Baltimore Orioles vs Detroit Tigers

Going back to where I was before posting Halloween costume photos, a baseball game I went to as part of Dan’s wedding festivities. Got some good shots relative to my usual luck. Had to push things a bit to be able to get the shutter speed I needed so the ISO’s a bit higher than I would have preferred.

 

Perfect Blue

I used to hate Hunger Games because I considered it to be yet another example of America getting credit, fame, etc from another culture’s work; Battle Royale in this case. Eventually, I got the Hunger Games Trilogy from a Humble Bundle and read it, realizing that while the plots were the same in the abstract (kids are sent to an Island to kill each other in a dystopian future) they were different in the messages they were communicating to two different cultures. In the case of Battle Royale it was a response to a growing distrust of the younger generation that led to a novel in which the youngsters are sent to compete both to sow seeds of mistrust, but also as a punishment. In Hunger Games it’s less about being able to mistrust your best friends and more about mistrusting people from other states (or districts in the parlance of the book). That youth are used is more a function of entertainment value (kids at or near their physical peak) and the first book is almost more of a satire of reality TV with a lot more of the typical YA dystopian tropes coming in the second and third entries in the series.

When I saw Perfect Blue last night I couldn’t help making the an analogous link between Perfect Blue (released in 1997) and Black Swan (released in 2010). Among the general American public almost everyone has heard of the latter and not of the former. Again, superficially they both contain the same plot – the pressures of performance drive the protagonist to such levels of stress that they begin to hallucinate, with the directors in each movie using the movie as an unreliable narrator. As a sidebar, I think as a medium, movies are exceptional at messing with our heads when it comes to unreliable narrators. We are used to the camera as a passive, if omnipotent observer. Our unreliable narrators tend to either be voiceovers or characters telling fibs within the narrative. Additionally, there’s something about the visual that tends to make humans believe it’s more real than a book where everything is constructed in the reader’s head.

Yet, once again, the details (especially cultural) are what allow me to see these as exploring similar themes without accusing Darren Aronofsky of ripping off a Japanese movie for an American audience. Black Swan takes place within the context of the ballet and the insane physical demands placed on the ballerinas – the scene where she deal with her toenails is excruciating for me to watch. It’s also about the dichotomy of women in American (and perhaps most Western?) society of trying (and mostly failing) to sail in the thin waters between prude and slut. It’s also about power dynamics (the scene with her sexual harassment all the more gross in light of recent revelations of Weinstein, et al). Meanwhile, while Perfect Blue does touch on many of the same themes, they are within the context of the Japanese Pop Idol Singer. What’s that? Imagine the Disney pop acts and their purity clauses, but on full-grown women. And an audience that’s more obsessed that Beyonce or Taylor Swift’s fans that expects and demands purity and love and more from their targets of adoration. Idol is a good word to use here – as in an object of worship. For the Disney acts, sure they’re teens and teens want to explore their bodies and sexuality, but I think the relative lack of scandal stems from the fact that it’s an easier demand to make of a minor than an adult.

As I mentioned above, Perfect Blue came out in 1997 when I was just starting to fall into the rabbit hole that was anime at that time in America. It was easier to get than ever – I was able to get it at the local video store – but it wasn’t like today where there are gigantic walls of manga at Barnes and Noble and the local library. You had to go to a specialty store. It was just starting to get out from under the impressions of Speed Racer, Robotech, and the idea that it was mostly just cartoon porn. (Which I later learned as called hentai) If my timeline is correct, Pokemon had not yet arrived to indoctrinate a whole new generation and make parents think it was safe for kids, if a little weird. I’ve mentioned it before on my blog and other places, but what spoke to me about anime was that it was animation for older kids and adults. After the 50s and 60s we lost that in America. Sure, we had The Simpsons, but that was it. And over in Japan they were making these deep cartoons that had long-running story arcs! Shoot, even sitcoms in America didn’t have that! My gateway drug was Ranma ½. But I tried to gobble up as much as I could. Luckily for me, I didn’t get to Perfect Blue back then. Not only does it have a rape scene that would have gotten anime banned from my house (about 7 years later, my younger brother was watching some Slayers tapes I’d borrowed from my friend and my mom freaked out about cartoons with profanity — what would she have thought of cartoons with sexual assaut?), but I was nowhere near ready to watch the movie the way I do now – thinking of themes and tropes and looking for the meta-art in addition to the visual art.

Some time after getting married, I discovered TV Tropes one day. It completely changed the way I experience media. I started along a path of discovery that while “all the stories had been told”, it was in the ways that each culture and time period retold a story or mashed up a story that made it special. I learned about deconstruction and reconstruction and why it’s hard to watch old movies (they were awesome then they came out, but their tropes have been overused). Learning about these tropes and how to watch (and read) critically, combined with my consumption of hundreds (if not near a thousand) books and scores of movies, allowed me to both predict narratives and be extremely please when I was wrong; or tickled when I realize a movie is deconstructing a trope. Watching Youtube channels like Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter1 have taught me the “language” of cinema. (The same what that I couldn’t appreciate a Dali painting until a docent walked us through what the symbolism in the paintings meant)

Beyond this point there are going to be SPOILERS – this is a 20 year old movie. If you want to see it – go see it now. Otherwise, fair warning.

security guard
security guard

All this combined to make this a rich viewing of Perfect Blue that I couldn’t have had at an earlier period in my life. Let’s start at the simplest place. Like all the best mysteries and mystery-based thrillers, they reveal the antagonist near the beginning. Then they throw up a bunch of red herrings to throw the viewer off the scent. I think this is very important because once the movie starts getting all unreliable narrator on the viewer, it becomes hard to know what is real and I think a mystery that the viewer (or reader) can’t figure out with all the facts in front of them is a cheat and deserves any ridicule that comes its way. Of course, the director and writer do a great job of setting up the red herring to make it more plausible. The movie begins with a concert at which Mima (our protagonist), and her group CHAM, is being harassed by some loudmouths. She is defended by a very creepily drawn security guard who we see looking at her as if she is a goddess. He is willing to get badly beaten by the loudmouths because of his love for her. He also appears throughout the rest of the movie, appearing to be semi-stalking her. While some of the sightings are meant to occur during her psychotic breaks, I think we’re meant to believe he was there on at least some of the occasions. So when we hear her tell a quote to one of her talent agents and then it appears on a website about her (complete with a proto-blog), we’re left unsure of whether her talent agent is the mole or if it’s the creep. Especially since we see him around that time and he might have overheard. What makes it extra creepy is that the website is called Mima’s room and it appears to have photos that are taken in her room. However, tropes have taught us to expect that someone is shooting through her window or has bugged her room – not the extremely disturbing revelation we get in the final act.

The initiating act in this movie is Mima’s desire to move from being a pop idol to being a movie star. There are a few factors driving this. First of all, it’s stated in the movie that Pop Idols are fading as a mass appeal pop culture item that can be exploited for money. I don’t know enough about pop idols to know how true that was at the time, I do know that K-Pop artists seem to operate under the same terms (with Hyun-A and Psy being notable exceptions). Second, Mima wants to be taken more seriously as a cultural icon. Third, and unstated, both pop idols and actresses have a limited shelf life thanks to the unfortunate way we treat women in Hollywood (and the Japanese equivalent). Leading men can be any age, but leading ladies need to be young or at least look young. While pop idols’ stars may be fading, within the context of CHAM she has very dedicated fans (again the whole IDOL thing) and some see it as a betrayal that she would leave the group. (For PR the group refers to it as a graduation – something I’ve seen in the larger K-Pop girl groups when one of the women ages out or tries a solo career).

Mima ends up an actress in Double Bind and this is where the director (Satoshi Kon) starts really showing the brilliance of what he does with the movie. Mima’s character is in a police drama and her character is experiencing hallucinations. The scenarios line up with what Mima is experiencing in her life as the pressures of dealing with transitioning from idol to actress ramp up. So much so that often when Satoshi Kon cuts to the actress playing the detective speaking to Mima, the sentence she speaks can directly apply to Mima’s outside life. This is reminiscent of my favorite scene in The Fifth Element as Lilu and Zorg have independent conversations that flow as one conversation as they discuss the whereabouts of some stones key to the plot. There are some other TV shows that use cuts like these that I really enjoy, but they don’t come to mind at the moment. At any rate, it contributes to the feelings of surrealism that surround the narrative in Perfect Blue. Eventually this reaches a climax in the film where the director calls takes (“Take 1” “Take 2” etc) and we see Mima seem to have a Groundhog’s Day experience, but which is revealed to be a mix of the repetitiousness of her life combined with her coming undone from the experience of dealing with the demands of being an actress and the terror at a blog that seems to speak for her and know her every move. That was one of the moments that really sold me on the brilliance of the film. That and the seemingly Fight Club moment.

Perfect Blue Rape scene
Perfect Blue Rape scene

Getting back to the tropes and how they reveal the latent sexism/misogny that remains in storytelling (particularly movies and comics), when it comes time for Mima to prove she is a real actress and not just an idol pretending at acting, she consents to a rape scene. They make a reference to Jodie someone in the movie and I turned to my wife and asked, “Did Jodie foster have a rape scene?” Yes, I was told, over a pinball machine. And, it just disgusted me at the culture we have. So many actresses have commented that, to be taken seriously, they did a nude scene or a sex scene. Disney actresses or musicians will often do one to make sure people know they are now serious. But, how does that make sense? Why don’t we need to see a guy’s penis to know he’s a serious actor? Why doesn’t he have to be sexually assaulted or raped? It just sickens me.

The filmed rape scene does provide us with our second clue at who the true antagonist is. Mima’s agent – the same one that she confided in (and found that quote on the website) runs out of the room crying when the scene is being filmed. Again, society, tropes, etc allow us to dismiss this clue. It could be traumatic simply because she’s a woman and rape is an ever-present threat. It could be backstory we’re not privy to. It could be a realization that Mima is pretending to be OK with a situation she’s not truly ok with. (Similar to the photoshoot scene) As an aside, I do like that the director has the actor playing the rapist apologize to Mima. He’s not taking some perverse pleasure from a fictional rape. He knows it’s uncomfortable for the actress to act out something that is probably a real fear of hers.

Getting to the end, what was brilliant about the reveal is the way the director has the audience peel back the layers. First, she awakens in what appears to be her bedroom that her agent has taken her home to. Then it zooms out and the audience sees the CHAM poster. We saw Mima take this poster off the wall, but at this time in the movie we’re doubting everything as we’ve seen Mima have some psychotic breaks and the scenes with the detective were framed such that perhaps Mima is hallucinating being an actress. Then it moves to the fish and there’s a bit of a clue there after the previous fish scene. Again, we’re not sure if this is real. But when she looks out her window and realizes it isn’t her room. IT SUDDENLY CLICKED FOR ME and if my wife hadn’t been asleep I would have probably yelled out “OH SHIT!” From then on the rest of the climax had me on edge as it played out. Actually, as I wrote this and I realized the dissociative disorder and pretending to be someone else to cover up a rape that applies to Mima’s character in Double Bind and is meant to make the audience question what’s real, could be a description of the agent. Which means that in addition to the fact that she was crying because, having at this point started to become Mima, she saw it as herself getting raped, perhaps she was raped. (This movie has LEVELS)

Finally, I just wanted to make a bit of a comment on what hasn’t aged as well in the past 20 years. I had to keep reminding myself that when this movie first came out, the Internet was still very new to the public. Many of us were JUST STARTING to get out of AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserv’s walled gardens. So Mima’s cluelessness about the Internet isn’t as much about her being a ditz as it is that things were unfamiliar. And the website that purports to be her that is the thing that drives her over the edge as she deals with the stress of becoming an actress (and dealing with the rape scene and photoshoot) just wouldn’t be a thing nowadays. Mima would have a twitter account with a blue checkmark and an official youtube page and so on. A big chunk of the plot would have to be constructed differently nowadays. The movie could still be made, but it would be different in some key ways.

When I originally conceived of this essay, I was going to put this up top, but it just didn’t end up working with the flow – how did I come to Perfect Blue 20 years later? I’m not even into anime anymore. (I’m not actively against it, it’s just that with the easier access to anime it’s not just the awesome stuff that makes it to America anymore) I saw it because it was on a list somewhere – maybe AV Club, maybe Tor.com – of seminal anime that EVERYONE has to see. It had Akira and Ghost in the Shell (both of which I’ve seen and both of which seemed overblown to me — again probably outstandingly groundbreaking when released, but have been surpassed in tropes – or being remixed/retold in the case of GitS by The Matrix). I think that Perfect Blue deserves to be up there in the pantheon of movies. It’s a shame a lot of people won’t see it simply because it’s a cartoon or because it’s foreign, because it’s amazingly done. If you made it this far and the fact that there were spoilers hasn’t ruined it for you – go find the movie. If you can’t find it on blueray or DVD, keep looking in the seedy spots – It’s out there and it’s worth watching.

Postscript: Dan informed me that Aronofsky is apparently inspired by Satoshi Kon so perhaps it’s not the great analogy to Battle Royale and Hunger Games I thought it was. That said, I would still say that it does fit with my discussion on how a remixing or retelling can be its own work of art as it transmutes tropes across cultures.

Review: Elantris, Part 3 of 3

Elantris, Part 3 of 3Elantris, Part 3 of 3 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I’m done. That is one heckuva first-time novel for an author. I have a feeling this Sanderson kid is going places. Joking aside, it was a well-done novel that leaves the world open for a slew of books in the universe, but if we never get another, it’s still a great story. I covered a lot of themes for this story in the other two reviews so I’m going to try and stick to new themes as much as possible for this one.

Mr. Sanderson says in his annotations to Warbreaker that he feels bad he hasn’t really presented religion very positively in his writing. He makes mention of Hrathen in this novel as well as (I think) a reference to Misborn or Warbreaker. However, I think he’s being a bit too hard on himself. What I actually took away from Elantris is that those at the top of religion can often be corrupt or coopt a religion for their own goals, but those at the bottom can make very good use of it. In the case of Shu-Dorath (however it’s spelled – I listened to the audiobook), their pope is a self-important jerk. But the local head of the church in Arulan is a compasionate person. He talks to Serene about compassion for the Elantrians. He also treats Hrathen well, if taking a bit of vulgar satisfaction when Hrathen appears to be taken by the Sheode. In previous reviews I mentioned Hrathen’s redemption arc and without spoiling anything about the details of this book, I think he is definitely a prime candidate for the idea of someone who can believe in a religion that’s being used for evil and not be evil himself.

In this part of the story we find out why Deloth hates Elantris so much. Again, while he has been using doctrine as a reason for his hate, we learn it is in fact because of an interaction with Elantrians that went badly. His wife (or lover? I was so fascinated by the plot that the exact relationship was lost to me) was hurt and when he took her to be healed, it went wrong and she became what we would know as Elantrians in this book. It happened long enough ago (20 years, I think he says) that I wonder if she is the case study that Riyodan finds that leads him to understand why they were stuck in undying bodies.At any rate, his misguided sense of revenge causes him to distort the teachings of Shu-Korath to achieve his goals.

A few other throwaway thoughts:

In part 2, Riyodan finds a Hoid who was one of the original Elantrians. Plot-wise, his biggest purpose is to lead Riyodan to the library where he can learn more of the basics of Aeon-Door. But he does also introduce the dissolving pool to give us a sense of urgency during one scene in part 3. What I find fascinating is that we discover the pool only takes those who are ready to go. This leaves me with so many questions: Who created this pool? Or was it just an element of this planet? When would the gold-like Elantrians use it? If healing went awry? Elantrians are said to be long-lived – one facet of a lot of SF I’ve read is that if you live too long you get bored and/or suicidal. Would it serve THAT purpose for the Elantrians?

Sanderson reveals the Door to be something anyone can tap into. Not just the Elantrians, but also the not-tai chi that Shudan does at various points in the book, and the power being the uber-monks of Shu-Korath. I like this more than the alternative, because it’s not some magical force for good. It’s just the universe or planet’s force that anyone can tap into. Three different groups on this planet have found different ways to tap into it with different effects.

We never find out where the Saeons come from. I like to think they are Elantrians who tired of having bodies. But who knows.

While the ending is somewhat predictable from the tropes, the way we get there is pretty unique and full of enough twists and turns that I wasn’t fully sure what the end state would be and who would be alive. As it is, the leaves the locals in a certain mood, but things are not necessarily resolved. Sanderson has plenty of space here for more novels on this planet or even just this continent if he gets the time to do so. (He has 4 projects currently on his progress bar on his website)

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Review: The Hope of Elantris

The Hope of Elantris (Elantris, #1.5)The Hope of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First of all, I listened to the Graphic Audio version and I don’t know why they switched narrators from the main book. The narrator is fine, but pronounces everything completely differently. Sometimes I didn’t realize the narrator was talking about a character I already knew.

As for the story it’s completely unnecessary. Unlike other side-quels that deal with a very different location (and perhaps plot) from the main story, this one takes place alongside our story. It provides no drama since we know what is going to happen to the Elantrians. And a story without stakes is a pretty boring story.

Oh well, they can’t all be home runs.

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Review: Infomocracy

Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1)Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Infomacracy is depressing to read. It’s fun to read. It’s a good political thriller, particularly if you happen to be an Internet junkie. I’d recommend it to anyone. But it’s depressing. Before we get there, let’s talk about the less depressing stuff. The book cover I have mentions Snow Crash. Unlike Snow Crash, a lot of the tech is just minutes away from existing.Back then, the idea of the information overlay in the real world was still science fiction. Now, we have had Google Glass. While the first version was a spectacular failure, more and more companies are piling on the augmented reality bandwagon and my sister-in-law has use her phone to do real-time translation of signs in another country. I’ve been waiting for this world since I was a kid and it’s finally nearly here. That’s exciting.

It’s also fun that Malka Older explores the politics behind the Burbclaves of Snow Crash, called Centenels in Infomacracy. I first read Snow Crash in High School and the idea of the dissolution of geo-political borders in favor of discontinous government was fascinating. However, in the decades since, I’ve had a lot more real-world experience with the political world and it’s pretty clear Snow Crash is a naive implementation; or rather, Snow Crash was a Cyberpunk novel in which the Burbclaves were just a background element. The politics only matters where they intersected with the story. In Infomacracy, it IS the story. Of course, there would end up being the concept of a Super Majority because a world of infinite governments is a world that’s seconds away from chaos.

Finally, while the characters in a thriller are necessarily a bit shallower than a traditional story, Older writes characters that are a bit more fully realized than the typical thriller. There is, of course, the requisite sex between the leads, but even that typical plot point is tinged with some very unique circumstances related to the characters. I also love that one of the characters is not neurotypical. There are more and more representatives of non-neurotypicals in fiction nowadays, but it’s always good to move away from Rainman whenever possible.

Now to the depressing bit. When Malka Older wrote this book, she was just extrapolating from contemporary complacency in the electorate. She was just extrapolating from the fact that we’d dissolved into echo chambers of news for the left and the right. It was before Fake News was a sequence of words you’d write in capital letters. It was before a president who didn’t simply mislead as all presidents had done since the birth of the nation, but who denied facts that could be confirmed with video evidence. And so a book whose plot revolves around a contested election, disinformation, extreme pandering, and physical violence against people in a different group than the attackers – is DEPRESSING to read in 2017. What was a potential warning when it was written seems trite now. How cute, they spread a little misinformation.

After we started working the wife banned Office Space from being watched. It was too real now, she said. I have at least one Goodreads acquaintance who has held off from this book because it’s too real. I get it. But you should still read this book because Older does such a great job with the genre conventions and I can’t wait to read the next book in The Centenel Cycle.

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Review: The Camelot Shadow

The Camelot ShadowThe Camelot Shadow by Sean Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book free for a review

I never knew I wanted to read a Dan Brown-style thriller that takes place in Victorian England. But one day I became Goodreads friends with Anne Hannah because I love her review style. I especially love her no-nonsense take on comics. One day Sean Gibson started making funny comments on her reviews. I went over to his reviews and immediately became GR friends with him. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but his reviews were right up my alley. Back in may he mentioned on his GR author’s blog that he’d be giving away copies of this book for a review. I read the description and it sounded nuts. And I was afraid – what if Sean is great at funny GR reviews, but not a great author? What if I have to give the book a low review? But my curiosity over how this plot could work over-rode my fears.

Thankfully I had no reason to fear! His writing voice for this novel is not as irreverent as his review tone, but that’s more or less all you need to know to calibrate your expectations. As for the setting, frankly I think it is easier to write a less convoluted Dan Brown-style McGuffin story when you write in an older setting; you don’t have to write your way around cell phones and the Internet. You can head somewhere on a days-long journey and end up with the person you were going to talk to having died and now you’ve wasted time on your time-limited journey. In the modern world you have to resort to some convoluted plot point where everyone lost their cell phones and/or the train ONLY goes through areas without cell service.

I like the characters Sean gives us and I think it’s a sign of his writing chops that I know intellectually that Gibson seems to have written a story that can’t continue and yet I want to spend more time with these characters. And, to up the ante on anyone reading this review before getting to the book, Sean isn’t afraid to kill characters you would have though protected by plot armor. And the characters are developed enough for the death to mean something.

Actually, that reminds me – for a story that’s mostly an adventure tale, there’s some serious stuff in there that hits hard. First of all, one of the characters visited by our main characters is suffering from some heavy Alzheimer’s. Sean toes the line between getting too heavy by peppering in some light moments, but that part hit me hard. It’s such an emotion screw that people don’t stay gone; that they have moments of lucidity. That was a deep scene that actually hit me harder than the deaths. And Sean also did a good job with Alfred’s dealing with his wife’s sickness. The chunk of the book, in particular, in which Alfred has fallen into a deep depression was also a hard hit – particularly where it occurs in the plot.

Finally, to end on a fun note, Gibson does a great job with the thriller double-crossing trope. There’s at least one person who’s triple crossing everyone. You can’t really trust anyone’s motives outside of our main protagonist. There was one very predictable face-heel turn, but the heel-face turn was not foreseen by me and most of the others were surprising, but not in an M. Night Shamalayan cheap sort of way.

So if you’re into the Brownian hunt for an artifact from legend/history genre, I’d definitely give this one a read. I think this Sean-kid is going places.

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Review: Elantris, Part 2 of 3

Elantris, Part 2 of 3Elantris, Part 2 of 3 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the middle section of a novel, it was mostly concerned with expanding backstory and a few false starts at the climax. (Intentional false starts….more of a meta note) The three main thesis Sanderson seemed to have for this part of the book were:

1. Intellectual faith vs emotional faith – This mostly concerned the Doraki priest. (I’m listening to the audiobook so I’m going to go with the spelling of Hrathin). Sanderson continued to make Hrathin’s plot much more complicated than a simplistic good and evil plot. Yes, he’s part of an empire that sees itself as under a godly mandate and yes he must convert the city or they’ll be destroyed by the empire, but while the religion is being forced upon these people, he’s not an evil person. In fact, I wonder if Sanderson, who I found out via the Cosmere reddit is a member of the LDS, didn’t see some comparison to the Prophet Jonah. If you weren’t raised religious or didn’t pay much attention to the actual Bible you probably only know him as the guy who was in a whale’s stomach (like Gepetto in Disney’s Pinocchio). But the story in the Bible has God telling him that he needs to convert the city of Ninevah or else God’s going to destroy them. (Sound familiar?) Of course, things diverge there because Jonah hated the Ninevans and wanted them to die so he skipped out on his deal – hence the whole whale thing. In Hrathin’s case, he is a more militant follower so he does not skorn the idea. In fact, he is haunted by the massacre that followed his previous success at city conversion. While modern humans in non-theocratic countries view it as bad that he wants to force-convert the citizens, he really is trying to save the lives of an entire city. But getting back to plot point in this book – he struggles with the fact that his relationship to his religion is purely intellectual. His intellect makes him a very entertaining sparring partner with Serene, but it means he cannot compete with Deloth over followers. He can logically get you to see his point, but most people need that emotional connection to join a religion. Of course, the emotional followers are the fanatics and this is causing a bigger and bigger problem for him.

2. The value of a human is in having a task – In Prince Rayodin’s plot we end up in the puritanical philosophical point that a human needs a task to have humanity. I would say that some evidence in this being true is the death rate of seniors who retire from working and die without a purpose. At least that’s the current psychology theory behind it once you control for other reasons old people die. What I love about this plot point is that it puts the Prince in a tough spot when Serene intrudes upon his project with handouts. Of course, one way of reading this plot might see this as an indictment against government support. Not sure if Sanderson meant it that way, because it does work beautifully plot-wise given the situation he put Prince Rayodin in. Still, it’s hard to miss that those getting government handouts stop working and just sit there waiting for their next handout. Real life is much more complicated than that and, at least in the USA, we have designed out cutoffs to be step functions rather than a slope such that someone could be worse off with a better job. Anyway, USA politics aside, I do like the way Sanderson is tackling the Elantrian plotlines. I’m curious to see where he goes from here and whether he’s going for a happy, sad, or realistic ending.

3. Earning respect from others vs earning relationships – Serene’s plot has been a pretty interesting one. Sanderson’s given us a strong woman who can accomplish much. Plotwise Sanderson does a good job giving her setbacks that are mostly a direct cause of her overplaying her hand rather than simply because she’s a woman in a fantasy world. As I mentioned in my review for book 1 – in Elantris Sanderson has more of a modern vibe within a fantasy world – AI/Skype in the form of Saiyans, blended families, people who go to university, a society that seems to accept different races without too much overt racism, Hrathin’s country aside – a tolerance for different religions. So while women aren’t co-equal with men, they’re not fighting against outright oppression. So my reading of Serene’s plot here is not so much that she’s being penalized for being manly, but rather that she’s caught in a viscous cycle. Having been spurned by some men who are scared of strong women, she has made choices about the way she acts that alienate people. Her intelligence has made her so sure of herself that she comes off as standoffish. And that’s not something that’s limited to one gender or the other. So I do like when mentors take her aside – they don’t tell her to be more womanly – they just tell her to be more empathetic. She has people’s intellectual loyalty – she needs their compassionate loyalty. And I guess in that way, it’s pretty neat that she mirrors her antagonist, Hrathin. They’re both people who have let their minds get in the way of their friends. Something I know many other real-world intelligent people have struggled with.

A solid middle section that keeps the plot going and enriches the story. Because it’s originally part of one book, it has better pacing than most middle books in a trilogy since those books often seem to be stalling for time.

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Steakhouse Burgers

Continuing my summer of learning to cook new dishes, I decided to tackle steakhouse burgers. I’d already mastered diner burgers, so I wanted to work on these. I didn’t follow Meathead’s directions 100% in that I didn’t create ground beef out of a nice cut of meat. But I did follow his recipe for using 2 zone cooking to make good-tasting, thick burgers.

Steakhouse burgers on indirect heat
Steakhouse burgers on indirect heat (with some on direct heat)

Now, it’s possible that it’s because I crowded my burgers (18″ kettle, not much of a choice), but it took WAY too long to come up to temp. After 20 minutes it was not anywhere near 155. Since it was getting late, I just moved them to the sear side to speed up the cooking.

Finishing up the steakhouse burgers
Finishing up the steakhouse burgers

So, in the end it was more of a char than a sear (which is what I was trying to avoid). I’d like to give it another chance, but it’s tough when everyone in the house prefers the diner burgers. I think even if I got the steakhouse burgers perfected, that would still be the case, but I still want to try. We’ll see when I get another shot.