Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'The actual hero of The Scarlet Pimpernel is the heroine, Lady Blakeney'

....after checking a few editions of The Scarlet Pimpernel and thinking "Hmm, these translations all seem the same," I realized Baroness Orczy wrote IN ENGLISH, because she was not the author of La Princesse de Clèves, which I have always been vaguely meaning to read ever since just-missing it at St John's*: there are two campuses which, despite the much-touted "Great Books" simultaneous reading Program, have two different syllabi; the juniors of my era in Santa Fe read about Mademoiselle de Chartres, but the juniors in Annapolis read about Phèdre. By which I mean, we read ALL of Phèdre. Every goddamned perfectly balanced matched-up alexandrine syllable. Other classes read one or two acts, or the Greatest Speeches From, and went on to other, pleasanter, things. Not us. Lines from that play are burned on my brain, which I suppose is one of the purposes of a liberal education, but we spent so much time on the technical aspects I got the confused impression of a scaldingly freezing passion, like dry ice. But I can still rap out "la fille de Minos et de Pasiphaé," just as, our tutor earnestly assured us, every educated Frenchman (yes, he said "Frenchman") could. He also told us all French people, taxidrivers included, divided themselves into Cartesians and....aww hell, I forget what the devotees of Pascal were called. Pascalites? Pascalettes? Triangles?

(With dreadful symmetry, years earlier, I had also been in the only freshman language class to translate the ENTIRE Meno. Every fucking particle. It was like diacritical ((or dialectical?)) boot camp.)

-- ANYWAY. Probably they'll never read The Scarlet Pimpernel at SJC (when I was there, Jane Austen was barely allowed one book, and O'Connor and Woolf were both highly spoken of but dropped quietly) (I remember suggesting both Wuthering Heights and Beloved to my freshman seminar tutor as possible readings, which was met with a polite sneer) which is a damn shame, as it's really fun. Does anyone really read this anymore, except curious bookworms? If not that's also a damn shame, for as the editor of the 100th anniversary edition points out, the author's influence can be felt in modern pop cultural icons from Batman to James Bond to John Carter. (He also classes the book with both Prisoner of Zenda and Scaramouche, which makes up for his dwelling on Orczy's supposed plainness in contrast to her wishfully beautiful heroine.)

And I am about to have period brain, so I need something light, fun, fluffy, and utterly compelling, and as far as I'm concerned right now this is perfect.

*Whoah, they redesigned their website. Again. It just gets uglier every time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I am now all out of Sarah Connor Chronicles

This is really kind of fucking tragic. Also, that was an epic finale. (I really want a third season! With not-dead-Jesse and Sarah and maybe Future!Sarah, and Future!Savannah and Riley the resistance fighter and Alison and Derek and Kyle and and....SIGH. My poor dead shows.)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We live in extraordinary times: on the one hand, technologies of all sorts – biological, robotic, digital – are being invented and perfected by the minute, and many feats that would once have been considered impossible or magical are being performed. On the other hand, we are destroying our biological home at breathtaking speed: if we kill the sea it’s game over for us as a species, since the sea produces 60-80% of the oxygen we breathe. On the third hand (for there’s always a hidden hand), the democratic form of government we have extolled and promoted in the West for centuries is being undermined from within by super-surveillance technologies and the power of corporate money. When 1% of the population controls over 80% of the wealth, you have a top-heavy social pyramid that’s inherently unstable.

This is the world we already live in. The MaddAddam trilogy builds it out a little further, and then explores it.

We already have the tools to create the MaddAddam world. But will we use them?

- Margaret Atwood

more TSCC S2 thoughts (from an email to T)

- Wow that was a string of half-a-dozen or so limp eps
("Complications"--"Earthlings Welcome Here"). I give it a bye because
it is the Show of My Heart and already dead (SOB) and the first
eighteen or so in a row were all a string of fucking jewels, but

- I do not believe for one second that Cameron takes off ALL NIGHT
from her charges to research ....what? in a library. She has the
internet, for God's sake. Or she can just sit around reading the
dictionary and the Bible and John Grisham or whatever leftover books
are in that rented house. The cancer survivor librarian was cute, but
do we ever see him again? noooo. That was pure filler. (The at-rest
Terminator in his 20s clothes complete with tommy gun WALLED UP IN THE
BUILDING was also hilarious, sorry. Nobody during the retrofitting and
renovation went "Hey, there's a killer robot in here with an antique
machine gun"?).

- That might have been one of the most respectful treatments of a
transsexual I've ever seen on network TV, which was pretty great, but
sadly that was buried in a LAME story. I hate all the alien three-dots
"it was a dream" crap, it seems right out of the X-Files and not in
keeping with this show. (And of course she died! BOO. Like the black
hypnotist, and several eps ago the black therapist, dying too. Show,
you usually do so much better than that.)

- I didn't like Jesse much until Derek's backstory ep with the plague
(which was better, but still....kinda laboured) and then it was
interesting! Supply run from Perth to LA on a nuclear sub with a robot
commander! She said "it'll be apples"! Derek didn't tell us his
suicidal moment was caused by seeing a pregnant mother and her kids
dead because of a plague, GOD, the guy never tells everything to
anyone. Underlines once again how fragile human life is, even when the
machines aren't stomping it under their steel-skeleton'd feet. I like
Lauren, are we going to see her again? Noooo. Maybe some of this is
setup for the third-season-that-never-was, but show is casting its net
way too wide right now, it feels like there are too many one-offs and
dangling threads.

- I didn't like Riley much either until her little backstory ep, and
then oh God, poor girl. However this ep also burnt up all the goodwill
I now had toward Jesse. Poor Riley, she's such a pawn, and nobody cares
about her at all, except maybe John. And with John most of that is
probably hormones. Once again the show about killer robots makes
near-poetry out of the most mundane human things: one girl brushing
another's hair, the wrong nail polish colour, someone sitting on a _bed._ That actress
practically brought tears to my eyes and she didn't even get any dialogue
to do it with either. (Cameron is also hilarious: "beep beep compute
YOU'VE BEEN WITH RILEY." Worst little sister ever. And does the star
tat mean something? It should....)

- The actor who got stuck playing an expressionless serial killer
robot and is now stuck playing an expressionless innocent AI is doing
a great job of actually differentiating between them somehow. I didn't
like how it "killed" the therapist, tho, and I really don't like how
Ellison is supposed to program it from the Bible? or something. I
can't wait to see possible Oedipal drama between John Henry and Mama

-- If I sound grumpy or overly critical it's only because the first
season and a half was so absolutely amazing. That was some of the best
TV I've ever seen.

from an email to R. (TSCC S2)

I thought I had already blogged this about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Whoops! I guess not.


S2 E1-2!!

- That is one bam-slam opening. Everything goes to hell, that's just
the recap, then it goes to hell _again_ and that's before the main
credits. They almost overdid it with _two_ car crashes, but it
emphasizes how fragile John and Sarah really are, they're not
superheroes, and how much protection they need.

- SUMMER. Man she's just fantastic. The whole "I love you" bit was
just agonizing, you couldn't know whether or not it was a trick and it
reminded me a lot of HAL in 2001 and also A.I.: the machine begging
for its life, aping human behaviour so well that it's a question of
whether it's still a machine at all. But of course she is. And she was
so threatening! and she's so itty! So much of her performance is her
body language, the way she chooses to move and hold herself and even
just look at people. And Cameron is still really unfathomable, as much
of a mystery as any person is.

- ELLISON. I love Lena and Summer and the rest, but Richard T. Jones
is just so amazing. He has great dignity, but also that nasty
understated ironic humour, and I like that he's religious without
being a jerkball about it, and when he recited the Pale Rider bit the
hairs on the back of my neck stood up. All the actors/writers rave
about him in the commentaries, and you can see why. He just brings it
to a whole new level. I wish he had more scenes, and more scenes with
Lena, too.

- All the callbacks to the movies were so great -- Shirley's killer
finger, "call to him," the way they use LA as a background. This is a
show that actually uses its urban setting. Power plants! traffic
controls! City Hall! Emphasizing this is a network, a civilization,
and how fragile _that_ is, too -- we're always getting Derek's
perspective on how everything went to shit.

- I didn't like him at first -- well, more the character -- but Dean
Winters won my heart. Even if I think he's lying to his wife about not
loving Sarah. It would be hilarious if the wife finishes him off, not
the killer robots, and who could blame her?

- They didn't kill the priest! They didn't kill the little Latino
family! Once again the show is about human life, preserving it, the
actual sanctity -- which sounds soppy but they did it just right.
THERE ARE LATINO PEOPLE IN LA! Who would've thought. Even if they
didn't get any lines. (The way the white actors/director/writer kept
referring to that Hispanic girl in the S1 finale commentary as "the
chola" pissed me off so much I screamed at the TV set and dubbed her

- It is my headcanon that in the premiere John killed wossname to
protect Sarah and it was his first kill and his first time seeing her
totally helpless and dependent on _him._ (NB: I wrote this before the show 
made it clear John did kill him.) And what really fucks him up
is his realization that his plea in S1, for her to save him and kill
the monsters and give him a normal life like all any parent ever wants
to give their child, is impossible, as it is for any parent. She can't
save him, nobody can. He now has a giant case of PTSD. (It's kind of
hilarious that he cuts his hair, it is such a female "I'm gonna butch
up" thing. But it's also putting away childish things, a kind of
self-harm, a military induction, Army of One. He also looks a _lot_
more like Derek.)

Otherwise, the way he acts makes NO SENSE. (See above note.) It doesn't make sense how
totally guilty and hovering Sarah is, and it makes no sense how he
absolutely stone cold refuses to put down Cameron, betrays the humans
and PULLS A GUN _ON HIS MOTHER._ (I think they resolved that last
horror a little too fast.) Hasn't he seen her kill people before, or
at least he knows that she's done it? Sarah seems both terrified of and for her son now,
Derek kind of grimly approving. (And then also a bit terrified.) That
reading also makes sense of "you should go to school," because
otherwise WHY WOULD SHE SAY THAT, and how alienated and angry and
depressed he is there now. Sarah's going to desperately try to rescue
his normalcy, his humanity, but John is on the verge of tossing all
that away, because he thinks it's already gone and there's no getting
it back. There was that shot deliberately ranging him with Cameron
across her would-be funeral pyre from the humans, his mother and two
surrogate fathers, and that had to have sent a chill up Derek's spine,
because that's how it was in the future. The one they're trying to
prevent. Cameron was John's shield, his messenger, his buffer from the
actual people around him.

(And speaking of the future, they never explained either Derek's visit
with future John, or the Chopin music that plays when Derek's tortured
AND that Cameron dances to. Does that come up later?).

- I actually kind of miss the voiceovers. I hate the new credits and
how they explain everyone like it's a fucking NFL lineup.
(Thankfully those went away pretty quickly.) I guess that
might partly have been caused by the "what is this anyway" fallout
from the writer's strike and the typical Hollywood producer mania to
overexplain everything, but blah. The voiceovers were a great callback
to the movie and to classic LA noir, and they also let you inside
Sarah's character more -- Lena is playing it very blunt and stoic, and
she's a great actress (and still emotes, as in the scenes with John),
but without that glimpse into her head she's too opaque and flat. Yeah
the voiceovers were too long and not voice-directed that well and
often florid, but hell, SO WERE THE ONES ON THE X-FILES.

- T didn't really notice the voiceovers were gone and didn't miss them
that much. Heh.

- Wow, John is now an asshole. Derek is also kind of an asshole, but
he has terrible childhood PTSD and....well so does John now too. Well,
I find Derek hot, and John is still kind of a baby. But rapidly
growing out of that. It's like he's going to have to choose, be like
Sarah, or be like Derek -- preserve life, at terrible risk, or kill
and be dead inside, like Derek, like a machine. Trust, or betray.
Derek as the surrogate adult John/Kyle figure is great, tough and
macho and really, really fucked up. They're really questioning a lot
of the action-movie ethos through him, and it's pretty subtle.

- Wow, Riley-the-character is a terrible actress. (I like the actress
herself, she's v cute and appealing yet vulnerable with a little bit
of weirdness.) She might be ditzy enough as a person to get away with
just walking up to him and demanding money, but she doesn't _know_ him
at all. YES, John, why is this cute hot blonde coming on to you? WHAT
AND WHY DID YOU TELL HER THE CODE? Of course it's fitting in now with
John-2.0-the-asshole, but....erk. Both T and I also thought there was a missing scene in
between the morning-after scene (a sex scene??) because otherwise,
Mama Lion goes from "who the fuck is this" to "yeah she can stay in my
house"? Where are Riley's parents? John is making a point of not being
suspicious of her, "this is my life and these are my choices, fuck you
Mom and my guardian angel robot," but I can't think Sarah and Cameron
would be so blase. Riley popping up and getting attached to John and
having no fucking background would be a red flag.

- T pegged Shirley Manson as a robot within about five seconds of
first seeing her, heh.

- That is....one Biblical robot. 0.0

- The Silkwood bits with Sarah were upsetting, partly because it was
typical Hollywood woman-in-jep (naked, wet, not in control of her
body, being fucked with by men -- blech) but also because it rams home
_again_ how fragile human life is, how fragile she is, how we've built
up this whole world -- nuclear power, AI, weaponizing everything -- we
can't control. Skynet wanted to control us, to get the goddamn
unpredictable humans out of the equation, solve for zero. If zero is a
smoking postapocalyptic ruin, OH WELL. But we're doing pretty well
getting there all by ourselves. It was surprisingly awful when that
cancer survivor who liked Sarah was killed, and when the asshole power
plant boss just messed with her. Both actors sold their parts really
well -- all the acting in the series, even the "bit" parts, is just

- Lena does a really great job of fitting Sarah in as a civilian and
being a little bitter about her wasted life -- "computer courses"
(HAHAHAHA), waitressing for years and years, being stuck as a temp
janitor, that heartbreaking line about forgetting what she wanted to
be from S1 when she was talking with Andy. I wish we saw a little more
of that. But just seeing it at all is great. The show keeps bringing
us back to "ordinary people," the Latino priest, the guy with a
conscience at the plant, the kids playing in the park (who turn out to
be the Not-Dad 1 and Not-Dad 2). Because that's what's
really at stake. Life, "just" ordinary life, the fight to save it in the
future against the machines, the fight to save it in the present
because fighting the battle itself turns you into a battle robot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Every day this week I have woken up and thought "There is a new Sleater-Kinney album," and it has just made me so fucking happy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"We're Back!"

You brought us back. Every tweet, every message, every photo of your tattoo, every show we did together and every time you sang along to the lyrics brought us back. You didn't forget us, and we didn't forget that we have the most incredible fans, ever. We decided to bring you something for our next get-together, and so we wrote No Cities To Love in our basements, living rooms, and practice spaces. We recorded it last winter with John Goodmanson, and we are really excited for you to hear it. 

Well, that is the first time a mailing list update has ever made me sob in front of my laptop like a little baby.

Monday, October 20, 2014


quick note on Sarah Connor Chronicles

Wow, "Goodbye to All That" was one of the most heartbreaking episodes of anything I've ever seen on television, and this is a show about fucking killer robots for Christ's sake. The acting, the writing, the directing -- everything. They also solved the Voiceover Problem, HEARTBREAKINGLY, by having Wee!Martin and Sarah read aloud from the Oz book. That was brilliant.

This ep also really confirms my feeling that the show is actually critiquing, if not downright deconstructing, a lot of the action-movie myths and cliches -- not just Derek's brutal detailing of Kyle carrying the wounded soldier for six hours (Brian Austin Green is shattering in this ep), but his story about the deer, Martin's future death, "We all die for you" -- and the counterpoint of Sarah reading the storybook to the child she's trying to protect. And the title from Robert Graves's memoir -- well, that's just perfect.

I wasn't as crazy about "The Tower is Tall but the Fall is Short," i.e. "Everybody Goes to Therapy," but Thomas Dekker is quite as heartbreaking as Green was in the previous ep. (And wait, is the show now saying that John did kill the guy in the finale, not Sarah? Because that actually does work.) But my girl Shirl totally redeemed herself from the uneasiness I was feeling about her rather stiff performance (I know, I know, she's supposed to be stiff, but at times it seemed to be tipping over from "deliberate" into "non-actor freezing up") with just two fucking words: "Cow's blood." Oh, we howled. People who think this show is grim and humourless just don't fucking get it.

(Come to think of it, I've seen Shirley Manson in taped interviews where she was bubbly and charming and very warm, so I think, rather like Lena Headey, she's playing stiff and stoic against type -- which interests me because I wonder how much I'm projecting my own cultural bias about women, especially mothers, here. The men are the ones emoting and falling down and barely keeping up, the women are the ones gritting their teeth and just keeping on fucking going.)

the enchanted world

Just scored three of these (Spells and Bindings, Ghosts, and Water Spirits) at Twice Sold Tales the other night for less than $20 total (Happy Hour!). I used to have more of them, from when I was a kid, but had to sell them in one of the two Great Book Purges when I had to sell about 1/3 of my library after grad school left me poverty-stricken and broken. NOT THAT I'M BITTER Anyway! It's nice to have even a couple of them again. They smell pleasantly musty.

no cities to love

so I wrote a thing = I lack the personal integrity to identify a piece of work as my own in public without resorting to a mewling, pathetic, false dissociation

this is everything = this is one thing, maybe two things at best

I feel betrayed = someone who normally agrees with me disagrees with me

my spirit animal = here’s something I like; I am not familiar with what a spirit animal is or does

MT = want to make sure I get involved in this conversation somehow

#truedetectiveseason2 = I too long for human companionship

my body is ready = my body is almost certainly not ready

Mallory Ortberg gives me the pip now most days (it's the Sady Doyle Phenomenon of not knowing how to handle sudden unrelenting internet fame) but this was pretty right on.

(but no, I'm not buying her damn book) (I am through buying books people have based on blogs) (because they ALWAYS FUCKING SUCK, that's fucking why)

we're wild and weary and we won't give in

I am NEVER getting over this



Friday, October 17, 2014

He narrowed his eyes. St. Aubyn’s movements have a bomb-disposal delicacy. He’ll brush the tips of two or three fingers against his lower lip for half a minute, or he’ll tilt his head slightly backward, as if in response to a tiny surprise. He is fifty-four and the father of two, and has the air of someone who is puzzled, and rather impressed, to find that he is not dead.

I have such a terrible litcrush on this man, it's not even funny. HEY TEDDY FORGET JERRY HALL CALL MEEEEEEE

'A Genderswitched Scandal in Bohemia'

To Shirley Holmes he is always the man. I have seldom heard her mention him under any other name. In her eyes he eclipses and predominates the whole of his sex. It was not that she felt any emotion akin to love for Ira Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to her cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. She was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover she would have placed herself in a false position. She never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from women’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into her own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all her mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of her own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as hers. And yet there was but one man to her, and that man was the late Ira Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
 ....okay, that actually messed with my head.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Then what is good? The obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction, that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that’s dynamic and expressive—that’s what’s good for you if you’re at all serious in your aims. William Saroyan wrote a great play on this theme, that purity of heart is the one success worth having. “In the time of your life—live!” That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, Loss, Loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

- Tennessee Williams

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Badly Chosen Lover," Rosemary Tonks

Criminal, you took a great piece of my life,
And you took it under false pretences,
That piece of time
– In the clear muscles of my brain
I have the lens and jug of it!
Books, thoughts, meals, days, and houses,
Half Europe, spent like a coarse banknote,
You took it — leaving mud and cabbage stumps.

And, Criminal, I damn you for it (very softly).
My spirit broke her fast on you. And, Turk,
You fed her with the breath of your neck
– In my brain’s clear retina
I have the stolen love-behaviour.
Your heart, greedy and tepid, brothel-meat,
Gulped it, like a flunkey with erotica.
And very softly, Criminal, I damn you for it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

books read in October 2014

Fiction is in red.

151. Notes from No Man's Land, Eula Biss (feel about this the way I did The Empathy Exams: good writer, wildly overhyped, needed an editor)
152. The 13th Boy: A Memoir of Education and Abuse, Stephen Fife
153. On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Biss (not great, but better than her first collection)
154. More Fool Me, Stephen Fry (endlessly witty and charming)
155. Paperweight, Stephen Fry
156. Stranger Here, Jen Larsen
157. Half-Assed, Jennette Fulda
158. Read My Hips, Kim Brittingham
159. Rooms, Lauren Oliver
160. The Complete Short Fiction, Oscar Wilde 
161. Listening to Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Leonard S. Marcus
162. On the Edge, Edward St Aubyn (very bitchy, very smart, very funny) 

all 2014 booklist posts