freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Can't talk, registering. I seem to be swinging wildly between homicidal grumpiness and cheerfully nurturing helpfulness, which I suppose is par for the course. I am very overheated and very, very tired, but no-one has yet died, or even been particularly brutally savaged. Just slightly savaged. Not too much blood. Lightly bitten.

I console myself with the perfect beauty that is Tintin/Lovecraft mashups. Because squeaky-clean boy-wonder detectives need their assumptions shaken up just a little.

Also, I have an unlikely fondness for the Great Race of Yith.

I am still immersed in Magnetic Fields. The subject line is from "You must be out of your mind", which is off the Realism album. I am somewhat enamoured of this album. The title is entirely ironic, and it contains such gems as "The Dada Polka" and "Seduced and Abandoned." I think I might drink a few.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My poor little Mermaid finally died. The Mermaid was, lest this sound unduly surreal, the white CitiGolf I've been driving for the last eight years or so, who earned her sobriquet from the mystic and largely inexplicable inscription on her number plate. Perhaps as a result of this she evinced an uncanny attraction to water over the time I drove her, not always with the best results given the traditional workings of the infernal combustion engine. She always had a tendency to run her cooling system dry and overheat, and over the years I've had the radiator replaced entirely, had insane quantities of water removed from the distributor cap after an unusually deep puddle experience, had water poured into my boots via the front panel as a result of rain becoming cached under the bonnet, and had the bodywork reconditioned because of the exuberant leaks which tended to manifest in jolly Cape Town storms. She finally expired a few days ago, completely in character, when the leaky head gasket I've been pussyfooting around all year got to the point where it let water into the system, and she started driving in a jerky, hiccuppy sort of way which definitely Boded. Poor Mermaid. Always yearning for the ocean in a doomed and futile sort of fashion.

So last night the nice man from Ray's magical auto-mechanic place came round, and after confirming my diagnosis ("I really shouldn't be driving her, should I?" "") bought her off me on the turn, pressing oodles of cash into my slightly fluttering hands, detached me from the registration papers and a receipt, and drove her, hiccuping gently, away, bound for a complete re-conditioning and resale at his capable hands. I hadn't expected it so quickly, and had to do an extremely speedy purge of the interior of all the random guff which piles up over time. (The yield: gorilla lock, mermaid charm from rear-view mirror, bottle of sunscreen, bottle of engine oil for babying the leaky head with, eight shopping bags, an exploded map book, my now entirely useless campus parking disk, a coke bottle full of water for babying the leaky cooling system with, a metric buttload of random paper bits those poor sods handout at traffic lights, five nursery plastic sheets for carrying plants on, a flourishing crop of mould in the boot, and that umbrella I thought I'd lost last winter, thus continuing the watery theme).

Watching her toddle off, I felt completely bereft. A car driven over time becomes a personality, both an organism for whose continued well-being one is responsible and a trusted compatriot who bears one's chattels and one's lazy form tirelessly about the show. Her possibly dodgy Dagon-worshipping traits aside, the Mermaid has served me faithfully; she's ported me around the city, up the campus hill daily, over the Neck repeatedly into Hout Bay to visit my father, on tarred roads and dirt, in hail and pelting winter rain and February heatwaves and those amazing Cape Town winds which try to playfully blow you off the freeway. She hasn't done much distance stuff, but has successfully ambled out to Arniston a couple of times. She had a game little heater but no air-con, the world's most terrible gearbox, and a faulty passenger-door interior handle which used to randomly entrap passengers to no discernible pattern, causing amusing levels of panicked scrabbling. (I always chose to interpret it as a sign of affection, a reluctance to relinquish the cherished passenger, but I doubt they felt it). She didn't have the personality of my Biscuit Tin, but I was fond of her, and used mutate "Mermaid" into "Merrymaid" at odd moments, and drive around singing Gilbert and Sullivan.

I feel as though I've carelessly allowed something fragile and complicated with whom I have a relationship of trust to slip out of my control. Did I damage her carelessly? Will she be OK? Will her next owner look after her properly? Shouldn't I have vetted them, like you do for dogs? Do I over-invest in inanimate objects?

So I'm carless again, and slightly tearful. Various confluences of the Cosmic Wossnames have determined that I'm trying to find myself a Toyota Yaris, if only because it narrows the field to manageable levels which stave off panic attack, and in defiance of the fact that it's a silly name. The Jo, with ineffable kindliness and self-sacrifice, has volunteered to haul me around to various auto dealers on Friday, and to pat my hand gently as I try to grapple with the technicalities of test-drives and finance and what have you. There's a sheaf of car ad printouts on my desk and a page of annoyed scrawls which determine, after horrible hold music has caused the ear-wax to melt and dribble out of my ears, that it's not going to be worth going through my bank, as they hedge their loans about with sharp stakes and unpalatable restrictions. As a result of the indefinitely-delayed adulthood occasioned by indefinite grad studenthood, this is the first time I've had to do this. I'm in a state of wibble.

However, this does mean that the state of fatigued uselessness which has dogged me for the last year and a half, may finally be lifting. The things I needed to do by the end of this year included a new car, a driver's licence and a new agent for the French house. I have a learner's, a car plan which will by gum by a car in jig time, and a contract from the new agent in my inbox. Two and a half out of three ain't bad.
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Lo these many moons if not many summers ago, I once posted about the House of Clocks, which appears to be an exercise in randomly bizarre creation of the more entertaining and off-the-wall sort. I stumbled over it again the other day, and was rather horribly struck by the sudden applicability of one particular exhibit, namely The Necromoniclock. Its provenance is appealing, chronicling the ability of the clock to jump instantly between locations: "Appearing on a sales-receipt at a pawnshop in Whiteville, North Carolina, the clock quickly jumps to a crude painting on a hide-drum in the Himalayas made only a week later. From there, the clock jumps to a yearbook picture in Cleveland, Ohio. A man raising pigeons on a rooftop in London gave an eyewitness account of the clock "hoverin', malicious-like" only two hours after the before-mentioned yearbook picture was reportedly taken."

This is all very well, but what is causing me active concern is the photograph.

That's my clock, people. The one I inherited from my dad, and which sits on my piano, and which has just struck nine to tell me I'm an hour and ten minutes late for my 10pm bedtime.

The House of Clocks cautions that "This clock seems to cut a swath of destruction everywhere it goes. Those who have spent time in its direct vicinity have complained of nosebleeds, murderous impulses, and an uncontrollable desire for polyester clothing. Large crowds of people have been driven to riot by its raucous chime. From botched plastic surgery to cattle mutilation (and in some cases both), from earthquakes to fallen souffles, doom and despair mark the passing of this clock in all its many incarnations."

This is, in fact, curiously reassuring. Now when I am hit by various incarnations of technojinx, ill health, uncaring academia or other crises, I have something to blame.

* if my clock strikes twelve it's actually five to two. In retrospect, this should have been a warning.
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Lordy, I'm tired. The last few weeks have represented a steadily-mounting degree of fatigue which has made me progressively slower, more irritable and more prone to talk in the husky contralto of someone who's spent the night imbibing whisky and cigarettes and is losing noun control badly. As I keep saying to students as I grope for words, I'm not actually drunk. I'd just like to be. And I have another week of this. I suspect it may be survivable, but only just.

Exhaustion tends to detach me a little from reality, to make everything just that little bit surreal or malignant. It's this state that has, I think, made me so receptive to reading Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, which has struck me forcibly as a truly chilling and effective ghost story with resonances of Henry James and Sheridan Lefanu and (oddly) Lovecraft. It seems bizarre and unlikely that, up until about a month ago, I'd never actually heard of it, since it was published in 1959, and is apparently a classic of the literary ghost genre. With one of those odd and possibly sinister synchronicities, it's popped up in mentions across several unrelated blogs that I read, and I ordered a copy in a spirit of enquiry.

It's an incredibly effective book. While operating as a classic haunted-house narrative, it's more about personalities than anything else - the personalities of the occupants of the house (Eleanor, in particular, is exquisitely drawn), and above all of the house itself. Like Turn of the Screw, it slides you backwards and forwards between belief in the manifestations and belief in the insane perceptions of the characters; like LeFanu, it's about the gradual building of atmosphere and implication into perfectly-poised moments of horrified realisation and chill. And, like Lovecraft, it's about the power of the unseen, the inexplicable, the unexplained; it's all the more powerful because it's not a detective story, the mystery is never penetrated. It grabbed me good and proper; even in my current state of tiredness and stress I found myself staying up later than I should to read. I Recommend This Book, if you like chills, or if you like twisty psychological implications, or if you simply like good writing.

And in the midst of all the scary stuff, it has one of the most scathing and comic portrayals of spiritualistically-inclined insensitive stupidity that I've ever read.
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I've always wanted to use that for a subject line. Life Goal Achieved!

I buy, as I have many times confessed, an awful lot of books online. Mostly this is because I have a pitiful saving throw versus Literary Shiny, and actual disposable income with which to indulge it. However, a lot of this is also because I read an awful lot of blogs by science fiction and fantasy writers (viz. left sidebar and my Friends page), and they are forever mentioning either (a) books they read and enjoyed, and (b) books they themselves have recently published. Amid my burgeoning shelves in category (a) we find, for example, Lud-in-the-Mist and The House Called Hadlows, both courtesy Neil Gaiman, and Libba Bray, courtesy Sarah Rees Brennan, excellent recommendations all. In category (b) are a large number of burgeoning-shelves culprits, but also, courtesy Elizabeth Bear, my current reading matter. This is a suitably large and be-tentacled tome entitled New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, and containing stories by her, among other luminaries including Neil Gaiman, China Miévelle, Charles Stross, Cheri Priest and Michael Marshall Smith. It is, in short, a High Status Collection.

It's been an interesting week or so of reading, and Cthulhu be praised, has not made my dream-life any odder than it is usually, although frankly that isn't saying much. I am struck, however, by the really strange variation in quality among these stories. I'd judge that about a third of them are somewhat pedestrian, slightly arbitrary, nothing special. Another third are clever, effective, chilling, nicely done. The final third are blow-your-socks-off-wonderful, with added TNT; mostly these are by the Big Names, but not always, to which I say, strength to your elbow, lesser mortals who are rising like R'lyeh, and whose other writings I shall now proceed to seek out and order online. It's the Circle of Books!

As an exercise in Upbeat, I shall now proceed to burble enthusiastically about the really good ones.
  • Neil Gaiman's story in this anthology isn't "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar", the one everyone knows; it's "A Study In Emerald", which I think I first read in Fragile Things, but the Victorian newspaper mock-up online version of which is perfectly marvellous. It's one of those stories whose twists and oddments sneak up on you, so I shan't say anything other than it's a combination of Cthulhu and Sherlock Holmes pastiche, it's desperately chilling, and, this being Gaiman, the voice is pitch-perfect. It was lovely to have an excuse to read it again.
  • Marc Laidlaw's "The Vicar of R'lyeh" is notable both for its oddly effective crossover between Lovecraftian horror and the mannered English countryside of Trollope, Austen and Hardy, and its ability to configure the crunches and compromises of the corporate coding environment as chilling Cthulhoid horror. It's the one story in this anthology I really enjoyed while feeling that the writer didn't quite pull it off, but it's still a striking piece.
  • Michael Marshall Smith's "Fair Exchange" is Innsmouth in urban London, its voice all lower-class Brit, its denizens lesser criminals and fundamentally anti-social dole drones. Evil, the story says, is no less evil for being really petty.
  • William Browning Spencer is no-one I'd ever heard of before, and sounds suspiciously like an overly-literate alias. He is responsible both for the story "The Essayist in the Wilderness", and for the fact that I've just spent forty-five minutes and several hundred rand on Amazon Marketplace to discover his other work and purchase same. This story is possibly my favourite in the anthology (OK, favourite after "Emerald"), because it's, once again, an immaculate exercise in voice, but also has a restrained, blackly funny, lateral sort of comic horror which creeps up on you very, very slowly and mostly by dint of being just very slightly wrong. I haven't had this much fun reading in a very long time.
  • Elizabeth Bear's "Shoggoths in Bloom" is deservedly a Hugo novelette winner; it's an example of that rare and wonderful thing, a Lovecraftian pastiche which is deeply and sensitively political, and which achieves the almost impossible feat of creating empathy for a Lovecraftian horror. It's also a late 1930s period piece, and its mythos elements are beautifully enmeshed in pre-war politics; its awareness of American and German racism is a thoroughly satisfying antidote to Lovecraft's own bigotry.
  • Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's collaboration, "Mongoose", is a deeply weird and lateral sf story about Kadath Space Station and its infestation of weird other-dimensional raths and toves and bandersnatches, which you hunt with an alien phase-tentacled beastie called a cheshire. It made me very happy. Lovecraft/Lewis Carroll crossovers are as inevitable as all get-out.
  • Finally, China Miéville's "Details" is about perception. He's always about perception. Here, horror is about perception, which is really the nub of it, isn't it? Once you've seen the horror, you can't unsee it. You're screwed.
I am struck by how many times in the above list I've referenced voice; even when I haven't mentioned it specifically, these stories do voice, or at least perspective, very well. It seems to be one of the classic features of horror: the writer needs to be able to immerse you in the world and feelings of the protagonist for horror to actually be effective. It's why Stephen King is as good as he is. For all that the Cthulhu mythos is about unimaginably massive, alien, indifferent forces in a vast and uncaring universe, their effects must be personal for us to apprehend their power. It's why a lot of these stories are better than Lovecraft in some ways. No-one touches him for rendering the indescribable, but he didn't, ultimately, depict people particularly well, probably because he didn't like them much. I think really good writers do.
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I like Melbourne a lot; its buildings are eclectic and vibey, its atmosphere is decorously festive, and its people are very friendly. Also, half its architects are Cthulhu cultists. Fact. I counted one tribute to Cthulhu, one silver Yog Sothoth on the side of a skyscraper, and more non-euclidian angles than you could shake a stick at. The hotel we stayed at was considerably more plushly comfortable than the perfectly adequate Brisbane one, and had escaped the fatal tendency to decorate in white and oatmeal. The only black mark against it is that my techno-jinx apparently escaped yesterday morning, and took down the hotel internet. Since Sid is still rampaging and I'm fairly dead, internet withdrawal is at this stage an entirely unnecessary additional symptom.

Melbourne University was closer to Cape Town in feel, older buildings, a less corporate feel to the welcome, but they're a bloody good university and are doing fascinating work. Their people are also lovely, what's with this? I refuse to believe that all Australian academics are sweetness and light all the time. I suspect a plot.

I also like Melbourne because it has lovely botanical gardens filled with Indian mynah birds, who have the ability to make the most extraordinary range of sounds - clicks, trills, whistles, pops. liquid gurgles. I want one. I could probably teach it to imitate an expresso machine. Also, the Victoria National Art Gallery had a phenomenal exhibition on Viennese art and design from the early 1900s, including paintings and posters and furniture and jewellery and, occasionally, bits of buildings, and covering artists like Kilmt and Hoffman. Amazing stuff. Incredible aesthetic. As a bonus, the front of the gallery has its entire giant glass window covered with a thin film of falling water in beautiful, meditative patterns, before which I lost myself for about half an hour. I love falling water.

We are now in Sydney, with, thank FSM, the weekend off, as I'm more than somewhat dead. We have, alas, taken a sharp nosedive in hotel quality, and are tending to the minimalist and threadbare. The walls are thin, the decor isn't, the kettle plug took me twenty minutes of swearing to plug in, and there's no power point for my netbook without unplugging the clock. If, however, the bed supports my weight, I shall be able to at least defer my complaints.

This is Melbourne, though. See? non-Euclidian angles, and slimy green bulbous bits. Perverse.
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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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Words cannot describe how bored I am with my sinuses. I regard with affectionate nostalgia the days when I used to suffer from common or garden colds. A cold! a mere set of snuffles, productive of nose-blowing and ritualistic whinging, but not actually incapacitating - those halcyon days! Now the slightest germ, such as those exotics produced in liberal quantities by (a) students flocking back from all corners of the globe at the start of term, and (b) inter-continental air travel, dives straight into my sinuses, where it starts summoning Cthulhoid Shoggoth-creatures with mad abandon, thus alerting the glandular fever virus to new, exciting opportunities to lay me low. Age, it's a bugger.

I started developing this bug on Monday, with a sore throat, suggesting I caught it off my mother. She kicked it after two days, being more or less superhuman and ridiculously healthy, and why the hell didn't I get those genes? No fair. I've been pretty much useless for any practical purpose since Tuesday, and though I'm back at work today I'm still cement-skulled, headachy and spaced. (This last may, of course, have something to do with the insomnia as much as the shoggoth-colonisation. I really find falling sleep difficult at the best of times, let alone when the inside of my skull hates me and wants me to suffer.)

However! This will not endure. Come the end of this year I'm damned well upping my medical scheme from a hospital plan to full cover, and finding one of those nice specialist people who'll go into my sinuses with something vaguely resembling the mole-creature drills from The Incredibles, and settle their hash once and for all. Which will, I hope, make for far more entertaining blog posts, if fewer opportunities for Cthulhoid references. Although to be fair some of the current outbreak may be because we played Mythos on Sunday. Can you tell we played Mythos on Sunday? (I won, mostly because [ profile] librsa wasn't counting. His deck-fu is much stronger than my deck-fu, I still get all distracted by the pretty pictures rather than the tactical value of the cards).

As a side-effect of the Cthulhoid state of my sinuses, I completely omitted to mention that my new Microfiction story is up. This was my choice of topic ("Feathers", for no adequately defined reason), and with characteristic cussedness I hated it, hated what I wrote, wrote two versions of the story and hated them both, and am still not happy with the effort I finally posted in a state of "grrrr". It was too close in theme to the first one I wrote, "Light", and what the hell's with me and flying imagery, anyway? Really, the lesson is that I shouldn't try to translate weird dreams into fiction. Or, possibly, I shouldn't try and translate weird dreams into fiction in 250 words.
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Today's delirious bit of billboard poetry: SPAIN DEFENDS PSYCHIC OCTOPUS. I love this because it's absolutely, literally true. We live in a world where a psychic octopus has made world headlines because of its apparent ability to predict World Cup match outcomes. This makes me very, very happy because it externalises neatly everything I've ever believed about the frivolously demented nature of human society. As a race, we have no sense of proportion.

I'm on leave for the next week or so, taking time out to write the paper for this conference. There's a giant pile of critical tomes variously and separately on vampires and fairy tales all over my desk; my act of possibly hubristic synthesis is not being materially aided by the Hobbit's characteristically feline need to sprawl all over them. If I try to move them he bites me, lovingly. I assume it's lovingly. He hasn't actually drawn blood yet.

I have also spent large chunks of the last day or so Running Errands, such as collecting my passport from the visa people and applying for forex (this latter because I have a deep and terrifying fear that my credit card will get nicked or decline to work for some reason and I really want back-up cash). In addition, the lovely agent lady in France has found tenants for my house! which means I'm now trying to jump through about a zillion French and South African bureaucratic hoops in order to (a) set up a French bank account, which I didn't have time to do in all the frantic of the French trip, (b) pay the French company which did all the required assessments for woodworm and footrot and what have you (requires official translations of the documents, have spent the morning locating French translators and plaintively emailing them) and (c) pay the nice agent lady, who has seriously earned it. This house-earning lark is costing me a fortune, but hopefully it'll be worth it in the long run.

In other news, I don't really want to mention that the internets seem to be back in case they immediately fall over again in an attack of petulant self-consciousness. (The squid has been gnawing on them intermittently for several days, but seems to have given up, possibly in favour of predicting World Cup outcomes). This means I have been able to play a reasonable amount of Echo Bazaar, which is a beautifully-designed Twitter game set in a subterranean steampunk Victorian ur-London with vaguely decadent and Cthulhoid properties, and which functions as a cross between a card game, a text adventure and a RPG. I am a Charming and Keen-Eyed Lady with a Sulky Bat. Let me know if you play and we can loiter with intent or have risqué cosy dinners together or something.
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We had a sort of family Christmas tea thingy on Sunday, to swap presents as my sister's away up the coast on Christmas Day itself. I gave Da Niece my latest discovery, which involves two rather entertaining kiddie books by one John Himmelman, Chickens to the Rescue and Katie Loves the Kittens. The Katie one is amusingly rude about dogs, but the chickens one is pleasingly demented, featuring chickens in snorkelling gear, crash helmets and heavens alone knows what else, all with the requisite degree of fuss and feathers. Thusly:

The conversation went something like this:

SISTER: Kids' books these days are really lovely. Also, you always seem to find the subversive ones.
ME (thoughtfully, placing tips of fingers together in approved Patrician pose): Why, yes. Yes, I do.

It is remotely possible that she was also eyeing my Christmas tree, which this year is graced at its apex, inside the giant Christmas star, by a tiny green plush Cthulhu doll I won in a raffle at a CLAW tournament lo these many moons ago. He's very festive.

I feel that my Aunt Dahlia quotient is proceeding apace. Those sproggle-owing individuals among you who don't mind a spot of subversion, now with extra verse, I do heartily recommend John Himmelman.

In other, equally weird and lateral Christmas news, today I appear to have emerged from the stationers bearing something the tillslip insists is an "XMAS GAL SIN". I wish I could say that this gal plans to sin extra-subversively at Christmas, but I fear it'll be the usual: idolatry (still immersed in Supernatural), sloth, gluttony and taking the Lord's name in vain while I try to beat the (*#$^*^$ Fire Temple in Zelda.
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So, totally buggered at the moment, but in fact surprisingly upbeat despite all the orientation panic, student angst and what have you. An anti-rant-list is apparently called for. Today, the following things are making me happy:

  1. Holidays. Yesterday was a public holiday, for which I thank the saints fasting. I'm in that stage of mental shut-down which says that energy-wise I'm pretty much at the end of my tether - I did sweet bugger-all all day yesterday, it was luvverly. I have two weeks off from Friday, which is a half day owing to the staff party. I figure I'll just about survive, having carefully paced myself to this point.
  2. Chocolate brownies. For my birthday this year sven&tanya gave me this incredible book called Chocolate Chocolate, full of recipes which require untold and unlikely quantities of the eponymous ingredient, and which are uniformly and unashamedly decadent and bad for you. (Eighteen different chocolate brownie recipes! good grief!) As a result of this I've actually learned to make decent brownies, which has mostly been a matter of subtracting 50o from the temperature, fifteen minutes from the cooking time, and flinging into the recipe whatever the hell happens to occur to me in the way of extra chocolate, extra Lindt dark chocolate, extra cocoa, extra chocolate chips, extra vanilla, or extra random nuts or flavourings. The last batch was exceptionally edible, and I have three of them in a tin on my desk. The morning will be somewhat sugar-powered in addition to its usual Earl Grey fuel.
  3. Recession. Yes, really. No-one has any money, everyone is doing the "ooh let's not do big presents this year!" thing, the shops are comparatively empty, and consequently Christmas is not bringing out my inner homicidal misanthrope quite as much as it usually does.
  4. Supernatural. Season three is both darker and goofier (rabbit's-foot physical humour ftw), angsty!boys are angstier, but mostly I'm happy because last night's episode about fairy tale got the fairy tale bit absolutely right. Bonus accurate "Grimms' fairy tales were dark, twisty, violent and sexy" references from Sam, my current favourite geek in the whole wide world. Also, pleasingly perverse Christmas episode featuring caricatured 50s-style cheery suburban couples with a charnel house in the cellar.
  5. My mother. She's in town. Life is better.
  6. Cthulhoid wossnames. My mailing list signup just gave me a totally unexpected early gift of the new Charlie Stross Laundry story, also with additional Cthulhoid Christmas perversion (the Filler of Stockings!). It'll go up on next week, but if anyone really wants to read it earlier, mail me!
  7. First trailer for Iron Man 2. 'Nuff said.
Now I go to herd academics, hand-hold devastated students and wrangle orientation photocopying. I wave a chocolate brownie mystically at them all.
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Bother. My Capacious Handbag o'Doom defaults to a sort of Shub-Niggurath configuration when my MP3 player headphones snarl up with my cellphone charger cable, my camera cable, my tape measure and the random bit of broken-off AV lead that's there because I accidentally snapped it while lugging my dad's TV around. This necessitates the drawing of Elder Signs before I can even start disentangling the tentacles sufficiently to realise that in fact the camera cable, which is the point of the whole exercise, isn't even part of the snarl, because I've packed it neatly into its case. Never be tidy, it's only ever counter-productive. (Also, on a not unrelated note and because various people keep recommending it, The Unspeakable Vault. Both creepy and cute).

I have, however, finally triumphed sufficiently to connect the camera bone to the USB bone, now hear de word of de lord, and thus upload not only some of this weekend's photos, but some of last weekend's as well. We had a Salty Cracker expedition out in the approximate Franschoek direction for lunch yesterday, Bread and Wine at the Môreson wine estate. Lovely place, slightly informal, spacious, and assiduous in moving the whole party out into the shady courtyard the instant it was warm enough to do so. Excellent wine, very good food - not up in the delirious taste experience category of Ginja or Overture, but pretty darned good. The cook makes his own somewhat marvellous charcuterie, which we had for a starter. The dessert menu includes coffee with chocolate truffles, which is simply civilised when one has already overeaten. Also, it's beautiful, and was presenting seriously lovely cloud action, thusly:

Then we came home and watched The Middleman. The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation is gratifyingly rude about sorority sisters, frequently in wicked imitation, and in the Goofy Middlemisms department gives us "Ghosts of the living!", "by the eyeglasses of T. J. Eckleburg", "Great Caesar's ghost!" and "Holy Wachowski brothers!" Bonus points for ongoing Ghostbusters references, the Second Werewolf Administration, and the obligatory Star Wars quote: "Omega Theta Nu. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Deliriously happy acronym-fu in the Bio-harmonic Universal Multi-Modular Emotional Rerouter. Love this show.

cthulhu callay!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009 03:25 pm
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Because I have to: courtesy of [ profile] grumpyolddog, "Hey There Cthulhu", a particularly iconoclastic filk which renders a slightly saccharine song pleasingly demented.

Several peoples have asked me what I want for my birthday. I'm personally totally terrible with gifts for other people, it's completely random whether I find something for you or not, so I truly don't mind if you turn up just with you, booze and the desire to party, it's karmically inevitable. But in case you're in the mad present-giving mood and want some hints, here's the Usual List:
  • Books, DVDs, cds, graphic novels always good. I have slightly random wishlists on both and, under my Real Name, TM. Anything on there is something I mean to acquire sometime. You probably want to ignore all the kids' books and music, they're there because I plan to get them for my niece. In the graphic novel arena I still only have the first Sandman volume, and am also pining vaguely after 1602 and pretty much anything Ultimate. Because they're so pretty.
  • Cookbooks are always good, my sister's family + dad just gave me a couple of massive and lovely British winter cookbook tomes which have made me Very, Very Happy. I don't own any Jamie Oliver (stv, stop spitting) or Nigella Lawson. These are my Secret Sorrows.
  • You absolutely, totally, cannot go wrong with either chocolate or flowers, love 'em both. Also vouchers, wine or exotic bath oil or bath pearls and other strange unguents.
  • Functional owls. You know the drill. I love owls but hate bric-a-brac, so anything owl-inscribed that I can actually use gets my vote. ([ profile] first_fallen, I'm not sure the loopy owl pen with the eyes that roll back actually counts).
Mostly, though, it'll just be lovely to see everyone.

This post does have a unified theme, btw. [ profile] pumeza's birthday card to me was this (by Ursula Vernon, naturally):

strange powers

Thursday, 18 June 2009 04:41 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Sid the Sinus Headache is flexing his gosh-darned muscles and growling again, so I shall attempt to distract him by being Literary. True Blood and Doctor Who 4 notwithstanding, I've actually managed to do some reading lately, which is just as well because my Bookshelf of Unread Doom is stretching L-spacily again...

So, Sarah Rees Brennan. Better known as Maya, authoress of, among other things, bunches of Harry/Draco slash and also "Draco Malfoy the Amazing Dancing Rat", which is one of my favourite pieces of Potterfic, not least because it rather entertainingly ships Draco/Hermione and features geeky homework-related flirting over lots of coffee. She's also just published her first YA fantasy, called The Demon's Lexicon, which I have just read.

This was fun. Fairly straightforward urban fantasy stuff - contemporary England, demons, teen brothers, and the snappy and often funny dialogue which is her trademark. She also evinces the particular qualities I've come to associate with fan fiction, even at the more accomplished end of the spectrum her work inhabits, which boil down to (a) bucketloads of angst, and (b) pretty boys being emotionally intense. (Another case in point: Cassandra Clare's City of Bones). Really, this is what slash is all about: not the sex, per se, but male characters embroiled in difficult, demanding, complicated feelings, whether they like it or not. In Demon's Lexicon it's a brotherly rather than a romantic relationship, but the vibe feels very familiar.

This also accounts, perhaps, for the overall impression I have of the book: while it's intensely readable and boasts a rather spectacular and well-done plot twist, it also feels young, not just because it's aimed at young adults, but because it's a young writer. The first half or so of the book drags slightly, marking time while the payoff is set up: Ms. Brennan is definitely in command of her characters, but she's not quite in command of her narrative. My sense, however, is that she very definitely will be in the not too distant future, and I shall watch her career with interest. (She says, pushing her pince-nez back on the end of her nose and channelling a Victorian lawyer).

The other fantasy novel I've read recently is John C. Wright's The Last Guardian of Everness, which my Evil Landlord left carelessly lying around an obscure corner of his bookshelf where I happened to be rootling. I loved Wright's Orphans of Chaos series, which I described as a "sort of weird semi-inexplicable Victorian/modern heroic school story". Everness does a splashy and inelegant belly-flop into Lovecraft's Dreamlands, immersing itself thoroughly while spreading detritus around wholesale: the detached, drifty approach to a world beautiful, strange, inexplicable, threatening and corrupt is absolutely nail-on-the-head in terms of tone and feel. Also, bonus mad faerie women, cheerfully crude and sociopathic Selkie and giant set-piece battles between death knights, animated stone statues and small, confused military detachments with machine-guns. This book is trippy, beautiful and gut-wrenching by turns: it's like being repeatedly hit over the head by an exquisite statue constructed in five dimensions from bloody human bones. On the whole I think I like it. Certainly enough to dig up the sequel.

In other news, Woolworths eaten by vampires. Just because I'm relieved that someone else experiences the same degree of lateral to their conversations.

it gives you whinges

Wednesday, 10 December 2008 02:45 pm
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Gosh, look, another day in which I have to retreat into Red Bull as a viable alternative to curling up in a corner and whimpering until it all goes away. I have just wasted 20 minutes of my time trying to patiently talk the twitchy parent of an excluded student through finding the relevant appeal forms on my Cherished Institution's website. Said website uses funky drop-down menus which randomly and unreliably futz out at intervals, depending on your browser, traffic levels, the phase of the moon, wibbles in the space-time continuum or the flapping of Cory Doctorow's cloak. There are no actual linkage alternatives to the drop-down menus, a gesture of confidence I cannot help but feel is sadly misplaced. Said parent was unable to take my dictation into the location bar owing, I suspect, to basic absence of internet-grokkage. After twenty minutes with one eye on the patiently-waiting student in my office and the other three queuing outside my door, I told him to wait for the bloody letter with the form in it. (Only more politely).

I am now Red Bullish and bouncing off the walls. *bounce*. This bodes slightly better for Jo's game this evening, there being a good chance I would otherwise have spent it curled up in a corner and whimpering until it all went away. Since we're currently fleeing the epic and apocalyptic rising of the stupendously powerful alien race whose balanced truce with our own gods we have just dismally failed to protect from sabotage, cowering and whimpering may actually have been the appropriate mode of response, but I can't help feeling the Red Bullishness may be more practical. Or, at the very least, allow us to run faster. Why does this suddenly feel like a CoC campaign? Iä! Iä!

In between bouncing off the walls I console myself with Random Linkery. MightyGodKing is entertainingly rude about pulp sf/fantasy, particularly Twilight (the last one in Part 2).
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Indexindexindex. Today's problem: trying to index Angela Carter and Feminism as separate terms without just shrugging and exactly duplicating the page numbers. They're... intertwined. Possibly passionately.

In default of having the time to actually say anything interesting that isn't easily divisible into hierarchical topics, linkery! For anyone who loved Dr. Horrible, this is a rather endearing video by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who co-wrote the songs for Dr. H. They're horribly drunk and singing immaculate harmony about their favourite foods. I don't think any singing group I've been in has ever sounded that good while sober.

And, courtesy of Cute Overload, My Little Cthulhu. Also, Princess Leia, Batman and Robin and Edward Scissorhands. The My Little Alien is actually disturbingly cute.

Finally, this is something Charles Stross probably wrote about, or should have. Man robs bank with simple elegance, making his getaway in the confusion created by a mob of similarly-dressed men assembled by means of a Craigslist ad. The modern burglar is seldom so intelligent.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
So, indexing. Gawsh. Turns out indexing is a great, flubbery, tentacular, flailing brute of a process that has to be mastered, pinned to the mat with carefully alphabetised and sub-sectioned logical pins, and it grows and shrinks appendages even as you're wrestling it. I don't have the final page proofs yet, but I've spent the last weekend and quite a lot of the evenings of the last week inventing indexing terms, and I'm starting to dream in sub-entries. It's a surprisingly demanding and subtle art, as you end up having to assess quite stringently what you're actually doing at any point in the work - what the focus and nub of the argument is. It seems to be an organic, inter-related, intuitive sort of thing, which is pretty much how my mind works, so lucky there. Even so, I can't help feeling that passing by my study at the moment runs the risk of being startled by a giant tentacle suddenly crashing through the window, with me trapped and flailing at the end of it, like that bit with Will Smith in Men In Black. If this book turns out to be a cute alien baby who throws up on me, I'm going to be a bit miffed. Also, intrigued.

Not watching much Farscape at the moment, being as how me and the Evil Landlord are locked into some kind of stupid cold war in which neither of us will be the first to suggest it. He's ahead on points by virtue of the fact that he's spending his evenings sitting in the living room so I can't watch X-Files either. On the upside, lots of indexing. Also, I may be able to grab him with a flailing tentacle next time he wanders past my study and beat his bloody uncommunicative head against the wall.

Last Night I Dreamed: I'd just moved into a huge old Victorian house with my family, and had an amazing bedroom with attached library and door into the garden, plus enormous bathroom occupied by some sort of hob or brownie who nicked the soap. My sister was annoyed because I had the bigger room. There was also a lift going down to the basement, which contained a giant room knee-deep in water, hosting a knitting convention.

dreams, 16-19; floods, 21-22; house-moving, 16; invasion, 18, 19; knitting, 19; sibling rivalry, 17.
home, 16-19; anxiety about, 18-19; dream about, 16; flooding of, 19; space for books in, 17; invasion by fey, 18; invasion by knitters, 19; theft from, 18.
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People are very odd. Every now and then someone - a student, a parent, a fellow administrator - wanders into my office and does a complete double take because half of one wall is full of books. This is a motley collection - all my undergrad textbooks, a complete Dickens, a shelf of fantasy/sf and another two each of gothic and fairy tale, a slightly random array of tomes on internet culture and pornography, or both. Most of these wondering individuals don't look at the content, though. Most of them look at me blankly and say "Are all those books yours?!" in tones of awe.

I have to suppress an urge to look down my nose at them and say "This is a university." I suppose it's not their fault that they've been forced to confront an administrator who's more or less a cunning façade for a lit major with particularly bizarre interests, but actually that isn't the problem. The problem is their clearly slightly panicky response to the idea of books in bulk. (And I have to say, my pitiful collection is nothing compared to some of the cluttered, dank and tangled L-space snarls in which lurk, dusty, literate and hermit-crabbed, some of the senior professors). L-space-inducing quantities of books in shelves, piles and herds are so much a given of my existence, it always freaks me out slightly to find people who are thrown by the idea. When the Evil Landlord and I viewed the house we currently occupy just before he bought it, it contained absolutely no books at all - I think there was a pile of glossy magazines on a shelf in the living room, an area I have subsequently derisively filled with the piano. Now, of course, this alarming intellectual sterility is negated by the tottering mounds of literature which bedeck every available space, and then some. I can't imagine living without books. I can't even imagine being able to imagine living without books.

Now I shall head home eftsoons and right speedily, before I actually bite the head off a student and spit the skull through the window with a derisive "ptooey". I think there's been a knock at my door or a phone call every ten minutes since about 11am, and I'm in something of an epic grump. On the other hand, here is an Elizabeth Bear story which manages to make the Cthulhu mythos sad, poignant and rather sweetly sexy, which is quite an achievement.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Good grief.

That's ... disturbing. In a horribly excellent way. It comes from here, where there are some very bizarre and definitely non-excellent playgrounds.

The Billboard Poet of the Daily Voice is back:


Note the characteristic compression - "rasta" is a highly resonant stereotype conveying a world of assumptions, as does "panga", which has all the attachments of insane homicide. There's also nifty play with assonance (rasta, panga) and rhyme (rol, zol), and a sort of subliminal riff on "roll over". Actual meaning is, however, less obvious - what the hell is the significance of "rol" in this context? I can't find anything on Google, and am assuming it must be quite specific Cape slang. Even I, however, know what "zol" is.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was wrestling with an affectionate bobcat. This was strangely sexy, with an undercurrent of fear at the thought that I could get my head ripped off any second. In retrospect, it's probably a potent symbol for my general feelings about romantic relationships.
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Pshaw. The nice encyclopedia press sent me a cheque for $250 for my entry-writing efforts, although given said efforts entailed 30 000 words or so, researched and polished to the back teeth, I suspect I've been swizzed. Now all that remains is to fight my way into Claremont, present the cheque to the foreign exchange desk of the main Absa branch, fill in 23 forms and present 96 bits of documentation, have them send the cheque back to America for endorsement, checking, suspicion, scrutiny with an intense scroot and inscription with mystic runes presumably proof against terrorism and assaults on the American Way of Life, after which the American bank will grudgingly convert it back into electronic monies, and send it back here by torturous virtual routes. I leave here a significant pause into which you are please to insert my usual rantings about human inefficiency and orang-utan civilisation. Also, memo to self: overseas writing gigs may not be worth the red tape they're tied up in.

On a more positive note, however, Making Light have reported on this interesting development, which I cautiously hope may have the potential to strike a blow to fundamentalist wossnames of the more pernicious sort. Turkey has instituted an enquiry into Islam, with a view to a sort of reformation of the religion along more modern and enlightened lines which attempt to excise hundreds of years of closed-minded interpretation of the Prophet's basic common sense. Words cannot express how much I both approve of this, and fear the kind of backlash it might generate among the aforementioned fundamentalists. The Making Light discussion is worth a read. (So is their next post, the Fascist Octopus one, which records for a disbelieving posterity the most unbelievably mixed metaphor known to modern politics).


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