Monday, January 30, 2017

Still alive, but recovering

This weekend left me utterly wrecked, but in a good way.  The second game in a LARP I staff went off fantastically, but like anything that takes significant personal energy and emotional investment, it's a little rough when it ends.  Totally worth it, though coming back to the current political dumpster fire is adding a gut-wrenching anxiety flare to the post-event crash and recovery process.

My Sunday LotR post clearly didn't happen, and I'm not sneaking it in today.

I have a back log of stuff (including writing about Arisia) that I will get to soon.

But not today.  Today is for recharging and readjusting to real life.  And quite possibly naps.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 5, Chapter 9

This chapter can largely be viewed as two sections; the first part consisting of reunions and filling in backstory, the second part looking forward at hard decisions and action.  The reunion of the fellowship stands as a focal point to pull us in at this juncture, some joy taking part in this brief calm.

The real action of the chapter however is decision.  Denethor has good reason for his despair, the seeing stones do not lie... and the fight they all face against the shadow will not be won by strength of arms alone.  In terms of the narrative of the page, their hopes rely mostly on the shoulders of two hobbits.  In a more layered take, the battle they face isn't just that of weapons and physical force, but of psychological maneuvering and propaganda.  Sauron has relied on feeding misinformation and doubt to those who stand against him, now the opposition seeks to do the same to him.

By and large, the updating details supplied by the fellowship members to each other in this chapter is already known to viewers due to events shown on screen as the narrative progresses.  That leaves limited material for screen time, and honestly, I like the succinct take that Jackson gives us.  We get the direness of the situation in brief, clean dialog, with just a touch of humor (thank you, Gimli), then move on.

Once more, into the breech!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

[Book Review] Dreadnought

Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) / April Daniels

Danny Tozer tries to stay under the radar, right now that's the easiest way of surviving and staying sane.  Then the world's greatest superhero is struck down and passes his mantle to Danny.  When young men have taken on the mantle of Dreadnought they've physically changed, becoming taller, stronger, more to their ideal form.  Danny takes on the mantle and finds herself for the first time in her life in a body that matches who she is... only everyone else still remembers Danny as Daniel.  Now when she should be learning what comes with these superpowers and stepping into the void left by the previous Dreadnought, she has to deal with suspicion, disgust, and all the baggage of being seen as an attractive young woman.  She has to get a handle on things fast, because she may be the only one capable of stopping the cyborg Utopia's plans.

I started reading this book with high levels of both excitement and reservation.  Kickass trans superheroine and feminist issues?  Yeah, that's something I'd read.  But... what if it didn't deliver on it's promise?  I gotta say, it lived up to my expectations.  There are just so many moments that Danny experiences that just nail the female experience on top of realistically handling realities of gender dysphoria and trans-misogyny.  And it all takes place in a hands down awesome YA superhero novel.  This book rocks.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

[Book Review] Battle Hill Bolero

Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rumba #3) / Daniel Jose Older

This book.

This fucking book.

I just can't even come up with the words to review it, so please bear with me.

Battle Hill Bolero is angry and joyous and lyrical and triumphant.

Book one was good, book two was great, and this book is why you read the first two.  To get to this glorious point.  If it's been awhile since reading Half-Resurrection Blues or Midnight Taxi Tango, take the time to reread them before diving in to Battle Hill Bolero.  Get back on first name basis with the characters.  The book dives forward and takes no prisoners.

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 5, Chapter 8

A chapter titled "The Houses of Healing" stands as breathing space for the reader and the characters.  Men start cleaning up and repairing the battle damage, friends reunite, wounds are tended, and legacies unveiled.

Coming into Gondor, Aragorn chooses caution rather than claiming his power, respecting the long sovereignty of the Stewards.  It is here that they find both loss and hope; Denethor gone, Theoden lying upon a bed of state, but Eowyn and Faramir lying in the house of healing.  The shadow of Mordor is long, one that inflicts wounds beyond even Gandalf's power and knowledge, but ones that may be cured by some nature within a King.

Aragorn's unusual life as an uncrowned King perhaps gives him a unique modesty and self view.  In the high tongue he admits to beign known as the Elfestone and the Renwer, but the name he claims is one often applied to him in mockery, that of Strider.  We've seen him all along take the mantle of leadership, but as part of his competence, not as his birthright, except in response to pressure or when the situation absolutely requires it.  Even now, that he is within his birthright, he slips away to sleep in his tent when the whole city teems with rumors of his return.  Of course, his lineage is one long absent in the world at large.  Knowledge  of altheas or kingsfoil is that of half remembered old wives' tales, rather than a treasured piece of lore. 

Jackson, for various dramatic reasons and emotional appeals, handles the injuries, deaths, and reunions differently.  Theoden gets a farewell to Eowyn, giving them their moment together on the battlefield.  Pippin finds Merry, down but not out, and tends to his friend until he can receive proper healing.  The Houses of Healing remain unseen, none of our combatants need the healing only possible from the hand of a King.  No dire news delivered to those just rescued from the edge of death, and no discussion of how Wormtongue's poison was not for simply the king alone.  We have to trust that Faramir is as well as can be, relegated as he is to a minor supporting role.

Most of what was done here makes sense.  We have a brief calm before the storm, with little flashes of hope and grief, but the narrative given of the conflict as told by Jackson is different than that told by Tolkien.  Some of this is the difference of the voices and decisions made regarding audience appeal, but some is reflexive of the braiding of books five and six.  The main thing that stands out wrong to me is Gimili's suggestion that Aragorn not release the dead.  It just strikes me as uncharacteristically dishonorable.

Monday, January 9, 2017

[Book Review] Dark Matter

Dark Matter / Blake Crouch

Jason Dessen has a good life.  Not the life he once foresaw for himself, that of a brilliant research physicist.  But he's married to the love of his life, well employed, and has a wonderful son.  Then a masked man assaults Jason, takes him outside of town, drugs him, and when Jason wakes everything has changed.  He's still Jason Dessen, but his work in quantum physics was never set aside for a family, the his son never born, the woman he loves is dating his best friend and is a celebrated artist, and the man everyone believes him to be has done the impossible.  But some mysteries should never be broken open, and everything is now at risk.

Ok, here's the thing.  I wanted to like this book.  Alternate-universe, hard science fiction thriller?  Sounds amazing.  It's not a bad book, though I find it works better as audio rather than print due to a narrative style favoring short, abrupt phrases.  But I ended up bored (and to be honest, at times annoyed).  It doesn't differentiate itself from any other alternate/parallel/nested universe SF that I've encountered (admittedly, the ones I'm familiar with tend to be films).  Seven Monkeys did it well, so did Existenz, or The Thirteenth Floor.  Layers within layers, confusing the true reality, and different versions of the protagonist.  Maybe this book is so lauded because this sort of narrative is more popular in screenplays than novels?  I wanted to be thrilled and surprised, what I got was well written but honestly pretty standard.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 5, Chapter 7

What strikes me the most here is the differences in gravitas and tragedy between the two versions of the same scene.  While at their core, the same basic events occur, but their executions turn them into completely different events.

Watching the film, we know explicitly that this scene is coming, being led to it step by step.  In the book, something is clearly long, but we're left with a more ambiguous dread before being whisked off to other battle scenes.  Pippin is sent away and on his way to the big guns (ie. Gandalf) starts putting things in motion to delay permanent consequences.  After all, he knows Faramir still lives, and has a much less regimented place within the hierarchy of the city guard.

The choice to save Faramir is not without cost, Gandalf makes a choice to save one man over helping on the battlefield.  The battle still rages on, no matter the order that we come across the chapter in the text.  The decision on some levels is that of visual effect - the potential loss of Faramir and the danger of corruption within Gondor make for a threat of crippling demoralization and the potential loss of the city.  Fortunately for our effort, Beregond took Pippin's message seriously, holding away the servants of Denethor by force.

I don't know if it's just me, but does it stand out to anyone else that Gandalf references "the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power"?  I end up curious about what counts as "heathen" within the setting of Middle Earth considering the multiple (non-heathen) connected but at the same time parallel mythologies of the races.  Regardless of the Christian inspiration in Middle Earth, there is certainly enough within it that Lord of the Rings has been repeatedly swept up in the moral panic that has attacked other targets such as Dungeons and Dragons (admittedly, sometimes the presence of biblical material is often used as ammunition, so maybe that's not a good example).

Denethor's death here is nothing but tragedy, the Steward lost to madness, grief, and corruption.  He believes his line has been torn from him, his greatest ally an enemy, and those sworn to his service seduced away.  In reality one son still lives, Gandalf still stands to defend Gondor, and those sworn to him are forced to break their vows in order to save the live of a sovereign they believe in and respect.  The death of Denethor in the film however is more of a blend of accidental tragedy and comedy.  Beregond has been excised entirely, and Faramir's remaining life more obvious as he twitches away from the splashing oil.  Instead we get a ceremonial dousing and greeting of death, only interrupted by the 11th hour arrival of Gandalf and Pippin.  On screen, we see Pippin, not Gandalf, pull Faramir from the fire, and a maddened Denethor accost the hobbit.  The tragedy in this telling comes from Denethor's return to sanity and witnessing that his son still lives.  The comedy comes from the almost slapstick moments of Shadowfax kicking Denethor back into the fire, and then again when Denethor runs, wreathed in flame, to fall off the spire of the city.  Definitely dramatic, not lacking the gravitas the scene deserves.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Virtual Speculation 2017 Picks

It's that time of year again, when I put out a list of 11 books to read and discuss over the upcoming months, and hopefully folks will join in.  This year I have two Finnish authors (plus one Russian), a few SF/F classics, and two repeat authors from previous years.

On my own, I've previously read The Core of the Sun, Old Man's War, and Grass, though the last two I only vaguely remember.  The vagueness of memory is honestly what prompts this re-read of Old Man's War, and I want to look at it this time with Starship Troopers in mind.  I actually wanted to take a look at Sideshow by Tepper, but as it turns out to be the third book in the series started by Grass, and I barely remember anything about any of the three, I wanted to start in the beginning.

The other books were all chosen based on reviews specific to that book, or based on a desire to read something by that specific author.  It would be a good year to reread The Handmaid's Tale, but with The Core of the Sun I decided to force myself to read something else by Atwood.  Dead Boys by Squailia was a unique and enjoyable read, so I look forward to exploring his second book, Viscera.

I was going to include Dark Matter by Blake Crouch since all reviews of it sing praises (and I needed to read it for review anyway).  But I started reading it and have been thoroughly unimpressed with it's supposed inventiveness.  Not that Dark Matter is bad, but it doesn't hold much in the way of surprises for anyone familiar with your standard parallel/nested/alternative reality stories.

Reading List for 2017

February: Signal to Noise / Silvia Moreno-Garcia
March: This Alien Shore / C. S. Friedman
April: The Core of the Sun / Johanna Sinisalo
May: The Quantum Thief / Hannu Rajaniemi
June: The Blind Assassin / Margaret Atwood
July: Old Man's War / John Scalzi
August: A Canticle for Leibowitz / Walter M. Miller, Jr.
September: Dhalgren / Samuel R. Delany
October: Viscera / Gabriel Squailia
November: Grass / Sheri S. Tepper
December: We / Yevgeny Zamyatin
The master list for previous picks and their reviews can be found here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

[Book Review] Hard Rhythm

Hard Rhythm (The Secrets of a Rock Star #3) / Cecilia Tan

Previously Reviewed
Set revolving the band and the kink club we've come to know in the previous two books, Hard Rhythm follows hostess Madison and drummer Chino.

Unfortunately, this is probably my least favorite of the series, little details just bothered me and I don't generally expect my favorite parts of an erotic romance to be the ones that have nothing to do with the relationship or sexy times.  That being said, it's a pretty good series overall.

Ironically perhaps, I felt the public D/S scenes were just too showy for me to even enjoy reading about.  Yeah, I get where that's sort of the point of a public show, but they felt like just show and no substance.  I also felt we were a bit teased by a chance of a relationship with Madison as the dominant, or some element of switch.  The story opens with her thinking about Chino submitting to her, then turns into her regularly going almost instantly into subspace with him.  Other things that stood out the wrong way include a weird mix of expressing concerns over limits then going into scenes blindly without regard for any possible issues, as well as holy crap that's a short period of time to get someone's name inked on yourself (and making decisions like that mid scene... o.O).

As for the positives, among other things I totally didn't see the villain angle of the story coming, which is great because I thought I had it pegged as a overdone cliche.  I was so happy to be wrong.  I think the story really handled the issue of domestic abuse well, and I loved the idea of using a safeword for more than a stop, but as a check-in for acknowledging an issue that is difficult to confront.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Upcoming, but not New Year's resolutions

I hope everyone had the type of New Year's celebration they wanted.

There is no LotR chapter today, my partner in crime has had a hell of a last week of the year and declared this week a hiatus.  We'll continue with Return of the King next week.

Romance Book Bingo starts today.  Thank god, I have a stack of romance novels from the library that I've deliberately not read, and usually they're next day returns.  There's definitely a few squares that I'm not going to actively seek out filling, but if I come across them I'll go with it.

Coming up in a few weeks is Arisia, I'll be moderating two panels on the 14th and spending the rest of the convention largely in the background of things.
Disability in Speculative Fiction, Saturday, 2:30 PM
SFF doesn't always represent people with disabilities well. A flawed model for dealing with disability in SF is that technology is a panacea that can be always, desireably, and often preemptively applied to disabled people. But there are other stories to tell and panelists will describe them and point out examples.

(I'd like to note that the fact I've used this exact title presenting at conferences is completely unrelated to the title of this panel, that's just happenstance that myself and whoever suggested this panel came up with the same title). 

Late Night Sexy Comics, Saturday, 10:00PM
Comics have a long, risqué history and that's absolutely worth celebrating. Come share some of your favorite comics smut, learn about some new ones you haven't heard of, and most importantly have a good, inclusive time. 18+ only.
Finally, at the end of the month is the second Ink LARP game, Curtain Call.

So, I guess I'll be busy for January no matter what.