Rejiquar Works 2015-09-01T10:36:39-05:00 copyright 2015 Sylvus Tarn Sylvus Tarn 2015-09-01T00:00:00-05:00 A half-assed review of _Jane Austen and Food_. 01sep2015

Yesterday I mentioned a historian who also wrote fiction; which reminded me of another (sort of) scholarly book that I suspect may have been written by an author of fiction; or at the very least, a huge fan of Jane Austen (who if not writing I could easily imagine reading Austen fanfic.) The book has already gone back to the library, and as it was an interlibrary loan, I'm not about to check it out again just to write about it.

It was, like Reading the Romance, interesting, but not, from my point of view at least, properly developed. I did learn some interesting tidbits about regency attitudes towards food (and meals) in general and Jane Austen in particular. Frex, if you are a fan of regency romances (or clothing from a more formal age) you may recall the term ‘morning dress’. Well, morning to them lasted till about 6pm; what we called morning, Austen designated as fore-noon.

Then there's the term, ‘supper’. As my parents are primarily of German extraction, they (and thus I) didn't use the term at all; the wizard, on the matrilineal side, is descended from some brits, so ‘supper’ was part of their family vocabulary. —Supper started out being the mid-day meal, but wealthier folks, especially those in town (who could afford to break their fast at the fashionably late hour of 10am) moved this meal back—further and further, till it ended up being as late 8pm—as opposed to the 3:30–4pm that Elizabeth Bennet had the meal—such that eventually luncheon was inserted as a mid-day meal, and supper and dinner became conflated. Tea was after supper, say around 6pm (in the country) and was less casual, because one's own servants didn't need the 24 hours’ notice that cancellation of supper required.

Austen's heroines, of course, were too well-bred to notice their food (or distinctive physiognomy—note, frex, that while Miss Eliza Bennet might have a very fine pair of eyes, we have no idea of their colouring; nor of Jane's nor Darcy's, nor even of Wickham (though by inference he's quite handsome). Miss Eliza's eyes are brilliant because of her personality; Mr Collins is stout, presumably, because he is self-indulgently full of himself, and this flaw expresses itself in over-eating, just as Anne de Bourgh's want of flesh is a result of her sickliness of spirit. Miss King's freckles only get mentioned to point up Lydia and Kitty's dreadful manners in noticing something the other girl cannot help. Bingley is physically described, as I recall, as riding a black horse and wearing a blue coat, and the point of that description is to be commonplace—aspects that could apply to anyone. If you're paying close attention, the beautiful Jane is plumper, taller and less athletic than thin, brown Eliza; that tells you something about what the era's mainstream beauty standards were, and how Jane Austen's differed for her heroine ‘nobody besides myself will much like’.

If you want particulars, you have to read Georgette Heyer, who put her historical training to good use in tracking down primary sources for clothing, hairstyles, and food; but she was writing a hundred or more years later, and needed to explicate those things for readers no longer familiar the fashions or food of the day.

We're promised the significance of the hothouse fruit served at Pemberly, but as I recall all it really signified was that Darcy a) was rich enough to have succession houses b) was enamoured enough of Elizabeth to see to it such delicacies were served and c) fruit, at least, was plain and british enough that it could be decently mentioned. The author did include a few period recipes, and what principly surprised me was how often lemons were used. I wouldn't’ve expected this tropical (zone 10) fruit to be so commonly used in English cookery, but it was.

The Austens (much like the Bennets) lived in the country, and grew a lot of their own food; the crappy stuff they had to buy when they moved to town was one of the reasons Jane Austen detested Bath. It seemed to me that her sister Cassandra was more interested in dealing with food, its cultivation, and preparation, as having to cope with that sort of day to day detail broke Jane's concentration for writing. (One reason I'm getting so little beadmaking, let alone more demanding tasks like learning cartooning, done is that I've been trying to rescue my garden from the chest-height weeds that sprang up during the summer while I was travelling. I've been extraordinarily fortunate in the unseasonably cool weather, but it's stopped intensive projects dead in their tracks. So I get it.)

It isn't till the last chapter that the author of this book starts asking really hard questions—say, frex, the relationship of the tea they drank and the sugar they ate, with the Opium wars in China, (tea was not yet being grown in India, at least not a large scale) or the triangle trade in Jamaica. By the early 1800s, when Jane Austen was writing, England's economy was being fuelled by cotton cloth; and cotton was grown by slaves. It would have been very interesting to explore those questions deeply, but after proposing them, (and some equivocal responses) the author dances away.

So despite the fact that the author was clearly deeply familiar with Austen's texts, and although I enjoyed learning some more details of the era, ultimately I found the book kind of unsatisfying. Sort of like this braid—it's pretty enough, but I wanted it to be so much more.

C'est la vie.

2015-08-31T00:00:00-05:00 Comments on Janice Radway's _Reading the Romance_. 31aug2015

And I continue to dig around in my archives:) I wrote the bulk of the post below, in Feb of 2012; which seems perfect, as I made the braid I'm featuring today that goes with it in April of 2012. So let's get started:)

First up the library recently got Janice Radway's Reading the Romance. This is rather dated—it's copyrighted 1984, and even the rewritten intro dates from 91—but I found some of her observations very interesting. She was, at the time, evidently writing during the forefront of mass-media cultural critiques (as opposed to doing litcrit of “good” literature, such as Shakesspeare. The irony being, of course, that Shakespeare himself was writing for the masses. But I digress.)

The author herself admits that the romance field has changed considerably from the era when Kathleen Woodiwiss ( The Flame and the Flower, Shanna ) were considered the height of the genre. (At the urging of a friend, I read them. It put me off romance for close to twenty years.) Since then, the romance field has, like sf&f, developed conventions, reader reviews (my go-to site back in the day was All About Romance, or AAR, but there's lots of them now, I believe) and fannish crit; even more so, burst upon the world.

My knowledge of this stuff is not particularly academic. My exposure to feminism, for example, is almost entirely from reading blogs, mostly by creators who, though well-read, are not academics: I developed considerable loathing for academic criticism while in college, because as a working artist it was obvious to me that most art critics were far more interested in sounding pretentious than in trying to figure out the artist's goals. Indeed, why bother explaining such a visual medium using words, which were by nature not as suitable?

Frankly, the literary crit was seldom better, and I didn't encounter much I liked until I started reading amateur analyses of Harry Potter. Because these people had a functional reason for their deconstructions: desiring to come up with logical explanations for what they perceived as plot holes, inconsistencies, the reasoning behind, say, the magic system, other symbolism, etc, their various arguments were absolutely fascinating, if not always entirely persuasive.

I myself have quite a fondness for love stories, but as I've repeatedly observed, all my favourites fall outside the official romance genre, partially because I found the expectations contrary to my own ideas about how I wanted the stories in general, and the heroine's behaviour in particular, to play out. That is, I wanted feminist heroines, and they tended not to be, by my lights. What I find most interesting is many of the stories that do satisfy my parameters are quite old— Pride&Prejudice, of course was published in the early 1800s, Jane Eyre (which was considerably more patriarchal, but still acceptable) in the mid 1800s, and my all-time favourite romantic couple declared their love in an extraordinarily feminist book, Sayers’ Gaudy Night. In it, the hero, asked if he approves of education for women, enquires blankly, ‘Was it still a question?’

Parts of that book are distressingly relevant today, le sigh.

For all my snarking—and one of Radway's weaknesses (to which again, she obliquely refers)—is that she is not, herself, a reader of romances. However much I grind my teeth, I am. So I found her delineation of the plot structure quite interesting. Of the 40-odd books she read which fell into her cohort's definition of a “good” romance, the storyline followed this pattern:

  1. The heroine's social identity is destroyed.
  2. The heroine reacts antagonistically to an aristocratic male.
  3. The aristocratic male responds ambiguously to the heroine.
  4. The heroine interprets the hero's behavior as evidence of a purely sexual interest in her.
  5. The heroine responds to the hero's behavior with anger or coldness.
  6. The hero retaliates by punishing the heroine.
  7. The heroine and hero are physically and/or emotionally separated.
  8. The hero treats the heroine tenderly.
  9. The heroine responds warmly to the hero's act of tenderness.
  10. The heroine reinterprets the hero's ambiguous behavior as the unwavering commitment to the heroine with a supreme acto of tenderness.
  11. The heroine responds sexually and emotionally.
  12. The heroine's identity is restored. (p. 134)

One of realizations I came to, when I was spending ridiculous amounts of time writing romance reviews in order to figure out what worked and what didn't, was that, in most ways, I paralleled the women Radway interviewed for her study: I wanted believable character development, a developing relationship between the protagonists, and of course, a happy ending: in other words, a fairy tale.

Where I felt she went off the rails was this whole fixation on a Nancy Chodorow's pre-oedipal mother-daughter bond. Radway did not consider the readers whom she interviewed feminists, but rather traditional mothers and wives who in fact had little use for the movement. I however, do consider myself feminist, and can safely state that even in my worst Barbara Cartland the-heroine-must-be-an-innocent-virgin stage that reading had nothing to do with my relationship with my mother (or father) and everything to do with the pleasure of losing myself in a story in which the protagonists loved and respected each other.

My pleasure in reading love stories has pretty much remained unabated, regardless of whether I was a teenager living at home, with very little experience; single; in a committed relationship; married and childless; married with children (be they infants, young or teenaged or moved out). Moreover, her theories completely fail to address why men would like to read these things; yet some 30% of romance reading is by them. Moreover, now we have same-sex romances. How are they to fit into this whole business with one's infant mother-bond?

The fact of the matter is, people, unless they're misanthropes, generally find expressions of love and affection appealing, and thus, stories about developing love and affection appealing.

Despite the fact that the author seemed unwilling to assign to her reader cohort more than the most cursory interpretation of of their reading material (i.e. sorting the books into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ romances) even back then, the women themselves considered (however unwilling they may have been willing to label it as such) their reading a feminist act; and it was. Despite the rape (by the heroes), the ‘quivering’ heroines, and many other problems, feminine pleasure became the norm: the love scenes, however much everyone felt compelled to vehemently deny it, were arousing. (Now, of course, it's acceptable to say so, and the books are rated not only as to their story-telling quality, but also their erotic content.)

Which, again, is not to deny that sex scenes were a requirement; but I think there's a reason there's so much PWP—porn without plot—in fanfic. (There's also an incredible amount of slash—male-male relationships. Some feminists have speculated that it allows authors uncomfortable with the idea of (or unable to write) truly egalitarian het relationships, but my guess? Is simply that there are so few canon women, let alone egalitarian relationships for them that it's simply easier to write two guys. Lots of those lying around.

The essay kind of dribbled off into some observations about the rarity of mainstream gay romance—I know Suzanne Brockmann had at least published mainstream novels featuring subplots with gay couples by 2012, but I'm too lazy to figure out whether she'd finally gotten around to having the gay couple be the main protags by this point—but man, what a difference a few years makes, both in the world and my perceptions of it. Ebooks have exploded, making alternative romance far more accessible to audiences; and non-het romances have, dare I say it, also become far accepted in the mainstream.

I think it's also become acceptable for academics to admit to pop-culture interests—until fairly recently, college professors writing romances had to do so under a pseudonym—but just the other day, I stumbled across one who had her academic credentials and her first sf novel all listed together. Progress! So as a result, Radway now comes off rather condescending (well, I think she did when I first read her, and that, perhaps, was what I was working up to when I abandoned this page;) though at the time her insights were groundbreaking. And it's taken the seismic changes, that have happened in just three years, to throw that in to sharp relief.

As I said, progress.

Speaking of which, a braid in which I do various samples, in preparation for a complex project—a new phase for me. Enjoy.

2015-08-28T00:00:00-05:00 The last comics review I wrote was of the decently drawn, but often quite beautiful story in Scott McCloud's _The Sculptor_: the man's generosity towards humanity was very much present in that story. Continuing my sweep through the archives, today's fridayfugly is a critique of a gorgeously dra...

The last comics review I wrote was of the decently drawn, but often quite beautiful story in Scott McCloud's The Sculptor: the man's generosity towards humanity was very much present in that story. Continuing my sweep through the archives, today's fridayfugly is a critique of a gorgeously drawn book with very ugly sentiments that I wrote back in October of 2012: Jonathon Hickman's Nightly News. If'n you're in a good mood for a rant, this will be a treat.

2015-08-27T00:00:00-05:00 Talking about the biological basis of worldbuilding in Raksura 27aug2015

I picked up the first book in Martha Wells’ Raksura trilogy, The Cloud Roads, because a) it was recommended by someone as a comfort read on Making Light and b) the short stories suggested the protagonist, Moon, an outsider because he can magically transform into a winged creature who has an appalling resemblence to the predators who hunt the various peoples of the Three Worlds, was appealing. That right there pretty much tells you where the plot arc is going, but the really spoiler averse will wish to stop here.

Though Moon starts out as your typical poor persecuted princeling and/or uber-talented who Just Is Not Understood (the sort of thing Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey in particular do so well—i.e. traditional, as opposed to updated, fairytales) Moon's motivations and emotional shifts seemed to go all over the place, and I often couldn't follow them, so (hurt)comfort thing fell by the wayside. Which is really too bad, because when that is done well—as in The Goblin Emperor—I absolutely adore it. But where the characterization failed, the worldbuilding made up. I loved the many colored races. The scales, frills, tails and other decorative doodads the various characters sported sounded absolutely delicious to draw.

Although Moon does have to negotiate his way through the Indigo Cloud court, much of the conflict is external, and as I evidently appreciate psychological conflict over physical, the various fight scenes got tedious. The final resolution of the plot also seemed a bit too pat. (We have this bullet-proof thing that will totally destroy our enemies! Ok, why wasn't it used centuries ago to wipe them out, then?)

Another irritation perhaps peculiar to me is the mismatch between the names and appearance. Moon's most distinctive trait is that he turns completely black in his winged morph, and is brown the rest of the time. That would match with a new moon, but no such connection is made. Similarly, Pearl is lapiz lazuli and gold and Jade is aqua blue. The semiprecious stone comes in many colors, including various greens, golds, white, grey and even lavender, but not light blue. Since the people of this world do not change colors upon adulthood (which actually could be justified) as someone who works with semi-precious stones, I found the total disconnect with the names unimaginative—a lost opportunity.

Otherwise, however, the many races and morphs sophonts took in this universe were a real visual treat—in much the way the races of the moon in Meredith Ann Pierce's Darkangel, or the dragons in the Pern and Temeraire stories, or the colorful flora and fauna in Cameron's Avatar. (Given the floating islands, powered by unobtainium magic rocks, I can't help thinking the author figured flying was fun, but why not just make the people winged, and save steps?)

I did appreciate the colony based biology of the Raksura, who have two sets of castes, one winged (the queens, consorts and warriors) and one not (artisans, teachers, the oracular mentors) which far more than physical differences or the wings really helped to mark them as alien. I particularly liked that individuals in the latter, wingless class appreciated their creative gifts, to the point of showing the bitter disappointment of a character who is unconsoled by gaining flight when he loses his telepathic gifts in exchange.

I liked the way the author subverted the reader's expectations with Moon's two ‘wives’ at the beginning of the book, and again with the older Queen's motivations for ‘welcoming’ a dire enemy, which proves to be the least bad of the options open to her. I had a suspician as to reason for Moon's resemblance to the Fell, and it proved to be correct. Folks with a background in biology, particuarly the theories of Lynn Margulis will be able to predict the worldbuilding's big reveal.

The biggest problem I had was the motivation of the Fell, the baddies who eat everybody. Given that societies are based on colony creatures (ants in particular, I suspect) it's not surprising that the Fell are constantly invading other cities colonies courts, eating the people and making themselves at home in their hives. That's a real world thing. The problem, in my view, is that, unlike ants, bees, or naked mole rats, the Fell are conscious, intelligent people, with alternatives to eating other sapients: there are plenty of ‘lower’ animals for them to eat instead.

Why don't they?

Right now, the only logical reason I could see was to provide the author villains for the Raksura to fight and b) to help unite the many differing groundling (non-winged, i.e. most) peoples together against a common enemy, though there are hints for in-universe reasons. I suppose I shall have order the next two books through interlibrary loan, and find out.

And, um, to go with this somewhat dated review (written last May) here's an exploration of a really dated piece of bead embroidery.

2015-08-26T00:00:00-05:00 misc random stuff---fourplay, a rock string quartet; sad puppies trounced; what plantation mistresses, ladies against feminism, evangelicalism all have in common; some recces of 15 year old sf films. 26aug2015

Some random links of fun stuff I want to clear out my tabs, at any rate....

Really liking the music of the punningly named Fourplay—a non traditional string quartet in this vid. Oh be still my beating heart, oh the color combos of this variegated perle cotton...

I've alluded to a major controversy in the (book) sf&f world, the sad puppies campaign. Well, they got pretty soundly trounced. ML (and Abi Sutherland in particular) are more gracious than I could be, but I will admit that there does seem to be a lot more effort getting the word out on interesting stuff, especially the shorter fiction. In fact, I gather that internet has really brought the short fiction markets back to life, but obviously haven't pursued them. S'pose I should start...

Honestly, all the puppy whining reminds me of the complaints in various journals of plantation mistresses quoted by Thavolia Glymph in her Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. Why couldn't those slaves understand the need to be loyal, hardworking servants, instead of being dirty, impudent (a prime favourite), lazy, etc. etc.

Or the appalling entitlement of the woman quoted in this post who just can't understand all us horrid women who won't stay pregnant and hand over the nine months of being half-brain dead, exhausted, guts stretched out of shape, and then the 24hours plus of by-god(dess who doesn't exist)you're-better-believe-it's-labor pweshious baybeees after they're born, instead of getting abortions. Or rearing the child themselves, the selfish, single (or in my case, married, but poor, uninsured) sluts. It was so teeth-grinding I wondered if the woman might be a poe; but no, she's just a spiritual descendent of those plantation mistresses.

(I wuz gonna stick a couple of Fred's posts about the ways slavery has made American Evangelicalism, —a theme he's explored on a number of occasions—but couldn't find quite the right ones, so I'll just add in this charming story I found while digging, that I missed the first time around, being out of the country.)

While digging around Scalzi's old posts for AMC to fix a broken link, I found a list of recces for b-films. Two of them, Six String Samauri (interesting spelling, there) and Pitch Black, made in 98 and 00 respectively, look rather interesting. Also, it's kind of a shock to realize it's been seven years since Wall-E came out. Time's flying faster than ever.

All the more reason to celebrate the gift of old friends.

20080707 2015-08-25T00:00:00-05:00 Here's a blast from the past... Why is it that bloggers feel so compelled to apologize when they fail to post---I mean, folks like me, who basically donating their time? Because, of course, other folks are sacrificing the time to type in our urls and wait for them to load, and time is the most pr...

Here's a blast from the past...

Why is it that bloggers feel so compelled to apologize when they fail to post—I mean, folks like me, who basically donating their time? Because, of course, other folks are sacrificing the time to type in our urls and wait for them to load, and time is the most precious commodity at all. So, yes, of course I have excuses. They're lame bad, or at least I don't feel like exposing them—so, yes, sorry, now, onward.

And what a hash this is going to be, given that it's been weeks since I posted. (Well, years, really, seeing as I pulled this out of the archives some 7 years after I wrote it, in July of 2008...) Thanks be to the wizard for fixing my 1 GB card, which has been acting up—the fix was pretty simple, formatting it—but I was thankful all the same. When I stepped on it, I figured I'd have to pitch it. Despite the dent, it worked fine for years. (I now have no idea where this thing is—in fact, my 8 GB card started acted a little wonky, so now I'm using one that's 32...) When this weird behavior cropped up, I thought at first I'd accidentally locked some images, which my camera allows me to do. But it happened again with some other pix, so I finally concluded its abuse had caught up with me. Perhaps. But now it's working again. Hallelujah!

And now it means I have all of the card to use, and can use the select-all (ctrl-a) for marking images to be transferred. Oh, the little pleasures in life...

While I was noodling around on the net, I found John Scalzi's list of top 5 sf flicks since 1991 updated link, but alas, without the comments upon which this post is based though I did find this link that seems to have captured much of the conversation 4 of the 5 of which I've actually seen, somewhat to my surprise; also it was interesting to see how many other folks on the list were impressed with Gattaca, which yes, I did actually see in the theatre. It bombed totally in the box office, not least I imagine because it's a very slow-moving film, but iffen you're wanting ideas in your sf flicks, this is a movie to see.

And any list that has Conan the Barbarian on it ought to have those other authors too. But the list is, I'm sorry to say, male-centric. It's also waspy, and I'm sorry to say I haven't read enough to fill in that much; I might've read Samuel Delaney's superb Babel-17 as a teenager, and Octavia Butler's stuff is great, but neither of them is what I'd call a YA writer, leaving Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (the sequel was favorably reviewed in Locus but I haven't read it yet) as my only offering. And, if you pay attention (I mostly didn't) LeGuin's rightly recommended Earthsea tetralogy features a dark-skinned protagonist, Ged (though the listmaker has it down still as a trilogy, another sign he's not been keeping up.)

Oh, wait, there's Acacia, but as a (quite favorable) amazon customer review notes, the main characters, the 4 royal children, are dispersed thus: [t]he oldest son, Aliver, trains with the Talayans ... The beautiful elder sister, Corinn, a prisoner in her own palace, becomes the concubine/lover of Hanish Mein. Third to the throne, Mena, is raised as a virginal priestess in a land that worships a sea Eagle and practices child sacrifice, and the youngest son, Dariel, is raised a swashbuckling pirate buccaneer. " Boyz rule, girlz drool. —I could see this coming even before the old king got assassinated, and now, heading towards the half-century mark, I've gotten too old and too pissed to put up with this sort of blatant sexism, so that book went back to the library unfinished. (All these years later I'm still pissed about this book, but you want cool African inspired fantasy, try reading Nalo Hopkinson instead.)

I don't care that it's based on real history. In a fantasy, the girls ought to be able to do something more exciting than act out our (or other) cultures’ virgin-whore dichotomies. I mean even in the Narnia chronicles (the comparison coming to mind because of the 4 Pevensie children that become the rulers) which was written over a half a century ago and thus has a greater excuse for this sort of thing, nevertheless has Susan, the elder girl, adept with a bow (despite ultimately being kicked out for liking nylons and makeup too much, she's still a warrior) and Lucy is an expert tracker. So, no.

Ah well. Moving on, there was a link in the comments above about reforming copyright that's pretty readable, and that I thought explains reification, and the difference between ideas and physical property well. As much as I'm in the copyfighting movement, there will still a couple of times I could feel myself stumbling over the logic, which I suspect means my subconscious was picking holes. (But not enough to go back and read the whole thing over again...) I think some of the history has been probably been cribbed from Larry Lessig's Free Culture which seeing as a) really ought to be better known and b) both are creative-commons licensed is just fine and c) I like the latter even better. So take your pick.

I've also decided I really do need to learn LaTeX, and aside from a couple of excellent tutorials I printed out I stumbled across another interesting resource that I suppose I should research more carefully. Not to mention start cutting and pasting some of the thousand or so samples in my brand new LaTeX Companion...

And just to show that even feminist blogs get into really cool science, a fab image of ice on mars from nasa via Feministe.

Aaaaand most of the links still seem to be live 7 years later, yay. Also, I wrote a novel formatted in LaTeX, so I more or less learned that. Side-marginal notes, yum! Oh, yeah, the post.

2015-08-24T00:00:00-05:00 I've really been enjoying the _This is Colossal_ website. Today's goodie is a bunch of really cool fungi photography that would make absolutely fantastic inspiration for a fantasy world a la _Avatar_. (Hopefully, one with less appropriation...) The Colossal people pulled some of the most spec...

I've really been enjoying the This is Colossal website. Today's goodie is a bunch of really cool fungi photography that would make absolutely fantastic inspiration for a fantasy world a la Avatar. (Hopefully, one with less appropriation...) The Colossal people pulled some of the most spectacular; or you can go through Steve Axford's 11 odd flickr pages.


Or you can look at my vaguely rainforest colored bead embroidery.

2015-08-22T00:00:00-05:00 As a rule I don't post on weekends, but as this post is more functional, than pretty, I'm stuffing it in. *First*, a roughly decade old rather rough review of some craft books ; *second*, a note about the site: I've updated the faqs&howtos pages to reflect the navigational stuff the wizard add...

As a rule I don't post on weekends, but as this post is more functional, than pretty, I'm stuffing it in. First, a roughly decade old rather rough review of some craft books; second, a note about the site: I've updated the faqs&howtos pages to reflect the navigational stuff the wizard added to the site (probably 5 or more years ago—now we need to update it to make it more mobile-device friendly...) The biggies are:

  1. Click on the images to see them bigger! Of course the thumbnails on the home page link to the particular post, but the images illustrating the post are downsized too, and are almost always links to a full-res version.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom to for tags, link to a list of tags, and a list of index pages. If you'd like to see more, say, beaded_embroidery, click on the tag to get an automagically generated index of all pages with that tag.

Hope all this helps.

2015-08-21T00:00:00-05:00 review of Scott McCloud's _The Sculptor_. 21aug2015

Not quite a fridayfugly (but good lord, the beads I made a couple of days ago “warming up”—they're embarrassingly bad) but, hey, a post. 3rd in a row, even!

Recently completed Scott McCloud's graphic novel The Sculptor. Not surprisingly, given the author's history—he's best known for his analysis of comics as a story-telling form—this fat, but quickly read, graphic novel, in b&w plus a blue-grey spot colour—is a meditation on making art.

Specifically, the story centres on the exploits of a young man who makes a deal with Death: the ability to sculpt anything, with his bare hands, for 200 days, in exchange for the rest of his life. He so desperately wants his work to be seen that he agrees. McCloud notes that the love interest is based upon his wife, but the protag has more than a few of his own quirks, disclaimers aside. —I'm particularly thinking of the scene when he's just come into his powers, and an observant critic compares the work to a mishmash junk shop, full of tiki-torch totschkes. The artist character is none-too-pleased, but it's a fair assessment. McCloud himself has experimented a good deal with the form, but I would say he's stripped both text and art to a clean, modern look (i.e. the western/manga fusion so common amongst younger US cartoonists) in service to the story.

(There's a little bit of fore-shadowing with repeating bits of the story in a non-linear way, but for the most part the narrative is straightforward.) One of my favorite panels is one in which a sidewalk is represented as a calendar, with end of the character's days shown as drop into the abyss—very effective. He acknowledges with thanks help from folks who modelled for him, so as to render the people ‘less stiff’; the drawing was clean, with just enough detail to get the job done. McCloud is not an artist who lovingly renders every panel (the point being that I sometimes found the art kind of ...rushed for lack of a better term; but it should be noted, I adore lovingly rendered panels, which most mangaka simply haven't the time nor inclination to do.) I did like the spot color, and thought it was very effective.

The story may come across as somewhat self-indulgent for the average person, who knows their name will become dust once their descendants lose track of them; but art is, in a very real sense, us artists’ attempt to interact with—communicate to—possibly even inspire—other people. If no-one else sees or appreciates it, then what is the point? —That is the challenge David must meet. And meet it he does.

I looked up the Amazon page (because by the time I wrote this review, I had loaned the book out to a mid-20s artist:) and wanted the name of the main character; myself, I'd recommend this for teens and above, whereas one positive review said there was too much sex. Well, there is some sex, (and I'd say it's critically important to the plot and theme of the book, besides) but what I liked is that there isn't so much graphic violence—frex, there's neither rape nor bloodshed to speak of; I'd be perfectly happy letting any teen, particularly a creative one, read it, because I think it's most likely to have an impact on them.

(I did agree with the commenter who felt David was very unconvincing as a hot-stuff up and coming sculptor: McCloud may be the go-to authority on comics, but as a fine art major, I too found the depictions of his sculpture ...unconvincing. A few hours spent looking at some of the giants in the field—say Henry Moore, since he's kind of what the averagely informed arty type envisions when they think of modern, highly abstract (yet figurative) sculpture—might have lent the pieces more versimilitude. Despite my kvetching over style, this was really the only thing that actively jerked me out of the narrative. I told my art-history-minor brain that McCloud is not a sculptor, and to deal.

That nit aside, the story is brilliantly conveyed; as an older reader, though, skinny, starving David's concerns about fame, like the middle-aged McCloud's himself, have receded before the common connections that come with a comfortably pudgy, graying, but mostly satisfying life.

Kind of like mine, really. Not awe-inspiring, but full of cute, fun little things, such as this blue dead mouse featuring a cat head.

2015-08-20T00:00:00-05:00 Ha-Joon's _Bad Samaritians_ revisited, and braided into a discussion with Daniel Starkey's piracy article, and Nalo Hopkinson's _Sister Mine_. 20aug2015

So I did that parental ritual of driving my kid to college. From, I wanna say, roughly 7am to 11pm, which means I'm kinda out of it today, and am giving myself the excuse to laze about making web pages.

(Plus of course reading things on the internet, but I pretty much do that all the time.) So. Three strands that wove themselves together thematically (for me, at any rate):

  1. Chang, Ha-Joon, Bad Samaritans a book I actually encounted back in 2013;
  2. Starkey, Daniel, Piracy gave me a future.; and
  3. this making light post

Oh, and Nalo Hopkinson's Sister Mine, an engaging and rather weird (to my eyes/accustomed tastes) sf&f novel I'm reading. Chang in explains in macro what Starkey details on a micro level: that when you're dirt poor, as a country or a person, “stealing” is sometimes your only option to survive. Korea, Chang explains in his book, had to “steal” IP from other, richer countries, in order to bootstrap itself up to any real level of success; Starkey, on an even more personal level, to climb out of the grinding poverty so often the fate of his people.

It would be comforting to claim that stealing is always wrong, but even the most die-hard capitalist is going to have a difficult time (I should hope!) defending the decision of slaves to “steal” themselves and their families out of slavery. Though Starkey himself doesn't make the argument, given his American Indian heritage, it seems to me that his petty downloading of games and software pales (heh) before the thefts perpetrated upon his ancestors by makers of same (which of course a direct reason he was so poor...)

Culture belongs to all of us, like air. Especially as an artist, I believe everyone deserves access to it. And if we won't share properly, then folks can hardly be blamed for using other methods to get their fair share.

Meanwhile, the ML discussion is interesting (as they so often are) but one recurring theme is the problem sf&f is having with the lack of vitality—the it's-so-good-you-stay-up-till-4am-reading-it syndrome. I was hardly the only person to suggest that a) such books are still being read (and written!) and b) that a lot that stuff is coming from non-traditional sources. Such as the Hopkinson book. Her Caribbean infused fantasy is utterly unlike the European-themed ‘High Fantasy’ that has dominated the field ever since Tolkien took it by storm with Lord of the Rings.

I found the writing jumpy—characterization, plot, let alone setting—jerky, and sometimes difficult to follow. Unpolished, mebbe. The characters’ motivations and behaviors came off as choppy, the protag and her sister's fury exploding at a touch. But the story was definitely engaging, and if it hadn't been for the fact that the wizard needed his sleep, I would've read the thing straight through. Indeed, as soon as I picked it up again, that's exactly what I did. Sister Mine has an intriguing premise, the bones of thing held together very well, and I liked the way the story resolved—but until the last chapter or so, the culture was alien, and a little opaque to me. Which doesn't sound like much of a compliment, till you recall, that I'm a sf&f fan, and we deeply value alien worldbuilding.

So, cool. Particularly if you like your fantasy urban or with a touch of magic realism, I recommend this book.

(Another commenter noted that what makes for staying up is a synergy between book-reader pairs; a classic, then, is one that repeatedly and reliably evokes that response in a number of people, over time. But even the worst dreck can inspire that response; which is why reading a lot is more important than necessarily reading well, at least when first learning.) Libraries, as someone noted in the BB thread, were (thankfully) established before copyright was zombiefied by rich, powerful corps; and until that balance between the culture and the creator who draws upon it is again achieved, the poor and disenfranchised will have to continue to participate any way they can.

Even if it means “stealing” and “shouting”.

In the meantime, I will admit I will more-or-less hiding in my corner, quietly making stuff people mostly don't care about, as with this little kumi.

2015-08-19T00:00:00-05:00 cute pix of wildlife photographers, also carnivorous plant pix:) 19aug2015

Whoopsie. I meant to post this six months ago! And forgot to “turn on” the page.” Despite the hot pink outlining of the date, which is the wizard's way of alerting me that the page is not yet live. Well, better late than never...

Here's a couple of cute photographer photographed pix —Don't remember where I picked these up, sorry. Also, a review by Sarah Monette of Joanna Russ who, unsurprisingly, is pretty darn insightful. (Though it would be nice if her How to Suppress Women's Writing wasn't still so valid, some, what 40 years later...?)

Yay, that cleans up the links that have been lying open for days. And, fresh, PZ's got a couple of interesting links, one to an article in Nature that makes explicit how artificial the ‘two sexes (only)’ category is; the other about some of my favorite plants: sundews, venus flytraps, and most especially, pitchers.

Or, you can check out this extremely dull post that is mostly to record when I finished this piece of purple and green kumi...

2015-08-01T00:00:00-05:00 It's time for another ``How to photograph Kristin Perkins' work!'' post. Now, since afaik only three people shoot her stuff---Larry Saunders, yours truly, and the artist herself---this howto is really only of interest to one person, namely, *me* (since Larry Saunders hardly needs my advice, and Kr...

It's time for another “How to photograph Kristin Perkins’ work!” post. Now, since afaik only three people shoot her stuff—Larry Saunders, yours truly, and the artist herself—this howto is really only of interest to one person, namely, me (since Larry Saunders hardly needs my advice, and Kristin pays us [would-be, in my case] pros precisely so she doesn't have to learn this crap.)

Otoh, you do get to see some stunning silver and glass jewelry.

Also, there's roughly 10–15 pages between this and the last post. Admittedly, about 5 of them were for an abortive Nanowrimo for July, but the fact of the matter is I seem to have spent most of the summer prepping for travel, traveling, or recovering from jet lag. That's all done now, and I still have all of August left! With, perhaps some more art coming down the pike...Meanwile, enjoy some of Kristin's beautiful pieces.

2015-06-26T00:00:00-05:00 I've been in hiding away from the world, but today's news is so historic, I figured I oughta celebrate. It's kind of amazing that we reached this tipping point so quickly---I figured it'd be another decade or two. Plus, the white house icon is just adorbs. And I happen to like the SLPC's ...

I've been in hiding away from the world, but today's news is so historic, I figured I oughta celebrate. It's kind of amazing that we reached this tipping point so quickly—I figured it'd be another decade or two.

Plus, the white house icon is just adorbs. And I happen to like the SLPC's take on the news as well.

And this little pic of the iconic flag is my offering.

2015-05-18T00:00:00-05:00 Ocean Maker, a wonderful 10 minute animated short; Ted Chiang's story... 18may2015

So for various boring, assorted reasons I won't go into, Blacksad has recently been obsessing me, to the point where I've spent the last ...week or so analysing it. Blacksad is a spanish comic, detective noir, in which the characters are drawn as animals, and it's brilliant. My critique is my effort to understand why; where it works (and doesn't).

However, I doubt anyone else will be much interested, so here's some spiffy links—a 10 minute CGI short that, as the Mary Sue notes, will get you right in the feels. Yeah, I want the full length version too.

The other is this absolutely superb story about memory, and its malleability. I have always had a crappy memory—one reason I make this blog, an artificial extension. If you're wondering what a hugo-worthy short looks like, well, Ted Chiang's The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling would be an excellent example.

Or you can read my rather incoherent ramblings about Blacksad. Beads should show up at some point. I am actually making them, and in the meantime, you can see them on my fb/twitter/tumblr. Thanks for your patience.

2015-04-30T00:00:00-05:00 Rhomas Olde Heuvelt's ``The Day the World Turned Upside Down'' won the hugo. Still didn't like it, though. 30apr2015

So the rabid puppies dominate the short fiction nominations for the hugos; one exception being this brilliant story by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It's Dutch, which I thought, cool, and Hugo-worthy, I was assured.

And in terms of construction, it is. In fact, in a lot of ways, it could be said to be a companion piece to that bugaboo of the puppies, Rachel Swirsky's “If you were a dinosaur, my love” (which did not win the hugo, last year, but a nebula; that is her fellow sff authors handed her the prize.) Like Dino, “The day the world turned upside down” is about a heartbroken person who's lost his love; even the internal structure is similar.

But I can't vote for it. (Spoilers, obviously.)

The conceit of this story, like Swirsky's, is implicit in the title: some guy's girlfriend breaks up with him, and this is so shattering his world turns upside down. Literally. Most people tumble off into the void, if they're not crushed immediately against their ceilings; the narrator describes the plight of a woman, desperately clinging to a chain-link fence, while he timidly attempts to rescue a pet goldfish. She begs for help, but ultimately falls away, conveniently leaving her five year old daughter behind for the protag to interact with.

Thoughout this entire story, the end of the world barely impinges upon Toby's self-indulgent grief for his high-school sweetie, whom he bitterly imagines caressing, kissing, and worst of all fucking some other man. For someone so grief-stricken, Toby has remarkably little to say about what (besides sex) he finds in common, or attractive, in his ex. In fact, early on, he says between his many bouts of hot, self-indulgent tears:

At the end of the world, it’s every man for himself.

You had taught me that, Sophie.

So it's hardly surprising that he sees her as mostly a possession, her goldfish as a coded love letter, and thus a symbol more worth saving than people. A cute five year old engages his interest briefly, but he soon abandons her to the crones who are building a rope ladder to the end/bottom of the world, freeing him to resume his quest of returning her goldfish.

The girlfriend at least survives (instead of being fridged), though at the cost of a broken kneecap, but oddly enough is not terribly interested in her fishy pet, now that the world is ending. Toby-the-asshole having braved hell and high water on the pretext of returning it, since it is, in his eyes a love letter, badgers her to get back together, despite the fact Toby knows she's just seen her new boyfriend killed. It doesn't even occur to him to offer her any comfort.

I had the misfortune to recently stumble across Randall Garrett's infamous Queen Bee, featuring a woman unhappy with the idea of being raped with the goal of continuous, forcible pregnancy in order to populate this virgin—heh!—world with humanity and so is lobotomized for her pains. It was published in 1958 by Campbell in Astounding, then the leading sf pulp, so I suppose we've made progress.

But not as much as you'd expect for the last half-century, reading this story.

I find it telling that in Dino, the heartbroken protag wishes her lover whole, even at the cost of losing that lover to another; whereas in this story the rejected person remains bitterly resentful and possessive, only barely releasing his rage at the very end. He does not wish the best for his ex; she has become a ghost, indifferent, discarded in his necessary journey—which to my mind makes pretty clear that he never loved her so much as possessed her, and when she escaped his grasp, finally, the entire world pays the price.

To be clear, I'm not accusing the author of Toby's sociopathy. But Heuvalt chose to write a story that is very easy to read as a metaphor for the insanely jealous abusers who kill their wives/girlfriends rather than let them escape. (In that sense, how much is this an advance on Queen Bee? Both are horrifying indictments of unfaithful, unco-operative women.) If the author's intent, like that of Nabokov, is make clear just how awful this position is—and I admit, an argument for this stance could be made, in the two elderly women who counsel Toby to ‘let go’—then I think the author failed. I particularly think that the message of letting go is likely to go right over the heads of the self-absorbed persons who most need it; and even at the end, there is remarkably little generosity.

And, despite the fact that I slotted this story as fantasy almost immediately (how else could goldfish breathe sugar-water or blink?) it still bugged me that while rocks and furniture fell away, that tunnel dwelling animals were sucked into the sky whilest houses remained anchored to their foundations and water and air remained earthbound, solely that the people could live long enough for the story to happen. Given some deus ex machina benevolent to preserve air and water, the death of billions and the presumed eventual destruction of the world seemed all the crueller; not to mention that everyone climbing this ladder (that would be roughly 3/4 of the named characters, including the narrator) into the atmosphere was gonna asphyxiate once they got to stratospheric heights, provided they didn't freeze first.

Which, fine. Some people enjoy reading about horrible people who become marginally less so (and surreal environments, but sff is, yanno, supposed to have decent world-building. This story's internal logic makes no sense—not as fantasy, and not even as surrealism.) Logic aside, its worst flaw is that it reads too clearly of sympathizing with controlling, abusive jerks at the expense of their innocent victims; and call me utopian, but one old-fashion golden-era sfnal value I retain is that my future will be a better place for everyone.