultation.  September 22nd approaches, the 111th birthday of one Bilbo Baggins, and the 33rd birthday of his favorite nephew (and heir), Frodo Baggins.

Coming fresh from reading The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring starts on a very familiar note.  The Shire is a small, familiar, community; the type of community where everyone knows everybody else's business.  We get a fanciful and happy setting, one where someone going on an unexpected journey sixty years ago is still one of the most outrageous things gossiped about.

"Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return."
Like the rumors of his death, the rumors of Bilbo's wealth were greatly exaggerated.  Though our Mr. Baggins is certainly well off, it has been clearly stated that Bilbo came back from his adventure with the two small chests rather than enough riches to fill his halls like a dragon's hoard..  Bilbo has a reputation for being incredibly generous, with both gifts and money, and the amount he spends on his last birthday sounds staggering.  I'm wondering if he had some sort of business interests with the dwarfs, or if the economy of Hobbiton is incredibly limited.  On the other hand, he was a reasonably well off hobbit beforehand, and I believe gems generally have a very high value per weight as compared to gold.

The hobbits overall remind me of the archetype of old timers with black socks pulled up to their knees while wearing socks and shorts, complaining from their porches about "kids these days" and the shenanigans of their neighbors.  They talk about things being unnatural and queer... things like sailing boats on a large river, or the potential harm coming from someone learning their letters.  By and large, gossip and griping seems to be the regional pastime, along with eating, a mostly harmless activity.  Though one thing they did get right, though not any way they could have imagined, is their speculation about Bilbo's extended youth.  "It will have to be paid for," they said.  "It isn't natural, and trouble will come of it!"
"If that's being queer, then we could do with a bith more queerness in these parts.  There's some not far away that wouldn't offer a pint of beer to a friend, if they lived in a hole with golden walls.  But they do things proper at Bag End.  Our Sam says that everyone's going to be invited to the party, and there's going to be presents, mark you, presents for all - this very month as is."
Thanks, Gaffer.  Even as harmless and ineffective as the community gossip may be, it's only right that someone stands up for Mr. Bilbo.  After all, the only thing Bilbo did wrong is to have an adventure and remain friends with folks from beyond the Shire.  It must be the Tookish side of the family.

Some of the gossipy and codgerness of the Shire likely comes from the close-knit and extended nature of both the community and its families.  Obviously our story focuses most on the family lines tied to Bilbo and Frodo, but the Birthday Party clearly gives representation to whole hobbit clans.  I thought it was of particular interest that Frodo is related to Bilbo from both sides of the family, though through graduations that avoid that whole messy inbreeding issue.

We're introduced to Gandalf as part of rumor and as one of the many "odd" visitors coming through Bag-End.
"...and the old man was Gandalf the Wizard, whose fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes, and lights.  His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it."
In The Hobbit, Bilbo clearly has little idea of who Gandalf is, beyond association of the name with memories of grand fireworks.  Gandalf's long association with hobbits may be something of a conceit where he enjoys passing as little more than a simple conjurer, at least until he decides to stir things up a little bit.  Undoubtedly, part of his long association is part of his wizardly accumulation of knowledge and worldly lore, especially as the hobbits largely sidestep notice in Middle Earth.  It is however clear that among the hobbits, his presentation as little more than an old man is deliberate, unlike when he spends time among the other races where folks associate the name Gandalf with power.

Everyone knows Bilbo is up to something.  The gossiping busy-bodies about the Shire, his family, his friends.  Only Bilbo and Gandalf know the full scope of his plans.

The party itself is more like a faire than a party, with tents and pavilions.  There are open air kitchens and a tent on scale to envelop a huge tree.  The party itself is a full day affair, filled with entertainments, and of course, lots of food.  This is a hobbit party after all, and as we all know, hobbits are serious about their enjoyment of and revelry in food.  I do love the idea of giving presents on one's birthday.  Of course, I'm utter shit at presents most of the time, but I could totally manage some sort of fun little party favor present for all guests.  Or I'd just give people books (like I don't do that most of the time already).

Bilbo's dinner speech has always been one of my favorite moments in the story.  It's both irreverent and serious.
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
Otherwise of importance here is the acknowledgement of Frodo coming of age, and into his inheritance, and Bilbo saying "goodbye" to the Shire for the final time.  This time he won't be coming back, but declaring him dead won't matter.  Poor Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Bagginses.  Color the general hobbit populace less than amused at the whole mad spectacle (ie. anything that may put them off their appetite).  Of course, regardless of the rudeness of Mr. Baggin's little joke, what really matters to the locals is that he didn't make off with the food as well.

I don't think I picked up on Tolkien's love of numerology in earlier reads, but numbers clearly play an important role.  The Hobbit largely starts out with Bilbo fulfilling the role as the 14th member of the party, an "auspicious number."  Here in the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Rings we learn about the importance of Bilbo's age (111), Frodo's age (33), and the number of guests invited to the "small" family dinner at Bilbo's birthday party (12 dozen, or the sum of Bilbo's & Frodo's ages).

Those in on the joke aren't exactly of placid mindset either.  To Frodo the Ring is more of a magical trinket than an item of great power, but he really likes his uncle.  Gandalf knows something is off about the ring, but not quite what, and it's not until Bilbo starts revealing that he feels "all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." or that he starts freaking out about leaving the ring behind and calling it "precious" that he realizes quite how significant the ring may be.  Then Bilbo is off on the road with some dwarfs, singing a song that is very similar to what he sings on returning to the Shire all those years ago.  Now the Ring is in Frodo's custody, with Gandalf warning against it's use.

Gossip really is a mainstay of hobbit life, and for all that Frodo has long been established as Bilbo's heir, and the further public announcement that Frodo has now come into his inheritance, curious treasure hunters come knocking.  Who knows how a rumor of a free estate sale was started, but the rumor spread and Frodo has his hands full trying to keep interfering neighbors from doing damage.  I love the presents that Bilbo has selected for his neighbors and relations, particularly the bookshelf.  There is quite a bit of sass in the selections and dedications.

But eventually things are settled down and straightened out, thanks in part to the help of good friends and relations like Merry Brandybuck.  Then Gandalf shows up for a final warning to protect the ring and to not use it, then he's off, leaving Frodo to settle into his new life and to start feeling the tug of an adventure of his own.

The film introduces us to Frodo immediately, without the preamble focusing on Bilbo's odd status in the Shire.  While the story will grow to encompass multiple threads, at it's center we are presented with Frodo, who is framed as "rather eager and curious for a Hobbit," wanting to know everything that is occurring in the world at large.  A rather un-hobbitish attribute if you don't mind me saying.  We also meet Gandalf, with the ever famous "A wizard is never late... nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to," and laughter.

We get nearly a word-for-word translation of Bilbo's revelation about feeling "stretched thin," pulled in before the party, and I think this fits well here.  I'm glad they kept it, as this stands to me as an important line.  We also get clear references and tributes to The Hobbit, perhaps part of the initial hope that they'd get to make that film at some point in addition to giving us context to Bilbo's desire to see the mountains again.

The party itself isn't the full day affair of the text, but is still a respectable affair with fantastic catering.  While it's Bilbo's party, it serves to provide a snapshot of hobbits and to establish relationships of our four future Fellowship hobbits.  Samwise Gamgee may be an employee/apprentice to an employee of Bilbo, but the relationship between Sam and Frodo is clearly one of childhood friends rather than employee and employer (or apprentices in each role).  Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took are solidly cast as both a team and as troublemakers.

The speech itself is not limited to a particular "small" gathering of a gross of hobbits and is slightly shortened.  It's a solid speech that didn't need tinkering to come off strong, so it works well (and they kept my favorite line).  What strikes me as interesting is the level of surprise displayed by both Frodo and Gandalf.  The following scolding delivered by Gandalf back in Bag-End I'd say supports the idea that he didn't know the ring was going to be used.

The Ring itself also gets established as perhaps not just a notable artifact, but as a character in its own right.  The behaviors of Bilbo and the Ring stays very true to the book, with Bilbo's sudden un-hobbitlike paranoia and possessiveness concerning the ring.  Throughout The Hobbit there are references to the Ring having a mind of its own.  Now, early on in The Fellowship of the Ring Jackson gives us shots framed by the Ring's point of view.  It's hard to really convey the idea of an object having a mind of it's own, but combined with music and lighting this visual framing really gives us the feeling of malevolent thought from an object.  This brings our viewing section to an end as Frodo enters as the master of Bag-End for the first time, and is warned with deep feeling to keep the ring secret and safe, and to never use it, while Gandalf disappears into the night in pursuit of answers.

Overall, the film opens very true to the book, with pieces moved around here and there.  We get reference to "the long expected party," and Gandalf's reputation as a troublemaker.  Other details, like the early treat of firework for the hobbit children, are not true to the text, but enrich the setting detail.  I think the casting of Ian Holm and Ian McKellen was inspired, to the point that I had trouble imagining anyone else as Bilbo when I heard about the casting of The Hobbit.  There is fantastic interplay between the two of them.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Arisia Bound!

Actually, I'm here, settling in, but I'll be spending the next few days out and about, or otherwise occupied, so there'll largely be radio silence.

I'll try to get my write up for Chapter 1 of The Fellowship of the Rings done in time, but I probably won't.

Meanwhile, if you're about, here's where you're guaranteed to find me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

[Book Review] Empty Zone Vol.1: Conversations with the Dead

Empty Zone Vol. 1: Conversations with the Dead / Jason Shawn Alexander (Powell's Books)

Empty Zone gives is a gritty cyber-punk future set 80 years after a world-wide blackout.  Corinne White is a relic from days when people trusted networks and remote storage for data, literally built to seek out and siphon off those digital secrets as a tool in a corporate espionage war.

Now she lives on the fringes of society, a data-courier and black-market specialist.  There are no others like her anymore.  Just the ghosts and memories, which end up as more than faintly remembered artifacts when they are the remnants of people who consumed information, even if their bodies have rotted away and forgotten them.

This graphic novel is dark, haunting, mournful, and gorgeous.  The artwork is evocative and layered, perfectly matching the story.

Corinne herself is deadly, depressive, and determined.  Her reality is warped by the changes in her physiology, the trauma of her past, her past actions, and by the intervention of technology around her.  The art style is a perfect compliment to the story, both for the gritty setting and for the emotional state of Corinne.  Highly enjoyed this read.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Monday, January 11, 2016

[Book Review] Carter & Lovecraft

Carter & Lovecraft / Jonathan L. Howard (Powell's Books)

Daniel Carter was just another homicide cop, until things shifted in his life when they apprehended a serial killer obsessed with discovering accessing alternative realities, and who was using amateur brain surgery on young boys to further his studies.  Life as a P.I. didn't turn out to be glamorous, but it helps him escape a strangeness that won't leave him alone.

At least, that was the plan, and that's what he keeps telling himself.

But an unexpected inheritance, then an unexplained murder, keep bringing him back into something he'd rather not face or discover.  Resignation isn't really an option this time around.

I'm left feeling a bit unsure of how I feel about this book.  I was really excited about it when I first found it, and it definitely has a solid premise.  In the end, there's a certain eeriness that it never hits, and a certain amount where I feel like the book is just leading the reader around by the nose.  I feel like the premise, and even the title, are solidly aimed at readers who have a good idea of who H. P. Lovecraft was, and may even recognize the name Randolph Carter, let alone many of the other references laced throughout, and the story doesn't really deliver for that audience.  It's not a bad read, a light procedural novel with a bit of the eldritch, just one that I expected more from.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of St. Martin's Press (Macmillian) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Favorite graphic novel films

I've done my fair share of ripping apart film adaptations over the years, even in cases of films I enjoyed, when the changes pushed on irreconcilable.  Most recent examples of this can be seen in my recaps of The Hobbit as I do a chapter by chapter read-through, paired with the movies.  Combine that with a tendency to be highly critical of details, well, it's easy for me to give the impression of hating something I actually like.

For a change I wanted to highlight some graphic novel/comic book movies (I'm sidestepping TV shows for the time being) that are near and dear to my heart for various reasons.  On a side note, I'm really hoping that Deadpool becomes a member of this list.

Tank Girl


There are so many ways that the movie is nothing like the books, but I just don't care.  If anything, they took a gloriously anarchy of events and shoved the idea and setting into a plot-line, without really caring how nonsensical it ended up.  The movie feels like it belongs within the stories of the comic book pages, and there are so many little visual tributes to the source material.  Many of Rebecca's shirts, the beer, the accessories on and about her tank, the spot on appearances of both protagonists and antagonists (Sgt. Small for example), and the snippets from the actual source material just ring so true.  There was dedication to Jamie & Adam's vision, and they were there as part of the process.

I'd say the whole post-comet apocalypse setting is a bit of a reach... but I should probably ask some Australians about that.  The W&P bit does rob of us of some... quality fart jokes though, but in return they do give us Malcolm McDowell.  The SF aspect is a bit wacky, but the comics don't go out of their way to stay realistic, and I've always been puzzled by how grossed out Sgt. Small is about two ladies kissing.  Overall, none of that is what I remember or what stands out.  Rebecca's humor, her antics at Liquid Silver, the costuming, the attitude, and the Tank, that's what stands out to me.   I probably quote from this movie in day-to-day life way more than I should.

Fun fact - in order to keep the film rated R they had to limit the number of times they used the word "fuck," resulting in some creative substitutions.

I do wish I could have seen the movie that was originally made, before it was re-cut and edited.

The Crow

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have two things to admit.  The first is for years I had no clue this was a comic book.  The second is I've dressed up as Eric Draven for Halloween, complete with bullet casing fastened in my hair.  I'm willing to admit I might be biased in my opinion of both the movie and comic.

Rewatching the movie 20 years after its release, I'm struck by how well it holds up.  They kept the effects simple, leaving less CGI to age poorly, and in my opinion, it benefits from letting the acting and setting convey the story rather than using effects as a crutch.  The biggest indication of it's age is the lack of ever present technology that we take for granted in our every day life.  That, and I suppose the whole goth club scene which I keep hearing died out in the 90's, but I wouldn't know anything about that considering the only type of clubbing I ever attend is the goth/industrial nights.

There are some narrative and minor plot point changes, but the film largely stays true to the comic book setting.  At the very core, this is a story about deeply felt personal loss, of anger at the forces that took it away, guilt at surviving, and an inability to turn away from reliving the memories again and again.  Characters were built out more, as was the mythos surrounding the crow itself.  Small details like the location and motivation of the attack, who died first and who was in intensive care for hours before dying changed.  The film loses some of the dark poetry, but instead translated it into Eric Draven as a musician, giving us his lyrics rather than those of others.  My preference for dark, personal, and potentially violent poetry as a depressed teen aside, I still find this to be a gorgeously done graphic novel.

Sin City

I went into this one having read the graphic novels first and was floored at how closely the movie matched them.  It was like watching an animation of the illustrations I had so recently paged through, and I really liked the dark, gritty, and creepy (this movie will change how you see Elijah Wood) noir graphic novel.  For me the biggest jar of the movie was that it brought volumes one, three, and four to the screen, rather than say, volumes one through three.  The whole experience was one of "this is what I want from a comic book adaptation."  Unfortunately, Frank Miller himself is a bit of a issue.  I have not seen Sin City : A Dame to Kill For (actually, I wasn't aware that it was already out until I started writing this post... whoops).

V for Vendetta

So yeah, the movie differs noticeably from the graphic novel, mainly in that it is greatly pared down, streamlined, and cleaned up.  Among other things, Evey isn't underage or resorting to prostitution to make ends meet, there's Fate (and therefore no love story between the Leader and Fate), and it's more of a generic "world falling apart" setting than this is the Britain that lost WWII.  There's no way for the film to encompass everything in the comic.  But the result is a beautiful piece of subversive art that captures the core of the source material and that on first viewing I was left surprised that the movie was made in the current political environment.

V is a terrorist who uses not only violence but art to fight against the cage built around them.  He's collected relics of culture that have been otherwise eliminated into his Shadow Library, an archive of artistry.  V kills his targets with an efficiency that unsettles the investigators, but at the same time he represents compassion and understanding, telling Evey that who she is inside is not dependent on the actions of those who seek to make her into a statistic.  The power of the comic is how it builds on the history that was and creates a today that could have been.

The comic has poetry, referential prose, but what the film really added was music, the soundtrack.  There is some music in the comic, but it's limited, present as a prelude or a small detail, less a part of the living story.  Additionally, they take the poetry of the graphic novel and infuse it even deeper into the story with quotation and rich word play.  This is part of the life that is brought into this adaptation.  The movie becomes about the infection of an idea and the strength of unity.  Evey doesn't become V, which is unfortunate, but she continues the cycle as storyteller and chronicler of the idea.

And while the movie pares away so much, development (or even inclusion of) many side character relationships and quirks, so many other passages and little details were left nearly complete.  We have Valerie's letter, when V comes for Delia Surridge, V's death, the dominoes, and much more.  Other changes, such as Gordon's sexuality, for me add to the story.  There is so much feeling and emotion brought in.  Perhaps ironically, the one thing they pared away that we all recognize these days is V as a hacker.

The Mask

It's honestly hard for me to know where to start in comparing the film and the first volume of The Mask.  The differences likely even outnumber the similarities, but like Tank Girl, the movie did such an excellent job capturing the idea of The Mask that I remain happy with the end result.  It's a story of chaotic, violent, and cartoonish madness, by someone who wants more from life.  The movie just decided to focus more on the cartoonish madness than the bloody chaos.

Starting off, we do get Stanley Ipkiss, and he is a bit of a wet rag, but where the movie keeps Ipkiss as the Mask for the duration, in the comics he goes hardcore asshole, ends up being killed by his girlfriend (in what could be considered a bit of preemptive self-defense), and several different individuals end up donning it for their own ends.  The role in the movie of Ipkiss becomes a blending of the different bearers, including that of his girlfriend and the cop hunting the "Big Head," and we see snippets of their antics laced throughout the film even if the context is modified.  I'm not a big Jim Carry fan, rubber-man humor isn't my bag of tea, but he nailed this part.

I think the biggest thing I miss from the film is Kathy, who I feel they attempted to vaguely preserve in Cameron Diaz's Tina Carlyle.  She's the romantic interest of Ipkiss, plays games with Lt. Kellaway, gets tangled up with the mob, and is the story's femme fatale.  Unfortunately she's more of a sex kitten sidekick role, though I think she would have been amazing given the chance to wear the mask.

Kathy certainly take the femme fatale role to a whole new level.

The comic's humor is darker and pulls on it's own absurdity, as the wearers lose their conscience and social inhibitions.  The movie takes the elements of best intentions gone wrong and blends it with outlandish disregard for reality.


This one is on the list for adorableness.  This one is more of an illustrated novel than comic book, but it's sweet and enjoyable.  I actually have never read the graphic/illustrated novel version of Stardust, so it's a bit of a cheat including it at all.

Re-watching the movie was a reminder in how much I enjoyed this film (and left me wondering why it had been so long since I had watched it).  The story is delightful, layered, and magical.  Under the adventure and whimsy it has elements of a traditional fairy tale, but instead of a morality tale it focuses on the uniqueness of one's true self.  Or to quote another favorite movie of mine it has "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..."

The differences between the book and the film are staggering.  The book has a greater cast of characters and flavor text building and shaping the experience.  By and large most of various helper characters have been removed or otherwise consolidated into simpler details.  Little things, like our first hinted interaction with the star is her swearing, make for delightful details, but "fuck" is not exactly how we generally introduce a character in what approaches an all-ages film.  Other things from the book made it to the page with almost no changes at all.

Honestly, I really like the creation of Captain Shakespeare for the film.  I feel that he adds a lot to the theme of individuality, and is a really great vehicle for Tristan's growth.  The magical heritage that bestows a sense of true direction to Tristan in the book is useful, but I like the story better without that magical surety.  Oddly, I actually like it better as a more developed love story as well, even if some of that is at the expense of other characters.

Both versions give us the growth of Tristan from a dreaming, unfocused youth, to something of a hero, the witches, the royal brothers, the ghosts, and the feeling of a fairy tale journey remain.  I might actually prefer the film to the book, but they are both quite delightful.

The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Prologue

Wherein we learn that hobbits had rather much to do out and about in the early days of Middle Earth.

The prologue gives us a very compressed socio-political history of the Hobbits and of the Shire itself, as well as reinforcing the link of Bilbo and Frodo to the greater story arc itself.  Of particular interest is the prologue's addressing of the contradicting stories of Bilbo, Gollum, and the Riddle Game, and in light of Tolkien's revisions to The Hobbit after writing The Lord of the Rings, it makes sense.  It's a rather clever way of handling it, attributing it to the ring's influence and Bilbo as an unreliable narrator, rather than pretending the different version never existed.

The prologue as it is, also stands a bit as a spoiler for what's to come.  If we're coming into this from The Hobbit we know of Bilbo, Thorin, and Gandalf.  We have no clue yet who Frodo, Samwise, Peregrin, Meriadoc, or many others are, but we know that they play important roles, and that (especially for Merry and Pippin) they go on after our story to do great works.  For those of us who have read The Lord of the Rings before, this prologue serves to remind us that the end of an age is coming.

Gorgeous use of voice over, slowly revealing the film itself.  Special effects-wise I think they kept a good balance here, in particular the fact that the massive armies don't look overly mechanical stands out to me.

The history here is that of Middle Earth, the races, and the Ring itself, rather than a focus on the Hobbits and their part in the larger history beyond their lands.  Cinematically, this makes a lot of sense, it gives us the crux of the setting without any spoilers and without taking up a significant chunk of time.  The Lord of the Rings is a story that goes to very dark places, but has some incredible moments of light and joy.  This prologue lets us know about the encroaching shadows before we start into a rather delightful and fanciful beginning, as well as setting the stage for the important role hobbits will play in the fate of Middle Earth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

[Book Review] Taking the Lead

Taking the Lead (Secrets of a Rock Star) / Cecilia Tan

Ricki Hamilton is celebrity royalty, heiress to a billion-dollar legacy between her grandfather's mansion and his media company... and to running the private dungeon in the family home.  Fortunately she has her sister to help her face the challenges that arise, as they transition from being an associates grandchildren to being the ones in charge.  They're no stranger to paparazzi and media sensationalism, between their family's media productions, their wealth, her grandfather's parties, the death of Ricki & Gwen's mother, and their father's alcoholism, there is more than enough for the news hounds.  Ricki believes the only way to counter it is present herself to the world as an "ice queen," with any hint of passion or sexuality that could be used to discredit her.  Then a rock star with a bad-boy/playboy stage image tumbles into her life and (literally) carries her off.  Axel Hawke can't get Ricki out of his head or the memory of how she feels off his skin, but with Ricki terrified of meaningful intimacy and the surrendering to Axel that she desires so much, the two have their work cut out for them.

Honestly, the premise of Taking the Lead is a little ridiculous, but Tan takes it and runs with it.  She wrote a hot erotic romance that has more to the story than just sex.  There are interwoven story lines, including sexism in the film industry, personal and family growth, and some really good friendships.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Forever (Hachette) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

[Book Review] Revisionary

Revisionary (Magic ex Libris) / Jim C. Hines (Powell's Books)

A year ago Issac revealed the existence of magic to the world, dreaming of the freedom to use magic to make the world a better place.  But the revelation left many people scared and confused, and others hungry for the power it offered.  Even the Porter-run New Millennium is at risk of falling victim to power-games by the government officials.  A dream to heal the world is stymied by politics and legislation, while other's push for projects with tactical and military potential.  Meanwhile increasing threats to the magical population has some pushing back, which may be exactly what the powers that be want.  As a Porter, Issac is no stranger to fighting against misuse of magic, but with a threat so much bigger than he, does he have the wit and resources to protect what really matters?

Issac and his friends are facing a real and present danger, one that they don't all expect to survive.

All of the Magic ex Libris books have an element of dark danger mixed with a rather cheeky literary sense of humor.  It is completely reasonable to expect a scene where monsters are battled with the works of Prachett, and Smudge is a fire spider (pulled from a different series by Hines) that eats gummi worms and chases a laser pointer like a kitten.  But these elements exist within plots that contain monsters, corruption, and great personal sacrifice.

Revisionary is the darkest, and uncomfortably relevant to the world we live in.  Fear-mongering, calls for registration of all magical individuals, consideration of containment camps, turning human rights into privileges, and domestic terrorism.  The pain and fear caused by painting a widely defined population as dangerous (though, admittedly, some of them are very dangerous) when all they want to do is just be is woven throughout.

A fast-paced, creative, and clever continuation of the series.

Also reviewed:
Codex Born (Magic ex Libris #2)
Unbound (Magic ex Libris #3)

Apparently I never officially reviewed Libriomancer.  Whoops.  (Sorry Jim)

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Virtual Speculation 2016 Picks

Going forward into year 3!  Trying out a book club community page over at BookLikes, as well as book chatting with good friends.  I'd be totally down to do video chat book discussions again if various interested parties had compatible free time.

I haven't read anything on this list yet (well, I just started Lock In the other day, but it was already on the list beforehand).  Some of these are selected from new releases, some of them I discovered by reading Women in Science Fiction, and several are suggestions from friends.  I haven't even read anything by most of the authors here, but everything I've been reading has me excited to change that.  On average we have some distinctly quicker reads than previous, with some YA, novellas, and short novels thrown into the mix.

February: Lock In / John Scalzi
March: Midnight Robber / Nalo Hopkinson
April: Shadowshaper / Daniel Jose Older
May: Boy, Snow, Bird / Helen Oyeyemi
June: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever / James Tiptree, Jr (Alice Sheldon)
July:  Lexicon / Max Barry
August: Dawn / Octavia Bulter
September: Time Salvager / Wesley Chu
October: Dark Orbit / Carolyn Ives Gilman
November: The Snow Queen / Joah D. Vinge
December: The Emperor's Soul / Brandon Sanderson

[Book Review] The Subs Club & Pain Slut (The Subs Club)

Disclaimer: This is a review of two erotic novellas about people who get off on what some readers may consider rather horrible things being done to them in consensual situations.

The books in this series portrays kink in a manner that you are not likely to have encountered in popular erotic romance (Fifty Shades of Grey, Bared to You, etc).  Depending on your general stance, you'll end up either shocked or thrilled at the kink play within.

The Subs Club series follows a group of four men still mourning the loss of their friend due to carelessness during an edge-play scene at a BDSM club over a year ago.  These are the stories of them reconciling their loss, developing relationships, growth, and hot and heavy sexy times.

The Subs Club (Subs Club #1) / J. A. Rock

It's hard to cope with the pain of what should have been an easily avoided death, even harder when people tend to respond with "that's the risk you run."  Seeing the dom responsible for Hal's death welcome back in the club is just a little too much for Dave and his friends.  Subs are putting themselves at the literal mercy of doms, maybe it's time for subs to build up a little protective knowledge.

And so the Subs Club is born, a private web blog where subs can rate and review doms, raising awareness of doms who don't respect limits or treat their play partners poorly.  The "Disciplinarian" comes across as exactly the sort of dom who needs his arrogance checked, and Dave decides he's exactly the one to review him.

Of course, things rarely go as planned, especially when internet communities are involved.  Dave becomes a bit more entangled than planned, and real emotions were never part of the plan.  The private blog's popularity causes an explosion in membership, and soon a the personal attacks start hitting close to home, not just online but in person.

Now they need to figure out what's important, and how to save the good in the face of misunderstanding and misuse.

Dave is definitely a bit of a sassy brat, and he loves it.  But he also tends to be brash, insensitive, and disorganized... and happens to have a preference for being put in his place by a strong man.  How much of his behavior is really him, and how much is an act to keep from dealing with problems?

The Subs Club focuses on a discipline based relationship, where scripted rules are part of the play, and breaking the rules results in punishment.  The relationship is convincing, with great push and pull between Dave and the Disciplinarian, as well as between Dave, his friends, and the community at large.  Additionally, there's a great discussion on communication and creating safe spaces for people to explore and enjoy their sexualities throughout the book.

Pain Slut (Subs Club #2) / J. A. Rock

The Subs Club was founded for a great reason, and what it's done is great, but when looking at the bigger picture, maybe it's time for Miles to step away from it and kink completely.  Family's always been an important goal, and with his own home and business now seems to be the time to go forward with adoption even if he's going in as a single parent.  He's already fighting stigma as a gay man, and how can he expect to even have time for kinky play as a parent, so why risk the adoption agency disqualifying him for it?

The plan for quitting kink isn't going quite so well, Miles keeps ending back up visiting an old play partner.  Then, Miles meets Drix, a handsome man who Miles can't keep his mind off of, and who has some non-traditional foibles of his own.  Actually, Drix catches Miles a bit off guard with his own revelations.  But the attraction won't be denied, and not only that, but Drix might actually be the sadist that Miles has been looking for all along to balance his masochism.

Miles needs to come to terms with who he is and what he wants, and how that fits in with who he wants to be.

Pain Slut continues the story started in The Subs Club, and the Subs Club itself has grown as a support network and information venue for both the curious and experienced within the local BDSM scene.  The players here know that what they're doing is dangerous, and that both sides have their limits and needs.  In particular, the central relationship of Pain Slut is between a masochist and sadist, and how they grow and learn together.  Miles likes things that hurt, not in a magical fantasy sort of way, but because of the pain and the nature of the sensations he goes through.  Pain Slut is a more raw story than The Subs Club, building on the groundwork already laid, and going further in terms of character emotion and development.

Advance Reader Copies courtesy of Riptide Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

[Book Review] Unbound

Unbound (Magic ex Libris) / Jim C. Hines (Powell's Books)

Now available in paperback.

The wake of a a magical attack has left Isaac Vainio locked away from his magic for his own protection surrounded by the wake of the damage done to his hometown.  The attack itself has been wiped from the memories of the residents, and the existence of the Porters and magic still a closely guarded secret.  Or is until a letter revealing magic, the Porters, and the existence of the Porter archives to the world appears in A Dance with Dragons.  Even more pressing to Isaac is his once-student Jeneta, now possessed by a woman locked-away in a magical prison for a thousand years and working to tear apart the Porters and the world itself.  Isaac knows he can't give up, but even if he can get his magic back will he be able to do enough?

One thing I really liked about this book is really getting to know other characters more.  The cast of characters hasn't expanded greatly, but we get more time with them.  Johannes Gutenburg and Juan Ponce de Leon are actively in play, in addition to those close to Isaac like Lena Greenwood and Nidhi Shah.  The challenges and use of magic are creative, and I love the intricacy of the puzzle Isaac must solve.

In past books, Isaac has had the Porters to help handle the trouble he gets into.  In Unbound he's on the outs, not even allowed to talk with anyone in the organization.  On top of all of that he's dealing with the aftermath of trauma that no one around him remembers (except for those with connections to the Porters) and a feeling of responsibility for the well being of Jeneta.  The emotional trauma and depression warps his interactions with the world around him, and he can't talk about it with the people it effects.

Engaging continuation of the series.

Also reviewed:
Codex Born (Magic ex Libris #2)
Revisionary (Magic ex Libris #4) - Coming Soon!

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey - Chapter 19

After the monsters have been faced, the battles won, the treasure earned, comes the time to return home.

Our Mr. Baggins is not the hobbit he was when he set out on his journey.  While he'll never be an Istari, in many ways Bilbo and Gandalf now journey as equals.  These last steps are ones of reflection and revelation, where Bilbo recalls events of their travel and Gandalf shares details of his own quests.

On May 1st we return to Rivendell, greeted with a lovely song that demonstrates that these elves know exactly what happened... and perhaps that they knew it was going to happen?  It is here that Gandalf tells of the council of wizards and the cooperative effort in driving away the Necromancer.  Thanks to their efforts the Mirkwood has a chance to return to it's former glory as the Greenwood, but the Necromancer is not yet banished from the world.

"Yet even that place could not long delay him now, and he thought always of his own home."

The last road is still a long one, another month of travel ahead and no guarantee of every truly being "home."  The buried gold from the troll warren is unearthed, and while Bilbo offers it all to Gandalf, it does offset some of the sacrificed share of the gold.  I can't help but wonder if Bilbo remembered the gold when he offered his share up to the people of Laketown in an effort to avoid a war?

Bilbo commemorates his return to Hobbiton with a song, celebrating the joy of homecoming mixed with the longing of the road.  We've known all along that he's considered himself a bit of a poet, but this is the first fully matured expression that we've seen.

After so long gone, Bilbo returns home to find he's presumed dead.  After all, what respectable hobbit would go adventuring?  So of course the ever-practical hobbits have done the sensible thing, and begun auctioning off his belongings and opening up Bag End for it's new owners.  Which makes the arrival of the presumed deceased Mr. Baggins in the middle of said auction a bit of an upset and bother.  Thank goodness for everything Bilbo picked up on his adventures, it takes a bit of determination and backbone to force half off your property, fight to reclaim your belongings, and spend years of legal bother to sort everything out.  The gold he brought back helped a bit too, with having to buy back some of his own furniture.

Bilbo is finally home, but it's never home as he knew it before.  He's lost the respect of his community, but is content and happy with his life.  Bag End is more filled with music, joy, poetry, and visitors than ever before.  Bilbo remains an elf friend, and hosts rather distinguished visitors including dwarfs, elves, and a certain wizard.
"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo

"Of course!" said Gandalf.  "And why should not they prove true?  Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?  You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine fellow, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little felllow in a wide world after all!"

"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

In the film a rather shaggy looking Bilbo bids farewell to Gandalf and returns to Hobbiton, only to find people walking off with his furniture.  It's a beautifully done, with the confusion and disbelief of Mr. Baggins' return, the mixture of elation and dissappointment, and the less than cordial relations between Bilbo and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins (and the Spoons).  The legal hassle of being reconfirmed alive is largely hand-waved in a very elegant way, with his employment contract and a final farewell to Thorin.

We've lost the return stop at Rivendell, but we already know about a council of wizards, even if it's one of a less cooperative nature than the books imply, and we know about the fighting of the Necromancer.  With the changes to the music and overall feeling of the elves of Rivendell (from joyously full of life to proud and aloof), the homecoming visit wouldn't have fit in regardless.

But the final homecoming, once he's chased away all the auctioneers and buyers, before he's bothered fighting for his belongings, is very touching.  It doesn't matter that his home is ransacked, it's home, and there's even one of his long wished for handkerchiefs waiting for him.  This whole section is really well done, Jackson ending the story on a note that resonates strongly in terms of nostalgia and empathy.

Of course, since this is in many ways building to Lord of the Rings, we discover that Bilbo does still have that ring in his pockets, with more foreboding than simply a trinket he uses to escape unwanted visitors.  Then we're back to the "present" with the preparations for Biblo's birthday party and the events that kick off Fellowship of the Ring.

Some final thoughts.  This movie has a lot of flaws, things that are extremely frustrating and overwrought.  But on the same time there are so many really gorgeous moments that hit exactly where they should.  The casting was by and large impeccable, the artistry breathtaking.  When I sit and think about the film the things that I recall are by and large the things they got so right, the moments that match the story that I hold dear.  When I actually sit and watch it I find those memories are a bit biased, with large holes of filler that fails to hold my attention and bits that were actually a bit more distorted than remembered.

It is a lovely movie, and a well meant tribute to a piece of literature that many of us hold very dear to our hearts.  It's not perfect, but chances are we're never going to get the perfect Hobbit film.

So on Tolkien's birthday we wrap up this stage of the journey, and prepare to embark on a even longer one with the group read of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Further discussion of the various media and materials can be found at our group on BookLikes: Simarillion Blues, come join us!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Link Smorgasbord, December 2015

Download 30 bewildering gigabytes of music cassettes from the experimental 1980s underground
Very neat collection up on the Internet Archive.

Penguin Random House announces new e-Book terms for libraries
The big news is the ebook licenses no longer expire instead of expiring after a year.  The prices have also come down to a cap of $65 per title in the US.

What is Error 451?
The idea is that ISPs display information when a URL is blocked for legal reasons, including the whys of those legal reasons.

US Budget Bill Passes With CISA Surveillance Intact
Apparently the answer to a bill that has generated incredible outrage and failed multiple times is to shove it into a huge omnibus bill and hope no one notices?
Additional reading: CISA Surveillance Bill Hidden Inside Last Night's Budget Bill

Marco Rubio and Other Senators Move To Block Municipal Broadband
This is pretty messed up, especially considering how many places a city light program is their only likelihood of getting reasonable internet connections.  Remember there are places that only have the option of dial-up or satellite because neither the phone companies nor the cable companies think it's worth building the infrastructure to those communities.

A Year of Reading Differently
On deliberate and unconscious choices in reading.

Privacy for e-book lovers: New challenges in the cloud sign-on era
Worth a read.

A list of non-“Big Five” tech company software/hardware
Personally I think his "Big Five" list is on the short side, and there a bunch of listings included that are the "big" option in that area (Photoshop is not the "alternative" image editing software...), but overall some good resources.

Sorry, librarians: You still don’t ‘get’ e-books—especially their potential as literacy boosters. Read this study!
So, the author of the article definitely misses some huge points in terms of the issues that we're still facing in terms of providing access that patrons will even deem reasonable, but it also does make some valid points.

The Ebook Retail Universe

Libraries drive e-book sales
Nothing particularly new in this article, mostly that libraries are pretty valuable as discovery platforms for books.

Javascript user prohibitions are content DRM in microcosm—and even less effective
Pretty much what you'd expect from the title.

Crowdfunded 'Star Trek' Movie Draws Lawsuit from Paramount, CBS
I can't say I'm surprised by this, but it's still interesting considering the number of indie Star Trek films that have been made with Paramount and CBS's knowledge that they've ignored, or given that they've told others that they don't want their series, but that if they want to do it on their own go ahead just don't turn a profit.

Friday, January 1, 2016

[Book Review] The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark / Elizabeth Moon (Powell's Books)

Lou Arrendale is a brilliant man, with a regular job and hobbies.  He also happens to be the last of a generation left behind of medical advances used to treat neurological deviations pre-birth.  The world around him sees his diagnosis before they see the man or the mind that he possesses, and the company he works for sees the cost of "special accommodations" before the benefit of the skills of Lou's department.  An experimental procedure has "cured" autism in apes, and Lou's work is pressuring his department to take part in the trial treatments.  Now Lou needs to decide what it would me to be neurotypical, and what it means for who he is.

I find this book both incredible and deeply upsetting to read.  The fact that it's told from a non-neurotypical point of view really makes it stand out.

The book's investigation on the concept of normal and identity is why I selected it as the December Virtual Speculation read.

Discussion Fodder:
  • Does the story make you examine your own behaviors and assumptions towards others?  Do you see the behaviors that Lou experiences?  What sort of prejudices exist towards those with different disabilities?
  • What do you think of the portrayal of Lou?  What do you think of Lou's choice?  Do you think the story falls victim to projection and fulfillment?
  • What is the difference between "parroting" and use of a large vocabulary?
  • What is the speed of dark?
  • Joe Lee received neonatal treatment for his autism, and grew up able to normally process stimulation.  How does this change his life experience?  Is he still non-neurotypical?  What about the differences between Lou's generation and the older autistics who missed out completely on the medical advances as children?
  • What is "normal"?  How "normal" are "normal people"?
  • How do things change who we are?
  • What do you think of the procedure and it's theorized applications beyond treating autism?  What are the ethical implications?  
  • What do you think about the Programmable Personality Determinant chip for correcting criminal behavior?

Things did get better

I began 2015 with the statement "It has to get better eventually."

And you know what?  Things did get better in bits and pieces.

Depression, mourning, and nightmares are still an ongoing issue, but to some extent those will always be ongoing issues.  The pain of loss doesn't seem to lessen, just gets walled off.  My depression has been more laced with mania, which in some ways is an improvement since I've found a handful of creative outlets that help me channel the energy (of course, not being able to stop the overflow of ideas at 3AM isn't necessarily a good thing).

Work-wise I had ups and downs.  The first half of the year involved a lot of temping at fantastic libraries, a short stint at a human-services agency where I was hired as one thing but unknowingly needed to be another, an unfortunate turning down of a second interview for a part-time job because I had started what was meant to be a permanent full-time position, and finally landing a permanent part-time job at the start of the new fiscal year with additional employment lined up for the 2015-16 school year as a part-time sabbatical replacement for a librarian at Hogwarts.  I also picked up some on-call work, I spend about 15 hours a month at a local indie bookstore and I became the local back-up/heir-apparent Quiz Master for Geeks Who Drink.  Financially, I don't have the stability I need, but it's getting there.

The repairs to my mom's house were finished and it sold very shortly after going on market.  Everything from the sale is going to the bank and probate court, so nothing there to reinvest in future property.

I stopped speaking with my father, though I made an attempt to explain to him why.  From what I can tell that message was utterly ignored and he's been pretending nothing is wrong.  At some point we'll actually have to deal with it all, but I know that I'm not emotionally health or stable enough to handle it nor do I know how to have the conversations without saying things that can not be taken back.  Since I've by and large cut ties I've felt freer.  The conversation I've had with him since was rather like speaking to a near-stranger.  I have started communicating with my baby brother, so it's interesting to start to get to know him away from his parents.

My other half has had some huge stresses this past year of various natures, but we're pulling through.  Among other things he's started a new job after 10 years at the same shop, and overall seems much happier.

Creativity and gaming wise this has been a pretty big year.  I had a goal of getting published somehow in 2015, focusing on my reviewing.  I didn't quite achieve that in a traditional sense, but I managed a few guest blogs, had several publisher featured reviews, and have started contributing to the 5 Minute Librarian blog's Spoiler's Sweetie feature.

I was only able to attend one weekend LARP this year, one where we took on 80's teen movie stereotypes and fought slasher movie horrors.  I started attending a local "parlor" Changeling: the Lost LARP, that introduced me so fantastic new friends and ultimately has gotten me involved with founding a new Minds Eye Society domain.  Another group of my friends is in the middle of establishing a new LARP, starting with a series of one-shots, and I'm on board as the NPC Coordinator (basically stage managing crossed with cat herding).  Currently we're doing a lot of brainstorming of plot and needs.

The Star Wars game I've played in for eight years ended in August.  Now we're starting up a new game using the Atomic Highway setting.  I've started running my own RPG for Robbie and several of our friends.  Running my own game is something I've avoided for years, largely out of doubt of my storytelling abilities.  I'm loving it.  Mind you, I'm still constantly worrying about covering my bases and if my players will enjoy it.  But my players are having fun, and I'm finally getting to shape these snippets of story that have floated around in my head for years into a game plot.

I'm going to be looking at submitting proposals to local conferences.  I've presented before, but there was a certain amount of going in blind.  This time I have most of what I need together for a group panel, and really only needs polishing to turn it into a conference paper.

I hope things continue to get better in 2016, but more than anything this year I'm seeking stability.