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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Review: Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun TakamiBattle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been over a decade since I read Battle Royale. It was a book that amazed me with its emotional resonance. It was the first book that ever made me tear up with the lighthouse scene. The author did such a great job building up both the stakes and the relationships, that it was devastating to read. I have enjoyed many a book since then, but few in number are the books who have affected me so much.

The deepest proof for the artistic quality of the story is the fact that these essays represent a bunch of different (and also a few similar) interpretations of what we can gain from the story. There are both obvious lessons and ones that make you think, “Oh yeah!”. There are even a few that deal with my original rejection of The Hunger Games as an anglo ripoff and being upset that it was more well-known than BR. Within a context of remakes of Japanese horror rather than just bringing out subtitled or dubbed versions, I think it’s understandable, even if it’s misguided.

Well, as is the case for anthologies, magazines, and essay collections – here are the thoughts I had as I read each one; a collection of my status updates.

“Death for Kids” – A guy who lived through an evil police state in Argentina sees death at 8 years old and realizes how the world is. Sees BR as a lesson kids need to experience.”

“Blood in the Classroom” – Intro essay to the book. Discusses how the subversive books of yesteryear are today’s boring books that kids are forced to read in the classroom. Mentions that Battle Royale probably won’t suffer this fate.

“The Fight the Night Before” – About deliberations on Battle Royale winning a horror prize and why, perhaps, it did not win.

“Happiest Days…” – Showing ways that reality is like BR and comparing other novels, including Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. Also a great section of how school shootings are nothing new.”

“Innocence Lost and Regained” – Touches on similar themes to the essay before it – innocence of children is a construct, relatively recent, & a false one. A bit more of a scholarly style of writing & so a bit harder to read than the previous essays in that it it has more complex sentence structure that my brain isn’t quite awake enough to parse right now. Also neat exploration of how Bradbury tackled similar topics.”

“From Dangerous to Desirable” – A look at where BR fits in with gender norms in Japan via various media that is its spiritual ancestor. There’s a lot I missed as an American reading the story and applying my ideas of gender to the story. My takeaway after reading this essay is that the author was a bit more adventerous with the male characters.”

“Girl Power” – A great example that with art, each person takes something different out of it. While many have criticized BR as mysoginistic, this author sees strong women in some of the female characters.

“Over the Top” – An exploration of how wrestling in the USA and Japan inspired the author to write Battle Royale.”

“Generational Warfare” – The author of the essay takes a look at the societal issues that drove the zeitgeist as the author of BR composed his book. Also inadvertently taught me the origin of the motorcycle gangs in Akira.”

“Killer Kids in Jeopardy” – the essay explores how we have been OK with kids being in trouble in novels, but not movies. Or rather that it’s been a reluctant march towards acceptance in movies of that which has been happening in novels for hundreds of years.”

“Seeing the Sequel First” – The writer had a bad childhood in school and talks about how BR2 was a spark of inspiration for him.”

“Dead Sexy” – The author essentially posits the same theory that eventually came to guide how I understand sex and violence in art. There is a difference between the gratuitous and the story-rooted acts. Take, for example, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s key to the story that the sex scenes both in the book and TV are depicted the way they are. That is not gratuitous.”

“The Postwar Child’s Guide to Survival” – An analysis of BR as a criticism of what the post-WWII generation did with the country. I’m not sure it resonates as well as the author posits, but it certainly has merit.”

“Children Playing with Guns” – uses BR as a reason to talk about gun violence in schools in America (with a few world examples). Best case I’ve heard yet as to why all the gun laws we can come up with won’t do a darn thing to stop it from happening again.”

“List, Combination, Recursion” – a strange, stream of consciousness essay I did not enjoy. Perhaps something was lost in translation.”
“Buelller” – The author starts off with the same criticism I had when Hunger Games first got popular – It’s a rip off of Battle Royale. Then used this to go back through the history of teen movies since they’re all riffs off each other. Then ends with an absurdist version of Battle Royale containing characters from nearly every movie he mentioned.”

“Whatever you encounter” – How BR demonstrates Zen teachings.

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Review: Elantris, Part 1 of 3

Elantris, Part 1 of 3Elantris, Part 1 of 3 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of Sanderson’s earlier books and it’s exploring similar themes as Warbreaker, so while I’m enjoying it, it’s definitely not as good to me so far. What does it share with Warbreaker? The idea of divinity on Earth vs a god you can’t see, humans becoming divine, and an arranged marriage between royals who haven’t met. What’s weaker from Sanderson’s lack of experience – The Prince seems to be a bit of a Marty Stu so far – a little too perfect in every way.

But there are lots of things I like so far:

Sanderson writes some pretty able women – or at least has in these two books. In this book (contrasted to Warbeaker) the marriage is the princess’ idea. Her father’s actually initially against it, but realizes it would be good politically. While in the new court she uses her brain to manipulate others into giving her what she wants or needs. (Manipulate has a bad connotation, but she’s not malicious) She gets into a metaphorical chess game against the priest in which they’re each trying to outdo the other. And the princess gets herself accepted into a group of nobles to formulate a plan to save her new city.

I like the idea of the AIs that allow a fantasy skype in this world. As in the later Discworld books, I think there’s something interesting that comes from modern tech in a medieval or Renaissance world. So while most fantasy stories can count on a slow movement of information as a plot device, a world with these AIs allows for faster communications. It also serves as an information retrieval device.

So far, across these two novels, Sanderson has also proven adept at starting off with a cartoonishly evil antagonist who then becomes more of a person with complicated morals. I’m enjoying the information we’re learning about the high priest and how he’s trying to make this city’s conversion as bloodless as possible. It makes his fanatical acolyte all the more dangerous.

It’s fun to have the 3 chapter structure where you see the same event or aspects of the same time period through each of the three viewpoints.

Finally, I really like the inclusion of the princess’ uncle’s family. I like the comic relief of his kids. I like how it shows just how much her uncle has grown and changed. And I am enjoying the fact that it’s a modern blended family which doesn’t happen too much in fantasy (at least the way it’s been depicted in this first book). He has step children with whom he has a regular relationship (not some fantasy hatred of step-children). Also, the uncle is a great chef from having traveled the world and so he does the cooking. Overall, it’s a continuation of the refreshing modernity in a fantasy novel that isn’t urban fantasy.

So much can go so wrong with three different people planning independently and with their goals seemingly at odds. We also have the 3 month timer before an invasion or destruction or something. I’m looking forward to it and perhaps parts 2 and/or 3 will get a higher rating.

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Review: Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014

Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014 by Lynne M. Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another demonstration of authors who are doing great things with the short story format. I’ll definitely be buying other issues. As usual for magazines and anthologies, a collection of my status updates.

“The Uncanny Valley” – An intro and the the mission statement of the magazine.

“If You Were …. White” – About Jungleland and a premise not unlike Roger Rabbit (the movie, not the book) where all the animal actors in movies were sentient.

“Presence” – Sad tale about caring for a parent in hospice care via a robot

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane” – A perfect use of the short story form to tell the story of some super villains at a super villain bar.

“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” – A precocious high school girl goes back in time to visit her grandfather. The story is fun as written, especially Celia’s mindset. But it all comes together in the final page (as is often the case with mysterious short stories)

“Migration” – About a world in which birds carry souls.

“The Boy Who Grew Up” – A teenager meets Peter Pan (who’s now also a teenager) and gains some perspective on his situation. It was sad, but perhaps a bit hopeful at the end.

“Her Fingers like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors” – what I find annoying about many stories of the fey is that they seem cryptic to a fault. You never quite know WTF is happening and that’s annoying. It’s not a trope I enjoy. That said, the story overall was good and was successful in conveying the emotions it wanted to.

“Mars..Attacks!” – This article, like other similar ones, made me both happy and sad at once. And, considering it was written 3 years ago, almost sunk me into depression. It’s about how geek women are constantly attacked, especially online. (Something I just learned about in the past 2-3 years) It’s also about hope with all the female geek cultures. But to see where we are in 2017….ooh boy.

“Worldcon Roundtable” – a roundtable panel conducted via email about Worldcon. Made me more interested in trying to attend a WorldCon. There’s a lot of drama around it and that was even present in the roundtable. But fan comes from fanatic, so I’m not surprised people are extremely passionate about it. The important thing is everyone remaining respectful and polite.

“Does Sex…Soft?” – Shout out to God’s War,which I read last year! I have a hard time understanding the mindset of the people she’s criticizing. Sex, love, & romance are a part of the human condition.While I understand if a story ignores it because it takes away from the narrative (books don’t mention every character’s bathroom use), don’t think any story is poorer for including.

I skipped over the shorts article.

“Kissing Song” – a poem

“The New Ways” – a poem

“The Whalemaid, Singing” – a poem

“Interview: Headley” – So much of the tiger story is based in reality, it blows my mind. Also great to see her thought process.

“Interview: Beth Meacham” – Neat talk about how she worked with Jay

“Interview: Christopher Barzak” – A discussion about his short story in the magazine as well as his career.

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First Impressions of Trust Issues by The PDX Broadsides

At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve had Trust Issues for a few days. I signed up for the Kickstarter campaign after The Doubleclicks mentioned them. I then went to the PDX Broadsides’ bandcamp page and ended up buying the entire back catalog.

After having heard the album a few times, here are my first impressions:

  • Favorite Song: Robot vs Boy – although it seems like it should be the first track to a concept album and leaves me wanting to know more about the story
  • Most beautiful song: Dolores – about HBO’s Westworld
  • Most fun song: Tiny Little Octopus

Now, track-by-track:

  1. The Weather – I love the vocalizing on this track, but I have no idea what it’s about and why it goes from an ominous song to talking about the weather. So I enjoy listening, but will probably enjoy more when I know what it’s about.
  2. Rocket Science – a song I’d play to kids 7 or 8 and up about how treating others by the golden rule isn’t Rocket Science
  3. Acoustic Kitty – pretty funny premise, but one of the ones I currently like least
  4. Tiny Little Octopus – see above
  5. I’ll Eat You Last – this is a nerd version of the song my brother danced for his first dance. I don’t know what the song is, but it was a young Christipher Walken singing it and somewhat insulting the other person, but still being about love
  6. Noncompliant – a good feminist song
  7. Nerd Love Song – what it says on the tin.
  8. On the case – About Where’s Waldo? Probably the song I like the least
  9. Delta You Delta Me – a song about growing apart. I like how the chorus/bridge go
  10. We Want Rey – a great, fun song about how representation in media is a good first start, but what about representation in merchandising? Also has a part near the end reminiscent of the main verses in We Didn’t Start the Fire
  11. I Go Both Ways – a very fun song about not falling prey to flame wars/culture wars and just enjoying what you enjoy – even if it comes from rival companies. I didn’t get the line about the snails, though…
  12. Dolores – see above
  13. Robot vs Boy – see above
  14. Sign off – a whispered message that freaked out my 5 year old when it played because she didn’t expect someone to be whispering in the speakers.

Review: Warbreaker, Part 3 of 3

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

First of all, let me say that the voice acting and foley/music is so great in this series. In this third installment as characters reveal their true natures we end up with different voice performances from the actors. Very good job.

That out of the way, onto the review. It’s possible if I were more familiar with fantasy tropes I might have seen the twists coming, but I was caught completely by surprise as more and more of the story unspooled. In the best cases, I was only one step ahead of Sanderson while I’m often able to spot all the Checkov’s Guns (or wands) in literature, TV, and movies. As is always the method of a good writer, it was all there. Even the prologue gives a hint as to who Vasher is.

The key to making the story work, especially this third part, is that this is where all the characters grow up. While Vivena spent the entire book being confronted by the truth that the Hollandrens are not as evil and different as she’d been taught post-schism, this is the section where she grew as a person. She learns not to be quick to judge others. She learns a lesson that we could all learn about how poverty isn’t always a choice and how morals can quickly erode when you need to evade starvation. She basically learns that you shouldn’t judge until you can see through the life of another.

Light Song also levels up in this section of the story as his investigations have awakened a purpose inside of him. He starts taking things seriously. He also has another growth moment after he finally learns of his previous life and how Laramar knew him before he was returned. Interestingly, in his section we learn something about the returned and why they come back that isn’t shared with others, including Vasher.

Vasher didn’t grow much, but it wasn’t his story. He’s integral….especially so in this section of the book, but it’s not his story. We’re really seeing just a chunk of a very long journey for him. However, though him we get the remaining information we need on how Awakening works and Nightblade’s history. Nightblade’s sections here were the best in the book and I LOVE the voice they gave him in the GraphicAudio narration.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book, even if it came up quite a while ago. But I’ll definitely say that I didn’t see it coming on who was the true employer of certain characters as well as who was orchestrating the things that set the plot of the book in motion. I will say that I loved the title drop at the end. (So rare for it to be so late in a book) It really did bring a lot of meaning to a certain character. Sanderson then TOTALLY leaves it open for a sequel. But then he went to work on some of his more famous works. I think I’d love to see a sequel following the two characters at the end of the book. I’m not sure how that would work in the meta-context of storytelling since they may not have much more growth left as characters, but this book definitely did leave me wanting more.

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Review: Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014

Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014 by Lynne M. Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another demonstration of authors who are doing great things with the short story format. I’ll definitely be buying other issues. As usual for magazines and anthologies, a collection of my status updates.

“The Uncanny Valley” – An intro and the the mission statement of the magazine.

“If You Were …. White” – About Jungleland and a premise not unlike Roger Rabbit (the movie, not the book) where all the animal actors in movies were sentient.

“Presence” – Sad tale about caring for a parent in hospice care via a robot

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane” – A perfect use of the short story form to tell the story of some super villains at a super villain bar.

“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” – A precocious high school girl goes back in time to visit her grandfather. The story is fun as written, especially Celia’s mindset. But it all comes together in the final page (as is often the case with mysterious short stories)

“Migration” – About a world in which birds carry souls.

“The Boy Who Grew Up” – A teenager meets Peter Pan (who’s now also a teenager) and gains some perspective on his situation. It was sad, but perhaps a bit hopeful at the end.

“Her Fingers like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors” – what I find annoying about many stories of the fey is that they seem cryptic to a fault. You never quite know WTF is happening and that’s annoying. It’s not a trope I enjoy. That said, the story overall was good and was successful in conveying the emotions it wanted to.

“Mars..Attacks!” – This article, like other similar ones, made me both happy and sad at once. And, considering it was written 3 years ago, almost sunk me into depression. It’s about how geek women are constantly attacked, especially online. (Something I just learned about in the past 2-3 years) It’s also about hope with all the female geek cultures. But to see where we are in 2017….ooh boy.

“Worldcon Roundtable” – a roundtable panel conducted via email about Worldcon. Made me more interested in trying to attend a WorldCon. There’s a lot of drama around it and that was even present in the roundtable. But fan comes from fanatic, so I’m not surprised people are extremely passionate about it. The important thing is everyone remaining respectful and polite.

“Does Sex…Soft?” – Shout out to God’s War,which I read last year! I have a hard time understanding the mindset of the people she’s criticizing. Sex, love, & romance are a part of the human condition.While I understand if a story ignores it because it takes away from the narrative (books don’t mention every character’s bathroom use), don’t think any story is poorer for including.

I skipped over the shorts article.

“Kissing Song” – a poem

“The New Ways” – a poem

“The Whalemaid, Singing” – a poem

“Interview: Headley” – So much of the tiger story is based in reality, it blows my mind. Also great to see her thought process.

“Interview: Beth Meacham” – Neat talk about how she worked with Jay

“Interview: Christopher Barzak” – A discussion about his short story in the magazine as well as his career.

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Review: Put this in your brain

Put this in your brainPut this in your brain by Stu Norvath
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, a collection of my status updates. Overall a good set of essays. Some deeper than others.

Intro – Neat intro by a member of MCR about the role that games play in our lives

“Backward Flow” – About Dune the game and book that I wouldn’t have understood a couple years ago. “As an upper-class white man,

Paul isn’t just better at being civilized; he is better at being uncivilized.”

“Rapture” – Comparing a Lovecraftian game and the Ukraine Crimea thing

“Safe Space” – comparing games to dealing with anxiety.

“I shot the Centurion” – a look at what it means for a game to truly give the user choice. A fun read as I’ve come to see what a lie the choices in games like Mass Effect can be.

“Mission: Unclear” – Interesting essay compares how both elections and the stories told in FPSs fail due to the paradox of choice. People are paralyzed by knowing too much about the candidates. In games,preference for widest market eliminates choice.

“The Myth of Choice” -Loved Choose your own Adventure. This essay gives a history lesson and makes some interesting points on what those books tell us about ourselves.

“Interactive Thingers” – Most personal one so far explores how games have changed through the decades and how that has changed the gamers. Very neat.

“Notes on Luftrausers” – When the author calls out Tim Rogers in opening line I know this is going to be a good essay. Rogers completely changed the way I view games – gave me a vocabulary for what I loved most in them. The author also has an Opening quote in paragraph #4 from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Overall great meditation on what makes great games great.”

“Depth of Field” – explores the grammar of the FPS game and how it requires learning to read with that grammar.”

“Death and Form” – Kane and Lynch as an exploration of Surrealism. Very interesting way of exploring hyper-gruesome games.

“Definite about its Purpose” – Never thought about how much death isn’t explored in video games. It really could move beyond the current role of fail state in many games.

“We All Become” – Reading this, I’m sad I never played Transistor. I really enjoyed Bastion. Perhaps I’ll eventually get to it.

“From a Great Height” – The Fall sounds like the type of game I’d really enjoy playing. I enjoy stories of apparent AI paradox – like the I, Robot short stories.

“We Don’t Talk Anymore” – Interesting conversation about a game betraying you via the ending. This is about Prince of Persia, but could just as easily have been about Mass Effect 3.

“Catching ‘Em All” – I never got into the Pokemon games – I was way older when it came out. But I can see how playing while OCD could be dangerous.

“Dance, Dance, Dance” – An essay that views player controls as body metaphor. It’s one of those things where you usually want the control to be flawless, but some neat exploration can come from making it as cumbersome as reality is or can be.

“The First Step” – An Alaskan native tribe creates a video game to help pass on their values to the next generation.

“Netrunner and my Kid” – About playing board games with his kid.

“Teacher’s Challenge” – teacher tries to use video games to teach and keeps failing to get the students engaged despite a number of them identifying as gamers.

“Burning the Library” – A look at assassin’s creed and what it is choosing to convey about history; despite a facade of complexity, it’s an overly simplistic view of various sides of conflicts throughout history.

“The Many Lives of Edward Thatch” – Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag as an excuse to revisit pirate lore. Neat treatise on Blackbeard.

“Contest of Attrition” – About Banner Saga and how you’re just trying to survive, not defeat the Big Bad. It’s a reminder that games can be about different aspects of the human condition.

“Marjorie” – An exploration of how Pinball machines are art and what they convey to us. Also a look at how copmlexity is both good and bad for the game.

“Finding Cullen” – An article on why Cullen from Dragon Age became an Ascended Extra.

“Who Watches the Watchers” – The role Clementine plays in The Walking Dead S1 and S2. Rings quite true as Clementine is what I thought made TWD worth playing.

“Neverending Horror” – When horror can succeed in video games and how it fails (when you gain power)

“Through the Fog-Choked Streets” – A different look at where horror succeeds in video games by comparing to books and movies

“Alone in a Dark Room” – A simple game can still have multitudes hidden within.

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Review: Warbreaker, Part 2 of 3

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

Sanderson continues to weave together 3 narratives in a way that makes me really invested in each one. Well, to be fair, for most of this part of the book I viewed Vivena’s sections with resignation. Interestingly, both sisters are naive in their own ways. Vivena is naive through an overly focused education and a position of privilege. Siri is naive from always blowing off her education and those around her having a vested interest in keeping her in the dark. The difference is that Vivena comes off as a stuck up snob for most of her character arc in this part, although things rally near the end when she finally starts to accept her status as a blasphemer and tries to use it for good.

Over with Siri we have her evolving relationship with the God-King. I can’t remember if it was part 1 or this part, but her subplot about faking not just orgasms, but the entire sexual act was pure comedy. When the God-King looked at her puzzled, I had a feeling his story was going to revolve around being too cloistered. And it’s true – they have cloistered him. They’ve also cut his tongue in order to control him (in a move that I’ve seen in other fictional stories). I think this makes his evolution with Siri very interesting because he’s got a bit of a Stockholm thing going on and I think he might end up screwing up Siri’s plans out of too much trustworthiness with his priests. I’ve also enjoyed Siri’s leveling up on court intrigue and dealing.

Light Song was my favorite from the beginning. I’ve always enjoyed sardonic characters and he’s no exception. That said, it’s been fun to see him move from pure comic relief to starting to investigate Vasha’s actions. I also positively love the way he rejects Blushweaver. Also poo on Blush Weaver for slut-shaming Siri. I know she thinks Siri is a traitor there to destroy the kingdom, but it just sucks her way of attacking Siri is to attack her sexuality (and with a false claim, at that).

And speaking of comic relief as well as circling back to the beginning, the face-heel turn at the end is awesome for the same reason that Littlefinger’s Face-Heel turn is awesome. Both in the book and in the TV show my favorite LF moment is when he tells Ned “I told you not to trust me.” There’s a certain boldness in an author to tell you not only that a twist is going to happen, but to tell you the twist to your face and then write in a way so that you don’t believe him. (or her)

Top priority when I get home is loading part 3 onto my phone.

Oh yeah, and someone I wanted to bring up from my status comments: my favorite Light Song moments are when Laramar (his high priest) exasperatedly reminds him that he can’t get drunk or get headaches.

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