Recent stories and reviews + BioShock Infinite

Dusting off this poor neglected thing: I’ve had book reviews out recently of Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns and Joyce Carol Oates’ The Accursed, both located over at Strange Horizons for your perusal.  SH is currently up for a Best Semiprozine Hugo Award, as I’m sure you all know, so if you don’t already read it be sure to check out the magazine regardless–it’s lovely, all the departments are lovely, and I’m not at all biased, of course!

I also have two stories out or soon to be out on the web: “Swan-Brother,” in the March issue of Ideomancer, and “Legerdemain,” the April 16, 2013 story in Daily Science Fiction.  I’ll link to that too once it’s online.

I’m in the middle of Irrational Games’ most recent arresting and ambitious experiment, BioShock Infinite; I’ll post my mid-game thoughts on that soon and perhaps a review as well.  If nothing else, it’s a very striking achievement in visual design and worldbuilding, and a horror game carried off largely in full color–not a common sight in a world of greyish, gritty Silent Hill palettes.

Other forthcoming reviews should include Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy and Zachary Jernigan’s No Return.  Tune in or stay tuned!

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Holy shit, BBC One’s doing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Via Den of Geek, I may sincerely expire of wild hopes and tremendous anxieties.


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The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Roundabout Theater Company)


The Mystery of Edwin Drood is that charming beast, a Broadway musical destined only for the stage.  With so many blockbuster shows designed nearly more around the concept album, the chart-topping OLC/OBC, the inevitable movie musical, the touring production, and the high school reproduction than the actual West End or Broadway run, it’s always refreshing to see a production that’s at its apex as theater.  Which Drood is.  Actually, it’s fairly rubbish as anything else.  Part of why it’s a little hard to get people into it is that in this day and age of trading Wicked mp3s and such, people are drawn to shows they can “experience” beforehand by listening to the original soundtrack, musicals with big aria-style showstoppers that don’t need a lot of context and can be butchered on Glee with little adjustment, ahem.  This is bad enough for Sondheim numbers which can’t be elegantly ripped out of the context into which they were elegantly woven in the first place; it’s even worse for Drood, which, as a metafictional performance about bad theater, out of context just seems like bad theater.  It’s not!  It’s massively entertaining theater.  And I hope this revival does well, because we could always use more like it.

It’s also interactive, an attribute that’s hard to foster in a movie or an OBC recording.  Watching the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood reminded me why little media and art forms like the audience-participation show and the IF game still deserve their ongoing preservation, even if they can’t be mass-produced and mass-marketed as easily as many others; Drood was fun, impossible not to get caught up in and have a rollicking good time in a way that’s hard to achieve in a bombastic Cameron Mackintosh megaproduction without an utterly stellar cast.

For those not familiar with the musical’s premise, Charles Dickens was halfway through his last, peculiar novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, before he went and carked it, leaving the solution and much of the plot of the book as a favorite mystery for Victorianist scholars for time to come.  Rupert Holmes’ musical takes this unfinished work and adapts it to a musical — or rather, to a musical displaying a group of loud, hammy music-hall performers putting on a musical version of the unfinished Dickens, down to calling for an audience vote for the ending and putting it on once it’s counted.  It’s all very Tristram Shandy.  It’s pretty delightful.

The book is ridiculous.  The musical book, that is, not Dickens’ (which was probably going to be ridiculous too, but we expect that from Victorians).  With the exception of “Moonfall” and maybe “A Man Could Go Quite Mad” and their ending reprises, virtually none of the songs are standalone-listenable, and that’s quite all right because Drood is not a show where the performers stand around like befuddled opera stars and belt — they dance, they narrate, they’re constantly throwing in sight and verbal gags on the show, the invented music hall, and the audience.  It takes a lot of talent — onstage and backstage — to pull that off, not just singing chops, but thankfully the Roundabout Theater Company brings that quite handily to the table.  The staging is clever and dynamic and never lets you get bored. The show reminded me of what can be done with a stage show that can’t be done with a movie or soundtrack, and what a shame it is therefore that so many shows simply don’t make use of the medium.  It’s incredibly competent for something with such incredibly bad rhymes.  A Paul Gemignani score (and conducting!) helps matters.

Scott Ellis’s direction is lively and handles the actors well; of the stars Chita Rivera is the biggest name on the cast, playing a secondary (but evidently audience-popular!) role as jaded madame and drug-pusher Princess Puffer, whose existence in the Dickens text remained unexplained at the time of the author’s death.  The strongest singers were well-placed as leads John Jasper, Edwin Drood, and Rosa Bud; the standout of the three was a charming and bizarrely adorable Will Chase as insane, drug-addicted, lecherous music-master John Jasper, with Betsy Wolfe’s sarcastic and somewhat unhinged “ingenue” Rosa Bud (and the shamelessly flirtatious music hall actress playing her) as a close second, and Stephanie J. Block entertaining with her gender-bending performance as cocky young heir Edwin Drood and the primadonna male impersonator playing him.

Roundabout’s staging is full of queer flirtation and nods and winks to the members of the audience who aren’t white-haired tourists, which is enjoyable and difficult to miss.  The most questionable choice on Roundabout’s part (and on Drood‘s part in general) is the usage of yellowface to lampoon both Dickens’ treatment of Ceylonese characters Neville and Helena Landless and Victorian music hall’s laughably bad portrayal of “half-caste” Asian characters; while Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller are hilarious in their roles, one can’t help but wonder if the irony might be lost on a lot of theater audiences just snickering at the perceived ridiculousness of over-the-top stereotyped Asian dress and behavior, and a much better subversion might have been accomplished by casting Asian actors in both roles, Broadway being notoriously unfriendly to the ambitions of non-white-and-Western actors.  The real highlight of the cast, however, is Jim Norton, who plays master of ceremonies and a reluctant, sardonic version of the town’s mayor when an alcoholic Music Hall Royale actor is indisposed: wheels within wheels!  His comic timing is fantastic and it’s impossible not to laugh at his jokes, even the weaker ones.

Listening to Drood out of context, you can’t appreciate the meaning of numbers like “No Good Can Come From Bad” — which features lines like “Something in this speech seems ominous to me!” and “Night must follow day!” — without seeing the actors pantomime out spoof Victorian actors putting on a spoof Victorian play, complete with dramatic spotlights; the show’s put on with a constant wink and elbow in the ribs, and it has to be.  It works.  It’s a great deal of fun and more productions should take lessons from Roundabout about the lively potential of audience-interactive theater.

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Monday Links – Kate Elliott on women’s work, Angry Asian Man, and others

Happy Cyber Monday!  I missed Dylan Meconis‘s slightly pre-Cyber Monday twelve-hour sale on the event of Baruch Spinoza’s 280th birthday because I can’t count, apparently, but that is not going to stop me from getting that Revolutionary Hotties print.  I tend to think complaints about commercialism on Black Friday and Cyber Monday often have more to do with people thinking it’s gauche to shop on the same day as everyone else than people thinking it’s gauche to shop, anyway; hyper-conspicuous consumption is so nouveau riche!  Quick, go loot Goodwill for things you could afford new before people who truly don’t have money can get them!

Speaking of Cyber Monday, I came by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede’s The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia and The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After today in the Kindle store along with Ellen Datlow’s Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers: Magical Tales of Love and Seduction anthology, so I have even more books to try to read all at once.

Kate Elliott, of the Spiritwalker Trilogy among other things, did a post over at her blog on the subject of why she’s chosen to highlight the sewing skills of her character Catherine Hassi Barahal, and in general on women’s work in speculative fiction and the general undervaluation and invisibility thereof.

Angry Asian Man rounded up some links on the matter of Red Dawn, the Jeremy Lin furor, some bullshit having to do with the Royal Shakespeare Company putting on an all-white Orphan of Zhao, and racism in Cloud Atlas, among other things.  I’ve already said my piece on Cloud Atlas; I don’t even know what to say about Red Dawn.  I feel like anything I could possibly say about the Red Dawn remake would be self-evident — but I know that can’t possibly be true, because if it were, like.  The Red Dawn remake wouldn’t actually exist.

Upon further reflection, Jaymee Goh already posted the screencap of a thousand words as pertains to Red Dawn.  Horrifyingly enough.

From Tumblr: Brigitte Weinsteiger on the Medieval Roots of Colonial Iron Manufacturing Technology, stuff I’m going to pretend everyone finds as interesting as I do.  wehunger agrees that snide yuppies should stfu about Black Friday already.  And Jonny Lee Miller sure makes some faces.

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IF Comp 2012: howling dogs (Porpentine)

howling dogs is a link-based story game made with Twine.  Around the time I started writing this up, Emily Short did an interview with Porpentine, which you should read if you’ve played the game, but, really, also if you haven’t played the game: they discuss Twine and the IF community and escapism, among other things.

Escape rarely resembles our fantasy of escape. Sometimes escape is getting on a bus with what you have in your bag or driving 400 miles too tired to say a word. Sometimes, often, even, escape is an accident, escape is confusing, we don’t know escape until it’s already happened.

howling dogs is beautiful and strange and surprising, and worth experiencing more than once, I think, though I hesitate to attach a term like “replay value” to something structured so little like a game.  It’s hypertext interactive fiction in the most literal sense of the term and Twine’s a good engine for that: it’s also arguably metafiction, since your choices within an apparent VR simulator form the central experiences in the story.  I enjoyed it and it got me to thinking afterward.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012

From Monica Maldonado’s The Speech I May Yet Give at Transactivisty

We all too often hear that this day is a day where we must not let the deaths of these women be in vain, but this just underscores the transactional nature of these women’s deaths, most of whom fought no war. They lost their lives not in valour, but only as a result of being women in a world filled with gendered violence. They lost their lives because — all too often — our society casts out the disenfranchised and marginalized, no longer calling the huddled masses and tempest-tossed to our communities with heartfelt calls of liberty and virtue.

 The truth is, one of the things the politicized LGBT community is very good at is co-opting.  There’s a specter of death fetishization that hangs over much San Francisco — I’m using “San Francisco” as a metonym for the rich, ivory-tower, commercialized members of the LGBT rights movement, for obvious reasons — discourse surrounding queer victims of hate crimes, or ones who belong to non-queer-identifying gender and sexual minorities (GSM people).  In short, Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena are narratives people love to talk about because it propagates the notion that they, too, could be in great danger of death via hate crime.  I am making this post in part to briefly to say: we aren’t.  From one relatively privileged member of the GSM diaspora to many other relatively privileged members of the GSM diaspora: we aren’t.  I have many things to fear out of life, but they are not usually the same things that the people memorialized at TDOR had to fear.  I am not in this kind of danger.

But many people are.

So, I’m going to stop talking about the many people who weren’t murdered during 2012, and use the rest of this space to remind everyone to try and put in a thought or a prayer for the people who were.  It can be very self-centered and appropriative to speak of this as our girls getting murdered, our sisters.  The fact is, I haven’t done a damn thing for any of these women, and neither have most of the Bilerico or Smith College folks who talk about them.  The point isn’t that our girls and our sisters have been murdered.  It’s that girls and sisters have been murdered.  Girls.  Sisters.  Women who had the misfortune to live in a world that we’ve failed to improve.

So here’s to everyone on this list who got needlessly, senselessly killed for existing, here’s to everyone executed for the crime of living their own life.  They did not die for a good reason.  They did not die “in vain,” or not “in vain,” because that would imply that they intended to do so.

In pace requiescant.  I am sorry.

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Sometimes it’s helpful to hear a bunch of really damning, spoilery things about a movie like this before you go to see it.  In this case I didn’t spoil myself on purpose, but one way or another going in I knew about the movie’s most problematic and/or questionably handled elements, so I was prepared for the worst in that regard.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how ridiculous it was.

Overall, though: Skyfall‘s probably the best bad movie I’ve seen this year.  It’s operatic, melodramatic, over-the-top, and unintentionally funny on more than one instance.  It also has some central ambitions which are pretty solid (if also operatic and melodramatic) and hinges on the relationship between Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Judi Dench’s M, two characters which have been partly elevated from the mediocre nostalgia of their franchise by good performances.  There’s some kind of high-drama tragic romance trying to bust out of this bad action movie; it doesn’t quite manage, but it’s fun to watch it try.

So, you should know this much: Skyfall is ridiculous.  There are a lot of shenanigans with trains as the story all the while takes itself dead seriously.  There’s some very questionable employment of komodo dragons.  There’s also some very questionable and bad-taste employment of the trope of Villainous Bond Girl, which was both stupid and tacked-on in the context of this movie.  It also tries to get the old dog to do a couple new tricks, though, and those tricks are pretty fun to watch.

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5 GF Products That Have Saved Me From Malnutrition

Before I make this quasi-foodie post, I think I should make two disclaimers!  The first one is (1) I’m not a foodie and I don’t do endorsements for any companies.  The second part of that disclaimer is so you can trust me.  The first part is so you know not to trust me: I feel like before I dash about dispensing any advice about food, you should know that I have no idea what I’m talking about on a professional level.  I don’t know what products have high-quality ingredients.  I don’t know what things are easier or more versatile to cook with.  I’m really not that versed in money-saving by cooking from scratch.  The only reason I know how to peel a peach is that I accidentally stole my ex-roommate’s book How To Peel A Peach once.

The second disclaimer is (2) I live like a bachelor.  The products I default to here probably aren’t as much use to, say, an experienced parent of three who cooks every weeknight and is used to meal planning, or even a household of casual-hobbyist college roommates who grew up with a good family food culture.  I am an urban young person who eats for one, doesn’t always manage three square meals and when he does, doesn’t always manage them at three square times, defaults to a lot of frozen food and take-out, and is terrified of his oven exploding.  I guess that what I am saying here is that when some people say, “I live like a bachelor!” they mean this bachelor:


Whereas that is not what I mean:


Anyway.  The point is, when I was diagnosed with celiac disease in January, I had the life skills of — I would say a small parakeet, but there is evidence that small parakeets can survive in the wild.  I had, well, the life skills of me.  Here are some products that have allowed me to eat food and exist in the meantime.

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IF Comp 2012 Results

The IF Comp 2012 Results have come in.  Congratulations to Andromeda Apocalypse for the win!  Congrats are also in order for runners-up Eurydice and Guilded Youth, and to everyone, really; thank you, authors, for such a fun round of games to play and review.  My slowness with putting up reviews aside, I really have enjoyed all the games this year and I’m really happy to have joined in the IF Comp process even in such a marginal and insignificant way.  It’s been incredibly illuminating to myself as a player and author both, and as a reviewer, too.

I turned in my votes about 30 minutes before deadline, true to form for my entire history with deadlines.  And I suspect I only got them in on time at all because it was an automated deadline: automated deadlines are so good for my punctuality!  If there’s humans involved I have this tendency to count on wiggle room.  I once turned in a term paper on which my entire class grade depended in college about :30 before it was due, in a TA’s office, after writing and printing it out in the 15 minutes prior and then sprinting across campus: the point is I thought I was really clever at the time, but in hindsight I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I’d, like, tripped.

Anyway, IF Comp 2012 reviews will continue here a little tardily, interspersed with other things.  That’s likely for the best: maintaining a steady and intense IF-only blog for a period of time and then reverting to other things would be most likely jarring and disappointing, like how I turn into a single-topic conversationalist during Game of Thrones season and then never watch TV again.  I think I’m going to leave off naming what numerical grades I gave the IF Comp games, though, out of some superstitious protocol that always prevents me talking about students’ grades and standardized test scores and other such quantitatively impolite dinner-table conversation.

Thanks to those who’ve read and commented!  Hope to still see you around while I put together the notes I’ve taken on the other games!

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On NaNoWriMo, why did it in 2004, and why I haven’t done it since.

Should you do NaNoWriMo?  The shortest answer is: I dunno.  The short answer is: not if you also want to review all the IF Comp entries by November 15, not that anyone is wincing at the size of their stomach contrasted with the size of their eyes right now.  This is the long answer:

I’m actually pretty young!  I guess I should note because all the timeline cues in my bio seem to indicate I’m somewhere in my late twenties or early thirties, just like all the cultural cues I give off indicate I’m whiter than driven snow (actually I’m half-, so whiter than snow at 10:30 AM after rush hour traffic has driven over it, I guess; there’s snow in there, but it’s hardly unadulterated).  I’m 22.  22 is a better age for having your opinions taken seriously than 18 is, though not quite as useful as 27 or 35.  This is pretty understandable, as people do not tend to be wiser when they’re 22 than when they’re 27 or 35.  (Also from a cynic’s perspective, urban American gay culture prizes 22 much higher than 27 or 35, wisdom be damned, so it’s hard to wallow in too much weltschmerz about it.)

The point being, I was 13 years old when I first took a serious stab in 2003 at National Novel Writing Month.  The key thing here to consider is that I wasn’t at all unusual.  When you take up arms for your campaign at 50,000 words in 30 days — and for that matter, when you snark all the stupid on the NaNo boards (not that, uh, not that I’m entirely innocent of this myself) — you have to keep in mind you’re doing it alongside a lot of teenagers.  It’s the kind of thing that appeals to teenagers.  It’s quick.  It’s shiny.  It’s on the internet.  It’s got an associated community, and there’s lots of encouragement.  No one is going to tell you your 50K novel-length Naruto epic is a bad idea, except maybe in 2012 they will because Naruto‘s not really a thing any more.  Okay, no one’s going to tell you that your 50K Homestuck epic is a bad idea.  The thing is, I think this is intrinsically a good thing the way I think fandom’s intrinsically a good thing; there need to exist spaces where you can be 16 and find people to cheer on your stupid ideas, though hopefully you have the wisdom not to link them to your real name.  The danger, I think, is when you’re 27 or 35 and still value a space to cheer on your stupid ideas more than anything else: but that’s not necessarily a problem with the space any more than adults who refuse to read anything other than YA are a problem with the existence of YA.  And even then, who’s to tell you otherwise?

So, me and NaNo.  I signed up for a NaNo account for the first time in 2003 and gave it a shot, but having the self-discipline of the average 13-year-old, I gave up after a week or so.  Then in 2004, apparently having slightly more self-discipline than the average 14-year-old, I finished: I don’t recall if I finished exactly in time, or if I finished a complete narrative of any kind, either or both, but I finished.  And then I never did it again.

Why I did NaNoWriMo in 2004: Because it looked fun.  Because I was stubborn.  Because I was 14.  Because I wanted to say that I’d done it.  Because I enjoyed the sense of community with other people my age and a few people older, and one of the few spaces on the internet that wanted (even in a transient sense) to hear about my original (it’s a word with many definitions) fic ideas and not fandom or RP.  Because for a young teenager with ambitions to writing fiction, there’s not a lot of readily available mentoring or structured advice that’s easy for everyone to access, but NaNo is findable with a Google search.  Because it looked hard.  Because there was a shiny counter and a messageboard.  Because my friends were doing it.  Because it looked fun.

Why I’ve never done it again: Because even at 14 I could tell what I turned out was shit.  Because one solid, prolonged effort was enough for me to realize that writing fiction was easy, if time-consuming, but writing decent fiction was very, very hard.  Because everyone else doing it was stupid.  Because once you do something to have done it, and you’ve done it, there’s little satisfaction in doing it again.  Because 50K is a really awkward narrative length for anything but a Harlequin Category Romance.  Because it wasn’t fun any more.  Because I was more interested in writing stories than just writing, after that.  Because I set my cap for other things.  Because it wasn’t entirely as fun as I expected.  Because it wasn’t for me.

Should you do it?  It’s a cop-out to say that’s a really subjective question, but: it’s a really subjective question with a really subjective answer.  I don’t know.  I don’t actually want to join the ranks of the sneering NaNo naysayers, despite my general willingness to be a sneering naysayer without taking the King’s shilling for Wellington and you, because I don’t think it was deleterious to my development as a writer when I was 14.  It was fun and I’m glad I wrote that piece of dreck, just as I’m glad I haven’t looked at it in about 7 years so I can continue to be glad about it.  But I also imagine there are 14-year-olds who’d derive no value from the entire crazy venture, and 25-year-olds who would, too, or from doing it every year; hell, Jonathan L. Howard seems to be doing it and unless marriage laws differ considerably in the UK he’s probably not 14.  I’d say Water for Elephants and The Night Circus got published that way, but I don’t want to depress you.

So, not having any useful objective input to give on the subject of NaNo — I don’t think anyone does — there you have a few scraps of my subjective experience with it.  I think they are and were all valid reasons.  Frankly, I have trouble seeing the appeal any more, but I know I did and I know people who do.  So should you do NaNo?  Sure.  Good luck, too.  Please don’t ask me to read it.

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