is that she for the most part has got two modes, and while she's tried other stuff, she's not really greeeeeeat at doing anything other than these two things. Like I think most writers, her work can be plotted with decent accuracy using only two thematic axes; thus, she need grind no other. For her, there's basically Anhedonic Mode and Self-Destructive Mode.

So, both axes are depression, basically. Sorry.

The Anhedonic Mode is what it sounds like: it's just kind of trying to wrestle emotion out of experiences and sensory impressions that ought to mean something to you but just don't, and maybe the problem's only that you Think Too Much About This Crap? (It's not - that's a symptom, not a cause - but I don't know if she agrees.)

The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness are heavily Anhedonic. Which is why they don't actually appeal to me much! The latter makes its way over into Self-Destructive, in its way, and that does work, but in my opinion it's not the best use she makes of the progression.

The Self-Destructive Mode is also what it sounds like: a character entirely destroys themself or some part of themself because, somehow, nothing else can save them. In her stuff that appeals to me most, the character goes into, I guess, Ecstatic Self-Annihilation Mode, where they are really, really fucking into wrecking their own shit.

Read more... )
is that Lapis is just. Definitely Seivarden. Which necessarily means Steven is Breq!

Which means... someone has to be Awn.
to make me feel better about various things. The other day I re-read The Ringworld Engineers and The Ringworld Throne. This had the unintended effect of making me feel worse about various things.

1) I would like to demand an apology from Little Me for reading these books and thinking they were basically fine.

2) I would like to demand an apology from my mother for never censoring my reading material.

3) I would like to demand an apology from the publishers for not insisting that the series be renamed "Orgyworld" upon Niven's initially turning in the draft for Ringworld Engineers.

4) The Ringworld is really big and has thousands of different intelligent species on it, and it's kind of cut into two separate worlds in the middle by two massive impassable oceans (the obvious implications of which are never really addressed). Pretty much every culture is nonetheless totally down for casual interspecies orgies just whenever, and will in fact be insulted if their guests do not join in the orgies. Compulsory Xeno Orgyworld.

(Bunch of goddamn Homestucks.)

5) Niven has a thing for coming up with alien species in which the women are unable to consent to and/or enjoy sex. He's got to two species with non-sentient women and one with women who don't orgasm in RE alone. Plus two where everyone goes into heat, but he obviously only deals with the effects upon women.

6) Every single person on Orgyworld is straight and cis? Every single person in every single alien species on Orgyworld, all straight and cis? How does that work logistically, even? During all those compulsory xeno orgies, in which some species' women are necessarily disinterested.

7) One species was able to form a Ringworld-spanning empire specifically because their xeno orgy skillset was so superior. Fucking Homestucks.

8) I'm reasonably certain that Consider Phlebas was Iain M. Banks throwing a semi-dignified shitfit about Larry Niven. It stopped being dignified when he blew up the orbital and you could hear the psychic echo of his scream of "THIS IS WHAT I THINK OF YOUR FUCKING RINGWORLD." The Eater sequence also wasn't subtle.

9) Seriously, where does Niven get off not addressing the world being split in half by two impassable fucking oceans.

10) Sad Larry Niven Thing: I'm sure it never even occurred to him that Teela would be a much better viewpoint character than Louis.
Did anyone besides me in the whole world read Sharon Shinn’s attempt to write a murder mystery? It was called Wrapt in Crystal, and it's absolutely bizarre, because the guy “caught” at the end of the book was clearly not the actual murderer.

And I have never been able to figure out if Shinn knew this or not.

So, the murders were ritualistic and religious in nature - the killer kills a nun from one of a city's two prominent religious orders at set intervals, alternating between the two, and tying a religious relic taken from the last victim around the next one's wrists. As originally established, the murderer would have needed to be a local in order to move around the way they did. The guy the detective caught wasn't from the right planet. In the only scene in which he spoke, he acted like he didn't know the name of the goddess “his” crimes blasphemed against. His motivation for the assault he was caught in the act of committing was money.

The hero's a guy from another planet (this is basically Star Trek OC fic, he's a Federation officer) who investigates alongside a nun named Laura, who explains local customs to him, in between waving her tragic past in his face so he'll fall in love with her. He does, and at the end she leaves the planet to be with him.

Laura is obviously the actual murderer.

She'd lived in the city all her life and had the ability to move around it without being paid any special attention or identified later - she even pointed out to the hero at one point that people simply recognized her as "a nun," and didn't pay attention to her face. She was the only character connected to both of the religious orders whose members were being murdered, and she could easily have gotten any of the victims to go to isolated places with her.

She was both the only genuine religious fanatic in the book, and the only character whose devotion seemed to include violence; while she was never shown hurting anyone or herself, she talked about dying and self-harm a lot, generally in conversations associated with her love for her goddess. And while she talked a lot about how much she loved the goddess, she had reason to be feel betrayed by her - the deaths and betrayals of loved ones, her disillusionment with her order.

The final goddamn straw is that she was the last person to have access to the money the ostensible culprit wanted.

The only way this book makes any sense is if Laura committed the murders herself, then set this guy up when the detective started paying too much attention to her. I feel absolutely certain that she killed him shortly after the events of the last page.

And yet I have no clue whether Shinn intended any of this. It doesn't seem like she did - but how can you be so bad at writing mysteries that you get your culprit wrong in such a thorough and tidy fashion? I don't think that's possible!

Yet it seems even more unlikely that Sharon fucking Shinn, of all people, wrote something this sneaky and sharp-edged. So it has to have been accidental. Right?


This is like how Summers at Castle Auburn was obviously about lesbians, but ended with two straight marriages between people who had previously shown almost no indication of romantic interest in one another. Maybe Shinn sometimes gets possessed by the malevolent spirit of Sarah Waters.

(Originally posted September 24, 2014.)

Jun. 23rd, 2014 04:14 pm
Heritage of Hastur is like some ominous fucked-up psychoanalytic artifact now.


Jan. 18th, 2014 07:58 pm
* Lord of Light is a stupid bullshit whiny-baby-Mary-Sue book that's not even paced competently and should never under any circumstances be referred to as a "classic."

* You can call A Night in the Lonesome October a classic, though. That's fine.

* The Hugo and Nebula awards are invalid on the basis that Salman Rushdie never won either of them.

* It's hilarious for reasons I cannot define that in 1989, the year The Satanic Verses would have been up, the Hugo went to Cyteen, Cherryh's probably-best sci-fi book, and the Nebula to Falling Free, Bujold's probably-worst.

I mean, you're not really going to get me to argue about Cyteen, I will allow that it defeats The Satanic Verses in several categories, including the ones that matter most to me personally. But Falling Free? For real? They can't have been serious. Did Bujold get snubbed for something else and they were going, oh, shit, gotta fix this gotta fix this, quick let's pin a gold star on this hastily-edited first draft!

* The Wikipedia page for the thing that beat Midnight's Children to the Nebula is also pretty funny. I'm sure that all of these ideas seemed very compelling in 1980.
You can tell a sci-fi writer's not thinking hard enough about their shit if they've got artificial gravity and AIs and shit up in, but these are not available.

You can tell a sci-fi writer's a toolbox when they're available but somehow evil. "Well, yes, there are horrific alien monsters around, but the real threat here is babies who did not spend nine months causing problems for somebody's kidneys."
THE OANKALI: hello yes, we are the alien invaders and we represent colonialism.

LILITH: Oh fuck THAT shit.

OANKALI: lilith, lilith, we need you to help us seduce the tattered remnants of post-apocalyptic humanity to our cause.

LILITH: What exactly is your cause?

OANKALI: literal seduction, you will have our babies.

LILITH: Did you guys really have to go straight for the woman named "Lilith" for help with your monsterbaby plan. Did you guys think this through.

OANKALI: not guys. our dominant gender is tentacle-rape, preferred pronoun is tentacle-rapist.

LILITH: Did you alter my brain chemistry to make me attracted to tentacle-rapists?

OANKALI: are you even familiar with human sexuality. why would we need to alter your brain chemistry for that.

(yes though, yes we totally did. also everyone else's.)

LILITH: Okay, well, now I am space-married to a tentacle-rapist and pregnant with a monsterbaby and the man I loved is dead and I am permanently alienated from my own species. So, thanks. Thanks for that.

OANKALI: you're welcome, we still represent colonialism.

but also it is biologically impossible for people to be gay now, did you notice that lilith, because that is a thing we did.

LILITH: The next book's gonna have to be from my monsterbaby's POV, because I am so done.
Giggling hysterically on the treadmill over the idea of a Witches of Karres/Homestuck crossover. The Witches of Karres are the Witches, with Jade being Goth; Pausert is Karkat; Vriska is the Sheem Spider Robot; and Hulik is John, who is trying SO HARD to be a dashing seductress, Karkat.


John: man, you ruin everything!

Jade: yeah, karkat, john is trying his VERY BEST to be a dashing spy and seduce you so as to steal our secrets!

Feferi: You are being R---EALLY rude, Karcrab! Didn't you even notice all the WORK we put into his HAIR??? }>8(


Damara: 彼の乳首を噛んで。 絶対成功する術だ。

The Sheewash Drive is just Sollux, who is pretty unhappy about the situation.
Also, Lord of Light is an overrated clusterfuck. It feels exactly like a Shounen Jump series collapsing under the weight of said publication's meretricious editorial formula, except I'm pretty sure Zelazny did it all to himself.
"[CRACK] grandpa Miles meets LEGOLAS VORKOSIGAN, cetagandan elf clone prince"

Those last few lines.



Okay, she just needs to get rid of any other plans she may have had for Miles and do this instead. Whatever she was doing was wrong! This is right.

Edit: But obviously it should all actually be from the Ba's POV, I mean come on.
I read the Pliocene Exile and Galactic Milieu books in middle school, and found it extremely impressive the way she had characters drop phrases in foreign languages into their dialog. (I was twelve.) I just reread the Galactic Milieu books, and I unfortunately am no longer very impressed.

And neither Fury nor Marc is actually at all scary. They don't make very good End Bosses.
Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith

I think Yukito Kishiro and Cordwainer Smith might have been twins separated at birth. I'm not sure which is the evil one.

This is a positive review, if that's not clear! (I really like Yukito Kishiro, you know.) I'm just sort of at a loss to describe this book. It has the peculiar distinction of being a melancholy book made up of an almost unbroken sequence of manic comedic scenes.

Midnight Never Come, by Marie Brennan

You know when you watch a sci-fi movie where they've put a lot of money and work into this CGI monster, but they haven't really matched it very well to the scenery and actors, and the incongruity somehow renders it weightless and powerless? This book's like that.

It's set half in the court of Queen Elizabeth, and half in the court of her secret fairy counterpart, Queen Invidiana, and the main characters are minor courtiers - a human man and a fairy woman - attempting to navigate the social and financial perils of each. The author has clearly done a decent amount of research into how stuff worked in Elizabeth's court, and she's put some thought into the whole fairy court thing, too. So there should be a sense of risk surrounding the actions that the protagonists take - the guy's decision to take out loans to buy himself new clothes to please the Queen, the woman's to sneak out of the palace to pay a visit. I mean, Dorothy Dunnett can make this sort of stuff terrifying.

But there's no feeling of danger, because stuff somehow seems to happen at random, regardless of how carefully or recklessly they're behaving. The girl makes a lot of risky decisions - the sneaking out of the palace thing, and hoarding a kind of bread that confers special powers - which she often worries might get her in serious trouble. Spoilers - they don't! They never matter at all, in either direction. When she gets thrown in prison, it's because of some random decision made by somebody else offscreen. And then she gets released the same way. Here's another metaphor for the book - it's sort of a novelization of one of those lab tests where they arbitrarily punish and reward a rat until it goes catatonic.
I haven't read much recently. Busy working, panicking, dreaming about airplanes.

The Truth, by Terry Pratchett

I'd read this before, but I didn't remember much of it. William de Worde encounters some dwarves with a printing press and accidentally invents the newspaper, just in time for a secret conspiracy to frame the Patrician for a crime. William does not especially like the Patrician, and is not even on very good terms with truth all of the time, but nonetheless feels he'd better start investigating. It will fill some space, anyway.

I mostly enjoyed it - I mean, it's by Terry Pratchett - but this book has a lot of callbacks to earlier books. (I don't even recognize all of them! I'm a bad Discworld fan.) Also, Pratchett's usage of nonhumans-as-representatives-of-minorities is, um, pretty awkward, particularly in that it gets into What These People Need Is A Honky territory.

Petshop of Horrors: Tokyo, volumes 1-8, by Akino Matsuri

Sequel to Petshop of Horrors. Count D has moved the titular supernatural petshop to Shinjuku, where he proceeds to dispense pets and poetic justice to the people of Tokyo.

The original series was tightly episodic - with the exception of a short wrap-up arc at the end, each chapter was a self-contained story about Count D, a customer with a dark secret, a monstrous pet that the customer perceives as human, an exasperated police detective named Leon Orcot, and Orcot's grade-school-age brother Chris. Each time the pet restores some sort of karmic balance, generally violently, and each time Orcot is left confused as to exactly where that guy's torso went. There was an overarching story of sorts, but it was developed intermittently and without much special emphasis throughout the series; Orcot at one point goes through a major personal change in one line of dialog, without noticing that he's done it.

That hasn't changed in the new series, but the justice D dispenses has gotten a lot milder. In the first series, roughly half of the pets he sold destroyed their owners. That percentage is much lower in the new series - it's like he's turning into a hero-of-justice-slash-therapist-slash-confessor. There's also more comedy, and it's gotten a lot sillier. I did not much like the Santa Claus chapter.

The character dynamics are pretty much the same - Detective Orcot's role as D's frenemy is taken by an ambitious Chinese businessman named Wu Fei, who owns the building that houses D's new shop. Chris's role as peacemaker between the two is played by Wu Fei's meek assistant Chin. (Because Chin's in his fifties or sixties, a shapeshifting kitten is brought in to be the Cute Kid Who Gets In Trouble. I hate that kitten.)

Unfortunately, Wu Fei does not work as well as Orcot as a foil. He's sneaky, secretive, and cruel, which is, you know, a bit similar to D? And he's not very sympathetic, partly because he's a jerk, and partly because his motives are pretty opaque. Orcot begrudgingly liked D - possibly not entirely platonically - but understandably disapproved of the whole "serial killer" thing. Anyway, it was pretty clear why he was always hanging out at the evil pet shop.

Wu Fei doesn't like anyone, and doesn't actually mind too much about all the murders. It bugs him more that D closes early to go to bakeries. Lots of jokes about this.

So our secondary protagonist is kind of unpleasant, and it's a problem. There have been hints dropped that his grandfather had some sort of deal with D's grandfather, but it's hard to care about that? Which is also a problem, given that this storyline appears destined to become the series' main plot.

In short: I like it about half the time, and I hope that Wu Fei turns out to be a magical capybara that thinks it's human or some shit.

City of Diamond, by Jane Emerson/Doris Egan

Reread this again. Ending still unresolved cliffhanger.

Bless me, Count D, for I have sinned: Sometimes I wish Doris Egan's screenwriting career would implode so she'd write the sequel.
I just re-read it, and I need to stop re-reading stuff in general - I mean, I've only read two new books in the past two months. This must stop. I must force my brain to accept fictional narratives it doesn't already know. there anything that's like, similar to City of Diamond?
I am also aware that at some point they turned really bad. I've only read the first book, and that back in middle school, so I don't know exactly what was bad about them.

That is, I didn't until last night! Because last night, in a dream, I read the final book in the series. I offer you this synopsis. Warning: spoilers!

It turns out that this book is set on an evil repressive steampunk colony planet, and that the protagonist is a student at Ms. [Something]'s School of Construction of Chicken Automatons For Young Ladies. It's a finishing school where the girls learn how to make chicken automatons? I don't know if you caught that. Geez, Orson Scott Card, what the heck.

On this planet, upper-class ladies demonstrate their refinement by way of the construction of attractive bejeweled robot chickens, which do various tasks like walk around, cluck, and dispense beverages from their beaks. Married ladies may make more advanced birds - swans, pelicans, etc. - but though the girls at the school have the knowledge to do so, to publicly display such a robot bird would be the height of vulgarity. They make the same round little chicken robot over and over, varying its waddle-speed and beakjewels only slightly.

The heroine is bullied by the others for her surly demeanor and inability to make even one working chicken. Secretly, she is a brilliant roboticist, but none of her chickens please her, so she is constantly in the process of breaking them down and rebuilding them. She wants to make a better robot. She wants to make... a robot goose.

The evil repressive planet is evil, it turns out, because it's kind of the world from the "sex-teen" book, and these girls are actually being prepared to be put to work in a brothel on the top floor of the school. The heroine discovers this when she wanders into it while exploring a vent that turns out to be the throat of what's kind of a massive erotic robot swan, around which the brothel is built.

(Hey, don't ask me. This Orson Scott Card's book, people.)

There are two fat kids, who are evil because they're fat, and vice-versa. One, a girl, is the heroine's primary tormentor. The other, a boy, has a portal gun? Except it's a magic book, not a gun. I don't know. He intends to use it to take over their world and force them into an eternal war with another one, believing that this is the only way to keep their decadent, jaded people united.

He tricks the heroine into using her knowledge of robotic birds to help him, but when she discovers his true plans, she wrenches the book out his hands and accidentally sends them into space without a return portal. To their amazement, they discover that they can breathe, and that just outside of their world's atmosphere, they are drifting slowly towards a massive flat "ceiling" just above it, invisible from the ground below. It is a screen showing a starry sky, and they're close enough to see the pixels. The singularity has occurred, and they're inside a simulation!

(Please do not comment to tell me how the singularity would "really" work. Tell Orson Scott Card! It's his book!)

Neither the girl's robotics abilities nor the boy's book offer them any way to get back. So all of a sudden Ender shows up, pulls some kind of deus ex machina crap, and brings them home from space. He and the girl fall in love and run away together? "This... doesn't really resolve anything," I observed in the dream. There's a scene where the portal kid and the mean girl are holding hands. "What do they even have in common aside from being fat!?"

There are also some spies from a semi-evil government organization running around throughout the book, but they never actually do anything. One of them is an invisible vampire? The vampire sadly observes portal boy's machinations, sadly shakes his head, reports passively back to his evil government masters, and never shows up again or has any effect on the plot. My dream-self went, "So, wait. Is this guy from a previous book in the series that I didn't read? Or does he get, like, a spin-off series? There's got to be some reason I'm supposed to care that he's here..." Maybe I shouldn't have read these books out of order.

Anyway, there you have it. That's how the Ender series ended - robot chickens, portal gun, singularity, invisible vampire spy left over from an early draft. No wonder people are always complaining about it!
I love Janet Kagan but can't stand Wen Spencer.

I mean, on the surface it seems like they write similar kinds of books - pleasant SF that's more social sciences than hard science, with lots of Cuteness with a capital C. But somehow what's mildly silly when Kagan does it, I just find irritating coming from Spencer.
I am about to spoil the premise of the Samaria series, and pretty much everything about book three, The Alleluia Files. You probably don't need to care about that, even if you're planning on reading the books, but I feel I ought to give warning.

So: in Samaria, there are angels and humans, the humans being regular people, and the angels being winged people with immense strength who can can control the weather by singing prayers to the god Jovah. Because Jovah listens to the angels' prayers and responds in a material way, they are the world's premier religious authorities, which also gives them significant political power. However, though even the angels don't know this, they're all colonists from another planet, Jovah is a spaceship controlled by an advanced AI, and the angels were genetically-engineered for weather-control purposes.

...listen, it's a romance series about making out with sexy angels. Let us simply accept that if you want to colonize a planet, you're going to need some angels singing. I think that's actually the current thinking on the subject anyway.

Book three, The Alleluia Files, is the one where the world finally finds out that they've been worshiping a spaceship. A group of atheist rebels called the Jacobites (...) has been searching for a semi-mythical set of documents called the Alleluia Files, made by an angel believed to have visited the spaceship. The primary viewpoint character is a Jacobite woman on the run from the archangel's thugs*. The archangel, Bael (...), has been capturing and killing the Jacobites to root out their heresy. Tamar, the heroine, is determined not to run away. She decides to disguise herself, infiltrate Samarian society, and continue to spread their message. But her companion Zeke is afraid, and decides to flee for another continent where Bael has less power, and where most of their people have already gone. Before he can make it to the boat, he's captured and beaten.

Tamar then spends about half the book hiding, having given up on the atheist-evangelism plan. It's symptomatic of the book's problems that Tamar, in hiding herself, considers Zeke (and by extension the rest of her friends) a coward for attempting to flee, and that there are later events calculated to vindicate her. The narrative does not recognize any of this as a contradiction.

Read more... )
I don't know what's giving me that idea! It's just, you know, little things:

All Tamar's habitual wariness deserted her. All her defenses undid themselves of their own accord.

"I don't know that I could leave you behind even if I wanted to," she replied slowly. "Even if I crushed this Kiss in my arm, I think I would still hear your voice. I have become attuned to you. Jehovah woke the bond, but I think it is a bond past breaking. I am afraid, too, but not of losing you. I am afraid of what it means to have found you."

Lucinda flowed to her feet and threw her arms around her sister.

Neither was Tamar used to indiscriminate hugs from chance-met acquaintances, but she did not draw back. This felt familiar, this felt right. Even when those delicate wings came curving around her shoulders, wrapping her in a texture that was half lace and half sinew, she did not pull away. It was as if she was embraced by her own soul, insubstantial but indestructible.

She felt her bones give up their accustomed fight and her blood go dancing backward in her veins.

- The Alleluia Files

As [personal profile] brownbetty has previously observed, Shinn's worldbuilding would seem to indicate that she's never heard about lesbians. But then, she keeps writing stuff like this. Though this is by far the most blatant I've seen her get, Wrapt in Crystal also had quite a bit of subtext. If the two worldly nuns and their guy had been up for resolving the situation by way of polyamory, the guy would have started feeling left out after a month or so.

Come to think of it, this isn't even really the first time she's subliminated an apparent lesbian love story by making the women siblings. Though the devoted sisters in Summers at Castle Auburn don't embrace passionately, their relationship was pressed directly from the Story A mold. The straight romances feels pasted on by comparison. Is there any evidence that Shinn reads manga?


Jul. 7th, 2011 12:43 am
1) On Monday there was a little pageant about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Some slightly anachronistic terminology was used. Apparently the colonies seceded, in part, due to regulation creating a hostile environment for business.

Guess who was in the pageant, reading all his lines with a bizarre inflection that he insists is a British accent, but in fact bears no similarity to any dialect known to mankind? Also, kept waving at us in the crowd and making faces while the other actors were talking?

2) Read George R. R. Martin's Dying of the Light. If he sticks to the narrative pattern presented by this book, then Song of Ice and Fire will end with everybody either dead or desirous of that state.

3) The puppy has chewed up all the things. There are no things left.

4) And I don't actually think this is related, but I can't find the elastic strap that holds my bento set together. My life is pretty harrowing.

5) Some idol group put a CG girl into an ad without telling anyone beforehand that she was CG. Some fans of the group apparently worked out that she wasn't real, not because of any evidence in the commercial itself, but because of some hints in the biographical information the group released about her.

Because the animation in the ad is very good; the only giveaway, I think, is that she's a little too close to the Japanese ideal of beauty. If they'd made her a little heavier or her skin a little rougher, I wouldn't have been able to tell which one wasn't real. She's basically a comp of the facial features and movements of several of the other actresses. They just made models of the features in question, then attached little sensors to their faces and recorded them talking.

The comments on that article are pretty hilarious:

Her mouth and head movements were a dead giveaway… looks extremely artificial.

Uh-huh. Again, if I understand the video correctly, the mouth movements were essentially copied directly from one of the other group members.

In the third video, she blinks oddly at the beginning and her head movement looks a little jerky (the wave at the end too, but that could be attributed to nervousness if she were human).

I think an awful lot of people must fail this individual's Turing test. Seriously, I doubt anyone who wasn't alert to the possibility would even suspect that CG had been used there. (And the wave is just how Japanese teenaged girls wave when they're trying to be cute. I can't see anything at all weird about it.)

What's interesting about this to me is that, judging by the making-of video, what was done was about 75% an engineering thing. As in, it looks like the input from artists was mainly just in assembling the comp. Which probably means that in six years, the hardware and software used to make the facial meshes and capture the expressions will be available to consumers for $79.95 at the six-years-from-now-equivalent of Best Buy, for use in rendering your six-years-from-now-equivalent of WoW avatar more expressive. (Six-years-from-now-equivalent of Second Life will still be four years behind.) Teleconferencing may get pretty weird in the future.

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