An open letter to the writers of Arrow

[warning]SPOILERS for "Arrow," season 3 episode 1.[/warning] Dear writers of Arrow:

Y'all are assholes.

You couldn't let it go for just one whole episode? Seriously? You couldn't let just one episode go by before Oliver nuked his personal life with Vigilante Angst, and you had to do it by (1.) finally getting Oliver and Felicity together, (2.) literally blowing up their first date, and (3.) ending their relationship, on that basis, later in the same damn episode?

And. Also. Introducing a new potential love interest for Felicity, and bringing back her last one, at the same time. (BTW I swear to god if Felicity switches from being primarily a character on Arrow to being just on The Flash, I am going to -- like, definitely start watching The Flash, but be pretty annoyed about it.)

I expect this sort of bullshit from the Supernatural writers. And, frankly, I guess I had no good reason to expect better from you.

But still.

I'm pissed.

Sincerely,

T.X. Watson

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere

Today, I listened to the end of The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, by John Chu, read by John Chu, on EscapePod. (I had been in the process of listening to it yesterday, but finished this morning.) And holy crap this story is fantastic.

I'm not sure if it's exactly science-fictional, but I wouldn't call it fantasy, either. And definitely not urban fantasy. It strikes me as sitting in a category adjacent to "The City and The City" by China Miéville, which I guess makes it slipstream.

It reminded me a lot of The Contemporary Foxwife, by Yoon Ha Lee, which I've blogged about before, for two reasons.

One, because it had a similar balance of extremely consequential and unambiguously relevant and affecting genre elements, and a story about relationships that played out -- not independently of those features, but immersed in them so deeply that the strangeness of them was just about perfectly absent.

And two -- it was similarly thick and deep in absolutely perfect moments of squee. And, like, deep and consequential moments of angst and drama that made the squee much, much more richly earned.

But seriously. So much squee.

Also: it won the Hugo this year for best short story.

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, by John Chu.

The pens -- finally pictures!

This is the ink I bought online, when I bought the pens. Accompanying it is a piece of envelope that was one of my improvised funnels, and the paper plate that turned out to be a woefully inadequate protective surface.

Here's a picture of the quality I got out of the pens. Note that in several places the ink bleeds badly.

Here is the solution to all the problems above! Higgins non-waterproof India ink, and a baby-medicine syringe I got at the drug store. (The pens hold just about exactly 8 mL of ink. Or, in fact, any substance.)

And here's the pens themselves, on top of the heavily doodled test page, which, you may notice, features no bleeding whatsoever.

(If you're interested in deciphering it, it should be pretty much nothing but the lyrics to "Mr. Me" by They Might Be Giants, upside-down.)

Journal of Unlikely Cartography: How to recover...

[warning]Heads up phobia warning: the website I'm going to link to has pictures of ants on the header and a spider in the sidebar.[/warning] There's a lot of stuff I learned about at Readercon, and stuff I did, and stuff I bought, that I really want to gush about, but I'm doing my best to take my time and have sensible things to say about the stuff I'm excited about. So that means, among other things, reading stuff before I blog about it.

One of those things is the Journal of Unlikely Cartography, the most recent edition of a free online magazine called Unlikely Story. The only story I've read so far is How To Recover A Relative Lost During Transmatter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps, by Carrie Cuinn.

Potential, vague spoilers: The map in this story is beautiful.  I mean, actually not, because it's a textual story and the map is never actually visually depicted, but I can't not imagine it as an incredible work of art.

The story itself was funny, with undertones of sad but not so much that I'd call it a sad story. But the moment with the actual map seemed to me to sidestep into a different kind of magical place.

There was some talk of maps as a kind of fetish object in the SF/F community at Readercon, and I think anyone in the genre fandoms can basically agree that there's something implicitly magical about a map. There were three panels on maps this year, and they were all well-attended. (I know because I went to all of them.) I'm looking forward to the other stories in the Journal of Unlikely Cartography, because I'm hoping for more of those magical moments.

About the phobia warning, btw: I didn't know about the spider when I read this story because I read it on mobile -- I will be reading the rest of the stories on mobile, too. Also, request to everyone ever: unless there's literally a spider and you're trying to warn me, don't put pictures of spiders on things.

Captain America: Winter Soldier; superhero transparency

I saw "Captain America: Winter Soldier" again today, because it was outside of my house and the inside of my house was filled with family members. And I have thoughts, and I just remembered that I have a place to write those thoughts down, even though I haven't been using it for like a month because I suck. I wrote a post a while ago, and I'm not going to go and find it because I can't remember if it's from before or after my blog died and I had to start from scratch and if I look for it and it's dead it'll make me sad.

But the post was about The Avengers being effective because it appealed to the existence of a clear national morality. And I think there's a lot of that in "Winter Soldier" -- I mean, Captain America isn't exactly subtle.

SPOILERS START HERE, for Captain America: Winter Soldier and Iron Man 1 and 3, non-spoiler plot references to Thor and the Avengers.

And I know I'm not the first person to notice the connection between SHIELD/HYDRA and the NSA, or the attack plan of leaking all of SHIELD's secrets as a means of combating it being undeniably similar to Edward Snowden's recent political actions. (Whether it was a deliberate connection is debatable, I think: I don't know whether any of the production team has made any statements about it, but the Snowden leaks would have started around the middle of filming in June of last year, and they went back for two additional weeks of shooting in January of this year -- possibly to rewrite the ending?)

So, the moral of the story is pretty clear: secret ORG's = bad for democracy. Individual superhero avatars for national ehics and morality = good.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine, years ago, who was much more into comics than I was/am. She said she remembered reading a comic in which somebody asked Spiderman for advice about keeping his secret identity, because he was the best at it. She said that was ridiculous, because Spiderman spills his secret identity to basically everyone, apparently.

Then she noticed, all of a sudden, that all the superheroes with strong secret identities are DC heroes. In Marvel, everybody knows exactly who all the superheroes are.

I was thinking about that today, and I noticed that all the Marvel heroes in the Avengers series seem to exist, noticeably, in legitimate channels of government. I mean, they ignore them, sure, but Captain America has a real military rank; Black Widow is an agent of an organization; even Iron Man shows up to government hearings about the suit, even if it's just to say 'screw you, it's mine.'

And the bad guys are basically always keeping really big secrets. In Iron Man 1 and 3 there were conspiracies to manufacture terrorist threats for capitalist gain. In both Captain America movies there's a secret, extra-evil nazi organization existing within a larger military organization. In both Thor movies and the Avengers, among the bad guys is Loki, literally the liesmith. 

So maybe the ethics of the Marvel universe are secrets = evil, transparency = good?

I still have complicated, mixed, poorly sorted thoughts about whether the superhero narrative is fundamentally-constructive-but-usually-flawed or fundamentally-problematic-with-redeeming-window-dressing. And I have a headache. But, hey, here's a blog post! Sorry to whoever represents the two hits I still get every day.

The Female Man (End-of-book post)

[Previous The Female Man post] This book took me a long time.  Hopefully, none of the other books take me anywhere near this long, because I want to read at least three more books and I don't have three more months in which to do it.

That said: This was a pretty good book. Review portion of the post, no major spoilers:  In this book, Joanna Russ evaluates gender as a class system from every angle I could have thought of, and at least two more.  She does so vividly, and clearly.  This book demands a lot of attention, there was nothing in it that I could glide through the way I could with The Ophiuchi Hotline, but it's not difficult -- everything you need to understand is there in the text.  Russ designed the book so that the readers could understand.[1. I think. I don't have a quote to back me up on this or anything.]

It reminds me of 1984 in that way -- that it explores complicated and subtle forms of oppression by using science fictional plot elements, sometimes to exaggerate, sometimes to provide contrast, and sometimes just to show reality as it actually is. But where Orwell was highlighting the oppression of a government, which plans and organizes and has things written down and spelled out, Russ highlights the oppression of culture, which isn't planned or organized by anyone or any group in particular, but is sustained by handed-down traditions and expectations and prejudices.

(I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but Russ has a non-fiction book, How to Suppress Women's Writing, that explores that kind of institutional social oppression in a much more organized, point-by-point way.)

That said, there are significant issues with how Russ portrays trans identities later in the book. The context is such that, if you stretch for a benefit-of-the-doubt reading, you can avoid a blatantly transphobic reading, but the fact that, later in her life, Russ said that she had been disabused of past prejudices towards trans people[2. Delany, Samuel R. and Russ, Joanna. "The Legendary Joanna Russ Interviewed by Samuel R. Delany." Broad Universe Broadsheet. Broad Universe. Feb. 2007. Web. March 30, 2014.] damages the credibility of that claim.

Alright, so that's the stuff I wanted to say about the book that doesn't depend on spoilers.  Everything below is for my project, and will make no effort to conceal the content of the book for your enjoyment.

Spoilers start here.

The main thing I want to talk about in The Female Man is trans identities -- or, the sort-of-absence of them.  I wrote in the last post about a character who was dissatisfied with her role as a woman in society, but she didn't seem to be experiencing gender dysphoria, exactly?

The issue of trans people shows up much more vividly later on, in the fourth world.[3. There are four worlds in The Female Man, which I'll refer to in what I think was their order of appearance: 1. the real world, home of the character called Joanna, who calls herself the author (I have complicated and irrelevant thoughts on authorial insertion), 2. Jeannine's world, an alternate present-day ('70s) America in which WWII never happened and the great depression didn't end, 3. Whileaway, an alternate distant future with a past similar to Jeannine's world, in which men have been completely wiped out for hundreds of years, 4. Jael's home world, which features complete gender segregation and a full-scale, guns-and-bombs war between the sexes that spans multiple planes of existence.] I don't remember seeing much of the exclusively-women's civilization in the fourth world, but we see a tour of the exclusively-men's civilization. There, hegemonic masculinity is the most fundamental rule, and here's where the biggest issues emerge with trans identities.

In the men's world, some people are forced to transition.

Part Eight, Chapter VII, Pg. 167:

Manlanders buy infants from the Womanlanders and bring them up in batches, ... keep them in city nurseries until they're five, then out into the country training ground, with the gasping little misfits buried in baby cemeteries along the way. There, in ascetic and healthful settlements in the country, little boys are made into Men -- though some don't quite make it; sex-change surgery begins at sixteen.  One out of seven fails early and makes the full change; one out of seven fails later and (refusing surgery) makes only half a change: artists, illusionists, impressionists of femininity who keep their genitalia but who grow slim, grow languid, grow emotional and feminine, all this the effect f spirit only.  Five out of seven Manlanders make it; these are "real-men." The others are "the changed" or "the half-changed." All real-men like the changed; some real-men like the half-changed; none of the real men like real-men, for that would be abnormal.  Nobody asks the changed or half-changed what they like.

I mentioned above a possible reading giving Russ the benefit of the doubt: that the forced feminization of Manlanders who fail to demonstrate sufficient masculinity is meant as an exaggerated criticism of the way hegemonic masculinity affects men who fail to live up to the ideal of the "real-man." In that reading, Russ is only completely failing to think of trans women while she constructs this world.

The less charitable reading is that Russ bought into the prejudice that trans women are men trying to infiltrate women's spaces or replace women in the social order.

(Now that I flip through my bookmarks, I'm noticing more lines that can be read as transphobic.)

I think this book is important, and I'm glad I read it for this project. I also think it was really good, and I wish I could recommend it without reservation as a fantastic exploration of patriarchy and internalized misogyny.  The transphobic parts make real, strong points about masculinity, but I urge anyone who reads this book on my recommendation to look into the treatment of trans women in second-wave feminism and take care to separate Russ's prejudices from her criticism of hegemonic masculinity.

Next, I'm going to be reading Mission Child by Maureen McHugh, because it's the only other book I've got for this project that's a mass-market paperback and I want a break from carrying a trade paperback, because trade paperbacks suck.[4. Trade paperbacks don't suck.  They just don't fit neatly into my coat pocket.]

EDIT immediately after publication: I just want to add a citation to this article,[B., Stephen. "Joanna Russ 1937-2011." Bad Reputation. Bad Reputation. May 10, 2011. Web. March 30, 2014.] an obituary of Russ, for later reference.  I'm also adding a hyperlink to that interview with Russ that I cited, because citations don't contain hyperlinks.

Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett

I just finished reading Terry Pratchett's latest book, Raising Steam.  Like, 10 minutes ago. I'm writing this post on my phone, so it's going to be a little short on fancy stuff like links and bold-face text and paragraphs longer than a single large sentence. So, er, sorry.

I really enjoyed this book. I want to be clear about that -- it's a great book and I liked it.  Because I'm about to say all sorts of stuff about not being that into it, and I want everyone to know that doesnt mean I hated it.

I've been a big fan of Terry Pratchett for a while now, and I still list Going Postal as my favorite book. And I think it might be partly because that one's so hard to beat that I was a little bit let down by Raising Steam.  Or, maybe it's because I haven't read all of Pratchett's other work -- this one is more entangled with his other narratives than the previous two Von Lipwig stories were. But the biggest reason I think I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as some of his other books is because I didn't pick itime. at a time when what the book was saying was something I needed to hear.

Going Postal speaks to me, I think, because (a.) It's about identifying with a sense of person-ness that's deeply connected to what you do, like, or are good at, without being defined by itit, and (b.) It's about the real, tangible, vital significance of narratives, true or not, in people's lives.  And it doesn't hurt that I first read it when I was in the middle of a depressive episode and it directly aontradicted a lot of the core assumptions of my self-loathing at the time.

Raising Steam has a little of that, but (apart from the fact that I'm not in the crisis I was in then right now) mainly it's about the difference that real, material changes in technology makes. That's also really important, and has also at times brought me to tears thinking about. But it isn't answering any core existential questions for me, the way Going Postal does. (Or, honorable mention, The Truth, which falls sort of in the middle, being about the invention of the printing press and also tensions in difficult family relationships.)

Next up, I'm starting Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.  I'm very excited, having read it a while back when it was just a short story.  If there's anything you'd like to hear about my experience with Raising Steam, please ask.  I have lots and lots more thoughts than this, just too tired to make them cohere for scrutiny and clarity at the moment.

Dominion: more thoughts, and the online game

I mentioned before that I've been playing Dominion, which is a card based strategy game.  I've continued to play it a lot since then -- on Sunday night[1. I think. I have a terrible internal calendar.] I stayed up till 2 a.m. in Denny's playing with friends, and I brought it to New Year's last night where I played my first five-player game.[2. The game is set up for two to four players, but if you have more than one set that includes the base cards (for example, the original game and the Intrigue expansion) you can combine them in appropriate proportions to make the game playable for five or six players.  Any more than that and the creators strongly recommend that you just split up and play two separate games.]  This morning, I woke up and played the online Dominion game for about an hour and a half, and this afternoon I'm going to introduce some of my other friends to the game before work. I said in my previous post that I couldn't explain what made Dominion so great, apart from a general statement that it's really well-balanced and enables a lot of styles of play.  Since then, I've noticed another thing that makes the game a lot of fun:  You can't target specific other players.

While you can interfere with the other players in the game, if you choose to play with the cards that enable that sort of thing, all such interference is either decided arbitrarily (you can affect the player on your left, generally) or universally (each other player responds in the same way to most attack cards).  That means that even if you're playing with some kind of mean people, they can't gang up on someone they don't like, or form alliances against the spirit of the game.

There is, apparently, a way to play with other people online, rather than just bots.  My username is T.X. Watson, and I've got no idea how to set that up but if anybody wants to play with me I'm willing to figure it out.

I hate the Wordpress Android app

Last night, I was really impressed with the Wordpress App for Android, for the first time.  I was impressed because I noticed there was a quick photo feature -- and, whatever problems I've had with the app before, I figured it'd probably work great with its own native features. So I snapped a photo I wanted to show off.  This photo:

Now that I'm at a computer, I took the liberty of editing the photo a little -- just to make it less gray.  There was not good lighting in my room in the middle of the night yesterday.

What I got instead was a block of HTML text that uploaded right on schedule at 9 a.m. this morning.

When I noticed, at about 10:30, I opened up the post and attempted to fix it.  Everything looking normal after I re-inserted the photo, I uploaded the edited version of the post and checked it.

The block of HTML was back.  So I edited it again, just to indicate that it hadn't worked.  I also tried to strike through the original text, instead of just leaving it there plain.  That, also, appeared to go fine, until I looked at the uploaded post.

What should have looked like this:

Here is an example sentence

Looked like this:

STRIKEHere is an example sentence/STRIKE

(I didn't attempt to center the text in the post.  I imagine it would have been even worse.)

So, when I wanted to brag about my fun little frog cross-stitch, I got a frustrating morning of app errors and embarrassingly screwed up auto-posts to my tumblr.

I have now deleted the app, and will probably not re-install it, because when my posts fail it makes me want to cry.  (If it matters to anyone considering getting the app, or who might be experiencing similar difficulties, I have a Samsung Galaxy S4.)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I just saw the new Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire.  It is now very late at night, and I can't really consciously unpack all my thoughts.  So I'm just going to throw this out there: I hope -- I really, really hope -- that the way the people involved in the creation of this film act after the final film has gone out into theaters reflects the way the characters in Catching Fire behave at the very end of the movie.

So, obviously, spoilers.

The way Catching Fire goes down, at the end, is the gamemaker of the 75th annual Hunger Games turns out to be working with the rebellion to use the games to undermine the government and spike up anti-Capitol fervor.  So, it's one-or-several industry insiders using an incredibly popular form of entertainment to sneak in subversive, anti-establishment narratives in an effort to deconstruct an extremely problematic status quo.

The Hunger Games marketing team hooked up with, Covergirl, I think?  To put out a line of makeup based on all the districts, which is just incredibly fucked up for reasons that are pretty obvious if you read the books and understand the themes, or even if you've just seen the movies.  I'm hoping that it's the setup for a planned double-cross.  I'm hoping that Suzanne Collins and Jennifer Lawrence and everyone else involved just start doing interviews all over the place unpacking all the parallels between the Hunger Games films and the problematic nature of entertainment in the US.

That is all.

Gamespot succeeds where Guns & Ammo fails: awesome response to criticism

Remember last Friday, when I wrote about the two people who got fired from Guns & Ammo for being remotely associated with the idea of gun control?  The people who got labeled as "Enemies of the people of the gun" by one particularly terrifyingly nuts responder? That's an example of a fanbase failing to mitigate its extremists.  Gamespot, on the other hand, has just provided an example of success.

In this video, vlogger(?) Johnny Chiodini highlights some of the response to Gamespot's review of Grand Theft Auto V, which they gave a 9 out of 10.

Many fans were furious about this score -- not because they thought it was unreasonable to give it such a high score, though.  They were angry because it wasn't a 10 out of 10.  There was some serious rage in the comments that professional video game journalists could conceivably find any fault at all in this game.

Mainly, it seemed, their problem was with the first of all two items in "The Bad," as opposed to the five in "The Good," which read: "Politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic," a theme she expanded on in the article, which, Chidoni says in his video,

[... triggered] personal attacks on Carolyn in the comments, and even a petition to get her fired for disrespecting Grand Theft Auto V.

Yeah, that sounds familiar.  But where Guns & Ammo panicked when the most monstrous elements of their fanbase started flipping out, apparently Gamespot stood by its reviewers and its ideas.  Chidoni in particular laid out his condemnation of Gamespot's asshats in the end of his video, to the point of apparently considering ending his show rather than risk contributing to the hate:

 looking at the amount of vitriol our community spilled this week, the fact I've spent more than a year of my life making this show suddenly makes me feel distinctly uneasy -- because what if I've been directly contributing to this mess the whole time?  What if the very user input I hate to see on this site has actually increased as a result of my work?

You know what?  I don't really want to see it happen anymore.  I don't want to sweep hate speech under the rug and pretend it didn't happen, any more than I want to give it a platform from which it can be repeated.

The personal abuse, verging on persecution, is actually prohibited in Gamespot's terms of use document, and yet it runs rampant across the site, and I don't want to contribute to it anymore.  I'm not sure where this show is going in the future, if I'm honest, but I can tell you right now I don't like the way our community currently treats the concept of the comment box.

I'll see you next week, I suppose.

[editorial note: I don't follow Gamespot, so I don't know to what degree their content usually is or isn't deeply problematic.  I was impressed by this video, as a response to some of the worst elements of the gamer community, but I want to be clear that I'm viewing it in isolation.]

Holdfast: a new speculative fiction magazine. Also, weird time and effort stuff, redux

Today seems like it fits in nicely as one of a three part series forming the beginning of this week.  (Fingers crossed that tomorrow and Friday are normal and I'm not shaping up for a five-episode functionality roller-coaster.)  In the inverse of yesterday, I went to bed at midnight, and woke up a little past 3am.  I tried for about two hours to go back to sleep, then gave up and went to my office. There, in no particular order, I watched two episodes of Supernatural, caught up on my webcomics, wrote 93 WriMo words, and read about half of the content on this cool new online speculative fiction journal, Holdfast, which will be the topic of almost all of this post.

Holdfast (the interesting part.  Read this bit!)

 

They're going to focus on a different theme in spec fic every issue -- this issue's theme is "Speculating about speculative women," and my favorite content came from two of their to-be-regular pieces, "A letter to..." and "Unbelievers," respectively a letter from a fan to someone important to them in spec fic, and a pair of reviews of a book, by the journal's editors and an outside critic with a history of skepticism towards speculative fiction.

The letter was to Tamora Pierce, who writes books about girls who are heroes in the world of Tortal.  She might write about other stuff, too, I'm not sure.  I know about that part because her books were very important to my partner in her childhood, so we've been reading them together lately.  They are awesome.  So far we've read all four Song of the Lioness books, and are on the third Wild Magic book.

The Unbelievers was about a book called Tender Morsels, which I haven't read, and the eponymous critic (whose real name is Eric Randolph this issue) was not impressed.  I thought it was pretty cool that this feature led in with a fail, it makes me excited about the hypothetical future in which they make a convert.  (Hopefully with a book I already know and love!)

I've added all four of the Nonfiction articles form this issue saved to my Pocket, but I haven't had time to read any of them yet.

I can't tell if there is, or if there's going to be, any way to link to past issues, but right now there's only one issue up, and there doesn't seem to be a permalink to the Issue 1 portal.  So maybe they don't plan on keeping a running archive?  Just in case, check out all the great content!  Quick!

Back to my life

I seriously considered not going to school today.  I just wanted to go to sleep by the time the sun had come up, but there were too many important things:  the GSA officer meeting, an appointment with my academic adviser, Bio lab... so I dragged myself in, and I'm pretty glad I did.  For all that school was exhausting, it's also an important part of my life and being there and seeing people is rejuvenating.

After school, after about an hour-long break at home, I went to work, where at the end of the night I experienced the opposite problem I had yesterday:  I got cocky, overestimated the speed with which I'd be able to handle a much smaller pile of books, and ended up taking an hour doing what I thought would only take a half hour.  Maybe it was just a more difficult pile, maybe it was my exhaustion, or maybe it was the lack of panicked urgency.

I'm not sure how WriMo's going to go tonight.  I intend to be in bed at midnight, no matter what, and I've still only got those 93 words written, and I don't really know what happens next.

Oh well.  Wish me luck.  (Please.  I'm begging you.)

World War Z review (unapolagetically spoilery)

I watched World War Z on [Friday night?  I don't know, some time since my last blog post.], and I kept thinking about it all weekend.  I wrote some initial notes earlier, but now I'm going to try to string them together into a solid post. Now, I really liked this movie.  I mean, like, there was a huge amount about it that I thought was outright awesome.  But I'm going to start with the parts that sucked.

The parts that sucked

The opening was just psychotically intense.  I was almost ready to shut the movie off by the time it got to the grocery store, which was where big complaint #2 came up:  

[Trigger Warning: rape]

some strange men attack Karen in the middle of a crowded grocery store, in an unambiguous attempted sexual assault?  Covering this first from a Watsonian perspective, then Doylist [Link should be non-triggering]:

(a.) why would they drop the very-necessary-for-survival task of looting to rape someone? (b.) why would they do something that would compromise their safety so intensely while zombies are attacking?  (c.) how did they think it was even remotely possible that someone wouldn't murder them for what they were doing at that moment?

And, alternately, (a.) why did the filmmakers think this was a good idea? (b.) what's wrong with mundane assault?  Why couldn't she have just grabbed something they wanted and they tried to fight her for it?  (c.) Why didn't anyone involved in the production at any particular level of significance say, at some point, "Um, how about we don't do that?" (d.) why not at least make this a badass moment for her, and have her successfully incapacitate them? (e.) did they really need "not pro sexual assault" as a specifically established thing about Gerry?  Not to make it about him, but it was totally about him.  Is that the filmmakers' idea of 'exceptionally cool-headed response to collapse of civilization'?  That he continues to not be in favor of the rampant, openly destructive use of women as disposable objects?

[/TW: rape]

There are a total of four arguably named women in this film:  Karin Lane, Gerry's wife; Constance Lane and Rachel Lane, Gerry's daughters; Segen, the Israeli soldier who plays a significant supporting role.  There's one more definitely unnamed significant woman: one of the three W.H.O. doctors.

I say arguably named because Segen, the most proactively helpful woman in the film, is only called Segen.  This is even lampshaded, when Gerry asks her if Segen is a first or last name, and she says it's just Segen.  Segen is, according to the actress who played her, Hebrew for Lieutenant. So, she's got a title.  But it's played like a name.

I'm pretty confident that it doesn't pass the Bechdel test: as far as I can remember, every conversation in this film that Gerry wasn't a part of was about Gerry.

That first criticism, about the intensity of the opening:  In the context of the movie, I'm pretty okay with it.  If I'd gone in knowing what I now know about how the movie goes, I feel like it would have been less troubling.  The second criticism, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that folks shouldn't bother with the movie because of that.

The stuff I liked

Okay so there were kids crying in the next room during some of the important conversations, so I didn't get them 100%.  But as far as I could tell, all the major plot points were really well justified.  I don't think that's, like, aggressively mandatory -- I like a lot of films that make no sense -- but I always feel like it's a sort of extra treat, like an easter egg, when I can't find anything in the plot that doesn't make sense.

During the beginning of the film, I remember thinking several times, "This would be great if they just keep going down in intensity from here.  And they totally did! That's what I mean about knowing what I know now: in the context of setting the stage as maximally expansive and maximally chaotic, the opening was pretty much perfect.  The end, with just a few dozen zombies in a labyrinthine, vault-like building was such a cool way to bring the story to a close.  The threat got smaller and smaller as the solution became more and more achievable, but to keep up the tension the film just kept getting more and more claustrophobic.

Gerry was such a cool character.  He's the kind of person I'd want to play in a tabletop RPG about a zombie apocalypse.  I love that he's reserved, calm under pressure, never hulks out on anything or channels some sort of manly rage, and unapolagetically caring.  He's got a lot of great action hero qualities.  He thinks fast, and acts fast on his conclusions.  He gathers information like a sponge and uses it to solve problems incredibly effectively.

But the thing I like most about him, by a huge margin, the thing I liked most about this movie, was that he never, not once, not even a little bit, passed over an opportunity to save someone.

The obvious #1 example of this is his family, his concern for them being his top-of-the-list character trait.  But he immediately started trying to save other people, too.  He tried to convince the family in the apartment to come with him, because he thought keeping moving was their best bet.  When they didn't come, but the kid did, he made sure that kid -- some strangers' kid -- got as much protection as he was pursuing for his own daughters.

He was ready to throw himself off a building rather than turn and hurt his family.  He chopped off Segen's arm after she'd been bitten in a split second, on the long shot that it would stop her turning.  When it did, he dressed the wound, and made sure that she continued to be able to run.

With half a plane turning, he tried to save the other half.  Granted, he didn't save the pilots when he blew up the plane, that being the one example I can think of where he put his own survival above the slim chance of survival of two specific individuals.  Even then, it was only when they refused to let him in the cockpit, where all four of them (because he definitely wouldn't have left Segen behind) could have landed safely.

Then, it ends with him risking his life on a barely plausible theory so that he will have an off chance of saving all the remaining people.

(Also, cinematically, I liked that the whole atmosphere of claustrophobia evaporated from the scene as soon as he succeeded in inoculating himself.)

So, those are my thoughts on World War Z.  There are a lot of good reasons to watch this movie, and less than the normal amount of good reasons not to, though those reasons are definitely there.  I'd give it a B+.

It's late at night.  Or, it's after dark, anyway, which means, it turns out, that it's the wrong time to start looking into the history and interpretations of songs on They Might Be Giants's album Apollo 18.  I am now terrified, and can't walk through dark halls, and keep glancing uneasily at the sliver of black visible between the mostly-closed curtains of my office.  The fact that the door doesn't shut all the way doesn't help, either. On the other hand, that makes this an excellent time to talk about the album.  Which holy crap is so good.

General features:  The singles from Apollo 18 were "I Palindrome I," "The Statue Got Me High," and "The Guitar."*  The album also contains 21 songs under 30 seconds long, called "Fingertips."  Apparently, I stumbled on the correct application of these songs, which is to turn on shuffle so the regular songs are interspersed with weird little moments.**

My favorite song on the album is "Dinner Bell," which is just so much fun.  The reason I'm freaked out, though, while it trails back around to that, starts with "Turn Around."

"Turn Around" features lyrics such as:

I was working all night in my office When a man I had recently killed Called me up from a phone near my building So I looked out the window at him

and

Until the engineer whose back had been turned And who we thought would find this highly amusing Quickly swiveled his head around And his face which was a paper-white mask of evil Sang us this song

and the chorus,

Turn around, turn around, There's a thing there that can be found Turn around, turn around It's a human skull on the ground Human skull on the ground Turn around

The thing is, it's such a cheery song, it didn't really sink in that it's freaking terrifying until I actually read some people's interpretations of it on the They Might Be Giants Wiki.

Now, that scared me enough that I really needed to find something to make me feel better.  So I started looking for another song that might help.

  • I'm arachnophobic, so Spider was no help.
  • I already know that I Palindrome I is about familial murder.
  • Which Describes How You're Feeling is weirdly existentially terrifying
  • None of the Fingertips aren't in some unknowable way horrifying
  • I didn't even click on Dig My Grave

And Dinner Bell, which is my favorite song on the album, has a hard-to-hear refrain alluding to Pavlov's conditioning experiments, and an inexplicable section that John Linnell learned how to sing by memorizing the lyrics played in reverse, singing those backwards words, then reversing them back to the correct order of phonemes.

Those lyrics are:

Shoulder, bicep, elbow, arm Forearm, thumb, wrist, knuckle, palm Middle, pinky, index, ring Dinner bell, dinner bell, ding

Goddamn I'm freaked out now.  I may not be sleeping very well tonight.

*(The Lion Sleeps Tonight)

**Please pass the milk, please... please pass the milk, please...

How To Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ

I finished reading "How To Suppress Women's Writing" by Joanna Russ yesterday.  (Then, immediately after my first break, started reading Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson, which I had to go and get from my car.) Let's jump immediately past the really annoying thing that happened any time anyone else read the title of this book:  No, it's not about actually oppressing women.  It's a book about how women are oppressed.  The title is sarcastic.  (I anticipate similar troubles if/when I ever get around to reading Baratunde Thurston's "How to be Black.")

I don't really know how to talk about this book.  It's short, and it's incredibly economical -- I was going to write "dense," but that brings to mind a sort of incomprehensibility that is markedly not present.  It's an easy book to understand, but Russ wastes very little time getting to her points.  I don't know how I could summarize any of it.

I heard about this book last year at Readercon -- I can't remember if I mentioned that here before.  I wandered into a panel that turned out to be a book club meeting about it.

Some of the things I found most interesting:

  • Women in anthologies and other collections are really consistently somewhere between 5 and 8 percent of the selections
  • Jane Eyre wasn't Charolette Bronte's only book
  • Everything about H.D.
  • Virginia Woolf's political stuff

This is a really interesting book that I recommend highly.  It has given me a huge number of leads into stuff I want to start reading, now that I know it exists, and have a context into which to fit it.  I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone.

How To Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ: [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]

Thoughts on the Jennifer Morgue

I finished reading Charles Stross's "The Jennifer Morgue" yesterday.  (I also read the short story following the book, Pimpf, and the essay, The Golden Age of Spying.) The book was really, astoundingly good.  But I don't really know how to talk about it without spoiling significant things.  Hell, the blurb text on the back of the Trade Paperback sells out plot points that aren't strictly disclosed until about three quarters of the way through the book.

It's also the second book in a series, so any discussion of its contents is always a bit of a spoiler-minefield.

So, without any real information, I strongly recommend The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross, to anyone who likes spy fiction, Lovecraftian horror, or geek humor.

The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross:  [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I think it's unlikely to surprise anyone to discover that I read at work, quite a lot.  And, for that purpose, Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is almost perfectly the wrong length. There was just enough to the book that I was able to get more than half-way through it in one twelve hour shift.  Less than half of a book was left, but still too much to read before bed that night, so if I wanted to finish it before starting another book, I was going to have to bring it in the next day.

This was terrible, for two reasons.

One:  Because I had to spend precious minutes of my first break going to my car to put back The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and to get The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross, which is the book I'm currently reading.

Two: because, after finishing the book in the first hour of my shift, I then had to spend the second hour of my shift trying really hard not to weep.  Because holy crap that book was so good.

I love Neil Gaiman's work, so I'm not surprised that I loved this book.  But I noticed a new thing to appreciate this time around, that I hadn't caught before.  In Gaiman's books, or at least in this one, he writes extraordinarily moving, transformative fiction -- while, at the same time, making the case for the importance and value of being moved and transformed by good fiction.

The other thing I keep coming back to, in the back of my mind, after reading this book, is a pair of questions:  Who has made sacrifices to give me the chance at life that I have?  Not just my parents, although they count.  And am I living up to the fact of those sacrifices?  Am I living my life in a way that's worth other people having bothered to keep me alive?

I don't really know.  I do know, however, that you should definitely buy and read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It's brilliant.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman: [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]

Earthsea!

I finished reading A Wizard of Earthsea a couple days ago, and have started the second book in the Earthsea trilogy, the Tombs of Atuan. Holy crap, that book was good.  Like, I know the Earthsea books are one of the great classic fantasy series, but I have so far not been super-impressed with the other classics.    I think I tend to come at them with the wrong frame of mind.  Mainly, it's that they're built on the earliest sparks of tropes that have, by the time I reach them, had decades to get old and played-out.

But the Earthsea books don't have that problem!  Part of it, certainly, is that island worlds have not become a trope played out to the point of inducing groans.  Earthsea is unique in a way that some of the other SF/F classic settings (Middle Earth, the sprawl, Mars...) just aren't.  And part of it is that Le Guin is a freaking genius, and fully explores the implications of a lot of cool things that other writers might just have thrown in, leaving them open to future deconstruction.

I've gotten more than halfway through the Tombs of Atuan already, and it may not make it through my next shift at work.  I'm not sure whether to bring The Farthest Shore, too.  Either way, I highly recommend them.

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin: [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin: [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]

The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin: [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]

Mediocre Movies

I saw a couple movies this week, that I otherwise wouldn't have written anything about.  They were, like, noticeably unremarkable. The movies I saw were, in order: Pitch Perfect (which is not mediocre -- I watched it for the half-dozenth time, because it's amazing), The Wolverine (mediocre movie #1) and Burt Wonderstone (mediocre movie #2).

The Wolverine

I literally said, on the way out, to express my estimation of the movie's quality:  "It wasn't so bad that I'd blog about it."  The plot made sense, mostly.  Spoilers follow.  The motivation for Logan's relationship with the girl whose name I forget was vague at best, and the lizard woman was ill-explained.  Maybe that was fodder for another movie.

That was the big thing about this one:  it wasn't a smart movie.  But it seemed, once they got the plot outline worked out, they hired a bunch of really clever writers to put it together.  People who weren't used to writing dumb action movies. The major plot developments were beautifully foreshadowed, and all the pieces were there, just softly enough to make for extremely elegant reveals.  It's just, the reveals were "The metal octupus thing is ON HIS HEART!" or "The crazy old dude isn't dead at all, he's living in a giant metal samurai!"

It seemed like everyone involved in this movie really wanted it to work.  But sometimes trying really, really hard just isn't good enough.

Burt Wonderstone

I came into this movie with incredibly low expectations.  Like, "Do we have to?"  Level of expectations.  I tend to hate high-concept comedies.

So I was pleasantly surprised that, for an over-the-top comedy, Burt Wonderstone was pretty understated.  All the stuff that happened was, actually, kind of plausible.  And the bones of the movie -- a falling out between two lifelong friends whose careers are inexorably tied together -- work pretty well for its concept.

Spoilers follow.  And I think I would have really loved this movie, if there just weren't so many things to hate.  I get Jim Carey's character, but like half of his jokes weren't jokes, they were just saying offensive things.

And did Steve Carell really need to have sex with Olivia Wilde?  I was so pissed that they weren't just friends.  There was no romantic chemistry between their characters, it was just a strained friendship, but since he's a man and she's a woman, if they reconcile they have to fuck, right?  Screw friendship being the major theme of the movie.  It's in the script, so they have to do it.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Steves Bucemi and Carell had actually learned sleight-of-hand to make this movie.  They both seem like they're that dedicated to the quality of their work.  Jim Carey, too -- I'm sure he didn't actually cut and burn himself, but he brought a full measure of commitment to this role, and I admire him for that.

If only the movie hadn't kinda sucked.

Closing thoughts

Movies like these two remind me that when people sign up to do a movie, they're stuck with it.  They have to stick it through, or ruin their career behaving unprofessionally.  And,  it proves, truly professional artists do stick it through, and do the best they can, and continue to take pride in their work, even if the work is destined to be not very good.  It doesn't make the movies a great deal of fun to watch, but it does make them a lot of fun to think about, now that I've sat down to actually do the thinking, and it seems to make a good way to work out for which film industry professionals I should have a lot of respect.

Count Zero

I finished Count Zero, by William Gibson, a few days ago.  I'm writing about it now because I've been working 12 hour days every day. I don't have a photo journal for this one, like I did the last several books I read (Snuff, Going Postal, Jingo and the Truth, all by Terry Pratchett) because, while there was a lot of very quotable material from Count Zero, there is not a great deal of material that makes good quotes out of context, expressing interesting or poignant philosophical arguments that are extremely relevant to the world as exists today.  Or, if they are, the insights they provide are pessimistic past the point I'm willing to share.

Count Zero is the second book in the Sprawl trilogy, preceded by Neuromancer and followed by Mona Lisa Overdrive.  I read Neuromancer a long time ago -- at least five years -- and don't remember very much from it, but I think that improved my reading experiences a bit, because the books are separated by large gaps of time and feature none of the same characters.  (Arguably.)

The book has a sort of kitchy Cyberpunk aesthetic that takes some getting over -- which totally isn't fair, because it invented all the tropes that it popularized to the point that they've become played out and laughable, and even still manages to interrogate them in a number of ways.  And its depiction of the internet is silly, but it came out before the internet existed in any sense that resembles the one in the book.

I'm now reading A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy.  I will report back soon.

Count Zero, by William Gibson: [Amazon], [Barnes & Noble]