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[personal profile] hawkwing_lb
Books 2017: 109-129


109. V.M. Escalada, Halls of Law. DAW, 2017.

Read for review for Locus. Fun.


110. David D. Levine, Arabella and the Battle of Venus. Tor, 2017.

Read for review for Tor.com. What the hell sort of book is this?


111. Lee Kelly, A Criminal Magic. Saga, 2016.

Read for column. Good.


112-113. Sarah Kuhn, Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship. DAW, 2016 and 2017.

Read for column. Fun.


114. Spencer Ellsworth, Starfire: A Red Peace. Tor.com Publishing, 2017.

Read for review. Space opera debut. Fun.


115. Steven Brust and Skyler White, The Incrementalists. Tor, 2013.

Kind of a dude book. Not so great.


116. Claudia Gray, Defy the Stars. Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

YA. Space opera. Read for column. Ambitious, not necessarily all that successful.


117. E.K. Johnston, Exit, Pursued by a Bear. Speak, 2016.

YA. Really really good.


118. Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief. Bloomsbury, 2017.

YA. Not as harrowing as many of Wein's other books. Really interesting. Girls kissing girls, too.


119. Ann Leckie, Provenance. Orbit, 2017.

Read for review for Tor.com. Really good. Different to Leckie's other novels.


120. Erica Abbott, Desert Places. Bella Books, 2015.

Lesbian romance between an attorney and a sheriff in small-town Colorado.


121. Stephanie Burgis, Snowspelled. Five Fathoms Press, 2017.

Read for column. Fun.


122. Cassandra Khaw, Bearly A Lady. Book Smugglers Publishing, 2017.

Read for column. Fun.


123. Cassandra Khaw, A Song for Quiet. Tor.com Publishing, 2017.

Read for review for Tor.com. Good.


124. Claire McNab, Lessons in Murder. Bella Books, ebook reprint.

Murder mystery with f/f elements. Solid, I think.


125. Claire McNab, Fatal Reunion. Bella Books, ebook reprint.

Murder mystery with f/f elements.


126. Jae, Falling Hard. Ylva Publishing, 2017.

F/F romance. Fun. Pretty good.


127. Erica Abbott, Taken In. Bella Books, 2017.

F/F mystery/suspense. Part of series. Fun enough.


128. Guy Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium. Roc, 2010. (1998.)

Well, Kay is certainly something, that's for sure.


129. Guy Gavriel Kay, Lord of Emperors. Roc, 2010. (2000.)

Second book in the Sarantine Mosaic duology. It's a pretty good duology.





And unless I'm forgetting something -- which is entirely possible -- that's the lot.

梅雨diary: Takayama or Bust

Jul. 25th, 2017 03:34 pm
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[personal profile] steepholm
I'm now back in England for a few days. On Friday, like Odysseus with his oar, I will be setting out again, in a different direction, as westerly as my last trip was easterly, but I already feel quite disorientated.

That will keep, though. Let me bring my Japanese adventure to a brief conclusion.

By my third day in Kanazawa, I was a bit fed up at not feeling well enough to take advantage (or at least enjoyment) of all the interesting things on offer. As I mentioned in my last entry, Kanazawa has really thrown everything into being a tourist-friendly city, and one side effect is that, much more than in Tokyo itself, I often had shopkeepers waiters, etc. talk to me in English, despite my best efforts to talk to them in Japanese. Often I went with the flow, but on Monday something in me snapped. Seeking a small amount of food and a large amount of cool air, I went into a restaurant that had its menu in both English and Japanese, and having said "Hitori desu" (in context, "Table for one") was led to table by a waitress who insisted on repeating that back to me in English, as if (being a gaijin) I might not understand the Japanese I had myself spoken. I don't know why, but I felt a miffed by this, so when she came to take my order I made a point of reading it in Japanese, kanji and all - only to have it translated into English for my benefit again. A little later, I asked a different waiter for a water refill ("Sumimasen, omizu wo okawari oneigaishimasu!"), to which he replied, as if explaining a grown-up concept to a two-year-old, "Water."

I knew I was being a bit ridiculous, but it was beginning to feel like some kind of weird mind game. Eventually, not quite having been able to finish the food, I called yet a third waiter over, and said in Japanese that, although the food had been delicious, my appetite had recently been suppressed due to the heat and that I was therefore unable to eat it all. At last, this un-phrase-bookable little speech turned a key, and a suitable reply in Japanese was my reward, topped with the customary compliment on my linguistic skill (which, admittedly you get in many places if you manage to say "arigatou", but in this case felt like a crown of bays).

Vindicated, I set about paying my bill - but so dizzy was I with the twin draughts of heat and victory that I put down the wrong amount of money, and of course as soon as I got to the till all my good work was undone, as the woman kindly explained in English that "We need TEN more. TEN". In vain did I protest that my maths rather than my Japanese was at fault. In fact I was so flustered that didn't register the glass door at the entrance as I left, clattering into it and leaving an unsightly splodge of gaijin sweat at the level of my face - for which I apologised in good Japanese, I think, but by then that was no longer the point.

I hasten to add that this humiliating encounter was not typical. In fact, I had a recuperative episode an hour or so later in a small souvenir shop run by a very old, very small woman (she was 95, in fact, as she repeatedly informed me, deaf in one ear and blind in one eye). She told me all about her life - no nonsense about English here! And, to be fair, I've had a lot of interesting conversations in various places, usually with the owners of businesses where I was the only customer. I think of the bar in Nishiogikubo, learning (over a light tuna meal) why the owner threw it all up to become a whisky specialist; or the bar in Takayama where I drank iced coffee while the owner told me all about his motorbike obsession, which had taken him across Europe (Germany - land of beautiful cities and gentlemen - was his favourite, France - where people are "ijiwaru" - not so much, but for bike engines you can't beat Italy, apparently). On the whole, I think I've done okay, language-wise.

On Tuesday I caught a shinkansen from Kanazawa to Toyama, whence I rode a mountain train up, up into the mountains, past rivers, bridges, coniferous forests, dams, more bridges, etc. It was very beautiful, but I was happy to let the landscape slide by without photographing it. After all, most of Japan looks like this - trees and mountains, mountains and trees. The people live in the gaps in between.

My destination was the small town of Takayama, where I was booked in to a ryokan for a couple of nights. My appetite and energy still weren't back to normal (on returning to England I found that I had lost half a stone over the course of the month), and far from being treated to wafting mountain breezes, as had been my hope, the temperature in Takayama was still around 33 centigrade. Nevertheless, I really liked Takayama, not least because of its many rivers and streams, which criss-crossed the town in a way that made me feel quite at home (although probably no one else would have been reminded of Romsey). Anyway, here are a couple of boys looking at the carp in the river. I'm rather proud of this photograph!

DSC00295

As well as rivers, Takayama was replete with many old (i.e. wooden) Japanese style streets, most of which sold either sake, hida beef, or sarubobo. What's a sarubobo? Why, it's the mascot of the town, as far as I could make out, which exists in the form of baby monkey with (generally) a blank red face - although Hello Kitty versions also exist - and is meant to be a good luck charm.

DSC00290

The other big thing in the Takayama is the twice-yearly festival, which takes place in spring and autumn, and involves a number of ancient festival floats. Of course, I was there at the wrong time of year, but I did visit the shed where they are kept (I was almost the only visitor), where I listened to an English guide that was almost inaudible, though I forgave it for the honesty of the notice taped to its side:

DSC00306

The floats were interesting, though:

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My last first in Takayama was entering a shared bath, something I'd not been in a position to do on my previous visits to Japan. There are many Youtube videos detailing the proper etiquette, and I was a bit nervous about committing some faux pas, but it seemed to pass off okay - at least, people were too polite to upbraid me if I did get it wrong...

DSC00289
Don't know what they're doing
But they laugh a lot
Behind the pink door


I won't bore you with my uneventful trip back to Tokyo, or the pleasant last meal I had with Miho, Mikako and Hiroshii, or even my overnight stay at the Hotel Sunroute, Higashi Shinjuku. By that time I was in travel mode, and all my efforts were concentrated on making a month's worth of Stuff fit into my two cases. Instead, I will leave you with the following cheery message, which I saw in a Takayama toilet. In Japanese, it reminds people to take their rubbish away with them, but its message to foreigners is far more welcoming:

DSC00308

Yes, Japan, I will keep bringing my trash! Hopefully I can bring some as soon as next year, but that depends on events still hidden in the mists of futurity...

Out now: Stormy Nights

Jul. 24th, 2017 09:54 pm
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[personal profile] julesjones
Release day for my new book. :-) This is a collection of short stories, some reprints and some new to publication. It's available now from all good ebook sellers (and you would not believe how long I spent at the weekend tracking down All The Amazons). Full details including all those buy links are on the page for Stormy Nights on the Storm Duffy site, and you can see the cover below. I don't have an approved-by-publisher excerpt as yet, but will endeavour to provide some snippets over the next few days.

Sex and love, lies and truth, shades in between. Happy endings and might-have-beens. Nine tales of these things between men.

Stormy Nights contemporary gay romance

Book log - Hugo 2017 short stories

Jul. 22nd, 2017 01:47 pm
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[personal profile] julesjones
I wrote some notes as I went along with the Hugo short story nominees, which I then failed to post soon enough to be of any help to anyone else. Never mind. Here they are anyway...

Given in the order in which I read them. I'd be happy to vote for any of these, and picking an order is going to be difficult.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong

Two sisters, both weather workers, both capable of bending time back on itself and trying another timeline. It starts with one burning up in her own flame; it ends with the other still searching for a timeline in which her sister can live. In between we learn much about them and the different paths they have taken. It's raw emotion delivered in skillful prose, and not only supports but demands a second reading to understand the layers. The idea of a fan or network of timelines spreading out and being able to step from one strand to another is not new; but this use of the concept is an emotionally wrenching read.

Published by Tor.com and available free online, or for purchase as a DRM-free ebook. Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US


Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

One woman is required to wear out seven pairs of iron shoes. Another sits atop a glass hill too slippery to climb. El-Mohtar considers what might happen when the woman of one fairy tale walks into the other story, and subverts the subtext of both. "Subverts" is rather too weak a word here - it dances on the subtext with hobnailed boots. Possibly too much so, but then there's a lot of subtext in fairy stories that needs to be dragged into the light and examined. This particular happy ending is one that I can believe has a chance at being happy ever after. It's sweet but not saccharine.

There's a lot to like in this story, but I was especially taken with the short scene in which the women run a scientific experiment with the golden apples meant to be a reward for the Hero who manages to climb the mountain. It left me wanting to buy the anthology it was originally published in.

First published in the anthology "The Starlit Wood" . Reprinted in Uncanny Tales (available free online). There's an interesting discussion of it at Short Story Squee and Snark.


Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander

A short tale of a harpy's sweet revenge. Too short to review without giving away too much, but fabulous use of language that brings the narrator to vivid life in a commentary on modern media's portrayal of women.

Published in Uncanny Tales (available free online)


That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

"The people of Gaant are telepaths. The people of Enith are not. The two countries have been at war for decades, but now peace has fallen, and Calla of Enith seeks to renew an unlikely friendship with Gaantish officer Valk over an even more unlikely game of chess."

A short story that explores some of the ramifications of full telepathy, and does so through a pair of fascinating characters and their unfolding friendship. The chess game is indeed a metaphor for the war, and gives some idea of how a non-telepathic nation could have held its own against an army of telepaths, but it's the characterisation that makes this story shine. Calla and and Valk have each been a prisoner under the control of the other as fortunes have shifted over the war; Calla working as a nurse in her own side's military hospital treating prisoners of war that include Valk, and then as a trustee prisoner in a Gaantish hospital desperately in need of nursing staff. The chess game starts as a way to pass time, a way to take their minds off the situation they're in, and becomes much more.

Published by Tor.com and available free online, or for purchase as a DRM-free ebook. Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US


The City Born Great by NK Jemesin

Great cities come alive, and in this short story they do so in a most literal fashion. But there are things out there that feed on new life, and a city needs a midwife to guard it as it struggles to birth itself. Our protaganist is a young black man in New York who half believes, half disbelieves a new friend's tales of living cities and his role in New York's story - right up until the monsters try to come for him. Stunning fantasy story deeply rooted in a deftly depicted metropolis.

Published by Tor.com and available free online, or for purchase as a DRM-free ebook. Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US

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[personal profile] jemck
And so we come to War for the Planet of the Apes, the latest in what now seems to be an ongoing series of films rather than merely a trilogy. We see where events since the last movie have led us, as man’s arrogance encompasses his own downfall. Will the unexpected consequences of bio-technology offer other primates a chance at the top slot?

Technologically, the film is a tour de force. What motion capture and CGI can do is astonishing – you really cannot see where reality stops and special effects start. So far, so increasingly common these days. But great special effects are not enough, as rather too many movies fail to realise. A film like this must also have sufficiently strong central performances to make it a drama, not merely a spectacle. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson deliver absolutely what’s needed. The dynamic between Caesar, leader of the apes, and Colonel McCullough, commanding an embattled remnant of humanity, is tense and compelling from start to finish.

Mankind’s inhumanity to man is front and centre, compared and contrasting with the apes’ mutually supportive culture. All Caesar and his kind want is to be left alone. Colonel McCullough needs an enemy to fight though, and unable to attack the virus that’s been humanity’s downfall, finds the scapegoats he needs in the apes.

As a war film, the movie wears its influences unashamedly on its sleeve, most obviously, though not exclusively films exploring the Vietnam War. It can absolutely and legitimately be called Ape-ocalypse Now. This is not merely retreading those footsteps though. Such echoes, and other references such as the slang names for servile apes, serve to tie this dystopian future to our own reality. There’s also the inescapable fact that the Vietnam War proved the hollowness of the American doctrine of ‘peace through superior firepower’. That undercurrent continually runs beneath our viewing of events where armed men seem to have an inescapable whip hand over apes with severely limited abilities to fight back. Beware assumptions.

Issues of gender in this movie are more complex than they might first appear, certainly as far as I am concerned. I’m using words like ‘man’ and ‘him’ advisedly because this is very male-gaze apocalypse. Not however, one where masculinity-under-threat-in-this-modern-liberal-world can finally come good, with its guns and its manly men taking charge of helpless women and children to save the day.

This is a story about the dead-end destructiveness of arrogant white male masculinity so used to solving everything with aggression that it's incapable of thinking outside that self-defeating box. That influences my response to the widespread online comment about the complete absence of female voices in the dialogue (apart from possibly one female soldier’s scream?) The one significant human female role is mute and childlike in the most literal sense, and while a couple of female apes have things to say, they do so through sign language. Could one view the lack of female voices as a feature rather than a bug, if one were prepared to squint a bit...? Then there’s the almost-gender-neutral appearance of the apes apart from the females’ apparent (and to my mind inexplicable) inclination to unflattering central partings and rustic ear decoration. I think there’s more to be discussed about the absence of female characters here than might be first apparent. Is that very absence what permits masculinity to turn so toxic?

Not that this excuses the use of perhaps the laziest motivate-your-male-protagonist cliche in the first act of the movie. There are other script-writing choices I can quibble with, most notably some utterly bone-headed human tactics as the film rushes to its conclusion.

A fourth movie is reportedly under discussion, or development, depending on what you read. I’ll be very interested to see it, provided that the writers can offer something more than man and ape in conflict. These films have done that, and done it well, but the story needs to move on. In my head at least, there must be other corners of this world where the post-apocalypse is working out differently, with male and female voices contributing equally to co-operation rather than conflict. I’d like to see how that’s working out, given so many challenges will still remain to drive a story.

1st Chapter Friday – Southern Fire

Jul. 21st, 2017 10:51 am
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[personal profile] jemck
After the holiday-and-other-stuff hiatus, here's where you can find the opening chapter of Southern Fire, Book 1 of The Aldabreshin Compass.
I've mentioned before that I am always determined not to rewrite the last book each time I start a new one. This time round, I was absolutely determined to write a very different series.

Meet Daish Kheda, absolute ruler and warlord, unquestioned master of all he surveys. Of course that means when trouble arrives, absolutely everyone is looking back at him, expecting him to have all the answers. That's a problem when the trouble that's turned up is invaders backed by violent sorcery, and all Aldabreshin law and custom bans magic on pain of death...



Southern Fire - Artwork by Ben Baldwin
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[personal profile] jemck
Spiderman: Homecoming continues to build on, and expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While, and oh, thank heavens, it’s not another Spiderman origin story retread, it does an excellent job of refocusing the character on its original appeal at the same time as updating and integrating the High School Hero into the modern day. As a decades-long fan of the comic, I’m thrilled to see a young, nerdy Peter Parker, while also very much appreciating a younger, more modern, far more relatable Aunt May rather than a grey-haired granny stereotype.

With its smaller scale and 80s-teen-movie vibe, the film is in many ways lighter in tone than other recent and forthcoming MCU movies. A story feels much less oppressive when the oncoming disaster is humiliation at a teenage party rather than global annihilation by aliens or android armies. On the other hand, that tighter focus and scenario simultaneously makes this story far more personal. We can empathise far more readily with the reality of that situation whereas we could only ever be onlookers in need of rescue from Ultron or the Chitauri. When a shop which Peter regularly visits, where we know he chats with the owner, becomes collateral damage - that has an emotional impact which can sometimes be lacking in the CGI-spectacular destruction of faceless hordes.

I also like the way that Peter’s school and classmates are portrayed. He’s attending a specialist science and technology school, where being intelligent is the norm, not a reason for ridicule. Yes, he has a bullying nemesis, in keeping with the High School vibe, but that lad doesn’t mock Peter’s brains, rather he’s jealous of his place on the Academic Decathlon team. Yes, there’s a roly-poly, nerdy sidekick, but he’s extremely bright and capable when it comes to playing his own vital role in the plot. Success in the Academic Decathlon is presented as a worthwhile victory to strive for. All of which might be merely worthy if it wasn’t for the presence of Tony Stark. We all know Tony’s off-the-scale-brilliant but one thing his involvement in these events highlights is the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Tony doesn’t listen, he’s arrogant, and he shrugs off what doesn’t interest him. That sets the tone that his employees adopt. It’s Peter who learns the lessons that result from the consequences of Tony’s mistakes – as well as his own teenage missteps, of course.

Michael Keaton is a stellar villain whose coherent motivation is so much more convincing and complex than mere motiveless malignity. Beneath the patent injustice and/or callousness that sparks his initial grievance, there are also a good few questions posed about the roles of big business and government and what happens to ordinary people when politicians and billionaires organise the world to suit themselves. With great power, comes great responsibility. Someone should remind them of that. Which is not to say Adrian Toombs is some misunderstood and wronged individual who warrants our sympathy. He has made his own choices, consciously and deliberately for years now, and as we see, is utterly ruthless in pursuit of his goals. We can believe that Peter is in very real danger, thanks to Michael Keaton’s performance and the personal nature of their conflict.

So far, so good, however ... there’s still no getting away from the most abiding and persistent problem of superhero movies based on characters with a decades-long back story. Yes, I mean the roles for women, drawn from source material written when very different cultural archetypes went unquestioned. Once again, the girls are peripheral to the male-focused action, only present in the stereotypical roles of objects of desire, domestic helpmeets and damsels in distress. The writers and actors make heroic efforts to lift the female characters above such clichés but even with the appearance of Mary Beth Lacey, apparent now working for Homeland Security or some such, there’s only so much they can do here. I can only hope that the hints of more and better to come in the next movie are fulfilled, from Michelle in particular – as long as they can do that without mangling the essence of the friendly neighbourhood Spiderman whom we know and love. I’ve had quite enough of that sort of thing with DC turning Superman supposedly dark and edgy and in the process erasing so much of his core character.

Oh hey, how about some more female-led superhero movies? That would work to elevate women and to offer girls their own role models, without eradicating the men. How about we stop looking at this as a zero sum game?

Poem of the week

Jul. 20th, 2017 08:09 am
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[personal profile] cmcmck
 Sometimes a poem is just so bad that it is absolutely wonderful.

This is other half's favourite McGonagall poem :o)



The Funeral of the German Emperor

YE sons of Germany, your noble Emperor William now is dead.
Who oft great armies to battle hath led;
He was a man beloved by his subjects all,
Because he never tried them to enthral.

The people of Germany have cause now to mourn,
The loss of their hero, who to them will ne’er return;
But his soul I hope to Heaven has fled away,
To the realms of endless bliss for ever and aye.

He was much respected throughout Europe by the high and the low,
And all over Germany people’s hearts are full of woe;
For in the battlefield he was a hero bold,
Nevertheless, a lover of peace, to his credit be it told.

’Twas in the year of 1888, and on March the 16th day,
That the peaceful William’s remains were conveyed away
To the royal mausoleum of Charlottenburg, their last resting-place,
The God-fearing man that never did his country disgrace.

The funeral service was conducted in the cathedral by the court chaplain, Dr. Kogel,
Which touched the hearts of his hearers, as from his lips it fell,
And in conclusion he recited the Lord’s Prayer
In the presence of kings, princes, dukes, and counts assembled there.

And at the end of the service the infantry outside fired volley after volley,
While the people inside the cathedral felt melancholy,
As the sound of the musketry smote upon the ear,
In honour of the illustrous William. whom they loved most dear.

Then there was a solemn pause as the kings and princes took their places,
Whilst the hot tears are trickling down their faces,
And the mourners from shedding tears couldn’t refrain;
And in respect of the good man, above the gateway glared a bituminous flame.

Then the coffin was placed on the funeral car,
By the kings and princes that came from afar;
And the Crown Prince William heads the procession alone,
While behind him are the four heirs-apparent to the throne.

Then followed the three Kings of Saxony, and the King of the Belgians also,
Together with the Prince of Wales, with their hearts full of woe,
Besides the Prince of Naples and Prince Rudolph of Austria were there,
Also the Czarevitch, and other princes in their order I do declare.

And as the procession passes the palace the blinds are drawn completely,
And every house is half hidden with the sable drapery;
And along the line of march expansive arches were erected,
While the spectators standing by seemed very dejected.

And through the Central Avenue, to make the decorations complete,
There were pedestals erected, rising fourteen to fifteen feet,
And at the foot and top of each pedestal were hung decorations of green bay,
Also beautiful wreaths and evergreen festoons all in grand array.

And there were torches fastened on pieces of wood stuck in the ground;
And as the people gazed on the weird-like scene, their silence was profound;
And the shopkeepers closed their shops, and hotel-keepers closed in the doorways,
And with torchlight and gaslight, Berlin for once was all ablaze.

The authorities of Berlin in honour of the Emperor considered it no sin,
To decorate with crape the beautiful city of Berlin;
Therefore Berlin I declare was a city of crape,
Because few buildings crape decoration did escape.

First in the procession was the Emperor’s bodyguard,
And his great love for them nothing could it retard;
Then followed a squadron of the hussars with their band,
Playing “Jesus, Thou my Comfort,” most solemn and grand.

And to see the procession passing the sightseers tried their best,
Especially when the cavalry hove in sight, riding four abreast;
Men and officers with their swords drawn, a magnificent sight to see
In the dim sun’s rays, their burnished swords glinting dimly.

Then followed the footguards with slow and solemn tread,
Playing the “Dead March in Saul,” most appropriate for the dead;
And behind them followed the artillery, with four guns abreast,
Also the ministers and court officials dressed in their best.

The whole distance to the grave was covered over with laurel and bay,
So that the body should be borne along smoothly all the way;
And the thousands of banners in the procession were beautiful to view,
Because they were composed of cream-coloured silk and light blue.

There were thousands of thousands of men and women gathered there,
And standing ankle deep in snow, and seemingly didn’t care
So as they got a glimpse of the funeral car,
Especially the poor souls that came from afar.

And when the funeral car appeared there was a general hush,
And the spectators in their anxiety to see began to crush;
And when they saw the funeral car by the Emperor’s charger led,
Every hat and cap was lifted reverently from off each head.

And as the procession moved on to the royal mausoleum,
The spectators remained bareheaded and seemingly quite dumb;
And as the coffin was borne into its last resting-place,
Sorrow seemed depicted in each one’s face.

And after the burial service the mourners took a last farewell
Of the noble-hearted William they loved so well;
Then rich and poor dispersed quietly that were assembled there,
While two batteries of field-guns fired a salute which did rend the air
In honour of the immortal hero they loved so dear,
The founder of the Fatherland Germany, that he did revere.












梅雨diary: Yukata be Kidding Me

Jul. 19th, 2017 07:15 pm
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[personal profile] steepholm
Early in my stay at Tonjo's Foreign Faculty Building, I joked to Miho that I didn't want to end up as the main character of a Japanese tale, 「可哀相な外人の物語」, or "The Story of the Pitiable Foreigner". The thought had been prompted by my bedtime reading of a Japanese novel that had one of its main characters, sleeping alone in an old building, rather suddenly and unexpectedly introduced to a ghost to his room at night. At that point, as I looked out at the grove surrounding the large and otherwise deserted old building in which I was then sleeping alone, I had decided that light fiction was a better choice.

The yurei and obake of Tonjo ignored me, happily, but I felt that fever took me pretty close to "Pitable Foreigner" status, had I not been able to pull out of the dive for my last evening in Tokyo, merely scraping the tops of trees and getting bits of bird's nest in my cleavage.

I was particularly glad, because this was the day that Satomi, her mother and her friend Chiaki (who as luck would have it works in a kimono shop) were coming to do yukata-related things with me. Our original plan had been ambitious - to go to Kanda shrine and watch rakugo. Gradually, though, with the temperature being in the mid-30s, this was reduced to eating some nice desserts at my flat, then walking elegantly around the grounds of Tonjo drawing admiring glances from all who beheld us. Anyway, here are some of my favourite pics from the occasion. There are quite a few, but feel free to scroll past:

DSC00212DSC00211P1270005P1270036P1270070浴衣de東女_170716_0001P1260997

P1260973
Obi Wonky Maybe?

Of course, I only included that last photo so that I could use the caption.

Then it was on to Miho's place in Nakano, where my appetite returned on cue, and I had a wonderful meal cooked by her husband Hiroshi, a fine chef as I remember from last year. (Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling well himself, for much the same reasons as me before, and had to retire early.) Satoshi Kitamura, whom I'd met at the Mexican embassy, was another guest at supper, and we had a very good talk about the varying degrees of (in)directness one might expect in different cultures, which issued in the following Buzzfeedish joint declaration (apologies for the national stereotyping, but sake is no friend to fine distinctions):

If an American thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a bad idea."
If an English person thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a very brave suggestion."
If a Japanese person thinks its a bad idea, they'll say, "The weather's been hot, recently, hasn't it?"

We had drunk quite a bit of sake by that time. Afterwards we walked fifty yards to the local festival, the other reason for being yukata-clad. It's a small affair but a popular and traditional one: Miho reminisced how the sound of the festival music used to excite her when she was at primary school (she's a little older than me), and she'd run home to change, ready to dance. As is typical in such affairs - not that I'd seen one before in real life - a temporary tower had been built in the centre of an open space, with a small stage surrounding it. At the top, a taiko drummer accompanied a set of maybe half a dozen tunes (each of which had a different dance associated with it), which were basically played in rotation throughout the evening, and from the tower strings of lanterns radiated like filaments from a web. There were various food and drink stalls (though not goldfish scooping, sadly!) around the edge of the area. Some people were watching, some were dancing - the dance involving (whatever the tune) a slow, anti-clockwise circuit of the tower, done in conjunction with various combinations of arm gestures, claps, turns, and forward and backward steps. Not too hard to learn, if you've had enough sake, and I followed Miho and gave it a go. I am no dancer in any idiom, but I remembered the lyrics of the Awa Bon Odori:

The dancers are fools
The watchers are fools
Both are fools alike so
Why not dance?


This has been my motto throughout the trip, and to be honest it's not such a bad one for life.

If you want a flavour of the sound and movement of the thing, please click through to the video below:

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That marked the end of my Tokyo stay, and the next morning I boarded the shinkansen to Kanazawa in the west of the country, a town famed for fresh seafood, for the garden of Kenrokuen, and for putting gold leaf on so many things that it would make a rapper blush.

The first thing that fascinated me, though (because I am a Big Kid) was the fountain at the station, which was also at times a digital clock. Cool! (I'm sure they have these kinds of things elsewhere too, but I've not seen one.) The station itself is pretty impressive. This huge structure at its entrance seems new, and I suspect may have been erected to celebrate the arrival of the shinkansen line from Tokyo a couple of years ago, after which Kanazawa put itself on a no-holds-barred tourist footing.

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I'd put myself up at an air BnB for three nights in Kanazawa, to justify two nights at a proper ryokan in Takayama afterwards. It was my first Air BnB experience, and while it was nothing special nor was the price I paid for it. The room was pretty bare, but everything promised was present, and at least I had this as the view from my window:

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I have to say that, throughout the next few days, my energy and appetite, briefly resurgent for the Nakano matsuri, went back into abeyance, so I don't think I was able to do Kanazawa justice. However, I did put the miles in! First stop was the impressive fish market (which looked delicious but prompted no appetite in me at all, alas), followed by the castle park. Of course, no one knows whether samurai armour was originally modelled on the appearance of Japanese castles, or the other way round. What is certain is that in the feudal period, once two castles spotted each other they were apt to convert (much like the Transformers of our own day) into mechanised fighting machines of ferocious violence and battle it out until one of them was a flaming heap (which was then officially blamed on earthquakes). The sight so disconcerted the shogun that he ordered that castles should never be built within 4 ri of each other, an ordinance still in place today.

Actually, that may have been the fever writing. Interesting as Kanazawa Castle may be, it's actually less famous than the adjoining garden, Kenrokuen - so called because it's a park (en) containing six (roku) features (ken) thought notable - although I'm not sure which six they had in mind. I saw a lot more, personally. Even for someone with low energy levels it was a very pleasant place to walk around, and oddly reminiscent (in its penchant for sudden prospects, islands with "fake" temples, sinuous walks, water features, and commitment to "nature methodised"), to the kind of thing that was being done in English landscape gardening over the same period. (I wish I had the knowledge and vocabulary to expatiate on this.)

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Naturally, after wandering in the heat for a while, you want something to help you cool down. As I mentioned earlier, putting gold leaf in, or on, pretty much everything is a Kanazawa speciality. Want yourself a gold-leaf face mask? We've got you covered. Sweets or soap or sake with bits of gold leaf inside? Of course. Actually, why not just buy yourself an ice cream cornet covered in a single sheet of gold leaf?

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Oh, okay then.
jemck: rune logo from The Thief's Gamble (Default)
[personal profile] jemck
It’s been an interesting last little while in the SFF genre, notably for those of us keeping a watching brief on gender issues alongside our uncomplicated enjoyment of superheroes and the fantastic. But rather than demand your time and attention for an extended read on them all at once, here’s the first in a series of related (and hopefully not too spoilery) posts.

Wonder Woman was good fun. I most definitely appreciated seeing strong, athletic women taking charge of their own destiny on Themiscyra, and wearing costumes that drew far more on classical Mediterranean leather armour than on lingerie. Putting Diana into Great War London and seeing the clash of cultures that followed worked well, both in terms of the film, and incidentally to highlight today’s obdurate misogyny. Lucy Davis as Etta Candy gives a performance that’s central to exploring those particular themes all the more effectively through humour. I thought Chris Pine gives a good account of himself, and personally I didn’t feel his presence turned the film into All About Steve. Mind you, there really should be a law against anyone called Steve flying off alone a plane in a superhero movie now. There’s no telling what will follow...

Is this an particularly feminist movie? Not to my mind. Let’s not forget, Diana’s plot ultimately revolves around a response to male aggression. So far, so predictably defining a woman’s role as reactive to a man’s. On the other hand, there are some thoughtful asides on the causes of war and no over-soft-pedalling the dire practical and psychological consequences for men and women alike. Having a female villain in Doctor Poison was a good choice, though let’s not forget she is subservient to a man. But then again, this is set in 1918 ... so ... would a female villain with more overt agency have been anachronistic? There are arguments on both sides. Not least because a more overtly feminist movie would have offered endless ammunition to those primed to attack it as ‘message fiction’ long before they’d seen the opening credits.

All told, I felt Sameer and Napi were badly underused which meant their contribution ended up as primarily ‘see how prejudice extends to race as well as gender?’ rather than having that assuredly valid point made incidentally to more rounded roles for those particular characters. That said, making such roles meatier would mean extending a film with a run time that’s already well over two hours. Oh, here’s a thought? Maybe dial back the extended CGI-spectacular scenes just a bit here and there? Use those saved minutes for more interesting character exploration?

The film did drive a galloping coach and horses through established Greek myth, as I observed as we left the cinema. ‘I thought Greek myths had all sorts of variations?’ remarked one son. ‘That’s your biggest problem with a story set in a universe where a man dresses up as a giant bat to fight crime?’ queried the other. Well, yes, fair comment, both. The unexpected appearance of Spud from Trainspotting did also distract me. Just like my flashback to Renton’s toilet-dive when I watched Obi Wan Kenobi et al visit the underwater city in The Phantom Menace. But that’s probably just me...

So overall I thought it was a good, fun film rather than a great, deeply-meaningful one. I mean, compared to ... oh, wait, there are no other female-led superhero movies to compare it to, are there? So let’s not get hypercritical here. As a foundation to build on, and as a film that proves that a female superhero can light up the box office with a good, fun, adventure story that everyone can enjoy, it’s exactly what we need at the moment.

one week to publication day

Jul. 18th, 2017 09:50 pm
julesjones: (Default)
[personal profile] julesjones
So the countdown begins to the release of my short story collection. :-) Stormy Nights is now available for pre-order direct from the publisher's website and from all the usual suspects including SmashWords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and the many and varied Amazons - UK, US, AU or search on your local 'Zon for the ASIN B073RRNKBD.

Official list price is US$3.99. Looks like local prices are currently £3.09-£3.49 and AU$5.25 for the UK and Oz.

StormyNights-f500

Sex and love, lies and truth, shades in between. Happy endings and might-have-beens. Nine tales of these things between men.

More memery

Jul. 15th, 2017 11:46 am
cmcmck: (Default)
[personal profile] cmcmck






A song you never tire of:


A song from your pre teen years:


One of your favourite seventies songs:


A song you would love played at you wedding:

I'm already married!

A song that is a cover by another artist:



 


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