thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Book I Have Issues With: Gender Blender, by Blake Nelson

Let's just present this as a conversation between me and the book.

Gender Blender: I am YA bodyswap!
Me: Sold.
Gender Blender: So. Let's start off with a spurious Native American legend! Ha ha, those wacky Indians and their crazy gender-swapping gods!
Me: Um.
Gender Blender: And then I think we should explore gender by reinforcing stereotypes! Emma is a sweet little gymnast A-student perfectionist, always eager to please, but also part of an evil bitch cabal! Also, she likes to talk about feelings. Tom is a slacker slobbo thrill-seeking baseball player dude! He likes to spit and punch things.
Me: Oh. Um. Look, since we're talking and all, can I ask you a question?
Gender Blender: Sure!
Me: If you're going to have a scene where Tom-in-Emma's-body looks in a mirror to have his First Real Experience of Boobs, and he's all excited about that, then why does Emma's only exploration of Tom's body consist of thinking Tom's dick is a chipmunk when she wakes up with an erection?
Gender Blender: Because, see, boys like boobs.
Me: But girls don't like cocks?
Gender Blender: Well, not good girls. Also, we prefer to use the term "boy part."
Me: This is my review, and I will call it a tiddlewinkle before I call it a boy part.
Gender Blender: Fine. Clearly you aren't a good girl.
Me: Nope. Also, why is there a whole chapter of Tom checking out the girls in the locker room (where most of them turn out to be ugly and fat!) and the shower, and getting to see the boobs of his crush and so on, but Emma never gets a chance to check out guys in the shower or the bathroom or anywhere?
Gender Blender: It might make boys uncomfortable. Plus, you know, she's a good girl, so obviously she wouldn't want to.
Me: I see.
Gender Blender: But I have many other things to offer! Did I mention that there is embarrassment squick aplenty?
Me: Oh, joy. Remind me why I finished you?
Gender Blender: My chapters are short. And you were desperate.
Me: Right.
Gender Blender: I did avoid the smoochy ending you were fearing. Don't I get credit for that?
Me: Sure, yes, absolutely. In the "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln" sense, anyway.
Gender Blender: You know, if you're going to be like this about it, I think maybe you should stick to bodyswap and genderswap in fan fiction.
Me: I will, thanks.

But you'll all be relieved to know that Tom and Emma got good grades on their gender report and learned not to argue so much. There. Now you don't have to read this. (If anyone feels like writing me bodyswap, especially Spock/Kirk or Sam-Teal'c, as a "thank you for saving me from this terrible book" gift, I will not say no. For the record.)

Book I Love: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin

You know, when I used to play AD&D (when I used to have time to play AD&D), I was always welcome in any group I cared to join. Because I was willing to play the cleric. No arguments! No roll-percentiles-loser-has-to-be-the-cleric! No letting one person have two player characters if he'd make one of them the healer! I actually wanted to be on the god squad, giving hit points and taking them away (usually not to the same person). I liked using a mace. I preferred clerical spells to magic-user spells. But most of all, I loved gods. (I could, no lie, spend a whole hour just selecting my character's god. This is an important choice, people!)

So, you know, you give me a really well-thought-out pantheon, I am pretty much your girl. I will cling to you through two thousand pages of dense prose and let you kill off nearly all the awesome characters. I will even forgive you shoddy worldbuilding and cookie-cutter fantasy and women whose entire purpose is to have sex and make babies and then die so the hero can experience manpain. (To a point. Don't test me on this one.)

Which makes me all the more grateful that in this book, I didn't have to forgive anything. There's, yes, a massively awesome pantheon. (Some of the gods are slaves, and some are dead, and one is crazy, which is just so incredibly wonderful I can't even tell you. Um, not for the gods, though. Just the reader.) But it doesn't stop there, because this book is incredible: well-written, set in a world the author clearly actually put thought into, and not a Tolkien knock-off in sight. (I think this book might actually have killed Tolkien, in all honesty, if it somehow managed to travel through time to land in his extremely cultured hands. For one thing, the squat dark-skinned girl isn't actually evil, and the tall skinny white people sort of go beyond evil. We all know how hard he would have taken that.) Plus, it provides a functional education in all the things that can go terribly, terribly wrong with ruling by divine right. (Particularly if the divine right is, shall we say, explicit.) You have to admit that's a handy bonus.

I am supposed to pace myself with new books - otherwise I end up reading things like Gender Blender, which never ends well for anyone - but I couldn't with this one. I didn't so much read it as fall on it like a starving wolf. In the end, my only complaints with this book were 1) it ended and 2) there was not nearly enough of it.

If all fantasy was like this, you would not be able to pry me out of the genre with the jaws of life.
thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Book I Have an Issue With: At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, by Wade Rouse

I love essays, particularly funny ones. Find me a book of them and I will happily hand over $12 for the privilege of reading it. And this one starts off really well, because there's a raccoon attack. Raccoons to the head are funny. It's a basic rule of writing, right up there next to "show, don't tell." The premise is promising, too: Rouse moved from the city (more on this later) to rural Michigan (with his long-suffering boyfriend Gary) so that he could pursue a career in writing. Fish out of water! Raccoon attacks! Seriously, how could this be bad?

Well. It isn't entirely bad. But it isn't good, either. For one thing, when he's not wearing a live raccoon as an exceptionally angry hat, Rouse isn't actually funny, and that's a book killer. In this kind of memoir, you're basically sharing the brain of the writer. He has to show you all his random warts and neuroses or there's nothing for him to write about, but he has to be able to make you laugh with him (or at him - that also works) or, well, you're just spending your time with some random jerk's warts and neuroses, and you could do the same thing by getting stuck on an elevator with a guy from Marketing. Every other flaw this book has (sliding focus, sudden random religious tangent in the middle, shrieking intolerance, race issues, playing gay stereotypes up to the point where I expect him to start typing with a lisp) would be forgivable, or at least mostly tolerable, if Rouse could make you laugh. But he can't, or at least he couldn't make me laugh. He couldn't even make me smile, except in the first chapter, and a guy can't get attacked by a raccoon every day.

But my second issue is the one I will always remember about this book. See, okay - you know how sometimes you'll make an assumption early on, and it will be so ingrained that you'll never question it, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, until finally something leaps up and forces you to? And then you can feel your skull being rearranged, all, "The Fiddler on the Roof ISN'T set in 1970s Canada! Which probably means Canadians aren't vicious anti-semites, and I should probably stop worrying that these Quebecois are going to kill me!" (Yes, I was very young when I made the assumption, but it lasted for years. I still sometimes have to take a deep breath before I out myself as a Jew to someone from Saskatchewan.) I had a minor case of this in this book. See, I read the title and made the obvious assumption. And then, several chapters in, I discovered that the city in question is St. Louis. Which. Um. I live in Los Angeles (or, okay, near it, but that's pretty much what everyone who lives here does). It's a pretty big city. But it isn't the city. The only city in the United States that gets a definite article is New York City. Chicago is a city. Houston is a city. New York City is the city. And St. Louis, which is the fifty-second largest city in the U.S., ranked just below Wichita, with a population of 350k, most definitely is not. When I realized that the city of the title was St. Louis, that was my laugh-out-loud moment for this book.

(Note: Yes, I am aware that this is not universally true of everyone in the United States. In rural areas, as I understand it, the city is whichever one you drive to for shopping. But everywhere I've ever lived, New York City has been the city, and it would never occur to me that anyone who wrote that in a book title would mean anything else.)

Poll #2279 The City
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 243

When you say "the city," what do you mean?

View Answers

New York City.
52 (21.5%)

The nearest city, whichever one that is.
113 (46.7%)

A city in my actual country, because I'm not from the U.S.
31 (12.8%)

Beszel or Ul Qoma.
10 (4.1%)

Something else.
36 (14.9%)

Because we're curious and it's a definite article question, when someone says "the industry," what do you think she means?

View Answers

The entertainment industry, and I live in or near Los Angeles.
18 (8.1%)

The entertainment industry, and I don't live in or near Los Angeles.
107 (48.2%)

Some other industry, which I will tell you in the comments.
60 (27.0%)

I do not believe in definite articles, and strike down all who say them to me.
37 (16.7%)

Books I Love: The Thief Series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia), by Megan Whalen Turner

Now. I am hoping that most of you have already read this series and are eagerly, even desperately, awaiting the next installment (due March 23, so if you haven't read these, now is the perfect time to start). But I have this sneaking fear that some of you have not, and obviously it is my personal duty to correct that. This series is incredible, with amazing characters and world-building and plot and action and one of the weirdest romances I personally have ever encountered in fiction. (For serious, this is a romance - you know, when I see romantic relationships in fiction, I generally try to recast them with my fannish favorites, but it is hard for me to think of even a single popular fannish pairing that might fit with this romance. Okay. I can think of one. But that's it.) But, actually, that's not what I want to talk about when it comes to these books.

Here are two additional reasons, besides awesomeness and the ability to make your heart sing, that you should read these:
  1. Stepping it up a notch. If you've ever written or wanted to write a series, in fan fiction or original fiction, you should read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. This is one of the few times when the second book of a series is an order of magnitude better than the first (and the first is really damn good). And the thing is, it's that way for a reason.

    The author took some serious risks when she started The Queen of Attolia; she didn't let her characters or her situations stay static. She looked at what she'd done and said, hey, that was good, but how can I move from that? How can I get these characters to where I need them to go? And then she took the steps she needed to take, and let me tell you, those were some drastic steps. But they work, and they take the series from amazing to sublime.

    Megan Whalen Turner could have rested on her laurels. She totally did not. This is how you write a series, people. (Or you can take a different road and make your sequels into an endless series of bondage scenes and holidays, which I call the Whips and Presents Method. Not my favorite, but it works for some people. You can also just keep writing the same story with the same plot and characters, changing the proper names as necessary to fulfill your contracts; I think of this as the Grimes Method, and it also works for some. But I'd rather you went the Turner route.)

  2. The Queen of Attolia. The character, I mean. When I was a kid, I read everything. (No, really, everything, including many things I should not have. My mother used to take me to a specialty children's bookstore, hand me over to an innocent employee who had no idea how difficult her life was about to become, and say, "If you can find something she hasn't read, I'll buy it." She spent the next few hours sipping coffee somewhere, and I spent the next few hours saying, "I've read it.") I especially loved books that had fantasy elements. But I was bothered by the fact that they were always about either a) people randomly selected by fate for greatness or b) people born to be great. I knew I would never find an amulet that granted half wishes or a sand fairy, and I knew I wasn't the secret ruler of the desert tribe or the last Old One.

    So I wanted to read a book about a person who became great, who had no special abilities or special item but still used her ordinary abilities to achieve an amazing goal. I looked and looked for that person and never found her. And then I did: Attolia. Turner doesn't spare her at all - Attolia is definitely the person achieving her goal has made her into. She's not kind. She's not fun. You would not want to play croquet with her, and you would not want to turn your back on her. But she is great, and she's great because she decided to be. She fought for it and keeps on fighting for it, using all her intelligence and all her determination, because that's all she's ever had to fight with. I love that. And I love that there is one person in the books who loves it, too.

Poll #2280 Greatness
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 164

Which would you rather have?

View Answers

Greatness by birth, which usually comes with lots of followers.
7 (4.3%)

Greatness through effort, which often comes with an iron fist.
40 (24.4%)

Greatness through fate, which generally comes with great accessories.
35 (21.3%)

No greatness at all. It's wearying.
82 (50.0%)

thefourthvine: The Enterprise, from the Original Series.  (ST TOS Enterprise)
I just want to say, here and now, that every fandom should have a redo of The Naked Time. Every. Fandom. SGA: John finally talks about his feelings, and everyone is horrified! Smallville: Clark tells all his secrets, and everyone feels much better! The Sentinel: Jim cries, and everyone wonders if this is yet another sentinel thing! Torchwood: Group orgy, just like last week! Sherlock Holmes: ...Well, actually, Holmes would probably go on a killing spree. Maybe not.

Anyway. This episode is awesome, and everyone should watch it. (And write it oh god please please please.)

Part One: This Is Your Environment on Spray Foam )

Part Two: Friends Don't Let Friends Shower Clothed )

Part Three: A Butter Knife Is a Terrible Thing to Waste )

Part Four: We Learned It by Watching Sulu )

Part Five: Just say OH MY GOD NO NO NO )

Part Six: Beyond the Influence of Sanity )
thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Mirror, Mirror won the poll handily, and is now appointed Lord High King of All Episodes TFV Should Watch after the Gay Sex One, the Robot Kirk One, and the One Where Everyone Is Creepy.

And the poll was right! Or the voters were, anyway. Mirror, Mirror is amazingly good. And it was educational for me; I never knew, before this, why people said goatees were a sign of evil (turns out it's because Leonard Nimoy looks like a serial killer in them). Is this the original TV canon AU? Maybe! Anyway, it's awesome.

A Note about the DVDs

THE DVDS DO NOT HAVE ENGLISH SUBTITLES. We bought them specifically because we wanted subtitles, and they do, as advertised, have them - in Spanish and French. OH MY GOD THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. If I wanted to watch with a transcript open in front of me, I would not be paying full price, if you get my drift.

Also, the first season has faulty disks, although [profile] cherry_ice has kindly loaned us hers so I don't have to suffer in a Kirkless and Spockless wasteland while they are being returned. Anyway. People who are debating whether to buy this set: don't.

Mirror, Mirror

Part One: Shiny, Shiny Evil )

Part Two: Uhura Is Secretly a Ninja )

Part Three: Kirk/Spock Pervades the Multiverse )

Part Four: Evil Wears Its Hair Down )

Part Five: Uhura Is No Longer Keeping Her Ninjahood a Secret )

Part Six: The Happy Ending with Bonus ARG - a Trek Tradition! )
thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Based on the title, I thought this was going to be about a planet right on the edge of a singularity. But it's about time travel instead, and time travel is one of my all-time narrative kinks, so I don't mind.

But who the fuck edited this? The episode doesn't look internally consistent. At all. Close-ups often look out of synch with the rest of the shots to me, but this ep is particularly bad about that for some reason; all the close-ups look like they were shot on a different planet. And why, oh god WHY, are so many of these shots extreme close-ups? Close-ups that show JUST THE HEAD? (Producers! Directors! You're paying for the actors' whole bodies! Why not show me them?)

We join the Enterprise, already in orbit. )

Amok Time

Dec. 26th, 2009 08:17 am
thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
I realize everyone in the world is busy with Yuletide, but, well. We had a Very Star Trek Christmas in our household, and I though I would post my reactions for the four people not wholly distracted by small fandoms.

This was my first official episode of Star Trek! And, you know what, I enormously enjoyed it.

General Observations )

Amok Time )
thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Book I Have an Issue With:

SuperFreakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

I knew I was in trouble with this book during the first chapter, which is on prostitution, the glories thereof. (At least for white women.) They reviewed a single study and talked to two prostitutes, one a street walker and the other a higher-priced prostitute, and came to the conclusion that, even though the study and the streetwalker suggested no such thing, prostitution is really pretty awesome for the ladies! As long as they like sex! They finish up the chapter in oh-gee bewilderment that more women aren't out there getting this awesome, terrific job of prostitution, which pays so well and has such keen hours and all. Women must be really dumb! Or hate sex!

But, okay, here's the thing: I am not an economist, and I can still read the statistics here. Women aren't actually dumb, and I can offer approximately nine billion data points on that one - research! Empirical evidence! Anecdotal evidence! A cluebat! And I can't put my finger on any research supporting it right now, but I can tell you that many women do in fact like sex. I happen to like it myself, for example, since we're willing to accept anecdotal evidence now, what with that lone happy hooker standing in for all women everywhere. In fact, let me take several steps up in rigor from SuperFreakonomics and do a poll on this one:

[Poll #1494493]

And yet so many of these smart, sex-loving women aren't prostitutes. Huh. If I were the authors of SuperFreakonomics, I would stop there, but, um, wouldn't it make more sense to say, hey, according to what we think, something should be happening, but it isn't happening in reality, so maybe there's a factor we're missing? Some reason why women don't want to be prostitutes? Maybe, instead of just talking to two prostitutes, one of whom enjoys the work, and calling it science, we should talk to some other people! Like, other women! Non-prostitutes!

I understand both authors are married. They could start by asking their wives why they never pursued this incredible job opportunity. Or, hey! They could ask me.

In high school, I did everything stupid it was possible to do, almost. I did loads of drugs and had lots of the kind of promiscuous sex where I didn't actually know the name of the guy(s) involved and I hung out in dangerous places and I drove like a moron and I broke many many laws and hung out with hallucinating people who were armed - wow, seriously, name the bad choice, I can point you to the place where I did it.

But here's the thing: I used to walk along streets in a rather unsafe and unsavory district of town, late at night. (Yet another bad choice!) And men used to pull their cars over and offer me money or drugs if I would have sex with them - hundreds of dollars, usually, and once more than a thousand (although, to be fair, that was for me and the male friend I was walking with at the time). I was young enough that those seemed like incredible, phenomenal sums of money. And I was having sex with everyone voluntarily anyway - anyone who asked and didn't offer me money was in, basically. I was cheerfully flexible about what I'd do - oral, anal, vaginal, manual, kink, whatever. And I was the queen of bad decisions. And I liked breaking rules. And laws.

I said no. Every time, without hesitation. It was the only sex I said no to at that time in my life. So, hey, authors of SuperFreakonomics, maybe you should come interview me! I can tell you exactly why I didn't take up that fabulous opportunity, and you'll have a chapter for your next book, since you claim to be statisticians but keep acting like a single interview actually produces data.

And that is not the only problem, mind you. That's the first chapter. I could continue, but mostly, my issues are: it's wandering and poorly written, it's not especially interesting, it's not even remotely scientifically accurate, and in a lot of places, it's so stupid you start looking around for the hidden camera.

Book I Actually Like:

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex.

I spent the last year trying to get people to read this book. "It's awesome!" I would say in that intense, slightly terrifying tone people get when they're trying to shove a book or a religion or a coupon for half-off a show on you. "You should read it! Because it is SO AWESOME!"

In general, people nodded and smiled and continued not to read it. And it's not that I blame them - I had the book for about six months before I actually read it, possibly because Smekday sounds like an unfortunate genital disease - it's just that I want to weep for them. This book is so incredibly good, and everyone should read it, and yet I don't see huge True Meaning of Smekday Appreciation Clubs forming all over the English-speaking world. It's a puzzlement.

So, here's a partial list of those who will enjoy The True Meaning of Smekday. Simply check any that apply to you.

[Poll #1494494]

If you didn't tick any boxes, fine, you're excused. Otherwise, I'm going to keep bringing this up and bringing this up, and I can be really difficult about these things. (I like to pretend that it's like that one song, Whatever Lola Wants, except if it was about a recommender instead of, you know, Lola. I keep telling myself that I'm nothing at all like that one relative who keeps insisting that you should really try the casserole, you'll love it, NO REALLY. Or like the guy standing on the table in the park explaining about how the government is controlling is brain with space lasers. I - I try not to think about those people too much.)

Oh, and if you're one of the people with whom I have had the "Where are all the female characters in SF?" and "Where are all the characters of color in SF?" discussions, READ THIS BOOK. The main character is female, mixed race, and totally and completely awesome. Plus, you will really enjoy the commentary on colonialism.
thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
True confessions time: I love hard SF. My ideal, in this arena, is the kind of story where each page contains either an equation or a paragraph of dense scientific explanation (usually in stilted dialog, spoken by the story's Resident Explanatory Genius).

So I was pleased to get a copy of Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Time for free. It contains almost as much sciency verbiage as I want from my SF, and it's fun and entertaining. There are even female characters who get a lot of screen time - it may even be 50:50 male:female, although the book hasn't passed the Bechdel test anywhere yet. (I'm not quite finished.)

Over the years, I've become very used to the problems of hard SF. (Like, I am totally willing to celebrate Manifold: Time's amazing quantity of girl characters: two! Of course, neither of them understands the science at all, but I know better than to ask for miracles.) One of the big ones is that a lot of the people who write it - well, they understand the science. They understand the math. Actual people are harder.

Like, there's a scene in the book where the Resident Explanatory Genius goes on television to tell the world about the Carter catastrophe (in a highly condensed version, this is a statistical argument that predicts the probability of the end of the human race in the relatively near future), which the book uses in a modified form that says we, as a species, probably only have about 200 years left. The REG does not go for the simplified, sound-bite version I just gave you; he goes on for a while, explaining Why the Human Race Is (Probably) Doomed, in his usual sciency verbiage style. And the world goes into a panic and depression.

I read that and realized Baxter has no clue what people are actually like, or he'd know that the normal human response to a speech like that, on television, is not panic and depression; it's changing the channel. Very few people would listen long enough, or pay enough attention, to understand what the REG is saying. And even those who did wouldn't buy it. Statistics? That are predicated on the idea that there is nothing special about us? No one is going to believe it or even give a shit, frankly, except people who already know what the Carter catastrophe is.

But, fine, hard SF writers are allowed to write about slightly AU versions of our reality. I'm comfortable with that.

I was a little more impressed (horrified, whatever) with a very special piece of characterization. The main character is named Malenfant (yes, really), and late in the book (spoilers!), it is revealed that - wait. Let's do this as a poll.

Say that you discover that you have a treatable but not curable disease - you'll live a normal life, but you'll have to take medication regularly. This means you can't be an astronaut and will have to fall back on your plan B, which is being a maverick billionaire industrialist. (It's always good to have a safety career!)

Also, you are married. Your wife, Emma, doesn't want children, but nonetheless, this disease means you won't be able to have any.

You decide that the obvious way to handle this is not to tell her, and then have an affair, so that you can divorce Emma, so that you don't ruin her life, because you love her SO MUCH and this treatable illness makes you unworthy. Of course, she is intimately involved in your corporation, and indeed keeps it running, so you will still see her every day and she will still be closely involved in your life; you have explicitly told her that, sure, you're getting divorced, but you don't want her to quit. Decades go past with her wondering what the fuck happened and you maintaining your noble silence.

[Poll #1489604]


thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
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