freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Ah, the start of term. When lovesome students return in their droves from their dubious personal lives, bringing with them the collected germs of the earth's twelve quarters. Germs! exotic and teeming and ready to leap onto the unsuspecting and hapless forms of those of us luckless staff who are breathed on routinely by students and do not, in fact, possess any immunities to these exciting foreign strains. Half the faculty office is down with 'flu or whatever, including me, who was forced by a particular sod of a virus to lay extremely low all weekend, cancelling at short notice a theatre booking and two dinner dates. My hapless form is, alas, particularly hapless and is beset by various chronic complaints who lay low, like a rake in the grass, waiting to whump me upside the head with fatigue and/or glandular wossnames the second my guard is down. I have spent the last three and a half days pale, spaced, dizzy, nauseous and vaguely resenting the complete bastard who crept in sometime on Friday night and stuffed my throat and the bits under my chin with red-hot prickly burrs. Because, ow. I am back at work today, still pale and ick and very grumpy, but functional for most practical purposes, if they're slow practical purposes and not too demanding. The first student who gives me shit, I'm going to burst into tears and go home.

My state of mind has also been materially improved by the lovely email from the editor of the book to which I contributed 6000 reluctant and angst-filled words on African fairy-tale film. Despite the damned thing arriving in her inbox two months late and permeated with simulation, imposter syndrome and self-doubt, she has responded enthusiastically and with words like "excellent" and "wonderful" and "fascinating", which is particularly good for my lurgified self-esteem. She has also supplied a meticulous edit of the whole thing, with particular attention to eradicating the bits of my deathless prose most given to circumlocution and hesitation, and has materially improved the whole by about three thousand percent. Seriously, this part-time academia thing is very eroding to the linguistic wossnames: reading her edits, I cringe at my own tendency to over-elaboration and waffle. It's worst in the first couple of pages; after that, I settle into something that's mostly more sure and streamlined. I need to write more, clearly. And I need to write more clearly. Memo to self, kick the three and a half papers currently orbiting my brain in conceptual form OUT, and get them onto paper, and then beat them until they're acceptable and send them out into the world. I need the validation, and the practice.

It was a lovely feeling, though, lugging nine tomes on African film and oral literature back up to the library this morning and joyously dumping them. I felt, for once, like a Legit African Critic with the correct street cred, but it was lovely to get the hell rid of the pile.

My subject line is today's XKCD, which I loved, and which I have joyously bastardised. XKCD's apparently on a roll at the moment.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Sherlock-series-3_promo_john_sherlock

The BBC has just released the third series of Sherlock, which I have contrived to watch by dubious and immoral means justified to myself only by the fact that I've already ordered the DVD. (Lawful Good in spirit!). This was an absolutely essential gesture of false-identity piracy, as my Tumblr feed has exploded like a tribble in a fireworks factory into comment, analysis, speculation, heartbreak, angst, accusation, fangirling, death threats and squee and I simply couldn't read it at all until I'd seen all the episodes. Like the others, the series consists of three movie-length episodes (The Empty Hearse; The Sign of Three; His Last Vow, for extra credit name the three Doyle stories these reference...); for those of you not following along at home, Sherlock swandove off a roof last series, and is now Back. There may or may not be a certain moustache theme to subsequent proceedings.

I don't propose to spoiler the series, because it does have some enjoyable twists and overall some lovely moments and good television, and its cast is bloody brilliant. But I have, so to speak, some Generalised Beefs on the writing side. Dear god, this series is a hot mess. For a start, my girly writer-crush on Stephen Moffat is Officially Over. Whatever elegance he possessed during the "Blink" era has departed for parts unknown, lamented by all. The season is full of weird events imperfectly justified by giant plot holes, and the inherent misogyny is not, apparently, assisted by the heady power of showrunner status. He still writes terrible, paper-thin, stereotypical women who lack coherent motivation or backstory or character and who are too often utterly defined by the men they associate with.

The first two episodes are actually rather fun: Empty Hearse plays lovely metanarrative games with fan interpretations of the faked death, and Sign of Three is funny and goofy and emotionally very real. These two episodes, however, are not only written by different people, they're apparently written about different characters to those in the final episode, which is an abrupt about-face in tone, mood, characterisation, character objective and, regrettably, coherence. There are a few weird plot glitches in the first two episodes, but Last Vow seems to have been written on the Russell Davies Principle, viz. punchy set scenes you think will be particularly cool which are carelessly strung together with cardboard and string or, preferably, actual gaping holes. Alternatively, the writers are being actively misleading and/or actively withholding information to make it all Mysterious so they can do Twists next season, in which case they have borked narrative satisfaction something 'orrible. I should point out, gently, however, that Last Vow is an entirely Moffat script, whereas the first two episodes are some combination of Gatiss/Moffat/Thompson. I think this is Significant.

There's another problem. It's not just because I'm reading fanfic, although I'm reading a lot of fanfic (and, ye gods, after the myriads of versions I've ploughed through, nothing the series does can actually be too much of a surprise - I swear, I have run across most of the major developments in several forms during my slightly obsessive reading over the last few months. Either fanfic writers are good at narratives cues or the show writers are predicable. Probably both.) Even before the slashy fanfic - in fact, even before the BBC version - Sherlock Holmes has been highly susceptible to a queer reading. The Holmes/Watson relationship is so powerful, so central, you cannot avoid the homoerotic subtext with which it is rife. The BBC version has always been hyper-aware of this, probably because Mark Gatiss (who, apart from his own identity apparently has something of an obsession with Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), but it's painfully obvious in the third series that the writers are not only not on the same page, key members are actually not on the same page as the actors, directors, photographers and editors. Really, this show is constructing Sherlock as gay in the teeth of Moffat's determined refusal to admit that he is. Everything is against Moffat. Everything and everyone. His resolute scripting blinkers are undercut by the production on every level, which is one of the major sources of the incoherence and frustration of the final episode, and for the uncomfortable sense that this is degenerating into queer-baiting. Seriously, the rabbit they're going to have to pull out of a hat to reconcile some of these elements in Series 4 is at this point eight-legged, twelve foot tall and gently radioactive.

Don't let the whinging mislead you, though - I still love this show. It's still a vital and compelling interpretation of Doyle and is productive of various viewing pleasures, not all of them dodgy or Benedict Cumberbatch. I wouldn't be getting my teeth-gnashing on with poor Moffat to quite this extent if I wasn't still invested as hell. I'm just terrified that he's going to do something irrevocable to Sherlock, to close off the multiplicities and queer readings I find so interesting and generative. And I'm saddened and disappointed, because the writers are not quite as wonderful or in control as I thought they were.

While on the subject of Fan-Beloved Texts Currently Bedevilled By Poor Writing, Sarah Rees Brennan has parodied the second Hobbit movie, to her usual effect. (Spit-takes). I have shamelessly nicked my subject line from her.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm working at home this week, trying to hammer this paper into shape, and it occurs to me that really I shouldn't be alternating bouts of paper-wrestling with evenings playing Oblivion, as my metaphors become rather unruly as a result. (Or, at least, even more unruly. My metaphors do lead weird and complex private lives of their own at the best of times). This is the paper I gave at the Ghent conference and which I was profoundly unhappy with, so it's basically being rewritten from the ground up. I am thus forced to rue my own basic incoherence on an ongoing basis, but also to realise that, unwieldy though it was, my argument was also rather unsophisticated - I am now trying effectively to level it up into new, elevated planes of density and implication. This has caused the damned thing to grow tentacles and about five extra heads, so that once more it's doing that grab-Will-Smith-and-thump-him-repeatedly-against-the-side-of-the-car thing. Particularly since one of the heads it's grown was the result of incautiously using the term "modernity" and then feeling the need to research exactly what I meant by that, as a result of which I am now buried in the writhing coils of social theory and suddenly Marx, the Frankfurt School, Foucault, Habermas, Lyotard and jolly old Baudrillard are lining up to have their wicked theoretical way with me. It's not all joy in here, I can tell you, although there's a certain grim satisfaction in wresting the odd coherent paragraph out of the morass.

Also, I have a Sid incursion, and the headache isn't helping. On the upside, since I last felt the need to use the grab-Will-Smith-and-thump-him-repeatedly-against-the-side-of-the-car image, some kindly soul has actually put it up there on the internet for these little moments of need.

men-in-black-baby-delivery-car

In a neat juxtaposition of theme, the other thing I have to do this week is finalise my new car deal, and really the whole experience of car-buying and licence taking has not been unlike the grab-Will-Smith-and-thump-him-repeatedly-against-the-side-of-the-car experience. Hopefully both car and paper-writing experiences will shorty result in an adorable tentacled alien baby.

(Subject line is naturally Men in Black, Jay popping the cardboard eight-year-old girl in the shooting range on grounds of generalised suspicion).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Bugger, I forgot to go back and do the May attribution thing. Excelsior!

  • 2nd May, "it's not about what you love, it's about how you love it". Quoting Wil Wheaton on being a geek, from a response at a Q&A (linked from that post). The man is very sane.
  • 5th May, "the same old painted lady". The Mandatory David Bowie Quote, this one from "Song for Bob Dylan", slightly mis-applied because I was talking about wearing make-up. You know, I'd never realised until I looked properly at those lyrics how involuted the imagery is. "Here she comes again / The same old painted lady / From the brow of a super brain..." The image is actually Athena (wisdom) emerging from the brain of Zeus, but the song snarls up the ideas so you're not sure if the painted lady is actually Dylan's wisdom, or if she's some sort of harpy-like figure to be vanquished by his songs. Typical Bowie flow--of-consciousness, in fact.
  • 8th May, "I'd much rather have a mansion in the hills". Crowded House, "A mansion in the slums". Somewhere round the third verse they stop trying to differentiate between a caravan in the hills and a mansion in the slums, and decide they'd rather have it all. Word.
  • 13th May, "the stars look very different today". Bonus Mandatory David Bowie Quote, this time clearly from "Space Oddity", appropriately enough since I was talking about Chris Hadfield covering "Space Oddity" from the International Space Station, and yes, it bloody still makes me weepy.
  • 24th May, "you may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air". T.S. Eliot, "Macavity, the Mystery Cat", from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. You should have recognised that one. And not because of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
  • 28th May, "one day will flash and send you crashing through the ceiling". From "Thank heavens for little girls", jolly old Lerner and Loewe, originating in Gigi, but I think I probably know the Perry Como version, FSM knows from what source. The aether, perhaps.
  • 30th May, "what she says is all right by me, I kinda like that style". Talking Heads, "The lady don't mind", and if you're anything like me the mere reading of this sentence will have infallibly ear-wormed you with the song in question, which will resist all exorcism for upwards of a week. Catchy little bugger.
This should be the last ever Giant Attribution Post, on account of how I've started footnoting posts with an attribution for the subject line, just because. It's remotely possible that my academia may be showing.

In other news:


I write like
Ray Bradbury

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!



I am deeply flattered.

Cat Valente, on the other hand, writes always and only like Cat Valente. The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World is a sort of weird mythic western thing which causes me love and despair and illuminating pain, like a crowbar inserted to the head and twisted. Read it and weep. (My subject line is her penultimate sentence, which I steal because, in its precise moment and context, it's perfect in the way that Mozart is perfect).

Untitled

Sunday, 12 June 2011 12:27 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I'm still all wibbly and glandular from the sinus infection, and am moreover wading through third-year exam marking on internet eroticism. The gazelles are being thoughtful and articulate about Facebook, and betray woeful ignorance about even the most basic features of Twitter. I thought it was the young folk who were supposed to grativate to the attention-deficit stuff. Odd. Anyway, as a result of all of the above I have very little brain, so this post is a bit towards the random linkery side of things.

  • We had a truly lovely meal on Thursday night, at Park's Menu, the Korean restaurant in Durban Rd. My Salty Cracker review is here. They are criminally underattended, the place was almost empty, and it's tragic, because the food is excellent and the vibe is wonderful. Go ye forth, all ye local witterers, and dine there often. It's also ridiculously good value for money.

  • Just for [livejournal.com profile] first_fallen, Say It With Llamas. Llamas are oddly adorable.

  • Lev Grossman in defence of genre. He makes intelligent points. I hadn't put two and two together about the Modernists, but I can absolutely see it, they were instrumental in creating that sense that story and genre are illegitimate literary pursuits. It strikes me that this is probably why I never liked the Modernists.

  • MicFic is coming to an end, so this is my last one. I am sad. While the discipline of a short piece every two weeks has brought my various Godzilla-like hang-ups about writing bounding out of the woodwork beating their chests, I've also enjoyed it and it's been very good for me. Woe.

Tonight the Usual Suspects, in the safety and comfort of our kitchen, are going to try and concoct something resembling crispy Chinese duck with pancakes. Don't try this at home, kids.

a blustery day

Monday, 30 May 2011 11:42 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Oh, hooray, winter is here! Cape Town has been banging and flapping for several days, apparently in a spirited attempt to blow away to sea entirely. The garden is full of drifts of dead leaves, twigs, branches, and the top third of the small tree outside the garden wall, which blew over during the weekend. (I'm sad about that. I like that tree. It's a small, quiet, retiring sort of herbaceous creature with lovely dark leaves and an attractive shape. I hope it survives its involuntary deforestation.) It's also been bucketing with rain; outside my window as I type there's the traditional water-going-past-horizontally thing with which the Cape is wont to while away its winter months. Hobbit and Golux have celebrated the winter by reaching enough of a detente to sleep on my bed at the same time, which means my back is perpetually a bit stiff from contorted kitty-accommodating sleeping postures. Hobbit's a sprawler.

It's all good. I love this time of year. Clearly the buckets of rain was all that was necessary to hoick me out of the homicidal tendency to loathe the world in general and everyone in it in particular: I'm feeling much less misanthropic. This is surprising, as last night's spaghetti bolognaise session in honour of [livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink and the Usual Suspects entailed enough wine that I had a mad insomnia attack at 4am, and have had precisely four hours of sleep. Fortunately the Dear Little Students, possibly in remorse at the droves of them that pestered me last week (including 23 who turned up in the last two hours before the 4pm course change deadline on Wednesday), have shown neither hair nor hide this morning. Sensible gazelles.

I remembered my umbrella. There's a heater on my feet. The tea supplies are holding out. I'm playing the Decemberists. I submitted my Microfiction on time. No-one has knocked on my door all morning. I don't have to do anything this evening. Happiness is a simple creature.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Hooray! Baby wol! Just because. Courtesy of Zooborns.



Baby wols have legs like tree trunks and a perpetual state of bad hair day. They're incurably cute, and the annoyed glare is fairly characteristic. When they're annoyed they clack their beaks together with a rather threatening noise that sounds exactly as though someone's slamming shut a tight-fitting wooden container in a bit of a pet.

Just to keep with the theme, my latest Micfic, which is all Childe-Rolandey with a touch of Thurber and which for once I actually don't hate, features earthquake owls. I have no idea what an earthquake owl is, except that I think it's small and green and innocuous looking and of the burrowing persuasion. The earthquakes come later, if you annoy it. Annoyed owls are very annoyed.

Earthquake owls sound like the kind of thing you'd find in Australia, probably on the same general principles as drop bears. My faculty, in the person of the Dean, is threatening to send me off to Australia for a week in July as the faculty delgate on what's known merrily as a "benchmarking mission", which means we compare ourselves earnestly to the academic processes of various other institutions. Apparently I'd be terribly useful at this because I'm both an administrator and a teacher. Hooray! finally, some kind of validation of my bizarre hybrid existence. This may all fall through, or be torpedoed from above by some more senior academic who rather wants to go in my place, but it's an interesting prospect.

This post apparently brought to you courtesy of tags beginning with the letter "W". I should go and eat something now, I think I'm light-headed.

puddle-jumping

Thursday, 21 April 2011 11:34 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Yesterday was all misty and moisty, with that kind of light, persistent rain that drifts gently sideways in the wind but doesn't let that distract it from implementing a fairly relentless soaking policy. My garden is all happy and damp, if somewhat buried under plane tree leaves because I've been too busy playing Dragon Age to actually do any raking. (There's a long post in my future about the narrative structure and principles of Dragon Age. You have been warned). Today is clear and cold, and the cats ran screaming through the house when I emerged from my bedroom in the first boots of the season. You'd think they'd learn that I metamorphose into a sort of clumpy, jackbooted thing punctually every year and no-one ever actually dies, but no, the annual ritual is fear and trembling for several weeks as my feet inexplicably morph. Dear little twits.

In fact, it's autumn, and winter is breathing down its neck. I am a happy bunny. Also, memo to self, acquire new umbrella, those bastards who broke into my car that one time nicked it.

The Dragon Age fixation means I'm not good for much in the Interesting Life department, because second-hand rehashes of someone's gaming experience are not of blinding interest to the onlooker. (I assume. If you'd be blindingly interested, do let me know and I shall unleash the wittering accordingly). I did, however, cook dinner for [livejournal.com profile] strawberryfrog on Tuesday, which was fun, and stretched my catering-for-vegetarians muscles a bit, as well as allowing the Frog to photograph my cats in a variety of contorted positions (both him and them). There was also a Lady Blackbird gaming session last night, which is evincing more and more bizarre twists as we get right into the swing of the DMless format in providing our own challenges. (Giant space jellyfish! Three giant space jellyfish! And an Imperial fleet!). It's been an interesting roleplaying experience because I'm playing a character I frankly dislike - she's a privileged, sheltered, narcissistic twit, and I'm only able to access the necessary mode of flamboyant self-centredness if I'm slightly sloshed. On the upside, fated love triangles, and she blows things up with lightning, which is always amusing. Also, parrot!

I also posted a new Microfiction. You are probably bored with me saying that I don't like my own writing and never feel it succeeds, but this one felt particularly slight to me. I was weirded and confused when a fellow writer mentioned they really liked it. For a highly trained literary critic I have absolutely no discernment, apparently.

Finally, today is my last day of work before an 11-day break, sparked by the inescapable elegance of taking three days off around the mad Easter holidays. *dances around office on tip-tips of toes*
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Good lord, but the spam on this LJ account is starting to gain momentum - I'm having to delete it several times a week, which is odd, as I am certainly not a high-traffic site, or even one with a particularly obvious demographic. Strange and random and horribly wholesale are the targetings of marketers. And the spam comments are all completely surreal. I fail to see the purpose of spam which makes some generic, specious and reasonably accurate flattering statement about my beautiful prose, ritually reiterates one word that's a product-related trigger of some sort, and fails to include any linkage or actual product name.

It's been a very odd few days, as you can possibly tell by the uncharacteristic gap in posting. I am, once more, insomniac like whoa and dammit, which means that I have even less brain than usual and a tendency to utterly forget important things, like, e.g. to bring up to campus this morning all the work I did at home on Friday. Or to finish or post a Micfic. My level of stun has been entirely appropriate for bumbling around Ferelden hitting darkspawn very hard and with a sort of meditative calm (or, in fact, hitting on companions very hard and in a spirit of amused experimentation), so thank heavens for Dragon Age. I certainly haven't been appropriate for much else.

The oddness of the last few days may, in fact, have been triggered by, or at least be perfectly exemplified in, our Thursday night Fiasco! game, which managed to infest a small Kansas motel with love triangles, obsessive Pony Express subplots, teen pregnancy, wild and rather hit-or-miss badger-acquisition schemes, [livejournal.com profile] librsa's completely bizarre and beautifully deadpan immortal eccentric, and a Family Secret about circuses and super-strength. (My character hoarded all the white dice and then rolled ridiculously well for a good outcome, and ended up finding happiness as a superhero called Padlock). I do like this game.

It was also a reasonable herald to the weekend's levels of odd: I'm possibly also very tired (and hence, paradoxically, insomniac) because our Cherished Institution ran its open day on Saturday, and I spent five hours solid giving advice to confused Matrics and talks to giant crowded lecture theatres. This was on top of Friday night's shindig to celebrate the professional oath-taking of the students in one of our department's programmes, to which I was invited rather pointedly because of the curriculum work I do with the programme. It transpires that the pointed invite was so that they could haul me up on stage for a Special Award for, apparently, input and patience and keeping them honest. In the Great List of Completely Blindsided Moments in my life, it's currently ranking slightly below the Evil Landlord giving me a netbook for my birthday. Did not see that coming at all. May have simply gasped incoherently, like a goldfish, in place of a thank-you speech. Am somewhat gratified that the Dean was in the audience being forced to notice that I am apparently doing a Good Job. Also, it's entirely fortuitous that none of the incidences of me losing patience badly at peak times of the year have apparently been in the context of the programme. Lucky, that.

Now I shall write a micfic, because I am being Haunted by the Spectre of Stv's Eyebrows. Aargh.

the game's the thing

Sunday, 3 April 2011 02:43 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am forced to contemplate the horrible reality that I'm about to upgrade my computer for entirely frivolous reasons. The Evil Landlord played the new Dragon Age for fourteen hours straight yesterday, which meant I was entirely unable to play the old Dragon Age, my computer being a bit weeny even for games which are several years old. I had a moderately productive day as a result, but you have no idea how twitchy it made me to hear fights and explosions and tactical swearing resounding down the passage, and not be able to pursue my own enjoyment of same. Although, I have to admit, if I do upgrade (which I can afford, and have been promising myself) and install the game and my save files, this house will succumb to a thick pall of computer gaming over evenings and weekends, in which we'll probably entirely neglect to speak to each other, cook meals or feed the cats. So, not much change there, then.

(We are remembering to feed the cats, mostly because they have that "interpose self between person and screen" thing down pat, but a reasonably large proportion of the feeding seems to be for the benefit of the marauding neighbourhood tomcat, who has cunningly circumnavigated our sneakily closed cat-door and is now accessing the house through various bedrooms or, quite possibly, the walls. In addition to nicking food, he beats up our cats and, occasionally, sprays. I am now open to offers of dart-guns, cat-traps, hit-squads, small quantities of plastic explosive, or voodoo curses of the requisite nature).

Part of the moderate productivity was a new Microfiction. This volume's themes are all pictures, this one being the very odd one here. I think I may have been getting a bit stale with the one-word themes: this one has galvanised me to slightly odd creativity. Then again, it's a very odd picture.

Now I shall go and plant pansies. Mmmm, pansies. Totally the wrong time of year, but I love their little velvety faces. I also have to do something to console myself for the slightly blasted heath nature of the garden after the garden service had with it their wicked way - they've mown the lawn down to a sort of straggling stubble, circa Aragorn somewhere around Rivendell. Which will teach me to mow the darned thing more often, I suppose. A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot, but its demands are unceasing.

forests of the night

Tuesday, 22 March 2011 08:47 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Good grief. Last night I dreamed I was staying in the guest house in Neil Gaiman's garden, but managed to somehow antagonise the pet tiger he had lounging around the place, so I spent a lot of the dream tiptoeing around avoiding it in a state of some trepidation. It was perfectly friendly to everyone else, but at one point it came and slept up against the guesthouse door in a marked manner. In retrospect, this might have had something to do with Hobbit sleeping on my feet, but why my subconscious should attribute tigers to Neil Gaiman is anyone's guess. Later there was the somewhat confused session in the hairdresser's that was also a delicatessen, but it wasn't really connected and I never actually had my hair cut.

I've had a lovely five days doing bugger-all, which I really needed. About the only things I actually achieved were chocolate chip cookies, another season of Smallville, and some progress in my current project, which is to scan old family photos my dad left. Black-and-white photos of one's parents in their twenties are a very oddly poignant experience. Oh, and a Microfiction (the theme was "Vainglory"). Not, I think, a very good piece of writing, I had an argument with Jo about last-minute free-flow creation versus careful and conscious shaping, which resulted in a mutual challenge to try the opposite technique, and it transpires I suck at the free-flow creation thing. Unless an idea has grabbed me to the point where it writes itself, which I'd say happens about one time in three, I'm all about the crafting, and the uncrafted first draft is generally horrible. I threw out about eight horrible first drafts this week, and the one I finally posted is a thin and obvious thing. The Romantic poets would hate me. I'm OK with that.

I have a four-day working week before me, three if you count working at home on Friday, and it's all cool and cloudy out there with a fine mist of rain. It's a good start.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Reading! I can do it, who knew? As promised, two books which I've read in the last week, and which have struck me somewhat forcefully.

I acquired Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw because I was so impressed with Among Others. Tooth and Claw has also knocked my socks off, although it sounds gimmicky when you summarise it: it's a Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope social study whose protagonists, instead of being humans, are dragons. Where it's not in any way gimmicky is in its execution, which is pitch-perfect. The voice is superbly sustained, with that beautifully-controlled social perceptiveness masked by understatement, irony and a focus on manners which I so love about Austen. The incongruity of giant, highly carnivorous flying reptiles involving themselves in plots about marriage, inheritance and navigating social and religious strata wears off in about a page and a half, and the world becomes simply compelling and immersive.

I loved this book unreservedly, not just because it's so nicely constructed and narratively self-aware, but because it's so clever. It can never be simply a facile gimmick when the intersection of Polite Manners with Giant Savage Dragons is used for frankly political ends, to expose nineteenth-century social niceties as exactly what they are, the veneer over savage and primitive impulses. Marriage plots and concerns about the purity of young maidens are suddenly horrifying when male dragons can induce sexual response and irreversible scale colour change in young females by simply going too close. Inheritance issues become obviously bloody when you're not just worrying about who inherits the land, you're also worrying about who gets to consume the parent's growth-inducing corpse. And don't let's get into social class and governance when a landlord's right is to eat the smaller, weaker offspring of his vassals, to keep the species strong and incidentally increase his own size. It has an amazing, inescapable, perfectly consistent and entirely shudder-making logic. Ms. Walton is a clever lady, oh yes she is. Read this book.

The other book I read, by way of a somewhat profound leap of tone and theme, was Lauren Beukes's Moxyland, which has been sitting in my shelves intimidating me for about six months. The novel has been making waves as a fast-rising example of South African science fiction; it's set in near-future Cape Town, and threads together a sort of cyperpunky corporate power/arty resistance movement/hacker/nanotech/terrorism/marketing/internet culture tapestry which, though fairly incisive social awareness and a fast-paced multiple-viewpoint narrative, manages to be both challenging and gripping. The South African flavour is powerful and interesting, and she takes surprisingly few logical steps on from current cellphoneophilia to make it into an alarming emblem of social and corporate control. The bleakness and betrayal and double-crossing are profoundly satisfying because they're so likely. I also enjoyed the dogs.

But. I can't really give this the same wholehearted endorsement I did to Tooth and Claw. On the one hand this is exactly the kind of novel that the insular and up-its-own-arsepipe South African literary scene badly needs to drag it kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat; I applaud Ms. Beukes both for her project and her achievement, and cordially wish more power to her elbow. On the other hand, reading Moxyland left me with a slightly vague sense of, "hang on, did we really need another William Gibson? wasn't he a bit... 80s?" The innovation in this book is in applying the familiar South African setting to the classic cyberpunk narrative; it makes full and intelligent use of SA's social inequalities as well as its cultural tropes, but it doesn't otherwise critique or reinvent the genre. While I can see echoes of Doctorow and other more recent writers, it feels as though she's rehearsing the familiar motions of South Africa discovering and appropriating a cultural expression about twenty years after the rest of the world has exhausted it and moved on. Moxyland is an intelligent and pertinent infusion of South Africa into an existing tradition; it's not a new South African novel form. I enjoyed it, but I feel a bit cheated. It is, however, her first sf novel, and her second one, Zoo City, seems to be generating even more buzz, so I look forward to seeing where she takes things. It strikes me that she's made an excellent start.

While on subjects literary, I also can haz a new MicroFiction entry. This time I seem to have inadvertently written Lovecraftian fanfic. (OK, I lie, it was completely advertent). To my horror, none of my fellow MicFiccers are obsessive enough about Lovecraft to spot the reference, so I hope it means something to one of you lot.
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The student query flow, thank heavens, is starting to slow - I seem to have upped efficiency and communication a tad this year, so a lot of admin attempts were correctly located last week instead of illegally this week. Of course, that means last week was unspeakable. Conversely, today was almost conversable. I didn't bite anyone once!

Random linkery is random, because I should really be checking late qualifiers, and don't have time to think up anything meaningful. Just because, Dog Hates Dalek, which I can't embed because LJ hates Flash. What fascinates me is the fact that, even though this is a toy version of an entirely imaginary mechanical creature which goes both backwards and forwards, the dog has still immediately grasped which end is front and which is back, and can thus strategically approach without being EX-TER-MIN-ATEd.

Oh, and the latest MicroFiction efforts are up - they're increasingly inclined to clump at the end of the fortnight, although in my case I plead extenuating circumstances of work hell. I don't like mine much, it was very last-minute and seems a bit facile. Then again, when do I ever like mine? Memo to self, never become a professional writer, the self-loathing would kill me.

In the Department of Grimly Determined Attribution, today's subject line courtesy of Worthless Word For The Day, btw. Yesterday they gave us "steampunk", which seemed curiously redundant.

deep breath

Sunday, 23 January 2011 08:05 pm
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So, orientation starts tomorrow. I've worked a week of 11-hour days in preparation, and most of yesterday and today, in between odd bouts of socialising ([livejournal.com profile] librsa's birthday picnic yesterday, lunch with [livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink today). Two hours of photocopying this morning, an extended wrestle with advisor schedules and an online evaluation yesterday, an evening spent writing up everything I know about curriculum advice in alphabetical order, which was a strangely surreal procedure. I even put up a Microfic, although it's a very quick and unpolished effort.

It is remotely possible that I'm prepared for tomorrow. This is not, of course, going to prevent me from lying awake tonight fretting about all the little details I've forgotten, and whether my OLs will rise magnificently to the occasion or will crumble under the onslaught. (They've always done the former, but I'm paranoid).

General lessons learned this last week:
  1. Never administer enormous logistical challenges if you're a control freak.
  2. This is where my health problems are stemming from. I've been fine for months, but my sinuses are acting up today for the first time since around August. Bloody stress.
  3. It may produce presentations rife with thundering cliché, but Powerpoint is weirdly easy to use. It certainly beats my previous line in dodgy overhead projector copies.
  4. Earl Grey makes the world go round.
I shall now go and watch a celebratory Smallville episode before toddling goodly off to bed at 9pm in preparation for a 6am start. Sigh. Season 4. They're making Clark play football. I don't get American football. It's a completely bizarre combination of macho and mincing, and I'm finding it both incomprehensible and insanely boring to watch. I say this from the point of view of someone who finds a slow, pleasant enjoyment in several arcane hours of cricket. I suppose it takes all sorts.

Wish me luck! I shall be thin on the ground for the next few days.
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  • I'll swear a billboard I drove past yesterday read "BABOONS DISCOVER NEW CITRUS CULTIVAR". I must have been hallucinating. The one about "JUDGE SKINS SPUD" is mildly entertaining, however. Clever headlining to a very valid criticism.

  • I'm kinda going to disengage from yesterday's Great Attribution Debate, because we seem to be beating our heads against profound artistic and conceptual differences here, and I don't see any of us really moderating our viewpoints any time soon. But it's amusing to note the synchronicity of the BoingBoing link to this flowchart, which doesn't touch on the artistic issues which are clogging our debate, but which is rather fun. Also adds new meaning to ROFLcopters.

  • My orientation programme offers students the chance to do the computer skills assessment online from home instead of during the programme. (Sneaky corollary: if they can't make it work, they probably don't have the skills to pass it anyway). A phone conversation from yesterday:
    STUDENT: Um, hi, I'm trying to do the computer assessment online and my login isn't working...
    ME: The initial page of directions says quite clearly that we are not able to offer technical support on this, if you can't make it work from home you'll need to do it during the Orientation programme.
    STUDENT: Oh, I didn't read that.
    ME: (tearing hair out quietly) This may also explain why you can't get it to work.

  • I absolutely cannot remember where I found the link to this page. HP Lovecraft's Commonplace Book, i.e. the list of vague story ideas he jotted down. Very Lovecraftian, but also potentially useful for MicFic inspiration.
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So, riddle me this, witterers. (While we're running with the Gollum theme). What is the difference, in your opinion, between the following, in purely ethical or moral terms? (Please leave legal implications out, I consider them to be a giant red herring in this particular debate).

  1. Creating a new story as a response to an old one, with the new one self-consciously referencing the old one but without using its actual wording. (Postmodernism Red Flag!)
  2. Creating a new story as a response to an old one, using chunks of actual wording from the old one.
  3. Creating a new piece of art by re-drawing and re-interpreting images based on pictures you found on the internet.
  4. Creating a new piece of art by cutting and pasting a bunch of different images you found on the internet.
  5. Creating a new piece of art by radically manipulating an image you found on the internet.
In all of the above cases, how far would you feel impelled to annotate your own new piece of work by attributing the source and artist/writer of the original piece?

The context is the current MicFic project - we are producing a hard copy of our first volume of stories, just for ourselves, no profit or general distribution involved. We bogged down last night in a genuinely divided argument about whether or not you needed to attribute the artwork you used to illustrate your story if you'd manipulated it extensively or if it was a small part of a large collage of images. The whole thing has blindsided me completely, because to me it's perfectly clear-cut. If you use someone else's work, you say so. The interesting thing is that in pretty much everyone else's mind, there seems to be a huge divide between the written word and art. People generally agreed that you shouldn't use someone else's wording without attribution, but were fine with the idea of using clip art or Creative Commons licensed stuff without referencing the source.

Thinking about it in the cold, clear light of day and without the inflaming effect of lots of wine, I think that for me this becomes an issue of recognisability. To bring it into my own area of expertise, postmodern re-interpretations of fairy tale don't step outside the text to explicitly reference the tale/s they're messing with - they tend to use well-known ones and expect you to recognise them, and the stories kinda lose their point if you don't know the original. Postmodern pastiches of well-known artworks likewise don't tend to explicitly say what they're playing with, you're meant to know. (Case in point: all those riffs on Magritte's "Ce n'est pas un pipe", like the MtG card on BoingBoing earlier this year). In these cases, recognition of the original artwork is built into the new artwork on a fundamental level.

But to me, if you're using low-profile images to make your own mash-up art, you kinda owe it to the humble artist to nod to their existence and their contribution to your work. It's still your work. You've transformed the elements you used, but someone still originated them, and to me it feels profoundly wrong not to say so. And, while I think my awareness of this is heightened by being in academia, and in particular by having spent the last six months trying to beat back plagiarism in the faculty, I think the principle holds true any damn where.

But YMMV, and I'd love to know what everyone thinks.

comedy hiccups

Sunday, 9 January 2011 06:58 pm
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I'm attacked by hiccups fairly often, and when they hit, it's violently, with full-body twitches, and, owing to the correlation between hiccups and booze, and my tendency to verbosity when slightly sloshed, the intrusion of loud and helpless "hics" into my usual babbling. All of the above has caused my loving friends to invent the notion of "comedy hiccups", and to point out their arrival, loudly and with mockery. We will not go into the horrid litany of "you're married to..." which they fling at me in an effort to shock me out of the wretched things. The fact that it frequently works is a testament to their inventiveness.

I hadn't realised for how long the hiccup affliction has been a feature in my life until I stumbled on the scrap of paper reproduced below, which [livejournal.com profile] egadfly scribbled, I suspect during a late-night role-playing tournament design session, lo these many years ago (as in decades). I feel his essentially minimalist style captures the full-body nature of the phenomenon very well.



This is a Microfiction weekend, and owing to a terminal difficulty with this theme ("Silver") I've actually put up two, "Silver" and "Household God". I don't like either of them much. YMMV. I don't like most of what I write, after all.
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My irritation at Eternity hijacked my microfiction this week: the alien invasion story I had mostly written will have to wait for another theme. Instead, "Impundulu". Because it had to be done. It may make more sense if you know the legend, try here. Real African vampires will kick your butt, broody Western undead.
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My latest Micfic is up. The theme was "cat", and I've gone all fairy tale. This last is predictable, but in fact this time I've gone so specifically fairy tale that the story is not going to make any sense at all unless you've read Mme D'Aulnoy's "The White Cat". This is actually a serious drawback, it's a moderately obscure tale which I doubt will be familiar to a lot of people.

I'm all torn about this. The story said exactly what I wanted to say about the tale, which revolves around my fascination with the obsessive relationship the prince has with the cat when she's still a cat - it's weird and significant, and has to be accounted for. I have no idea if my personal theory about it is going to be clearly readable from the story. I'm coming to regard this word limit as a nasty, iron-clad personal nemesis who fortnightly dings me over the head with his giant steel club of word-crushing doom. I swear this story could have made sense without the necessity of reading the original tale if I'd had more space.

But the overall question is more philosophical. Postmodernism and intertextuality and all that guff cheerfully assumes that you have to know other texts before you can fully understand the new one that's commenting on them. Is this a legitimate way of adding layering and density and implication? is it cheating? is it elitist? is it pretentious beyond belief? do I worry too much?

The picture, incidentally, is an illustration to the tale by children's illustrators Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, who also did The Hundred and One Dalmations. I've always loved those illustrations. This one is gorgeous - White Cat and prince and random courtier watch impressionistic fireworks.
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Huh. It was an excellent evening at the Roundhouse last night, but for some reason the rich food gave me particularly trippy dreams. I spent a fair portion of the night bounding around the bedroom in a somnambulistic state, trying to prevent the little pewter statue of the man on the horse from galloping around sinking gradually and inexorably through the floor. Somehow the sinking into the floor made him simultaneously end up coming slowly through the ceiling, so that he was in imminent danger of falling on my head. It was all very worrisome. I'm quite tired, the more so because we had another extremely enjoyable session of Fiasco! this afternoon, and ended up nuking Ithaqa the Windlord from orbit, more or less. All very strenuous.

Yesterday's "aargh academia" link was possibly, as [livejournal.com profile] herne_kzn points out, unduly traumatic. The discussion of it on Language Log tends to suggest that it's not an unrealistic representation, depressingly enough. By way of balancing out all this unrelieved gloom, have Bohemian Rhapsody played on slide whistles. Which I initially typed "slide rules", which would have been a lot more surreal.

Finally, while I'm wayward puppying, my latest Microfiction went up earlier this week, and I completely forgot to mention it. The theme was "Outsider". Now with added religious fundamentalism. And gargoyles. I think I may have unconsciously modelled the protagonist on a pre-DR Chrysoprasia.

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