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Ursula K. Le Guin just died.

I didn't have a personal relationship with her writing, the way I had with some others', but hers was the sort of devastatingly oblique voice that kept inside you even if you thought it hadn't, and she brought to sci-fi vast (an accidental but unavoidable word choice, I guess) things that *had* to be there, things we're still struggling, half-articulately at best, with.

It's not the same culture that it'd have been without her, and I'm not the same person either.


Star Trek: Discover S1E12

Can't AU this thing: already omnipanwrong.

PS: You can see Fuller's touch in more than one place, but not always (in my highly biased first view) successfully. As very very much a fan of Hannibal, I think that indicates that, to be successful, that kind of thing requires careful and constant control. Hannibal works because and perhaps only because that's how its world works, from plot and dialogue to, it feels, causality and metaphysics. Discover's underlying universe is a different one — it's a world of betrayal and lies and good intentions going wrong, with the minimum of victories and good to be an Star Trek, but all of it rather muddled. It's not a bad show, but it's not a good one.

I wonder if we wouldn't have been best served by an original SF show from Fuller. You need a lot of control to get away with the things I enjoy the most from his storytelling, and Star Trek has and had too many ties for him to get that kind of leeway. Single episodes or limited spinoffs maybe (I think that's closer to what he originally planned?).


James Bond: The Body #1

A quiet, introspective, funny-ish interlude. Recommended.

(I initially wrote slightly funny, but funny-ish lets me keep the word count down to six, which I wasn't trying to do until I noticed the word count was seven — then it became unavoidable.)


Star Trek: Discovery S1E11

Maybe the most Starfleet episode of Star Trek: Discovery yet since the first few minutes of the series, back when everything was about finding new civilizations and helping people, and most senior officers/main characters weren't suffering from at least a couple layers of PTSD.


Mister Miracle #6

Brilliant as usual, but not a brilliant depiction of (theologically weaponized) depression for a change. Yet there's always next issue.

Books! (Mostly Murder Edition)

The Crusader States (Malcolm Barber, 2017/#93): I'm left wondering if they were at all possible. With "armies" consisting sometimes of a handful of knights and a political system that led to almost continuous infighting due to potentially unstable chains of loyalty as power bases and dynastic arrangement shifted almost daily, the insane chain of politico-military logistics between their European power bases and the East was perhaps an impossible problem from the beginning. I would put it this way: a Western knight was a fantastic piece of military technology (and an acceptable-to-unstable one for political rule) but one that had to be produced in Europe and shipped at a tremendous expense, not the least costs the fact that it was necessarily produced in reduced numbers, and was the bedrock of existing political arrangements in their homelands. You could send enough of them to win battles, but it was a very rough environment, so to hold territory you had to keep a continuous stream, and that was perhaps more than what the production base in the Europe could sustain without risking its own stability (semi-metaphorically speaking). It's a testament to the strength of their religious commitments that they did as much as they actually managed to (and in fact, as I wrote elsewhere, crusades with saner logistical routes (Spain) or against weaker opponents (the Baltic) did work.

Gothic Romanticism: Architecture, Politics, and Literary Form (Tom Duggett , 2017/#94): An interesting look at the complex relationship of the English (focusing mainly on Wordsworth) with the multiple meanings they assigned to the term Gothic, from barbaric obscurantism (Spain) to an "spiritually vital", "organic", politico-cultural tradition (i.e., *not* atheistic, start-from-scratch Revolutionary France); you can understand how they Peninsular War was a bit of a pickle, although they seemed very taken with the "Gothic heroism" of the Spanish despite their distaste for the "Gothic obscurity" of Catholic rule. It makes large, speculative points about Wordsworth's work I'm in no position to comment upon, not that any idea about architectural-literary isomorphims isn't going to find me receptive. By and large, though, it's perhaps best seen as a milder reflection of the overall blood-soil-and-metaphysics darkening of European civilization from Romanticism up to the not unrelated World Wars, and as a literary appendix to A Most Dangerous Book's comment on the let's say problematic influence of Tacitus' Germania.

The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures (ed. Mike Ashley, 2017/#95): What the title says. Mostly straightforwardly pseudocanonical, with some digressions about early and late cases, but not really any attempts at canon subversion. Unavoidably uneven, but overall pleasant.

The Vacant See in Early Modern Rome: A Social History of the Papal Interregnum (John M. Hunt, 2017/#96): Interestingly, Early Modern Romans had this idea about the sede vacante being a period where you could pretty much do whatever you wanted, and it was all legal. That wasn't true, but, as (a) most Papal government processes stalled during the period, (b) the Conclave and the Popolo Romano (the usually very very powerless city notables) fought each other over issues of jurisdiction during this brief period where they did matter, somewhat, and (c) everybody from Ambassadors to Cardinals to whoever could afford to brought hired soldiers and hired thugs (assuming you could tell the difference), it turned out to be slightly true de facto, enough that levels of violence spiked during the interregnum. It seems people would sometimes deliberately wait for years until the next sede vacante in order to take vengeance for some slight or another (money issues, insults, affairs, you name it). Also spiked: pasquinades and general invective, mostly about the just-dead Pope (specially if he was one of the really hated ones, like Paul IV); still illegal and frowned upon rather violently by the Inquisition, but harder to stop when everybody's doing it. What they did manage to eventually stop: betting. All in all, a quite interesting look at a rather unique political event — Early Modern Monarchies were all about the continuity of the king's sacral body, etc, but the Church took the discontinuity quite seriously.

Hamlet in Purgatory (Stephen Greenblatt, 2017/#97): Ultimately centered on Hamlet's Ghost, of course, but touching more generally in the life and, pun somewhat intended, after-life of the concept of Purgatory in England; it might be impossible to understand the Reformation without the innovation, and resistance to, Purgatory. I hadn't know there was a supposed phyisical entrance to Purgatory in Lough Derb, set up by Saint Patrick (a very classical/medieval thing, of course). Not uninteresting in terms of pure Shakesperean criticism, too.

The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms: The Struggle for Dominion, 1200-1500 (David S. H. Abulafia, 2017/#98): Made me reframe a bit how I see that part of history; that Sicily and the south of Italy were among the wealthiest and strongest areas of Europe at the beginning of the period is of course well-known to historians, but feels weird nonetheless (a reflection of biases in popular historiography and later political history). That said, the absurdly complicated and at time apparently dynastic maneuverings of the age does explain why everybody and their second cousin on the distaff side were trying to grab a piece of Italy (or rather what they thought they had a legitimate-ish enough shot at it). We need to get Naples as an springboard to get Jerusalem isn't any more or less strange than everything else going on at that moment, what with the two Sicilies and the weirdness that is pre-Spain Spain (not entirely irrelevant to the recent Spanish nearxit).

Gambit (Rex Stout, 2017/#99): Satisfactory.

Trouble in Triplicate (Rex Stout, 2017/#100): A reread.

A Maze of Death (Philip K. Dick, 2017/#101): Some things that for Philip K. Dick are demiurgic, vaguely menacing, and fundamentally alien(-to-the-spark) constructs: gods, drugs, marriage, machines, schizophrenia, companies, advertising, jobs, robots, doctors, pets, sex, history, time, manufacturing. This isn't a borgesian list, but a concrete, if partial, one. The observation can be taken too literally, of course (although I think he eventually did) but it's empirically true that a lot of our subjective experience, including things that seem to lie at the core of our understanding of ourselves and our lives, is (a) mediated through conceptual and perceptual constructs, (b) partially the result of historical evolution and change, (c) but also at least partially designed, (d) by people and (collective, nonhuman) entities not necessarily with our best interests in mind. Just saying.

Whose body? (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#102): cf below.

Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#103): cf below.

Unnatural Death (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#104): cf below.

Lord Peter Views the Body (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#105): cf below.

The Unpleasentness at the Bellona Club (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#106): cf below.

Strong Poison (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#107): cf below.

Five Red Herrings (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#108): cf below.

Have His Carcase (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#109): cf below.

Murder Must Advertise (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#110): cf below.

The Nine Tailors (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#111): cf below.

Gaudy Night (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#112): cf below.

Busman's Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers, 2017/#113): The Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane series surprised me in a positive way. It is an archetypal English cozy detective mysteries sort of affair, to a very large degree, and also thoroughly rooted in its historical and social context, but it's also a sympathetic criticism of genre, society, and characters. Without spoiling anything, the ending of Busman's Honeymoon is, not a retcon of the series' arc, but rather a reminder of what we were told, and knew, was going on through the books (and not just re: the romantic plot, which is on its own also a very interesting and extremely rare one; we need more Harriet Vanes). Highly recommended.

Anywhen (James Blish, 2017/#114): A collection of SF short stories; not classics, but (mostly) in the classic style.

Yuletide reveal

Death and Paperwork (1498 words) by marcelo
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: RED (Movies)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Victoria Winslow, Sarah Ross, William Cooper, Marvin Boggs

An unconfirmed death, some missing paperwork, and a very inconvenient smoke plume. There are questions Cooper'd rather not ask, and people he'd rather not ask the questions to, but what choice does he have? He's just the CIA Director.


Uncomfortably accurate

An interesting observation from Hamlet in Purgatory is how totalitarian power seems to have a knack of infiltrating and corrupting the dreams of its victims, while at the same time giving to real life something of the quality of nightmares — not just the awfulness, but the feeling of powerlessness, the sometimes literal and always emotional sensation of walking under water, of the very fabric and mechanism of things being against us.

The causality is plausible, and of course the examples aren't hard to find (the book mentions a couple of dreams from Nazi Germany), but I vaguely feel it extends beyond the traumatic nature of living in a society that's totalitarian or becoming so; not metaphor, but isomorphism.

(Ditto, and not unrelated, for the relationship between abusive familiar environments and totalitarian societies; I would be surprised if, say, brain scans didn't show similar (dis)functional patterns in people interacting with either.)

(Chronic cortisol levels and class structure. Surveillance and introjected abuse. It's easy to oversimplify, and I tend to see politics through the lens of non-cooperative game theory, but there's something to be said, if nothing else poetically, for the old school view of societies "going crazy" in an almost Freudian way. Political systems have to be stable strategic equilibria in order to exist, but perhaps there's also something of the oniric in them, for good but most often for ill.)

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

A meh deep enough to turn into an ugh.

Besides the intrinsic win of the Doctor finally regenerating into a woman, I have some hope that the showrunner's regeneration will contribute to turn the series into one where the Doctor is the protagonist, not the protagonist and the MacGuffin and the Most Important Person Ever and ... and... As of late, too often Doctor Who has been about how the Doctor feels about the Doctor and that can be interesting in small doses, and turn into awfully boring as a narrative mode.

There's practically no limit to what sort of stories, scenarios, and characters can be found in any given Doctor Who episode (and, if nothing else, the visuals of modern Doctor Who have often succeeded in this regard); to say that it has recently failed to consistently exploit this freedom and over-indulged in the in-universe mythos of the Doctor as an engine of cosmic history isn't to spoil as much as to lodge a pointless complaint against self-satisfied powers-that-be.

It's my sincere hope that we might get a less narratively narcissistic Doctor in Thirteen; painfully enough, I hold this not entirely unlikely in part because it's difficult to imagine a contemporary show giving to a female character the sort of, well, entitled, angry authority the Doctor wielded at his worst moments. (The Doctor is so enmeshed with colonialist tropes that only the BBC could've come up with him. But I digress.)

Personally, I'm crossing my fingers for a Doctor for whom time travel is the premise, not the tool, dealing with problems with her wit, kindness, and knowledge, rather than overwhelming technology, a particularly blessed biology, and a reputation that spans galaxies and millennia. Problems that, ideally, she neither caused nor is the target of.

Doctor Who can tell those stories, and it never fully stopped. Just give me more of them, and a Doctor less worried about being the Doctor.



cass, can you not

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