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Books! (Monsters and Empires Edition)

Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories (Kim Newman, 2017/#19): A mostly delightful set of short stories, intertextual to the point that a couple of them are not even thinly disguised comic book fanfics.

Strangers No More (various, 2017/#20): A collection of short sci-fi stories from the 1950's, penned by the usual suspects. Uneven and not really subtle, but (most of them) fun to read.

Galactic Empires (Ed. Neil Clarke, 2017/#21): A very good and relatively diverse set of sci-fi short stories, with the common theme of one form or another of galactic (or at least multi-system) empire.

God, Space, and City in the Roman Imagination (Richard Jenkyns, 2017/#22): Full of interesting ideas and observations about how the Romans thought about politics, religion, and the city of Rome itself. Some points of interest: conspectus (in the usage of the book, the idea of being visible as one of the basis of social practice, the way differences in the height at which you lived codified political power, the importance of having your own crowd, the uses of colonnades, and a very long et cetera. Much recommended.

Furta Sacra (Patrick J. Geary, 2017/#23): I came to this book, unsurprisingly, through my interest in the theft of the corpse of St. Mark by Venetian merchants in the IXth century (something that sounds like a medieval Leverage AU). Turns out it was something of a medieval tradition with a very stylized (and usually highly fictional) literary representation, the translatio. The power of relics isn't as important to Christian practice (I think?) as it used to be, but at the time it was central to it; popular piety found a more practical locus on the bodies of saints, who were thought to still have identity, agency, and power.

Sexuality and the Gothic Magic Lantern (David J. Jones, 2017/#24): I hadn't known of the cultural impact of magic lanterns before cinema (it'd be interesting to think about why some obsolete media are remembered, and why some others aren't). Granting its popularity and disquieting characteristics, the author's argument that it influenced contemporary Gothic literature (and, given the way magic lanterns where partly used for risque and outright pornographic materials — that old "new media is always used for porn sooner rather than later" rule of thumb — some of the ways in which authors approached the very charged issue of sex in Gothic fiction) is absolutely believable, regardless of how much of the details I found too Freudian to fully trust.

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Just got a most beautiful postcard

browngirl, as always, adds much brightness to my world. Thanks so much.

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The first line of almost any story can be improved by making sure the second line is, “And then the murders began.”

— Marc Laidlaw (@marc_laidlaw) March 3, 2017


*facepalms* I just got this idea for a challenge...

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Books! (Old Weird Things Edition)

The Hidden planet: Science Fiction Adventures on Venus (Donald A. Wollheim, 2017/#13): Not really good, but entertaining enough.

The Best of Robert Silverberg (Robert Silverberg, 2017/#14): A collection of short stories. They are all quite good, and classics on their own right; I think I read all of them before in different anthologies. Silverberg deserves to be better known than he is.

People and Goods on the Move (Ed. Özlem Çaykent, Luca Zavagno, 2017/#15): A collection of essays on very specific aspects and particular cases of, well, the movement of people and goods in the Mediterranean between Late Antiquity and the Early Modern age. It's not a good book: the quality of the writing is middling-to-bad, translations aren't better (bad translations of good texts can appear as bad writing at the sentence or paragraph level, but I don't think it spoils good overall structure), and some of the logical argumentation isn't. But the miscellany of information is indeed interesting. One hypothesis I do like, although I cannot judge its empirical validity, is that the rupture of North-South cross-Mediterranean trade wasn't directly driven by religious differences after the Islamic conquest, but rather because the warfare that preceded and accompanied increased drastically the local availability of slaves, which was pretty much the only thing Europe could export to the technically more advanced and ecologically richer lands to the South. It's not inconsistent with the little I know of, say, trade with Byzantium, and I confess the historical irony does add to the let's call it aesthetic appeal of the theory (which is of course irrelevant to its validity).

The Gothic Condition (David Punter, 2017/#16): Plenty of interesting observations, but more suggestive than convincing, and least interesting when it veers into the psychoanalytical. A good read nonetheless.

The Military Orders Volume 6 (Part 1) (Ed. Jochen Schenk, Mike Carr, 2017/#17): A set of conference papers mostly but not exclusively focused on the Hospitallers, touching on everything from the architectural details of individual buildings to aspects of grand strategy (one example of the minor but fascinating facts: there's a good argument to be made for Saladin having been one of the main forces behind the image of Templars and Hospitallers as elite warriors, as a tool of political propaganda directed to his allies)). Highly uneven, as you'd expect, but worth it for the miscellany.

The Military Orders Volume 6 (Part 2) (Ed. Jochen Schenk, Mike Carr, 2017/#18): See above.

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Bruce Wayne, Ladies and Gentlemen

Bruce: This situation is too dangerous, leave Gotham.

All the Robins[1]: Sure. And by "Sure," we mean "Nope." Dick, literally: "Ignoring Batman's pretty much the definition of being a Robin."[2]

Bruce: *kidnaps the Wayne-ish subset of the Robins, puts them in stasis chambers, and stashes those in the Fortress of Solitude* [3]


[1] Minus Tim and Steph, and, yes, Rebirth can kiss my tushie, Steph was/will be a Robin and Cass was/will be a Batgirl, and the whole Mother thing can kiss my tushie, too.

[2] Batman, somewhere: "... And that's why I have a team of adoption lawyers on retainer." Alfred, somewhere else: "I'm sure sixth time will be a charm, Sir."

[3] Alfred: *files away the idea, as Bruce's developing a tolerance to the sedatives he uses to "convince" him to rest whenever his injuries are particularly grievous*

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Peace is a techne

Where and how did Diana learn how to be a diplomat? Everything we've been shown of Themyscira during her life there shows the island as inhabited by a single polity, and one ruled by an immortal (mostly absolute?) monarch at that. You have the interpersonal issues inherent to, well, people, but none of the kind of conflict between social or political groups deriving from competing ideologies or sets of interests for which workable compromises must be found.

Even worse, it's a warrior culture, so physical conflict, although within heavily regulated boundaries, is absolutely accepted, and perhaps even encouraged.

So why should their Princess — who rather than a misfit was highly respected and extremely well-trained by the standards of her society — be any good as a diplomat? I don't question her desire for peace at both social and personal levels, nor her reluctance to fight given alternatives, but effective diplomacy, even when the goal is peace, isn't just about wanting it, it's a skill. It's a form of politics, and Themyscira looks like an awful place to learn politics; too immortal to have to deal with heir hairiness, too small for fights over centralization and delegation of power. And their economy, to whatever degree we know it, looks like "Ancient Greece with magic replacing slaves" (I think), which doesn't even give you space to the Pandora's Box of an urban commercial class or, later, a proletariat.

Options: (1) Diana spent quite a bit of time in Patriarch's World learning the nuts and bolts of diplomacy (the Trevor timeline forbids it, but Diana could be old enough for her to have shadowed Talleyrand). (2) The Amazons have a secret school of diplomacy they trained her in before she left the island (but this only punts the problem; do they travel to keep in practice, and/or learn new tricks? that goes against the grain of Amazonian isolationism). (3) Diana is bad at it and knows it (but I've never read her say anything along those lines). (4) Diana is bad at it, doesn't know it, and neither Clark nor Bruce have been able or willing to tell her. Clark probably wishes he could approach the issues as she does, but can't due to his own standing in the world (basically, the Pope can host meetings, but he can't draft treaties). And I bet Bruce sees her directness as, most of the time, useful in the kind of negotiations he makes after scaring the crap out of people in their "highly secure" offices. In the sense of "you might possibly outflank Superman given his cultural, psychological, and geopolitical constraints, but then your options are *me* and the relentlessly idealist Superman-level highly-trained warrior with diplomatic immunity."

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Point the first: I liked the nearly complete lack of plot points. There were some, yes, but it was mostly headshot headshot headshot reload headshot headshot judo bodyshot headshot headshot to guy in judo hold reload...

Point the second: As noted above, they didn't change the style of Wick's violence. Despite the somewhat ludicrous accumulation of bodies and injuries, I still heartily approve of his minimalist style of gun kata: Headshot. If can't do a headshot, shoot other places until you can do a headshot. If too close to shoot, grapple (try again to shoot, just in case), kill whoever is an immediate threat in the perimeter, then, yes, headshot. It requires plenty of ammo that you're forced to scavenge along the way, but it's very efficient: you just can't kill that many people in a normal-sized movie if you're going to have long shootouts with each of them. I briefly wondered while watching the movie how the world must feel to somebody like him: everybody's so *slow*, and they shoot bizarrely at almost random places. Does John Wick fight with guns like Jedis would fight with guns? (to steal a comment I made about the Speed Racer movie) You know, maybe he does. He does have the nearly supernatural speed and precision you need to stop a blaster with a lightsaber.

Point the third: They spent a bit more time exploring the insane world of the movie, and it's *adorable*. There's a bit about a worldwide council of crime that felt boring (and, god, why do we always have to have a weird stylish "European" party or two in almost every movie?), but the important fact is that the world of the movie is absolutely full of weirdly overlapping criminal fraternities with insanely complex resources and networks. It's hilarious. And of course there's The Continental. Wherever you travel to, I do recommend staying there (and oh my god their back-office... my soul was filled with so much squee at their back-office).

Point the fourth: The bad guy's main bodyguard was quietly interesting, but I felt she was underused. Would've liked to know more about her backstory.

My summary is the one I've seen in every review: if you liked the first movie, you're very likely to like this one, and if you didn't, then you probably won't.

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RL sucks

My not-really-fast internet is borked, and my ISP won't send a technician until Friday to "solve" the same issue I've had every other month for the last, dunno, year.

Meanwhile, Warren Ellis is publishing a comic about multiple deep black groups with ultrahigh tech fighting a secret war to control the world, and the lone genius who came up with yet more ultrahigh tech and it's going to throw everything out of balance (The Wild Storm #1, recommended if you're into Ellis and/or Hickman).

First-worldish problems, I know. And in a news channel I keep as background a D.A. is talking about an horrifying thing I'd rather not spoil your day by telling you about, so I'll try and keep perspective.

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Caveat: I see Tims everywhere

My memories of the movie are admittedly vague (and I didn't read the book), but wouldn't The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo be a good Tim Drake AU?

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