freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Class of 16 third-year students, and only two have seen the new Star Wars. The fuck? what's with the youth of today? the movie was huge and mainstream and seen by bazillions of people, but apparently senior Humanities students are not among them. I despair. Genre-shamed by my own students. Particularly because I'm trying to teach fanfic, and it transpires that I no longer have mainstream popular texts in common with my class. They grudgingly admit enough of a passing familiarity with Avengers or Sherlock that my burbling wasn't entirely opaque. I suppose it's not technically genre-shaming because they all watch Game of Thrones, but I refuse, basically on aesthetic grounds. I am unable to admire nasty people.

I am Disgruntled. Fortunately this amazing Tumblr conversation has just made me giggle outrageously for ten minutes, because Science! in the service of Dodginess is a lovesome thing, god wot. "I have no deeper explanation for why human females can dissolve rocks with our genitals. It simply is."

I am also in a horrible fatigue slump, and am perpetually exhausted, which is achieving new heights of horrible because I'm also insomniac like whoa and dammit, which means I stagger into bed, largely incapacitated with tired, at about 9pm and then stare at the ceiling for two hours. And when I sleep, apparently I hallucinate very small stained-glass knights with lances coming through the walls. Vividly. Contemplating firing my subconscious. Apart from anything else, it's giving rise, at extremely infrequent intervals, to particularly disjointed flow-of-consciousness blog posts.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Blackstar", from his last album, which is amazing and rapidly becoming one of my favourites. It is relevant only in the most lateral and tenuous of sleep-deprived fashions).

taking it hard

Friday, 15 January 2016 02:27 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Fuck cancer. Really, fuck it, and fuck 2016 for so far being a horrible deadly beast. No-one reading this should need to be reminded of the levels of my love for David Bowie and all his works. Likewise Alan Rickman, whose voice and face and ironic distance I have loved across numerous roles. No-one seems to have known that either of them was fighting cancer, and in some ways I'm glad they had that privacy, but to their fans it feels as though they've been stolen away, without warning, stealthily and overnight. Both were artistic institutions quite apart from their significance to me personally. I'm a little surprised by quite how sad and angry I'm feeling.

I hate this about getting older. One's parents die, and one's idols die, and one's cats die. It sucks. Make it stop.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For no adequately defined reason, radio announcer auditions, courtesy Wikipedia. This is enormous fun to read out loud, particularly since the Parade's End Effect has been replaced by the Granada Sherlock Holmes Effect and I'm still enunciating with bell-like British clarity. Go on, try it. The sacred, secret crypts of Egypt and a marked propensity for procrastination and sloth. You roll it around your tongue and spit it out.

One hen
Two ducks
Three squawking geese
Four Limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pairs of Don Alverzo's tweezers
Seven thousand Macedonians dressed in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred secret crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity for procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time on Tuesday or Thursday, it really doesn't matter.

My subject line is David Bowie, "Time", one of the great Bowie piano pieces which I will, by gum, teach myself to play sometime very soon because it's awesome. My car music is still cycling through Bowie, currently Tonight by way of The Last Day, which is the new one and curiously pleasing.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My nice therapist defines my job as one in which I have to take the stereotypical maternal (nurturing) and paternal (disciplinary) roles simultaneously, which actually goes a long way towards explaining why the work I do sometimes feels as though it's pulling me in half. Not so much butter spread too thin, as stretchy strings of cheese on separated pizza slices. Yesterday's little dilemma was horribly characteristic, sparked by a student who wants the faculty to intervene and grant her a DP the department has refused. (DP is Duly Performed - acknowledgement that attendance and coursework are sufficient that the student is permitted to write the exam. And dear sweet FSM but DP appeals have been stratospherically high this year, student denial levels seem to be on the rise. The faculty won't intervene, DP is departmental business, but the gazelles desperately want us to wave a magic wand and make it all better, did I mention maternal role? because helicopter parenting is apparently a thing these days. I saw one appeal, cced to me by a HoD, in which said HoD patiently explained to the student that the appeal was being turned down because she'd written one test out of three, achieving a mark of 18%, and attended one tutorial out of four, and how the hell the student ever thought she had any grounds whatsoever to appeal beats me. Because, apparently, "desperate" overrides "reality".) Anyway, yesterday's particular child is desperate for the DP because it's for a course she needs to graduate.

So I check her record, and in fact she can't graduate even if she strong-arms the dept. into granting this particular DP, because back in her first year she's incautiously taken and passed two versions of the same course, and only one can count towards her degree. This is clearly an error that's slipped through several levels of checking; it's a small, fiddly, not-often-relevant rule, and advisors and office staff don't always remember it. I remember it, because it's my job to do so: I am in fact the repository of exactly this sort of technical knowledge of our degrees, and I pick up a lot of errors that other checkers miss.

So, if I don't notice, it's highly likely that no-one will. Because I have noticed and annotated her record accordingly, the student will be unable to graduate in December even if she achieves the disputed DP and passes the course; she'll have to pay several thousand rand for an additional course, which she'll have to do in summer term (expensive extra residence fees) because she can't come back next year, her study permit has expired. She has no legal grounds for complaint; students take responsibility for their own course choices every time they sign a form, and the exclusion of the dual credit is clearly specified on the course description in our handbook. Someone should have caught it, and I'll (once again, wearily) add it to my list of things to emphasise in training advisors and admin staff, but she should have caught it herself.

If I pretended I haven't noticed the error, and supposing she was granted the currently disputed DP and actually passed the damned thing, she could be saved all of the above. She'd graduate with the right number of credits; it's not such a huge solecism that two of her first-year courses have overlapping content. I have enormous power in this particular instance, in that if I kept quiet it's unlikely anyone else would spot it, and even if they did it's not unreasonable that I occasionally miss things, so I wouldn't be blamed. She's distraught, facing enormous implications in time and money. It would be kind to let it slide.

But I can't do that. Half my job is to facilitate the success and happiness of students; the other half is to protect the quality and integrity and logic of our degree structures, and the even-handedness with which the rules are applied. It's perfectly clear where my duty lies in this instance, and if nothing else my own Lawful Good would utterly prevent me from that kind of fuzzy dishonesty. Her degree is only worth anything at all because gatekeepers such as I are continually protecting its integrity. But because of the absolutely dual nature of my working identity, in that moment of decision I cannot win. I defend the quality of the degree with stern paternalistic self-righteousness, and the maternal empathy half of me feels horribly guilty because of what it'll put the student through. It's a bugger. Stringy cheese, I tell you. Stretched. (Also, it leaves me with a strong need to play that one computer game stv was describing, where you're a bureaucrat at a border and have to make increasingly grey-area calls. I can't work out if it'll be cathartic or redundant. It has to be tried.)

At any rate, student angst levels are materially assisted by my current ongoing alphabetical trek, by album title, through the endless vistas of David Bowie. Right now we're into late middle-period, which is the much-decried 80s pop outbreak, by virtue of Labyrinth (hence my subject line) and Let's Dance in quick succession. You can say what you like about 80s pop, my cheesy metaphor from earlier may well be relevant, but I was a teenager in the 80s and can't help responding. That shit is hard-wired.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I can't say that it was official Movie Club, because Rule 1 of Movie Club is that we compare two movies, however tenuously connected. However, Sunday night's spontaneous movie-watching with jo&stv did fulfil one of the secondary functions of Movie Club, which is to make us watch movies we otherwise wouldn't. I have randomly and without justification re-watched both Star Trek reboots in the last couple of weeks, in an outbreak possibly not unrelated to randomly and without justification reading rather nicely-characterised slow-burn Kirk/Bones slash I happened randomly upon, but there is nonetheless no real way I would have seen Space Station 76 unprompted. However, now I have. And I have Thoughts.

This is billed as comedy, but it's only really comedy in the blackest, most parodic sense; it's satire, verging at times on allegory, and what it most resembles is a dastardly fusion of Star Trek and The Ice Storm, supposing you'd allowed the resulting horrific miscegenation to be scripted by Chekhov, or possibly Kurt Vonnegut. (It also shares some distant, cousinly DNA with both Galaxy Quest and Pigs In Space). It's a 2014 film set on a space station in a future imagined from the vantage point of the 70s. This of course means tacky special effects, plastic asteroids, Tupperware spaceships, sexual liberation, cigarettes, and mad outbreaks of 70s boots and mini-dresses. However, it also allows for the actually quite powerful essentialising of issues - primarily sexuality and gender - through the exaggeration which inevitably happens when you view 70s caricatures through a contemporary lens. The space setting strips away extraneous detail, leaving the deeply dysfunctional relationships to enact themselves starkly against the pastel plastic of the background and the isolation of space. The film was developed from a stage play, and you can see it in its scale, its minimalism, its horrible intimacy.

Space Station 76 is quite often funny, but one seldom laughs without wincing - the humour is close to the bone, frequently productive more of discomfort than amusement. (Some of the few places where both Jo and I unabashedly laughed were the therapist-bot sequences, which are both horrendously cynical and irresistibly funny to anyone who's ever been in therapy). The cast is generally very good, despite representing archetypes rather than actual personalities (the Sad Captain, the Unfulfilled Career Woman, the Monstrous Mother); the whole thing is played with a sort of deliberate, tongue-in-cheek self-awareness which never quite allows you to immerse yourself in the characters. I say "allegory" because the whole thing is so self-consciously artificial that it positions the viewer very interestingly in a space which denies the possibility of willing suspension of disbelief: you are poised in a critical space outside the events, ejected equally by discomfort and unreality.

I wouldn't say this is a great movie, and its black humour at times is deeply unsettling, but it's an interesting one, and one I'm glad I've seen. It's really doing things that are far more sophisticated than they appear at first glance. Also, clearly, sexual liberation does not equal happiness, and in fact exaggerates unhappiness with resentment that pressing sex button A does not produce happiness at the vending machine slot as it clearly ought to. Which is clearly true today, and clearly the point.

(My subject line is David Bowie, because that's where I am in the Great Car Sound System Alphabetical Trek. Arcade Fire, Bed On Bricks, Belle and Sebastian, Crowded House, David Bowie. (Apparently all my Clash is under The rather than Clash). We're going to be here for a while. The quote is from "Slip Away", quite my favourite track on Heathen, which is sort of early late-period-Bowie. The alphabetical order of album is disconcerting me slightly as I do prefer listening chronologically, particularly with Bowie; as it is, we've gone Aladdin Sane (later early-period rock(ish) with jazz bits) to Diamond Dogs (early middle-period apocalyptic glam rock, Black Tie White Noise isn't on this mp3 player because it annoys me) to Heathen (early late-period, lord I don't know, regressive alt-rock with an electronica element?) to Heroes (late middle-period Brian-Eno-shaped Berlin Years) to Hunky Dory (early early-period folk/rock/pop/who the hell knows, at any rate I've wandered around the department all day singing "Quicksand", as one does because it's a bloody earworm of note). As whiplash goes it's rather enjoyable, in fact. Weirdly enough, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Bowie.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Here is another entry in the Department Of The Approximately One Million Things That Make Me Cry. "Space Oddity" is a fairly emotional piece of music anyway, considered quite apart from its position in my pervy-David-Bowie-fancying lexicon: it's a particularly vivid and evocative rendition of isolation and loss layered on top of stirring human endeavour. Space is simply emotional, and humans in space hit a deeply-embedded science fictional nerve in my psyche. (Which suggests why it's taking me so long to get around to watching Moon, and also why I really ought to). I've also been following Chris Hadfield on Twitter and Tumblr, as he patiently and systematically humanises the space station project - not so much putting a human face on it, as skilfully using the immediacy and speed of social media to insert us into the experience. It's been wonderful, both exciting and moving - he's an amazing man. He also posts the odd photo of Cape Town from orbit, which makes me ridiculously happy.

He's coming back down to Earth now, and as a farewell has released a version of "Space Oddity" sung, rather well, by himself, in the space station. This is a perfect thing. It's been bouncing around my Tumblr and Twitter feeds all morning, accompanied by righteous squee. It also hits so many of my buttons simultaneously that I've just sat at my desk for ten minutes and cried like a baby.



I've had a rather madly social weekend - book club on Friday, Neil's birthday on Saturday, and a Sunday night dinner I cooked last night with Jo&Stv and Sven&Tanya featuring wine, hilarity and roast chicken with all the trimmings, not to mention a new recipe for chocolate mousse which ... seems to work. All three of these gatherings were not particularly notable in that they featured me, at some stage, babbling enthusiastically about fan fiction, as a result of which Jo was moved to suggest that I actually post some links to these stories for the general enlightenment or bewilderment of my readers. Which is a damned good idea.

As an opening shot, and in keeping with the Space Feels, have a series of really rather interesting AU fics re-imagining the Avengers in a space opera setting. I'm impressed at the creativity of this writer: the way they've managed to take the characters and relationships of the Marvel films and explore them via a rather different idiom but with a sensitive eye to emotional and political resonance. Also, bonus AI politics and Tony Stark as technomancer with nanotech, communicating with JARVIS via a neural implant. JARVIS is simply cool. icarus_chained, Space Electric.

Added bonus: I've managed to shamelessly use both "evocative" and "resonant" in the same post. I blame the Space Feels.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today I appear to have bullied my therapist, been excessively nice to a string of students, and taken a flamethrower to my Intray Of Doom, which was starting to achieve sentience via the compaction heating of its organic layers. This appears to be guilt in operation, not least because I am now badly overdue on one paper submission and slightly overdue on the other, but spent the last few days playing Morrowind nonetheless. In mitigation, Monday afternoon through to the Wednesday public holiday (yay workers!) was rendered more than usually null and void by a lovely gastric bug, which means I'm still pale and nauseous and inclined to dry crackers and staring moodily into my tea. However, the weasel-like cunning of my Cunning Plan is now revealed: having a monthly Acknowledgement of Intellectual Debts post is a free and ready-made theme about which I don't have to think very hard, so hooray!

Things Wot I Have Referenced In April:

  • 4th April: "how do you like your blueeyed boy / Mister Death?". This is, of course, e e cummings, the poem without a formal title, but usually referenced as "Buffalo Bill's". I have an unremitting adoration for e e cummings, I love the jerky, fragmented life and colour and convoluted wit of his poems. This one talks about heroism with a wry, partially deflating tone which makes that last line, the one I quote, amazingly complex. The post was talking about the Iain Banks cancer news; like Buffalo Bill, Banks seems to me to be inherently associated with death, and with a dark and deconstructive sense of heroism.
  • 5th April: "worlds collide and days are dark". I'm quoting the lyrics to Adele's "Skyfall", in the post reviewing the movie. I remain unimpressed by the movie, but I still love that song, and the quote covers both the clash of genres and the descent into Gothic which I found in the film.
  • 11th April: "one day in spring I'll take him down to the road". Belle & Sebastian lyrics, to "Dog on Wheels". Beautifully appropriate to a post about those little ambulatory robots in the park.
  • 19th April: "a truth universally acknowledged". The post was being madly enthused about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; anyone who didn't recognise the quote from the opening sentence of Austen's Pride and Prejudice should jolly well be ashamed.
  • 22nd April: "I'm getting too old for this sort of thing". Star Wars, Obi-Wan. Of course. Slightly lateral given that the clip in the post was Harrison Ford, but he's really getting old.
  • 28th April: "Drive-in Saturday". Title of the David Bowie song, not entirely thematically appropriate. In retrospect, "Science Fiction Double Feature" would have conveyed more of the movie club multiple-film sense without the resonances of weird post-apocalyptic desexualisation, but on the other hand I was talking about Iron Sky...

Today's subject line, incidentally, a quote from Wil Wheaton, from this lovely meditation on geekery or nerdery and what it actually means. He's right: it's about the intensity of the connection: that the actual object of all that affection is purely secondary, which is why geeks can flock together even if they variously represent DC and Marvel, or Star Wars and Star Trek. Given that this subject-line roundup has referenced a good proportion of my nerdy loves (poetry, Gothic, Belle & Sebastian, Austen, online narrative, Star Wars, David Bowie), it felt appropriate.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's bucketing down outside, and in the interstices between lectures the foyer of my building is filled with damp-puppy students staring dolefully out into the downpour amid the smell of wet hair. We are clearly in autumn, a season of pleasing damp and benevolent chill, and I have broken out the first boots of the season. I am happy. I am, however, also faintly worried to consider the inexorable drift of my language vis à vis students towards dehumanising diminutives - when they're not gazelles, they're puppies. The latter is perhaps a more healthy characterisation along the maternal/cute axis than than the former, which has a lurking hint of the predatory. I do, of course, owe the "gazelles" designation to [livejournal.com profile] starmadeshadow, who views the quivering herds from the vantage point of her own leopard-like stalk. She is planning on returning her big-cat self to Cape Town more permanently in the near future, causing much callooing and, for that matter, callaying in the ranks.

I have spent the morning immersed in the inevitable realities of my working life, viz. checking student transcripts. This has vouchsafed to me several insights, most notably (a) that my advisors, train I them never so carefully, are bloody useless at checking course pre-requisites despite repeated reminders and pointed inscriptions on lists of "common advisor mistakes". Insight (b) is, however, more interesting and rather less depressing. Honestly, the skills and experience on which I draw most frequently in this job are those of my frivolous role-playing proclivities. I spend my days wrangling student character sheets, the lists of numbers which quantify experience and achievement, each individual mapped carefully within the constraints of the system. I am alert to rule-breaking, to player dissatisfaction and lack of success, to the judicious balance between challenge and reward, test and fulfilment. I also rely heavily on the experience gained from DMing players like [livejournal.com profile] rumint, whose control of the system and its potential exploits is absolute and terrifying. It's all one in the eye, really, to anyone who thinks of D&D and beyond as a waste of time. Not only is play intrinsically about experimentation and learning in a low-stakes environment, it's about understanding the shaping of behaviour through structure. Which also explains, I suppose, why I've drifted inexorably into genre theory in my academic life.

Talking about genre: David Bowie is busy releasing his first album in about ten years. The one single, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", and particularly its video, is an utterly fascinating disquisition on fame, identity, androgyny, and an explicit and rather wry dialogue with his own past. Also, Tilda Swinton. The music is very Reality-era, which works for me.

freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
There's been a big red ABSA poster up in my corridor for two weeks, advertising some sort of graduate development programme. It has a little mathematical conundrum on it, which reads as follows:

2+3=10
7+2=63
6+5=66
8+4=96
9+7=?

This bugged me for a couple of days, as I dashed madly past it in Hellweek flurries, and eventually I stopped and looked at it properly. 9+7 in this context probably equals 144, but I'm curious - is this a strange and random ABSA pattern-recognition game, or some sort of recognised mathematical procedure with a label of its own? I'm thinking the former, mainly because it apparently works with my vaguely organic pattern-recognition brain. Structuralist study of narrative does weird things to the pattern recognition.

Apparently the cosmic reward of being determinedly and successfully nice to students all last week (only one slight slip-up in the last few hours of Friday) is that I'm grumpy as hell this week. Then again, this week they're trying to do stupid, illegal things which show they haven't read the notices. I am becoming progressively more crone-like and codgerish about non-notice-reading gazelles.

And, in other news, it's August! aargh! I still have to finish two papers in less than three weeks, although I do pretty much know what I want to say and how I want to say it, which helps. However, a new month also means the monthly assault on another prevalent vice, namely unmarked quotation.

  • 4th July: I am quoting, of course, "As time goes by", which will now proceed to ear-worm me for a couple of days and give me a random, rootless desire to re-watch Casablanca. Than which, I suppose, there are worse things. I woke up this morning with A-ha's "Take on me" on the brain, for no adequately defined reason, so I should count my blessings. Anyway, it was also an egregious but slightly lateral pun on both the passage of time and fundamental particles, since I was burbling about the Higgs boson at the time. (Absolutely the best and most definitive response to the Higgs boson is, of course, from Scenes from a Multiverse. Of course they're conspiring. With cigarettes dangling out the corners of their mouths.)
  • 9th July. As any fule kno, this is a quote from the Mutant Enemy zombie logo at the end of Joss Whedon productions, and anyone who didn't recognise it should be properly ashamed. Ashamed, I say! *waves unreasonable geeky fangirl flag with unrepentant chauvinism*
  • 13th July. I have no idea what I was doing here, other than conflating Joss Whedon randomly with incense. Why, I can't say. I don't like incense.
  • 15th July. I wish I could say I was quoting Walt Whitman, but in fact I'm quoting Robin Williams in, of course, Dead Poet's Society, and once more I cannot say why, I can't stand the film. While being, of course, one hundred percent behind the idea of captains. Notwithstanding which, there seems to be a certain level of masochism in this month's subject line choices.
  • 18th July. This one was for [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun, who knows as well as I do that this comes from Flanders and Swann, "The Gasman Cometh", and I have no doubt that a select but gratifying number of you also recognised it. I couldn't give tuppence for all of the rest.
  • 23rd July. We used to play and sing this in guitar club at school - mountain folk song about the miner's life, which is insanely catchy and which I suspect I've quoted before. Both the Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Johnny Cash versions are jauntier than I remember it being, we tended to sing it a bit more like a dirge. Well, obviously. "Another day older and deeper in debt", after all.
  • 25th July. Oh, dear. I am quoting Bobby McFerrin. I seem to do insane amounts of research for these subject line glosses, and this batch has revealed that the 1988 hit version is actually completely a capella, which I never realised before and which makes me very happy indeed.
  • 26th July. My contractually obligated David Bowie quote. I was ridiculously proud of the thematic fit in this one, given that post was about Tom Cruise and the lyrics are from "I'm Deranged", and at various points insist that not only is it funny how secrets travel, but "It's the angel-man" and "Cruise me babe".
  • 29th July. Omar Khayyám, who has, as evinced by outbreaks of bloggery in November and December 2005, has a quote for absolutely everything.

This week's quotation round-up brought to you courtesy of hopeless inconsequentiality, and a headache. Now I go to fend students off with a crowbar and meet my Deanly-requested teaching and learning report-construction doom.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
In the Department Of We Learn Something New Every Day, I can now disassemble and reassemble a collapsible wheelchair, admittedly with much fumbling while my dad quietly laughs at my approximation of mechanical skill, but hey. He knew he hadn't fathered an engineer. Have also learned to take wheelchairs backwards down slopes, which is apparently Article 1 in the Wheelchair Highway Code. I'm sure other articles prohibit me bashing the damned thing into doors and (occasionally) pulling up too late and bashing my dad's feet into the fronts of counters. I'm a good driver. Really. At any rate my dad is now safely ensconced in hospital for a minor op, without any particularly torrid wheelchair traffic accidents. The nice medical people are going to install something I've been referring to as a peg without realising that it's actually a PEG tube, or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube. Eating's a bitch when you can't swallow.

Early-morning hospital jaunts seem to have dislocated my day a tad, I'm feeling a bit random. Randomly, then: [livejournal.com profile] maxbarners pointed me to this deliriously happy article about a new form of spider called Heteropoda davidbowie. I have to say, the resemblance is striking: I think it's the spider's eye-makeup.



And, even more randomly: recycling! Has it ever occurred to you that the process of checking plastic bottles for their recycling status is uncannily like sexing kittens? You hold them up in a good light and peer searchingly at their nethers.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
  1. [livejournal.com profile] smoczek makes damned good potjie, even with ostrich necks. Ate too much. Also, drank too much, and played cat-cushion for far too long - leg numb. On the upside, Meep cute.

  2. Never underestimate the simple, giddy, essentially postmodern glee caused by listening to acoustic David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese. [livejournal.com profile] maxbarners bought the Seu Jorge Life Acquatic album, which I have subsequently borrowed as a stop-gap while I acquire my own copy. I loved the music in Life Acquatic, and that was even before my Gigantic Bowie Fangirling Phase, which is still rampant even if slightly tamed. Portuguese is a lovely language to accompany acoustic guitar, it's all soft and flowing, and the acoustic arrangements lay pleasingly bare the melodic and tonal complexities of Bowie's music. Also, Seu Jorge is capable of rewriting "Space Oddity" with a slightly rocking Latin rhythm, and doing full justice to the doomed-loved-ballad of "Lady Stardust". Am hooked.

  3. So, Sheri S. Tepper. Tepper is a thoroughly under-rated writer who to my mind should win far more awards than she does: her narratively-driven science fiction novels weave feminist and ecological themes into striking, sweeping, often quirky and original space opera or post-apocalyptic landscapes. In the category of Random Ginormous Fantasy Epic, though, she has her earlier True Game works, which are technically sf but actually feel like fantasy, not just in their semi-magical component but in the colour, symbol and glitter of a medievaloid world. This is actually nine short books, grouped into three sets of three. The Chronicles of Mavin Manyshaped is chronologically the first series, although actually written later; its strong-minded heroine offers one of the best explorations of shape-shifting I've come across, as well as some truly magical settings, creatures and people, and a very interesting attack on societies which repress their women. The True Game is the most high-medieval, all ritual and colour, a highly stylised social structure whose essentially fascist and self-destructive elements are mercilessly exposed as the story unfolds. The Jinian trilogy, which concludes the series, gets further into ecological issues, the nature of magic and the exposure of the science-fiction rationale which actually underpins the world. This series is one of my comfort reads, I've lost count of the number of times I've revisited it; it's a madly beguiling mix of whimsy, colour and underlying seriousness, and the world itself (like many of Tepper's an animate entity in its own right) is enormously appealing in sharp contrast to the human stupidity the narrative forces one to condemn.

    In a nutshell: shifters, sorcerors, necromancers, wizards, dervishes; heraldry and hierarchical battle, feudalism and fighting. Chasm cities build on giant roots of vines. Endearing beasties that sing, and duets with same. Rolling stars, forest spirits, amorous giant pigs, pastoral unicorn romances. Love, hate, revenge, dreams, knowledge lost and found. Tough women, rather self-absorbed men, journeys through the memories of a world. Gnarlibarrs. Shadows. Mean-spirited academics. Mystical chess sets. Hope. Despair. Loss. The incredible joy of magical powers, and the terrible realisation that we probably don't deserve them. Also, my editions have extremely beautiful stylised covers.

    And, see, not so much with the postmodernism, either! I am forced to admire my own self-restraint.

undead undead undead

Thursday, 7 May 2009 07:26 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
If I were a performance artist, which FSM knows I'm not, it would be an interesting project to set a camera above all the billboards in Cape Town that mention Zuma. I think you'd get an amusing array of expressions. I realised this morning that every time I see his name in a headline my eyes involuntarily roll, my nose wrinkles and I stick my tongue out. It must look faintly hilarious. On the other hand, a suitably large collage of similar expressions, possibly arranged into a Significant Symbol such as a middle finger, would probably make a good political point.

Today I introduce my third-years to the joys of David Bowie, inevitably enough. We're looking at female vampires this morning, and you don't get much more female than the Deneuve/Sarandon lesbian vampire seduction scene from The Hunger, Flower Duet from Lakme and all. Which, now I come to think of it, actually doesn't include Bowie at all, other than by implication. Never mind. I include, for your delectation, and because I got such a kick out of re-watching it last night while locating clips, the excessively wonderful Bauhaus opening sequence to the movie, with Bowie and Deneuve cruising the nightclub looking for prey. (Ignore the translations, I couldn't find an unsubtitled version with the full sequence). Oh, also, NSFW owing to nudity and blood. These are vampires, after all.

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I should be checking board schedules, which means I'm surfing the internets instead. Wicked puppy. However! Random linkery must inevitably ensue. I read Jim Butcher's Storm Front yesterday - this is the first in the Harry Dresden series, aka The Dresden Files, recent TV series which died after one season. (This may have been because it was dreadful, but conversely it could also, on recent evidence, have been because it was reasonably solid.) The book was interesting, featuring a wizardly private investigator with a sort of noir feel - it pulled me in enough that I'll definitely read the second one, and the character himself is solidly realised and rather likeable. The writing drove me monumentally bats, however, with a sort of half-assed stab at actual human motivations - the responses of Harry himself and many of the peripheral characters are simply illogical. Bit like Rowling: you keep wanting to hurl the book across the room while screaming "Just tell them what's happening, already!" But, no, narrative kludges prevail, and the Hero will go gamely on into his Magnificent Isolation, Utterly Misunderstood and fighting Insuperable Odds, because the scenario demands it and actual communication between characters would get in the way. Phooey. I'm annoyed, because fundamentally I liked the setting and the characters, and I'm hoping it'll settle down in subsequent books into something slightly less logically cardboard-and-string.

In other news, my possibly disfunctional and obsessive relationship with Take2 has led to the acquisition of two Arcade Fire albums. Hooked! Complex, layered, multi-instrumental, slightly wistful. Would be making noises about how I'm clearly all over the David Bowie fixation, except I think I may have only bought the albums because David Bowie likes the band. Help, rescue me from sad geeky self. As a pitiful stab towards same, the subject line of the post is not a fragment of David Bowie lyric for the first time since... (researches quickly) ... ooh, 8th December. Exactly four months, then. That's a lot of David Bowie lyric.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was buying yarn for mittens. Fancy, patterned, Scandinavian mittens, such as I would never dream of wearing, let alone knitting.

fall on today

Monday, 25 February 2008 05:16 pm
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Aaargh! Day of annoyance, filled with annoyance and annoying things, all annoying me. Apart from a long string of students (the last one driving me to near madness by her terminal vagueness) I had a lovely response planned to a BoingBoing item about global warning, but Cory Doctorow (gasp!) slipped up and reposted something from 2004, and they've subsequently taken it down. I feel saddened at the realisation that BoingBoing is not, in fact, godlike in its inscrutable wisdom. I also can't remember the pithy comments I was going to make, but it's probably a safe bet that they involved orang-utans.

In the Department of Oh Gosh I'm Still An Awful Klutz: slipped on the steps on my way down to my office this morning, and came down hard on my posterior (fortunately off centre, thus saving my poor coccyx another beating, which is just as well). I have an enormous blue and purple bruise on my left buttock, and grazes on my right hand. I thought I'd given up on this all-too-obsessive embracing of gravity at odd and inappropriate moments. Possibly the Cosmic Wossnames are punishing me for not having gone to the gym for a week, in which case I blow a raspberry in their general direction. I haven't had time to go to the gym, and have been too darned exhausted to boot. I plan to be better this week, although that's got off to a great start with my projected 4.15 escape being sabotaged by annoying students until about a minute ago. Sigh. Now I'll have to fight great droves of the sweating for access to the machines.

In the Department of Everything Comes Down To My Current Favourite TV: Dyatlov Pass, courtesy of Charlie Stross. It's clearly an X-Files episode, and I hourly expect a sarky Wikipedia edit to reflect the foolish writers' obliviousness to this fact. My wayward imagination is insisting on putting a shivering Mulder into black-and-white snow photographs à la the famous Elijah Wood one. Odd.

In the Department of Thin White Duke Worship: have become suddenly and unaccountably addicted to Outside, the latest Bowie album I've acquired. This is puzzling me no end, since it's (a) a weird concept album in which the actual tracks alternate with potentially pretentious formless segues, and (b) considerably further towards the electronic (and strange avant-garde jazz) end of the spectrum than I'm generally happy with. I have, however, been bopping around the house to it all weekend in a state of high glee, while the cats watch me with suspicion and, I suspect, derision. There's one song in which I swear Bowie channels Ian Curtis - in that classic Bowie fashion, it's actually slightly more like Joy Division than Joy Division is. Since it's called "No Control" it also kinda rubs your nose in the ironic postmodern wossnames. Although not any more so than is usual for Bowie.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was wandering around the palatial skyscraper which housed the giant, glitzy room which was the sort of royal-court-like focus of the political machinations of a whole bunch of noble, or possibly corporate, houses. After a certain amount of being lost and intimidated and surrounded by snooty people in beautiful clothes, I was adopted into one of the houses by its kindly older head, who for some reason looked a bit like Steve Martin. I subsequently had to join a procession of the younger members of said house, who were being uniformly bitchy to me, and was somewhat horrified to discover, halfway round the room, that I wasn't wearing shoes and was being roundly ridiculed for my stockinged feet.
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Hah! Back in the day when I used to indoctrinate incautious first-years into the consumerist evils of Disney cartoons, the ickle firsties would never believe that Disney's primary ideological purpose was to make them go out and acquire screeds of consumerist junk. I submit in evidence this, proof positive that the young are being conditioned. "She's the pretty princess with the things." Tchah. Also pshaw. Also, beauty myth.

I am keeping my upper lip stiff and my chin up in the face of a maddening day featuring the random disappearance of my email access, owing to the ITS geeks having cottoned on two weeks late to my new job, and changed my login directory tree without changing the equivalent email one. I have about a zillion things to do, most of which entail digesting the timetable needs of academics for two separate schedules. All of this data-gathering is done by email. Also, my salary slip hasn't arrived, suggesting the usual HR hangups. Am soothing the savage beast with David Bowie. (Later period David Bowie is actually very soothing, even the cover of "Cactus". Also, is it just me, or is he doing insane self-referential injoke references in "Slip Away" by sticking the smoky background riff from "World Falls Down" over the lyric "in space it's always 1982"?).

Despite chins and lips and soothing, grrrr.
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My long-suffering mother brought many of my Amazon acquisitions with her when she visited in December, among them a three-pack DVD set comprising Labyrinth1, The Dark Crystal and Mirrormask. What with one thing and another, I hadn't ambled around to watching Mirrormask2 until yesterday afternoon, when the EL and the jo&stv and I broke it out.

OK, so you take the basic plot premise of Labyrinth: teenage girl deals with family/psychological problems through a dream-quest. You get Neil Gaiman to script it with his customary wit and warmth. You find a completely unknown actress with very far from conventional good looks and a down-to-earth, slightly sultry quality, to play the lead role. Then you take Dave McKean, already guilty of the fractured, haunting, heartbreakingly beautiful covers for Sandman, and filter the whole thing through his visual imagination, without - and this is important - any actual artistic or commercial limitations whatsoever.

You end up with this:



And this:



Mirrormask stunned me. It's about as far from Labyrinth as you can possibly get given the superficial similarity of the plot; Labyrinth, for all its charm, was frequently cutesy and generally rather shallow. This wasn't: it's a perfectly surreal document, offering without apology resonant, frequently inexplicable images which colonise your imagination unabashedly and cryptically, leaving reason to wander plaintively about, bumping into things. It's, frankly, weird, and rather trippy, or what I imagine trippy would be given that I have never, so to speak, tripped. The real-world emotional story is reasonably real, perhaps a little underdeveloped, but it doesn't matter: what stays with you is the imagery, the completely insane and random characters, the strange leaps of almost-logic, the extremely odd bits of humour. This is a visuality-geek's movie. It's also an art movie, not a popular film: anyone expecting Labyrinth would have been completely weirded out, so it's no wonder it tanked at the box office.

I cannot, in short, recommend it highly enough, at least to those who actually like having their minds blown. Mind-blowing will do me quite fine, thank you. I will be finding new pleasure in this film for multiple watchings to come.

1 Which I ordered well before the current Bowie fixation, so score one for me in the gypsy soothsayer department.

2 While watching Labyrinth twice. For obvious reasons. Is there anyone female who was between the ages of 8 and 25 in the 80s who doesn't have a thing about Jareth?

shapes of things

Thursday, 17 January 2008 08:43 am
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The maddened billboard poet of the Village Voice is back! Yesterday's headline:
DOP LORRY DROPS OOM!
Note the characteristic short, punchy words, the mixture of English and Afrikaans for max colloquial effect, and the neat use of assonance. As usual, it's also suggestive and tantalising rather than informative about the actual story, which is probably a lot less interesting than its headline.

In other news, Facebook wants your soul! According to The Guardian, at any rate. Not only are freely handing over your intimate details to the marketing droids, you're handing them over to fascist, neoconservative marketing droids. I do rather take issue with the tone of the article, which has that peculiarly retro note of "online communication cannot possibly be real, computers will doom us all!", but the background details on the politics of the founders are interesting.

New Bowie album. 60s rock covers. Happy.
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Eep! I shouldn't have raved so enthusiastically to jo about the motivating effect of the dinkly1 little shaded boxes on a blog calendar, since now she's posting more frequently than I am. I have no idea why this engenders in me a vague sense of competitive wossname - possibly because I currently have nothing better to do. Also, weird dreams about jo last night - see below. I may feel a subliminal sense of ownership of her techno-jinx.

The Bowie-fixation has received a momentary check as I haven't acquired any new albums for a week or so, and am thus unable to indulge my impulse towards further contextualisation. Diamond Dogs should get here from Amazon this week, though. In the meantime I'm consoling myself with Duke Special, which makes me realise that quite possibly the Bowie-fixation is simply a manifestation of pervy piano-fancying.

V. tired today, not sure if this is the result of living it up with frog and mort last night (lots of excellent wine, made chocolate mousse, recipe here, mort; also forced the Evil Landlord to eat vegetarian food, heh) or random post-glandular wossnames again. It could also be the after-effects of being confronted this morning with the evidence that I hopelessly misadvised a student in a perfectly obvious way about six months ago. Depressing.

Last Night I Dreamed: I had to rescue the jo from the house next door (except it was just a garden, no house), and spirit her, several suitcases and all her children away in the dead of night before unspecified evil forces caught on. This entailed helping her pack the suitcases, which were all laid out on the bare earth and full of orange frilly costumes. I also had to evade and later attempt to run over the tall, thin, evil monkeys in the road outside, since they were the agents of the unspecified evil. I was driving a 4x4, somewhat inexpertly, and the monkeys were good at dodging. The loading-up process took forever, I'm not sure if we ever escaped.


1 This was actually a typo for "dinky", but on mature reflection I think I like the portmanteau implications - "dinky" and "twinkly".

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Bother. My Matrix poster has just taken yet another graceful nosedive off my office wall, as it's been doing at intervals since I moved into this office. Either the prestik is not adequate to the gentle air currents from my ceiling fan, or the cosmic wossnames are telling me to stop perving Keanu's coat1 and actually do some work. Except, wait! I can't do any work, as all the relevant information-holding people only get back from holiday tomorrow. The faculty has paid me for a week's worth of surfing the 'net, interspersed with moments of concentrated perplexity as I try to interpret Discovery health options and the retirement plan. Is it just me, or is Discovery a sea of financial confusion populated with ninja sharks? Also, Vitality doesn't appear to reward me for gym three times a week at Sports Science. Rotten swiz.

On the subject of walls, my Evil Landlord has just put up a set of rather dishy new CD shelves in my study, thus giving my floating David Bowie collection a home other than a tottering pile on my desk, and incidentally revealing a few Disks Of Shame I'd forgotten I owned2. He also added another shelf to my bookshelves. This means that the approximately 5 metre-high piles of homeless books currently bedecking the study may, once I get my act together and actually shelve them, find homes. Any day now.

Department of Random Linkery: Making Light has a rather enjoyable clutch of Bruce Sterling quotes. The man talks horse sense, always supposing it's a particularly technophile and politically sussed mechanical horse with a well-developed tendency to bite the undeserving unexpectedly on the butt.

Last Night I Dreamed: another of those mad space-opera dreams, in which I was part of some kind of space expedition trying to make sense of a giant ship full of bizarre and incomprehensible alien artefacts in various tasteful shades of crimson. Later, I was wearing a somewhat home-made Supergirl outfit while flying over the city to gatecrash a slumber party up in a skyscraper flat.

1 Keanu is completely upstaged by his coat in Matrix Revolutions - it's beautifully cut and far sexier than he is.

2 Bangles. But I'm not a newt any more, I got better.

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Evil stv, known colloquially as stvil for purposes of economy, worked his wicked will on Friday night, assisted by jo, to induct self and Evil Landlord into the horrors of the Wii. I would not - and I betray my status as a semi-venerable semi-academic to say this - have believed that the darned thing would be (a) so much of a spectator sport, and (b) so much damned fun. We were playing WarioWare Smooth Moves, which is a completely insane, manic, frenetic, off-the-wall, frequently cute and occasionally scatalogical bundle of attention-deficit images loosely connected by an absolute lack of narrative logic and no shame whatsoever. Gin was drunk, pizza was consumed, the remote was circulated, fun was had. In spades.

I really enjoy the Wii interface - the endless possibilities of that damned controller are amazing. Smooth Moves plays right into this with a set of perfectly ridiculous stances to make you hold the remote in different holds ("The Waiter", "The Mohawk"), tutorials for which, in a soothing, unctuous tone of calm pseudo-sensei authority despite slightly insane statements, are interspersed with the games. Smooth Moves is basically a series of mini-games, each lasting about five seconds, in which you have to assess and interpret, with lightning speed, the necessary movement to perform the desired action, from the (more or less undignified) stance from which you start. It's actually bloody demanding, even when you've screwed up and repeated the level a couple of times, and thus have some vague idea of what to expect. And the actual actions are quite bizarre at times - stick a finger up a giant nose, for example, or pick up an apple with an elephant's trunk, or shake fruit flies off a banana. Or, in one memorable boss level, lie on the sofa helpless with giggling after watching the Evil Landlord do dance moves at the Wii's evil-minded behest.

In other news, [livejournal.com profile] strawberryfrog and [livejournal.com profile] short_mort are in town, and I caught up with them last night. I am unduly gratified that the wild gym routines of the intervening year since I last saw them have made enough difference to my physique that approving comments were made. *basks*. Except that now the mort is trying to get me to wear a push-up bra. *flees in terror*.

In other, other news, the current Bowie fixation has waned to the point where I actually listened to Pixies for most of this morning. Except now I've discovered Tin Machine. Oops.

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