2017/12/07

it felt good to be out of the rain

Well, I think we can all agree that if there's one thing I'm good at, it's not posting on this blog. My last six months have been filled with the typical medieval bestiary of Debbie Downer life events — many of which have been related to severe health crises, for both myself and others — that I always feel slightly guilty writing about online, as if I'm attempting to elicit the sympathy of strangers to collect donations for a shady religious charity. There is definitely something coercive about saying, I or someone I love almost died! to people who don't know you in person. I don't know why! But it always makes me feel uncomfortable when I read other people's explanations of dodged fatality. I empathize with people who have gone through awful things, obviously, but I suppose I have somehow acquired a puritanical dedication to suffering in silence myself. Maybe it's all those English fantasy novels. Still: I got better! My mother got better! My father got better! Then my mother got better again! We're all better. (Mostly.) (92%) We are as well as modern medicine can make a person, which is good enough to write blog posts with.

I've already written a post about "politics," but it turned out to be so full of poison and despair that I'm never going to let anyone see it. I'm currently taking it apart into two posts; one is about the failures of American cultural liberalism, and the other about well-off essay-writing white people who would like to reclassify poor white men as a minority group (when white people call for an 'end to identity politics' and they aren't being 100% disingenuous, this is what they're talking about). Writing about both of these things makes me angry, of course, but the "white people suddenly trying to invade the spaces to which minorities historically retreated for self-protection, because those minorities managed to make their own exclusion look like a fun party" part passeth all understanding. White people, what are you doing to us? What are you doing to yourselves?

Anyway. Since I've spent the last five-odd months sitting in hospitals and doctors' offices reading, with an increasing degree of incredulity, the articles in mildly-outdated American "news," "science," and "women's" magazines, I have prepared for you an overview of the intellectual landscape of the dying world of paper publishing. It's like the maps Tolkien put at the beginning of all of his Middle-earth novels, only pointless. This is a brief enumeration of some of my favorite topics, all of which were, are, and will be written about in the the most opaque, inhumane, and unimaginative ways possible:
  • My Wife's Decent Salary Made My Penis Redundant
  • Will You Get A Load Of All Of These Millennials Over Here
  • Do You Remember That Time In The Recent Or Distant Past When Things Were Wonderful/Explicable
  • Is The Entire Universe Going To Explode Next Year
  • Impressionable Suburban Jamokes Are Frightened Of Various Mostly-Imaginary Threats, Here's Why You Should Worry Too
  • Everything You Eat And Touch Is A Cancer IOU
  • Will You Get A Load Of All Of These [Post-Millennial Generation Name] Over Here
  • Have You Noticed That Some Emotionally-Crippled White Folks Act Like Assholes Online
  • Look At Some Floodlit Photos Of Obnoxious Underweight Rich Famous People Who Are Promoting A Depressing Commercial Entertainment Product, They Are Such Adorable Nerds (Follow Them On Social)
  • How To Dumb Down Your Feminism So It Doesn't Threaten Your Guy (He's An Hysterical Useless Baby That You Won't Ever Dump) (Not That We're Suggesting You Should Lol!!!)
  • This Giant Faceless Tax-Evading Corporation Is Spearheading Symbolic Logo-Ridden Efforts To Combat Some Of The Starvation And Misery It Created (Here's How You Can Help) (Buy Stuff)
  • Is It Okay If Fat People Exist
  • This Repellant Irrational White Supremacist Fulfills Many Brainless People's Expectations About Conventional Physical Attractiveness: Does That Make Him/Her More Or Less Scary
  • Could You Be Putting Even More Effort Into Your Pointless Job
  • 10 Tips For Helping Women Shoulder Extra Cultural Burdens
  • Cook All Your Own Food Which You Grew Yourself (In A Quirky Repurposed Pinterest Bucket)
  • Let's Go Back To Training Men To Perform Outdated And Harmful Gender-Stereotyped Behaviors So Dumb Women Will Want To Fuck Them More
  • Be Sure Your House Is Decorated Exactly Like All The Other Houses
  • New Study Says Thumb Dexterity Is Down 12% Among Kindergarteners (Scientists Blame Recently-Discovered Undetectable Toxins) (The Word "Down" Is Defined Creatively)
  • Pretending That Making Your Own Shampoo, Toothpaste, And Cosmetic Products Is A Fun And Necessary Activity
  • Here Is A Fawning Interview With A Man Who Portrays That Character In A Popular Movie Or Television Show That Everyone Wants To Fuck
  • Read An Over-Simplified Account Of The Isolation Of A Minor Neurotransmitter That Looks As If It Might Have Something To Do With Appetite Control (Will The Scientists Finally Give Us A Magic Diet Pill?) (No)
  • Do These Difficult And Faddish Calisthenic Exercises So You Can Look Like A Photoshopped Celebrity In Your Swimsuit And Attract The Sexualized Beach Gaze Of Random Men
  • How To Make Your Own Substandard Naked Feet Look Like An Extruded Plastic Nordstrom Mannequin's Pedal Appendages
  • This Boring Well-Off White Couple's Desperate Expensive Quest To Breed Biological Children Will Make You Wonder How People This Stupid Were Able To Acquire That Much Disposable Income
  • Acting Like The $350 Purse Is A Major Bargain Compared To The $7,438 Purse Which It Resembles (They Are Both Ugly)
  • A Misinterpretation Of Poorly-Understood And Incomplete Scientific Data Suggests That Women Are Biologically Required To Pursue Cuddles, Babies, And Ice Cube-Sized Engagement Rings At The Expense Of Rational Thought
  • This Plant-Related Superfood Has Been "Linked" To A "Reduction" In "Cancer Risk": 9 Unpalatable Smoothie Recipes Whose Greenness Conveys Awareness Of Global Injustice (Get A Transparent Travel Cup)
  • We Rated 34 Brands Of Transparent Travel Cup And Will Coincidentally Recommend The One Sold By Our Biggest Ad Sponsor
  • Profiling The Deeply Deranged Megalomaniacs Of Silicon Valley Who Are Titling At The Windmill Of Human Mortality (Like Alchemists, Only Dumber And Wearing Khakis)
  • 10 Minutes Of Mindfulness A Week Will Literally Stop You From Ever Dying
  • How To Tastefully Wear Your #NastyWoman T-shirt To Your Aggressively Soulless Corporate Workplace Without Annoying Any Important Men (Accessorize)
  • Donald Trump: Is He Orange Satan, Or An Old Toddler? We Ask Poets, Chemical Engineers, And Your Mom
I left out all the articles I saw about Muslims, because I knew better than to read them.

I don't actually have the time to reply to comments at the moment, assuming there might be any, but I (probably) will soon. Also I have lots of things to do online before I can get back to writing mean words about fantasy novels. Speaking of which! I am currently working on the review of a couple of feminist fantasy novels written by men, as well as finishing Carolyne Larrington's King Arthur's Enchantresses. After that, it's Simon Schama & Mark Fisher. After that, who knows? 

Thank you for your continuing forbearance, Five People Who Sometimes Read My Blogger Blog!
ETA: I JUST DISCOVERED THAT I HAVEN'T GOT A FEMINISM TAG WTF FIXED

2017/07/21

even the cheese has got holes in it

Well, I thought I published this, like, two months ago. Whoops! I am not very successful at blogging; I only remember that I even have a blog when I want to complain about something. Relatedly, I have turned off comments so kind-hearted motherfuckers won't waste valuable time trying to think of something to say in response to my banality. (Also, I now hate this aesthetic passionately, and assume that I was drunk when I devised it. I'll deal with it later.)

I fixed up my blog a little! It's now pink, and features a mildly vaginal repeating pattern of poppies and poppy buds. So, neither a sea nor any rabbits, but at least the interface is visually acceptable. I had to sound unplumbed depths of moral fortitude not to include Comic Sans in my selection of custom fonts, but I managed to avoid it in the end; perhaps the urge only becomes irresistible once you've gone through menopause. I'm finding Blogger really reminiscent of mid-00s LiveJournal, though, both structurally and usability-wise — and I haven't been able to get my footnotes to work. That's a dealbreaker. Mama gotta have the footnotes. I'll keep working on it.

I don't have much to share today. I intend to post a long-ish essay about politics soon, but it's not finished yet and working on it would require me to do some online link-mongering, and also it is a depressing subject generally, so I'm putting it off until the pain of keeping my mouth shut drives me to overcome my aversion to reality. Also I don't feel like digging out any proper book reviews tonight. (I'm starting to be dissatisfied with the cover collages I put on the posts, too, have to look into that.)

I have been reading, of course, because I am alive. I gave up on The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry a couple of hours ago (I was about halfway through), because it was joyless and adorable and felt as though it had been constructed out of a commercially-produced postmodern-fiction erector set. It wanted to be Borges Revival very, very badly, but of course the primary obstacle to being Borges Revival is the desire to be Borges Revival. Borges Revival is like an orgasm, or the return of Christ; the more you want it to happen, the farther away from you it slips. I don't want to talk about The Manual of Detection at all, in fact, because it was both inconsequential and annoying, but I'm finding it impossible to just quit the thing, so shit on it here I go:

The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry A pseudo-mystery novel that gave the impression it had been assembled by a committee of mediocre professors of English during a brainstorming session in a writers' workshop. At gunpoint. During one obnoxious interlude, for example, the hapless accidental-detective protagonist is forced to participate in a poker game convened in a dive called "The Forty Winks" (the entire novel is arranged around a theme of 'magical' 'dream' 'imagery') with a couple of preciously Dick Tracy-adjacent twin gangsters; instead of money, though, the characters play for the right to ask each other questions. Or, rather, for the right to participate in a complex hierarchical information-gathering exercise — which is, amazingly, even more nauseating in context — and as if that wasn't bad enough, it becomes clear a little later in the book that the entire episode was confabulated specifically so Author could arrange to say, "They would not have taken Moore to the Forty Winks: too many questions to answer there." Because pastiche lol. This is what I mean when I say I hate postmodern fiction. And also that the only thing self-consciously postmodern writers care about is making sure you know they know you know they know how smart they are. I can feel myself turning into David Brooks, here, I have to quit.

I should say, in the spirit of full disclosure, that The Manual of Detection wasn't exactly poorly-written, and it had some attractive-looking sentences lurking within its inventory of pointless narrative signifiers — but Berry's talent was overshadowed at all times by his interest in devising an inorganic textual object. I think that if he'd leaven the Pynchon simulation with a bit of naturalism, or even some actual fantasy, I could be motivated to complete some of his novels one day.

Man, I feel a lot better.

For a change of pace — and because I am warming up the Hammond organ for a return to the Susanna Clarke fandom — I'll be reviewing a few non-fiction books here on the blog: Simon Schama's Landscape & Memory, Mark Fisher's The Weird and the Eerie, and Carolyne Larrington's King Arthur's Enchantresses. They're all moderately(+/-) complex works of popular criticism, so I may write about each of them a chapter (or so) at a time to give myself a reference guide for the future.

I feel as though the poppies have somehow affected the tenor of this post.
Next time, then.


2017/03/17

uprooted, naomi novik



The shorter of this review is: The novel was thematically indiscriminate and inappropriately old-fashioned, and Novik seemed to have no control over the mechanism of the story — but I am always #dtf wizards. Here's the longer:

[AND OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE A GREAT MANY SPOILERS]

I have the same problem with Uprooted that I had with Novik's very successful genre franchise Temeraire/Her His Majesty's Dragon 1 (whoops!), which is that it is sordidly, pointlessly conservative and it makes me want to vomit. Temeraire is, in fact, much easier to detest than Uprooted, because it possesses an authority-worshipper's monomania for the war-theatrics of colonial-era England (and France), a temporal location for which hatred is painless — which, indeed, invites hatred. Everyone who matters has disavowed all the things that colonial Europe celebrated, pursued, and believed in; uninhabited now (or, "now inhabited only by barbarians"), it's become a safe place to romanticize, to cleanse of its intrinsic annihilative compulsions and retcon into a fairytale kingdom that only makes the kinds of mistakes that can be fixed.

This fills me with a mindless, igneous rage.2

Uprooted is more subversive even than that, though! It hides behind the same lopsided romanticization of a familiar elsewhere, but instead of occupying itself with various babyish wargames it attempts, among other objectionable goals, to equate goodness with guilelessness.

Begin at the beginning: Uprooted is a genre romance novel, sort of; looked at dispassionately, it's just a slightly dirty fanfiction dedicated to the popular pairing The Great Magician/Nerdy Female Reader. The novel's love object is a wizard called "the Dragon" (lol), who is mostly just a more athletic version of Snape, but tethered to the mystical architecture of Luthe the Mage-Master (we have discussed Luthe elsewhere) (if you don't know him, you should contrive to meet him forthwith) (basically Luthe is just a less-scary version of Galadriel) (but with a penis) (he self-reports a penis) and with a few elements of Howl stuck onto the back end of him to make the novel's conclusion look bittersweet and strange. And maybe also some Chrestomanci? The Dragon isn't as glamorous as Chrestomanci, for certain, but he shares that character's enthusiasm for dressing like Liberace. The much-less-interesting heroine is an amalgam of Hermione, Sophie, and, as I mentioned earlier, the Reader. I began to have some real trouble with the story because of this character, whose name is Enoby Agnieszka, because there was a very wide, very cold expanse of blank space separating her perception of the story's reality from my own (no, I don't think it was fancy postmodern backtalk). The fantasy landscape that surrounds the two protagonists is above average, in fact, but it includes some peculiar topography and is mostly just a map, if you see what I mean (you will).

The novel's plot is this —

In a fake version of feudal Poland, some shitty little rural towns are perpetually menaced by an evil enchanted Wood that ruins the people's crops and food animals and turns them intermittently into homicidal maniacs, by means of an impenetrable magic. Therefore, there are wizards. This one wizard collects girls, but he lets them go later, and on one special occasion he chooses to collect the novel's narrator instead of her importantly pretty friend. The wizard is very mean to the narrator, and doses her with invalidating insults at every encounter, while also saving the lives of the poor farmers that live around his castle. The narrator haphazardly performs tasks of domestic servitude for the wizard, while constantly and silently monologuing about how boring and ordinary she is, and how everything that happens to her is frightening in one way or another. It looks for awhile like the wizard has apprenticed the narrator in vain, because she sucks at magic — but later, after some scary things happen, it turns out that the narrator is actually really great at magic, because she has Feelings and also understands the tiny lives of the poor/the whispers of the wind. Suddenly the narrator's pretty friend has been eaten by the evil Wood! The narrator saves her, with Feelings, but the pretty friend is now a superhero. This is presented as a minor tragedy. Also there's a handsome and bellicose prince, who is both rapey and transiently villainous (he represents Toxic Masculinity) (much different from the masculinity practiced by the Dragon, which is 100% legit). Subsequently, many dumb and confusing events occur; they are all boring. The narrator is, for various reasons, forced to go to the City all by herself, where she finds that literally everyone is small-hearted, superficial, and vicious. They laugh at her because she's boring and ordinary and lived on a farm. This is presented as a tragedy of colossal proportions. Then the narrator realizes she loves the wizard, sort of, and other confusing and complicated things happen. They too are boring. The narrator, who has inexplicably become a powerful magician, goes back home and has sex with the wizard, but she is sad because he doesn't have Feelings, not like she does. There's an epic, unusual battle between the forces of Good and Evil, and then a long denouement which is not super-consistent in either its tone or structure. The reader learns the secret of the evil Wood. It is one million times more interesting than the rest of the book. Then there is a happy ending, for certain questionable definitions of the words "happy" and "ending."

love in the time of the flu (or something)



Reader, I had the flu. Or something. I had it badly. I was sick for two+ weeks. Everyone I know also had the flu (or something) and was sick for two+ weeks. This particular flu (or something) had the following unique characteristics (in my case, at least):

  • My temperature got so high I couldn't feel my hands or feet.
  • Normally I never get a fever, ever.
  • But this time my fever was 105ºF.
  • I stopped taking my temperature when it was 105ºF.
  • I had to control it with staggered doses of Tylenol and Advil in order to avoid having concerned family members call an ambulance for me.
  • The skin on my lips and in my ears turned red and peeled off.
  • The skin on the palms of my hands dried up and peeled off.
  • And itched.
  • Something happened to my hair
  • It got horribly brittle and dry, no matter what kinds of (expensive!) keratin & jojoba oil & esters of goat milk & other shit I put on it.
  • I cut it all off, Victorianly.
  • It's not quite BBC Sherlock: The Early Years, but I can see that haircut from here.
  • I took 2000mg of augmentin a day for ten days + cough syrup + chlorpheniramine maleate and I have just now started feeling like I am human again.
  • All the housework was waiting for me :[
I am posting that goddamned Uprooted review right this minute, because I am starting to believe it's cursed.

ONE OF US IS CERTAINLY CURSED, READER.
(I hope it's the Uprooted review.)

My hair!

2017/02/25

computers are like old testament gods; they suck



I have been having my what great-grandma Maudie would call "a time" with my computer. It turns out that those random, continual restarts it kept insisting on, for months, were its shy, understated, El Capitan way of performing a kernel panic. Like, it was constantly kernel panicking. Ten times a day, sometimes, and because I hadn't been reading the Apple Support site for fun since OS X became "macOS," I had no idea. By the time I figured it out, the System had become Corrupted. So I started backing things up, but during that process I discovered that my elderly FireWire drive was, in some subtle way, completely (as Great-grandma Maudie would say) borked, and had been quietly eating all the files I sent it. So, I had to go buy a new one (mine is silver). I slapped my entire user folder onto the new drive without enquiring further, and I made a bootable Sierra volume, thinking I would do a clean install and save myself a lot of grief trying to figure out what exactly had been fucking with my old system. That was when I started really having fun. First, I couldn't get the iMac's built-in HD to erase. Disk Utility said it was too full to work on (?), it wasn't a hard disk, it wasn't writable, whatever. I had to zero it out completely, twice, which took days. Then, there was something wrong with the copy of Sierra on the boot volume (still don't know what), and because my HD had been wiped I couldn't get in to download it again. I finally managed to borrow an old Macbook, redownload Sierra, and make a new boot volume (a week), but because the Macbook was so old it had limited available real-estate, so Sierra had just put the installer in the boot drive, to save space. So then I had to wait while the boot drive downloaded Sierra onto my computer (two days) before actually installing it. I ended up finally getting Sierra installed, and my electricity went out for three days. I was feeling really cheerful and relaxed at this point, as you might imagine, so when the time came to turn my iMac back on I was happy as a fucking clam to find myself continually rejecting the advances of Siri, a completely useless product feature Apple has decided to saddle their new desktopOS with for reasons that remain opaque to much of the marketplace. I would like to point out, here, that despite what you may have seen in various creatively-lit Apple commercials, Siri is completely useless for any purpose besides LARPing Star Trek: The Next Generation. Siri is also, even now, trying to turn herself on all the goddamn time, even though I keep telling her no. Siri is a PUA.

Anyway! After doing all the annoying set-up that any system would require, and requesting a PFA on Siri, Sierra asked me if I would like to host all my files and my desktop environment on iCloud (this would require me to pay money to Apple every month for the privilege), and I said HAHANO, but I allowed as how putting my iBooks library and my Notes and Mail and some other shit on there would be a good idea — and we are approaching Part Two of the narrative now, if you'd like to get up to refresh your beverage — and I sat still for hours playing mah-jongg while Sierra transferred files. Aaaaaaaaaand! And! Can you guess what happened next, Reader? iCloud destroyed my system. It fucked up every aspect of Safari, intermingled my bookmarks/Reading List with shit from my mom's c.2004 iTunes account (I don't even know how!), and destroyed by iBook library. And when I say "destroyed," I mean "first it refused to put the ebooks on my iPad, then it ate them and they disappeared, except for the ones I'd bought in the iBooks Store." We're talking about hundreds of books, here. We're talking about notes on hundreds of books. We're talking about my painfully close reading of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I spent another entire week trying to fix iBooks (none of the Apple Support solutions worked), before finally giving up, getting my old iBooks library out of my backed-up user folder, and turning iCloud off forever. I also retired Safari rather than waste further hours of my dwindling lifespan trying to figure out what happened to it and how to stop it from continuing to happen/happening again. I'm now using Chrome (business) and Firefox (party), and I sync my iBooks manually, just like it says to do in the Bible. After I got through all that, though, I began to have lots of peculiar, random click problems that basically made my freshly-waxed computer unusable, but I eventually figured out that my legacy Wacom drivers (I used a Bamboo tablet as a mouse) were causing system-wide instability. So I uninstalled every part of the driver architecture, got out the Magic Mouse that shipped with my iMac, and discovered that... it no longer worked. Cleaned it out with a can of air and a microfiber cloth, changed the batteries: nothing. So I conscientiously, despairingly navigated to Apple's website using a pink Hello Kitty mouse borrowed from my niece, and discovered that everyone hates the new Apple Magic Mouse because it has sharp edges that you can cut yourself on and you have to flip it over to charge it. So I bought a "like new" used old one, and it works fine and arrived, indeed, in out-of-the-box condition. (One.)

2016/12/28

book reviews, part three of ∞



CLOSE ENOUGH.

I feel like these sorts of posts might not be as exciting for other people as they are for me (lifelong tragedy), so I'll try to think of something else to post here. Naked pictures, maybe. (Not of me.)

Only four books, this time! Same rules:

Bryony And Roses, T. Kingfisher - A horrible knock-off of Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, but much less good. The author admits that McKinley’s book inspired her own in the introduction, but that isn’t any kind of an excuse. The only differences between the two treatments were the comparative awkwardness of Kingfisher’s fanfiction-y version, a bunch of hyper-boring gardening details, the worst and unsexiest Beast ever, and legitimacy. I’ve read several of this author’s other fairy tale novellas and found them brilliant and charming in ways that no other author (including McKinley) could touch, so I don’t quite know what happened here. I mean, the story was poisoned by a lack of originality, is what happened here, but I don’t know why. I feel like Kingfisher could have actually achieved something of historical interest if she had written her own, un-influenced version of Beauty & the Beast, and if that ever happens I will definitely give it a chance — but this one should be skipped by everyone. No, seriously: It tapdanced upon the knife-edge of actionable plagiarism, I am not even being a dick about it.

Child Of The River: The First Book of Confluence, Paul J. McAuley - Starring some evil pig people who live in a land of eternal electric night and who settle issues of inheritance by killing their fathers. Nope. (ETA: Fixed the title! Whoops, sorry. Apparently this is the first in a long series of fantasy novels grounded in Hindu mythology, or something. Still don't like it!)

Creatures Of Light And Darkness, Roger Zelazny - Another Riddled-sourced book selection! This one was much better than Astra & Flondrix, but to be honest that’s not much of a compliment. This book, however, is fantastic. It suffers from some unfortunate oldman-isms re: sex and gender, but they’re really not that bad considering the novel’s publication date. Unique employment of mythology and the narrative structures of science fiction, but transcendent of both traditions. I recommend this book very highly, especially if you’d like to see what 75% of the writers of modern scifi epics are trying and failing to achieve. Also, Creatures of Light & Darkness is clearly one of the references Douglas Adams incorporated into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (along with elements from Norstrilia, about which something will be said later), if you are the sort of person who cares about that sort of thing. I’m going to read more Zelazny soon, starting with Roadmarks or Jack of Shadows (I don’t know if I can handle the talking dog one yet).

Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Laini Taylor - Just the worst piece of shit ever. Really badly written, characters that the author clearly believes are transgressively unique but who actually resemble a week’s worth of Daily Deviations from 2009, disgustingly barfy adolescent love story, everyone is so beautiful you can’t hardly stand to look at them, etc. The kind of book that gives small-minded realism fetishists reason to sneer at genre fiction. Someone put this novel in a "if you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll love this book" Tumblr post awhile ago, and that should tell you everything you ever need to know about Tumblr’s Clarke fandom.

This one was pretty mean! The next batch will have some better books in it, I promise.

I'm going to be — "busy" is a strong word — occupied with all manner of shit until after the new year. I probably won't even have access to my exuberance of review notes until next weekend, so I will regale you then(ish) with more of my Important Opinions. Have a lovely New Year, friends and passersby, and try not to get too drunk/ill/weird/belligerent. Well, you know — getting too weird is usually a good idea. But not the other stuff. You could end up in the hospital, or in jail, or elected President of the United States of America.