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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Rush-That-Speaks' LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
    3:43 am
    Recent Film: Holy Motors
    Holy Motors (2012), dir. Leos Carax

    When [personal profile] gaudior is out of town, I spend a lot of time with [personal profile] jinian and [personal profile] sovay (I mean, more than the lot of time I do usually), and I also spend a lot of time poking at Netflix. Netflix appears to have realized that the way to my heart, specifically, is to acquire recent-ish festival-circuit movies that I did not manage to see. (It's probably also reasonably cheap for them.) I tried to see Holy Motors when it came out, at the Harvard Film Archive, but the director was there in person, and I have never seen such a line at a movie theatre anywhere in this town at all, let alone at the HFA, which is genteelly unaccustomed to the concept of 'line'. So I finally got around to it this past Friday night, and I have been struggling to articulate the experience ever since.

    This is pretty much the standard critical reaction. Everyone agrees that it's a really good movie, but beyond that, things become more difficult. I mean, the Guardian apparently called it 'a splendid furry teacup of a film', if that gives you an idea. Over email I have compared it with the Golux's hat. If I have to pick vaguely describable things to compare it to, it's probably as close as we'll get to a film of Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover, despite having no plot, character, or setting elements in common. I also suspect a chunk of it of being an unfaithful adaptation of Michael Cisco's novel The Great Lover, which, if you have not read it, is one of the most resolutely anti-narrative books ever written for most of its length.

    Fortunately, I was lucky in that I got what I believe to be the correct connotations from the title, which helped exceedingly. I heard 'holy motors' and thought, what concepts of that sort are floating around in the world, and then I thought of the mythological blood engines, the continuous sacrifices necessary to keep the entire Aztec cosmology working. Those are holy motors, and they demand food. In the movie, the motors are the same and the sacrifice is similar, but the system that is being served is cinema, the entire apparatus of movies and those who make them and those who view them.

    I was also lucky in that one of my strongest associations with the word 'saint' comes from John Crowley's novel Engine Summer (cf. my username), in which a saint is "someone who lives many lives between birth and dying". I haven't asked Crowley if he had film in mind at all when he came up with this, though I would be fascinated to know, but that complicated and multivalent definition, which has in its novel of origin so many meanings that I don't want to go into it, is also certainly true of those actors we call 'the saints of the cinema'. Many lives, many births, many loves, many deaths. So I was able to recognize the main character of Holy Motors as a saint, cinematic variant, fairly easily, which made wrapping my mind around the movie a much faster process.

    The basic conceit of Holy Motors is that its principal actor (Denis Lavant, stunning) spends a day traveling through Paris in a large white limousine, being chauffeured to what he refers to as appointments. For each appointment he wears a different costume, and each one is literally a chunk of a life, which he lives out until it's time to get back into the limousine. Through various conversations he has with his chauffeur (Edith Scob, majestic) and other people around, it eventually becomes clear that this is set far enough in the future for cameras to have become basically nano-drones, and in this way the actor is participating in the making of multiple movies at the same time. In some, he is important, in at least one the protagonist, in at least one the villain, in several minor bystanding characters. He dies in a couple, by violence or otherwise, and because this is cinema it looks perfectly real, until the bodies all stand up again.

    Two things become clear over time, and the interplay of these things is the principal emotional arc of the movie: one, we are not going to get to see his 'real life'. He has no 'real life'. Going from appointment to appointment like this is how he spends at least eighteen hours a day, every day. These are his real lives. They're scripted, of course, because movies are scripted-- and one thing I love is that the different appointments have different levels of quality in the scripts; one of them is such an embarrassingly cliched soap-opera weepie that it's only the fact that it's his real life that makes Lavant's lines even mildly sayable-- but he spends the hours living in each of them, and each of them is truly a part of him. He seems exhausted by this, but it's hard to tell, because, two: because the interludes inside the limousine, in which he is supposedly not acting, are being shown on film, to an audience (me) which is watching it, those cannot, if you think about it, possibly be unscripted either. I mean they are doubly scripted, they are scripted in the world of the movie as well as in our world. So he has an entire emotional arc with his chauffeur, and an interlude that is supposed to play as unscripted time in which he sneaks off and has an emotional chat with another actor, and I sat there fiercely doubting that that could actually be happening until suddenly there was a grand sweeping musical number and I realized the whole thing had to be an easter-egg for the people (like me) who are following the actor instead of watching any one of the movies he's making. This film puts the viewer firmly in the exact place of its projected SFnal audience, which I think is spiffy.

    The other way it puts the viewer in the place of its projected SFnal audience is that none of what I just said above is explained at all in-text. You just watch it. You have to assemble it piecemeal entirely from incluing. It took me most of the film's two-hour running time to be certain of my hypotheses, and there was a stretch of at least a half hour in the center where I sat there thinking 'I have no idea what is going on here, but I am really enjoying this movie'. I can't recall the last time I had that particular experience. Usually not knowing what is going on bothers me.

    However, what makes the film work, and the only reason it can work at all, is that each individual movie scene is so good. I would cheerfully watch any of the larger films. Even the ones that obviously suck do so very entertainingly. They are visually stunning and unique, brilliantly acted, and extremely engrossing. Denis Lavant's actor is chameleonic, fading into each part while still maintaining a startling degree of charisma and almost forcing a sense of empathy with each of his characters. (It is also astonishing how much emotional charge each scene gains from being a documentary of his real and lived life, and how much that works to produce an emotional charge even though it is only true in-universe... I hope someone has written a dissertation on this movie's layers of meta-fiction.) I would have found Holy Motors just as entertaining, though I probably wouldn't admire and respect it this much, if I'd never been able to put together the intellectual web of it. Given that Leos Carax has said that it started as a compilation project of a chunk of every feature film idea he's never been able to get the money to do, I am impressed that either he doesn't have dud ideas or he has successfully managed to weed out the portions of these projects that do not work. And he's thrown them all at the screen in a brilliant, charming, and actively joyous jigsaw-puzzle Golux's hat of a movie, and the question I came away with is: if this is how we wind up feeding those holy motors, would it still be worth it? Denis Lavant's character is living in his own private utopia and dystopia, at the exact same time. Every emotion is curated for maximum effect, every single aspect of his life designed for maximum artistic gorgeousness. But how many people have ever really wanted to trade places with one of the saints?

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    Wednesday, May 6th, 2015
    3:04 am
    recent reading
    Tracker, C.J. Cherryh

    This is the somewhere-in-the-low-double-digits-I-have-frankly-forgottenth of Cherryh's atevi books, and it is not where you start. At this point, this series is almost less a series of novels to me than it is a series of yearly family visits. How is Ilisidi's leg? What has Cajeiri's terrible pet broken recently? Oh, Bren got his apartment back, how nice, my, that was quite a complicated thing, some people's children, you did mention something about that last year, yes, I will have some more tea, thank you. This impression is not weakened by the fact that all the book titles ending in -er or -or means that I cannot assign a book's events to the book they took place in with any degree of accuracy. I was able to pick out this book as the newest one in the shop because it was the only one in hardcover, and I can actually recite with fair accuracy what has happened in the series to date, but ask me whether Precursor comes before or after Betrayer and I'll be like I DON'T KNOW THOSE ARE CERTAINLY BOTH WORDS. So, the kind of family visit which you have, about once a year, and greatly enjoy, but which has gotten into a rhythm, where you know how it is going to go to such a point that you almost do not need to go.

    Which is not to say people shouldn't read these; they're lovely. Merely that I urge you to cultivate a sense of calm and detachment about the pacing of the overall plot.

    There is a thing which can happen to writers of series, where they write a book, and it comes out, and they want to have a time skip before the next one, and they hand in an outline or possibly even a manuscript to their editor, and the editor says 'I have absolutely no idea how the situation we find ourselves in at the start of this next book could have happened during this time skip, please write a novel set during the time skip because your readers are going to be totally lost'. And then the writer does, and that book comes out, and the writer brings back the original outline/manuscript, and the editor says 'That's better, but we still haven't had xyz things explained, you need to write another book set during the time skip before we can get back to the plan'. And the thing is, this can go on basically indefinitely. It very famously happened to George R.R. Martin, but I've also heard of it happening to Rosemary Kirstein, and to Elizabeth Wein, and in all cases years and years and books have passed and we've either only just gotten to the post-time-skip or it hasn't turned up yet at all. I am about eighty percent certain that this precise situation happened to Cherryh with the atevi series, and that it happened right after the re-establishment of Tabini's government, and all the books we've gotten since have been explanations Cherryh originally thought we should have been able to infer between the end of that book and the beginning of... and this is the nice thing about Tracker, actually... the next book in the series from now, whatever it turns out to be called. If this is what happened, Cherryh was wrong and we couldn't infer all the things that would have been elided, but the editor was also wrong and we could have had at least two fewer books. As of next book, we shall resume our regularly scheduled actual series plot.

    In the meantime, these are people I've really liked seeing once a year, because one always worries that Bren is overworking (he is) and not eating or sleeping enough (the eating's fine, the other isn't). The cover of this installment is also damn close to priceless. Presently the other shoe will drop, but until then, more more tea, thank you.


    The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

    In an essay somewhere in The Language of the Night, Ursula Le Guin asks the question of whether a science-fiction or fantasy book should be a novel, that is, whether it should attempt the three-dimensional portrayal of its characters with sufficient complexity as to make them mimetically convincing. (She also asks the question of whether a science-fiction or fantasy book can do this, but that's fairly easily dealt with by finding examples of it happening: yes, it can.) After pondering the question for a while, Le Guin confesses that it's difficult for her to work with, as a question, because to her it is so obvious that not only can it be done, but that we have not seen anything like the full potential of what could happen when it is done well, and consequently it ought to be done. So she's entering the question with bias, she says, and therefore puts it down again.

    It is true that one of the principal forms of SFF, and a form which it does not share with much else in literature except possibly historical fiction, is the depiction of long-term, very large things at a scale far greater than the human, in a manner which remains engrossing without containing any complicated or even remotely mimetic characters. Take Olaf Stapledon-- Stapledon is gripping. Entire galactic civilizations rise and fall, and it's almost pure sense of wonder and brilliantly written, and if Last and First Men has any characters whatsoever I certainly failed to notice them and did not care about the lack. This is the kind of thing one would like to see continued, as a literary tradition.

    And of course those of us who do hold that an SFF book should be a novel-- and I am with Le Guin on this, always and forever and unequivocally; it can, it should, it ought to be-- would like to find some way of fusing the two, of having the novel-as-world-schema, covering aeons and/or concepts on the macrocosmic scale, having that be the same book as the novel with the three-dimensional characters that become, for the reader, real people to the point of being friends and enemies and family you look in on every so often.

    This is, I expect, why there's a blurb on the cover of The Three-Body Problem by Kim Stanley Robinson, who is one of the people in the field who works hardest at fusing the two. The Three-Body Problem can be read as an attempt at such a fusion. The thing is, though, I think that's erroneous. I think that all the characters in Three-Body are types, and intentional types, and that each of them represents a specific viewpoint in the complex intellectual structure of speculation that the book is setting up, and nothing else. I think this because none of them ever does anything surprising, not once; the book itself is what does surprising things, the twists and turns of that intellectual structure as expressed through the overall narration and not through the actions of individual people.

    Taken that way, it's a very good book. It's one of the better books of its kind I've seen. And I am not frustrated with it for not being a fusion of the story based on ideas and the novel of character, because I don't think it's trying to do that at all. But it's never going to be a favorite book of mine, because, as I said before, I'm with Le Guin. Lots of people have written good books based on ideas this way, and lots of people have written good novels of character, and very few have explored the space between and that's what I want to read, personally. Read, and write myself, and if I fail at one or the other aspect of the fusion what I am actually good at writing is character.

    And this leads into an interesting thing about the Hugo Awards, since Three-Body's nomination was why I got around to reading it. The Hugos are trying to judge chalk and cheese, in the novel category, which is pretty standard for the Hugos. This year there are three honest nominees for Best Novel, by which I mean nominees not gamed onto the ballot for political reasons. Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is a fantasy of manners and entirely a novel of character. It's very good at what it does. The Three-Body Problem is hard near-future SF and entirely a story of ideas. It's very good at what it does. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, is an attempt at a fusion between the two things, and a sequel to a fusion between the two which actually worked and was both, and I'm about a third of the way through it so I'll get back to you on how good I think it is at what it does and whether it falls into being entirely one or the other of its subcategories. But, assuming it is also very good at what it does, how is one to choose between these three? They're not trying to do anything like the same things. Not by how well they meet their own ambitions, because it's possible to be infinitely ambitious in each direction, and at least the Addison and the Liu Cixin appear to have lived up to their authors' hopes for them. Not by personal inclination towards whether I prefer a novel of character or a novel of ideas, because that inclination on my part has nothing to do with the quality of the works. It's an interesting problem.

    [The Puppy factions, as far as I can tell, would like the novel of character to remove itself from SFF and go stand in a corner somewhere being abstruse. This is what they mean when they say they want 'good old-fashioned storytelling'-- they want characters who are types, because then they can be intellectually challenged on the macro level without being challenged about their conceptions of people on the personal level. Including any elements in a character which don't fit into the character types they grew up with is read and taken as a challenge to their conceptions of people on a personal level, which is why they seem to have missed the intellectual structure of Leckie's Ancillary Justice and its questions about AI, personality, and identity, in a great morass of being distressed about the universal 'she' pronoun used throughout it. To a person who wants only idea-driven fiction a la Stapledon, every character attribute must directly contribute to the overall scaffolding of the idea, regardless of whether people would actually behave this way or not. It doesn't matter that the characters aren't acting like real people-- that's not what they're there for. They're there as a device. So those of us who say, for instance, that we would like more women in our novels, more GLBT people, more cultural diversity, they see that not as assisting the depiction of more mimetic characters but as complicating the idea structure with things that aren't an integral part of the device. Because everything other than the very vaguest sketch of a character is non-integral, and, due to any number of factors including outright horrible prejudice and/or character traits not being things the writer of ideas cares about, the very vaguest sketch of a character tends to come out as the cultural default of straight, white, male, cis, ablebodied. That's why there are some Puppy-types who keep saying 'but we do have characters who are black, or gay, when it's necessary to the story!' and then looking confused when we growl. What they don't seem to understand, or claim not to understand, is that those of us who want diversity in our fiction don't have anything against novels of ideas. Or even against character types. What we want is to change those types, because it will make the outcome of the thought experiments in the novel of ideas more interesting. Change the defaults. I found the type characters in The Three-Body Problem way more interesting than most other two-dimensional characters I've encountered recently, because they are sketches from a different culture.]

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    Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
    2:36 am
    "Dogs never bite me. Just humans." -- attributed to Marilyn Monroe
    This post is about the 2015 Hugo Awards. For more information on the co-option of this year's Hugos by approximately 1.5 factions of U.S.-based right-wingers, consult Abigail Nussbaum on this year's nominations, or Making Light (continual coverage, not just the linked thread), or George R.R. Martin's Livejournal, or the excellent ongoing daily roundups at File 770, or, at this point, like, The New Republic. Comments here are moderated, and anonymous comments require unscreening before they appear. Unscreening is entirely at my own discretion, as are deletions.

    The reasoning that the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies factions give for their chosen names is something about how message-based fiction winning the Hugos because of some Sekrit Cabal of left-wing types makes puppies cry, and then people in the factions get angry about the puppies crying and, uh, contract rabies, or something. Many, many words have now been expended in pointing out that, until this year, no cabal has ever taken over the Hugo Awards; that, in fact, "message-based fiction" is not a significant portion of recent nominees; that Hugo nominees and winners have over the decades come from all portions of the political spectrum; and that no one has ever, in fact, been forced to fill out any sort of political questionnaire before they could be nominated. The only people gaming the Hugos here are the Puppies. Therein lies the problem.

    Have these people ever met any dogs?

    Dogs, taken as a species, aren't much into any of the following list of things:

    -- reading
    -- voting
    -- thinking anything complicated about the Hugo Awards whatsoever
    -- unhappiness

    Here is a far more typical picture of a dog: The rest of this entry is cut for adorable, somewhat large images.Collapse )

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    Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
    6:19 pm
    when I said that I wanted it to stop snowing
    I did not mean that hailing was an acceptable alternative.

    Points, I suppose, for creativity.

    Now stop that.

    (Winter storm warning for Friday. Sheesh.)

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    Saturday, March 7th, 2015
    5:41 am
    O that this too, too solid snow
    Would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.

    Seriously.

    Anytime.

    It's about half as bad out there as it was at its worst, which means there are only piles of snow taller than I am lying about everywhere. Considering taking a calendar outside and showing it to the weather, just in case someone failed to notice something-- I know it's not officially spring yet, but all the March pages of the calendars I am familiar with are cheerfully, optimistically springlike, possibly to give you something to look at during the latest blizzard.

    In a fit of likewise misguided optimism, I took the snow tires off my boot soles* when things started melting at all and have now fulfilled my traditional winter destiny of falling unpleasantly once per slippery season. This time I escaped with minor lacerations and will call that good.

    Cheery anecdotes about warmer climates welcomed. Or stories about how there was snow piled up to here this one time and you came out of the house one morning and it had all just totally melted away. Either one. I am completely over this weather.



    *YakTrax. They work, too.

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    Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
    1:22 am
    SH news: A Book Roundtable + First Readers Wanted
    Up now at Strange Horizons: Foz Meadows, T.S. Miller, and I, moderated by Niall Harrison, discuss K.J. Parker's collection Academic Exercises here. I loved the book, despite its regrettable sexism, and am looking forward to reading more Parker. Other opinions were rather different.

    Also, the magazine has put out a call for First Readers, i.e. those brave and hardy souls who tromp through the slush pile and pass things upwards to the editors. This is not a paying position, but you get to read some very interesting stuff. Details and how to apply here.

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    Monday, February 23rd, 2015
    8:23 pm
    Saag Tofu with Misc. Greens
    1 lb. frozen broccoli
    1/2 lb. frozen spinach
    1 cup parsley, measured after it has been picked off the stem, washed, and squeezed to get the water out
    about 20 fresh sage leaves, also washed and squeezed
    12 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu
    1 large shallot
    1 very large tablespoon powdered ginger
    1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
    1 tsp. cumin
    1 scant tsp. paprika
    2 tablespoons butter
    1/4 cup canola oil
    1/2 tsp. lemon juice
    more salt

    one Cuisinart (really really, trust me)
    one large pot
    one large skillet
    cooking chopsticks or kitchen tongs

    You will want to serve this over rice. It will serve 4-6 people.

    Cut the tofu into 3/4-inch cubes, pile them all in a bowl, cover them with hot water, stir in a teaspoon of salt, and leave for fifteen minutes.

    Dice shallot. I picked the parsley off the stems at this point, which takes forever.

    Defrost frozen vegetables by rinsing them under warm water. Set a large pot of water to boiling, and boil the broccoli and spinach for 5-6 minutes, or until wilted, bright green, and reduced in volume significantly.

    Drain the tofu and put it on a plate covered in a paper towel to dry.

    Put ginger, garlic salt, and shallot into a Cuisinart and blend until it is a paste. You could also use fresh ginger and/or fresh garlic with a little salt, but I haven't shopped lately.

    Heat canola oil in large skillet over high heat and then pan-fry the tofu until it is light gold on 3-4 sides of the cubes. Use the chopsticks to turn the pieces over. If it spits at you, turn the heat down. Transfer tofu pieces to a plate lined in different paper towels. Leave the oil in the pan and hot.

    Remove shallot paste from Cuisinart. Don't bother washing the Cuisinart. Remove the boiled vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer directly to Cuisinart. Don't worry about getting all the water out of them. Add sage and parsley. Blend into a paste. Consistency will resemble batter, which is correct.

    Fry the shallot paste with the cumin and paprika, stirring continuously, for several minutes, until dark brown and very aromatic. Add tofu back in and stir just to combine.

    Add the greens paste and at this point we should have put in a teaspoon of salt-- it turned out doing it later was fine, but it would be better here. Beat heavily. Cook until the greens have darkened and reduced slightly, trying to beat out pockets of water as you see them. Taste and add salt if necessary. Sprinkle the top with the lemon juice and beat it in.

    Finally, stir in the butter. You really do need butter or something like it to bind it all into an unctuous sauce as opposed to a pile. Uncertain what vegan ingredient would do this. Serve immediately.

    I have not had better in a restaurant. The freshness of the parsley counterbalances the darkness of the broccoli, and the sage adds something indefinable but necessary. Could be easily made with paneer cubes if you have them or feel like making them.

    Loosely adapted from Andrea Nguyen's cookbook Asian Tofu, Simmered Greens With Fried Tofu, p. 121.

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    Monday, February 16th, 2015
    8:39 pm
    good news
    I am delighted to say that, beginning immediately, I am a senior fiction editor at Strange Horizons. I've been easing into the job for a little while now, and I am, frankly, enjoying the hell out of it. If you're surprised to see me editing, well, so am I, but the skillset turns out to overlap with criticism pretty significantly.

    Thanks to Niall Harrison, Julia Rios, An Owomoyela, Catherine Krahe, and also to everyone else who suggested this job might be a good fit and that really, it was worth applying. You're all wonderful.

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    Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
    7:14 am
    The Duke of Burgundy, dir. Peter Strickland
    The Duke of Burgundy (2015) is the British film director Peter Strickland's third feature, after Katalin Varga (2009), which did not have a very wide release, and Berberian Sound Studio (2012), his breakout, which did. Berberian Sound Studio was one of the most enjoyable films I saw in the year it came out, and I was lucky enough shortly after that to visit [personal profile] jinian when she still lived in Seattle, so that we were able to rent Katalin Varga in European-region-only DVD release from the invaluable Scarecrow Video.

    Having seen all three of his feature films to date, then, there is a description which I have never seen applied to Strickland in a review or an essay or an article, but which I find readily visible in his work, delightful, and heartwarming:

    Peter Strickland is one of the finest feminist filmmakers working at the moment.

    Katalin Varga is a bitter little Hungarian murder ballad which has a wrinkle I had not seen on the classical rape-and-revenge plot-- and that is difficult-- a wrinkle based on the woman at the center of it having more agency than everyone else expects of her. Even the audience. Berberian Sound Studio, a complex and multivalent movie, contains among its many subjects a scathing critique of the way female characters are treated in horror movies and a scathing critique of the way female actors are all too often treated by male horror movie directors. I therefore expected the women in The Duke of Burgundy to be three-dimensional people, to be well-rounded characters who are subjects as well as objects, to have their own motivations and minds and methodologies. I got more than I expected, in multiple directions.

    I got more than I expected in just about every direction, actually, because I do not go around expecting movies to be as good as The Duke of Burgundy is. Quite simply, they usually aren't.

    A thing that has come up in every review of it I have read thus far is that The Duke of Burgundy is probably set in a world in which there are only women.* If this is the case, it's the only film I've seen where that is true. Certainly, every character we see is a woman, every extra, every passerby. This was incontrovertibly necessary, because, and this is one of the points Strickland is making, the story he is telling would change extremely for the audience if anyone performing gender in a currently culturally common male way so much as wandered through the background of one set, for five seconds, once. It would be like an event horizon. The entire film would be pulled after it like a black hole.

    And this is because the story Strickland has chosen to tell is about power exchange. This is the best movie I have ever seen about kink. In order for this particular story to work, the characters must have what the audience sees as a basically even level of intrinsic personal power and dominance. They are women because either performing or specifically opting out of some amount of dominant behavior on various occasions is built into current popular conceptions of masculinity. If there were men around in the movie, the audience would be waiting for them to either demonstrate dominance or show that they weren't going to, and, as I said, event horizon, because that is a complete distraction from what is actually going on here.

    What is actually going on here is one of the most complicated, beautiful, believable love stories I have encountered since I don't know when. It's also done wonders to help with my phobia of insects.

    This is a cut for length, but also mildly for spoilers. If this sounds like a film you"d enjoy, and you have the ability, I"d urge you to see it before learning much else about it. If its limited release isn"t anywhere near you, I don"t think my review will detract from your seeing it later.Collapse )

    I left the theatre smiling. I smile when I think about this movie. It is an embarrassment of riches. I have no idea what Peter Strickland will come up with next, but I will be there for it. If I see a better film this year, I will be very surprised indeed.


    * I am uncertain about this, because the worldbuilding is not explicitly discussed onscreen (and why should it be, as there is no in-world reason to do so). I think there may be a very few men, because there are several scenes in a crowded lecture hall, which is filled with seated women and with seated mannequins dressed in female clothing. The mannequins are outnumbered by the women perhaps one hundred to one. The only reason I can think of for having them there is if there are men in those seats, who have been visually replaced by mannequins so that they are demarcated only by their own absence. Which, just, bless.

    ** Literally twenty minutes after making this entry I found out I have clothes moths. The lesson here is NEVER GIVE ANY GROUND.

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    Monday, December 22nd, 2014
    5:12 pm
    the perils of antiques
    Distressed selkie assisted near Newton-le-Willows. "I just thought it was my grandmother's old seal coat," the confused citizen typed with her nose. "I guess it was, but not the way I pictured it." Authorities have helped her contact cousins in a rookery off Skye.

    With adorable pictures!

    seriously if there is another plausible explanation I would like to hear about it, 'we think it walked fifty miles and came out of the brook', pull the other one, it has got folksongs on it

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    Friday, December 19th, 2014
    6:53 pm
    Ugh, I don't mean not to have been writing here, but my brain keeps on either not coming up with anything to say, or else coming up with things which are long thinky essays that I would like to write but simply do not have the mental space for at this point in time. I will I am sure get to some of them eventually, but in the meantime, well.

    I did have an experience regarding one of the usual dinners I make the other day, which caused me to remember that it's not a dinner I've seen many other households do, and so I thought I'd mention it.

    For many years of living with Thrud, one of our default dinners was best describable as antipasto, and it's a really good dinner for a day one has been shopping. You get a loaf of bread, baguette or pain batarde or something of that sort, from the grocery store bakery department, and you get the best tomato you can possibly find in the store, organic if you can swing it; also fresh basil; also the kind of mozzarella that is high-quality enough to come in salt water, but not the ludicrously expensive kind. And you can get a jar of green olives, or of black olives, or of green olives stuffed with garlic, depending on what people like, and a jar of marinated artichokes, and maybe a jar of sun-dried tomato spread, or you can take these jars out of the fridge if you do this frequently enough to have them there. Then you wash the tomato and basil and put everything on plates with serving implements, and everyone takes what they like, in the combinations that they want it, and ninety-five percent of the work was in the shopping, and it is a delicious dinner, good enough for company and reasonably healthy. You can even make other people cut their own tomato and basil. This is of course also especially useful if you need to cause dinner for an unpredictable number of people two minutes after walking in the door, which is a thing that happens around Thrud.

    So I was grocery shopping recently at the time of day where when you get home the last thing you want is to make dinner, you just want it to magically appear from the heavens, preferably within thirty seconds after you sit down, and consequently I was shopping for antipasto. But it is the dead of winter, and they did not have any fresh basil. Which is fair. All right, I thought, we just won't have fresh basil this time. Then they didn't have any reasonable mozzarella, i.e. anything other than shredded, which while all very well in its own way is not really mozzarella and does not work for this. And I despaired a little, because I did not want to think of another dinner on no notice at all standing in the grocery store.

    Then it occurred to me that most major European cuisines have appetizer-y courses or light meals centered around bread, and there is no reason it has to be, specifically, antipasto. So I bought a jar of hearts of palm, and some of that Portuguese farmer's cheese that is exactly halfway between mozzarella and ricotta in taste and behavior, and some sliced linguica, and a hummus mixed with tapenade, and it was just as good. I could have gotten a jar of white asparagus, and a curdier farmer's cheese, and quince paste, in a vaguely Spanish direction; or a Brie and the fancy European butter and some bitter chocolate and some anchovy paste, in a French one; or even, I suppose, black bread and mustard and sauerkraut and some pickled mushrooms, if I'd been the only person in my house eating it, and called it vaguely German.

    This may or may not mean that we have this dinner more often. But it is certainly a useful revelation given the vagaries of season and grocery store.

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    Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
    5:14 am
    links to various protests, US-wide
    Online coordination: the Ferguson National Response Network.

    Boston area: Police B2 Headquarters, 2400 Washington St., Roxbury, Tuesday, November 25th, 7 PM. The internet indicates that the best way to do this is the P4 or P5 Silver Line to Dudley Square.

    Black. Lives. Matter.

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    Thursday, November 20th, 2014
    10:13 pm
    and another review link
    My review of Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire, at Strange Horizons.

    Short version: many admirable qualities, but far too grimdark for no obvious reason.

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    Monday, November 17th, 2014
    2:57 am
    review at Strange Horizons
    My review of Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is up at Strange Horizons.

    I liked it. It is pretty high on the nasty-things-happening meter, but in my opinion never gratuitous. I think Duyvis is and is going to be a writer to watch.

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    Sunday, November 9th, 2014
    1:47 am
    in which work keeps me from blogging much
    It's not that I'm not writing; I am writing; this last week was literally the most productive writing week I've ever had. It's that none of that goes here, and the order of operations this week went something like 'the two paying outlets are first priority, then the Secret Project, then my own novel revisions, and as a break I will comment on someone else's manuscript, and then after a little time I have a different paying deadline', and you see how LJ/DW falls right off the end of that list, much to my annoyance. I have tidied away a great many deadlines and so hopefully this will improve.

    Does not help that most of the things I would write about here want to be great clonking essays. I am sure they will be fun great clonking essays when I can get to them, but.

    Oh, this is a small neat thing that happened about which I am not sure anyone will care but me, but I remain entertained--

    -- so the strangest childrens' book I know is Terry Jones's Nicobobinus (yes, the Terry Jones from Monty Python), which begins perfectly ordinarily with Nicobobinus and his friend Rosie wanting to go look for dragons and then does some things I cannot even describe as a left turn at Albuquerque but more a sprightly leap into the WHAT. It has some prose tics I now find annoying, and the plot may well have been decided via repeated tossings of a Boggle set, but for sheer peculiarity of imagination I have never run into anything like it and I love it to pieces. It is one of the books I grew up on which makes it difficult for other books to surprise me. And it has held up as I have gotten older.

    Now, for most of my life I have assumed that as soon as the protagonists leave their home-town, fifteenth-century Venice, they sail straight off the map and into the Land of What Is This I Don't Even, because they are fairly promptly captured by pirate monks, which seems unlikely. I recall, as a child, wanting to be sure about this, and going to an atlas and checking and seeing that the names in the relevant region were not remotely similar.

    But last week I was reading a history of the Upper Adriatic, the way you do, and I realized that apparently my childhood error was in not consulting a fifteenth-century map, because I was reading an anecdote, with all the right place names, about the way that the clergymen of a particular town in what is now Croatia were considered rather scandalous because they used to bless the pirates which were that town's main source of revenue, and sometimes even accompany them on raids. And then I read about the history of piracy in the region, and how the Venetians used to conquer bits of it to try to deal with the pirates, only to find that all the money had gone into the churches, where it was much more difficult to extricate. And from that, it is a small leap to pirate monks, and I could see where Terry Jones got it.

    I cannot recall the last time I had a moment of quite so much existential vertigo. There is basically nothing weirder than finding out that a completely made-up thing from one of your childhood books, a thing which you already checked up on, is pretty much true. It makes reality itself stranger when this happens. I had already learned, in college, that one should never underestimate the research capacities of Monty Python-- they did the only even vaguely accurate Arthurian movie, after all, and bits of it are from really obscure sources-- but this came out of left field.

    Been thinking to myself every so often 'Pirate monks. Huh,' and smiling slightly. And really that is most of what has been going on around here.

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    Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
    5:57 pm
    if you've ever wanted to watch Venice marry the sea
    here is a link to this year's ceremony, Ascension Day, June 1st, 2014. Though it isn't the Doge anymore, it's the Mayor.

    (Apparently most people think the Venetians stopped doing this when there stopped being Doges. Why would you stop doing something you've been doing for a thousand years just because you haven't got a Doge, is the relevant question here. And the answer is, you don't.)

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    Sunday, October 26th, 2014
    1:08 am
    the best caramel I have ever made
    Sometime last year [personal profile] jinian gave me a little box of caramels from a company in Seattle who are primarily chocolatiers and do caramels on special occasions. The theme of the box was 'mirepoix', and it had a caramelized onion caramel, a fennel caramel, a celery caramel, and a carrot caramel. I must admit to eying it rather dubiously.

    I had to give away the onion one because I am allergic to onions. The fennel one tasted of licorice. I like licorice, so that was fine. The celery one was exactly the sort of thing you put in a box of gimmicky caramels to carry out the mirepoix theme.

    The carrot one filled my eyes with a wild surmise as I started muttering things about why isn't this object in every store in the country how did they do this how can I recreate this I cannot have this only once in my life it is neither humanly tolerable nor fair.

    It does not taste a thing like carrot. I took my version to a party tonight and asked people to guess the mystery ingredient. The guesses I got ranged from 'booze of some kind?' to 'nuts of some kind?' to, by far the most common, 'I have no idea but this stuff is amazing'. Carrot-haters will like this. You can't tell what it is even if you already know. The best way I can describe the taste is that it is caramel, but better somehow. I can't even really describe the direction in which it is better. It's just better. If this had been genuinely my idea, I would be seriously considering starting a small candy company right about now.

    Carrot Coriander Caramel (makes about fifty bite-sized caramels)

    4 medium carrots
    2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil, not an oil that has taste
    1 heaped tsp. ground coriander
    1 1/2 cups heavy cream
    5 tbsp. butter
    about 1/2 tsp. salt
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1/2 cup water
    1/4 cup light corn syrup, or other corn syrup, molasses, malt syrup, whatever of this sort you have lying about

    a baking sheet
    two large sturdy pots
    a bowl
    a potato masher
    a ladle
    a strainer
    a candy thermometer if you roll that way
    a dish to pour the caramel into-- I have had good results with either a square Pyrex casserole, heavily buttered, or a square silicon cake dish, lightly oiled
    wax paper

    Preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel and end the carrots and cut them in 1-inch rounds. Halve the rounds lengthwise. Oil the baking sheet.

    Put the carrot pieces on the baking sheet and sprinkle the coriander over them. Muddle the whole thing with your hands until the carrot pieces are evenly coated in both coriander and oil and are in a single layer. Roast for 22 minutes or until a fork goes in, but not very easily.

    When the carrots are cool enough to touch, put them in the bowl and pour over the cream. Make sure all carrots are submerged. Cover the bowl, but do not refrigerate.

    I left mine two hours and I think it was enough, though longer couldn't hurt. Anyway, you can go do something else in the interim. Oh and oil or butter your dish.

    Pour the carrots and cream into a pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Simmer it about seven minutes, and then go after the carrots with a potato masher, not too vigorously (you don't want splashes). They will not entirely deliquesce.

    Ladle the liquid through a strainer and back into the pot, pressing firmly but not fiercely. Set aside the solids-- they are creamed carrots, and can be eaten, with added salt and pepper, as a side dish at your next several meals. Melt the butter and the salt into the simmering liquid, and stir. Note: salt is really to taste, just try not to burn your tongue. Once everything's stirred together, take this pot off the heat and set it aside.

    In the other pot, put the corn syrup, sugar, and water over high heat, and boil it stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and wait until it goes light golden, swirling the pan gently every so often. This will only be about 2-3 minutes.

    Then add the cream mixture. It will froth up at you wildly; that's normal. Cook, stirring frequently, until-- well, if you have a candy thermometer it should say 248 F. But I do this by eye, which means a jelly jar of very cold water at my elbow, in which a drop of caramel should instantly form a soft ball. Honestly, though, if you want to learn candy stages by eye I suggest learning on jam, as the failure modes remain entirely edible.

    Pour the hot caramel into the dish, cover the top, and refrigerate for at least two hours but this is the phase where I wandered off for the night and that works too.

    The next day, or when you get back to them, butter the blade of a sharp knife. Score the lines you intend to cut along before going back over them to cut squares of caramel. Wrap each one in a much bigger piece of wax paper than you think you need, pile the wrapped ones in a bowl and refrigerate again until serving. You will wind up sticky to the elbows but that is, I'm afraid, just one of those things. Store in the fridge; they keep for weeks and they like to try to melt.

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    Thursday, October 16th, 2014
    5:23 am
    ominous statements
    Overheard while walking by a poetry reading:

    "My first six poems or so are about my childhood."


    ... I am having trouble imagining the poems in the error bar.

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    Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
    2:53 pm
    I was sorry you were dead
    Zilpha Keatley Snyder has died.

    The Witches of Worm is one of the great books about handling parental neglect and abuse and the subsequent depression and rage, but my favorite Snyders are her celebrations of childrens' imagination-- The Egypt Game, with its depiction of how story can bring together a community of people who would never have thought of speaking to one another otherwise; the Stanley family books; and most importantly to me, Libby on Wednesday, with its absolute delight in the minutiae of being an eccentric kid and its subtle-because-1990 yet undeniably present and wonderful gay parents. I never really reread the Green Sky trilogy, because of the depressing, but another thing for which I have Snyder to thank is the Commodore 64 video game adaptation of Below the Root, a game so engaging that playing it collaboratively was probably the most time my father and I spent together when I was a child, and so memorable that every computer I have had as an adult has had a C64 emulator on it so I could play it again. (Well, it and the Laurence Yep-penned adaptation of Alice in Wonderland by the same company, which I also heartily recommend.)

    She was another of the threads which made up the universe of safety, company, and wisdom in the days when the library was that universe for me, and I thank her for the excellent education and regret that I never got to do so in person.

    Also, I have always thought Zilpha was a really awesome name.

    Rest in peace.

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    Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
    4:44 pm
    on considering reading George R.R. Martin
    The thing with being ill for a long time-- and I had the flu for basically the entirety of September and am not completely recovered-- is that as you regain energy you start to want to do something difficult, just because it is so long since you've had the capacity to do anything difficult. Consequently, I find myself very seriously mulling over the idea of reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

    Now, for many people this would be a substantial time investment, but not difficult, as such. Just long. But the last time I read anything significant by Martin, Dying of the Light, two hundred and fifty-four pages took me just under seven hours and left me with a splitting and lingering headache. It was entirely worth it, or I wouldn't be considering doing anything of the kind again, but it was one of the more difficult books I read that year. A Song of Ice and Fire is very famous and has gotten to the point where I feel culturally behind in not knowing anything at all about it (except that the TV show sounds as though it has more visual depictions of sexual violence than I am really down with watching), but the main reason I am interested in trying to read it is that I have been thinking on and off for years about why Martin is so difficult for me, and I think I've finally gotten it and can maybe therefore fix it.

    It's not, as I initially thought, that Martin thinks perpendicularly to the way I think and that therefore I don't understand why anybody in his work does the things they do. That, as I've known for years, is C.J. Cherryh, whose humans make less sense to me than her aliens, and Martin and Cherryh really aren't all that alike. I have problems parsing sentences in Martin which are simple landscape descriptions and have nothing to do with characters at all.

    It is, I think, and this is why I'm writing this up, literally to do with the way in which I sensorily relate to texts. To expand: there are visual readers out there, who picture the events of a text the way that they would watch a film, and there are varying degrees of that; there are auditory readers, for lack of a better term, for whom the cadence and sound of the words encodes something about the way they relate to the story, and there are varying degrees of that. There are probably many other sorts of reader, and if you are one of them I would love to hear about it.

    But I, as I have mentioned before, am a kinesthetic and structural reader. I interact most easily with a text when there are lots of touch-words and words which define the extent of spaces and smell-words to give me an internal idea of the book as a chain of connected locations in which characters relate to each other. And also, independently of that, I have a mental image of the structure of the book as an overall thing; I picture it internally as rather like a free-form glass sculpture, swooping in here, curving out there, changing color there; this structure incorporates the plot and the characters and the relationship of the plot to the characters and the themes and the pacing and how well the book holds together as a thing in itself, as well as several other things (and I am not consciously sure what some of them are).

    Thoughts on reading styles involving Tanith Lee, Patricia McKillip, and a rather long digression about M. John Harrison before concluding back at Martin.Collapse )

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