freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I allowed Christmas to gently drift on past this year, largely unmarked and definitely unmourned. My personal combination of rampant atheism and psychotically anti-capitalist loathing of merry Yuletide marketing makes Christmas something to be pointedly avoided, and I left it as a kind of island of non-event in the middle of "Christmas eve" dinner with jo&stv and Pixie (slow-roasted lamb, also Eton mess and a sort of chocolate pear custard thing achieved by leaving the crust off my usual chocolate pear tart in deference to Pixie's gluten intolerance, also little or no mention of actual Christmas) and Boxing Day lunch with my sister and niece later today. My sole festive nods were in cooking myself a pork fillet stuffed with mushrooms, and in indulging my fast-becoming Christmas day tradition of reading the annual Drarry advent fanfic by saras_girl, who has a lovely archive of them on AO3, with the 2018 one on her lj starting here. They are lovely, gentle, slow-moving Christmas fics which usually feature snow and pining, and a Harry Potter resolutely doing anything else with his life but fight dark wizards, which I have always found a compellingly logical response to having no choice but to be a Boy Hero.

I usually post an entertaining Christmas song of some sort. This year it's not really Christmassy, but it's kinda atmospheric and also made me both unabashedly geek out, and snort-laugh repeatedly. "Hall of the Mountain King" performed by tuned Tesla coils.

And, because Ursula Vernon no longer produces her annual Christmas-wishing cute creature, this seems to be a reasonable substitute. Merry Christmas Hawaaian Monk Seal. With an eel stuck up its nose. (The article is deliriously wonderful.)

I hope everyone had exactly the kind of Christmas they wanted and enjoyed.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I woke up randomly at 5.30am this morning, which is fairly standard at the moment, probably because my body actually hates me and refuses to take more than 7 hours of sleep regardless of what time I go to bed, whether or not I set an alarm or how tired I am (newsflash: very, more or less perpetually). What was cruel and unusual was lying awake for ten minutes happily plotting out my Saturday and luxuriating in the feeling of not having to fight traffic to work, which lasted only too briefly before I suddenly remembered it was actually Friday and a work day. Not cricket, brain. I do not appreciate being hoodwinked and conceptually ambushed by my own cerebellum before my first cup of tea.

I am now sitting in my office having a mental wrestle with myself about whether or not I'm going to attend a faculty curriculum symposium in twenty minutes, which will subject me to (a) crowds, (b) political rhetoric, and (c) interpersonal tension, all of which give me hives. I am very, very close to mentally categorising it as "not my problem, I'm not an academic", giving this whole profoundly flawed academic edifice the finger, and buggering off home. Which would be bad, and wicked, and awful, and lovely.

On the upside, tonight I take my sister out for a birthday dinner at the local Italian joint, which is very nice, so I suppose there's that. On the further upside, for the last few days I have been re-reading the entire Drarry fanfic archive of blamebrampton, which is unduly British and frequently hysterically funny Potterslash written by someone I darkly suspect is personally located somewhere in the bowels of the British civil service, and to which I attribute any preponderance of British idiom in the above.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
oh god I can't believe it, the evil magic of Tumblr has ended up addicting me to an online webcomic about cute American college boys playing hockey. The American version of hockey, i.e. on ice. Ngozi's Check, Please! is weirdly poignant, bizarrely socially aware and basically adorable, mostly because Bitty (small cute gay Southern boy who bakes), and because of the locus of well-intentioned awkward anxiety that is Jack. The comic and fan responses to same have inexorably infected my Tumblr feed over the last couple of months. The fanfic is lovely. Of all the things I ever thought I'd find myself doing, enjoying web comics about cute American college boys playing hockey significantly doesn't make the list in any way at all.

As revenge, because it's my only defence against this sort of thing, I shall proceed to dissect it ruthlessly, and with maximum use of polysyllables. I think the thing appeals not just because it's well written and beautifully drawn, but because it self-consciously appropriates and subverts the classically heteronormative and traditionally ideologically ugly setting of the frat house. The male sports team/frat house is a homosocial space whose construction generally implies sexism, toxic masculinity, profanity and all-out grossness, but Ngozi's version of it is resolutely and redeemingly utopian. There's enough grossness and profanity to be vaguely realistic, but the stereotypes are lovingly deconstructed: homosociability is mutually supportive, socially aware, irreverent without being destructive. This reaches its apotheosis in Shitty, the team's Gender Studies wonk and part-time nudist, because apparently "Every hockey team should have a hipster who wears floral snapbacks and shouts about the ironies of male sexuality in the American collegiate Greek system while waiting in line for the pong table to free up." Characters rip into each other cheerfully, both on and off the ice, but the teasing is free of malice. Bitty's gay identity is open, and unquestioningly supported by the team; his endearing personality, which is approximately what you'd get if Tintin embraced the twink stereotype slightly more flamboyantly while more or less continuously baking pie, exists in beautiful relief against the far more macho vibe of the rest of the team.

Part of what Ngozi is doing here, I think, is to present as primary text something which has the sensibility of fan fiction straight off the bat; like slash fic, it posits male relationships in an idealised mode, one in which homoerotic elements, whether literal or subtextual, are celebrated rather than being denied, by the characters and setting as well as the writer. (The college setting is the fictional Samwell, presented as being the most queer-friendly campus in America.) The comic is thus inherently self-aware, existing in dialogue not only with its own raft of external texts (character Twitter feeds, the writer's blog with additional comics, headcanons and occasional character Q&As) but with the whole fanfic paradigm itself. Quite my favourite bit of the series is Johnson the existential goalie, who's a minor character whose hobbies include "breaking the fourth wall": anything he says is metacommentary on his own and the other characters' existences as comic book characters, and he cheerfully acknowledges his own purpose as a device for furthering various narrative arcs. The really good fanfic has him popping in to comment on the difference between his own characterisation in and out of canon. It makes my narrative-fondling toes curl in girly glee.

So, weird but true: I have to admit to enjoying web comics about cute American college boys playing hockey. Because life's odd like that. In a good way.

a saviour machine

Sunday, 17 April 2016 08:15 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is a piece of fan-fiction that posits the Avengers taking over the American presidential election, and I love it very, very much. It's acute and funny, but it's also a beautifully-encapsulated demonstration of exactly what fanfic does. Superheroes are already about wish fulfilment, and most importantly about agency - they are a response to the increasing complexity and scale of our lives, in which our own agency is nil in the greater scheme of things. Superheroes are a projection of our desire to make a difference. So this fic externalises that desire and makes it literal by injecting that utopian notion of agency into one of the most obvious and hopeless examples of large-scale dysfunction in our current environment, namely the American political system. Fanfic does for narrative what superheroes do for social evil - it gives us control. It must be a horrible feeling of helplessness, to be American and to feel that there's no way to stop the obvious asinine stupidities of Trump rampaging bullheadedly over the American political landscape. I'd take a Tony Stark puppet government in a heartbeat. Clean energy in three years, socialised medicine in five. Fanfic and superheroes both have power because their ultimate engagement is not with reality, but with utopia.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, dear. In pursuit of watering the burgeoning and increasingly verdant collection of pots in my back courtyard, I seem to have accidentally watered the Hobbit. He is slinking about the house at half his usual volume and twice his usual density, looking matted and hedgehog-spiky and somewhat cowed. I would be feeling more guilty except he's amusing like this :>.

In the Department of Random Ongoing Fangirling: so it turns out that if you slow the Sherlock theme down it sounds like something from a Tim Burton soundtrack.

I am obscurely charmed by this. Particularly since it beautifully accompanies fanart such as, for example, that by La-Chapeliere-Folle on deviantart, which won't let me link to the image, phooey. The Sherlock/Burton crossover appears to be inevitable. I blame Sherlock's silhouette.

Random fanfic rec! surprisingly, not Sherlock. This is an exceptionally beautifully-written slow-burn Harry/Draco fic which does my favourite thing in Potterfic, which is to explore the manifest iniquities and logical flaws inherent in Rowling's Slytherin/Gryffindor stereotyping. She really doesn't do nuance or sophistication or real human impulse in her moralities. Fortunately many fanfic writers absolutely do. This one is set mostly in pub arguments and is amusing as well as true.

The subject line is because it's a beautiful sunny day and my car sound system is onto The Life Pursuit, the Belle & Sebastian album voted most likely to make me randomly happy. It's all catchy, boppy, whimsical tunes, and I am a slut for catchy.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am Randomly Amused this morning.

  1. My lovely new car is a lovesome thing, god wot, but it has a rather cheap and nasty sound system. As a result, I can't persuade it to play music off my MP3 player in any format other than through individual tracks in one ginormous string. This means that when it randomly resets, as it does occasionally if I don't switch the car off in exactly the right order, it starts at the top and works down, playing my musical collection in strict alphabetical order by (a) artist and (b) album title. The last time it did this I thought, right, clearly the Cosmic Wossnames are trying to tell me something, let's just let it. In the last week it has thus played through Arcade Fire and Bed on Bricks in short order and is currently in the middle of the more than elegant sufficiency of Belle & Sebastian which characterises my music collection. I am thoroughly enjoying the resulting slight whiplash, as well as the chance to rediscover odd corners of my musical taste I'd forgotten about.

    The Rules dictate that I don't skip tracks or otherwise disturb the order, other than the obligatory repeat of "Crown of Love" and "Wake Up", because I'm physically incapable of listening to either track just once. (Other than that I have decided, on mature reflection, that "The Suburbs" is probably my favourite Arcade Fire album, possibly because "Wasted Hours".) I'd forgotten how much fun Bed on Bricks are - they're a local outfit of some maturity and skill, not to mention considerable iconoclastic whimsy ("large Nigerian..."), whose overall style is eclectic but sounds at times like Chilli Peppers circa "Californication". And, for no adequately defined reason I haven't actually listened to any Belle & Sebastian for months. They tend to land me on campus in the morning obscurely soothed regardless of how many actual BMWs have cut me off in traffic. Possibly it's the Scottish accents.

  2. I think I posted the gifset of the cute wol bathing in a previous post, probably accompanied by the horrible moist owlet pun with which it was doing the rounds. Someone in my Tumblr feed unearthed the YouTube video which spawned it, which features not only the full bath experience (bathing birds are ridiculously cute, I love the air of ferocious concentration), but the bit where someone dries the bedraggled wol with a hair dryer. This makes me obscurely happy because I have rather lovely memories of my dad doing the same to his peregrines, when they'd been sitting on their block in the garden during a highveld thunderstorm. They do the same thing the wol does, spreading their wings to dry under them. I do like birds.

  3. Obligatory BC content: the Sherlock fandom is currently all up in arms because Benedict Cumberbatch, in an interview, was somewhat patronisingly dismissive of fanfic. (Not that this is anything new, he's characteristically a bit tone-deaf to fanfic issues and tends to make pronouncements which are clearly based on extremely sketchy knowledge; I suppose the fandom will eventually stop having small volcanic eruptions about it on the grounds that exhausting). What's tickling me no end, though, is the beautifully in-character fan responses: the current meme is to pick up on the rather outrageous interviewer phrasing of fanfiction as something which turns Sherlock into "a lustful cock monster". Current games: strategically place "lustful cock monster" into Sherlock dialogue on the "in bed" principle. (On John's forehead in the drunken Rizla game scene. Replacing SHERLOCK in the opening credits. "William Sherlock Lustful Cock Monster Holmes. If you’re looking for baby names.") Design new and ever more pink and sparkly t-shirts, icons and banners declaring "LUSTFUL COCK MONSTER" in defiant capitals and sprinkle them across the internet. Summarise the fic elements he mentions in the article and write actual fanfic to match, claiming that you're allowed because Benedict did. Etc, etc, etc.

    I love this. Apart from the fact that it's given me the giggles all morning (particularly since I teach a Sherlock seminar on Wednesday afternoons and have spent most of the morning making screencaps and constructing a Powerpoint on "His Last Vow" in between internet noodling), this is the essence of fan production. Take an element in the canon text which is clearly not addressed to you (and this is almost always a female "you") and which is ignorant of your actual desires and interests. Appropriate the hell out of it. Comprehensively reject the version of you it enshrines. Recontextualise, reshape and reimagine it in ways which do authentically reflect you, and which incidentally comment somewhat trenchantly on the limitations of the original text. Share and enjoy.

    I keep saying it: fanfic is a political act. The fact that it's enjoyable is almost incidental.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
That brief radio interview I did about fanfic a while back? The interviewer wanted some examples of good fanfic, because he didn't believe me when I said some fanfic was better than the original text. I never got around to sending him any recs, being as how I was somewhat depressed at the time, but this is one of the recs I should have sent him: dirgewithoutmusic's "We must unite inside her walls or we'll crumble from within" series. Harry Potter; meditations on some of the more marginal female characters and their House characteristics: a remedial, redemptive and deeply political project of enormous insight and sophistication. Beautifully written. The Andromeda one has just made me cry, although to be fair most of the rest of them did, too. If Rowling thought about her characters like this HP would be a great and profound work of literature instead of merely an enjoyable, apposite and popular one.

this means war

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 09:23 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the more entertaining side effects of my liminal academic existence and strange research interests is that I'm becoming the go-to person for The Media when they approach my Cherished Institution for commentary on the more outré corners of culture: Lewis Carroll, or fairy tale, or Terry Pratchett, or vampires, or, apparently, fan fiction. Yesterday I found myself giving, at extremely short notice, a ten-minute interview with Cape Talk Radio, because two of the show's staff suggested to the host that he talk about fanfic, and he said "What's fanfic?" and proceeded to find out. I rather enjoy being given an opportunity to babble enthusiastically about my interests, and he asked good questions, and this morning there are three emails in my inbox from previous students going "gosh, fanfic, loved your lectures, nice to hear you babbling". (Not in so many words. Students are generally more polite, possibly because they're afraid I'll bite if they're not.) Also, apparently there's a podcast.. (I'm a bit sorry I didn't get into the gender stuff. Fanfic as a female response to the male domination of media narratives is my current personal hobby-horse).

But it's also amusing to note the attempts by said media forces to box and label my weird place in this faculty, leading to me being variously and erroneously identified over the last few years, despite my best efforts, as "the Head of the English Department", "the Dean of Literature", and, yesterday, "Lecturer of Fan Fiction", which sounds like far more of an official position than it actually is. While I lecture volubly and enthusiastically on fan fiction, this faculty would scream, shudder and faint in coils at the mere thought of a precious official position devoted to fanfic. But it's a nice illusion, for ten minutes.

Of course, this also means I was nicely primed for today's XKCD, which is enough on the nail that my colleague in the office next door has just wandered in, slightly worried, to find out the source of the mad cackles of laughter proceeding from my location.

This is such a beautifully layered joke, not just because it relies partially on our knowledge of the personal proclivities of black-hat guy in the strip. "Headcanon", for the uninitiated, is a fanfic term used to describe the personal, internal micro-narratives you have which round out a media character in some way not actually defined by the text, or not necessarily defined in a particular fanfic you might write - it's almost an unspoken assumption, and as a result of being unexamined, is often deeply personally felt. (In my Avengers headcanon they're totally all living in Stark Tower, and having sitcom interactions around movie nights and who's cooking and why Hawkeye is perched on things again. I tend to have a momentary snarl at each new Marvel movie because it doesn't actually embody that. Maybe Age of Ultron will, the preliminary stills are promising.)

The thing about fanfic communities, of course, is that they're intense and passionate, because they're built around intense and passionate feelings about texts. This means that they are prone to outbreaks of conflict which too often degenerate into mud-slinging and hissy-fit and demagoguery, known colloquially and collectively as "fandom wank". I am currently a little stunned by the divisions in Sherlock fandom around what is known as The Johnlock Conspiracy, which is the fervent belief that Moffat and Gattis always intended Sherlock as gay, John as bi, and a romantic relationship between them as the endgame of the series. The personal headcanon of "it's romantic/sexual" versus the personal headcanon of "it's not and the bastard showrunners are all about the queer-baiting" is, indeed, about heavy artillery and the need to obliterate the opposition, because the opposition's mere difference is intensely threatening to the inside of your own head. I shall be extremely surprised if this strip is not all over my Tumblr feed this morning, because, yup. That's exactly it.

and went on in sunlight

Wednesday, 16 July 2014 04:45 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It is fortunate, in fact, that fanfic doesn't occupy actual physical space, because if it did the amount of it that I read would not improve the bookshelf crisis at all, in any way. Today's fanfic rec (still Sherlock) is for something that has at least partially satisfied my loathing of His Last Vow, which I still think was a terrible, scattered, ill-thought-out cobbling together of psychological inconsistency and gaping plot holes only partially redeemed by its, as always, brilliant acting and production. PlaidAdder's Sherlock fic is bloody marvellous, but particularly Law Like Love, because it explicitly sets out to fix some of the more egregious inconsistencies of that horribly-scripted episode. It also has a kick-butt Harry Watson, a fascinating reversed-time narrative frame, and an obsession with W H Auden. Highly, highly recommended. As is anything in that series, actually, but especially The Young Men Carbuncular, which is an extremely entertaining Doyle/TS Eliot pastiche which should groove the ploons of any fans of "The Waste Land". And she does a similar rescue of the Donna Noble problem in her Sherlock/Doctor Who crossover. PlaidAdder doesn't have much truck with Moffat's horrible scripting. We like her.

Because I happened to snap him perched precariously in the front window, celebrating his newly-developed ability to both exit and re-enter via it, have a random Hobbit. I cannot acquit him of being Self-Consciously Posed.


I am quoting "The Waste Land" in my subject line, because several literature degrees have to be good for something and besides, I've always cherished a certain baffled affection for the fractured suggestiveness of its images.

antici ..... pation

Friday, 18 April 2014 09:46 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My fanfic habit is at the hyperaddicted stage where I'm subscribed to a whole bunch of uncompleted fics on AO3. This means, I discover, that I have evolved a particularly happy little "ooh!" of delighted discovery when another email notification pops up in my inbox to say another chapter has been uploaded. Almost a mini-yodel, really. Like a response to unsolicited chocolate, or kittens. With the particular flavour of unexpected joy which comes from the fact that, unlike most of our other common experiences of serial fiction (TV shows, mainly), fanfic comes with no guarantee of regular posting, so every new chapter is a slightly unexpected gift.

And I was thinking that my willingness to wait without guarantee of reward is about love, in the sense of how much I love these texts and am willing to commit to ongoing and erratically delayed gratification, but it's also about the love the writers have for their text, and their willingness to commit time to it on a strictly amateur basis. Unlike a TV series, they have no support structure or financial incentive which allows them to guarantee regularity. My "ooh!" of a fine morning's notification is gratitude for their time, as much as anything else.

I face with a tolerable equanimity the prospect of a four-day Easter weekend, even though within its generous grasp I absolutely have to do some serious work on this damned African fairy tale paper. I'm going to have to man up and confront postcolonialism, and postcolonialism gives me hives. On the other hand, I am deriving some slightly perverse satisfaction from the awareness that the meat and tenor of the paper are in no way going to be a dutiful survey of African fairy tale film, because (a) there ain't much, (b) I lack the time, resources or desire to dig through the arcane minutae of the home film production of a dozen countries which would be required to offer any genuine sort of survey of the not much there is, and (c) I think my approach is more interesting, anyway. Pertinent case studies, that's the ticket.

I am also deriving some small comfort from my Tumblr feed's latest offering of random surreality. I have no idea why this tickles me as much as it does, but it really does.

yo yo ma

The source is a delirious little Tumblog calling itself TL;DR Wikipedia, whose adjacent definition of the Sphinx I also recommend. In bizarrely related news, yesterday's internet eroticism lecture featured a spirited discussion of the concept of tl;dr and its relationship to internet eroticism. Of such things is my life made.

Happy Easter, y'all. In the secular sense of "long weekend". This week's outbreak of unctuous His People billboards featuring "MAN GIVES LIFE FOR OTHERS" as a news headline is making me grind my teeth.

Subject Line Gloss: I am quoting, of course, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, because I can.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today's favourite quote about slash fan fiction:

"A woman ... has published a sexual fantasy about men for other women without a single care for the hurt feelings of the patriarchy’s death-grip on pleasure."

Part of the reason why I love this stuff is because it's so deeply, radically subversive. At the most fundamental level, slash permits a conceptualisation of sexual experience which is intrinsically shifting, free of the inbuilt assumptions about power which bedevil even the most utopian and egalitarian heterosexual encounter. Good slash is based in fluidity. It contradicts the drift towards active male, passive female which is the reductionist extreme of conventional male/female relations, but which is woven into the basic fabric of our patriarchal culture. Slash fic watches two men in a sexual encounter: neither is necessarily dominant, and the writer is free to conceptualise the power relations as she sees fit.

But if this were the only point, there would be far more femmeslash on the net than there is - it's actually a tiny fraction of the whole. That's because slash isn't just a celebration of fluid power roles, it's explicitly and deliberately a subversion of the heterosexual status quo. It's a giant up yours to the patriarchy, in fact. Watching two women addresses the desire for equal power, but femmeslash also takes place in a space outside the patriarchal order - it provides an alternative without actually threatening the patriarchal assumption of male dominance. Slash is as threatening as hell. It says, hello, patriarchy! we appropriate your dominant, heterosexual male characters, the ones which are so much more central and better-developed than the women in so many of our popular mass texts, and we rewrite them in a sexual image we prefer. Also, in sharp contradistinction to the largely male-owned and male-oriented porn industry, we're girls doing this. Sucks to be you.

Which, of course, also goes some way to explain why I seriously do not enjoy the locked and exaggerated gender roles of the Omegaverse, which in political terms is entirely vindictive: it assaults patriarchy by rewriting male characters as caricatures of female biology. I find it uncomfortable and cruel and lacking the potential for subtlety of more fluid slash.

(It also explains why the frothing homophobia of the religious right is so much more strongly directed at gay than at lesbian partners. Lesbians escape the patriarchal order. Gays deny it; in fact, their existence actually assaults it. I am a wholehearted supporter of LGBT rights because that's the only possible human, moral or intelligent stance, because I'm proudly South African in the constitutional sense if nowhere else, but also because the damned patriarchy should be assaulted early and often and anyone who's doing it on any level deserves my support.)

The subject line is David Bowie, because who else could it be given the topic of the post. "Boys keep swinging" is one of the great parodic takes on machismo.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, lord, it's orientation season. Close on 500 bemused first-years are wandering the campus in small herds, being corralled in a large lecture venue at intervals while I harangue them on the mysteries of curriculum design. With Powerpoint. Yesterday was an 11-hour day. Today was better, being only a 9-hour day, although it provided varied interest by being wall-to-wall orientation all morning, and then wall-to-wall briefing curriculum advisors all afternoon. There's a subtle, surreal dislocation in briefing the same curriculum structures from opposite ends only a few hours apart.

Tonight I should have been allocating advisors to registration sessions, but my subconscious, with unerring accuracy, leaped salmon-like from the depths and kiboshed the sending of the necessary files from work to home so I could work on them. (I know I pressed "send" on the email, but it never arrived and my outbox is innocent of it. Aetheric bears appear to have eaten it. Most mysterious.) I was practically forced to spend the evening reading fanfic instead. Today I have discovered Sherlock/Firefly crossovers, Sherlock/Star Trek crossovers, and a Sherlock/Winnie-the-Pooh one that I've actually refrained from reading on the grounds that my sanity is fragile enough as it is. At least the Star Trek is explicable on the grounds of Vulcans.

All of the above being the case, I'm completely buggered but surprisingly low on stress. I have, it appears, reached a point of familiarity and facility with the large-scale logistical demands of my job that I simply drift along doing the necessary in good time, properly, with only half my attention. So far no wheels have fallen off. It is also pleasantly cool and rainy this evening, mitigating somewhat the tragic fact that today has felt like Durban, i.e. a sort of muggy soup. I am now going to bed, on the grounds that I'm dead and also mosquitoes are eating my feet. Please confidently expect me to return to normal human function, like socialising and interesting posts, somewhere around March.

Subject line is from Magnetic Fields, "The Horrible Party", which sounds like something Edward Gorey should draw (actually, given the lyrics he probably has already.) Fields are still the flavour du jour in my car music buffet. Love at the Bottom of the Sea is their latest album, it's slowly growing on me as it ambles through the rotation for the umpteenth time. My dear, it was heaven until they ran out of champagne.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

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)
Things you do not expect to see on a respectable campus while trotting off to the library for your important pile of Girly Swot books (subset: crash course in African cinema): live horses. Six of them. Tethered in the shade against the columns of the old Student's Union, peaceably chomping. There's something fairly major filming on campus at the moment, the place has been a madhouse: the stairs have sprouted fake extra columns and exotic greenery and weird screens positioned with arcane precision. I parked my car next to and partially under a giant cherry-picker boom sort of thing this morning, and there are approximately three million acres of random, presumably desperately important cabling snaking down the avenue, tended by skinny grip types in Bauhaus t-shirts. Actual African film, in fact. Curiously appropriate.

It's too bloody hot for serious thought (what's with February heatwaves before Christmas? Not Cricket), so have a random linkery round-up, I need to clear these tabs.
  • If you go to the UK Vogue page and type the Konami code, extremely entertaining things happen when you keep on hitting A. Random internet easter eggs ftw.
  • For some demented reason this ridiculous Boba Fett love story really amuses me, possibly because of the way the sarlacc is drawn. The rancor BFF one is also cute.
  • Sherlock fandom is in a tizzy because of the Caitlin Moran faux pas (I never liked the wretched woman, her book is actively irritating) - she had the inexpressibly tone-deaf bad taste to pressure/trick the lead actors into reading erotic fanfic aloud at a screening. Daily Dot has a good summary. It really isn't safe these days to try and taunt subcultures you perceive as geeky and pitiable, they end up having way more power and self-awareness than you expect. I cannot help but be amused, though, at the cosmic inevitability of Moran attempting to sabotage Sherlock and failing dismally. It is, after all, simply an enactment of the Doyle plot. (Sebastian Moran is Moriarty's sniper sidekick in canon, if your Sherlock geekery is a bit rusty).
  • Random fanfic recc! I am currently actually re-reading The Least of All Possible Mistakes, which is a rather well-written and often laugh-out-loud funny Sherlock fic featuring a Sherlock given to entertaining tantrums and a Mycroft/gender-swapped-Lestrade relationship which is both amusing and real. The fandom fascination with Mycroft fascinates me. I blame Mark Gatiss entirely.

I finally sent out the Boxing Day braai email last night, after more than average levels of procrastination and forgettory. If you weren't on the list but usually are it's probably because of my cheese-brain, please drop me a reproachful line.

The subject line is the Konami Code, which as a concept and a catch-phrase as well as a random bit of esoterica has always amused the hell out of me.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Last night I dreamed that I was faced with the difficult choice between re-training as a doctor and re-training as a sailor. I went the doctor route (alongside Jo, sorry, Jo, it's probably about your family), and after a few slightly frantic scenes of digs cooking with fellow med students, woke up feeling vaguely terrified about having to learn chemistry again, and wistfully sad that I couldn't have both sets of skills. Something about knots and ropes and setting sails with technical verve. General hatred of my work life notwithstanding, it's not actually as bizarre as it sounds to say that wistful doctor dreams are almost certainly the result of reading really quite an unlikely amount of Sherlock fanfic over the last month or so. The strangely fetishised things that fic writers do to John Watson as a deceptively cuddly BAMF! are ... strangely fetishised, actually.

I also blame the fact that I randomly woke up at 3.30am on Monday morning and couldn't get to sleep again, as a result of which I wandered through most of yesterday on four hours of sleep in an exhausted daze which didn't, for some reason, prevent me from giving a really rather good double period tut on Dracula, to which even my cabbage class responded fairly well. Then again, I probably didn't need to demonstrate the fact that I can babble entertainingly about vampires and gender roles and Victorian anxieties literally in my sleep. (In this case with added postcolonialism at no extra charge, on account of dodgy Eastern European reverse invasion of London by degenerate lowlifes). However, it didn't help to be woken up promptly at 3am this morning again by Golux being heartily sick on my bedside rug. I did manage to get back to sleep this time, but the free pass she's currently getting on horrible behaviour on account of her nose cancer is wearing a little thin. Especially since the nose cancer has retreated, for its own inscrutable reasons, to a small black spot rather than a giant black sore, which is either sinister or encouraging, I'm not sure which.

We have set a date for the vetination of Macavity early next week, following a slightly drunkenly uproarious session of dinner and cat-fondling at our place on Sunday night. Currently the major challenge is going to be preventing Carlo from exiting stage left with a two-for-one ginger ex-tom deal, he seems rather taken with Hobbit. Put down the floofy ginger kitty and back away slowly, say I. He's a slut anyway, and doesn't mean it.

Subject line a quote from "Life on the Ocean Wave", which is one of those saccharine little Victorian ditties I blush to say I know entirely through the bastardised versions occasionally perpetrated by the Goon Show. On the other hand, a hasty lyric search suggests that them saccharine Victorians can seriously turn a stirring phrase.

live fast and prosper

Monday, 1 July 2013 02:33 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

Took myself off to see the new Star Trek yesterday, which apart from anything else was a good excuse to drive my new car places. Which is just as well, because I'm not entirely sure the film justified the trip. It annoyed me. I'm a bit out on a limb here because I've never watched the original series1, but based on my voracious consumption of the entirety of Next Generation in about two months flat, I mostly think JJ Abrams has the tone all wrong. (And I don't think this is just because Canal Walk's sound balance and volume are habitually set by ham-fisted drunken gorillas).

Into Darkness was frenetic action from the get-go; loud, brash, violent, fast. In my sense of it, Star Trek is not a standard action narrative. The TV series (certainly Next Gen and the odd episode of TOS I've seen), and even the older films, are at least partially contemplative; they dwell on character interactions and evince a sort of leisurely, self-indulgent enjoyment of the utopian aspects of this futuristic society, both scientific and social. They have exciting action sequences, certainly, but they're interleaved at suitable intervals with slower sequences to give a very different sense of pace. The two new films don't have that; they're all action, with the contemplation (and there is some contemplation; I liked the examination of moral decisions, and the attempt to redeem the immature-twit-Kirk-should-not-be-in-charge plot holes from the first film) tacked onto action sequences in breathless gasps. JJ Abrams films are all chorus and no verse. They're exhausting.

This is a pity, because I think he has his cast absolutely right, they're really enjoyable to watch. And I spent most of the film giggling at inappropriate moments because the classic Kirk/Spock slashy subtext is so beautifully pandered to. Honestly, you can feel a thousand slash writers squeeing in the background in some of those sequences. I think the films have the Kirk/Spock dynamic pretty much down, particularly because their version of Kirk is such an impulsive, emotion-driven idiot, and I love these versions of Scotty and Bones et al. It's just a pity that the mood and pace (and the script, with its usual giant logic holes and reliance on cliché, good grief) don't match the characterisations.

I just wish they'd done more with the tribble. I was expecting trouble.

1 I feel the need to watch the original series, anyone have it?

Subject line: if I actually need to gloss my random concatenation of "Live fast and die young" with "Live long and prosper", I'm saddened, is all. Saddened and disappointed.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013 11:50 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
That, dear readers, is not the squeal of brakes screeching to a halt. Au contraire! That is the ecstatic squeeing sound of an Exemporanea who is, for the first time in about ten years, a legal driver. Because this day I did, finally, after over a year of more angst than you would have believed possible, utterly pass my driver's licence. Verily. That bitch is passed. I have the bits of paper and the state of post-traumatic wibble and the inky thumb to prove it.

For those of you who haven't been following along at home, the driver's licence saga has been epic and full of angst and woe. I passed my test in Zimbabwe when I was sixteen, but never got around to obtaining the SA licence based on it after I took out SA citizenship. When the hedge-trimmer bastard stole my wallet, I had no way of replacing the Zim licence because even if the Zim bureaucracy wasn't a nightmare Cthulhoid thing of corruption, devastation and despair I'm no longer a Zim citizen. I had no option but to retake the licence from scratch, which means (pauses for ritual shudder) K53.

K53 is a bitch, and the task of overwriting 25 years of bad driving habits with the ritualised observances of the K53 cult is severely not trivial: fighting to conform to K53's rather rigid demands has made me feel utterly useless. But in a weird sort of way that wasn't the problem. The problem was the extent to which being forced to re-prove my basic adult competency absolutely did my head in. Seriously. I have issues with being a valid grown-up at the best of times, courtesy mostly of the unpleasant things academia has done to me, and you have no idea how infantalising it is to regress to that adolescent status, and to feel that a basic skill you've taken for granted for decades - and that represents not just competence, but power over your own life - is suddenly illegitimate. This is the second time I've taken the test, and no-one but my therapist knows that I was taking it, or that I took it a first time and failed it about a month ago. (I should add, for posterity and in the spirit of gloat, that I failed it the first time in the yard, because I was freaking out. This time I passed the yard test without a single negative mark.) It was painfully obvious that I would be utterly unable to deal with casual driving test mention in conversation, and that any incidence of someone giving me the slightest bit of teasing about it would probably end literally in tears. Honestly, I have not been rational on the subject.

But now I'm a grown-up again. I can buy a new car, and hopefully the chance sighting of a traffic cop will no longer excoriate my lawful good soul in guilty anticipation. And if another wretched hedge-trimmer steals my wallet, I can replace the licence with only the standard level of bureaucratic irritation (and also, I have to say, without having to invoke another whole set of issues about Zimbabwe, and exile, and loss).

In short: wheee! There shall be righteous gin this evening, celebrating not only my legalisation, but the fact that I managed to drive the EL's car for six months without a licence and without hitting anyone. Also, if anyone needs a recommendation for a really good driving instructor, mine was bloody brilliant.

The day's fanfic rec is all about the cars, naturally. And robots, because Tony Stark's bots are simply cute. Still on the copperbadge kick, this one is Steve and Tony and Dummy on a road trip. Robot Trip. Fun.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We had a Salty Cracker expedition on Tuesday night, to Kloof Street House, which was lovely (Jo will presumably review it sometime, although given that I only just put up my review from the previous Cracker, when we went to The Greenhouse almost a month ago, this is not to be construed as any sort of dig or pressure. Greenhouse was amazing, incidentally).

Kloof Street House was fun, warm and quirky and atmospheric, with excellent food in substantial quantities. (They do splendid things to hand-cut fries). What made the evening for me, though, was the waitress. She was one of those slightly off-beat arty-student people in a marginally hipster hat, with a sparkly attitude which absolutely chimed with the Salty Cracker vibe. She also looked faintly familiar, and I spent most of the meal vaguely thinking I must have taught her at some stage. Which was, in the event, not quite accurate. After the main course she arrived with a tray of fruity shooters of some sort we absolutely hadn't ordered, and which weren't actually a restaurant-standard palate cleanser: she'd begged them off the barman for us, on the stated grounds that the curriculum advice I gave her last year absolutely saved her life and she wanted to say thank you.

I'm still going "awwwww". Meeting one's students in random social settings can be a bit fraught (it was worse in my Goth nightclub days), but not if they're going to be all heartwarming about it. I must be doing something right. It's moments like these that I don't actually hate my job.

Today's fanfic rec is in the spirit of bouncy liberal arts students: Avengers again, but this time featuring Darcy/Steve. I really enjoy the things that the Avengers fandom does with Darcy, who's Jane Foster's pol-sci-student sidekick from Thor: she's presented as strong-minded, pop-culture-savvy and slightly iconoclastic, and a lot of fandom versions of her make her fairly kick-butt. She's not actually super-powered, which I think makes her a good point of fan identification, although quite a few fics put her, as does this one, as a recruit to SHIELD. Teand's Five Things Darcy Loves About Working For Shield. An amusing read.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This picture came over my Tumblr feed today, and is making me subtly happy. The artist is Brenoch Adams, whose site repays a browse, lots of lovely and slightly quirky sf and computer game concept art. I love that the tall, gangling, slightly threatening robot in this portrait is so utterly subordinated to the little black girl. And I love that she's black, with the kicky hair-style: not your usual sf stereotype at all. Mostly, though, I love her expression of slightly feral glee. That girl and her robot are going to take over the world. Watch out, world.

Brenoch Adams: Robo Guard

In the spirit of the power of small girls, have a piece of fanfic which crosses Roald Dahl's Matilda with Tony Stark. No, really. From the reliably readable copperbadge, and with extra X-men diss at no extra charge.
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.


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