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The Annihilation Score (Charlie Stross, 2015/#51): A competent addition to the Laundry Files, with the usual assimilation and logically coherent re-interpretation of a different genre (in this case, superheroes) inside its world. Mo is very compelling as both character and narrative voice.

State Power in Ancient China and Rome (Ed. Walter Scheiel, 2015/#52): A fascinating look at comparative state politics between what are perhaps the two archetypal empires in world history.

The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History (Thomas T. Allsen , 2015/#53): What the title says. It's quite an interesting book; the phenomenon/activity/ritual of the royal hunt ends up being a good entry point for looking at things like ecological adaptations, the ritual aspects of kingship, and premodern diplomacy.

Four Quartets (T. S. Eliot, 2015/#54): A reread.

Even In the Best Families (Rex Stout, 2015/#55): A reread. The Wolfe/Goodwin partnership is a perhaps underrated model for freelancers, a combination of pragmatic business focus, ruthless professional standards in both the work they take and how they perform it, and an astounding professional support network, not to mention unmatched work/life balance. Of course, you have to be really good to be able to pull this off to that degree, but sometimes we don't even think to try.

I think this quote from the book, something Archie says to Wolfe when the latter mentions the possibility of backing off in the face of a personal threat, points at something close to the core of how and why they work together so well:

"You damn faker," I said indulgently. "You know perfectly well that I would rather eat soap than have you think I would knuckle under to that son of a bitch, and I know that you would rather put horseradish on oysters than have me think you would. I might if you didn't know about it, and you might if I didn't know about it, but as it is we're stuck."


A funny quote, and a terrifying one

From The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History, on the training of cheetahs for hunting. After finding the prey, they unleash the cheetah (very funny fact: the cheetah rode on the same horse as his handler, sitting on the back) and set their

head toward the Prey; if he sees it, he gives a shriek, leaps down, falls on the Beast, and pulls it down; if he missed it he is commonly discouraged, and stops; the Master goes to him, comforts him, makes much of him, and tells him it is not his Fault, and that he had not been set directly before the Beast. They say he [the cat] understands that Excuse, and is satisfied with it.

Anybody who ever owned a cat will recognize the situation.

And from Eliot's The Dry Salvages:

The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable
Prayer of the one Annunciation.

As usual, Eliot's theology is terrifying (and insane for any self-professed Catholic). Death its God is bleak in a relatively naive way, but Prayer of the one Annunciation in that context is starkly existentialist, even and more so because it's not secular.

The more I reread Four Quartets, the more interesting I find it.


To no one's surprise, I find the marital stuff far more distressing an difficult to go through than the CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN shenanigans.

In unrelated news, I've decided to call going through a Will Graham the state of there being such a multi-layered depth of ubiquitous insane things going on in your life that you can't summon to energy to feel anything but mild curiosity when the next nominally terrifying catastrophe is inevitably added to the mix. It's a quantum entanglement situation where fucks are retroactively collapsed before they can be given.

In a progressive scale, there's 1000% done, there's out-of-fucks, there's haunted, and then there's Season 3 Will Graham, who has gone all the way around to no longer feeling uncomfortable with every single thing in the world being wrong in ever-evolving horrible ways.


Books! (Old Things Edition)

(It's embarrassing how little time I've been dedicating to books these last few weeks. My schedule hasn't helped, certainly, but I've been endogenously distracted as well. That's never a good sign.)

Slow Bullet (Alastair Reynolds, 2015/#46): Neoclassic space opera (which is to a large degree Reynolds space opera). An enjoyable short novel (although it's only short in the current environment of "if it's not seven hundred pages it's a novella and won't sell"), with a classic setup, but I think the title and underlying metaphor could have been used to greater effect. Some of the bits were too clearly derivative in a non-classical way, though. No idea of why, unless it was a deliberate wink to readers.

Danubia (Simon Winder, 2015/#47): A reread. Wickedly funny history of Central Europe following the thread of the Hapsburg family, even when/while it deals with rather horrible times, people, and ideologies, that actually set up a lot some of the worst nastiness in Europe's 20th century. Somebody like Hitler becomes much less mysterious, although not a jot less evil, when you see him as a subject of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire rather than an anachronistic comprehensive German nation-state. Winder emphasizes in many places how ideas of nation-statehood rooted on (mostly, if not wholly) fabricated linguistic and historical roots intersected with a practically fractal actual distribution of "races" and "cultures" in a way that almost guaranteed terrible violence if and when people tried to implement the former in the context of the latter. Nazism was intellectually insane and ethically monstrous (not to mention pragmatically suicidal), but in all of these characteristics it was but a feverish and literalist extrapolation of strong and very disturbing pre-existing political and cultural tendencies.

A Shadow in Summer (Daniel Abraham, 2015/#48): An interesting fantasy story, the first book in a quadrilogy (obviously; today's single book is yesterday's novella). It has some novel elements (particularly the idea of binding concepts as anthropomorphic spirits and putting them to work, with all kinds of political and psychological nuances and implications), and it was an enjoyable read.

Of Walking in Ice (Werner Herzog, 2015/#49): A day-by-day, impressionistic journal of an act that wouldn't be believable in fiction: It's 1974. You're in Munich. You are told that a person you worship intellectually and artistically is dying in Paris. So you (of course!) decide that you will walk all the way to Paris, because she will not die if you do that. So you walk, and she doesn't die. I don't enjoy Herzog's movies, but the man is an endless source of fascination to me.

Siena: City of Secrets (Jane Tylus, 2015/#50): One of the now common impressionistic and loosely organized single-city guidebooks/histories/meditations. It's not a bad one, and the first one I read about Siena, but not an outstanding one either.


After centuries of looking for a philosophically principled and rationally designed universal language, the species seems to have decided that our common language would be rooted on the now ubiquitously understood concepts of okay and fuck you, and that's beautiful.

"Truth, justice and the American way" has a very different meaning to a Superman raised by poor immigrant farmers. He’s seen abuse and injustice his whole life – and now he’s ready to let the world know what happens when a Man of Steel gets angry..

On one hand, there's an interesting (Watsonian) argument to be made about how Clark Kent's usual tendency to maintain overall status quo in spite of the physical, technological, and political power at his disposal is intimately tied to being raised in a cultural and social milieu where, when things go wrong, the instinctive response is to blame it on change from the past, rather than showing the need of change from the present (whatever your opinion on their suitability as child-rearing environments or their ecological sustainability, family farms are in economic terms heavily subsidized historical reserves, specially in the developed world). The same, by the way, can be argued about Bruce; he reminds me of that episode of NewsRadio where billionaire Jimmy James pretended to run for President, and he said something along the lines of You know what's wrong with America? *Nothing*. From where I'm standing, everything looks alright.. The first and biggest thing that ever went *personally* wrong for Bruce was the murder of his parents, so he dedicated himself to fighting that. He does good work with the Wayne Foundation, but he isn't personally invested in social change the way he's personally invested in punching criminals. It's weird, but fitting, that Diana, who's bona fide royalty, is the only one in the Trinity attempting to help along a profound societal change, being the real outsider among them (and, although it's change in a direction of making our society closer to hers, it's done out of empathy for people who suffer something she *hasn't* (although her society did went through it in a particularly traumatic way), and thus speaks well of her even beyond the intrinsic undeniable worth of what she's attempting). This Superman is angry in a way that canon Superman should be. I'm not saying he should go full Red Son, but there are degrees. (Bruce is a bit more excusable - even a person with his resources cannot change an entire city, specially one as deeply fucked up as Gotham - but still, as Batman he attempts the impossible in a weekly basis, as Bruce Wayne he does things Thomas Wayne would have done, and in the way he would have done them --- and there's a clue, methinks).

On the other hand (having lost sight of the first one)... if AU!Superman is to canon!Superman as AU!Batman (remember, villain-eating vampire) is to canon!Batman (and the pre-movie shorts do show this Superman ignoring civilians in danger during a fight), then the underlying message is simply a racist and classist one ("see how latinos and poor people raise their kids?").

I mean, a vampire!Batman AU is definitely a dark one (heck, the title is Gods and Monsters, and I'm not sure it refers to different sets of individuals), and the change in premise for Superman is that he was raised by migrant latino farm hands (I also think he's Zod's son, which adds a different layer of genetic predisposition awfulness).

Ok, now I know how I feel: intrigued by the critical possibilities involved in the premise, and disappointed by the social backwardness of the execution.

DC: We have looked at all possible universes, and nobody is as decent as a Kansas farmboy, or as cool as an East Coast billionaire. Feel free to cease your societal criticism and dedicate the time to figure out who'd win in a fight between them. You're welcome.
Hannibal S03E05: It's been a long while since I last gesticulated and yelled at a TV quite so enthusiastically.

Secret Wars #this week: I don't think I've ever been so embarrassed for Doom as I feel reading this series. It's like that time (Pre-Crisis, I think) when Lex was in this other planet and he saved that world and made everything better by sciencing the shit out of everything at hand, and everybody loved him and made statues of thing, and they renamed the planet Lexia (I think? that sounds weird even by Pre-Crisis standards, but could be right, and I'm too amused by the idea to google and risk disappointment). Anyway, Lex was basically *it*, and yet he felt unfulfilled (gee, I wonder why), and when he found a cache of old, even-more-advanced technology, he used it to build a supersuit (the one made by Darkseid in post-crisis Superman/Batman, when he went crazy in a different way) that he field-tested by destroying things he had built/saved himself (again, I might be wrong, but that's how I remember it), just to be able to kill Superman.

And when they fought, he ended up destroying the planet, because of course.

ETA: See astolat 's comment below for more (and more accurate) details on that wonderful bit of Silver Age crack.
A Hannibal vid set to Another Way to Die.

Stylistically incongruous, thematically unrelated, and in psychological antipodes, but still.


Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #42

I'll keep making squee posts like this one long as they keep making issues like that one.

I mean, the threat turned out to be more creative than I had expected, and the solution... James Roberts has no sense of authorial shame at all, and it's BEAUTIFUL. I can't imagine the man isn't having an absolute blast writing this comic; not because of the franchise, but because of what he's writing.

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