zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
8 books read in May, 7 of which on the ereader which is wondiferous )


Also began a new Around the world in 203 books project, hence Sandro of Chegem. Should get onto the next country now, if only my ereader weren't highlighting how annoying it is to lug a paper book around everywhere...
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
11 books read in April (including 8 print, 3 ebook) )


Of the month, my favourites were Lud-in-the-Mist and Cereus Blooms At Night.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
7 books read in March )

I don't think there were any I tried to read but gave up on. It took forever to get through Pride and Prejudice, but that was due to quake brain, and Aliénor d'Aquitaine, but that was due to it being in French and less skimmable and work starting up again.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
I suddenly recalled today not only that I'd been planning to post my "books read" each month, but also that February ended a wee while ago. (I may have mentioned a few times that time is weird at the moment. The other day I was on the bus and heard people talking about the end of daylight saving coming up sometime. I blinked several times. It was like the conversation implied that time was actually moving on in an orderly fashion, unaffected by trivialities like geology.)

Anyway, so here they are:

8 books read in February )

And one book I didn't finish (in fact barely started):

Orphen
My attempt to introduce myself to manga by picking the first one I see at the library that says "volume 1" was probably doomed to failure even before 95% of the libraries in town were forcibly closed. I think I'll find it easier to get used to the manga format if I first identify a story that wouldn't annoy me no matter what format it was in. I managed a couple dozen pages, I think, before deciding that not only did I have very little idea what was happening, I was pretty sure that if/when I did figure out what was going on I'd only hate all the characters.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Since I've had to restrict my computer use this month to take care of my poor wrists, I've been reading a lot instead. Specifically, I no longer take my laptop on the bus to work, just a book and a notebook, and since I have to be careful even writing by hand, bus time and break time and lunchtime add up to almost 3 hours of reading a day (more if I can't stop reading when I get home). This turns out to get me through quite a substantial number of books.

I've been posting my book reviews as I go to Goodreads, which feeds to Twitter (though I may tweak the manner whereby it does that) but thought I'd gather the month's worth all in one place too.

17 books read in January )

I think my favourite this month were Fudoki and The Speed of Dark.

And a bonus feature! Books I didn't even manage to finish

At home and abroad: or, Memoirs of Emily de Cardonnell by Charlotte Eaton
This began as conventional old-fashioned romance, with a worthy young lady admired by a dashing foreign count; add in a misunderstanding and suspicions of her honesty, then a couple of less likeable characters to stir up the plot – and here it all fell apart, because the author devoted so many chapters to having the supposedly admirable characters teasing and mocking and laughing at whatever misfortune befell the less(?) likeable characters that I fell out of sympathy entirely with anyone and everyone involved.

Vincalis the Agitator by Holly Lisle
I was browsing the library shelves, trying hard not to get book 2 of a trilogy, and ended up with a prequel instead. This would have been fine, and I was reading along happily until we got the bully, and the millennium-long government conspiracy to power the Empire with the flesh of its prisoners, and the bad guy with the harem of underage abductees. And the whole adulthood festival, where you get to do anything you like without ramification, which apparently means sex, and it emerges that yes, this does mean you can molest unwilling participants at will, and in millennia it's never occurred to anyone that this kind of sucks. I'd kind of like to know what happens next, but not enough to keep wading through this.


Random other notes:

  • I'm debating whether or not to buy an e-reader. I could just keep using my laptop of course, so it seems hard to justify spending the extra money. But if I'm not allowed to use the advanced features on my laptop, such as the keyboard, it's a nuisance having to lug the whole thing around. (Actually, the really annoying thing is having to unplug the microphone headset, because when I plug it in again I have to relaunch the whole speech recognition application and it's slow.)

  • I found some books in the bargain bin at a book store the other day, and they couldn't find one on the computer system, so gave it to me for free, so I ended up with three books for five dollars. New Zealand dollars.

  • I forget what else I was going to say. Oh! Except that, when people make hyperlinks or cut links, it's really handy if they're not called “click here" or “read more" or something, because with my software I can speak the words being linked and then tell the computer to open it, but this doesn't work so well when there are 10 links all the same and the computer doesn't know which one to choose. So the best links for me include a combination of words that isn't anywhere else on the page, which (given combinatorics) is pretty easy as long as it says something other than “read more". Anyway, however, my hands are okay to click the occasional link if I need to, and I have other workarounds too, so it's not like I'm going to unfriend anyone based on this, or even much notice, just I thought I'd say in case it's the kind of thing anyone likes to think about.
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
I've never actually read Dickens' book. In fact I'm not sure I've read any of Dickens' books in their entirety. I was assigned Great Expectations in school and I must have soldiered through at least half of it, and I did look at the very end which was my favourite part (I enjoy minor ambiguities like "We never said farewell again"), but it's quite possible I skipped the rest. I've tried Oliver Twist and Tale of Two Cities and others at various ages, but it just comes down quite simply to the fact that I don't enjoy reading Dickens' novels.

So everything I know about A Christmas Carol I learned from the general societal gestalt, inhaled from bits of TV movies and duck-filled cartoons and fanfic pastiches and the Blackadder parody and YA novels involving children putting on plays and a multitude of slighter references. A Lamb Chop episode once argued that people are born knowing "Three Blind Mice" because who can remember not knowing it? The story of A Christmas Carol is like that for me. A Dickens fan would grimace and say I really should read the book, of course, but there's lots of things that should happen and won't.

Because of my utter lack on fanning over Dickens, then, I was disappointed to see that the title of this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special was A Christmas Carol. We've already met Dickens, y'know? and moreover, the story's been done, in movies and cartoons and fanfics and parodies and novels about plays and and and.

But Doctor Who makes everything better, even earthquakes )
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
I saw the eclipse for about a second between coming out of the movie and the clouds covering it. It looked more or less like a crescent moon. Ah well, maybe next time.

Dawn Treader was a bit of a curate's egg. If you think movies should follow the plot of the book then you'll hate it. If you think movies should follow the plot of the book to the extent practical for a completely different medium then you'll be highly frustrated with it. If you think movies should make up what-the-hell-ever plot they feel like to structure what was already a perfectly good story in its own right, just as long as they keep a few of the major set pieces, then you'll be cool with it.

And if you think Georgie Henley would look adorable wearing Narnian trousers, run don't walk, because she really really does.

Changes between book and movie constitute spoilers for both )

Anyway, on balance, despite the moments I wanted to kill it with fire, some of which were rather long moments, I think I more or less liked it. Definitely more than I liked the movie of Prince Caspian.

The Problem of Susan
Susan's problem is not lipstick and nylons.

Susan's problem is that she can't balance two worlds in her mind at once.

When she's in our world, she finds it hard to believe in Narnia. And when she's in Narnia she finds it hard to believe in our world (see eg the end of Lion/Witch/Wardrobe). She's an intensely practical, here-and-now girl/woman. And for a Queen of Narnia, this is a weakness which she hasn't yet learned to overcome.

I don't believe that means she'll never overcome it. I think when she does overcome it, then she'll be able to believe in Aslan's new world of The Last Battle and, ultimately, be reunited there with her family.

In the meantime certainly life is going to suck for her. Life sucks for a lot of people in the real world, and sucks for a lot of people in Narnia too. I don't have any answers for why Aslan lets life suck for people. All I know is that Susan isn't being singled out here. And she's definitely not being singled out because of lipstick and nylons.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Ripples on the Lake by Dawn Rotarangi (Pākehā, though she's married to a Māori guy)
Older-young adult fantasy (marketed as "paranormal adventure").

The point of view characters are Pākehā (white New Zealanders): Saffron, eldest of five siblings, who's drawn into events by trying to protect her youngest brother from the results of stealing some tapu (sort of sacred/taboo - anyway, dangerous) coins; and Nick, a press photographer with a penchant for taking photos of anything that's bleeding. With her whole family at risk, Saffron has to put things right with some help from local Māori and eventually Nick.

(The story subverts the "Magical Negro" trope in that the Māori helping her aren't so much taking a backseat to the white heroine because she's the heroine, but rather because they're way too smart to mess with these things if they don't have to. In some cases they're explicitly using her so they can keep a distance.)

I like the British superstition as a backdrop to what the Pākehā characters scorn as Māori 'superstition'. It's part of what gets Saffron involved (her father inculcated all his kids with a strong sense that it's a good idea to avoid cracks in the pavement, the number 13, black cats, etc, just in case, so she plays along with the whole tapu thing long enough to find out that yeah, this stuff's real) and thematically it makes a nice compare-and-contrast.

Trigger warnings: (skip) Refers to suicide of Saffron's father. Contains graphic descriptions of two of her siblings' deaths and of a massacre of women and babies.

Cut for my irritable judgement of some of the male characters, involving MANY spoilers )

Beak of the Moon by Philip Temple
Young adult; Watership Down with kea; myxomatosis is replaced with fire and sheep.

I read it mostly because I'm researching kea, in aid of hopefully writing a short story about them. It was okay I guess. Makes an interesting compare-and-contrast with Sil: A Novel by Jill Harris which is the same thing but with tui and a different plot - Sil is about a singing contest and the threat of magpies rather than the whole "Must leave dictatorial home to establish a new utopian colony. Oh noes, we forgot the females!" thing. In fact both Sil and Beak of the Moon have scenes where Our Heroes attempt to fly over a large body of water (Sil is trying to flee to an island in his grief at losing the singing contest; Strongbeak of Beak of the Moon hasn't quite figured out that Australia is more than 16km away from New Zealand) with disastrous results.

In terms of anthropomorphisation, Watership Down does the least and Beak of the Moon is pretty close to that (particularly because if you know anything about kea you'll be ready to believe pretty much anything about them); Sil has more and I particularly go squinty-eyed at the tui plot to imitate magpies in order to annoy the humans enough that the humans will shoot all the magpies. But as books for that age groups go, it was a book for that age group.

The compare and contrast of Beak of the Moon with Watership Down is a bit more interesting but also makes its failings the more obvious. The first two thirds of the novel follow the Watership Down plot pretty closely, though it's slower to get started, there's more infighting among our intrepid adventurers, and in the last third they come back home and deal with the problems there; and then they establish their colony in the last chapter. I did like that it was more rooted in the home and that the book considered it important to solve the problems there, but... Strongbeak's wavering between determination-bordering-on-recklessness and Hamlet-like indecision made it all drag a bit.

Kea mythology isn't quite as fun-filled as rabbit mythology, though it's competent and plausible.

But what really irritated me were:
  1. In chapter one, Our Heroes meet humans for the first time. Humans who wear different coloured hats, and ride horses, and leave out bread for them to eat (and later in the book start fires and bring sheep and shoot the kea with guns). And kea have never before even heard of humans. Apparently Māori don't exist in this New Zealand. I... I guess that could be why the kea meet moa on their journeys? In short: Oh Philip Temple no.
  2. He's clearly done some research on kea, but has equally clearly failed to do research on their history. Part of the reason I read the book was that I am doing research on their history. I didn't find it too hard at all to discover that the early history of kea/human relations goes like this:
    • Māori and kea know about each other. Māori know that kea come further down the mountains in colder winters. There's a reference to some Māori training them as pets.
    • Pākehā naturalists arrive, observe and describe kea. (1856 at the latest.) There's more interaction over the next few years. A topographer knocks them down with stones for food.
    • Pākehā drive sheep into the areas where kea are spending cold winters. Kea investigate the shepherds' huts and discover the joys of pecking at sheep skins and other remains of humans butchering sheep. Some get captured (most promptly escape).
    • Kea discover they can get awesome tasty food from sheep killed in accidents.
    • Kea discover that you don't even need to wait for the sheep to be dead.
    • Pākehā think for months (if not years; I'm not sure if I've seen an exact chronology of the early years) that the resultant wounds are some new kind of sheep disease, until one shepherd in 1871 notices what's actually going on (almost half-way down the page).
    • At some point kea start outright killing the sheep (rather than nomming on them alive and the sheep sometimes dying later of their wounds) but this mightn't be until the 1880s.
    • From 1878 on, Pākehā work out new and increasingly exciting ways of slaughtering the kea to protect their sheep. (I concede there was probably some of this going on from 1871 on smaller scales.) By 1883 beaks are taken as trophies as the government pays a few shillings a beak.
    Temple's history, by contrast, appears to be:
    • There are no Māori.
    • There are no naturalists.
    • In the space of a single year, Pākehā meet kea for the first time ever, set fire to the mountain, and bring sheep (which the kea call "pinkfaces"! Philip Temple, have you ever seen a sheep? if there's any pink quality it's not exactly the first impression a kea would have) to feed on the new growth; in the same year the rest of the book takes place and then, in desperation, a kea discovers a nommy sheep carcass and within a week some more kea learn to kill them; next day the humans shoot at and kill several of the kea, after which the story would have us believe all the kea swear off meat forever.
So that was kind of irritating for me.

(Buller wrote a decent overview of what Pākehā knew about kea by the late 19th century. I can give references to anything not mentioned there.)
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
5 of the 7 books I ordered from the Huia booksale arrived. I'm going to wait a couple of days before enquiring about the other 2.

I haven't read any of these yet. Instead I finished reading The Mysteries of Udolpho on my iPod, which let me remind you, o my friends, is not an iPod touch or anything so fancy, but an iPod Nano. Which is okay for reading when you're waiting for a couple of minutes at the busstop, but not actually ideal to reading a whole novel in an armchair, nor terribly good at remembering that you're up to page 365 and not page 14. There was a period where it'd remember the page number that I began at last session, but I worked out how to cure it of that, and that's when page 14 began turning up. I've no idea where it got page 14 from.

Anyway, Udolpho can fairly be summarised thusly (for which purposes I'll leave out the epic gay love affair buried in the subtext in the first few chapters. It was epic, okay? Even if technically it was all a figment of how social conventions required a heroine to be way less enthusiastic about her admirer than her father is. <sigh>) --

So. Our Heroine falls in love, admires pretty scenery, gets orphaned, admires pretty scenery, is dragged around by evil relations, admires pretty scenery, is terrorised by terrible terrors and also the whole world wants to marry her. She sustains her fortitude by admiring pretty scenery, then escapes to safety, admires pretty scenery, discovers her boyfriend has turned to <gasp> gambling and so tearfully jilts him, admires pretty scenery, discovers that the Awful Truth about her birth isn't actually that awful and also she's now a super-rich heiress, admires pretty scenery, discovers that her boyfriend's misdemeanours weren't as terrible as she'd heard so marries him, and admires pretty scenery.

Also, every second time she admired the pretty scenery, she either recollected or wrote some poetry about it, which the author saw fit to inflict on the reader in full. I swear they were called things like "Meditation on a bat".

Normally I'm not one for abridged versions of books, but I think Udolpho wouldn't be much harmed by a little pruning.

However, it was great fun to get some idea of what Northanger Abbey was all reacting to. And a tad ironic that there was that, "Seriously, girl, life's way more prosaic than your gothic horror stories" theme going in Northanger since actually Udolpho had the whole, "Yeah, there's a mundane explanation for all those ghost stories, I promise" thing going too. If Lost in Austen had been based on Northanger instead of P&P, that would have just been gloriously meta.

I also read a book I got at the library sale, The Tiger by the River by Ravi Shankar Etteth, in which Swati returns with his wife's ashes to his childhood home, where (though British colonialism has made the title more or less meaningless) he and his ancestors were kings. There he learns of the existence of a cousin he never knew about, and more.

The book mingles his journey and memories and the mythology and history of the kingdom in a way that reminds me a little of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits (though chronology isn't quite so... liquid here as in that book). Part 2 dragged a bit for me (partly the point of view change, partly that I wasn't interested in that setting) but it all came together in part 3.

(Warnings for possible triggers: skip) Contains descriptions of violence, including description of sexual violence.)
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
Firefly gave me something to do during the early weeks of the quake, but I never got around to telling the world my view on it.

My view is simply this:

It could have been quite a decent show if they'd removed all the men and replaced them with some actual plots.

Okay, I lied, I have other views too. ) So the best part of Firefly/Serenity, in my opinion, is the fanvids. And with that I segue smoothly into:

Three fanvids about words
(This was going to be "three fanvids about words from shows I've never watched, except I only had two of them, and while I waited to come across a third I watched Firefly. Also the third one I came across was from Star Trek, which I had watched. Also technically I've seen bits of episodes of SGA too. So I just gave up on that part.)

Verb (Star Trek Reboot) by [personal profile] lapillus
Nice fun educational fluff. --I feel the need to clarify that 'fluff' isn't a bad thing, it's just not narratively or thematically deep, and that's okay because it's fun. And also in this case educational!

Language (Stargate:Atlantis) by [livejournal.com profile] newkidfan
I know who the people are, more or less, but not what's happening, and it doesn't matter a bit. The silence this speaks about is almost tangible. It makes me hold my breath straining to hear what isn't actually in an auditory mode. And that tension is held throughout, never resolved.

Sequence (Firefly/Serenity) by Lim [warning for some strobe effect]
Again I knew a bit about River Tam before watching, but nothing about the plot, and this vid worked just as well for me before I'd seen the series as after. And again, oh, the tension. It's coloured differently than that in Language but the shape is very much the same.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Erewhon, or, Over the Range (1872) by Samuel Butler

Butler wrote part of the premise of Erewhon in 1863 as a letter to the editor of the Press, "Darwin Among the Machines".

Erewhon itself isn't much more plotful. It's the traditional storyline: "Man travels to Strange Lands; man infodumps for a couple of dozen chapters about Strange Lands, incidentally meeting a girl; man escapes with girl in hot air balloon."

As Anno Domini 2000 had three basic premises, so had Erewhon three topics for satire, except Butler was less helpful than Vogel so I've had to extrude them myself. Near as I can tell, they are:
  1. disease vs bad behaviour: in Erewhon disease is punishable by law and bad behaviour treated and cured -- and the system actually seems almost as workable as our own
  2. religion: Butler actually satirises this from a number of directions. One is treating it like a banking system which everyone claims to value while in practice only truly valuing the money from a supposedly inferior banking system. Another was describing their beliefs in pre-existence as a satire on the afterlife and (in its consequences) on baptism. Thirdly was setting up a pantheon of virtues (justice, hope, etc) and principles (two things can't be in the same place at once; thus the gods get angry if a stone and a head try to inhabit the same space at the same time, and may even strike dead the head in question) and then fourthly he added another religion, Ydgrunism, with a goddess who is what people really believe in, but to be honest at this point I totally lost track of what the hell he was on about.
  3. the possibility of machines developing consciousness (including paragraphs copied from his 1963 letter to the editor). I'm not sure if he had a point here other than being clever (not that I object to being clever), because he's written somewhere that he wasn't attempting to satirise Darwinism. But at the same time he doesn't seem to have any real fear of machines beyond the thought experiment. He also proposes, briefly, an alternative view that machines are an evolution of humanity - we're developing limbs that we can pick up and put down at will, so to speak - but then he moves on quickly to describe the Erewhonians' decision to make away with all machines entirely.
There's also some miscellaneous thoughts on vegetarianism (which he reducts ad absurdum) and education (including classical languages, which I'm getting the idea were unpopular among forward-thinking men of the late 19th century) and other bits and pieces; these are less well integrated into the story, such as it is.

It's probable that the narrator-protag's constant desire to convert the Erewhonians to C of E is a satire itself, especially as it culminates in the final pages; only the difference of 140 years makes me unsure of the precise rhetorical context he was operating in.

May appeal to those who thought Gulliver's Travels had too much adventure and not enough infodumping.

(HTML and ePub versions available at NZETC.)
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Anno Domini 2000; or, Women's Destiny (1889) by Sir Julius Vogel

Vogel bases this utopia on three principles, which he helpfully lays out in the epilogue:
  1. there's no reason women can't do everything men can [except for a telling blind spot he has regarding participation in and leading of the armed forces];
  2. there's no reason the various British colonies shouldn't form a British empire;
  3. there's no reason we shouldn't eliminate poverty [on the grounds that a) it's easy enough to give everyone basic sustenance and lodging, and b) this won't eliminate ambition but rather stoke it because ambition increases the higher up the foodchain you get, and the poorest people are actually too poor to have energy for ambition].
Having fixed all these things, the various colonies force Britain to give Ireland the same self-determination they have, people stop learning Latin and Greek and with the time no longer thus wasted advance the sciences instead, and the House of Lords becomes ashamed of holding their position due only to their birth so dissolves itself.

The plot hinges on the remaining inequality of sexes - that is, the fact that the emperor's heir defaults to his male before his female progeny. Two reasons oppose any change to this: a) it would mean changing the Constitution, and this seems a dangerous precedent; and b) the heir has to be ready to lead the armed forces so obviously it can't be a woman. [You see what I mean about this being a blind spot. It never once occurs to Vogel that a woman could actually lead the armed forces.]

Our Heroine has purple eyes, is beautiful and intelligent and an up-and-coming 23-year-old politician, and everybody loves her. Unfortunately "everybody" includes "Nice Guy" Reginald who's sure she'll eventually love him back if he stalks, slanders, commits treason, and kidnaps her enough. Spoilers: (skip) She thwarts the treason, inherits a stunningly successful gold-mining operation, becomes universally adored, and (after being made a countess and then the Duchess of New Zealand) marries into the position of Empress. Because she's just that awesome.

Oh, and there's artificial magnetism, self-acting elevators, silent telegraphs, sustainable energy, and a potted history of the development of the aircruiser. When Vogel writes, "Strange to say, the inventor or discoverer [of the final stage of the aircruiser] was a young Jewish woman not yet thirty years of age", the "strange" part is almost certainly her youth; most of the awesome scientists mentioned in the book are female, and the awesomest guy is Jewish.

While pro-Irish and pro-Jewish (ah! just found he was Jewish himself), he's pretty silent on non-white folk. The Jewish guy was possibly partly "Asiatic" or possibly that was just a synonym for Jewish; the description was confusing. A Lord and Lady Taieri are mentioned, but I'm not sure whether they're Māori or just named for the gorge (cf a "Lady Cairo") as they get no description at all. And the inhabitants of Antarctica are, alas, described as "docile, peaceful, intelligent" and "unsophisticated" "Antarctic Esquimaux", related to the Māori and assimilated to the climate with "a thick growth of short curly hair" covering both faces and bodies.

But we must not forget Antarctica itself! "A large island, easily accessible, which received the name of Antarctica, was discovered within ten degrees of the Pole, stretching towards it, so that its southern point was not more than ten miles from the southern apex of the world. From causes satisfactorily explained by scientists, the temperature within a hundred-mile circle of the Pole was comparatively mild. There was no wind; and although the cold was severe, it was bearable, and in comparison with the near northern latitudes it was pleasant." Also, they dig up bountiful supplies of ivory there.

Read more on Sir Julius (contains spoilers, not all of which are accurate) and the novel itself. (ETA: Wrong link; try this one instead - on the right nav bar it lists various formats.)

Update the dialogue (keep the Victorian costumes) and I reckon this would make an awesome movie.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Song For Night by Chris Abani
About a boy soldier (trained to defuse mines) separated from his platoon after an explosion. A short and easy read (in style if not in content matter. Trigger warnings re the content: skip) the book includes graphic descriptions of violence and of the protagonist being forced to rape a woman.) told in a beautiful prose style. It explores the sign language his platoon uses, his memories of the war, boot camp, the outbreak of violence between Igbo and Fulani, and his childhood.

Huia Short Stories 6
Huia Publishers put out an anthology each year of contemporary Māori fiction. I'm... ultimately not a fan of contemporary fiction, I think. Melanie Drewery's "Weight of the World" stood out for me among the rest, being more humorous in tone. In the author bios at the end, Eru J. Hart, said he "asks that other Māori writers think beyond stories of 'Nanny in the kūmara patch'" -- his own was really interesting stylistically/structurally but in content it wasn't so very distant from what I'm tempted to call 'Sister in the big city' which many stories in this volume shared (and which I recall studying in high school in the form of Witi Ihimaera's "Big Brother Little Sister" (1974)). This isn't a criticism really; it's just that it's not my kind of story so while reading one is fine, reading a dozen in a row is a bit much for me. :-) But if it's the kind of thing you like, then you'll like it.

(The other cool thing about this collection is it includes four stories written in Te Reo, one of which is written in the Kai Tahu dialect. Far beyond my current ability to read, alas, especially as I think I'd have liked to read "Ko Māui me ngā Kūmara a Wiwīwawā".)

Ruahine: mythic women by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku
This anthology, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. For each story, the author gives a brief summary of the original folktale/history, then tells her own interpretation of it. All the stories are about strong women; several include female/female relationships and one a male/male relationship. And of course the reason [livejournal.com profile] kitsuchi recommended it to me in the first place was because one of the stories was science fiction and full of awesomeness.
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
This was going to be a pseudo-review of Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) but I got distracted in the middle.

So it turns out I can be tricked into watching a biopic if a) I don't even know it's a biopic because it's about someone I never heard of and b) it's free (both libre and gratuit) on the internet and c) it's full of songs and d) I can look things up on Wikipedia during the boring bits.

Because face it, it's taken a while for movies and tv to ratchet up to their current fast pacing. Watching Old Who, for example, is an exercise in alternating hilarity and impatience. "The Leisure Hive" in particular starts with this really slow pan across a windy beach. We see a couple of deck chairs, and then the back of a tent. And when I say slow I mean it. For six seconds we see nothing but the back of the tent, and then finally we emerge to some more deck chairs and then just when you think we're going to see something interesting we're panning across the back of another tent. Five seconds, and remember these are only the seconds where there's nothing in the frame but the back of a tent - if you count from when we first see it to when we can't anymore it's eighteen seconds. So, finally we see more deck chairs. And we keep panning, and we keep panning, and then we reach -- a third tent. This one we escape a little more quickly and there's the sound of snoring, so I'm thinking something's about to happen, maybe in the next deck chair? The next? What about this one? Or maybe-- Noooo, not another tent!!!!

I don't use multiple exclamation marks lightly, people. The opening credits faded onto the beach at about 00:35 (the cross-dissolve takes a couple of seconds itself) and we don't see the Doctor until--

Um, this is embarrassing! I forgot to mention that right after tent number four we actually get treated to tent number five. And then we see the TARDIS (at 02:08), and then the Doctor snoozing (02:13) but the camera mocks us by coming to a rest with the corner of tent number six just in frame. So it takes well over a minute and a half just to pan across the beach, and I... I'm pretty sure that in 1980 this coyness must have been the height of comedy because otherwise why would you bother? Please someone tell me this was funny at one stage.

Which reminds me I watched Charlie Chaplin's The Rink (1917) a few months ago. Again, I'm pretty sure it was meant to be funny because I gather Chaplin was known for being quite a card, but I was sitting there watching it thinking, "Wow, how fascinating that some ancient human civilisation used to watch things like this for entertainment. I suppose that guy's caricaturised black eye makeup had some tremendous cultural significance at the time; I wonder what it was."

Anyway, back to Till the Clouds Roll By. It's a pretty straightforward plot, if "plot" is the right word. There's this songwriter, and he's having a hard time breaking onto the stage. He gets a mentor, he goes to England because English stuff's all they're buying, he falls in love, show business continues to be hard, he breaks onto the stage, he gets married, his mentor's daughter disappears, his mentor dies so he goes into a funk, someone finds his mentor's daughter for him so suddenly he's out of the funk, he writes stuff with Hammerstein (I've heard of Hammerstein!), his stuff gets produced at Hollywood sung by his mentor's daughter, the end. --By the way, the mentor and the daughter were invented for the biopic; this guy must have had a really boring life.

I actually started watching it a year or so ago and fell asleep half an hour in. But today I started watching it on my iPod when I was waiting in the takeaway shop with nothing else to do, and the songs were pretty good. I particularly liked Lena Horne's "Can't Help Loving That Man", and then later at a boring spot I looked up her bio and... in case I'm not the only person who did not know this let me quote:

"[She] was never featured in a leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with black performers."

"Horne wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGM's 1951 version of Show Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show Boat was performed in Till the Clouds Roll By) but lost the part to Ava Gardner, a personal friend in real life, due to the Production Code's ban on interracial relationships in films."

I think it might be possible to trick me into watching a biopic about Lena Horne by saying, "Hey, Zeborah, this is a biopic about Lena Horne."
zeborah: I believe in safe, sane, and consensual Christianity. (credo)
Dirt, Greed, and Sex: sexual ethics in the New Testament and their implications for today
by L. William Countryman

I've forgotten who it was who mentioned this book to me, but thank you! It's absolutely awesome to be able to read a book which lays out such a clear, evidence-based, and persuasive account of what the Bible actually tells us about Jesus' teaching and God's will in matters of sexuality.

Countryman divides the book into three parts:

Dirt focuses on the purity code of the Torah - this is "clean", that is "unclean" - - eg all that Leviticus stuff about not wearing clothes made from two kinds of material, or eating pork or shellfish, or men having sex with men. Dirt is matter out of place. )
Greed focuses on the sexual property ethic - with particular reference to women and children as property of the paterfamilias. People not as individuals but as part of a family )
Sex is the final chapter, summing up the author's conclusions on "New Testament sexual ethics and today's world". He sees the Bible as still totally relevant - but we need to understand the cultural differences.The gospel allows no rule against... )

In short: if this is the kind of thing you like, you'll love it. Highly highly recommended.
zeborah: Fezzes are cool.  Amy and River blow it up. (cool)
One thing about being sick (better now! mostly, anyway) is that it gave me a lot of free time, not all of which I swallowed up by playing Solitaire. So I've been watching from the start of series 1 and have noticed a couple of things.

1) Father's Day doesn't actually set up a bunch of rules about time travel that are subsequently forgotten. It's not that you can't change history or the bugs will get you, and it's not that you can't touch your earlier self or terrible things will happen. It's that if you weaken space/time by having two sets of yourself in one place and then change history... then you're at risk of (possible but not inevitable) infection. And if you've already got infection going on and then touch your earlier self... then that gives the infection a chance to spread.

2) There's a big theme of accepting responsibility going on. The good guys accept the responsibility for their mistakes (or just for fixing what needs fixing, regardless of whether they broken it); the bad guys try to pass the buck.

See the undertaker of the Unquiet Dead whose insistence that the spirits inhabiting "the stiffs" aren't his fault.

See companion Adam, whose meddling with alien tech ends up betraying the Doctor's identity to the Editor. It's not made explicit that the Doctor would have forgiven him if he'd just owned up to his mistake and apologised, but I bet he would have (well, though see #3). What we do see is Adam making excuse after excuse (not even decent excuses like "Technology like that could alleviate the suffering of billions!") and looking more and more of a git.

See how Rose accepts responsibility for what she's caused in Father's Day. And how her father accepts responsibility for fixing it. (My eyes may have got a bit of dust in at some point while watching this.)

See Jack, whose meddling with alien tech ends up infecting a bunch of people with gas masks and an Oedipus complex. Again Jack is portrayed negatively in how he insists that the alien ship has nothing to do with what's going on; but he redeems himself by saving Rose and the Doctor when he has the chance to escape by himself.

See how the plot is only resolved when Nancy takes responsibility for the situation and for her son. [Which is not to dis her decision to keep that secret as far as society's concerned - not just for her reputation, but to avoid, say, Jamie being taken away from her and sent off to Australia or something.]

See the Doctor's continual angst over his actions in the Time War.

And see how the Doctor constantly takes responsibility for Rose's safety, and agonises over his inability to protect her. Um, except this is where…

3) I don't actually like Nine anymore.

This is weird. I remembered liking him more than Ten. And if he weren't a Time Lord the romance with Rose would be kind of sweet. But... there's points where this gets a bit creepy. Even aside from the age gap, I mean.

Like in Father's Day, where he's shouting at her about being just another dumb ape and then they make up like this:

Doctor: Just say you're sorry.
Rose: I am.
Doctor: <smiles>

Not a small smile. Not a soft smile. A really cheerful smile. I'm absolutely certain no-one intended to portray this as "the Doctor is glad he's forced Rose to say she's sorry so that she has to be grateful for him forgiving her" but that's exactly what the smile looks like.

Earlier in the episode Rose accuses him of being annoyed that she cares more about her father than about him. And I think this is meant to be only half-true, but you know what? It goes a long way to explaining why he dislikes her mother (who's a bit abrasive, perhaps, and not sufficiently respectful of his elite Time Lordshipness, but on the other hand her daughter was missing for a year because of him) so much that he's positively gleeful at having the chance to order her around.

And it goes a long way to explaining why he so irrationally dislikes Mickey and keeps calling him "Ricky" and "useless" even after Mickey kind of like totally helps save the planet.

See also how he's jealous of Adam and Jack. But that's just because he's falling in love with Rose, right? It's totally romantic, right? Apart from the fact that he does it while acting like an emotionally abusive creepface.

I'm suddenly feeling like I've seen all this said before, and probably rebutted too. But I liked Nine and would excuse him if I could, but when I was already feeling a bit uncomfortable that smile was seriously ew.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
Face Down Below the Banqueting House by Kathy Lynn Emerson
Mystery set in Elizabethan times. The author's done lots of research and it shows, though most of the time not too clunkily and much of it was fascinating. One of a series though (as with most mysteries I think?) stands alone perfectly well. Obligatory living-in-sin affair on the part of Our Heroine (a widow); at least the consequences aren't completely glossed over, but. I'm just bored of the trope, I guess.

The story was quite readable and satisfying for the light kind of read it was, anyway.

Cart & Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones
Part of the Dalemark quartet, of which book 4 reminded me distressingly of things I was doing less well in Chalice of Truth. I, um. I absolutely adore some of DWJ's stuff (Homeward Bounders, Fire and Hemlock, the first Chrestomanci books); and then there's other of her stuff that I... don't understand how she can write both the stuff I adore and also this. There's the weird thing she does with POV, for instance: like an amalgam of tight-third and omniscient. And then there's the thing where the magical boy hero always has a distant mother and a duplicitous father-figure (I don't think it's ever his actual father - in most of the Chrestomanci books it's an uncle). It got predictable quite a while ago now, y'know?

And I kind of wonder if she knew. And if I've got things like that. I already know that there's a certain character-type I always kill, but is there anything else I've missed?

I'm at chapter 5 now; I'll probably skim the rest to see if anything new happens.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
When reporter Ewan McGregor's wife leaves him for his boss, he decides to prove himself by travelling to Iraq to report on contractors. Unfortunately getting out of his 5-star Kuwaiti hotel across the border turns out to be harder than he thought, until he meets George Clooney, the best of The Men Who Stare At Goats. Clooney takes McGregor on his secret mission into Iraq while narrating the history of the US Army's experiments with psychic powers during which he has been trained as a Jedi monk - demonstrating along the way his powers of sparkle-eyes, cloud-bursting, psychic martial arts, etc.

Utter madcap wondiferous nonsense.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
(Cross-posted to 50books_poc.)

Lucian of Samosata
- The True History
- Icaromenippus, An Aerial Expedition
Ibn al-Nafīs - Theologus Autodidacticus
Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain - Sultana's Dream
Naif Al-Mutawa - The 99: Origins

Sometimes when reading old things that have been called "early science-fiction" I think "Well, that's not really very science-y," but while I was reading these I thought more about what was known of science in the times they were written, and about how even some modern stuff doesn't fit my sometimes exacting preferences for storytelling, and decided that these all definitely count each in their ways. Lucian does the fantastic voyage; Ibn al-Nafīs the message story; Hussain the utopia. And of course the 99 doesn't need any explanations, it's just a modern superhero series.

Long post behind cut )

Also of interest: Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad's website Islam and Science Fiction.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
So, halfway through Ivanhoe (which, as I mentioned on Twitter, is just as awesome as Edward Eager said, once you get used to the pacing) I found an awesome chapter-heading epigram which made me curious enough to look up the original play it was from. Unfortunately the only copy I could find online was on the Internet Archive and full of OCR errors, but I persevered and read the whole thing because it was just that awesome.

The play was Basil: a Tragedy and it's part of a series of plays about the passions, in this case love. Our hero Basil is the bestest general ever, he doesn't care about anything except victory until he sees our heroine Victoria, at which point he goes through all the traditional proofs of being in love in quick succession and lingers at court while his friend says "Dude, two hours ago you were really desperate to be heading off to this war we're supposed to be fighting!" and Basil says "Shut up, I don't like you anymore. No, wait, I'm sorry, I'll come and fight! --Ooh, is that Victoria?" And then it turns out that Victoria's father is a traitor and is using her to keep him there. And people keep saying awesome things in iambic pentameter that make me go "Tee hee!" or "Ooh!" or "Aw!" and "How come I've never even heard of Joanna Baillie before?"

Oh right, because she's a woman. It turns out that Joanna Baillie was an 18th/19th century Scotswoman, and she was really well-known and loved in her time, and she was friends with everyone, and this one guy said her play sucked and she said "Hmpf" and refused to meet him, but then she met him and they became good friends because she was just that awesome. And she gave half her writing proceeds to charity and helped out other struggling writers and saved the Enterprise and married Spock. We don't seem to have a colour image of her but I'm pretty sure her eyes were purple.

The tragic ending itself was a bit weak for my taste but it's worth it because then I had a revelation: you know how when your favourite author dies and you realise you've read all their books and there'll never be any more? It doesn't matter because this random Scotswoman you never heard of has also written a whole bunch of cool stuff and you can read all of that instead!



But this is not actually the awesome thing. The awesome thing is this:
Newe vuerfarne treffenliche vortheile zu allerhand Kriegsübungen im veld und bevestungen durch Veitt Wolffen von Senfftenberg aus Österreich Itzo der von Dantzig Czeugmeistern fürggeben Anno 1568. Dresden Sächsische Landesbibliothek: "Item, in cities, castles, and hamlets which one must abandon after a long siege, one can with such hidden, buried explosives throw such an obstacle in the face of the enemy so that within two or three days he will come to regret this conquest: namely by placing buried into the rooms, here and there also in the stables, with a running clock attached with a fire lock, everything properly arranged as best one can. A number of such hidden explosives can be delayed as long as one wishes, and set at such an hour as one desires. Indeed, with such a setup or in such a brief time many marvelous things can be done afterwards and with the cocked fire lock, it is more than one can relate."
Dohrn-van Rossum, G. (1996). History of the hour: clocks and modern temporal orders. (Trans. Thomas Dunlap). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (p. 310)

But alas! if you try to write a time-delay bomb in the 16th century everyone will think you're just being silly. :-(

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