It took a while to find any handy world food stores in this corner of the world, so I’ll record more mundane entries. Sugary mundane entries.
Russell Stover’s egg (banana cream): Good, would eat again.
Russell Stover’s egg (lemon with marshmallow): Oh my goodness I do like a good loaf of lemon cake, and the lemon shell here is good, but I think I’m just too old to appreciate the sugar density of marshmellow in any bulk. I’m distracted frpm the lemon by the internal marshmallow feel. Russell Stover, just put vanilla cream filling inside this variety next time, okay? Or double the thickness of the lemon shell.
Russell Stover’s egg (caramel-filled): It’s caramel-filled. It’s okay.
Russell Stover’s egg (white fudge pecan delight): It smells of white chocolate. It tastes really good too. Keep this one around.
Peanut butter Ding Dongs: They’re definitely Ding Dongs with peanut butter inside. If that’s your thing then this is your thing. I like Ding Dongs, and I like peanut butter, but the two don’t really synergize for me.
Minute Maid strawberry-kiwi lemonade: Worth the dollar, different and interesting, I’d drink it again if it were offered at a party, but I don’t expect to buy it again. It’s only 5% fruit juice and the flavor suffers somewhat as a result, but hey, sometimes you just want sugar water.
Jarritos mandarin flavor: I like the orange soda because it’s different, with a lemon-lime base lurking behind the orange. This is equal parts sweet and tart, which is also different from your standard sweet orange soda. I’m glad to have tried it, but I think I will buy the other one more often in the future. I just like it better.
Jarritos mango flavor: This smells like mango, and it tastes of mango strongly without being overpowering. What more do you want in fruit soda? Mango is however a very . . . specific flavor, and since I usually drink these with a fancy meal, I will probably buy this seldom. It’s great, but it could overpower the food.
Doppel keks: This was a limited-time thing at Aldi, imported from places where they don’t load up their sweets with sugar on top of sugar like in America. It’s good. The chocolate is chocolate, and the outsides are a little savory, a little on the dry side in a good way, and have enough flavor to be interesting on their own. It all works together, and I’d pick this up again if I saw it on the cheap.
Mama instant noodles, Tom Yum Pork flavor: basically ramen-style noodles with a bunch of flavor packets included. It hits the spot. Unfortunately it does have a lot of salt in it.
Fudge M&Ms: These are good. They’re big enough to get a proper taste of fudge out of each M&M, and it properly tastes like it’s at least in the vicinity of fudge. What more do you want?
Berry Lemonade Sunkist: No. I don’t understand why they thought anyone would like this. There’s a little sweetness, but it’s overlaid by so much spikiness and then the last half of the sip is chemicals. I don’t get any berry-osity out of this. I barely get a hint of a distant whisper of fake lemonade. It’s drinkable but unpleasant.
Well, it’s a little late for my annual Easter update. But this year, that’s not such a bad thing, because it means I can share a couple of news items that have happened since that most holy Sunday.
The first, as you may know, is that MST3K is coming back again! Joel has a Kickstarter going to launch an online service with new episodes and shorts, and we’re already over halfway to the final goal for twelve episodes plus twelve shorts. So that’s super-exciting!
Speaking of people who have arrived in the entertainment world, I now have an IMDB entry! I think I set a record for the nerdiest way to do it, too — by writing parodies of an online audio Star Trek fan production. The rabbit hole doesn’t go much deeper than that. I’m sure I’ve linked them before, but here is the show and my parody scripts are here.
In my personal life, my two sons are taking up more of my free time, so updates will continue to be on the sparse side. But I’ll keep cracking away at Doctor Who and possibly do something for the twentieth anniversary of Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. (I think that’s this year.) Thanks for reading and have a blessed 2021.
Love and monsters
Love and monsters
Go together like a horse and consters
So some bloke is running as if pursued through an empty field. With sad Season 1 music and British tumbleweeds blowing in the air, he comes to a blue police box. He examines it, but is distracted by Rose yelling in a nearby abandoned warehouse that has lots of TARDIS-blue doors. He investigates but can’t find anyone anywhere inside. Finally he reaches the other end and opens it, coming face to face with a walnut-headed alien iguanodon, wearing Serious Technology, that snarls in his face.
Cut to the bloke safe at home, evidently narrating the whole adventure into his camcorder or webcam. “Oh boy!” Oh boy, indeed.
Back to the iguanadon. The Doctor pops in and distracts the alien with raw meat, as if it were a pet dog. Tennant puts on a show again, casually leaning against the doorframe as he alternates cooing at the alien and yelling at the bloke to run. Rose comes charging in with a battle cry and throws a bucket on the alien. But it’s the wrong bucket and the alien just gets mad. And then the three actually Scooby-Doo their way back and forth across the hall, right in front of Bloke. But the Doctor notices that Bloke looks familiar and pauses. Bloke evidently decides he doesn’t want to be recognized and runs outside.
Back to the safe-at-home narration. Bloke teases us with hints of his story to come and introduces us to his camera girl, Ursula. We finally find out his name is Elton. I guess the producers are dumping their entire stock of ecch names in this episode. Three-year-old Elton Bloke went downstairs one night to find David Tennant glaring at him like Santa Claus with an unsatisfactory progress report. That’s all that grown-up Elton remembers.
The next time Elton had an alien encounter was during the first reboot episode, with the Autons. Then he recalls oh no. No please. Don’t do this. Uuuugh. Elton Webcam, you are officially my least favorite Elton. Elton teases the names of a few upcoming characters and mopes for dramatic effect. This particular narrator may suck suspense out of who’s going to live or die, but he’s milking the foreshadowing and the writers are having fun with it. They’re also using Elton to good effect with the pacing, as Elton breaks up the seriousness with ten seconds of dancing to ELO.
Anyway, Elton shrewdly guesses there’s more to a giant spaceship hanging over London than a mere giant spaceship hanging over London, and turns to the Internet for answers. He finds a picture of the man who invaded his house when he was three. This leads him to Ursula, who’s part of a group that has been putting together clues about the Doctor. The idea is similar to Rose meeting with Clive, but expanded. I like this, because it reinforces the idea that ordinary people have started to notice the Doctor showing up and saving the Earth again and again. This is the Information Age, after all. It’s interesting world-building.
So we montage our way through the group having their meetings. Mr. Skinner has a literary theory about the Doctor, while Bridget is more into the blue box. Bliss expresses herself through abstract sculpture. I’m genuinely concerned a new person will come in and inflict erotic fanfiction on us. That’s clearly what this is about, Doctor Who fandom translated into the show. Elton, with his investigative acronym he’s wanted to use for years, seems like the type who wants to dig into the lore to find a deeper meaning in it all. Anyway, the meetings turn into social events as time goes by, fun and friendship taking center stage away from the Doctor.
Then one day a dramatic man enters dramatically with his dramatic walking cane. His name is Victor Kennedy, and he promises help in their quest. His shiny laptop contains a shiny video recording of the Doctor and Rose entering the TARDIS. It’s back to business, with Victor having Torchwood files that he hands out as homework. And then they set up a classroom with actual school desks. Victor evidently represents a bossy, self-absorbed fan who commits hostile takeovers of communities. He isn’t satisfied to talk about the Doctor, he wants to “catch” him. He gets Bliss alone, does something scream-y to her and, when asked later, dismissively says she went off to get married.
Anyway, one day a blue box is reported and off they go. Thus, Alien Iguanadon. Elton was running toward something, not away, at the start of the episode. But he runs away from the Doctor now, and Victor is about to whale on him for failing in his mission when Ursula shows some steel and puts Victor in his place. Victor, true to type, notes her for a troublemaker.
Victor decides that tracking down Rose will be a better idea. Armed with some glamour shots and Elton’s recollection of a London accent, they take to the streets for a search against impossible odds, only for Elton to immediately find someone who recognizes Rose.
Elton sees Jackie and trails her into a laundromat. He prepares to use Victor’s spy training to ease Jackie into his confidence, only for the garrulous Jackie to do all the work for him. She hits on him for his number, and they even talk about Rose, but Jackie lets no incriminating details slip. Still, this is clearly the right Rose, and Victor congratulates Elton before dismissing everyone with homework so he can screamify Bridget.
Jackie keeps calling Elton over to fix her home up and finally puts a move on him. Elton accepts the challenge, only to walk in on her upset, close to tears worrying about Rose’s safety. Moved, he drops Rose and gets pizza to share as friends. But Jackie has found the picture of Rose in his coat, deduced he’s after the Doctor, and blows him off. She feels hardened by being the one left behind while others have adventures, and she doesn’t like it, but she’ll protect her daughter with her life. So that’s that.
A guilty Elton storms back and shouts Victor down, then hits Ursula up for a date. The two lovebirds storm out, but Victor keeps Mr. Skinner behind with the promise of Bridget’s phone number so he can screamify him. Ursula and Elton return for Ursula’s phone, only to find Victor stubbornly holding a newspaper between them and himself, with Mr. Skinner’s muffled voice begging for help. Those inhuman fingers holding the paper are worrisome too. Victor reveals his true form, a yellow-greenish humanoid with Mr. Skinner’s face sticking out of his abdomen. Bridget and Bliss are, ah, elsewhere on his body too. Victor declares that absorbing Jackie is a price he’s willing to pay to get to the Doctor. Apparently he gets the knowledge of people he absorbs. Victor dramatically absorbs Ursula and declares she tastes like chicken. Ursula’s face, which has mysteriously retained her glasses, tells Elton to run. Victor chases after, having rather too much fun doing so, and corners him.
But the TARDIS materializes, and Rose steps out to berate Elton for getting Jackie upset. Victor is pleased to see the Doctor. Rose wonders if he’s Slitheen but Victor says he spits on those losers. Point in his favour. He also says he’s from their twin planet, with the grandiose name of Clom. Har har. Victor puts the Doctor over a barrel by threatening to absorb Elton unless the Doctor surrenders. The Doctor calls his bluff, and the people already absorbed strain and pull until Victor drops his cane. Elton breaks it, and Victor and his absorbants dissolve. Rose sees that Elton is upset over Ursula and hugs him.
Finally, the Doctor explains what he was doing in Victor’s house so long ago: stopping a “living shadow” that had already killed Elton’s mother. Afterward, Elton sits at his computer and broods over salvation and damnation, and what price Rose and Jackie might eventually pay for being touched by the Doctor. And we find out that the Doctor was able to bring Ursula back as a face on a pavement tile, which is . . . nice? She and Elton seem to be happy together? Just didn’t need to broach their sex life, thank you, let the dirty minds think about that without sharing with the rest of us.
My impression is that “Love and Monsters” has a mixed reputation, at best, among fans. It’s understandable why. The alien is gross. The episode starts out light and silly, but then tries to get all philosophical at the end, and three of the characters don’t make it and a fourth winds up as just a helpless tile with a face. Some people don’t like mood whiplash, and it’s a difficult thing to pull off well in any case. Also that oral sex allusion is out of line. There’s the lack of suspense with the narrator. The fan stand-ins could have hit too close to home for some, especially Victor. A lot of this could have spectacularly fizzled.
But it works for me, aside from a couple of moments that got too silly, and yes, the sex life allusion. I think the silliness and seriousness are balanced well, and I was entertained all the way through. The fandom allegory thing isn’t pursued too far, and nobody’s actually mocked who doesn’t deserve it. Victor’s problem isn’t that he takes the Doctor seriously. It’s that he ruins others’ fun by demanding they all do things his way, without any concern for their well-being, and ultimately he’s just using them for his own malevolent ends. The Doctor only stopping the big bad because Rose wanted to yell at one of the victims is an amusing twist.
I found a couple of comprehensive Doctor Who rankings lists that both cite the ‘last five minutes’ as a reason to rank this episode way down in the 200s, and I guess that’s fair enough. However, they both list the Slitheen two-parter in the upper 100s despite all the bad logic and in-your-face flatulence humor in there, so obviously they can be disregarded.
Note that there are a couple of bits that are not part of the plot proper, but they have to be included as being necessary to the plot, if that makes sense. The first is what the Doctor is doing when Elton finds him in the opening. The second is the question of what the Doctor was doing in Elton’s childhood home. For these bits to succeed, they have to be worth their screentime without the viewer wishing the episode had been about them instead. So the warehouse is a goofy, self-contained action sequence. The second is answered by a very simple, very generic reason that would have felt like a letdown if not for Elton’s mother being killed. That gives the answer emotional weight, and gives Elton a sense of having gotten a satisfying closure to his adventure: an answer to why his mother is dead.
Rating: 3 gross absorbaloffs
Favorite dialogue: Elton: So it began. The impossible task. To scour the mean streets, to search a major capital city for an unknown girl. To hunt down that face in a seething metropolis of lost souls. To find that one girl in ten million.
Old lady: Oh, that’s Rose Tyler. She lives just down there. Bucknell House, number 48. Her mother’s Jackie Tyler. Nice family. [pause] Bit odd.
Whyyyy: Whyyyyy must this show keep bringing up the Slitheen two-parter whyyyyyyy
Well, I’d really thought I’d gotten more reading done this past year. A new baby and libraries being closed put a damper on things. But I’ve gotten deep into the Apocrypha and knocked a few titles off my “to read” bucket list, so progress has been made.
Burglars Can’t Be Choosers – Lawrence Block
This was on the library’s “please take me” cart, and I couldn’t resist the cover.
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a sharp, smooth-talking burglar who takes a job to steal an important blue box (not that one) from a mark’s apartment. Well, he can’t find the box, the police walk in shortly after, and when the occupant is found dead, it seems that Bernie’s been framed for murder!
He goes to ground in a friend’s apartment and hooks up, in several senses, with the cleaning girl as he tries to solve the mystery and clear his name. Well, clear it of murder, I mean.
This is a 1977 crime novel and the sleaze is accordingly muted enough to not get in the way while still being enough there to be worth putting in. The dialogue is slick, a few twists I saw coming and most I didn’t which is a good balance IMO, and it’s a fun, quick little read.
Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
Sophie Hatter is doomed, as the eldest of three daughters, to fail in any attempt to strike out and seek her own fortune, all the best fairy tales say so. So she resigns herself to a lifetime of making and selling hats in her stepmother’s haberdashery. Until a witch’s curse causes her to go on a journey that leads her to Howl’s moving castle and a meeting with the characters within. Sparks fly and magic is all over the place.
This makes for a wonderful movie, and it’s a wonderful little novel as well, told in charming prose. The movie takes out many subplots, adds several in, and alters quite a few plot twists, to the point that the two really are two different stories, in a good way.
A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603 – 1714 – Mark Kishlansky
Covers the Stuart period in a little over 300 pages. A couple of chapters survey the status of common people, and then the focus is mainly on royalty and a few other key figures as they drive history from the top down, through wars, Civil Wars, royal finances, executive and legislative meddling in each other’s branches, and a whole lot of Episcopal vs. Presbyterian vs. Quaker vs. high church vs. low church and everyone out to get the papists. The power balance in Ireland sloshes back and forth between new Protestants and old Protestants + Catholics. Scotland is rebellious but eventually gets brought into the Great Britain fold. And most of the City of London proper burns down because the mayor didn’t want to get sued.
This book is not strong on biographical details, which is understandable because of the focus on covering events and trends in such a small space. It’s stronger on following the events and who is impacting them. There was enough meat to the book to feel like I got a good basic grip on the period beyond just the surface.
As we occasionally talk about how hard it is to ‘bring democracy’ to parts of the world that aren’t used to it, this book is a reminder that England wasn’t ready for democracy just a few centuries ago. The monarchy is deposed, only for one new form of government after another to be tried and disposed of in short order before the island winds up heartily welcoming the return of the crown again. The big difference, as the last Stuart passes, is that finance is on a more modern footing and the new Great Britain now has a constitutional monarchy, with the legislature having greater powers to hold the king in check. And the Anglican church is the central religious authority that keeps the nation’s spiritual life from collapsing into chaos because people still can’t be trusted to have their own opinions about relatively small questions of faith.
The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton
A series of short stories about Father Brown, an unassuming man of the cloth who often finds himself in proximity to criminal activity. Brown is probably even lower on the “suitable to be a detective” scale than Miss Marple, having little more on his side than a level head, a confessor’s knowledge of human nature, and the ability to reason about details others overlook that all amateurs need. Chesterton again shows his talents for setting a scene and for inventing a wide variety of high-concept scenarios.
Partway through, Brown sets a clever but principled thief back on the right side of the law through a few choice words. The thief then sets up as a private detective who serves as a Watson to Brown in several stories. My complaint is that we don’t see this guy detect anything. He doesn’t even do any spadework to produce clues, just drops his jaw at Brown’s deductions like anyone could have done. It’s poor form. Still a fun read.
“She Stoops To Conquer” – Oliver Goldsmith
A 1773 play that’s sort of a comedy of manners as I understand the term, set in a British manor in the British countryside. The home’s family, the Hardcastles, consists of a stuffy father, a credulous but opinionated mother, a couple of daughters, and the mother’s son by her first husband. Mother wants one of the daughters to marry the son. Neither daughter nor son want this match but pretend at kissy-face to keep her happy. This is 1773, and maybe the daughter was by a prior wife for the husband, I don’t recall. Anyway, visiting today will be the father’s preferred match for the second daughter, with neither she nor her prospective beau having seen each other before. Unbeknownst to anyone in the house, the beau is coming with the first daughter’s preferred man, whom the parents have no idea exists but who intends to run off with her and her jewels this very night.
The action proper begins with the two beaux asking for directions to the Hardcastle residence at the town tavern. The son, a crass drunkard with his own sense of humor, gives them the run-around before directing them to the manor, representing it as an inn from which they can set out to find the real Hardcastle home the next day. With all the misunderstandings and class differences set up, the dominoes begin to fall, with impersonations and insults and escape attempts, and most everyone has egg on their face by the time the play is over.
I was entertained enough. I was puzzled by the intro, in which someone comes out onstage and speaks for the author, calling this a last-ditch attempt to bring the humor back into comedy. It was weird and didn’t reflect well on the playwright’s ego, I thought. But Wikipedia says that comedies at this time tended to be more “sentimental” than humorous.
I and II Esdras – KJV
Now seems as good a time as any for me to finally see what this Apocrypha business is about. My attitude has been somewhere between spectator and serious student as I read the first doubleheader.
I Esdras is approximately a retelling of the Protestant book of Ezra, with weirder name spellings, comely Levites, and a confusing structure that Wikipedia says is called a chiasm. There’s a little story about servants arguing about what the strongest thing in the world is, that even filtered through KJV language feels a little pat. I was not prepared for a prophet named Jeremy, let alone comely Levites. I didn’t get much out of this one.
II Esdras is more interesting. There’s some good bits to mull over and some sketchily Israel-centric theology (Ezra gonna Ezra). Ezra is in despair over God’s judgment on Israel (what, already?) and other matters and seeks God’s guidance. It starts like a blend between Lamentations and Job and then the apocalyptic visions start, with lions and feathers and dragons. The Messiah is explicitly named Jesus a little too readily for my comfort. I’m unpersuaded to regard this book as “real”, but it was worth a read.
Tobit – KJV
Tobit (grade-A name) is a Naphtali exile (possibly the second-best tribe name after Zebulun) living in Nineveh (where Jonah was sent). His likes include almsgiving, giving slain Jews a proper burial, almsgiving, and telling his son how awesome almsgiving is. Dislikes include being persecuted for giving Jews a proper burial, sparrows that literally blind him with their droppings, and apologizing to his wife for calling her a thief.
Tobit has left some silver in another town, so he sends his son Tobias with a kinsman to get it. But the family member is the angel Raphael in disguise! Tobias is attacked by a big fish, but Raphael tells him to catch it. They then reach another town where lives Sara. Sara has a demon who’s been killing off the local eligible bachelors, one by one, whenever they try to marry her. But Raphael tells Tobias to use part of the fish to make himself smelly to drive the demon away. This works, and Tobias returns home triumphant with bride, dowry, and silver, plus a giant fish organ he uses to restore Tobit’s sight.
I liked the stress on charity. I liked Raphael stressing that he had been acting on orders from God instead of just intervening on his own initiative, as pop culture often depicts angels. I didn’t like Raphael telling Tobias that healing power was inherent in that kind of fish, rather than the fish being a conduit of God’s power.
Judith – KJV
Nebuchadnezzar is going to fight somebody, so he asks a whole swath of countries to come help him. They ignore him, but he goes and stomps the other guy anyway. Then he vows REVENGE in the form of wiping out everyone who ignored his summons. He puts together a humongous army (not sure why he thought he needed help) and sends them off under Holofernes’s command. Holofernes warms up by wiping out Phud and Lud, which, with names like that, it’s not like anyone was going to miss them. Then he comes to a town in Judah and prepares to attack. Which the Hebrews want him to do, because they have sweet defensive positions. But then nearby descendants of Esau point out to Holofernes that he doesn’t have to attack, he can just guard the wells and thirst will drive Judah to surrender. This is why nobody likes kibitzers.
Anyway things are getting dire, and the one important bit of theology comes into play, when the city elders decide that, unless God delivers them within X days, they will surrender. Judith, a wealthy widow, upbraids them for trying to put constraints on God’s plans and says she’ll take care of this. So she takes a maid and goes over to the other side. She tells Holofernes that the city is protected by the Lord God as long as its inhabitants obey God, but they’re getting so desperate that they are about to start eating animals they shouldn’t. When they do, she’ll let Holofernes know it’s time to attack.
Did I mention Judith is a total fox? Because she’s a fox. Eventually Holofernes holds a feast where he gets super-drunk, then holds Judith back afterwards to make his move on her. But he falls asleep before anything can happen, and Judith whacks off his head, then takes it back to the city. The Hebrews immediately flip out like this answers all their problems and there aren’t still a bajillion soldiers still out there. But they cool down and lay plans, and next day they wait for the enemy to freak out over Holofernes, then attack and drive them off in disarray.
Wikipedia seems confident that this is either an entirely fabricated “historical novel” or a history with symbolic names for people and places, which is fine with me. There was not much insight here beyond “trust in God” and “don’t sleep with the heathen who wants to slaughter your friends”.
The Rain Before It Falls – Jonathan Coe
Gill is leading a perfectly normal life in Shropshire as tepidly loved wife and mother of two when she receives a phone call: her aunt Rosamond has passed away. Gill finds she has been made executor of her aunt’s estate, with the most interesting part being a collection of audio recordings that Rosamond wanted delivered to one Imogen, a blind girl whom Gill met only once, at her aunt’s birthday party.
Imogen proves elusive to locate, and of course Gill and her daughters cave to temptation and listen to the recordings themselves: Rosamond proposing to tell Imogen about Imogen’s past, through the device of describing twenty photographs for her.
The most notable strength of this book is the description. Coe hits you from page one with sharp, economical word choices that paint emotional states as well as visual images. As the book continues, it’s clear that the story the author is telling is not about Imogen’s family history, but about Rosamond’s life, with its ups and downs and relationships that often leave Rosamond on the outside looking in somehow. This is a fine choice, but because of the author’s mindset, he misses the obvious opportunity to have Rosamond tell Imogen about what Imogen’s mother was like as a child: it’s simply not important to the story of Rosamond.
I also feel that sometimes he went looking a little too hard for the perfect word in Rosamond’s narration and muddied her voice somewhat, with needlessly polysyllabic words that an old woman ready for the end would not waste time using. It was also a bit of a shift to see Gill’s story, such as it was, being strongly and carefully described at first, only to be reduced to serving the core story by the end. For all that, a good read.
Magu-Chan: God of Destruction (Vol. 1-6, 11-23) – Kei Kamiki
Someone recommended a different manga on this site, the quality of which was sorely outweighed by the bad Japan Weird factor* and which will be spoken of no more here. But looking over the recent releases, I saw a girl proudly displaying a Futurama brain slug on her cranium and obviously had to investigate.
Magu Manueku is an eldritch god who has it made. He has a cult of minions who pay him worship in exchange for him destroying things with his mighty eyebeam of destruction. This is, after all, how the mortal world works. But some interfering do-gooders seal him away in a crystal. A few hundred years later, the crystal washes up on a beach, where it’s found by a young girl digging for clams. The girl, Ruru, naturally breaks him loose. Alas, the crystal has sapped his strength, and he’s barely the size of a fist now. His eyebeam is now exhausting to use, too. But this Ruru person readily agrees to be his first minion as he seeks to recover his power and glory, although for some inexplicable reason she keeps using words like friends and disrespecting him at the most unpredictable times. Thus begins the quest of an eldritch god to get modern mortals to take him seriously and worship him on his own terms.
Once you let the eldritch beast get control of a grimoire, it’s all over.
The whole thing is full of fantastic panels like that, where you just have to pause and take in what the author is presenting straight-facedly. Magu is played completely straight, Ruru manages to find the sweet spot of taking him seriously without taking his goals seriously, and the supporting cast is brought in one by one to give their takes on finding an elder god (or two, or three . . . ) in their midst. It’s light, it’s funny, and so far it keeps the premise fresh and zany. The bad Japan Weird-o-meter hasn’t even flickered yet. There aren’t even any sweatdrops. Ugh, I hate those.
* much like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there is good and bad Japan Weird factor.
Wisdom of Solomon – KJV
So this is pretty good for the most part, although lacking the proverbial structure of Proverbs. It starts with praise for righteousness, then decries the hedonism of the ungodly and their hatred for the righteous man (“He was made to reprove our thoughts”). Even though the ungodly may seem to torment and conquer the righteous in this life, the righteous will have their reward in the next life, and it will be awesome and the wicked will despair. This goes on for a while. Next the writer, in the voice of Solomon if not necessarily the actual flesh, talks about his ardent desire for wisdom above all else. Righteousness and wisdom are main focuses of this book, until they give way to focusing on God’s mercy and wrath. It gets a little confusing at the end, but is definitely trying to talk about Moses in the bulrushes and the subsequent Exodus.
This book is worth its while, with a lot of good phrases, even if has little in the way of new or unique theology, and I expect I’ll return to it again.
The Red Threads of Fortune – J. Y. Yang
Ooo! I get to start this off with a disclaimer of conflict of interest!
You see, the author and I, we go way back on the ol’ internets. they might even remember my username if you asked them about me So it’s only fair to note that I will be inclined toward treating this positively. However, I had nothing to do with the previous novella in the series being nominated for a Nebula.
So, uh, Sanao Mokoya is really messed up. She’s a woman with violent tendencies and a painful tragedy in her past that have driven her away from civilization. She now lives in the desert, hunting not-wyverns that have strayed over from their home continent and gotten cranky over the local increased gravity. Her skills in Tensing the Slack (basically an elemental, string-based The Force) let her use telekinesis when she wants, which is useful, and see the future when she doesn’t want, which is not fun. But an extra-dangerous not-wyvern is now on the loose, one that has dire implications for a nearby mining city. Was it set loose on purpose? Who would have done such a thing? Was it politically motivated? Can she find it and neutralize the threats it represents before the city is destroyed or torn apart? Who is this new stranger from the not-wyvern’s homeland, and what is their purpose? And what horrors lie in her own past that torment her still?
The uneven gravity and the Slack are two of the more prominent examples of Yang building a world that is very unlike ours, but still recognizable enough to be relatable. Astronomy, species, society, politics, technology and magic, and sexuality are all ground that Yang covers in just over 200 pages while also building up Mokoya’s life and incidentally writing a few pretty solid action bits. I wondered, as I read the first few pages, whether Yang was committing the excited rookie mistake of piling it all on a little too fast and a little too raw. But . . . you ever find yourself kinda on the outside looking in at a work of art feeling out of step with it? You can tell there’s something there but it’s not quite clicking into place for you. And then partway through, or on a later listen if it’s a song, everything just falls into place. That happened here; about 2/3 of the way through, I found Yang’s pace of storytelling and worldbuilding had suddenly become perfectly natural without me realizing it. And then I went back and reread the first few pages when I was done, to be sure, and I think the pacing is fine throughout. The main thing, I think, is that Yang isn’t just throwing out words without tying them to something, and important words are brought up repeatedly to provide sufficient points of reference.
So: The prose is good, the pacing is good, the worldbuilding is good, the characters are good, the story and plot are good. More profanity than I’d like but such is the nature of the decaying world we live in. And also, it has a pretty sweet cover.
The Ascent to Godhood – J. Y. Yang
So last time I read the second book of four first, and said I would read the first book second after first digging it out. But I found the third book first (that is to say, second) so I went ahead and read the third book second after first reading the second book first and I expect I’ll read the first book third because I’m not sure we have the fourth book so we might have to buy it first?
Anyway, these are lightly interconnected novellas, so this one is thankfully not about the apotheosis of Mokoya (though it name-drops a couple of characters from that book). It’s about an old woman at a funeral telling her life story. Born to poor farmers, she was sold at an early age to be brought to the city to be trained as a dancing girl for the elite classes. It’s a hard life, but she is making a name for herself when a young woman, Hekate, enlists her for blackmail. She quickly becomes part of Hekate’s inner circle, trained to be confidante and assassin, as she is swept into a world of politics, power, riches, betrayal, murder, and yellow silk dresses.
This is about half as long as the first book I read, but tells the story well of Hekate’s ascent to power. More gripping is the journey, a simple girl who is swept away by her new existence and wholly devoted to Hekate until One Fateful Night.