delphipsmith: (ba headdesk)
Because news. Mostly this, but also everything that the Orange Hobgoblin says or does, because it highlights how incredibly incompetent and stupid he is. (Just look at all the tags I've applied to this post -- I couldn't stop, they are my frenzy made visible.)

So instead, I give you the peaceful February view out our back windows yesterday:

(click to embiggen)
delphipsmith: (bookgasm)
Snagged from [ profile] igrockspock. Looks like a good time to catch up on my book reviews.

WindeyeImmediately upon finishing Windeye, I added three or four more of this author's books to my to-read list. That should tell you something.

A collection of did-that-happen-or-didn't-it? and what-just-happened? stories, the tales in this book range from the odd and eerie to the downright horrifying. The author's command of language and range of styles are remarkable, from fairy tale to classic monster/demon to magical realism to the completely surreal, and there's a nice sprinkling of unreliable narrators which are always fun.

In the title story we're not sure whether or not the narrator had a sister, and in a later one a man may or may not have a brother; there's a classically sinister monster tale and a very peculiar piece about what I thought was a spacesuit, but on googling it found out it's actually an old diving suit ("The Sladen Suit", whose nickname apparently was "Clammy Death"!!). There's an fairy tale about a young man whose inheritance of a fabulous horse turns out to be not quite what he expects, and a short-short about bees. All are very different in tone, style, setting, and narrative voice, but all are equally high quality. I highly recommend it.

The Children's HospitalI'm not sure what to say about The Children's Hospital. It's...extremely odd, a combination of surrealism, post-apocalypse, religious rapture, and a really really long, boring boat ride. It was published by McSweeney's, which should tell you something right there. There are so many things about this book that should have turned me off: it's overloaded with medical jargon, the main character is annoyingly passive and her fear that anyone she loves will die is completely irrational, every single thing about the apocalypse is completely opaque, most of the characters are one-dimensional and wholly unlikable, and weirdest of all everyone in the floating hospital seems to just Keep Calm and Carry One despite the seven miles of water and the loss of the ENTIRE PLANET...

And yet, and yet....

I was sucked in. I felt Jemma's brother's pain, even though I didn't comprehend it. I cared about these people, even while I didn't like them very much and was not infrequently irritated by them. And I cried at the end, surprising even myself. (N.B. According to the Washington Post, the author is a pediatrician studying at Harvard Divinity School. That explains a lot.)

The Necromancer's HouseAh, The Necromancer's House. Been waiting for this for MONTHS. I got hold of an advance reading copy of this, so was lucky enough to read it before it was officially released. Well, actually Mr Psmith got the ARC and I had to wait until he was done with it before I could get my greedy little hands on it. Longest two weeks of my life.

Given that the author's previous two books were "period pieces" -- although from wildly different periods -- I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, a very contemporary story complete with classic cars, AA, chat rooms, and the interwebz. Happily, I was not disappointed. The main character, Andrew, is a complicated man with a strong sense of integrity but, one quickly suspects, certain secrets in his past that are coming back to haunt him. This turns out to be true, but in more ways than are at first obvious.

I do love non-obvious.

There was quite a bit of non-obvious in this book which meant that I was frequently surprised -- and for somebody who reads as much as I do, that's not easy to do. The surprises were not so much in the broad arc of the story, which is a classic (and I mean that in a good way) tale of redemption, as in the details and the execution, and in what one might call the inflections of the ending, the way it’s shaped and carried out.

Two things I particularly liked about the book's treatment of magic. First, magic isn't free. One doesn't simply shout some garbled Latin and wave a wand -- this magic takes some serious effort, both mental and physical, to learn, to control, to use (safely), in some cases simply to understand. And there's no question that magic is potentially very dangerous stuff in this world; it can blow up in your face if you're not careful. Second, the story didn't get bogged down in the mechanics of the magic -- recipes, spells, how you do it, how it works. There's just the right amount of detail, and nicely modernized (Andrew’s particular skill is with cars and film footage, for example, while chicagohoney85’s are with computers), that the flavor permeates the story without overwhelming it.

Which is good because, despite the fact that magic is wound thoroughly about this tale, in the end it’s all about the people. And I like these people, Andrew and Anneke (and Chancho and Michael and even chicagohoney85), enough that I want to know more about all of them. (Here’s where I admit that I’m hoping for a sequel, or maybe Michael’s backstory...shhhhh...) They aren’t perfect, but like most of us they’re good people doing their best to muddle through, and deal with their past mistakes in a stand-up way without compromising what they believe.

Oh, and he made my cry over Salvador. Thanks, buddy.

Buehlman’s novels have all been billed as horror, but clearly they aren’t horror for horror’s sake. It’s not about a high body count or creative methods of killing people off (although he’s good at that, and Between Two Fires had a lot of them!). It's about applying horror to characters -- putting them in horrifying situations -- to see how they respond, the way an engineer applies heat or pressure to a substance to see if it will break. "Test to destruction" is how you learn what something is really made of, and this seems to be a recurrent theme, first with Frank Nichols in Those Across the River, then Thomas in Between Two Fires, and now Andrew and Anneke.

I'm looking forward to his next test.

Regina's SongAlas, everything about Regina's Song annoyed me, and I do mean everything. The dialog is flat and artificial, crammed with cliches and bad/outdated slang, despite the fact that the narrator is supposed to be a PhD in English [1]. The characters are one-dimensional and uninteresting, and the male characters consistently demonstrate a condescending 1950s-era attitude towards women (and others) [2]. The plot is full of holes and irrelevancies [3], and a fairly appalling lack of any sort of moral or ethical sense is exhibited across the board [4]. Examples hidden to prevent spoilerage. Although really I'm sure it wouldn't matter to anyone.

[1] "It's not as if we're going to rat him off...He knows that he can trust us to keep our mouths shut. I'm not all that interested in cop-shop secrets when you get right down to it. But we need to know what Burpee's up to. Bob's cut him off at the pass on this case and Burpee's probably eating his own liver by now. Let's face it guys, Bob stuck his neck way out with that protective custody scam, and Burpee's most likely trying to blindside my big brother. If we want to keep Bob on our side, we're going to have to help cover his buns."

That's eight, count 'em, EIGHT, in one speech. And that's fairly typical. If I never read the phrase "hit the bricks" again it will be too soon.

[2] male characters (the good guys, whom we are supposed to like) call female characters "babe" and "sweet-cakes" and "Mama Trish" to their faces. And the girls don't object. Also the girls aren't allowed in on the investigation and do all the cooking while the menfolk do the home and auto repair and come up with good ideas and hunt down killers. Oh, and the one Japanese character is referred to as "an oriental gentleman." Please.

[3] the license plate, the curare, the dogs/wolves (wtf?), a vast plethora of legal irregularities, and the presentation of DNA as a Big New Technology -- in 2002. Srsly? Also, there is no villain. Or mystery. Or song, which made even the title of the book annoying.

[4] The fact that the residents of the boarding house collude to protect a psychotic killer is a little unnerving, but when a priest hears about a murder and actually cheers the killer, you know something is seriously amiss.

Most vexing of all is that all of this derailed an excellent premise that had a lot of potential. The first few pages, with the backstory between the narrator and the twins, is pretty gripping. But it deteriorates pretty fast from then on.

I also read The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson, which was excellent but I haven't written a review for it yet, so maybe next week. And yay, I will at last be able to use my "fox sex" tag again!! (It's the little things that can make your day...)
delphipsmith: (PIcard face-palm)
A preschool in Philadelphia has prohibited its kids from acting like superheroes during recess. For realz. Because apparently the correct response to excessively rough play in five-year-olds is to BAN SUPERMAN.

The letter begins thusly:

Recently it has been brought to our attention that the imaginations of our preschool children are becoming dangerously overactive...

Because yeah, IMAGINATION BAD. When I was in preschool I dressed as Batgirl for Halloween (and yes, I was adorable). Guess that won't be an option for anyone at this re-education camp school.

More here: Preschool Bans Kids From “Super Hero Play,” Doesn’t Even Have the Decency To Do It With Proper Grammar

And here: Preschool Bans Kids From Pretending to Be Superheroes, Misses Point of Childhood Completely .
delphipsmith: (PIcard face-palm)
I'm all for freedom of speech, but sometimes there are statements that just go beyond the pale -- see for example this, this, and this, and that's just within the last five years (and doesn't include the Rape Nuts from the last election cycle).

Here's the latest installment: A regional media relations director for the Salvation Army apparently interprets Romans 1:18-32 very, very, very, very literally:

Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.

This makes me want to write a sternly worded note, make a hundred copies, and drop that in their little red kettles instead of cash. Or, you know, take a baseball bat to them. Not to the nice people who ring the bells, of course, because I think they're all hired at minimum wage to do so (at least if the totally bored guy I saw outside Price Chopper is any example), but to the little red kettles.

Of course the official Salvation Army folks are trying to backpedal, but they're having trouble since (like the Boy Scouts) they have a documented history of being anti-any-lifestyle-that-isn't-hetero-nuclear-family. Now, I'm not a Christian and highly unlikely ever to become one, but any Jesus who would have the remotest chance of getting my support would have nothing to do with such bigoted horrible nonsense.

One has to wonder why He doesn't come back and correct this sort of faulty thinking. If I were him I'd be seriously vexed at the misuse of My brand.
delphipsmith: (seriously pissed)
Yet another legislative body embarks on a shameful and incomprehensible endeavor to seize control of every uterus in their state, and not even let women talk about it. Seriously, what IS it with you people?? And I ask this in all sincerity, because it really does baffle me. (For "baffle" read "annoy the f**k out of".)

Wil Wheaton has issued some satirical and amusing tweets on the topic, however. Best ones:

Wil Wheaton ‏@wilw: My goodness, @MIHouseGOP! I encountered a woman who was not in the kitchen. I was so horrified, I dropped my monocle, for Pete's sake!

Wil Wheaton ‏@wilw: A woman I know was all, "I have an opinion about my reproductive health." How do I get her to cut that out? Help me, @MIHouseGOP! #vagina

All things considered, today seems a good day to share this:

delphipsmith: (bazinga)
I love this: one of Fox's pretty blonde commentators finally can't take it any more and fights back. Go Kirsten!! Full disclosure: Sean Hannity is on the board (yes, really) of Rev. Peterson's BOND organization. Ladies, if ever there was a time to be a feminazi, as unappealing as that term is, that time is now:

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The Rev. Peterson has more lovely goodies here. He has a nationally syndicated talk show (why? why???) and has been "cited by Republican groups as an example of a black Republican message." Fox News, fair and balanced. Uh-huh. Pull this one and it plays jingle bells...
delphipsmith: (library)
[Warning: Marginally bitter rant ahead]

Yet another entry in the "libraries are dead" debate. I note parenthetically that certain people's statements at EduCause have taken on zombie status and WILL NOT DIE, viz. and to wit, making it even unto the hallowed halls of the New York Times and being referenced as supporting evidence by this jerkwad *ahem* sorry, James Tracy of Cushing Academy. Hell, let's just put all "those old pulpy devices" out of their mizry and burn 'em right now. Pffffft. Wonder what CA's enrollment will be four years from now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against digital. But there is flat-out no way the digital repository(ies) out there are sufficient to replace print, Google Scholar and the Gutenberg Project notwithstanding. I pity those CA students. They'll be leaving prep school with a completely distorted view of research, literature, and Western civilization in general.

Oh wait -- it's a prep school (tuition $32K per year, $44K for boarders -- plus that $1500 "technology fee" which probably goes to fund their new all-digital "library"). They probably leave with that anyway.
delphipsmith: (GotMilk)
Have just noticed that my two largest tags are "utter crap" and "not sparkly." Heee. I'm sure that says something profound about me but am not sure what.

[Update 2012: Not even close anymore LOL! Oh well...]
delphipsmith: (PIcard face-palm)
Not a good weekend. Had an idea for SSIAW Week 3 that worked well in my head but turned to complete crap once it hit the page. Up until midnight every night with two freelance editing jobs, prep for "guest lecture" for second class Monday, final reports due for a couple of groups I'm in at work, and...something else, my mind has turned to mush. Then tonight our massive dog (190 lbs) trod on my finger as I was wiping up the copious quantities of water she relocates to the floor every time she gets a drink, and I actually almost barfed/passed out from the sheer agony. I've heard of this phenomenon but never experienced it (and hope never to again, thank you very much).

Oh, and it snowed today.
delphipsmith: (South Park kids)
Interesting article here about what makes a good story and why modern literary fiction is such utter shit, and another in the same vein here. I don't understand the whole post-modernist movement. On the whole it strikes me as a very lazy approach: claiming that there are no absolutes and that everything is relative releases one from any obligation to produce something of quality, or even to make sense. They rabbit on about how nothing can be known for sure and yet they live their lives every day depending on knowing quite a lot of things -- that their eyes do not deceive them when they see that 18-wheeler heading towards them at 90mph, for example, or that stepping in dog poo will make you stinky. It's just pretentious nonsense, so far as I can tell.


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