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Oh, yay, heatwaves! 37 degrees last week. Cape Town, how do I love thee at this time of year? not at all. In addition, by way of merry summer celebration, that damned starling appears to have it in for me personally, he had another go at me last week, and again this morning. He's lying in wait, I swear. He doesn't hit hard or claw me, but it's a very definite and deliberate impact to the back of the skull. Either that or it's some sort of misshapen avian crush.

Apart from the heat I had a truly annoying weekend, because my lights went out at about 11am on Saturday and only came on again at 6, and then they died at 2am on Sunday and were out until about the same time this morning, giving me a weekend which was effectively denuded of the ability to do any of the things I'd planned - cv wrangling, job applications, baking, sewing, doing the washing. I spent large tracts of it reading Ursula Vernon furry novels and listening to the inexorable drip of the freezer contents going off. Given that my board-schedule checking hellweek starts tomorrow with the training session and stretches until Tuesday of the following week, I am homicidally grumpy this morning, and inclined to think that the Cosmic Wossnames are rubbing my nose in this job just to make quite, quite sure I'm leaving it. Which, hell, yes.

I am attempting to self-medicate with fluffy television. Given that the fluffy television du jour is Teen Wolf, which I have, as usual, discovered about three years after it stopped being fashionable, possibly the current tendency to snarl and worry things with my teeth is also being unduly exacerbated. On the upside, gratuitous quantities of shirtless hot werewolf action, which is at least aesthetically pleasing.

In the Department of Random Linkery, this is one of Ursula le Guin's characteristically dense, accessible, meditative essays, about stories as carrier bags rather than heroic bludgeoning implements. It is a lovely thing, go and read it. I have stolen my subject line from it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
parades end landscape

So, Parade's End! In utter defiance of my usual desperate fidelity to nothing but the fluffiest of genre tv, I am suddenly and inexplicably hooked on quality BBC renditions of period Modernist novels, with extra side helpings of war, tragedy and emotional distress. I dunno. Apparently I actually have the mental energy, which is probably not unrelated to my recent post on being (weird, go figure) un-depressed and even happy. Which, I am happy to say, is still the case.

My sudden interest in Parade's End is not just fangirling, although the link is Benedict Cumberbatch and I ended up watching it via the fan process - my Tumblr feed is still all about Sherlock, and if fan activity does anything, it introduces you not just to the investment of articulate fans in the central text, but in all the other texts they love, too. There's apparently only so much exposure to beautiful English countryside and Edwardian costume in lovingly-captured Tumblr gifs I can take before I have to damned well see the series.

And wow, is it beautiful. The production has a sort of glow about it, it's exquisitely conceived and shot, with an almost heightened reality to the period detail. That gives, I think, a slight sense of detachment from all of the mental cruelty and horrors of war with which the story is concerned - they are tragic and horrifying without actually being visceral, which is possibly also why I'm managing to enjoy it. But the visual spectacle is really only a context for the characters, from whom one doesn't detach at all. Wow, I invest in these people. All so interestingly flawed, groping unavailingly towards abstract ideals, so utterly shaped and entrapped by their social contexts, structures, expectations, morals. Their own desires so suppressed. Vivid, real, sad people, caught in a terrible sort of inevitability - not just war, although that flings it all into relief, but the shape of their everyday lives. The series is amazing, but now I really want to read the book.

And, let me tell you, it's deeply weird to find myself suddenly impelled to read the book, because my loathing for the Modernists is a pure and burning thing, and Ford Madox Ford is a maddened Modernist with all the bells and whistles. They've always struck me as arrogant sods with this whole thing of My Consciousness, Let Me Show You It. Generally, as a self-respecting genre theorist I have no damned interest at all in someone's naked consciousness, unfiltered by respectable genre functions or narrative conventions. A lot of this distaste is irrational and probably exists because I was badly savaged, in my impressionable undergrad, by a rampaging James Joyce - I never even tried Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist did for me all on its own in first-year English. At the time my high levels of nascent feminism and innate girly swot caused me independently to make valiant but unavailing attempts to read Virginia Woolf on the grounds that the Girl version of Modernism may be more palatable than the Boy, but oh lord. (Except Orlando. I love Orlando, it's a romp, albeit an angry romp, and it appeals to those bits of me that are into androgyny and shifted gender boundaries, which I am coming to the conclusion are rather a lot more of me than I'd realised).

But a sneaking sympathy has clearly crept up on me, because the Modernist framing of Ford's writing obviously influences the way the series is made, and I utterly adore the way the series is made. Apart from its deeply internal positioning and fascination with psychology, it's all allusion and implication, fragmented narrative, half-told stories, time-jumps, unexplained free associations - it makes you work, it doesn't explain, you have to construct it as you watch. I'm currently re-watching because I feel that I missed so much the first time round, and it's an immeasurably rich pleasure on a second viewing, when you can feel the operation of each instant in the arc of the whole. This is intelligent television based on an intelligent book, and thus, by gum, I'll prove myself intelligent by surviving Ford Madox Ford, or perish in the attempt.

I should also possibly record for posterity that, apart from an uncharacteristic inclination to give Modernism a second chance, watching Parade's End’s upper class Edwardianism, in which people perfectly unironically say things like “Ripping!” and “old boy”, has had the weird and possibly inevitable side-effect of mutating my already slightly indefinably pseudo-British accent inexorably towards ever more cut-glass Full English enunciation. (Like a Full English breakfast, only less hardening to the arteries). Especially, for some reason, when giving curriculum advice. I can't work out if the bell-like clarity is desirable or pretentious as hell, but given that my next Cunning Plan is to break out the BBC Bleak House I haven't got around to watching yet, the linguistic shenanigans are almost certainly going to amplify rather than receding. But it's my favourite Dickens, and Gillian Anderson doing Lady Deadlock is an act of inspired and genius casting such as the world has never seen, and apparently I now have the mental fortitude, so my immediate environment can just deal with the Britishness. So there.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the advantages of driving the Evil Landlord's old car, mitigating somewhat the exhaust fumes in the cab, the non-operational inside catch to the driver's door and the lack of rear bumper, is that the radio works. I've ended up listening to 5FM on the way to and from campus a great deal, the best of a non-perfect set of options given my music tastes. (Everyone plays rap and hip-hop, there's no escaping it, but at least 5FM plays less R&B and more SA alt/rock than KFM, although in this case "more" means "slightly above zero". And I like their DJs, who are frequently rude and iconoclastic). This 5FM exposure has had various interesting knock-on effects, among them a growing fondness for Desmond and the Tutus and an ability to collapse giggling at this particularly delirious work of fan-art, which crosses The Hobbit with "Thrift shop" and which causes me to think "What up I got a big elk" and lose it every time they play the song. (Warning: click on "Thrift Shop" link at your own peril, it's insanely catchy).

Today, however, they played a weird St. Patrick's day mix which featured a good minute or so of "Tubthumping". I barely knew this song until recently, Chumbawamba hadn't really colonised my musical life even back in their heyday, but a month or so back I ran into a hysterically funny piece of Avengers fanfic which includes, among other things, a drunken birthday party at which Thor, Sif and the Warriors Three are introduced to "Tubthumping", which appears to nicely encapsulate their warrior-booze ethos. The scene amused me enough that I dug up the song on Youtube, whereupon it promptly ear-wormed me, and has continued to do so ever since at random intervals after random triggers including mentions of booze, the Warriors Three, parties, tubs, the whisky drink or resilience. With any luck today's subject line has ear-wormed you, thus enacting the only possible response to an ear-worm, which is to pass the bloody thing on. (For the record, although to do so is terminally unhip, I have to say that I rather enjoy "Tubthumping" and there are far worse ear-worms).

I owe an apology to the nice ladies of the book club. Yesterday was something of a blur: I woke up with a bit of a headache, which proceeded to worsen, with side orders of sweating and nausea, throughout my 8am psychologist's session. (It didn't help that my control was thus way down when she hit a couple of major nerves with meticulous accuracy, causing me to lie in the chair sobbing jerkily between distracted assertions of "No, no, it's fine, you're absolutely right, this is an important insight.") I crawled back home in a slightly shattered state, called in sick, took insane amounts of sinus meds and fell into bed for five hours, which helped a great deal. It did, however, mean that I spent the rest of the day shambling around the house in a dazed and zombified state, completely not registering that it was (a) Thursday, (b) the 14th, and (c) book club night. When Tracy phoned in an enquiring sort of way to find out where the hell I was, I was peaceably making myself french toast for supper in an unwashed, rumpled and generally stunned-herring sort of persona entirely unsuited to leaving the house for any reason. Sorry, ladies. I plead lack of brain, mostly because it was too busy biting me.

Yesterday wasn't good, but today is better, probably because of all the extra sleep. Also, two things.
(1) Veronica Mars movie kickstarter. Official, Rob Thomas-led, all the stars on board. Eeeeeeee!
(2) Leopard in a box. Your argument is invalid, because leopard in a box.


(The pic has led the usual phantom Tumblr reblog existence for a few days, the link above is the earliest one I can find. Tumblr's psychotic defence of their touching belief that a reblog constitutes an actual source drives me fifty sorts of demented).

o captain my captain

Sunday, 15 July 2012 04:36 pm
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Various wamblings in the comments of my last post have vouchsafed me an Insight, or possibly a Revelation, or at very least a Brainstorm. Which is to say, gawsh, but there are an awful lot of really rather attractive men prancing around contemporary popular culture under the sobriquet of Captain. Is this officially a Thing now? have we all succumbed to the appeal of militarism, or authority, or uniforms? Also, boots. Captains wear good boots. And, judging by the evidence, a lot of them wear good coats. I am cutting this to remove long strings of photos from innocent Friends feeds. )
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Readers of a nervous disposition may have been startled the other night by the faint, echoing cry of rage and frustration wafting across Cape Town's southern suburbs. My apologies. This was occasioned by an unhappy discovery: having cooked supper, served myself a plateful and a glass of wine, put the relevant DVD into the player, booted the cat off my tv-watching chair, settled down with a sigh of content and pressed PLAY, it was something of a kick in the teeth to immediately discover that the final DVD in Season 3 of Veronica Mars contained, not the climactic final episodes I was anticipating, which would sort out all the problems, discoveries and implications raised in Episode 20, but merely a fistful of somewhat lame special features. (Although I rather enjoy the extent to which Rob Thomas resembles Buffy's Riley: it's obscurely reassuring. I've always had a soft spot for poor Riley.)

Veronica Mars is another Firefly, an unhappily-truncated, prematurely-ended, excellent show whose cancellation is clearly the result of the unacceptable degree of intelligence in its writing. I've devoured three seasons over the last month, and despite the lack of ultimate narrative pay-off am unabashedly a fan: in my secret moments, I suspect it's actually better television than Buffy, which is truly odd given that I usually need a chunk of fantastic content in order to for a show to genuinely warm the cockles of my unrealistic little heart. (And Joss does a guest spot. He clearly likes it too).

I said in a tweet somewhere that VM is effectively "Buffy meets Brick", and that still holds: it's a high-school (and, in Season 3, college) series about a private eye who just happens to be a sassy blonde teenager, and its play with the thematic intersections is witty, perceptive and extremely effective. Despite its apparently fluffy school setting the series is dark; it doesn't flinch from dealing with death, murder, rape, abuse, violence, drugs, alcoholism, social divides, sexual orientation, gender politics and pretty much anything else that grabs its fancy in a given episode. In that it's very clever; the intensity and heartfelt trauma of the teen experience don't, after all, map so badly onto the threats and angsts of noir. The first two seasons present a beautiful balance between meta-plot, a detective puzzle which arcs across the whole season, and more minor investigations which are tied up neatly at the end of the episode. Season 3 isn't as neat; its meta-arc finishes too early, and the whole thing trails off a bit - I blame the cancellation, personally - but it's still satisfying television. And, while I called the bad guy early on in the first and third seasons, Season 2 blindsided me totally while being, in retrospect, totally inevitable. I love it when a detective story does that.

I think I'm enamoured of this series particularly because of Veronica herself, whose construction makes me realise that, Joss's feminism notwithstanding, there are points about Buffy that bother me. For a start, Veronica's "superpower" isn't physical (her idea of "backup" makes me laugh a lot), it's intellectual; Veronica's skills are equally about brain, application and hard-won experience, not mystical ability to kick butt. Secondly, the angsts it causes her are not the traditionally feminine insecurities: if she has flaws or problems they're more about arrogance, over-confidence, a certain predeliction to vengefulness. She has none of the traditionally "blonde" moments with which Buffy is occasionally plagued. Hers are flaws of strength, not weakness, and unlike Buffy, while she's also a social outsider, her response to that marginalisation is extremely together, defiant and often aggressive, the antithesis of the shrinking, hypersensitive outcast. Veronica's snarky one-liners cause me infinite delight; she insulates herself from the world and its all too frequent rejection with a screen of wit. Buffy is used to being the strongest and most cosmically important person in the room, but Veronica is used to being the most intelligent, and I find that I identify with that a lot more easily.

I'm going to cut the next bit, as it'll be spoilery if you haven't seen the series, and I seriously recommend you see the series. )

One of the joys of Buffy is its currency, the extent to which its quotes and images and icons are rife among my friends. I want to watch Veronica Mars again, preferably several times, to imprint some of these quotes and people and catchphrases onto my wayward memory, but I also want everyone to go and watch it too so I can share some of that pleasure, and argue the 'ships, and have my references recognised. Please indulge me. I don't think it'll be a waste of your time.
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Aargh. Builders on scaffolds are using drills and jackhammers to scrape plaster off the walls around my window. Other builders are re-plastering. Still others are scraping off my windows the solidified plaster detritus from yesterday's identical operation six feet higher up. The noise is of the indescribably penetrating and tooth-jarring order which is causing me to actively look forward to going to the dentist this afternoon. At least I'll be able to flee my office.

There being a tragic hiatus in my Veronica Mars watching (Seasons 2 & 3 arrive today, calloo, callay!) [ profile] wolverine_nun lent me the first couple of seasons of Chuck, which she enjoyed and which I've been vaguely wanting to test-drive for a while. On the surface it seems right up my alley - fluffy, undemanding watching, with a reasonable degree of humour and self-reflexive irony, and the kind of thrillery/actiony format which also grooves my ploons. (I'm a sucker for car chases and explosions and OTT fight choreography and other icons of the mindless action genre). But it's not doing it for me, and I'm trying to work out why.

A lot of it is doing it for me. I like the premise, and the ridiculously tongue-in-cheek concept of the Intersect, with all its cheesy and unlikely images. I love the CIA/NSA rivalry, and Adam Baldwin in this role; I genuinely like Chuck himself, who is dopey and geeky and endearing, and hapless not quite to the point of irritation. I like Sarah, and I love the interactions between Chuck and his sister. I think, on mature reflection, that the series becomes literally unwatchable (as in, I get up and go out of the room for five minutes so it can play an excruciating scene through without me having to watch) around the character of Morgan. Hi, I'm Extemporanea. I Get All Protective Of Geeks.

This is nerd-humour, but I'm finding it nasty. Morgan is almost entirely without redeeming feature: his social ineptitude and rhino-hide insensitivity make him actively painful to watch. It's a one-dimensional, horribly stereotypical, rather sadistic portrayal: apparently his only function in the series is to make life difficult and embarrassing for Chuck. Morgan is The Hero's Cross To Bear: I'm on the sixth episode of the series, and in terms of his own good qualities, points of interest, elements with which the viewer can empathise, there's nothing. Chuck is a geeky stereotype that's actually well-rounded; Morgan's just a foil, and one you're encouraged to laugh at rather cruelly. I can't take it. It's poisoning the whole thing for me. Which is a pity, because I rather want to see how the whole ridiculous premise works out. It looks like fun, but fun I can't have. Bother.

Now I shall go to the dentist, braced for the nasty, expensive little noise which results when a dentist peers into your mouth and does the sharp intake of breath indicating that at some unspecified stage in the last few weeks a very expensive crown came randomly adrift and you accidentally swallowed it without noticing.

charming potato

Sunday, 12 February 2012 10:23 pm
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You know I make those oven-baked baby potato thingies for braais? Where you halve the baby potatoes and sling them into a pan with garlic and olive oil and whatever other seasonings occur to you at the time (herbs, lemon, spices, the flesh of the living), and bake them until crispy? Well, this evening Jo & I, via the essentially random processes outlined above, accidentally created the best ever version of this. The One True Crispy Potato. The Platonic Ideal. I undertook to blog it quickly before we both forgot what we did. Herewith.

Excessive Potatoes

So, you need:
  • 1kg baby potatoes. (This serves 4 of us. Don't mock). I like the Woolies yellow-fleshed Mediterranean ones, but any will do.
  • A generous splodge of peanut oil.
  • A couple of fairly heaped tablespoons of crushed garlic/ginger mix.
  • Two mediumly ferocious chillis, chopped, seeds included.
  • A mad sprinkling of Thai seven spice, to taste, but I tend to sprinkle a bit wildly.
  • Half a pack of uncooked bacon bits.
  • A couple of tablespoons of honey.
  • A couple of tablespoons of soy sauce.
  • A dash of fish sauce.
  • A generous couple of handfuls of chopped spring onion.
So, you halve the potatoes and sling them into a wide roasting pan sort of thingy. Splosh generously with peanut oil; add ginger/garlic and Thai seven spice, and salt liberally. Whizz the potatoes around with a spatula to coat evenly with oil and seasonings. Chop chillis finely and add. Whizz around some more.
Stick the pan into a preheated 200o oven, uncovered, for 30-45mins. If you remember you could come and mix up the pan a bit halfway through so they brown more or less evenly, but I usually forget.
At a point around 20 mins from the meat coming off the braai, add the bacon bits. Swirl around madly to coat/mix. Sling back into the oven.
Ten minutes later, haul the pan out of the oven and slosh over the potatoes the mixture of honey and soy/fish sauce you have previously prepared by warming the honey very slightly in the microwave before mixing in the soy and fish sauce. Once again, mix madly. Sling back in the oven.
As the meat arrives onto the table off the braai, triumphantly haul the potatoes out of the oven and decant into a serving bowl, making sure to scrape out the somewhat delectable sauce remnants and bits of crispy bacon. Add the chopped spring onions and mix together. (We contemplated adding sesame seeds, but it seemed redundant at this point).
Serve, to universal adulation and overeating.

I have only two things to add, being a bit overwhelmed by too much registration, too much braai, too much braai smoke, and a two-day headache.
(1) The possibilities for Skyrim mods seen in this video are making me drool more than slightly. Also, the editing on that irritatingly catchy tune is sheer genius. (I know that irritatingly catchy tune all too well because my OLs insist on using it every year for their opening presentation thingy. It's a terrible ear-worm even without all the arrow in the knee bits).
(2) I am utterly enjoying Veronica Mars anyway, but the last episode I watched completely made my weekend by developing precisely the 'ship I've been rooting for madly for about half the season. This makes me feel smug, and gratified, and prescient.

I have to note for posterity that my subject line will make absolutely no sense to anyone who doesn't read Pajiba. If you did, you'd know that the site has a running gag where they refer to Channing Tatum solely by the sobriquet of Charming Potato. You have to admit it's terribly apt.
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Woe! I was reclining peacefully on the sofa last night watching Eureka, and got a sudden yen to discover where I'd seen the geeky café chef before (answer: the Toyman on Smallville, this series seems to be stuffed with Smallville alumni), and when I tried to switch on Winona she imitated the action of the brick and refused to respond in any way at all. Plugging her into the mains makes absolutely no difference. The ON button simply doesn't do anything. Taking the battery out and putting it back in again also doesn't do anything. I have so little experience with laptopoid objects, I have no bloody idea what's going on. Is there a secret handshake or something similar of which I am blissfully unaware? Help!

I should also add that I'm really enjoying Eureka, which I cheerfully admit is not quality television, but which offers sufficient in quirk, zan, mad science and slightly off-the-wall moments and characters to keep me happy. It also, after a discussion with [ profile] maxbarners revealed that he and [ profile] smoczek hated it, vouchsafed me the sizzling insight that tastes in bad/cheesy television or movie are infinitely more personal and individual than those in the good versions. It's wierdly akin to Tolstoy's statement that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." High-quality cultural product has far more norms in common than low-quality: whether or not you buy into a cheesy series is about the particular and personal buttons that it presses, rather than any objective sense of its worth as an artefact. Which is fine by me. I'm defiantly enjoying Eureka, in pretty much the same way that I enjoy puppies and kittens and chocolate éclairs.

And, while we're mentioning the Russians, however tangentially, last night I dreamed that I was a small boy escaping an oppressive Russian regime with the assistance of friendly townsfolk, who put me on a train with my giant trunk. This turned out to have been filled, behind my back, with young men being smuggled out of the country, which I assisted by carefully covering them with my coat and wiring the trunk shut. Dream-history does not relate whether they escaped or not, but I don't think I was stopped or searched. Also, I'm tending to blame China Miéville.
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Aargh. You were right, [ profile] dicedcaret, I hadn't actually watched the last episode of this season of Castle. I watched it last night, to fill the void left by having finished Dragon Age II, a rant on which subject is forthcoming, watch this space. In the Castle department, woe, and angst, and trauma, and tragedy, and yet again, cruel fate intervening in indefinitely-delayed declarations of love. Am currently contemplating how to use the debris on my desk (four defunct rechargeable AAA batteries, small aquamarine plastic mirror with obscure branding, gorgeous purple knitted owl gloves courtesy [ profile] first_fallen, tub of vanilla body butter, ceramic cat with flower pattern, pile of parental wedding photos) to construct time machine for sooner consumption of the first episode of the next season, because aargh, and I really need to see how they write themselves out of this one. Also, if you're not watching Castle, get onto it. It's cute and fluffy and funny and Nathan Fillion is adorable, and then every now and then it blindsides you with an emotional blow to the solar plexus, and other mixed metaphors. Solar plexus is a really odd term, have you ever noticed? It looks like something in an alien language.

In the Department of High-Class Loonery, Scalzi is particularly vintage recently. My subject line is nicked from the comments, because the concept of a .357 hollowpoint badger made me snort Earl Grey out my nose, and also [ profile] wolverine_nun will angst about not recognising it, which is fast becoming the happiest side-effect of my love affair with obscure quotes in subject lines. Insert evil "mwa ha ha ha" here.

Random Friday is apparently random. I've done not much for the last two weeks, except to observe my hobbling gradually erode into actual walking with limping when tired, and to construct newer and more interesting ways to be able to sit at a desk for any length of time without my feet swelling up. (Current solution: footstool + 2 cushions + Hobbit + interesting contorted sideways position which is giving me backache, see below). Still tire very easily, but I'll be back at work on Monday, probably for a reduced day with some time working from home, just so that I don't end up as a melted puddle of thing under my desk by the end of the day. Hobbit, of course, feels me being at home for two weeks and largely immobile is merely the universe finally catching up with the Correct State Of Things For Cats.

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As a by-product of the ongoing attempt by [ profile] tngr_spacecadet and cohorts to inculcate me into Lotro, I watched the Doctor Who Christmas special the other night. (It was in the Briefcase of Doom, the which contains the two portable hard drives [for a slightly Heath Robinson value of "portable"] which contain the Lotro install, that it may not cripple my bandwidth allowance. For which relief, much thanks. Also, nested parentheses.)

Anyway. The Doctor Who Christmas special was a happy discovery. I've been slightly disappointed in the Stephen Moffat incarnation this last season, it's been a bit whiffly and more than somewhat prone to the Russell Davies brand of giant galloping emotional excess in clumsy symbol form. Certainly nothing as good as "Blink" or "The Girl in the Fireplace". Clearly producing a series causes inherent disintegration of the plot-fibre.

But I loved "A Christmas Carol". It's vintage 11th Doctor - he really is quite endearingly off-the-wall, both in content and delivery, and manages to be madly quirky and individual while maintaining continuity with Tennant's version. (Thus, incidentally, making me realise that there really wasn't much continuity between Ecclestone's version of the Doctor and Tennant's). It also demonstrates the happy-making fact that Moffat fundamentally gets not only time travel, which we knew, but A Christmas Carol itself. I am a pervy Dickens-fondler at the best of times, and have also spent chunks of the last eight years or so teaching A Christmas Carol to second-year lit students on an annual basis, and I have considerable investment in the novel and more than the usual quotient of opinions.

Moffat nailed it. What the Dickens ghost trope is, first and foremost, is a time machine. The supernatural element in the novel is a plot device which allows him not only to access past and future with vivid immediacy, but to compress a lifetime's worth of experience, insight and emotional change into one night. It's not realistic for Scrooge to reform instantly unless something non-realistic is driving it, and the Tardis is a beautiful replacement for the Spirits, the more so because time-hopping is allowed literally to change history and memory, not just insight into them. The ice-stored people are a lovely embodiment of theme, both Dickens's and Moffat's: emotional stasis, cold-heartedness, refusal to change. And the fish, while a mite mundane for my taste, are beautifully weird and occasionally enchanting.

This episode made me giggle frequently and cry at least once, although that last void where prohibited by viewer not actually being a hopelessly over-emotional dingbat. I am inclined to be sanguine about the new season, which is providing cool and interesting trailer images, notably the Doctor playing up to a Stetson.

I will also be inclined to write about it frequently, for as long as LJ holds up, which isn't much, at the moment. The tendency of its servers to exist in a supine condition is beginning to get my goat. Please note that this blog is currently mirrored on WordPress, at, although with a fraction of its actual personality as I haven't been able to migrate the comments. If the urge to blog hits me while LJ is whups, fellover, I shall probably pop up over there instead, ultimately permanently if they don't bloody sort this out. Pshaw.

deep breath

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

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

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

Wish me luck! I shall be thin on the ground for the next few days.
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Gah. One of those days when I've boiled the kettle four times and still haven't managed to make the cup of tea. This is the time of year when I most hate my job: I am juggling four major and complicated organisational challenges, at least part of all of which involves students phoning me up and being plaintive. The Nibbled To Death By Hordes Of Mice quotient is very high. Also, insomnia last night doesn't help, while I lie awake remembering important things I haven't done. Just to add to the joy, the campus internet has decided to nominate today as one of meditation, which means there's a fractional delay on every letter I type. It's very annoying.

On the upside, the amazing people at Loot have apparently arm-wrestled the Evil Anti-Season-4 Smallville Cult into submission, because my copy has apparently been shipped. Owing to Smallville's tendency to finish its seasons on cheesy cliffhangers with practically everyone possibly dead or incarcerated in insane asylums, I'm more than usually twitchy at the lack of instant gratification. Also, I really miss Joss's tendency to damned well finish a season arc. It suggests an actual confidence in the return of his audience which the Cheap Shot Cliffhanger simply doesn't. Sigh. I am, nonetheless, rather looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with oodles of kryptonite, bucketloads of teen angst, the ongoing train smash that is Luthor family dynamics, and Clark Kent's cheekbones.

Now I shall go back to assessing the curricula of student appeal cases, wrangling OLs, fielding plaintive admissions emails and herding curriculum advisors into training. Much of the actual hard grind of finishing up handouts and websites and things for these projects is, alas, going to be done this weekend. I think my Evil Landlord's fell influence on the weekend work front is rotting my moral fibre.
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Woe is me! Have stampeded madly through three seasons of Smallville with only occasional pauses to shake my tiny fist at the asinine stupidity of the scriptwriters, and have reached a sudden forced hiatus owing to the weird fact that Season 4 is unaccountably unavailable from any outlet I can find, including the local online ones. (1-3 and 5-8 are cluttering the shelves). I'm gently revolving a theory that the season does something that utterly offends the sensibilities of a more than usually cuckoo cult somewhere, and their Seekrit Operatives have nobbled all extant copies. If it's the season in which Clark finally gets the hell over himself and tells Lana his Big Seekrit, I'll be extremely miffed. The push-me-pull-you irresolution of their relationship is driving me nuts. Lex, however, still rules.

Anyway. I'd be more ashamed of my predilection for junky teen television if it weren't for the fact that watching it has vouchsafed me an insight - interestingly, in conjunction with critting the micfics of my fellow micficcers. Apparently, in sharp contradistinction to the bulk of my fellow lit professionals, I follow a reasonably consistent principle of responding to texts, at least initially, on their own terms. If they're trying to be lemon curd tartlets I shall not waste my energy and opinionated breath in deploring their failure to be a hearty three-course meal, or an exquisite nouvelle confection involving caviar. MicFics are all over the show, but a quick analysis shows that I'm far more likely to nitpick issues of language than to take issue with the writer's choice of tone or genre. If that's what they want to do, I'll go with the flow. Likewise, Smallville is fun as teen superhero television. Castle is good-natured personality-driven detective fluff. (And the recent meta episode with the actress playing Nikki Heat was enormously good fun). Vampire Diaries is teen vampire television with considerably more to it than Twilight, and a very hot cast.

It goes further, however. All of these guilty-passion TV shows are acceptable to me in their category because they're aware of their category; they're not trying to persuade us that they're anything more. Texts should know their place, basically. Even more importantly, they frequently nod to their own identity, traditions and clichés with a certain amount of irony and occasional deliberate inversion. I am a sucker for irony. Self-conscious genre play makes me ridiculously happy.

All of which is an extremely laboured lead-in to the simple fact that I just caught myself laughing like a loon at Rodrigo y Gabriela's semi-flamenco guitar cover of "Stairway to Heaven". Clearly I'm enough of a music geek to LOL at musical jokes, but see self-conscious genre play, above. They also cover Metallica. Hee.
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The very first crush I ever had was on Superman, the Christopher Reeve version; going by the date of the movies, even with the characteristic Zimbabwean delay in releasing them, I must have been about twelve years old. It was a very childish crush. Whether as Superman in skin-tight primary colours or as Clark Kent with his goofy, farmboy dweebishness, Superman's a good guy, and thus ultimately unthreatening to a twelve-year-old's devotion. It's an uncomplicated good: of all the superheroes Superman must be the most clear-cut, his angsts alien and distant and human only at one remove. He's all the more a good guy because his powers are almost limitless, and he's bloody near indestructible; not for him the hard-won grittiness of Batman, or Spiderman's joyous exploration of every possible combination of swooping and string. Superman is possibly my favourite superhero because he's just so reassuring to watch, the epitome of strength modified by chivalrous restraint.

Fortunately, Smallville mostly seems to get all of the above. I cannot say this is great television, or even great teen television; watching it over the last couple of weeks has been a guilty pleasure very much akin to an ill-advised and dodgily enjoyable relationship with an extremely hot young man about twenty years my junior, motivated mostly by his cheekbones, slightly bone-headed sweetness and naively earnest desire to please. This series wants to be Buffy, with all of Buffy's use of the supernatural to explore teen angsts. It wants to be Buffy so bad it hurts, but alas, it simply doesn't have the brain. It is, nonetheless, extremely watchable, its best episodes kicking in at somewhere around the middling-solid of Buffy, and some of its narrative and mythological choices being interesting and creative.

The whole problem with Superman is that he's invulnerable and pretty much invincible, which doesn't offer a whole lot of potential for narrative tension. This, of course, is what kryptonite was made for, and one has to be struck by the way that the series weaves Clark Kent's inherent limitations into the fabric of life in Smallville: kryptonite arrived, in large quantities, in the same meteor shower that delivered the young superhero, and liberally peppered the Smallville landscape. From there, things simply fall into place with an audible click that's almost too pat: of course kryptonite crystals will be present at the moment of narrative climax, rendering Clark's powers moot, or in worst case scenarios turning him momentarily evil. (I hate red kryptonite in this series: it destroys everything I really enjoy about Superman, which is his Lawful Good-ness. Also, Tom Welling brings the pretty in large quantities, but his acting skills, at least this far, are not quite up to Evil!Clark, who really needs to be played by Damon Salvatore to be in any way compelling).

Apart from the eternal quadrille with kryptonite, the show so far revolves around two main tensions, Clark/Lana and Clark/Lex. The Lana thing is making me realise how good Joss is at this, in that Buffy's relationships were never this eternal electron-orbiting-a-nucleus thing, doomed never to touch. Buffy's relationships were mostly disastrous, but by gum she had them. Here, Clark's gosh-darned secrecy is a sort of repulsion field, always pushing Lana away with misunderstandings or secrets or save-the-world priorities which exclude her at the moment when you think they might actually stop being bone-headed teenagers and get it together. It's so inevitable you stop hoping after a while. As an exploration of the price of a superhero identity it's frequently poignant and insightful, particularly in the ramifications of secrecy out through the Kent family and Clark's friends, but in terms of narrative satisfaction, not so much. Of course, I'm only halfway through the second season, so they might still surprise me, but the pattern of eternal-foreplay-no-climax is beginning to wear on me.

On the other hand I'm really, really enjoying the Clark/Lex relationship. Lex is interestingly conflicted, and his beyond dysfunctional relationship with his father is a twelve-step how-to on creating supervillains. His complexity is beautifully set off against Clark's stubborn and slightly one-dimensional nice farmboy thing, but you still believe in their friendship. Again, the necessity for secrecy about Clark's powers is cleverly used to complicate the relationship, with a horrible inevitability which allows you to appreciate its necessity at the same time that you can watch it effectively destroying Lex's struggles towards light rather than dark, people rather than power. For a Lawful Good guy, it's ironic how Clark's interactions with Lex are an ongoing betrayal headed inevitably and horribly for disaster. It's also fascinating to watch the incestuous intertwining of Luthor and Kent fates in an unstable web of deceit and compromise and manipulation. (Is it just me? I really don't like the actor who plays Jonathan Kent. I don't believe he's a good guy).

The problem with Superman is that everyone knows the story. I'm impressed, actually, by how the writers of the series have used this to layer the interactions between the characters; it has something of a Greek tragedy's attitude to fate. The series is possibly most fun, however, in its throwaway nods to the mythology, its larding of the episodes with passing, deadpan references to men of steel and tights and secret identities and being from another planet. It's playful and, again, poignant, and makes me wish I'd actually read some Superman comics at some point. (Memo to self: hit Loot).

So, overall I suspect there are a good few seasons of Smallville in my future. There are moments when I wander out of the room in the middle of an episode in sheer frustration or embarrassment or irritation, but its pleasures are many. Why, yes, Smallville, you may take one of my favourite superhero mythologies and expand it for my viewing pleasure for ten seasons, with a modicum of insight and an attractive and largely likeable cast. Happy Christmas to you, too.
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Phooey. Unspecified bastards leaped over the garden wall this afternoon and kicked down the side door into the garage. This did them no good at all, as the alarm promptly went off, and they seem to have departed without actually taking anything. Annoying for us as well as them. I must say, though, it's curiously comforting to arrive home to an unexpectedly kicked-down door, to find the armed response company already reassuringly in possession. Wandering through a potentially devastated house is much less unpleasant when there's a nice, large dude with a gun taking point. For some reason, however, this is making me want to re-watch all my Vin Diesel movies. I may be incurably frivolous. It'll also have to wait until I've finished randomly watching Lord of the Rings, which is reassuringly full of nice, large dudes with swords.

I was off work yesterday with the gastric bug which seems to be doing the rounds, and am consequently disclaiming all responsibility for the more than unusually wayward nature of this post. Not eating much for thirty-six hours is making me rather light-headed. This is, however, possibly why, despite the assaults of South African crime and the lining of my own stomach, I'm in a vaguely up space. I shall now go and hit [ profile] d_hofryn for all the latest in Castle, Fringe, Supernatural and Vampire Diaries, and then shall callously ignore it in order to vaguely perve Arwen, Aragorn and, for some reason, Boromir. I really like Boromir. I think it's the way he says "They have a cave troll."
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Random Sunday is random! I still have no brain, and am unequal to the task of composing any of my planned blog posts on (a) the manifest seductions of verbiage, (b) Tron, or (c) ex-Zimbabwean rootlessness, although they're marinating quietly in my back-brain and I'll get round to them eventually. Instead, I shall round up various items of a Literary or Cinematic Nature which have recently affected me, just because.

  • The nice thing about randomly lending people books is that they randomly lend you books. [ profile] tngr_spacecadet brought my Sookie Stackhouse collection back this morning, and incidentally dumped off a couple of supernatural Victorian novels, including Gail Carriger's Soulless, which I unrepentantly devoured this afternoon in default of marking the pile of Frankenstein class tests I should have been marking. (I currently do not love my job, so the weekends, are mine, goddammit, and work can bloody well wait). Soulless features some rather acutely-observed Victorian social comedy, a pleasingly strong-minded and matter-of-fact heroine, interesting world-building, unexpected Queen Victorias to the social situation, and rather enjoyable interludes of sweaty groping with werewolves in carriages and corsets and what have you. It's well written rather than being brilliantly written, but is often very funny and was bloody good fun to read. Recommended. Shall acquire my own copy forthwith, and any sequels.

  • Justice has been done! China Miéville's The City and the City won the Hugo for Best Novel, unusually a tie (with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, which didn't grab me as hard but which will make [ profile] pumeza happy).

  • Finally finished Season 5 of Doctor Who. I really, really like this Doctor. He doesn't inspire me with the girly heart-throbbings that the Tenth did, but he's becoming very interesting very fast. I am, however, faintly disappointed in Steven Moffat, who appears to have sacrificed his Blink-style elegance in favour of the kind of overblown grandiosity of concept favoured by Russell Davies. "The Lodger" was a lovely episode full of lovely people who almost but not quite distracted one from the gaping plot holes. The two-part finale made me very happy for its cunning Pandorica occupant, its Rory-redemption (and dammit, now I want a spinoff series covering his adventures over the last 2000 years) and for some actually intelligent use of time-travel, but the gathering of the Doctor's enemies was a generally pointless and self-indulgent concept which didn't give enough narrative pay-off to justify it. And the wedding scene was cute, but predictable and a bit flabby. I'm ... slightly miffed, actually. It's still all much better, plot-wise, than the previous Davies-seasons, but I had very high expectations of Steven Moffat, and he's turned out more of a Davies-disciple than I'm strictly happy with in my role as a pervy plot-fondler.

  • The latest Microfiction bits are up. This month's theme: "Spanner". Mine here. I think in this one a week of academicating (or, possibly, reading Miéville) has unduly predisposed me to a dense and convoluted writing style, but it felt necessary. Also, the word limit killed me this time round. Will post the longer version as well, sometime, just for comparison, because I actually think it's better.

  • The STNG episode which finally attacks homosexuality head-on, if somewhat laterally (and, yes, both together) made me very happy. (The one with poor Riker's doomed love affair with the androgyne). The Star Trek universe is so generally liberal, the lack of awareness of anything other than heterosexuality was beginning to be a serious gap and was narking my Proudly South African sensibilities. (Although it's also subtly annoying me that, while there are clearly women in leadership roles all over the show, since the departure of Tasha they're all very traditional nurturing female roles - doctor and counsellor. This is possibly why I'm really enjoying Ensign Ro's kick-butt spikiness).
As of tomorrow I'm taking notes in a two-day workshop, so will be generally un-available on Teh Internets unless I use Winona and manage to pirate a wireless connection to Seekritly Browse while I should be minute-taking. Wish me luck...
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I have a visa for my English trip, hooray. It arrives all neatly sealed into a silver plastic envelope, festooned with snippy interdictions about breaking the seal unless you're absolutely and positively the person it's intended for. It was an extremely efficient process, done in only a couple of weeks, and automated every step of the way. Collecting the passport must have taken all of a minute and a half. Inside the envelope, however, is not only the passport and the documentation I submitted, but a neat little A5 booklet in red, white and blue, with the title "PLAYING BY THE RULES IN THE UK."

This title is is causing me almost physical nausea, which is disproportionate because the contents of the booklet are fairly straightforward rules for visitors: don't misuse your visa or bring in banned foods and please tattle on human traffickers at these easy numbers. But the positioning of the title gets to me. It's sanctimonious, paternalistic, smug and self-satisfied: it says "We're all part of a police state, isn't it lovely, you will be too." It also has an air of unspecified and inherent menace: you will be good, won't you? or else. The tone is that of a particularly saccharine kindergarten teacher: we're all just do as we're told here, don't we? Or mummy will smack.

I do not like your current Great Britain, it strikes me as neither great nor British. Whatever happened to the great British virtues of bloody-mindedness, eccentricity and up yours? Or is my preferred reading too firmly back in the early 20th century?

In other news, I have written two pages of densely-compacted notes for this vampire/fairy tale paper, only to discover that I'm really only making introductory motions. Hmmm. This topic may be larger than it appears in the rear-view mirror. Also, tonight I embark on STNG Season 3, suggesting I'm rocketing through them with becoming fangirly fervour. The scriptwriters, praise the cosmic wossnames, found a clue somewhere in the middle of Season 2. There is yet hope. And I still rather like Wesley Crusher, possibly on the same general principles as my growing fondness for peaty whisky: sheer bloody-mindedness. There's clearly a lot of early, classic British in my family tree.
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Friends hosted a distributed-cooking Christmas In July last night, which means I'm lolling around the house still incredibly full of snacks and soup and turkey and Jo's amazing roast potatoes and baked potato gratin with the cream content of a small herd of Ayrshires (Jo and potatoes, it's the love story of the century). I didn't have room for the trifle, but since I made it (my signature Black Forest trifle, i.e. with black cherries and chocolate ganache on account of how I spit upon this custard/peaches nonsense) there's still half a one in the 'fridge. I'm eyeing it speculatively for lunch. Hmmm.

Last night was interesting because of the way a lot of the chit-chat was integrated with blog posts. In our sadly geeky crowd various people's blogs become almost another character at the table: they contribute to the conversation, sparking discussions and subsequently weaving in and out of them. We inevitably got onto Star Trek because I've been watching and blogging a fair amount of it, and I ended up both explaining the Wesley Crusher Problem to [ profile] diced_caret, and joining in a general excoriation of the writing in STNG Season 1.

This resulted in the best slightly drunken metaphor I've ever generated for the problem: those poor actors occasionally quite obviously approach their dialogue with the sort of dubious poke you'd give to a giant plate of something ethnic and unidentifiable you've just been served at a diplomatic function, and which is looking at you because it's full of eyeballs. As a result, they end up mouthing the more horrible bits of dialogue rather gingerly, with politely-concealed distaste. It's a pity, because the show actually has a very good cast (apart from some obviously ham guest stars), and they deserve to be given something better to say. It's also the basis of the Wesley Crusher problem - it's nothing to do with the unfortunate actor, the character's just really badly written, poor lad. So now I have a new insomnia cure: where before I used to lie awake at 3am whiling away the hours by designing lesson plans for Hogwarts Divination classes (I don't believe in divination, but anyone with half a brain for symbol analysis could do a better job than Sibyl), now I lie awake re-writing the most recently-watched STNG script to make the character and plot motivations actually, you know, make sense. It's really not that difficult.

I'm also interested in how far my sense of "OMG this is badly written!" is about writers who haven't yet hit their stride, and how much of it is simply about dated values for dialogue and acting. Even in the good episodes the beats seem slow to me, and the interchanges frequently stilted: is the same true of most TV from that time? As someone who's come to TV anachonistically, late and on DVD rather than in any contemporary sense, I really don't have the wherewithal for comparison. I darkly suspect, though, that Joss Whedon may have spoiled me.

On a completely unrelated note, this morning I stumbled across the deliriously happy concept of the Desert Bus video game, which made me giggle like a twit for several minutes. I am apparently a huge fan of ideas taken to their logical conclusion and beyond until surreality sets in.
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I am coming to Scotland in August! To give a conference paper on Neil Gaiman and Tanith Lee and weird inverted vampire Snow Whites, which I have still to write, but pshaw, details! This is all being paid for by the faculty, who are thus currently high on my list of Favourite People, at least until they dream up another set of horrible jobs for me. But the important thing is, I'm coming through Heathrow and have booked my tickets to stay two nights in London before heading Up North. I'll arrive on the morning of the 9th August, and leave for Glasgow on the morning of the 11th. Far-flung exiled London crowd, who's around then? Can we Gather in a Pub or adequate substitute in the usual ritual fashion? There are too many of you I don't see often enough, or at all ([ profile] bumpycat, I'm looking at you here!). Also, I've had offers of accommodation from [ profile] starmadeshadow and Scroob - whose doorstep will it be most convenient for me to turn up on? do you want to arm-wrestle for it?

Gosh, I'm all excited about this. *fans self*.

I am on leave today and tomorrow, allowing the lingering vestiges of glandular wossname to exit my system by means of determined lounging about. Despite this I have managed to re-watch Iron Man 2 (still grin-inducing second time round), have the car serviced (clutch much smoother! it's like magic, I can take off without ripping involuntary wheelies), and read an awful lot of hot cyber elf-sex (Justina Robson, who is kinda fun and not nearly as schlocky as it sounds, and who I shall probably review in detail sometime). And, of course, entirely ignore the World Cup (other than about 10 mins of amazing Bafana butterfootedness in between episodes last night) in favour of watching large amounts of STNG while knitting, which means I'm onto the stripy bit of this scarf, which is kinda cool.

And which leads me to the next vital question. Do they let you take rosewood knitting needles on planes these days?? Because it's SAA, and the inflight movies are non-personalised and always unbelievably bad, and I have to do something to prevent myself from losing it completely and feasting on the flesh of the living somewhere over Tamanrasset. Last time it was Rush Hour 2 and an earnest, syrupy, American rugby film which I followed with involuntary horror and perfect comprehension despite refusing to wear the headphones. Honestly, we should get danger pay.
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Still a Bear of Very Little Brain, despite - or possibly because of - a week doing effectively nothing, except playing Plants vs. Zombies, watching Doctor Who, reading Iron Man graphic novels, re-reading my Sookie Stackhouse collection (hawt vampire sex! yay!) and reclining on the sofa fulfilling my god-designated role as Warm Cushiony Thing to an array of cats. I still feel short on sleep and as though someone's punched me in the neck repeatedly, but I'm back at work today, and haven't actually bitten anyone yet, so possibly there are cautious grounds for hope that I'll wake up one of these mornings and not actually want to go straight back to sleep for eight hours.

One of the other things I did manage to read was Holly Black's White Cat, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I know her mostly for her YA faerie series, Tithe et al, which are solid and slightly gritty pieces of YA urban fantasy but which don't really expand the boundaries of an increasingly crowded genre. White Cat is different in that it felt genuinely fresh. The novel assumes that magic is real, but that it's been outlawed; the contemporary setting does an interesting echo of Prohibition in that, logically enough, if magic is illegal then curse workers will, in fact, be controlled by organised crime. Lots of lovely plots, double-bluffs, truly nasty people, and a slightly sketchy but rather fun play with the eponymous fairy tale. Recommended.

In other news, [ profile] first_fallen just lent me all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I started watching last night. So far I have concluded the following:
  • It's very slow-paced, which works well for my fledgling knitting skills. Eight rows of Ravenclaw Scarf last night, about to embark on the colour change. However, the Evil Landlord urgently needs to replace the bulb in the light above my sofa, I can't see properly to knit and there's a clear and present danger I'll end up knitting a clockwork train owing to the gloom.
  • Good lord, Wil Wheaton is ickle. And Wesley Crusher is not nearly as annoying as urban legend would have him. Also, about two-thirds of his blog suddenly makes sense.
  • I have absolutely no tolerance for the Portentous Crashing Musical Score, which is all about Flagging! Important! Moments! And! Lots! Which! Aren't! Important! But! Which! Are! Flagged! Anyway!, causing me to mutter a lot and grind my teeth. I may have to acquire a wax doll of the composer, and prod it at vindictive intervals with my rosewood 3.5s.
  • Most of the cast is kinda cute.


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