SD Alternative

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” - Dr. Seuss

Happy Legal Drinking Age to me

Woke up today with a small but completely legal hangover. Happy Friday 13th, everyone! And a happy legal drinking age to me. *toasts*

Suikoden IV
The promised long-ass RPG. V, you were completely write about this[1]. Somehow I am still playing and have made it to the recruitment phase of the game, although I’m not sure why or how. Whose bright idea was it, anyway, to design a battle system that encourages auto-attack while also forcing a random battle every three seconds, against the same three enemies, in the same featureless stretch of ocean? If I were Kowloon I’d spare the Southern Islands just to spare myself the pain of constantly fending off malicious sting rays, jellyfish, and kelp.

[1]This = RPGs you can buy used for under $15.

Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge
A re-read. I love this book, it really does have everthing — not just Cat, the “Street punk. Psion. Telepath.” promised by the blurb on the back, but also corporate intersteller politics! Incest! Drug abuse! Cybenetics! Kinky telepathic and telekinteic sex! Orgies! Torture! Cutting-edge performance art! Aliens! Half-aliens! Gay former prison buddies! And just when you start to wonder whether “cyberpunk” can be properly applied to a book which only references computers occasionally, a virtual reality network where Combines (Company Clans) roam as semi-aware consciousnesses with their own distinct personalities.

Two years ago Cat killed Quicksilver and became the hero of the Federation, but these days? He’s an unknown, zeroed, still more ignorant than he’d like to be deadhead. Because that’s what if means to be a telepath, and to kill someone: you may get lucky and survive, but your telepathy won’t. It’s in this state of desperation that Cat is approached by the Centauri Transport head of a security. He says, Work my bosses — the rich, powerful, cloned taMing family — and we’ll get you the drugs that will turn you back into a psion, and the databand that will make you a person and not an invisible. In return, we’ll want you to do a little psychic corporate spying…

XD Cat is a Very Special kind of hero. Telepathy is almost the least of it — he’s also half-alien, has an edactic memory and slit-pupiled eyes, grew up on the streets, is a former drug addict…. in order to use his powers, Cat becomes a drug addict again, and the powers themselves are written as a kind of addiction. Suspicion and prejudice also conspire to keep his powers from being too good. For every ridiculously cool benefit, Cat suffers another equally cool drawback, so to really enjoy this book, you need a high tolerance for Ridiculous Coolness. XD The story is first person perspective from Cat’s point of view which does get weird, as the author is a woman.

Catspaw is set in a world that’s almost a utopia, but isn’t — the Combines provide most basic needs, but only for the enfranchised, and the trade-off is that individual human don’t really matter anymore, only the corporate hivemind. Chaotic elements are confined to specially designated areas, like the city-under-a-city where Cat grew up, or the Deep End, a network of underwater bubbles off the coast of N’yuk. Outwardly straitlaced, inwardly depraved corporate-types visit occasionally, “slumming it”. The focus is on the unpretty underbelly of a shiny technologically advanced future, in other words cyberpunk! Cyberpunk cyberpunk cyberpunk!

Also, sex. A roommate asked if this was my version of the trashy romance novel, and you know what? It totally is. The book has problems — Cat gets off much too easily for mistakes that should, according to the worldbuilding, be more serious — but in this case I am too busy being entertained to care.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
“Boston, 1865. A series of murders, all of them inspired by scenes from Dante’s Inferno. Only an elite group of America’s first Dante scholars — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendall Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields — can solve the mystery.” A fun book. I just read a short story about Lowell — more correctly, about a grad student struggling to write his PhD on Lowell while secretly resenting him — but that Lowell and this Lowell are nothing alike. This one is much more cuddly. XD

Actually that’s true for the scholars in general: they’re pompous, and privileged, and almost care more about the literature than about the lives at stake, but at the same time they’re endearingly inept. And there’s four of them! So of course each has a distinctive personality. Longfellow is regal, Lowell is passionate, Fields is pragmatic and Holmes is short and uncertain and asmatic (and my favorite). The Dante Club walks a fine line, because on the one hand we are supposed to laugh, a little, at the self-importance of the scholars and of 1865 Boston, and on the other hand we’re supposed to buy into it.

The Dante Club’s set only a few months after the American Civil war — still the war with the greatest number of American casualities — and that war permeates everything about this book. The only main original character is Nicholas Rey, a former army captain and Boston’s first mulatto police officer. The most talented, competent, put-upon man on the police force, in fact. When he are and scholars are working at cross-purposes, it’s maddening, because you don’t know which group to support. XD Another historicism I really appreciated was scholars’ view of Dante’s Comedia as a religiously elevating text, and Harvard’s contrasting view of Dante as a depraved, Catholic, foreign, modern corruption of the curriculum. Ahaha. (Would now be a good time to mention that I took Dante with a professor who considered the Inferno to be the most harmlful text ever written? XDXD) This book had two storylines, both equally important: the fight against the killer, and the fight to complete and publish Longfellow’s Dante translation despite the objections of the Harvard Corporation. The book’s biggest conceit, that this second storyline is just as important as the first, is supported by the plot, so that‘s okay. I do think the author cheated, though, by sidestepping couple other academia vs real life moral dilemma in really cheap ways.

Structural criticism, for [info]worldserpent: there is an awful lot of in-paragraph POV-jumping for a story that is already divided into short tight third person sections. Summaries of passages in Dante — there so that those who have not read the Inferno can follow along — are not integrated into the rest of the narrative, and reading them always disrupted me. The book opens with that stupid recent trend, the forward that introduces a fictional book as non-fiction. (Not always a stupid trend — see Life of Pi — but stupid in this case because the author makes no further attempt to be believable, so that the forward is a pointless wasted gesture. Personal pet peeve.)

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
Tzu Hsi’s story, told from her perspective. Reading this, I suffered a severe case of double vision. Are the author and I talking about the same Tzu Hsi, here? The last Imperial Mother, the Western Empress? The evil plotting ignorant seductress who single-handedly brought down the Qing dynasty? Not that I’ve ever believed all that, but. In this story she’s a competant administrator. Sort of weird.

You feel the double vision within the story, too. It’s first person, so you see all of her thoughts; and some of them aren’t reflected in her actions. I was on Tzu Hsi’s — I suppose I should say Orchid’s — side by the end, but that was mostly because I could identify (not knowing much about 1800s Imperial Chinese politics myself) and not because I bought the author’s portrayal (aw, but she means well!).

Something that doesn’t hit as hard you when you’re reading history books is how young they all are. I don’t just mean the child emperors. The Emperor and Prince Kung are both in their twenties. Orchid and the Eastern Empress begin the book at seventeen and fifteen, respectively. Sort of mind-warping.

I liked Empress Orchid, most of the time. It’s an easy read and all the major players are accounted for. My biggest complaint is that there’s too much time wasted describing objects — a carved table with inlaid pearls the size of marbles, Orchid’s favorite dragonfly hairpin. I used to eat this sort of thing up, but now it just bores me. Honestly I have textbooks that are more entertaining.

Quick movie reviews:
Brokeback Mountain: good
Chronicles of Narnia: bad

I’d say more except there’s cake. Later!