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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropHm, it's been a month, mebbe I should post something. I have been doing more than just live under a rock—I actually wrote the review, below, in July, frex—but it sure doesn't seem like it. So to make up, a bit, today's goodie is something of a twofer.

Let's start with a disclosure: some Scalzi fiction I really enjoy, others I bounce. (I consistently enjoy his essays, particularly those incorporating social-political observations.) So, frex, I never finished The Collapsing Empire, because I didn't like one of the characters, who, to be fair, was even by the author's admission, a raging asshole. —But for many readers, and the writer, an entertaining one!

However, I really liked both the setup & main character, Chris, who so far has appeared in two (of what I'll call) Hayden universe novels. The basic premise of these books is that a mysterious, communicable disease swept through the population, locking in perhaps 1% of them inside their own heads, unable to interact with the rest of world except by way of mechanical bodies or a virtual world called the agora.

Originally heavily subsidized, corruption and time combine to reduce public support for victims of the condition, and as the series begins, most hadens, as they're called, are scrambling to make ends meet for their expensive, round-the-clock care, their robot bodies (called threeps), and the computational cost of their virtual spaces.

The narrator, Chris, is happily free from these immediate economic concerns, being the child of a billionaire sports icon on one side, and Virginia-style US political royalty on the other. In that sense, the stories are kind of like Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter, in which the sleuth has enormous resources to throw at the mysteries; being an FBI agent means some nice, meaty problems come Chris’ way.

The entertaining asshole slot is filled by Chris’ more-experienced partner, the nicotine addicted not-quite-alcoholic Vann whose (off-stage) personal life is just chaotic enough, evidently, to keep her in the relatively low-level position of being Chris’ partner. Between Vann's expertise—not only in the crime-solving part of the job, but navigating bureaucratic politics, and Chris’ financial security, it's simply not that big a deal that Chris routinely trashes threeps (which provide a lot of the action & keeps the pacing moving along) which would otherwise soon land Chris’ ass on the curb. Just as Wimsey has his various experts, so too does Chris, in the form of roommates who can conveniently provide medical and especially computer hacking assistance.

Wimsey is perhaps my favourite detective, and just as Sayers’ balanced his charm, wit and wealth with a roaring case of shell-shock (PTSD), Chris, of course, has to deal with haden's. Nevertheless, the relative ease and comfort of the characters’ situations helps to balance the often grim aspects of the stories—the fact that they're murder mysteries in particular, and that the author can't but help highlight some of the issues of society in general: sexism and rigid class expectations in the Lord Peter stories, and shrinking safety net for the 99%—most especially, health care—in the Haden Universe.

One of the reasons I've found the Wimsey stories so hard to match is that Sayers, in order to humanize him and keep the books from descending into soul-less puzzles, has set up a strong recurring tension between Lord Peter's uncontrollable curiosity and the consequences of ‘getting murderers hanged for your enjoyment’ which inevitably triggers his shell-shock (PTSD), worsened by the fact that, by the time he discovers ‘whodunit’ he's often quite sympathetic to the objects of his investigations.

This is something that Scalzi starts to dig into with this book: nearly everyone, in this book, no matter how villainous, is trying to scrape by, to pay their mom's medical bills or gain their father's approval. The whole stupid situation, a profound waste of lives and talent, comes, ultimately, from the culture in general, and the corruption arising inevitably from big-money sports in particular.

I enjoyed this book, despite the rather downbeat/ambiguous ending, but once again couldn't help thinking, for all the author's focus on the various oppressions, mostly structural, and their effects on the characters, this would be a very different story if a disabled person who actually required 24hour attendants had written it. It was very clear, for example, by the time I was half way through the YA If I was your Girl (which is excellent, btw, excepting the grammar in the title—I'm old-fashioned) that its author was trans, because of the little telltale details.

And I still think the Agora, as a hadyn only space, really needs to be developed more.

Certainly these new french beaded flower ideas need more development, which alas they're unlikely to get anytime in the near future. Ah, well.


cropI don't always diss the stuff I review: here are a couple of excellent YA fantasies I've recently read. First up, Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands, featuring 13 year old Elliot, who would be happy to go to magic school (or at least, school in magic lands) so long as it has lots of mermaids and other cool sophonts and not so much weapons practice. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't quite work out that way.

It's pretty clear that Brennan was having some fun poking fun at the canon of teenaged protagonists magically transported to magical places, but thirteen year old Elliot, in all his snarky, bitter too-smart-for-his-own-good glory is the heart of this book. He immediately falls for a beautiful elf named Serene Heart in Chaos of Battle and tries his damnedest to fix her interest before everyone else's hormones catch up with his. Oh, and, in the tradition of this sort of book, also befriends the sunny, blonde, good-at-everything Luke, who forms the last third of their trio.

Elliot—who knows from bitter experience that he will never be anyone's first choice, nevertheless has genius levels of insight to how other people, both individually and in aggregate, tick, and deploys that comprehension with a bravery verging on suicidal while allowing the author to make more than a few points on—among other things—the pointlessness of war and cruelty of bigotry in general and misogyny in particular. While being as obnoxious as possible, because he's gonna tick everyone off anyways, so he might as well do it on purpose, hmmmm?

Someone or other said they're pretty much convinced this is the best sf&f novel of 2018, and while I'm no expert, I'd say it's as good anything I've read in quite a while. Superb.

Naomi Novik also has an entry in this year's crop of YA fantasies, her Spinning Silver. “The real story,” the main protagonist begins this loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin observes, “isn't half as pretty as the one you've heard. The real story is, the miller's daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man's son, so she goes to the moneylender...and decks herself out for the festival.” But her beau marries the woman picked out for him, she marries the town blacksmith right quick, and gets the village to run the moneylender out of town so's she can keep her borrowed finery for a dowry. Miryem should know, since she's the daughter and grand-daughter of moneylenders, one of the few occupations open to Jews.

Miryem's kind parents aren't stoned or run out of town, but her gentle father is unable to collect what's owed, to the point that his daughter is starving and his wife slowly dying; so she takes over, becoming hard and cruel and cold, as frozen as the ice king who courts her for her ability to change silver into gold. Likewise, Irina, an ambitious duke's daughter who hopes to marry her off to a merciless tsar, and Wanda, the harsh silent, unloving child of a horrendously abusive father, also are cold—both in other's perceptions and their own, and for much the same reason: to survive at all.

This is Novik's second fairy-tale set in a magical Poland/eastern Europe, and I'd agree with this review's assessment of its quality; moreover, I feel that it's more successful than her first, Uprooted, which everyone except me seemed to feel was perfectly splendid. (I mean, it won the Nebula...)

The fey —the ice people and their king—including their marauding behaviour, past and present—made sense. (Really, the The secondary characters and their unwinding motivations in particular underwent some interesting shifts for the reader. I know some readers really appreciate the understated romance subplots, which I still found a tad on the subtle side, but at least the evidence was there (though in one case one character is so horrifically abused I wonder whether a healthy relationship would even be possible without a boatload of therapy they were unlikely to get.)

The additional viewpoints added in as the book progressed struck me as a bit untidy from a strictly aesthetic point of view but I didn't otherwise have a problem with them. Though not as overtly political as the Brennan, it too deals with sexism, classism—and anti-semitism.

Wasn't able to find the precise version of the ice king fairy tale that is combined with the rumpelstitskin, but I dorecall another fairy tale adaptation I read in the last year or so dealt with similar themes (in fact, I think the author blurbed this book, actually...); in any event, Novik has enjoyably combined the two. I'm curious to see how her handling of fairy tales progresses, as it seems likely she'll be doing more of them.


cropAh, the delightful odour of slightly stale links...I was reading some blog or other, and then came across some article or other about terfs —trans-exclusionary radical feminists (which totally baffles me, but I guess some people feel as if wombs, and, by extension the child-bearing they represent, are the defining aspect of womanhood, whereas to me femininity [& masculinity as well] always seemed like a sort of social costume one could put on or off at will) and while not quarrelling with the author's larger argument (which is basically: ok, so what do we do with intersex folk, or XY women who have successfully borne children [!] not to mention androgen insensitives and the like?) somewhere (perhaps in a link wandering off...) I came across the argument that if we have cis and trans, then we need something for folks inbetween, and their (several-years-old-so-it-obviously-never-caught-on) suggestion was ipso and I thought Noooooooooooooooo! I have a better idea:

Ortho. Because, see, cis and trans—as opposites anyway, originated in chemistry (at least, as far as I know—certainly that was the only context I'd ever heard the terms until trans folk came up with a way to get out of the ‘normal’/trans conundrum). Now, my idea isn't perfect, because cis and trans are for isomers —though there are benzene ring isomers—whereas ortho is part of a trio of terms referring to positions of groups on a benzene (arene) ring, still, all of them refers to positions: across/this side for trans/cis and adjacent for ortho. Plus, I like that the original meaning translates to “straight,” “upright,” “right,” or “correct”. Because ortho folk, like trans and cis are just as true, correct and upright as any other kind. Right? Yes? Nature in all its glorious variety, infinite diversity in infinite combination?

Okay. Now that I have this far-more-brilliant-in-my-own-mind scheme off my chest, we can proceed today's mouse, only a bit delayed:) Enjoy.


cropNeed to post this before the next mouse page, so that's at least one french beaded project up... today's link is a happy-ending story about a couple who painted their house in wild, beautiful colour.

They aren't the only ones; this extremely generous textile artist has also done a wonderful—and colourful house as well. We have a bit of that going on locally, which I [would] love [to do]; unfortunately, I'm kind of afraid to take the vinyl siding off, because of all the squirrel (and raccoon) problems.


cropSorry for the no-posting. I had great and glorious plans, since I wasn't travelling this summer, to really tidy up the garden! and get household projects like window restoration & sidewalk installation (& possibly roof repair) done! and try some new media, such as mosaic! ...pfffft. To be sure, while the hot spell, anxiety over roofing bids, and teaching my class all had an impact, today's excuse is that NS2 is misbehaving, & as that's completely out of my control, frees me up to make a post completely without guilt.

I did explore some of the cut-end loopback techniques for french beaded flowers, and as I get them photographed and documented, I'll be showing those. But I've more or less cycled out of that project, and as part of the cleanup process, made a bunch of dead mouse tails to deal with the odds and ends of seed beads. Today's mouse is actually a restring, which inspired me to photograph and document it more-or-less promptly so as to get it back to its owner.



cropNot sure where I came across this article—I think it was one of those things my browser recommended and I clicked—but its observations on the Japanese train portion of that nations public transportation pretty much jive with my recollections. —Given the problems with suicides, it surprised me that there are no barriers at the platforms—at any subway station I've been at, be it Asian, European or USian—especially given the litigious character of US society, but evidently it's merely a cost problem.

In which case, I expect barriers will eventually go up with time. (In the meantime, it's quite easy for my glass daughter to send me snapchats of NYC subway rats, which is actually quite a bit more affectionate than it sounds (just as sending pix of buns and squirrels is less...)

Anyway. Today's item is a large french beaded flower made with 8/0 sized beads. Enjoy.