brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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“Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet” is a movie about how terrifying the menstrual cycle is.

I mean, that is literally what it’s about.

“Mary Hatchet” gets her period for the first time, goes nuts, and tortures and murders her mom then kills her dad while he’s sleeping… a theme throughout the movie, where in general the women are chased and terrorized and tortured before being murdered while the men are killed with one clean stroke. She’s sent to a mental hospital where she’s diagnosed with menstrual psychosis and is violent and awful every time she gets her period. Women, amirite? A fat, slovenly, unshaved guard rapes her and of course she gets pregnant and of course the camera lingers on the squeaking bed frame as the crime occurs. She’s told the baby dies in birth, at which point she murders everyone in the hospital (except for one person) and is shot to death by the police.

But her ghost comes back, of course.

Meanwhile, just as Devil’s Night or Mischief Night is celebrated in some areas, “Blood Night” is celebrated in this area. In it, bros buy out all the stores tampon stocks, paint them red, and hang them up as garland/fling the at people.

Can you imagine being a girl, coming of age, hitting puberty, in that area? Knowing the legend of Mary Hatchet, knowing that menstruation is linked with insanity and murder? Knowing that menstruation, tampons, are a big joke? What would it be like getting your period on Blood Night? How would people react? The people involved with this movie made a choice, they sat down and made a series of choices, and one of those choices involved emphasizing the link between menstruation and insanity/violence. They made a lot of other choices, too, like having Mary walk around naked a lot, and having teen female characters describe their underpants and do strip teases and fuck gross nerds, and having a female character tell a joke story about being gang raped LOL NOT REALLY WOMEN MAKE THAT SHIT UP ALL THE TIME. They made a choice to consistently depict women as sexual aggressors: initiating sex, being on top, discussing their underpants, doing strip-teases in public, joking about their pussies, dragging dudes upstairs. It’s a male fantasy of men being selected and serviced by women. While the women are nominally aggressive, it’s in socially acceptable ways that perform for and cater to male tastes. They made a choice to have the men killed by surprise most of the time, unaware, quickly dead, their gore spattering onto girls’ faces like so much red bukake, while the girls are chased, hunted, terrified, terrorized, tortured, hacked to pieces. The girls have time to scream and writhe in agony, to be dismembered. These are choices that were made, choices that did not occur in a vacuum.

Watching this movie took time out of my life that I will never get back.

I give it 1 star out of 5.

At least it wasn’t Stoker.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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“Stoker” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

This review is rife with spoilers.

For starters, although it’s called “Stoker” there is no reference to Bram Stoker and/or Draculas, which should be a crime. An absolute crime.

Like a lot of horror, the movie is intensely exploitative of female sexuality, and dismissive of female characters. The protagonist, India, is defined primarily by the fact that she has acute senses and knows how to handle a gun. What are her hobbies and interests? They’re never really gone into. Her mother is a spoiled, wealthy woman who does none of the work associated with being a wife or mother. She doesn’t cook or clean, she despises her husband and seems to actively hate and resent her daughter. She speaks fluent French and plays piano and wears fancy, expensive clothing and probably went to finishing school and hates living in the rural mansion staffed with paid help. Her eighteen year old daughter plays piano, but seemingly shares none of her other refinements.

The movie opens with India exploring the immense and well manicured grounds of her large and well appointed home, looking for her hidden birthday present. When she finds it, stashed in a tree, it’s not the pair of saddle shoes she normally gets. Rather, it’s a mysterious key. Conversation with her grandmother confirms that it wasn’t the grandma who stashed the presents every year, as India had assumed. Nor was it her distant mother, nor her recently dead father. Perhaps it’s because this is a horror movie, perhaps it’s because India is surrounded by negligent jerks, but nobody questions who it is that’s been stashing shoes in her size in various hidden places around the house for her entire life. Some people would find that creepy, but not India or her family. It’s just a thing that happens. Perhaps this is a symptom of wealth, to simply take for granted that perfect gifts appear at times from invisible hands?

At her architect father’s funeral, India meets her uncle Charlie for the first time. She didn’t know he existed until that point, but he’s come to help “support” the family. He claims to be a world traveler who’s been too busy traveling to visit the family. Or call. Or email. Or anything. India’s mom doesn’t second guess any of this, because she’s too busy fucking him with her eyes over the newly dug grave. Charlie moves into their enormous house. India sees him arguing with the head housekeeper (they have so much staff they need someone to manage the staff) who later vanishes, which isn’t at all suspicious or unusual. India’s mother reacts with anger. She’s so put upon! How dare the person who’s worked for them for 18 years not show up for work. Doesn’t anyone know how she suffers? Charlie cooks then dinner and sits there, plate full of still-bleeding meat, and watches them eat without eating any himself.

India’s mother discovers that Charlie is staying with them and tells India’s mother that she needs to speak with her about Charlie. Mummy assumes that Granny is an old hag out to split her from her One True Love and refuses to talk to her.

India discovers the housekeeper’s body in the freezer, but doesn’t tell anyone.

Charlie kills India’s grandmother– his mother– who India is close to, and burries her in the back yard.

Charlie lies and tells India’s mom he doesn’t know how to play piano and she “gives him lessons.” Later he plays a grope-y, panting duet with India, his niece, who is only a few days over the age of 18. And I assume she recently celebrated her 18th birthday so everyone involved with the movie can point their fingers and say LOOK. SEE. SHE IS 18. IT’S OK. SHE IS AN ADULT. IT’S ALL GOOD. India doesn’t like to be touched, except by her creepy uncle. India is sexually harassed by bullies at school. A male classmate tries to rape India and Charlie murders him. India helps Charlie bury the kid in the backyard. India realizes Charlie murdered and buried her grandmother.

India, filthy and sobbing, jerks off in the shower as she pictures Charlie murdering her rapist.

This is the kind of movie “Stoker” is. It’s a movie that takes a female character and, professing to be about her sexual awakening or whatever, exploits teen girls, teen sexuality. “Stoker” is a movie comfortable with an adult male predating upon his blood relative. “Stoker” is a movie in love with rape as motivation, as plot piece, as random thing that happens.

India doesn’t tell anyone.

When the Sheriff comes by to question her about her rapist’s disappearance, she lies to protect her uncle, who killed her grandmother.

India realizes the key opens a locked door in her father’s desk. In it, she discovers a cache of photographs of her father and Charlie… and another boy. She discovers a huge stack of letters Charlie wrote to her from her infancy, never delivered to her. They are adoring love letters, love letters written by an adult man to an infant, a toddler, a child, a pre-teen, a teen-ager. Letters of love and sensuality written to a minor, to a blood relative. This is what the movie is. This is what “Stoker” presents to us, the viewer: sexual predation and exploitation as voyeuristic titillation.

India is pleased with and aroused by the letters, because she was written by a Lizard Person who has no concept of how human beings actually work, think, function.

Then she realizes they came not from Africa and Europe and Asia but all originated in the local mental asylum, where Charlie’s been a patient.

She confronts him and he fesses up. He had a younger brother. He killed his younger brother, fairly gruesomely. His parents dumped a bunch of money on the local mental hospital and he’s been living a cushy life there learning French and playing piano and writing fantasy letters to his minor niece and imagining fucking her. He’s been dealing with the head housekeeper, who was giving him India’s shoe size and stashing the gifts and keeping tabs on her and reporting on her to Charlie… and one might ask WHY she did this, what was her motivation, was Charlie paying her and if so where did he get the money, and how did India’s parents, who were receiving the letters, deal with this? How did they not figure out someone in their employ was a super fucking creeper? Charlie gives India a pair of Laboutins, red soles and all, her first pair of high heels.

It’s symbolism, you know. She sticks her dainty feet in those high heels just like he wants to stick his dick in her. She trades her childish saddleshoes for the sexy high heels her uncle gives her. She puts away her childish things.

She decides she’s going to take off with Charlie. Her mom spills bile across her, speaks words of rage and anger and jealousy. Of course.

Charlie tries to rape her mom.

India shoots Charlie.

IT TURNS OUT: her father took her hunting so often so she’d know how to handle a gun so she could shoot Charlie. Because that’s the best way for him to protect her. Not to tell her about Charlie. Not to get Charlie committed some place (he apparently was just hanging out in the asylum because he wanted to and was free to leave at any time). Not to actually deal with the problem. Just teach her how to shoot a gun.

She’s figured out that Charlie killed her father, bashed his head in with a rock, and made it look like a car accident… something nobody questioned. Nobody at all. Because getting your head bashed in with a rock looks exactly like a car crash, and nobody questioned that daddy dearest picked up his insane murderous brother from the mental institute before having his “accident” and brother was nowhere to be found.

She buries Charlie in the backyard.

She doesn’t go to the cops. She doesn’t show them the letters, the photos. She doesn’t tell them that Charlie killed her dad, the house keeper, her grandma, the boy. She doesn’t pin all the blame on him, claim she was terrified for her life, escape scot free.

No. She gets Charlie’s wallet which has money and keys and a map to his pre-paid for one year apartment in New York and speeds away. She gets pulled over and inexplicably, for no reason, murders the Sheriff who pulls her over.

Just because.

Bitches, man.

The only thing in this movie’s defense is that it’s pretty. There’s a scene where blood sprays across a flower, changing its color, and its elegant and beautiful. But everything else about this movie is crap unless you firmly believe that women are vague ciphers who flip out and do murder at no provocation and incest is totes normal and cool PS let’s have some more guilty murderbation in the shower.

I’m trying really hard to figure out why so many people like this movie and I just can’t. It enraged me. It’s all about a girl, a girl barely 18, being preyed upon by her uncle and ignored by almost all the other adults in her life. She doesn’t tell anyone that bad things are happening. There’s hardly any HER there. She has very little personality, very little that defines her. She barely exists, except as a thing for men to prey on, and then to “snap” and murder men. She’s a barely fleshed out male fantasy/fear: the docile naive sex-toy who, it turns out, has teeth. I’m surprised she didn’t castrate anyone.

I originally started a 1-5 star system for these movies. I would give this movie negative stars if I could. This movie is so awful that I went back and bumped up the ratings of other movies because, while they had their flaws, at least they weren’t THIS movie.

I’m really tired of movies, horror or not, that hold women in such contempt.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

“Gothika” is a paranormal horror film about women being assumed liars.

Dr. Miranda Grey, played by Halle Berry, works at a rambling beautiful but fairly decrepit mental hospital. Its secure wards feature electronic locks (with, apparently, no manual locks as back up) despite the fact that building’s wiring is faulty and they lose power several times a week. Dr. Grey is successful in her career and in her love life, happily married to another doctor– the hospital director. After driving home one stormy night, however, she wakes up in a cell of the hospital she works at, under the care of a former co-worker. To Grey’s horror, she’s told that she’s the prime (only) suspect in the brutal, horrific murder of her husband. Grey insists she didn’t do it, although all evidence points directly to her. Her claims are dismissed just as the claims of Chloe, a patient alleging that someone has been coming into her cell to rape her, are dismissed. Nobody seems to care that she has no motive. Other than her lawyer, everyone in control of the situation is a white man.

There’s ethical questions about Grey’s situation. She’s in the care of a co-worker whose romantic overtures she rejected. That seems a pretty big conflict of interest. She’s at the hospital she worked at, in the company of patients she used to have control over and is now at the mercy of should they desire revenge or some sort. Providing day to day care are nurses and security guards she’s interacted with every day, so hopefully none of them have an axe to grind with their former boss. The detective investigating her husband’s murder was his best friend, and already convinced she’s guilty.

In this horrific situation, Grey starts seeing ghostly activity, causing her to doubt her mental stability. Then the ghost physically lets her out of her cell, and she witnesses another person in Chloe’s cell, raping her, matching the description Chloe previously gave Grey when she was Chloe’s doctor. She starts to realize there’s a lot more going on than she thought… and to suspect that a ghost possessed her and used her body to murder her husband. But why?

Grey stages a daring escape that includes one of the best hiding places I’ve seen in a movie, and hinges on a sympathetic security guard aiding her. She checks out her home, and the property her husband and his best friend were fixing up. There, she discovers a secret about her husband that explains why a ghost would want to take him out.

It’s a pretty tight movie. I’d heard overwhelmingly negative things about it, but found the story and acting pretty top notch. At its heart, this is more than just a ghost story. Dr Grey and Chloe are both women of color who are in prison and believed to be crazy and/or lying. Their claims are utterly dismissed, even when one of them (rape in a prison) is depressingly common. Men in a position of power prey on women, and trust that their privilege will protect them, will keep other people in positions of power from believing the women they prey upon. The vengeful ghost is a woman who was disbelieved. People, including her father, found it more plausible that she’d run away and killed herself than been murdered, even though she’d shown no sign of suicidal ideation previously.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.

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“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” features a few moments of terror and slick CGI which are lost in a sea of loose ends and gratuitous mythology.

Clary Fray, a teenager living in New York with her artist mom, starts absently drawing a mysterious symbol over and over and over. What could it mean? Is she going crazy, or is she simply the long lost daughter of half-angel demon hunters, her mysterious and secret past kept hidden from her in an attempt to protect her that goes awry and actually puts her in greater danger? As Clary hangs out with a young man who moons over her (and, inevitably, becomes ENRAGED when she kisses someone else, even though he’s never asked her out or expressed overt interest in her) she notices Mysterious And Scary Things happening around her…. Things Nobody Else Can See! She comes home to a trashed, mom-less apartment, and there’s some legit scary scenes with a shape shifting demon dog that owes a bit of its character design to Marvel Comic’s “Venom.” Thus launched into the thick of the adventure, Clary hooks up with other half-angel demon hunters, meets some werewolves, finds out Johann Sebastien Bach was a demon hunter and that there’s weapons caches under Christian church alters, hangs out at a secret citadel, and makes out with her brother. There’s demons and werewolves and vampires and secret portals and magic and tarot cards and it just comes and comes and comes and doesn’t stop, with no much actual story (other than “find the macguffin/keep the macguffin safe”) holdings things together.

There’s a lot of teens in leather pants, though.

I am a sucker for vampires, full stop. They are absolutely one of my favorite things. I’m also interested in demons, angels, angel-human (and demon-human) hybrids, girls who have to save the world, werewolves, hotties in leather pants, and mystical tattoos/runes that grant magical powers. In theory this movie should have been a big hit. But it’s not, it’s just kind of boring. A trimmer cast, more focused story, and less vague side-quests would have helped quite a bit. Eliminating the “we’re just friends lol whoops no I loved you all this time you owe me” character– or making him not romantically interested in Clary/not a tedious jackass– would have helped also.

I classed this as horror because there’s demons and vampires and shit, and early on when Clary’s fighting the apparently unkillable demon dog that keeps shifting and oozing? That was horrific. But the movie can’t sustain that horror or tension so whoops.

I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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“Beautiful Creatures” is a grindingly mediocre movie about magic users, True Love, and the South.

The narrator is Ethan, a football player who loves poetry and books and is all sensitive and stuff like that. His mom’s dead and his dad is completely absent throughout the movie. His surrogate parent is played by Viola Davis, the small town’s librarian and apparently the only Black person (or at least the only one with a speaking role) in the film. (In the book the movie’s based on her character is a house keeper/nanny instead of a librarian. In both versions she’s essentially The Magic Negro: a Black character alone in a sea of white faces who pops up to provide advice, comfort, and answers and then disappears again. She’s a tool, not a character.) His small town life is shaken up when Lena Duschannes starts at his school. All the girls in his class start spreading rumors that she’s a Satan-worshipper, because they are catty bitches, like pretty much every girl everywhere except for Lena who is totally cool and reads Bukowski and is basically a cool dude with tits. Ethan’s been having recurring dreams about a chick who looks just like Lena, because Fate and True Love and blah blah scriptcakes.

They get together, of course, and Lena reveals that she’s a “caster” (IE a witch but don’t use that word it’s an INSULT U GUIS) and so forbidden to fall in love, so I guess all baby casters are the result of one night stands or something. Also, casters are either totally dark (evil) or light (good) and there’s no way of influencing yourself what you are, and it’s totes cool to be a dark male caster but if you’re a dark female caster it’s really super bad so Lena’s in a bit of a pickle because oh noes what if she’s dark!!!!!! Her mother is a huge evil megabitch dark caster and her sister/cousin (I’m not sure which) is a slutty mcslutterson dark caster and her uncle, who she’s staying with, is a dark caster but he’s acting like a light caster to try and help her be light because even though you can’t chose if you’re dark or light apparently her uncle can make that choice.

As it turns out, Lena’s role as dark caster or light caster will something something affect something or other, which is why her uncle Macon and her super evil mom Serafina are both trying to influence her to be dark or light. For some reason. Macon lives in a creepy gothic-y mansion that inside is decorated like something out of, I don’t know, 1980s California only tackier. Most of the adult women wear costumes apparently inspired by “Hocus Pocus.”

This movie raises a lot of questions. Like, if you honestly think someone’s a Satan-worshipping witch, do you really want to antagonize that person/that person’s incredibly wealthy family? Why would a dark caster who apparently can’t chose if he’s dark or light suddenly be able to act like a light caster and influence a young caster to be a light caster? Is this movie reinforcing sexual stereotypes (women tend to be “dark” casters, which means they are irrational, manipulative, sexual, “bitchy,” have strong emotions) or questioning them? Is there a reason women are pitted against women in this movie (Lena’s evil mom is jealous of her daughter’s youth, beauty, power, and hot boyfriend) other than lazy cliche? Is there a reason Macon is the patriarch of a family made up almost entirely of women, including his mom (who, one would think, would have seniority over him)? Is there a reason every single mother is dead or evil and every single father is entirely absent? Is it really a good idea to teach women that men only scream at and berate women because they care about those women? Can we have a movie that isn’t secretly about white man pain like ever?

I originally rated this movie 1 out of 5 stars, then watched a movie so bad it made me go back and rate other movies higher. So I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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“Mama” was a movie I saw promos for and got really excited about, but wasn’t able to see in theaters… partly because of child care issues (IRONIC), and partly because my husband isn’t a huge horror fan so it wasn’t at the top of our see-together-list. In retrospect, I wish I’d gotten the chance to see it on the big screen. But when it aired on HBO, I jumped at the chance to DVR it and watched it as soon as I could.

“Mama” is co-written and directed by Andrés Muschietti, based on his earlier short film called “Mama.” Guillermo del Toro served as exeuctive producer, a very good fit. “Mama,” like much of del Toro’s work, is deeply and unsettlingly creepy in the ways that the best fairy tales are unsettling and creepy.

The original film is a neat little confection of horror, short and to the point.

“Mama” the character is portrayed by Javier Botet, an actor with Marfan Syndrome, who uses his physicality and contortion ability to portray creepies in horror films. A big part of what makes Mama so very creepy is the human body behind the CGI.

If you don’t mind spoilers, or haven’t seen the movie in a while and want a refresher, here’s a collection of all the sightings of Mama– many of which I missed because I watched the film in a sun-flooded living room in the middle of the day.

“Mama” is a horror fairy tale about two little girls (Victoria and Lilly) taken into the woods by their father and left there. In this particular case he’s left them there because he’s killed their mother, after escaping some financial misdealings, and fled with them. A car crash sends them into the forest, where the little broken and bloody family comes across a seemingly abandoned house. Father urges his light-haired moppets inside but the older of the two– who’s lost her glasses– hangs back, convinced somebody’s inside. As usual, the instincts of a child are dead on, and whatever’s in the house kills murderous daddy and raises the children as its own.

Later on, due to ceaseless searching on behalf of their artist uncle Lucas (who pays someone else to search, not searching himself), the girls are found and brought to a hospital for evaluation. The doctor is pretty convinced that the older girl can be re-integrated into human society, but the younger one has almost no language and walks on four limbs instead of her feet. They sleep under the beds, they growl and snap, and they draw on the walls. When she gets her glasses back, however, the older sister recognizes her uncle, mistaking him at first for her father.

Uncle and his rock-star girlfriend Annabel gain custody of the children and are moved into an isolated mansion in the woods. The girls’ maternal aunt wants custody, but Uncle is willing to make deals with the doctor to allow him continued access to the kids, so they win. Not even pre-teens, and these girls are already marked by theft, fraud, murder, and shady ethical dealings. Girlfriend is reluctant to take on the (admittedly enormous) responsibility of co-parenting not just two young kids, but two young traumatized kids, one of whom is feral. She is adamant about not wanting to be a mother, about not wanting kids. But when her boyfriend needs her she bucks up and supports him.

Even when it means abandoning her career, her friends/social support, and her own family for life in a creepy house in the creepy woods with her boyfriend’s creepy kids. And then: Mama.

I was deeply worried that “Mama” would end like “The Orphanage” ends, with blame on the part of the mom for not being mom enough. Annabel, however, carves out her own place with the girls, her own relationship with them. And while it’s not quite enough, she isn’t punished for her failings, real or imagined.

Overall, I found it a satisfying movie. The characters are well developed; Mama is creepy and grotesque and tragic; the little girls are tremendous actors; the cinematography is beautiful and the settings are haunting. The ending doesn’t hold together as well as I’d like, because it’s not a good ending. There is no realistic way that Lucas and Annabel would be allowed to retain custody of Victoria, and most likely they would be accused of (and convicted of) murder themselves. The older I get, the more I want endings that aren’t tragic. They don’t have to be all sunsets and rainbows, but a bit of hope would be nice.

The film has some interesting things to say about parenting (we don’t know anything about bio-mom; bio-dad killed bio-mom after stealing a bunch of money from people; uncle Lucas spends money (inherited from his brother’s estate) but not his own time or effort looking for the kids; Annabel (who isn’t related by blood or marriage to the girls) spends time and effort caring for and nurturing the kids; Mama takes on raising the girls after her own child’s death. There’s also a look at abuse dynamics, I think. Mama’s love is smothering and harmful. She hurts other people and controls the girls, ignoring their desires and needs. Victoria, a child, is put in the position of trying to protect her younger sister and the adults in her life from Mama. Parents, adults, are supposed to protect kids from the monster under the bed. But Victoria, a child, has to protect her adults and younger sister from Mama. Mama selfishly tries to strip Victoria from the people who love her and who she loves, and in the end takes Lilly down with her.

Horror movies are at their best when they move beyond simply presenting something scary/creepy/other and when they include something a little deeper. Little kids, abandoned buildings, isolation, forced adoption, forced motherhood: these are all creepy things. But what do these things, and our attitudes toward them, say about us and our society? What is the line between love and obsession?

I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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I felt a little let down by the novella and novelette categories, that the offerings were a mixed bag– something that other people I know have agreed with and said is how the Hugos often are. Which shouldn’t be surprising, really, as there’s a wide variety of tastes and preferences and they’re called “The Hugo Awards” and not “The Brigid Awards,” so I shouldn’t expect to love everything on offer.

And then I hit the short story category and three of the four stories deeply affected me and made me cry and the fourth was just eh. Not for me. If I could nominate three of those short stories for first place then I would. It’s a painful decision, and that’s super great.

Before I talk about the stories, I’m going to tell you something ridiculous.

I read two of the stories, couldn’t find the third I wanted to read, and then started reading “A Stranger In Olondria.” “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is a really long short story. Huh. This sure is slow to start. My goodness, this is pretty long for a short story.” Then, uh, I realized I’d started reading A NOVEL and not A SHORT STORY. So I stopped (which was hard, actually, looking forward to picking it up again) to read the very excellent short story by the same author.

The Ink Readers of Doi Saket, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, is a story set in Thailand about Thai people and culture and Buddhism, written by a white man from the Netherlands. It reminded me very much of “The Milagro Beanfield War”: both works are very earnest, but also condescending and exotifying toward the people/cultures they are about.

Selkie Stories Are For Losers, by Sofia Samatar, is a fantastic story about loss and love. It’s a coming of age story, and it’s a story about stories. The protagonist is still reeling from the sudden loss of her mother (who may or may not be a Selkie; she may or may not have accidentally returned her mother’s skin while looking for something else) when she meets, befriends, (and falls in love with) a young woman whose mother has tried to kill herself several times and who has basically checked out of life. They are both motherless, in their own way. They are both creating their own homes, their own families, or trying to, in their own way. It’s a beautiful and deftly written book, full of longing and bitterness and sorrow and hope and fear and love, so much love. And I really love Selkies and Selkie stories. And the fact I didn’t rate this story higher speaks volumes about the quality of the short stories on this ballot.

If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love, by Rachel Swirsky, is an incredibly powerful short story about love and hate and destruction and hope and which lives are considered important. I think a lot of people are put off by the opening cadence of the story, which is a bit like a children’s story (notably, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” but it reminded me of some other kid stuff I’ve read to my own kid) but that stylistic choice is very important one that gives the story a lot of its power. This is very much a social justice/social commentary piece (as, in my opinion, the BEST Science Fiction is), and it is utterly devastating. I highly recommend it, but have some tissues or a sleeve or something handy. (For some reason, this wasn’t included in the voter packet I downloaded. I’m very glad I sought it out and was able to find it online.)

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, by John Chu, is a stunning bit of character-driven fiction that revolves around personal relationships that are hampered by the odd fact that, suddenly and for no reason, cold water started falling out of nowhere on people when they lie. It ranges from a clammy mist, to a drizzle, to a torrential downpour depending on the severity of the lie. It’s greatly impacted the very private and closed off Matt, who loves his boyfriend and loves his traditional Chinese parents and sister, and is terrified of letting any of them down. Matt has to come to terms with what he wants, and what he needs… and he has to learn how to open himself up to his boyfriend and to his parents and let them in. The cold water falling down is a fantastic narrative device, something that has utterly fundamentally changed the world without changing human nature, something that reveals Matt’s lies to himself… as well as his truths.

It was SO HARD deciding how to rank these stories, and I’m SO HAPPY that’s the case. I utterly adored Samatar’s short (and have really been enjoying her longer work). She manages to capture characters and their world so very well. I’d like to read more about those girls. Swirsky’s short is absolutely heart breaking, wrenching, so sad and so beautiful, and so wonderfully written. But Chu’s piece? It’s so very human, and so hopeful in the end.

I want to say a special thank you to Chu for managing to break the streak of male mediocrity in this year’s ballot. What a powerhouse of a story.

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The 2014 Hugo Ballot has five novellas: three by men, one by a woman, and one by a man and woman team. I’m going to review them from least-liked to most-liked.

The Butcher of Khardov, by Dan Wells, is a tie-in to the Warmachine game franchise and was poorly written enough that I didn’t finish reading it. I found myself describing the reading experience as “slogging” so I just stopped. If I were a Warmachine fan, my feelings might well be different, but probably not: this is an incredibly genretastic OMGMANPAIN story with very little that sets it apart. The writing isn’t that good, either, and the fake Russian-esque stuff irritated me (they have a powerful clear liquor called vyatka which is totes different from vodka u guis no really it is). I liked one scene early in the novella where it becomes clear that the protagonist is haunted by his dead wife, and dances with “her” (actually a huge axe) in an inn as people look on, horrified. It’s an intriguing scene, and gosh do I love ghost stories. But that scene is marred by the “you can tell I’m the good guy because I loudly object to a person insulting women, all men but me are abusive rapists” trope, and also by the protagonist going all ragey and murdering every single person in the inn for ~reasons~. After that it becomes pretty clear that ghostwife is your pretty basic idealized woman-on-a-pedestal who gets fridged for MAXIMUM MANPAIN. The negatives really outweighed the positives to this story, and I spent most of it feeling a little lost. If I were familiar (at all) with the game, I might have liked it more but, again, I didn’t think the writing was that great. And I’ve read ALL the “Vampire: The Masquerade” novel tie-ins. So trust me, I know from bad game novelizations.

The Chaplain’s Legacy, by Brad Torgersen, is a military genre piece about a chaplain’s assistant who accidentally averted human genocide after encountering an insect-like alien race. As a result of this, he was hella promoted. Now that the aliens are saying “nope nm we gonna kill u” he’s been called in to avert things again. As with Torgersen’s novelette, his military protagonist is anti-military-rank-and-protocal and has a folksy nickname and hooks up with a female character who exists primarily to motivate him, and makes really strained and unfunny sex “jokes.” Although an atheist, he adheres to some pretty stereotypical Judeo-Christian beliefs about sexual mores (if u dun love a grl u shdn’t slep w/her or its WORNG). The idea that an atheist is teaching an alien race about religion, and that he’s a spiritual inspiration to religious people, is a cool idea, but the writing is just so… blah. The characters remain shallow and uninteresting, overall. There’s a lot of “it’s in the script.” And Torgersen has a pretty anti-technology beef in the story that’s a little unrealistic. Namely, the alien race has been SO dependent on technology for SO LONG that they FORGOT they can FRAMBLE the KLURTZ!!!! Thankfully, there’s a HUMAN around to remind them of REAL LIFE and ACTUAL NATURE and INSTINCT. Oh gosh if ONLY those aliens didn’t have TECHNOLOGY preventing them from realizing how awesome faith is!!! There’s a few kernals of interesting ideas in here, but eh. Better than his novelette, but that’s damning him with faint praise. If you’re looking for military sf that reads like something written in the early 1960s, this might just be your bag.

Equoid, by Charles Stross, was a real mixed bag for me. There was stuff I really liked about it (unicorns as horrific creatures; a re-imagining of Lovecraft’s work) and stuff I didn’t like or didn’t think worked. One of the issues was that this Novella is part of a larger series, so I alternated between feeling kind of lost and feeling clumsily info-dumped. It’s not the only piece that was part of a larger series, and I wonder if the Hugos shouldn’t have a category that’s specifically for pieces of larger works. Another issue is that the story tries to be wacky humorous, like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchet, kind of off beat and wry and whimsical, and it feels forced and often falls flat… especially in contrast to the very visceral horror. It’s not a good mix. But there were two things that bothered me the most. The first is the idea that racism, virulent BNP racism, is an external thing pushed upon humans by evil, malevolent outside forces. Look. People who are racist aren’t monsters. They are human beings. Insisting that the only reason humans act in racist ways is because of horrific external influences just… it’s shitty. The second thing I really didn’t enjoy, that left me very uncomfortable, is the incredible and sexualized violence inflicted upon women in the story. Yes, yes, it’s spinning off of unicorn mythos in which (female) virgins play a big role. But I am left utterly cold when a teen aged woman is literally being eaten alive from the inside out and a male character talks about how turned on it leaves him despite the terror of it, and is saved from inadvertently fucking her when he catches sight of the monstrous barbed tentacle her clitoris has turned into. Women– girls, really, ranging in age from 4 years old to teen aged– are mind controlled, tortured slowly, and killed in agonizing ways. A handful of men are eaten and one gets shot and killed, but it is not the same level of torture, and throughout the narrative we’re meant to empathize with the male protagonist and realize how utterly awful it is that the unicorns kill men. Not that they enslave, torture, and kill the women they use as bait. That’s just a thing that goes on, kind of in the background, oh isn’t it a shame. And it’s really frustrating for two reasons: 1) I’m tired of it. I’m just so, so tired of it. 2) I keep thinking about this story. For all its flaws, bits of it really sunk into me and I keep mulling it over in my head. And every time I do that, I also get the image of naked girls being consumed from the inside, alternately whispering for help with their own voices and tempting men closer with horrific shub-niggaruth voices. That’s how women exist in the novella, as sacrificial horrors. There’s also jabs at little girls who like unicorn stories because if there’s one group of people who isn’t mercilessly shat upon for liking stuff, it’s little girls, right? I think there’s enough here that I liked that I’d be willing to try more stuff by the author, but I’m really turned off by the way women (girls, actually. literally little girls.) are treated here. Stross has a novel up for voting as well, so I’ll sample that and see how it goes.

Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages, is a marvelous piece of American Magical Realism. Set in a very specific place over very specific time periods, the novella explores America’s history of racism (and to a degree, classism and sexism) and the concepts of invasive species, cryptozoology, and what it means to be human. The setting is described so well, so completely, that it feels familiar; the characters are wonderfully drawn and interesting; the story is an intriguing one. This well polished gem of a story was a very pleasant surprise. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started it, but it’s very engaging. I’ve read some comments that one needs to be familiar with the Tarzan mythos to understand the story. I’m noddingly acquainted with it, no more, and didn’t feel any lack… which was a nice change of pace from all the pieces on the ballot that are part of larger works. This is a pretty short review. It’s a good story, very solid and excellently crafted. I’ll be on the lookout for more pieces by the authors, whether working jointly or individually.

Six Gun Snow White, by Cat Valente, was the best of the novellas… but I should note that I’m already a fan of Valente’s work and also love retellings of fairy tales so I was doubly biased. This is an eloquent novella that mixes the structure and theme of both classic European fairy tales and non-European folk tales. The story is rooted very strongly in a specific time, and several specific places, locations sketched with such detail that they feel familiar. Valente does a marvelous job of capturing Snow White’s voice, and deals beautifully with thematic elements like racism, colonialism, sexism, and domestic abuse. These all sound like heavy topics, and they are, but Valente manages very deftly not to write OMG AN ~~ISSUES~~ novella. It’s just a story about a person who has a bunch of bullshit in her life, and handles it to the best of her ability. I saved the reading of this novella for last, as something to look forward to. However, again, if I could award first place to two works I would. This and “Wakulla Springs” were both fantastic.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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There were 5 nominations in the 2014 Hugo Novelette category, two by women and three by men. Two were strong stories, two were mediocre, and one went unread. I’m going to review them from least liked to most liked, and omit entirely the one I didn’t read because I can’t comment on something I didn’t read.

Of the novelettes I read, I liked The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen the least. Part of this is simply a genre thing: although I’ve read a lot of military SF (in part because that’s what was predominantly available in my small town library when I was younger) I’m not a huge fan of it. I’m familiar enough with it, though, that it really feels like this work (and his novella, another military SF thing) have the TRAPPINGS of military SF without an UNDERSTANDING of it. Like, he’s read a bunch of Heinlein and early 1960s era milsf and is imitating the genre in a lazy, shallow way. It’s got, you know, a military man who just super hates military command and rank and also he has an Eastern European last name that gosh darn but nobody can pronounce it so he gets a nickname, and there’s a female Marine who gets nicknamed “Chesty” but hey don’t worry it’s not because she has TITS and it’s a CONSTANT REMINDER THAT SHE HAS TITS lol no she’s nicknamed after famous marine Chesty Puller so just relax already her nickname isn’t sexually loaded reminder that she’s a woman with boobs! The antagonists are Evil Communist Chinese Hoards who are sneaky and inscrutable, and there’s a woman president who’s spoken of with scorn etc. The writing itself really needed a stronger editor. The story was mediocre, the characters weak and not really memorable or likeable. It feels really dated. This novelette did absolutely nothing new with the genre or the tropes it dragged out. I’ve read other reviews saying it’s not as good as his usual work, and his novella IS slightly better, but has a lot of the same flaws. In the piece’s defense, nobody spanks Chesty or tweaks her nose, but her character’s had all the depth and appeal of a floor lamp. The protagonist wasn’t much better filled out, though. If you’re a big fan of military SF you might like this more than I did, or you might just get angry at it. My youngest brother’s a Marine, I want to float both pieces past him and see what he thinks of them.

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, by Ted Chiang, has a promising premise but a flawed execution: a journalist in the near future sets out to write a well researched, nuanced piece about a popular piece of technology that many people are claiming will ruin humanity forever. Just as we in our time have smart phones and blogs and instagrams and twitter, people of his time have “lifelogs,” which are kind of like googleglass I guess. They record every aspect of their lives, and these recordings can be used in court. However, they’re difficult to search because there’s no tags or keywords or whatever, so you wind up doing a lot of scrolling. A company figures out a way to easily index and search lifelogs, and sells their product, making it a hell of a lot easier for users to replay exact experiences in full. The narration is interspersed with an account of a young man from a “primitive” tribe taught to read and write by a European missionary, and discusses how stuff we take for granted (like reading and writing) is technology that changed how we remember, see the world, interact, etc. There’s some really interesting ideas in the story, but there’s also some lazy writing, some florid writing, and I’m really tired of the trope of poor put upon suffering male hero has a flighty bitch ex-wife who abandoned him to “find herself” and she’s so horrible and such a bitch. Yes, it’s revealed in the book that the narrator is a real dickbag who rewrites his memories to make himself the long suffering victim (as all humans do) but still. There’s a lot of real fundamental laziness going on, and despite the interesting ideas presented, Chiang doesn’t do much with them. The narrator, and his daughter, remain ciphers. The story doesn’t seem very emotionally invested in them at all. I almost didn’t finish the story… there just didn’t seem a lot of POINT to it.

The Waiting Stars, by Aliette de Bodard is an absolutely incredible story about identity and family and colonialism. (If you click the link, it should take you to de Bodard’s website, where you can download the novelette or read it right there.) In the far future, there are sentient ships, born of women, in a strongly Vietnamese culture. The story follows two women: one is a Da Viet woman trying to reclaim a captured ship, who she considers her Great Aunt, from the “Outsiders” who have captured it; the other is an orphaned Da Viet woman who was “rescued” as a child along with a bunch of other girls and raised in an orphanage where she was “civilized” and given a European-sounding name and forced to forget her culture of origin (language, food, dress, religion, family, etc). I’ve noticed that the women writers on the Hugo Ballot ALL addressed race and/or gender issues, and “The Waiting Stars” tackles racism and transracial adoption and colonialism in a BIG but not heavy handed way. The writing is deft, lyrical, and powerful. The world and the characters and the politics are incredibly real feeling. The story left me wanting more: more of the characters, more of the world, more of the writing, more. I absolutely will be seeking out more by de Bodard, she’s a talent to watch.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, is the story of a now-elderly woman astronaut who was one of the first to travel to Mars and set up a colony there. (once again, click the link to read the story.) This is the first novelette in the packet I read, and it utterly floored me. I was thrown, at first, by the references to Dorthy Gale and Kansas, but moving past that, it’s a fantastic exploration of what would have happened if the USA had had a functioning space program that reached Mars in the early 1950s… and had included women in the program. Elma, married to her programmer love who hasn’t much longer to live, is desperate to fly again. She’s given the opportunity to do just that, but it would mean abandoning her husband to die without her present… and without any children to support him, as they decided not to have kids because of her astronaut career. It’s a beautiful and poignant story about regret and about hope, about inspiration, and about love and devotion. I’m not going to lie, it made me tear up… and it put Kowal very clearly on my reading radar. As with de Bodard, I’m absolutely going to keep an eye out for her work.

The last two novelettes reviewed were difficult. I love them both so much, but in different ways and for different things. If I could, I’d vote for them both to be number one, but failing that, I gave Kowal’s piece the #1 slot. If I’d read de Bodard’s first, to be perfectly honest, my ranking might have been different though.

I did not read the other novelette.

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The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker has some really helpful information when it comes to reminding people –primarily women– that paying attention to their gut instincts is good. However, de Becker is a bit of a proselytizer. He grew up in a violent family and managed to survive, and therefore everyone should do what he did and they’ll survive too. It’s frustrating that someone who grew up in a culture of domestic violence would posit that someone who gets hit by a family member/loved more than once is “a volunteer,” especially as on the same page he goes into details about how abusers are controlling including controlling finances, and how women who flee abusers frequently wind up murdered by their abusers. There was just this victim-blamey disconnect between the reality of domestic abuse and what de Becker’s ideal is (that people get smacked around once, have a sudden brilliant wake up, and then stalk out triumphantly never to be abused again). de Becker also buys into some shitty gender essentialism about women being more innately intuitive than men.

One of my favorite parts of the book involves addressing tools that Pick Up Artists use including “negging” (insulting a woman to keep her off balance and hope that she’ll want to prove the insult wrong IE “I bet you’re too proud to accept help” “but of course you’re too stuck up to have a drink with me” etc) and “loan sharking” (forcing a favor/debt on a woman so she owes you IE insisting on fetching/buying her a drink or insisting on carrying things for her). So there’s some really interesting and useful info in here, but there’s also some personal baggage of de Becker’s and some sexist malarky to wade through as well.


Mirrored from Thoughtful Consumption.

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

Like most people, I was leery of the idea of “The Hobbit” being split into 3 movies. Of the four Middle Earth novels, it’s the shortest and simplest (not saying it’s simplistic or anything, just the simplest). The other three novels got a movie each, why split “The Hobbit” up so much?

Part of this is because a LOT of material was left out of the LotR movies, and part of this is because the movie of “The Hobbit” has extra material that Tolkien wrote about Middle Earth.

I could tell when the additional material was inserted. It felt like someone pried apart moments in the text and jammed the new material in. I don’t know if someone who wasn’t as familiar with “The Hobbit” would notice, though. I also thought every fight scene could be at the very least halved, if not reduced by 2/3s.

I really liked the songs in the movie. I know some people hate them and mock them, but I really loved them and I wonder if the people who disliked them aren’t as familiar with the source material. Songs and poems are pretty big deals in the books, but aren’t really a common feature of most current movies except as background music or montage music. But listening to the Dwarves singing in Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit Hole threw me right back to childhood and my mom reading the book to me, singing the songs.

Gandalf is a different Gandalf than in the LotR movies. He’s shiftier, dirtier, less imposing, with less renown. It’s easy to dismiss him as some weirdo human in a funky hat, with his wandering ways and filthy fingernails. Saruman pops up and mansplains… wizardsplains?… stuff, dismissing the ominous portents Gandalf is piecing together. And they ARE ominous, a lovely and creepy fortelling of what will take place during LotR. It’s a great, low key performance where he seems all rational and wise, but his eyes are shifty and of course we know better.

Andy Serkis as Gollum was, of course, incredible. I was a little disappointed that some of the Riddle Game was cut but I think only hard core Tolkien fans will even notice, let alone care. And Martin Freeman, of course, was excellent as Bilbo Baggins. I was a little worried I’d only be able to see him as John Watson, but he became Bilbo very thoroughly (and fussily).

I do want to note that as was the case with the LotR movies, the cast is inordinately white. Yes, Tolkien was writing about the coal miners and weavers that he knew in the English Countryside when he crafted his novels, but in the year 2012 there is no reason for everyone to be white. Couldn’t there be Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves portrayed by actors who were Black, Asian, Hispanic, or (especially given the filming location) Maori? It’s lazy and cowardly casting to rely solely on white actors. Additionally, the Big Bad is entirely white. In the source material, he isn’t described. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was painted white to try and avoid a repeat of allegations that plagued the LotR movies, about the bad guys being too reminiscent of Africans (dark skin, dredlocks, face and body paint), especially as he was marked with ritual scarring.

Also, we saw the 2D normal FPS version, and I and the two people I saw it with both felt that some scenes, especially when the camera was moving quickly, was blurry. Not motion-blurry but weirdly out of focus blurry.

In all, though, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next two movies. While I don’t think I’ll see this movie again in the theater, unless it’s at a cheap 2nd run place, we’re ultimately going to add it to our LotR collection.

And now I’m going to compose fanfic in my head of Bilbo Baggins in a frumpy sweater holding a pot of jam and blogging about Sauron, the World’s Only Consulting Dragon. BRB.

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Let me get this out of the way before I say anything else.

If your objection to a book is OH GOSH THERE ARE HOMOSEXUAL PEOPLE  AND THEY ARE TREATED AS HUMAN BEINGS then I don’t want to know you. If you think including gay couples and persons of color in a book is “political correctness run amuck,” then you’re welcome to find the door. Not surprisingly, most negative reviews of “Everywhere Babies” by Susan Meyers, which portrays families that are not composed entirely of apparently white apparently straight people, pick just that to complain about.

“Everywhere Babies” is a rhyming book about babies. The text is gentle and lively and the babies are adorable and do a lot of different things (walk, run, eat, sleep, smile, cry). My 2.5 year old loves this book. He likes the text, he likes the rhythms of it, and he LOVES the babies. He identifies some of the babies (fat babies versus thin babies, for example; crying babies versus happy babies), he narrates what the babies are doing, he makes up stories about the babies. It’s a pretty solid hit with him, something he requests re-reads of.

As mentioned– as, I think, it’s known for– the book depicts same-sex couples parenting babies/children as well as just walking around, and there are black-looking babies, Hispanic-looking babies, Asian-looking babies, etc. along with the white-looking babies. There are also what appear to be mixed-race families. So if that’s something you’re looking for in a book, this one has it, and not in an OBVIOUS way. It’s not “Heather Has A Black Mommy And A White Daddy,” it’s not the SUBJECT of the book, it’s just there. Not commented on. Treated as normal. Another thing treated as normal is the idea that male-appearing people will do child care duties without female-appearing people around. It’s not all mommies and babies. There’s a lot of dads and grandpas taking babies on walks, feeding them, etc. So there’s a hearty dose of gender balance as well, which I haven’t seen touched on as much in reviews (except, again, someone complaining on amazon that OH MY GOSH BABIES NEED THEIR MOMMIES and shouldn’t leave the house before they’re a full year old. Say it with me. WHAT.)

In summary, it’s a good solid book with well written text, a high readability level, and lush artwork. We checked this out of the library but I’d rate it as a “buy” quality book, and one I’d give to other babies as a gift.

Mirrored from Thoughtful Consumption.

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Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is advertised as a zombie novel. But it’s not about zombies, not really. I mean, there are people who died who become animated again, who imitate life, but the book isn’t really about them. And they aren’t the zombies popularly portrayed in media. They don’t hunger for brains, for instance.

The book opens with a bit about the weather. It’s been unusually hot in Sweden. Everyone has headaches. And then the electricity goes on and stays on, all appliances coming to life (so to speak), unable to be turned off. There’s a fantastic bit where a character is running, and his cellphone’s battery gains an extra bar of power as the battery refuels itself without being connected to anything. The weather breaks, the headaches ease off, and the dead start coming back to life.

Well. They animate. They imitate life. But they aren’t alive.

Handling the Undead isn’t really a story about zombies. It’s a story about death and dying and grief, about the human condition and souls, about letting go and moving on. It follows 3.5 story lines: David and his young son and the death of his wife Eva, the love of his life; Gustav Mahler and his daughter and dead grandson; Psychic grandmother and -daughter Elvy and Flora (whose storyline involves them separating then reuniting, hence 3.5 story lines). The book starts off with a bang and keeps the pace up consistently until the end, when it slows down and becomes more contemplative. It’s an emotionally difficult book to read, diving deep into emotionally troubling waters. The characters go through events that are both unusual and specific to them (I mean, there are ‘reliving,’ the formerly dead walking around, that is not an everyday occurrence) but also universal. Death. Loss. Pain. I cried several times while reading this book, and then kept going.

I highly recommend this book. It’s not at all the standard gory zombie fare, and most of the bits I as a reader flinched from were emotional bits, not visceral ones. There’s horror elements in it, well crafted, but it’s primarily an emotional journey, and a very well written one at that.

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I’m re-reading my Big Book of Jane Austen and wondering, yet again, why some people continue portraying her work as romantic.

I mean, sure, they involve matrimony and at the end of the story there’s a marriage and not a funeral, so technically they are romances and not tragedies, but still.

Most of the established marriages are pretty awful, formed of people who barely tolerate each other at best and despise each other at worst. New relationships are entered into with negotiation, almost as business partnerships, even when actual affection is involved. And when a potential spouse who has objected to a match based on social standing relents, it’s not because passion has swept him/her away. Rather, it’s because he/she found out something further about the potential spouse like their family isn’t as unrelentingly tediously awful as first thought and there are some Members Of Quality present. For instance, Elizabeth Bennet and her atrocious family (except for sweet, naive Jane) but wait, she has the civilized lawyer uncle and aunt.

A lot of modern readers (and, let’s face it, viewers of dramatic versions of the books) forget or never knew that a good marriage was an upper class woman’s job. If she failed at it, she (or the daughters she misaligned) could face poverty or abuse with little alternative save returning home to live with her parents. If you’ve ever read Vanity Fair you’ve seen what Amelia Sedley– a woman with a very high class education and wealthy background– is reduced to in order to survive. (spoiler: she has absolutely no marketable skills and mostly goes hungry, surviving on handouts from relatives)

Austen’s heroines are women with very little options trying to make the best future for themselves they can. Maybe, like Marianne, they narrowly escape being “ruined” (spoiler: “seduced” (possibly raped), impregnated, and abandoned therefore to be hidden away because of The Shame) by A Cad only to find a decent marriage to a man literally old enough to be their fathers; maybe, like Jane Bennet, they luck out and have a few small difficulties before snagging a congenial easily-pushed-around wealthy dude with bitchy, unpleasant sisters;maybe they’re rescued out of grinding poverty (and a very close knit and loving family) to live among people who treat them like unwanted and threatening time bombs waiting to go off, only to find a love alliance with a cousin after all (but have spent over a decade being treated like crap by the rest of the family). She writes with humor and there are comedic elements and, yes, the novels have a Happy End. But there’s a grim undertone of desperation under the social skewering and witty banter.

If these women fail at catching a good husband, they are fucked.

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The Witches of Eastwick, by John Updike, is a pretty sexist book. Let me sum it up for you:

      *There are women! And they are witches! Also: they are whores! They have a lot of sex. WITH OTHER WOMENS’ MEN. Whores.
      *Also: they menstruate
      *Also: They get pregnant and lactate OH MY GOD IT’S SUCH A MIRACLE LET’S FETISHIZE IT and then also let’s talk about pee and how women apparently all have shy bladder syndrome all the time.
      *Women: They totally murder men. Just because. It’s what they do. They get bored of a dude and they kill him. Or suck the life out of him. You know. Whichever. Vampiric harpy witch women! GOD! They just prey on men! All the time! CONSTANTLY! When they aren’t having orgies, that is.
      *Women: Get them tipsy and in a hot tub and they totally lezz out at the drop of a hat.
      *Women: They can’t live without men and after they get dumped by a grotesque dude who is secretly gay (gay men! They’re the pits!) they will create men out of nothing and magic so they can be mated and happy again. Because a woman without a man is nothing!

The plot of the book goes like this:

There’s these women in New England who are petty, vindictive bitches. They are in a coven together. They are all widowed or divorced and man! Do they love to fuck! So they fuck the husbands of other women, taking on a maternal role in their lives, while hating those same wives. They hate them so! They are full of hate. And they are not above murdering these women, or driving the men to murder them. Just, you know, for larffs.

Anyway, one is a sculptor of crappy little vacation trinkets, one is a mediocre cellist, and one writes a gossip column for the local small town paper. They aren’t even good at what they do professionally. Also: they are really shitty, negligent mothers. This is mentioned. A lot. Shortly after hexing an elderly woman and causing her to fall over, which could have resulted in broken bones or death (she was boring! she deserved it! how dare she discuss gardening with a member of the gardening club who is also a petty, vindictive witch who is a bad mom and a whore??!!?), this really grotesque dude rolls into town. He’s hairy and drools and wears awful clothing and is incredibly rude.

The witches pretty much immediately start rubbing themselves all over him because… I guess… women just love cock that much? I don’t know. He kind of pits them against each other and he knows they’re witches and it just… none of it really makes sense. They wind up working together to kill this chick he ends up marrying (for her money, he’s a con artist) and he skips out in the night with her brother (because he’s gay. EW! gay. That’s so gross.) leaving the witches behind. Which is when they magic up men for themselves.

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I remember liking it. The women, you know, are powerful and don’t use that power JUST to put other women down. In the movie, if I’m remembering correctly, the dude is the devil and he tempts them to evil and then they’re all “dude! This is the devil! he’s evil!” and they take their power back for themselves. Also they all have babies, I don’t even know. WHATEVER HOLLYWOOD. But even saddling them all with devil babies is still a step up from this book which is just sexist and craptacular.

I had better hopes for this book. I could tell it was shitty from, like, the very first page. I kept reading it anyway, internets. For you. For yooooouuuuuuuu.

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If you are a fan of V. C. Andrews you should go away right now and not read this post, because you will just get angry and curse at me and pray for someone to push me down the stairs, which is what happens to mother figures and, as I have a child, I am a mother figure.

I finished reading My Sweet Audrina and it is basically the worst book I have ever finished reading. Reading it was like gaping open-mawed at an accident site. How bad could this be?, I’d ask myself. Surely she won’t… oh. Oh, she did. Oh, I… I see. Well then.

This is a very trope-y book, jammed full of a lot of V. C. Andrews’ themes like:

      Utterly terrible, selfish abusive INSANE (and I mean that clinically, not just as a disparaging word) parents!
      Who do everything they can to prevent the main character(s) from growing up!
      Selfish, lazy, spoiled mothers!
      Evil, greedy, bordering-on-sexually-exploiting-their-daughters but isn’t it cuuuuuuute fathers!
      Death by childbirth!
      Messy clotty complete miscarriages that take place in only a minute or two!
      Women are dirty whores! DIRTY WHORES I SAY!
      Men are pigs though. PIGS I SAY!
      Rape is hot. So totally hot. When a woman says no, she means “throw me down and rape me hard.” Possibly because she’s secretly a whore. WHORE!
      Everyone is breathtakingly beautiful. EVERYONE.
      Blond hair is totally fetishized, and people with dark hair are EVIL.
      What the fuck is going on here what is this I mean really.

My Sweet Audrina doesn’t seem to have any overt incest in it, although the father is REALLY REALLY REALLY concerned about his daughters’ sex lives and wants the aforementioned Audrina to LOVE ONLY HIM. ONLY HIM. EVER. SHE MUST LOVE HIM UNCONDITIONALLY, ALWAYS. That is healthy and normal, right? Also, it’s healthy and normal to dress a 9 year old girl in white silk underpants, right? For her birthday? TOTALLY, MAN. And her love interest as she gets older is worried that she’ll see him as a brother and not a lover. Oh, and her half-sister/cousin masturbates in front of her. Other than that: no incest.

Basically, when Audrina was 9 years old, she took a shortcut through the woods on her way home to her birthday party. Her half-sister/cousin Vera recruited a group of boys about her own age to gang rape her. Because, you know, this is a very common thing that happens to affluent White 9 year old girls, right? Her mom freaks out, scrubs her in the bath tub so hard her skin starts peeling off, and then her dad comes home and she runs up into the tallest room (well, cupola) in the house to throw herself out a window. 9 year old girls! They are just so overly dramatic and prone to suicide! They take Audrina in for ECT and then decide to take matters into their own hands. What do they do, one might ask!

Why, hypnotize her until she thinks she’s 7, tell her that she had an older sister also named Audrina who died mysteriously in the woods (and so she must never, ever go there), fuck with her time sense, have her age 2 years in the course of a few weeks so she thinks she’s 9 again, and change the subject any time she wonders why she can’t remember anything.


She ends up being BFFs with Arden, who totally was there when she was set upon and raped, and who ran off. Of COURSE he, being 11, has the hots for her, a 9 year old who was raped and then mentally fucked with (one might even say mentally raped!) by her parents/family. Again, TOTALLY RATIONAL. Also his mom has no legs.

Audrina’s dad beats her mom, beats her aunt, and beats her half-sister/cousin (she’s presented as a cousin, they pretend she’s Audrina’s sister to prevent tongues-a-waggin’ about her whorish mom who had her out of wedlock, but in a completely unsurprising twist it’s revealed that OMG she’s Audrina’s half sister DUN DUN DUN). Vera, the half-sister/cousin has brittle bones for some reason, and breaks them CONSTANTLY, usually while in another room near her dad. Nobody questions the constantly broken bones. Granted, the book is set in ~~THE PASTS~~ but seriously. Come on. Anyway, one of her legs is shorter than the other as a result of this, and she has a limp. This brings the Characters With Physical Deformities (But Who Are Still Incredibly Good Looking) to 2.

Audrina’s mom gets pregnant and dies in childbirth, and the resulting child is (of course!) incredibly gorgeous and is also “retarded” but apparently she’s faking just how delayed she is. Despite being told that she will never learn to feed herself, be potty trained, talk, etc. Audrina manages to teach her all these things to a degree because she is FULL OF LOVE.




Audrina and Arden date very chastely and get married when he graduates college and she braces herself and forces herself to let him fuck her and he has NO IDEA why someone who was raped (when she was 9) (who doesn’t realize she was raped, but internalized a lot of bad feelings about physical contact) would not want to have sex but SHE OWES HIM SEX and if she doesn’t sex him HE WILL LEAVE HER FOR VERA, who he totes doesn’t love but man, she sexes him up, and it’s not a PURE LOVE like he and Audrina have but SEX MAN HE NEEDS IT.

At one point she falls into a coma.

Every single mother figure she has dies/is killed (two of them by falling/being pushed down stairs).

She has some kind of psychic bond with her mentally and physically delayed sister.

Arden rapes has exciting sexy sex with her in the pouring rain in a muddy graveyard and that’s just so sexy, y’all! hooray! No means yes! When a woman’s sobbing and crying and beating at your chest and trying to claw your eyes out, that means MORE!

This book is just a train wreck.

It’s clunkily written and I swear, V. C. Andrews never actually had a conversation with anyone nor overheard people talking. There’s not so much dialogue as there is chunks of exposition shoved into peoples’ mouths. Characters, except for Billie (who drops her “g”s and gives down home folksy speeches about crap), have absolutely no voice. Not only are they interchangeable with each other, they sound exactly the same as other characters from other books.

The book SOUNDS promising, you know? There’s this girl! She had an older sister who died mysteriously! Her dad seems to want to remake her into the older sister, who he loved best of all! There is a big family mystery that nobody talks about! There are gaping holes in her memory! What is going on? But the mystery is hilariously awful, as are most big plot elements (Vera sneaks around pushing people down stairs like it’s going out of style, mainly) and the writing is just nowhere near good enough to save it.

I really wish this had been made into a movie.

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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Day 20 – Favorite kiss

Wow, do I totally not have one. I am, in general, uninterested in romantic elements in fiction.

Any great kissing scenes that will change my mind, that you can recommend?

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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Day 19 – Favorite book cover (bonus points for posting an image!)

"the changeover: a supernatural romance by margaret mahy"

The original cover toThe Changeover , by Margaret Mahy, is one that’s always grabbed me. Laura is not a conventionally attractive girl, nor is she entirely White. I mean, she’s not HIDEOUS, but it was clear in the text that she didn’t really fit in for a number of reasons. And here’s the book cover featuring her12, and she looks as described, and she’s got olive skin and dark curly hair and looks kind of tired and what’s with that coin? That looks interesting. Hm, let me just pick this book up and huh! wow! Witches? Really?

Margaret Mahy… gosh. I read so much of her stuff when I was younger. She’s an excellent writer.

  1. And note that her head is showing, she’s not a headless body, which is the current trend
  2. And note that her ethnicity hasn’t been whitewashed, which is the current trend

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book

Cricket magazine used to have a feature 1 where people submitted the first sentence of favorite books. Just the first sentence. It was so… intriguing! Tantalizing! I’d sit there and dream up really awesome first sentences, hooks that would lure people in.

I can’t really remember any specific favorite beginning scenes– or first lines– now, though. Sorry.

  1. They might still have this feature; I haven’t read Cricket in a very long time

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.)

I really, really enjoyed Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and once we’re settled where we’re going to live permanently1, and I have a bit of extra money, I’m going to start collecting all the volumes. They will require their own bookshelf. When I was younger, one of my goals was to get something published, and then have it reprinted in Year’s Best. I still haven’t been published, and Year’s Best is no longer active, sadly. I discovered a lot of new-to-me authors in the pages of those anthologies, both printed in the actual volumes and in the honorable mentions.

Datlow and Windling also edited several books of retold fairy tales: Snow White, Blood Red, Black Thorn, White Rose, Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears, Black Swan, White Raven, Silver Birch, Blood Moon, Black Heart, Ivory Bones. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of them, and own most of them. I dip into them time and again.

  1. Our current apartment, which is owned by Nesko’s family, is nice and I adore the neighborhood. However, there’s only one bathroom (barbaric!) and the school district kind of sucks. They do own a building a block away that has a slightly larger apartment with 2 bathrooms, so we might move there at some point, or we might move… I don’t even know. But this place, lovely as it is and homey as it feels, isn’t where we’re going to end up.

December 2015

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