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Wee!

Just got a bright and beautiful postcard from the doubly so [personal profile] browngirl. I'm, as I've been for as long as I've had the privilege of knowing her, flabbergasted and delighted by her thoughtfulness.

Thanks!

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Just finished watching a couple of Leverage episodes. I had forgotten how much I love that team and their unnecessarily convoluted and oftentimes comedic shenanigans.

The final scene, Parker saying "we provide... leverage" is, of course, everything I could ask for, but I'm not sure Nate knew... Nah. I think he knew very well that Parker's Leverage will be much more, well, "ruthless" isn't quite the right word — Parker's heart is huge, they are all sweet people, which is why they fell in together so easily — but dangerous might be. Because Nate was an essentially lawful person lashing out for revenge and redemption, and very good at it, but with a certain holding-back. Doing a good job, a necessary job, and sort of enjoying it, but not always comfortable with the fact that he enjoys it.

Parker — Parker has never been what Nate was. She doesn't run Leverage because she got broken, she runs it because she got better, and, for the kind of people and systems they are going to go after now, her mind and her spirit are going to be a much better fit. For Nate it was always personal, there was always a face behind things, somebody to punish. Parker feels more in terms of systems to crack. Marks get their painful due, yes, but &madsh; and I'm probably over-reading, and certainly haven't had enough sleep lately &madsh; Parker's gesture as she said that last "leverage" was exactly right in its (very properly unsettling) difference.

I still got all the Nate-to-Parker transition feels, apparently.

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Books! (Empires Everywhere Edition)

The Mind of Egypt (Jan Assmann, 2016/#77): An utterly fascinating book about the culture, or rather the evolving Weltanschauung, of Egypt from its pre-dynastic origins down to the Greek conquest. There's a lot to unpack here, directly about Egypt, of course, but also, by comparison, about our own culture. The book doesn't paint a single unchanging "Egyptian worldview", but its evolution feels exactly as alien as it should for somebody from a very different civilization. e.g., the meaning of ma'at, the continuity between the world of the living and that of the dead, who exactly is in charge of keeping society and/or the cosmos working, the precise relationship between kings and gods, and so on: all of this kept shifting through the thousands of years of Egyptian history, but as varying answers to a set of questions rather different from what other civilizations asked. Going beyond what the book says, it looked to me as some deeply weird homology between theology, economy, ecology, sociology, and the state, specially during the Old Kingdom. For us they are completely different spheres, but for them it wasn't: the cycle of the Nile that made agriculture possible, the state granaries, social links (without memory there was no reciprocity), the afterlife, the daily path of the sun, the rituals... It wasn't that the world (which included the afterworld) was bad, you just had to keep making it work day after day and year after year, and the state/religion/society/everything was how you did it. It's an strangely satisfying picture from an intellectual and aesthetic point of view, machine-like without being mechanistic, although not one I'd care to live in. (An idle thought is whether a society of this kind wouldn't be optimally designed for something like a long-term generational interstellar ship, where you want cultural stability (you can't forget to do maintenance rituals, or even how to read manuals!), ecological (life support systems) awareness, social cohesion, etc.)

Extra points of suddenly illuminated strangeness for the observation that tombs were in some senses the life-work of Egyptians, how they organized and expressed their sense of selves in the context of the afterlife (which wasn't in opposition to this world, but rather a continuation of). An oversimplification, I'm sure, but it does make a bit the whole thing a bit more understandable to me.

Storming the Heavens (Antonio Santosuosso, 2016/#78): An interesting book about the Roman army and its impact on their economy and politics. It's also rather partisan about Roman politics (e.g., the author is very pro-Cesar and pro-Octavian, and more willing than I am to take Roman's explicit statements about morals and so on at face value, particularly about political opponents), which for a book published on 2001 is somewhat hilarious.

The Dynamics of Ancient Empires (Ed. Ian Morris and Walter Scheidel, 2016/#79): A collection of essays on different empires (Neo-Assyrian, Persian, Athenian, Roman, and Byzantine) from slightly different points of view, but all of them focused on what (for the author) makes a polity an empire, and how those empires worked and failed to work. Unevenly written (the chapter on Rome felt bad, the one on the Neo-Assyrian empire quite good) but at times very interesting; the Morris essay postulates that because of the relative uniformity of Hellas, and the way it was developed and sustained itself, the Athenian Empire was less an empire than a failed attempt at creating a territorial state (the analogy would be Rome eventually losing the Latin wars, France never coalescing, or, well, Italy after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire). The Scheidel article, though, is a painful mess: basically, the argument is that we have empires because males are biologically programmed to have as many children as possible. I was very surprised by this, as I've read a couple of books from him and they used very different, and IMHO much more fruitful, approaches.

Roman Honor (Carlin A. Barton, 2016/#80): A necessarily unsystematic (and, by a related necessity, impressionistic and empathetic) look at the psychology of the Romans. As with all such books, it's difficult and might be impossible to gauge the correctness of its thesis (and particularly of its later conclusions) but at the very least it's highly suggestive and (to a layperson like me) very informative.

Revenger (Alastair Reynolds, 2016/#81): Somewhat by the numbers as an adventure yarn. Interesting world building, maybe, but for some reason a couple of days after finishing the book my opinion of it seems to have become less positive.

An Empire of Air and Water (Siobhan Carroll, 2016/#82): The framework of the book is awfully specific and the thesis is rather vague — an study of the impact of representations of atopic spaces (uninhabitable, blank; the poles, the ocean, the atmosphere, caves) on the British empire between 1750 and 1850 — but, despite some expository redundancies, the book is full of interesting details and observations.

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Yay, Yuletide!

I offered a bucket list this year. Nothing with a big canon, so I can get up to speed if needs be, but with a wider net than usual. I haven't written any fanfic in a long while, so I'm looking forward to it.

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Dear Yuletide author

Thanks so much! Have fun. Go for the gusto. Being surprised is half the fun *g*.

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You know that fictional trope about an experience, short as it might be, being so traumatic, so nonsensical, that it ages significantly those who somehow survive it?

Well, the plot of Mechanic: Resurrection has so many soul-crushing plot holes and (simultaneously, somehow) so much unnecessary plot frippery that when the movie began I was thirty-six years old, and when it ended I was thirty-seven.

*cue wolf howling in he distance*

True fact, bad joke. But also bad movie. There's something about Jason Statham franchises beginning with a B-level iconic character (the Stock Statham Character might not be a cultural touchstone, but it's a reliable archetype) and then decaying exponentially. I still remember Transporter 3 with fond horrified dismay. I'm so glad there was no Revolver 2.

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Books! (Variations of Gothic Edition)

Strategy: The Indirect Approach (B. H. Liddell Hart,2016/#71): Quite interesting. Overrates Hitler as an strategist compared to his later books; I'm not sure if it's hindsight (he wrote this book in mid-WWII, and in his history of WWII he does say that Hitler made most mistakes near the end) or due to improved access to documents and people. He wrote later than his interviews with German generals and his reading of internal documents showed that a lot of what seemed inspired was instead unintended (something actually matching what he saw in WWI).

Not Without Sorcery (Theodore Sturgeon, 2016/#72): A collection of ostensibly standard-style Golden Age SF stories, but the writing is fantastic in subtly, understated ways.

Late Victorian Gothic Tales (Ed. Roger Luckhurst, 2016/#73): As racist, classist, and misogynist a collection of stories as you'd expect, not to mention plotted in the least subtle way you could imagine, but also fascinating. Kipling's savagery is matched, and more, by Wilde's. It's a bit embarrassing to note that The Fall of the House of Usher predates Vaila by almost sixty years. That said, Shiel's story, although an almost painful echo (pun intended) (if not an explicit fanfic?) of Poe's, doesn't lack operatic grandiosity in its setting.

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (Stanislaw Lem, 2016/#74): Beckett meets Le Carré, filtered through Lem's unique mind. An absolutely killer quote the protagonist glanced from another book: "The human body consists of the following places of concealment..." You can almost recover, as from a fractal, the whole universe of the novel from those ten words.

Godlike Machines (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2016/#75): A reasonable collection of SF stories about (mostly) capital-h Huge and capital-w Weird machines, from the usual suspects and angles. Not bad, but not very original either (within the context of the genre and topic, of course).

The History of the Assassins (Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, 2016/#76): Wrong and problematic factually, methodologically, politically, and philosophically, even about European events (e.g., it subscribes uncritically to the old idea of secret societies having planned and controlled the French Revolution), and even beyond what you'd expect in a book published on 1835 that uses "atheist" and "free-thinking" as insults. Despite that, it was a highly enjoyable read, although certainly not in the spirit in which the author intended.

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Just saw Star Trek: Beyond

(Not my fault, they released it in Argentina last Thursday.)

What a ridiculous movie. But then, no more ridiculous than some stuff TOS used to pull off.

That said, the plot structure is getting way too repetitive. I realize this is just my "whatever first aired when I was at the right age to enjoy it is the peak of that particular art genre" prejudices showing through, but a TNG episode-like movie (not a TNG movie-like movie, gods, no) would be my preferred choice.

A side note: the trinity seems to hinge on Bones rather than Jim in this continuity, although to be fair it's rather more of a
(Jim -- [Bones) - (Spock] -- Uhura)
structure. Not a complaint, just an observation. Makes sense, in that this Kirk is less intellectually inclined (not saying less smart, although if he's a tactical genius we still have to see it, Kobayashi Maru repeat aside), and this Spock seems to be more socially inclined (not sure why the difference in Watsonian terms, as it precedes the death of Vulcan; maybe he did(n't) strike an early friendship with Kirk at the Academy?).

US political humor rec

If you haven't seen it, The Trump Leaks is something of a masterpiece of very-long-form tweetstorm humor. More than a thousand tweets and counting of dialog (mostly) between Donald Trump and other people in his campaign. At points it veers on Night Vale surrealism (explicitly so in the Roger Ailes subplot), but in general it's just Donald Trump and the people around him. You'll learn the origin of Christie's nickname, the hellish landscape of Paul Ryan's life, and what Trump had to promise Ann Coulter for her "most magnificent speech ever given" tweet.

There's a couple of storify "archives" at the top of the page, I suggest beginning there.

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