Aliens and Family Values: Lilo and Stitch

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 06:00 pm
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Posted by Mari Ness


Gantu: You’re vile. You’re foul. You’re flawed!

Stitch: Also cute and fluffy!

Before I get into this post, I should perhaps confess something. I have two plush Stitches; a Yoda Stitch complete with a stuffed green light saber; a Christmas Stitch; assorted Disney Trading Pins featuring Stitch, including, but not limited to, a Star Wars Emperor Palpatine Stitch and a pirate Stitch; and a Stitch backpack which I have taken to cons.

Which is to say, I may—may—have a slight bias in favor of destructive aliens reformed through the examples of Elvis and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling.

Just slight.

So now that we have that slightly embarrassing admission out of the way… let’s chat about Lilo & Stitch.

By the late 1990s, Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner had some concerns about the animation department. Oh, certainly, the department—now working out of three separate studios in California, Orlando, and Paris—was continuing to churn out groundbreaking work, developing new animation and computer assisted technologies, most recently with the Deep Canvas software. And if none of the later 1990s films had achieved the blockbuster success of The Lion King, they had all at least turned a profit.


But comparatively lower profits and lower related merchandise sales made Eisner nervous, especially given the alarming number of high profile, prestige—read, expensive—animated films then in development, including Fantasia 2000, what would eventually become The Emperor’s New Groove, and Treasure Planet. Taking an example from Walt Disney’s brother Roy, Eisner ordered the animation studio to follow the example of Dumbo, the cheap and small film that had followed the lavish Pinocchio and Fantasia and kept the studio alive, announcing that the film that followed the prestige films would need to be like Dumbo: something very cheap and very small. While still being something that could sell toys.

As it happened, storyboard artist Chris Sanders had just the thing: a project based on a destructive little alien that he had been toying around with for years—first as a children’s book project, then as a short. The story could, he thought, be set in Kansas. After some more brainstorming and discussion, the story was shifted over to Hawai’i, a location Disney had yet to explore, and which offered beautiful scenery and the potential for underwater shots—something which, apart from a few scenes here and there, the studio had largely neglected since The Little Mermaid.


To save money, the film’s background art was all done in watercolor, something the Disney studio had not done since Dumbo. Watercolor background art could be done swiftly, but also didn’t allow for as much detail—ideal for simpler, children-focused films like Dumbo and Lilo & Stitch, if not quite what Disney wanted for more ambitious pictures. Storyboards carefully limited the number of characters per frame for most scenes, also saving money, and limited—as much as possible in a film about an alien—the special effects shots. The hand drawn character cels were colored digitally, but the film largely avoided the use of the expensive—and by now, severely behind schedule for other films—Deep Canvas software, another cost-saving approach. And finally, executives sent the film to the smaller Florida studio, which had managed to bring Mulan in on budget.

Disney did splurge on one element: with the setting now moved to Hawai’i, Disney sent the directors, animators and background artists to Kauai to work on concept art. The trip also ended influencing the plot and theme of the film; after talking to various people living in Hawai’i, the artists decided to make Lilo & Stitch focus on the importance of the Hawai’ian concept of ‘ohana, or family. ‘Ohana, the film repeats over and over, means that no one gets left behind—or forgotten. It was a concept that became the heart of the film.

To illustrate that concept, the film needed a plot and a story. In the end, as the title suggests, Lilo & Stitch ended up telling two: that of a troubled little girl called Lilo, who has recently lost her parents and desperately needs a friend, and a marvelously destructive little alien called Stitch, reformed by the power of love and the sterling example of model citizen Elvis Presley.


The film starts with Stitch’s story, as the little alien escapes from galactic prison and exile through a nice bit of trickery, before randomly setting the hyperdrive, shooting himself off to what initially seems to be his inevitable doom in the Pacific Ocean, which turns out to be a considerably less doom-filled landing on the island of Kauai in Hawai’i. Everyone sighs and gets ready to blast the planet Earth out of existence, only, it turns out they can’t, because they have to protect Earth’s mosquitoes. An understandably infuriated Grand Councilwoman sends off a series of missions to bring in the adorable bundle of destruction without harming any mosquitoes, led by Stitch’s creator Jumba, accompanied by bureaucrat Agent Pleakley, and later by completely fed-up military leader Captain Gantu.

This story leads to multiple hijinks, especially after Stitch gets the bright idea to use a small child as a human shield against Jumba (the more exasperated Gantu doesn’t care if Stitch has a human shield or not) and after the human shield—Lilo—is tasked with turning Stitch into a model citizen, and decides that Stitch can best model himself after model citizen Elvis. Most of you have probably seen the gifs. It all culminates in a major space chase over the Hawai’ian islands (hastily redone after 9-11 to take place over unpopulated areas) and some major hugs all around and, if we are being completely honest, maybe a sniffle or two from your blogger. Every time.

That story is so over the top and spectacular that it can be easy to miss the other, arguably better story: that of Lilo and her troubled relationship with her older sister and guardian Nani. As the movie later reveals, the two lost their parents rather recently in a car crash, leaving Lilo in Nani’s care. It’s something Nani is almost completely unprepared for.


Nani’s job as a waitress doesn’t pay enough for new toys or childcare. When she can, she takes Lilo (and Stitch) with her to work, tucking them away in a back table. That goes badly—though to be fair, that’s not entirely the fault of Lilo, Stitch, or Nani. When she can’t, Nani ends up leaving Lilo alone, or not picking her up from dance classes in time, something social worker Mr. Cobra Bubbles strongly disapproves of. They apparently don’t have a car, though they live within walking distance of various tourist resorts and shops; in one scene, Nani has to jog to an interview. She’s so stressed that she occasionally forgets to turn the stove off, and if she later decides to go with pizza instead of a home cooked meal—well, I think we can all understand that.

(Most of us, at least. Stitch, rather pointedly, ends up taking over the family cooking.)

That’s just the financial and pragmatic side. Emotionally, Nani’s initial infuriated interactions with her younger sister include screams, threats and a shouted observation that a rabbit would be easier and quieter to take care of, a statement that, however true, sends poor little Lilo into tears. The two sisters come very close to striking each other physically more than once, and their encounters leave them both angry and depressed.

To be fair to Nani, Lilo is the sort of little sister who would be infuriating. Lilo often flat out refuses to obey orders like “Stay at the dance school until I come to pick you up,” and “Don’t nail the front door shut.” And this is all before we get into Lilo’s choice of a dog. But for all that, Nani recognizes that her sister is lonely and desperately missing their parents (Lilo keeps a picture of the entire family beneath her pillow) and having difficulty making friends—when she’s not trying to prevent more rain-slicked car accidents by feeding peanut sandwiches to tuna fish possibly able to control the weather. Her young peers have reason to be unfriendly: Lilo feeds peanut butter sandwiches to tuna fish in a desperate hope of controlling the weather, has a rather terrifying handmade doll, and attacks and bites her peers. Nani assures Lilo that the problem is only that the kids don’t know what to say. Which is probably true, but also a beautiful moment that both focuses on the potential loneliness of grieving, and shows that for all her anger at other times, Nani gets her sister.


And for all of her inexperience, Nani has a few other parenting triumphs. She lets Lilo choose her own dog, and pay for the dog (with $2 dollars borrowed from Nani) since Lilo desperately wants to pay for the dog. She treks from job interview to job interview to keep the family. She convinces Stitch to convince Jumba and Pleakley to help rescue Lilo.

And she gives Lilo this wonderful moment:

Lilo: Did you lose your job because of Stitch and me?

Nani: Nah. The manager’s a vampire. He wanted me to join his legion of the undead.

Lilo: I KNEW IT.

Ok, so, technically, this could be classified as a lie, but it’s exactly what the guilty Lilo needs to hear just then.

And technically, sure, Lilo and Nani might be just a bit broken, both as a relationship and as a family. But as Stitch says later, it’s “still good.”


Nani also has a side romance with David, a surfer and firedancer, which is not particularly important to the plot or the film, but which I mention because it’s one of the healthiest and most supportive romances in any Disney animated film. Nani likes David, a lot, as we learn thanks to Lilo, who has not hesitated to read her sister’s diary—did I mention that Lilo is the sort of little sister who would be infuriating? But Nani also thinks that she really can’t date anyone just now. David doesn’t press, but when he later sees a dejected Lilo and Nani, he spends an entire day cheering them up—and later gets a moment to shine when he dives down into the ocean to save Lilo and Stitch from Jumba. I don’t think it’s an accident that this is a transformative moment for Stitch, who sees the other three having fun, and wants to join in, and it’s definitely not an accident that David later finds a job for Nani—the job she desperately needs to keep her family together.

He also reacts fairly calmly to the arrival of aliens.

Lilo & Stitch’s other example of triumphant storytelling? Nearly every character in it, right down to the briefly seen lifeguards, is sympathetic, with clearly understandable motives. I said nearly, because the film never quite clarifies exactly why Jumba thought it was a great idea to create a nearly indestructible little alien capable of destroying nearly everything, other than “evil scientist,” which isn’t a great motive, really, when you think about it. But otherwise, it’s more than obvious why Gantu is irritated, why Pleakley is caught between constant panic and having a fabulous time, why Cobra Bubbles thinks that foster care is the better option, why Nani can’t keep her temper, why no one, however sympathetic, will hire Nani, why the hula teacher doesn’t know what to say, why Lilo’s peers avoid her, and, yes, why Lilo and Stitch become friends.


Oh, sure, if we’re going to get technical about it, plot holes abound, from the probably unavoidable (despite having a language of their own, all of the aliens speak perfect English to avoid the need for subtitles), to the mildly inexplicable (since Jumba doesn’t know anything about Earth, how exactly is he immediately able to identify Lilo as a little girl?) to the rather massive script errors (the Grand Councilwoman goes from never having heard of Earth in early scenes to remembering visiting the planet back in the 1970s in later scenes), to the merely questionable (would anyone over the age of six really identify the six-legged Stitch as a dog, much less take him to the pound, much less leave him in a pound when he’s clearly terrifying every other dog in the place?)

I also can’t figure out how, exactly, Stitch manages to get out of the little cylinder at the end of the film without creating an opening large enough for Lilo to get out too, or, for that matter, why that cylinder doesn’t have some sort of alarm system to let the spaceship’s operators know that a dangerous criminal is escaping—especially given that this is after Stitch already successfully escaped prison and roamed free for a couple days. I am questioning your competence, Galactic Council, is what I’m saying. Or why aliens Stitch and Jumba are able to reference Christmas and Hanukkah barely two days after arriving on Earth. (I checked; not a single Christmas tree appears in the film, so no, they didn’t pick this up from the resort hotels.) Or how, exactly, a CIA agent formerly assigned to work with aliens ended up working as a social worker in Kauai. Also—although I realize that this particular plot hole is the result of frantic, last minute rewrites—I’m not convinced that a fuel truck could be driven into lava by anyone, even Stitch. And I’m seriously questioning whether, even in the relatively laid-back Hawai’i portrayed in this film, people would really fail to notice an alien spaceship battle zooming right above them. I mean, the battle even destroys an ice cream cone and a fuel truck. PEOPLE WOULD NOTICE THIS SORT OF THING.

But all of these are meaningless quibbles because Stitch is awesome. The end.


Audiences agreed with me. Lilo & Stitch was one of only three Disney films released between the end of the Disney Renaissance and the beginning of the John Lasseter/Disney Revival period (that is, between the 1999 Tarzan and the 2009 The Princess and the Frog) to turn a profit, bringing in a solid box office take of $273.1 million on an $80 million budget—far less, granted, than either the glory days of The Lion King or the previous year’s Pixar release, Monsters, Inc., but still a rare bright spot for the Disney Animation Studio, and brighter than the other two profitable films, Dinosaur and Brother Bear.

The box office take was enough to let the studio greenlight a still rare three full length film sequels as of this writing: Stitch! The Movie (2003), Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (2005), and Leroy & Stitch (2006). The film also spawned two television series: Lilo & Stitch: The Series, which ran from 2003-2006 on the Disney Channel, and Stitch! an anime spinoff created and initially aired in Japan. A few episodes of the English dub for Stitch! were briefly available on one of the Disney channels, and the Spanish dub available on the Latin America Disney channel.

Even more successful was the merchandising. Stitch toys flew off shelves, and are still widely available today, along with Stitch clothing, keychains, fine art, cell phone covers, mugs and Disney Trading Pins. Stitch has been incorporated into multiple Star Wars products, both as the Emperor Palpatine and as Yoda, and makes regular appearances at the Disney parks. Stitch also features in multiple video games in English and Spanish, and in Kingdom Hearts and Disney: Infinity. Most of the Disney theme parks feature at least one Stitch attraction, and Stitch makes several appearances on Disney Cruise Line vessels.


It was a much needed success for the Disney Animation department, later used to help justify keeping the studio alive even after Disney purchased the more successful Pixar a few years later. It was also a success for writer/director Chris Sanders, who continued to voice the Stitch character at Disney, even after heading over to Dreamworks, where he created How to Train Your Dragon.

That success, alas, was completely wiped out by the studio’s next release, the financial disaster Treasure Planet. Struggling, Disney turned its attention to the Florida animation studio again.

Brother Bear, coming up next.

Mari Ness lives in central Florida.

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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Safari Park Kudykin Mountain, dragon statue

This picture of a massive three-headed dragon statue caught our eye, and we couldn’t help but wonder where it came from. Turns out, it’s part of a Russian theme park that is full of wondrous sculptures and activities.

Oh, and it breathes fire.

The dragon statue (sculpture might be more accurate, as it isn’t carved from stone, but seems to be made of wire mesh covered in some type of plaster) is situated in Kamenka of Zadonsk, in the district of Lipetsk, Russia. It’s part of a theme park–Safari Park Kudykin Mountain–that is full of wondrous sundry. Here’s a video of the going-ons:

There website can be found here–it’s in Russian, but it’s no trouble to click through regardless, and contains a handy map of the place along with pictures. It looks like there’s a village area with craftspeople, a petting zoo of sorts, and plenty of environments to interact with.

Oh, and not to belabor the point, but the dragon does breathe fire:

Safari Park Kudykin Mountain, dragon statue

How soon can we get to Russia?

Question thread #46

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 07:59 pm
pauamma: Cartooney crab holding drink (Default)
[personal profile] pauamma posting in [site community profile] dw_dev
It's time for another question thread!

The rules:

- You may ask any dev-related question you have in a comment. (It doesn't even need to be about Dreamwidth, although if it involves a language/library/framework/database Dreamwidth doesn't use, you will probably get answers pointing that out and suggesting a better place to ask.)
- You may also answer any question, using the guidelines given in To Answer, Or Not To Answer and in this comment thread.

Air Travel and Anarchy

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 05:26 pm
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Posted by Chris Manno


“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Nothing brings out the worst in people like air travel. Sadly, flying has become the crossroads of selfishness and self-righteousness, a road-rage hybrid unmasked, more akin to mob action as a result of being seated together rather than in isolated vehicles, but angry, loose-tempered and looking for a reason to go off just the same. Throw in a fashionable side order of latent outrage at anything individually determined to be offensive and you have the airborne tinderbox that regularly explodes into passenger non-compliance, misconduct, diversion and ultimately, yet another ruined travel experience.

Maybe in days past there was less opportunity to exact compensation for perceived slights. Maybe there’s righteous consumer outrage over the corpcomm buzzword “inconvenience” overlaid on any type of service disaster. Mix the two well, sprinkle with a litigious seasoning and pour into a social media crust, then bake on the internet for less than thirty minutes. We’re serving up outrage–and selfies–get it while it’s hot.


That tired, sad urban legend-gone-digitally viral cry for attention would be little more than a Spam-ish nuisance except for one elephantine reality: it’s dangerous as hell in flight.

In a world that prizes personal choice, self-importance, sacrosanct self-image, and the all-important digital self-reflection (“That’s us in ____!”), compliance is a dirty word. Problem is, flying is a difficult, at times risky endeavor that relies on discipline and its ugly stepchild, compliance, from the cockpit all way back to the aft lav.

Unfortunately, the all-important “me” is societally- and media-sanctioned, so individual choices are thereby easily disconnected from consequences in the aircraft emergency crew commands as well as in the midair violence wall-papered over in corp-speak as “passenger non-compliance.” That often starts with choices easily blamed these days on those offering the choice rather than those making the choice itself.


Crewmembers are attacked, other passengers are physically (or worse) assaulted, but the individual acting, “non-complying,” is seldom held responsible for the consequences of an individual choice.  Sadly, it gets so much worse, so much more dangerous.

But I can hear it already: yeah, but I’m me. That’s a two-headed monster–first, the perception that others are the problem and second, that you aren’t one of the “others,” but you are. The command “take nothing with you” in an emergency evacuation is based on the life-and-death certification of the aircraft: 90 seconds, timed with a full load of passengers from evacuation command to everyone safely clear of an aircraft that had no luggage aboard.


In real life, enough of the “I’m me” others refuse to comply with the command to take nothing with you (“I’m not leaving without my [fill in self-absorbed priority]!”) at the expense of those seated at the far end of the tested, proven, but now destroyed time to escape a burning aircraft. That can and will be fatal, yet the death of some is lower on the hierarchy of self in an “everybody gets a trophy” legacy of some “others.”


Airline regulatory agencies like the FAA and NTSB do little to actually enforce compliance. Even beyond the glaring headlines attending an aircraft emergency evacuation sabotaged by passenger non-compliance, there’s little that regulators can and will do to eliminate flight risk factors other than to urge passenger “compliance.”

There again, we careen headlong into the absolution of “I’m me.”  The FAA recently recognized the disastrous inflight potential for a lithium ion battery fire in a very commonplace piece of technology. The remedy? Screening? Enforcement? Legal consequences?

Nope. Just, “we told you not to.”


Granted,  you’re not one of the “others” who’d readily drag their bags along on an emergency evacuation at the risk of other passengers’ lives. You don’t over consume alcohol and disrupt a flight. And you don’t ignore the toothless “prohibition” and bring your very expensive but hazardous phone on board.

But they’re out there, self-justified, media-enriched, societally excused, and dangerous as hell.

Better hope “they” aren’t on “your” flight.


Volunteer social thread #61

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 07:48 pm
pauamma: Cartooney crab holding drink (Default)
[personal profile] pauamma posting in [site community profile] dw_volunteers
We're changing back to standard time this coming weekend over here. (And I think the weekend after that in the US?)

What have you all been up to?

The Diabolic Sweepstakes!

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 05:30 pm
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Posted by Sweepstakes

The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid

We want to send you a copy of S.J. Kincaid’s The Diabolic, available November 1st from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers!

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 1:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on October 27th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on October 31st. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

(no subject)

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 01:32 pm
the_rck: figure perched in a tree with barren branches (Default)
[personal profile] the_rck
Yesterday’s appointment was with the gynecologist to see how I’m doing without the IUD. We concluded that we really can’t tell yet, so she wants me back in six months. The nurse tried three times to get my blood pressure and couldn’t manage it. I pointed out that I had my blood pressure taken last week when I saw the genetics counseling people. That number was in the shared records, and it having radically changed in the last nine days seemed pretty unlikely. The doctor decided that that was good enough. I suspect that the fact that I have never once in forty nine years had a higher reading than mid-range normal was also a factor. They have records on me going back to 1985.

Oh, and apparently 0-1 drinks of an alcoholic nature per year is considered the same as not drinking at all.

I had to go down into the basement of UHS to find the business office because they were insisting that I pay a $50 copay. That $50 is what Aetna requires, but Medicare and Blue Care generally pick up enough that I don’t need to pay anything at all. And, right at the moment, UHS owes me eighty some dollars that they’ve collected from me and shouldn’t have.

It was rainy enough when I got done with the appointment that I didn’t mind going straight home quite as much as I would have. Most of the portals near UHS were already held by our team, so I reinforced the ones I had time to get to before the cab came.

I got home before Cordelia did but only by about two minutes. She only had one friend over rather than the two I expected. The girls watched Once Upon a Time while I stayed in my bedroom with my laptop. I was feeling moderately awful most of the afternoon with gas and other intestinal issues. I got a little bit done on my UCon game anyway.

My thumb is still giving me trouble. Picking up my laptop or a basket of laundry hurts like hell, so I’m trying to find work-arounds. Both heat and cold make the ache decrease, so I’m alternating.

To do list )

Should I sign up for NaNo? I’m 95% sure that I can’t write 50000 words during November, but trying might be worthwhile. I don’t know. I also like the idea of social support for writing, but I’m not sure I’d do anything with it.

I’m also wondering if there would actually be interest in a community for writers of darkfic (and if I’d actually be together enough to be able to moderate such a group given how fraught it could be.). It would need mandatory cut tags, I suspect, and fairly robust tagging.

Getting used to orthotics

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 01:08 pm
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
[personal profile] redbird
I saw a podiatrist yesterday, because of odd recurring ankle pain (which has been happening for a few hours at a time, but not every day).

They took x-rays of both ankles and my right foot (the pain has been worse on that side), and found no fractures. I do have arthritis in my right big toe, which affects how I walk, but doesn't seem to be the issue here.

The podiatrist confirmed the nurse practitioner's diagnosis of mild tendonitis, and said it's likely be cause my calf muscles are so tight. I came home with a pair of orthotics, which I am supposed to start by wearing part-time, and instructions for stretching.

I left the orthotics in my shoes longer than the suggested hour yesterday, because I ran a few errands and stopped for brunch before coming home. That seemed okay, and I'm at about an hour and a half so far today.

I am easing into the stretching: the instructions are explicitly that my shoulders and arms, not my legs or feet, should be doing the work, and I don't want to strain my right shoulder. (I'm supposed to do five minutes twice a day, and managed three yesterday and not quite four today.)

Also, if it's not better in two weeks, I should call, but I should keep doing the stretches indefinitely, though maybe not spend this much time on them when it's maintenance.
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Posted by Leigh Butler


It’s HEEE-ERRRR! The Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia, that is! And with a special switcheroo treat—or trick, depending on your point of view!

So, yeah: for reasons both too complicated and too boring to get into, it turns out I totally lied in the last post’s epilogue about what the MRGN is covering next, and uh, also forgot to update the last post to tell you that. Sorry? I love you?

But nevertheless, I hope you will forgive me, and also still join me for my very nostalgic and eminently Halloween-season-appropriate review of My First Horror Flick, 1982’s Poltergeist!

Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.

And now, the post!

As a general rule, my sisters and I went largely unexposed to the horror genre as children. This was mostly because my mother was adamantly and vociferously opposed to letting us see such things, and in the pre-Internet-and-streaming-TV era, she had a lot more control over what we did and did not see than I think a lot of modern-day parents enjoy. Which meant I did not see most of the big horror classics of the 70s and 80s until I was in college or later, and had to rely on Disney animal harm movies for my childhood trauma quota instead. Yay?

That said, that does not mean I managed to see no horror films as a child. One notable exception, already covered on the MRGN, was 1976’s Carrie, but there was one other major one we saw even before that one. And I (and Sister Liz) saw it because for all her protectiveness, there was one childhood phenomenon which my mother was more or less powerless to control—the 80s equivalent of hacking the safe search lock on your Netflix account, as it were—and that phenomenon was, of course, The Slumber Party.


Specifically, we are talking about the slumber party so many of us have uncomfortably attended: the one for the birthday of that particular school… eh, we’ll go with “friend”. You know the one: the party for the girl who was just a tiiiny bit too cool for you; who you uneasily suspected gave you an invitation more because she was pressured to do so than because she actually wanted you there; and whose house was sufficiently nicer than yours that you were sort of afraid to touch anything.

And whose contempt you will never, ever, ever live down, because your FREAKIN’ LITTLE SISTER threw a screaming fit over not getting to go, and your mother, to your unending horror, actually convinced Cool Girl’s parents to let her go with you, instead of doing what any sane person would do and telling your little sister Are You Crazy Of Course You Can’t Go. God, Mom.

ME: Seriously, did she just completely forget what it is like to be a pre-teen girl? I ask you.

LIZ: And you know, I can’t even remember now why I wanted to go so badly.

ME: Because you were determined to be the BANE OF MY EXISTENCE.

LIZ: …well, that was definitely a plus, yeah.

ME: Ugh.

KATE, aka Was Too Young To Be Involved In This Particular Debacle: [laughs uproariously in the background]

ME: Shut it, infant.

LIZ: Besides, it’s not like I didn’t pay for it.

True. Because, oh, she did.

Turns out that Cool Girl’s parents were themselves sufficiently cool (at least in the eyes of pre-teen girls) that they had no problem letting said pre-teen girls watch anything they wanted during their daughter’s slumber party—even when one member of said slumber party came with a decidedly not-even-close-to-pre-teen annoying younger sister attached. The more fools they.


LIZ: No kidding. They learned their lesson when I tried to crawl into bed with them because I was so frickin’ terrified the oak tree outside would try to eat me.


Yeah, so it turns out a movie focused kind of completely specifically on supernatural child endangerment is not the best movie to show to children! WHO KNEW.

LIZ: AND THEN, they wouldn’t let me sleep in the bed with them! And they put me on the floor instead! Right between where the evil fucking clown was gonna come out from under the bed to strangle me –



– and the closet that was going to CONSUME MY SOUL.



ME: Wow.


Suffice it to say, both Liz and I were utterly petrified at our first inadvertent exposure to A Scary Movie, namely Poltergeist. And as such, it would be difficult to say that we had a lot of nostalgic love for the movie, but you can definitely assert that we both remembered it very, very vividly. (Kate doesn’t remember exactly when she saw it, but agrees that whenever that was, it was similarly traumatizing.)



None of us, though, had seen the movie in a good long while, so it was with great interest that we cued it up to see how it had stood the test of time.

The verdict? Well.

The first Poltergeist was, and is, a really, really good movie, y’all.

I was surprised by that, honestly. I had really expected that my childhood memories of how viscerally affecting the film was would prove to be exaggerated. But in fact I think, and my sisters agree, that we were even more strongly affected by Poltergeist as adults than we were as kids—and we were pretty darn strongly affected by it as kids.

Mind you, we were not as baldly frightened by it as we were as children, but in some ways the story was even more upsetting and tension-generating to us now than it was then. And that’s because of what I said earlier: this movie is essentially about one woman’s battle to save her children from a house that wants to eat them, more or less literally. Which is pretty scary to a child, but is about a hundred times scarier to a mom. Or, as it were, a mom and two fiercely protective aunts who are not down with your child-endangering shit, thank you.


In that sense, and all other considerations aside, I have to say that JoBeth Williams’ performance in this movie was nothing short of spectacular, as far as we were concerned. I am actually affronted that she was not nominated for any major acting awards for her performance here, because of course all major Hollywood institutions should wholly agree with my opinions on these kinds of things.



Nevertheless, I shall note that Poltergeist passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and it is unquestionably the female characters who are the driving force behind its plot, which is lovely. Craig T. Nelson provides some awesome comic relief, and plays the Alpha dad role admirably, but there can be no doubt that it is his wife who is the protagonist of this movie, and most of the other female roles (Beatrice Straight as paranormal investigator Dr. Lesh, Zelda Rubenstein as the diminutive psychic Tangina Barrons, and Heather O’Rourke as tiny and adorable evil-magnet Carol Anne) who are the primary catalysts behind the story.



Even the obligatory gratuitous and extended underwear scene could not diminish my appreciation of this truth.



Kate comments that as a whole the movie holds up splendidly. It portrays the Freelings as a completely believable family unit, one that instantly gains our sympathy and with whom we deeply identify throughout the film. The emotional resonance, the comedic moments, and of course the suspense and horror are all masterfully done.



There were a lot of rumors circulating at the time that while technically Steven Spielberg only wrote and produced the movie, in reality he was the director as well, in all but billing credit, and I believe it easily. Not only does the directing style have that unmistakable polish I have long since associated with Spielberg even in his early years, but c’mon. If you had Steven freakin’ Spielberg standing behind you and making “suggestions” about how to direct a thing, even back in 1982, would you seriously claim that you would have ignored him?

Whichever the case, the film just works, even to a modern eye, or so I contend. Even the special effects, with a few exceptions, have aged remarkably well.



Of course, not all of them did. I’m not gonna embed the infamous “face peeling” scene in this post (though it’s here if you want to watch it), but however much this scene scared the crap out of me as a child, its overwhelming fakeness is a lot more eye-rolling nowadays than it is scary.

LIZ: Wow, you know, I think this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen the face peeling scene? Every other time I covered my eyes rather than watch it.

KATE: Yeah, you probably should’ve just kept on doing that.

Other than that scene, though, it still looks great. Even the shot of the house swallowing itself up at the end is still impressive:



Poltergeist, of course, has had a number of sequels and knockoffs over the years, and apparently it was remade entirely just last year. I know I saw Poltergeist II, and I might possibly have seen the third one too, but I remember little to nothing about them, and I’m honestly not really all that interested either way. Even once I was allowed to watch it, horror has never really been my bag, and my fondness for movies like Carrie and the original Poltergeist really represent the exceptions that prove the rule. Mostly because I feel like both those movies (along with a select few others) rather transcended their genre anyway.

Poltergeist certainly qualifies as a scary movie (and how, if you saw it as young as Liz did), but it’s just as much a paranormal ghost story and a family drama as it is a horror flick, and that, I think, elevates it a step above most of the others of its ilk.

And now, random things!



ME: And this is why everyone my age finds static creepy.

KATE: It’s so funny, but I’m not even sure you could get static on a modern TV anymore.

(You can, but it’s surprisingly difficult. I am bemused to think that Poltergeist is probably now one of those films whose primitive in-movie technology must be explained to younger audiences. Yes, young whippersnapper, there was a time when TV channels played the national anthem at you and went off the air after a certain hour, instead of filling the wee hours with endless infomercials about how you should buy this combination hookah and coffee-maker, also makes julienned fries! Crazy.)



ME: I am completely sure I had no idea whatsoever as a kid that Jo Beth Williams is totally smoking pot in this scene.

LIZ: I also love how it’s a shorthand for she’s open to the idea of psychic phenomena and her Reagan-biography-reading husband totally is not. No political subtext there, Steven, no sirree.







LIZ: Am I the only one who learned about the counting lightning thing from this movie?

ME & KATE: Nope!



KATE: Holy shit her hickies, hahaha!

ME: OMG I never noticed that before! Probably because I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were, but hey.

(I wondered about bringing up the tragic deaths of both Dominque Dunne, pictured above, and Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, but I’m pretty sure everyone has heard about that, and the conspiracy theories attached thereto. If you haven’t, Google will provide. I’ll just say, it was a damn shame, on both counts.)



KATE: Okay, but, I really don’t see how you could install plumbing and shit under the house if there were all these coffins right there.

ME: Stop applying logic to things, Kate.

LIZ: No, but something like this actually happened in the French Quarter a couple of years ago! It could totally happen!

ME: Sure, in New Orleans that’s practically required to happen. But fake California suburbs do not have the swagger for that jelly, if you ask me.

LIZ: Uh-huh.

ME: Sisters who horn in on slumber parties uninvited do not get to roll their eyes at me.

…Instead, they apparently get to lob sofa cushions at my head. Sigh. No respect, y’all.

But anyway! My point is, Poltergeist is an even better (and, in many ways, scarier) movie than we remembered it to be. So if you are putting together a queue of classic horror flicks to while away this Halloween weekend, it would definitely behoove you to put it on the list. It’s childhood trauma-tested, MRGN-approved!



And thus we end, as nearly always, with my Nostalgia Love to Reality 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!

Nostalgia: 6, owing to trauma

Reality: 9, owing to trauma

And that’s the post, kids! Have a lovely and safe Halloween, and the MRGN will be back in two weeks with our originally scheduled ridiculousness of Red Sonja! Huzzah!

On the amazing electoral physics of referendums.

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 05:04 pm
pseudomonas: Ostrakon against Themistocles. (ostrakon)
[personal profile] pseudomonas
We don't have referendums* in the UK very much. Maybe we'd be more adept at dealing with them if we did. Who knows? So I'm talking on the basis of the representative sample of one referendum in recent times that actually passed.

There seems to be a view that a referendum passing on a matter makes it… real. One gets the idea that if we voted in a referendum to repeal the laws of gravity, the government would even now be reassuring people that weightlessness means weightlessness and of course it'll happen, it'd be undemocratic to suggest otherwise. We voted to leave the EU without losing jobs, so that's what we'll do! We voted to leave the EU without a brain drain, so that is what must happen!

The other view I see around is that this is a solemn overriding pressure; an irresistible force against which no objection is immovable. Brexit means Brexit! If it costs 5% of GDP, so be it! If it costs 15% of GDP, so be it! If it leads to a breakdown in foreign relations and influence, so be it! If it necessitates declaring war on France, so be it! If it calls up the Great Old Ones to devour the residents of all coastal local authorities, then, well, you get the idea.

The question "what price is worth paying or not paying" for Brexit is one that is never answered because the Government is still trying to kid us that there's not even a possibility that things might just not go the way they want.

I readily admit that I'm one of those Remoaner types who thinks that a bad outcome is very likely. But I think that even an ardent Brexiter with their head screwed on right ought to be taking the position:

a) It is bad to go against a democratic referendum.
b) Even so, there are some things which are worse than going against a referendum result.
c) There are various outcomes to the process. Some are bad. (You might well think the bad ones are less likely than I do — but I think any honest observer admits they're not impossible)
d) However much you think that a referendum result is a good thing and ought to be honoured, there are some outcomes that make it on balance not worthwhile.

My position on (d) is "we need to have a grown up discussion on what price is worth paying for what kind of Brexit".

The government's position on (d) seems to be "it's literally impossible for this situation to arise because that would mean going against a referendum". And we're back, circuitously, to the reality-bending powers of referendums. Weightlessness means weightlessness.

But don't worry. Everything will be OK because we voted for it to be OK.

* Or referenda. I don't mind.
Negotiations. Markets. Diplomacy. Whatever.
Who knows? Maybe it will all be OK.
Thought experiment that is deliberately extreme: there is a consultative referendum to sacrifice every firstborn child to placate the gods. A democratic one. It passes. You are the PM. Is your first act on hearing the result to whip out your cleaver?

Comments policy: This is not the place to debate the merits of Brexit per se, there are approximately eleventy million other places to do that. It's to discuss how one should *respond* to a referendum in various circumstances. Also, be nice. Also also, do not be Steven Kitson.
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Posted by Sarah Porter


We all know the standard-issue demon, all horns and sulfur and dark seduction, often done up in a bespoke suit; perhaps you’d care to trade your soul for this totally sweet vintage Jaguar, or maybe you prefer to play chess? Of all the recurring characters in Western literature, the devil and his attendant demons rank among the most familiar. If we’re talking Paradise Lost, or Faust, or the many works that bear their imprint, the devil’s evil is complicated by a rebellious grandeur, a defiance both poignant and brave in its futility. But whether his wickedness is crude or nuanced, the devil walks cloaked in tropes.

But the devil is a shapeshifter, and what we find if we lift away that cloak depends on the imaginations of those who dare to interrogate the nature of the demonic. Writers who conjure up the devil on their pages have encountered fiends both coldly alien and far too human for comfort. They’ve revealed versions of Mephistopheles who offer a hideous reflection of the culture in which they’ve appeared, who expose something about the specific forms evil takes in the modern world. But they’ve also described demons who are quirky or wistful or even oddly innocent as they create their casual havoc; demons who, like human beings, are engaged in a constant struggle with their own will to destruction. Here are five of my favorite books featuring out-of-the-ordinary denizens of Hell.


The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

master-margarita-annivNo survey of the demonic in literature is complete without Mikhail Bulgakov’s satirical masterpiece, in which the devil and a band of spirited demons visit Soviet Moscow. Bulgakov’s Professor Woland has something of the sly suavity of the classic man-of-wealth-and-taste, but with a confounding eccentricity punctuated by bursts of oddball enthusiasm. But it’s his supporting cast that really shines, from the eerie assassin Azazello to the delightful imp Behemoth, an immense and impudent black cat who, in one memorable scene, swings from a chandelier while blasting away at the secret police with a gun.


Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

beyond-blackMantel, best known for her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, is also one of the greatest chroniclers of the demonic going. Her earlier, devastating novel of a horribly traumatized, but quite authentic, psychic creates jet-black humor out of unspeakable horror. Mantel’s Alison Hart is plagued by the ghosts of her abusers, a chipper flock of grotesque spirits who discuss child-rape and sandwiches with precisely the same vapid bonhomie. The suggestion that Morris and his friends have, ah, graduated from being mere ghosts into something more hellish comes from the way that they answer to “old Nick.” “Nick he is a fambly man,” the ghouls explain, and Satan himself might cut very close to home.


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

bloodmeridianMcCarthy’s nightmare Western follows a band of sadistic marauders as they inflict atrocities on anyone in their path. But even these psychopaths, who festoon trees with dead babies, live in awe-struck dread of their leader, the judge, who can overhear the slightest whisper of dissent with “ears like a fox.” The judge spouts a morose and hellish philosophy as his men enter, all too eagerly, into the creation of an Inferno on earth. It’s the following exchange, though, that reveals the judge’s true identity:

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.
That would be a hell of a zoo.
The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.


Snake Agent by Liz Williams

snake-agentWilliams’s Inspector Chen investigates crimes with a supernatural bent, and his work entangles him with a colorful assortment of demons, who, despite their bureaucratic protocols and email accounts, remain recognizably Boschian. The standout here is Chen’s infernal beloved Inari, a rather sweet, agoraphobic demon on the lam from an arranged marriage in hell. Inari aspires to an idealized human decency, but she still can’t resist deploying the occasional flippant curse, or reflexively exploiting the man she loves. Her impish sidekick, who shape-shifts between badger and teakettle, ranks among the cutest of literary hellspawn.


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

kafka-shoreWhile widely appreciated as one of Murakami’s greatest novels, Kafka on the Shore is oddly neglected in discussions of the demonic in literature. But Murakami’s devil strikes me as capturing something essential that other books have missed: evil’s distinctive blending of buffoonery and sadism. A devil who fetishizes capitalist icons, and who manifests in the forms of Colonel Sanders and Johnnie Walker, might seem ludicrous—if only he weren’t engaged in the terrifying project of making a magic flute from the souls of tortured cats. The fact that he also has a human identity as the sculptor Koichi Tamura and father of the hero, Kafka Tamura, shows how readily human evil can shade into something truly demonic. The kingdom of Hell is among us.


Top image: Fantasia (1940)

Vassa-thumbnailSarah Porter is a writer, artist, and freelance teacher who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two cats. She is the author of several books for young adults, including Vassa in the Night, soon to be published by Tor Teen.

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Posted by NewsHound

Following UKIP’s endorsement of Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election, Tim Farron commented:

Zac Goldsmith claimed Brexit has nothing to do with this by-election. The very public endorsement he has picked up from the party of Nigel Farage nails that lie.

Zac Goldsmith was already the Conservative Party candidate. Now he is also the UKIP candidate. His campaign is the Nigel and Zac show.

UKIP’s website expressly states that it is vital for supporters of Hard Brexit to defeat the Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park, and praises Zac Goldsmith for being ‘fully committed to getting Britain out of the European Union’.

This by-election presents a golden opportunity to defeat one of the leading Brexiteers who is determined to even take Britain out of the Single Market. He might be able to afford the huge damage this would do to our economy, but many people in Richmond Park are worried about the effect on their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the Conservative government playing Russian roulette with the British economy.

Zac Goldsmith can get as many hard-right candidates to give him a clear run as he likes: he knows he faces a major battle with a Liberal Democrat party determined to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary published in print or online.

Warbreaker Reread: Chapter 2

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 04:00 pm
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Posted by Alice Arneson


Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, we met the Idrian royal family, learned of treaties and conflicts, and witnessed the critical decision to send Siri in Vivenna’s place. This week, the sisters express their dissatisfaction with the exchange in no uncertain terms, and another plot-critical decision is reached.

This reread will contain spoilers for all of Warbreaker and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. This is particularly likely to include Words of Radiance, due to certain crossover characters. The index for this reread can be found here.

Click on through to join the discussion!


Chapter 2

Point of View: Siri, Vivenna (x2)
The Road to Hallandren, Bevalis & environs
Two days through one week later

Take a Deep Breath

Chapter 2 opens as Siri rides, frightened and alone, in the kingdom’s finest carriage, with an “ostentatious” honor guard of twenty soldiers plus a few servants, on her way to marry the God King of Hallandren. Completely unprepared for the task she faces, she vacillates between loneliness for the family she may never see again, and terror of the monster she will soon face.

Vivenna speaks with her father, trying to dissuade him from the path he has chosen for his daughters. Outwardly controlled, she seethes inwardly over her wasted preparation and the unfamiliar sensation of uselessness. By means of the conversation, however, she becomes aware of his fear for the kingdom, which will almost certainly be destroyed when war inevitably comes.

Siri throws a tantrum in the general direction of the nearest hapless soldier, trying to stave off fear and loneliness. She cannot understand why her father sent her instead of Vivenna, but finally allows herself to be distracted by Hallandren’s abundance of color—flowers, weeds, animals, everything is bursting with alien and beautiful color. Suddenly, she realizes that the soldiers are just as terrified of this crazy place as she is, and resolves to send them back to Idris as soon as she can.

Vivenna helps Fafen with her work, but is frustrated by her sister’s failure to understand the personal and political concerns which trouble Vivenna so. Despite maintaining her appearance of calm control, she worries over Siri as much as she worries over her own lack of purpose. As they return to the village, she begins to form a highly improper plan to help the one person who still needs her.


Austre… Vivenna thought with shock. He doesn’t believe that. He thinks he’s sent her to her death.

“I know what you are thinking,” her father said, drawing her attention back to his eyes. So solemn. “How could I choose one over the other? How could I send Siri to die and leave you here to live? I didn’t do it based on personal preference, no matter what people may think. I did what will be best for Idris when this war comes.”

When this war comes. Vivenna looked up, meeting his eyes. “I was going to stop the war, Father. I was to be the God King’s bride! I was going to speak with him, persuade him. I’ve been trained with the political knowledge, the understanding of customs, the—”

“Stop the war?” her father asked, cutting in. Only then did Vivenna realize how brash she must have sounded. She looked away.

“Vivenna, child,” her father said. “There is no stopping this war. Only the promise of a daughter of the royal line kept them away this long, and sending Siri may buy us time….”

This is a deeply conflicted man. King and father though he is, he’s still just a man, just human, and he’s in the worst catch-22 ever. Trying hard to be calm and wise and all, he’s terribly afraid that whoever he sent to fulfill the treaty would go to die. But he’s also afraid of what will to happen to his people when the treaty is fulfilled, and he was more afraid of what would happen to his people if he didn’t fulfill the treaty. As frustrated as Vivenna is about her wasted preparations, Dedelin doesn’t honestly believe she could have done anything anyway, other than bear a child to the God King.

Local Color

This week’s annotations cover various aspects of the three sisters and their father, as well as some writing techniques. I highly recommend reading them, because I’m determined not to just copy and paste the whole thing here—which is what would happen if I tried to talk about all the really good stuff.

First, there’s the tone shift mentioned last week—“from lazy highland romping to frustration and terror.” Brandon even reveals that he’d considered bringing Mab along as a lady’s maid for Siri, but decided that it was more dramatic to send Siri off all alone. (Can you believe this guy? He deprives the poor girl of Mab’s excellent company, just for the sake of making her plight more emotional!)

The tone shift is highlighted by the character shifts. Switching between Siri and Vivenna gives us a birds-eye view of the beginnings of change: Siri grows, ever so slightly, from a thoroughly emotional reaction to more serious consideration and a thoughtful decision. Vivenna goes from perfectly controlled and rational, through frustration and finally to an impetuous decision. These shifts will carry through the book as their personal character arcs, and are a slow-motion version of one of Brandon’s favorite techniques: Reversal.

If you’ve read other annotations of mine, you’ll probably know that I love twists—but I love them only in that I love to make them work. A good twist has to be rational and unexpected at the same time. Pulling off that balance is one of the great pleasures in writing.

Personally, I think he does a great job of making his plot twists both “rational and unexpected”—the kind that take you by surprise, but then when you look back, the foreshadowing was there. Sometimes it’s like this one, with hints of character growth that will make their later actions believable. Sometimes it’s more abrupt, and you realize only after the fact that he was dropping seeds all along. Like I said, I think he does it well, though there are other folks who may disagree.

The annotations provide interesting insights on the family’s backstory. Dedelin’s wife died “over a decade ago”—meaning Siri was likely between 3 and 6 years old—in a riding accident. Siri doesn’t remember it, but of course her father and Vivenna do. Vivenna is much more like their mother than Siri, in part because her formative years were shaped by her mother’s supervision and training, but apparently Siri inherited their mother’s love for riding. The combination serves to make Dedelin actually love Vivenna more than Siri—not intentionally, and not even consciously, but it’s true anyway. Vivenna reminds him of his wife, and Siri reminds him of his wife’s death. It does make sense.

The conversation between Fafen and Vivenna gives a little background on Idrian culture, which is expanded in the annotations. (Yay for putting the info-dump in the annotations instead of the story! It could have been worked in, but only by expanding these Idrian-highlands chapters, which really wouldn’t contribute to the flow of the novel in a positive way.) Anyway, Idrians have a wonderful concept of service, as evidenced by the role of monks in society. They basically do whatever needs to be done. If someone is injured, a monk takes their place until they are healed. If a father dies without enough of an estate to care for his family, a monk will take his place at work, with all the wages going to the family just as it would have if the man had lived. The monks don’t own anything, and their necessities are provided by the people (presumably through taxes or tithes, though we’re not told). It’s not a perfect system, since there will always be those who will be lazy without the motivation of necessity or gain, but it works pretty well in a sober-minded culture like Idris.

Last note, which you should have noticed while you were reading:

We have a nice moment in this chapter rotating around a single word. Siri begins the chapter thinking about how she was supposed to be useless, and how she wishes that she still were. Then Vivenna ends her section thinking about how she’s become useless. That terrifies her.

Snow White and Rose Red

Welp. One problem with these annotations: most of the stuff I noticed in my reread as being Things to Talk About are things Brandon talks about in the annotations. The character shifts for Siri and Vivenna are the most notable, of course, and he pretty much covered it. But I’m still going to point out a few things, because I can.

Siri’s attempt to understand her father’s motivations only brings forth two ideas, neither of which is believable. One, he got tired of her behavior; two, he thought she could do the job better than Vivenna. The first she rejects as farfetched, because sending her to represent the kingdom in the court of a threatening rival as a form of punishment would be a self-defeating maneuver. “Here, to smooth things over, I’m sending you my problem child. Maybe she can annoy you all to death.” Not. The second is, from Siri’s perspective, completely laughable. “Nobody did anything better than Vivenna.” And yet there are ways in which Siri really is much more suited to the task—not ways that would be valued by Idris, but real nonetheless. Siri is capable of finding Hallandren fascinating and delightful, in ways Vivenna simply can’t—or at least, not yet. In a normal situation, the one who can adapt and enjoy might be a much better ambassador than the one who is inflexibly self-controlled and repelled by the new culture.

Okay, it’s not a normal situation, and someone is bound to try to take advantage of Siri’s naiveté; but then, someone would find a way to take advantage of Vivenna’s disdain and assumptions, too.

One thing Brandon didn’t mention in the annotation was the birth-order stereotypes. While these aren’t, of course, 100% applicable, most of us can see in our own families the tendencies that lead to the types (assuming you aren’t an only child). In many ways, Siri is the archetype of The Youngest Child.

Vivenna is even more The Eldest Child. She’s not actually perfect, but she seems so—especially to younger siblings who didn’t observe her learning process, and who can’t help but feel their own immature behavior contrasts poorly with her visible self-control and maturity. Even in her frustration, her Eldest Child leadership mentality makes her feel responsible for Siri.

The thing that (on a reread) makes me most empathize with Vivenna is her reaction to having her life’s work so readily tossed aside by her father. She’s spent her life learning everything she could about Hallandren, court protocol, politics, traditions, and self-control,—all in preparation for the day when she would marry the God King, and would have an opportunity to not only make a sacrifice for her people, but perhaps do more. Perhaps, as his wife, she could persuade both Susebron and his court to make further treaties which would be good for both kingdoms. It was her entire purpose in life.

While we know that there are undercurrents which would make that unlikely, neither she nor Dedelin know about them. Why, then, was Dedelin so willing to throw away that possibility? Presumably, in facilitating her studies and training, he had at least given her the impression that she was preparing for something that could make a difference beyond bearing a child. Was he just humoring her all along? Did something happen recently to change his mind about the efficacy of her training? Or is it just that when it came right down to the day, he couldn’t bring himself to risk her?

This bothers me. Though not, I suppose, as much as it bothers Vivenna…

And in true Middle Child tradition, Fafen gets left to the end. She’s described as “the middle sister in almost every way— midway between Siri and Vivenna in height, less proper than Vivenna, yet hardly as careless as Siri.” She took all the lessons on Hallandren, in case Vivenna died before the wedding; she’s the back-up plan. Interestingly (and I don’t know how this fits with the Middle Child type, but it certainly fits the middle children in my family), she picked her own path from the acceptable alternatives, and follows it without worrying about the rest of the world.

Oops. Forgot one. Ridger is mentioned—Vivenna doesn’t see how it’s appropriate to throw away his training so she can have his place as heir to throne, just because her place as bride of the God King has been given away. We never do learn much of anything about Ridger, do we? He’s just a placeholder for heir apparent, and has nothing to do with the story itself.

Wrt: the Royal Locks, we have “so white that it seemed to shine” when Siri curls up in terror, and later “a pensive brown” when she starts getting thoughtful. Vivenna’s, of course, remains black throughout.

Background Color

One more little hint, preparing the way for later revelations: Idris and Hallandren had been one nation until the Manywar. As such, no one had ever gotten around to drawing a distinct border in the relatively uninhabited lands between the two centers of power. It doesn’t really matter.

Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall

“Austre!” and “Oh, Austre, God of Colors” is supplemented by “for Color’s sake” this week. Nothing exciting there, I guess.


A few more random comments: There’s a timeline continuity issue, if you want to be picky. Chapter 1 talked about Dedelin becoming king and arranging this treaty “twenty years ago,” and we know Vivenna just turned 22. Chapter 2 makes it sound like the treaty was crafted before Vivenna’s birth, implying that the kingdom had celebrated her birth in context of a means to fulfill the treaty. It can be got around by looking at things a different way and squinting slightly, but it stuck out to me.

The other two comments probably should be in “Snow White and Rose Red” but they didn’t fit. So. One was merely a need to remark on the Idrian idea of ostentation: the kingdom’s nicest carriage, twenty soldiers, a steward, and several serving boys. Gee wow. It certainly serves to show just how naïve she is, and highlights the shock she’s going to feel when she arrives in T’Telir and gets real ostentation shoved in her face.

The other was something I can’t quite figure out how to say.

If I feel this anxious, she realized, those guards must feel more so. She wasn’t the only one who had been sent away from family and friends. When would these men be allowed to return? Suddenly, she felt even more guilty for subjecting the young soldier to her outburst.

I’m not sure whether to call it arrogance or insight, but I think the latter. Despite ignoring most of her lessons, she has been raised as a princess; she has more information about Hallandren than the average citizen or soldier, she’s been taught to control her emotions, and she has a certain level of protection as a princess and emissary. The soldiers have rumor and superstition, far less training, and no guarantee of protection at all except what their skill buys them.

Of course, you could call it arrogance, assuming that because she’s Royalty, she’s somehow naturally endowed with greater courage and intelligence than a soldier. But… all in all, I don’t think that’s it.


Well, that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover chapter 3 and its annotations, in which we meet Lightsong the Bold and are introduced to some of the peculiarities of being a god in Hallandren.

Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. If you Facebook, you can join her in the Tor-Sanderson-rereader-specific group known as the Storm Cellar; since it’s a closed group, you have to ask to join. Identify yourself as a Tor friend, and one of the moderators will add you.

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Posted by Natalie Zutter

Brent Weeks The Blood Mirror Lightbringer series

“Things on my mind,” Brent Weeks shared in his latest Reddit AMA on r/fantasy: “how much polonium is in the Ramen noodles I’m eating, the interactions of low-level fame with social media (i.e. the reasons I lurk instead of post), and how much I should be packing for book tour.”

The tour is for The Blood Mirror, published earlier this week, the fourth (of five) novel in his Lightbringer fantasy series. While much of the AMA focused on the chromaturgy, or color magic, that makes up the Lightbringer series’ magic system, one Redditor latched on to the lurking comment. Weeks’ answer was the kind of gem you find in AMAs: a short primer on making space for the opinions of readers and fans while still engaging in the art and in the fantasy community.

“You really don’t have to lurk,” Redditor wishforagiraffe commented as an aside in their question. “We like everyone here.” Weeks responded:

The lurking is for a few reasons. It’s a sad part of becoming a pro that it takes away some of your ability to just be a fan, and it takes away your ability to just be a normal person who gets to have feelings publicly. As a fan and reader, there’s stuff I love (I can talk about that) and hate in the genre (I can’t talk about that unless I want to be That Guy). Even friends of mine have stuff in their books that irks me. Critiquing that either makes me look like a jerk (if we’re equals), a bully (if I’m more successful), or as a wannabe trying to make my name by punching up (if I’m less successful than the critiqued writer). On the other hand, when just fans are talking, jumping in to that conversation throws a big wet blanket on the whole party. If someone says my work sucks, even if I say something totally professional like, “I’m sorry that didn’t work for you.” Then it still alters the conversation fundamentally and takes away a place for fans to talk about Art. Now, I certainly wish fans would always be respectful of the humanity of the creators of what they love and hate, but that’s way too much to ask on the internet.

Weeks describes himself as a “longtime lurker and guy who still wonders how long it’s okay to display flair” (that being his r/fantasy Best of 2012 Winner flair)—but remains acutely aware of the discussion surrounding his work and how it becomes contextualized on a larger scale. This is present in another fascinating answer he gave, to the usual question about the likelihood of his work being adapted for film or television:

mrrickles: Also, please PLEASE tell me that with the success of Game of Thrones, with the respect and love they had with the source material to stick to the story, that you’re considering seeking opportunities to turn Lightbringer into a TV series. Once you’re done, is that something you’d be excited to look into? I really think there’s far too much to your stories to be condensed into a 2-hour-or-so movie, so television seems ideal to me.

BW: I hit the Nine Kings question above, but the TV/movie question is linked. I actually was getting a ton of emails from producers and “producers” recently—all due to Game of Thrones, I’m sure. Other writers have jumped to Hollywood, too, with varying success. I told them all I wasn’t selling right now. (Sure, if Spielberg came knocking, I’d answer the door.) It’s mostly because of the time thing, and keeping the main thing the main thing. But it’s also because of my two properties here, I see Night Angel as far more filmable, and I have more Night Angel stories to tell myself that I think are far more filmable than the first trilogy. I mean, the first book starts with some awful, awful child abuse that I wrote never intending to SEE. Reading about it is different. So I plan to wait. Probably until after I write at least one more Night Angel book.

Weeks will continue to hit up the AMA during his book tour this week; he’ll be answering the most upvoted questions first, so get yours in, and think of good ones!

PhotoJournaling: JAPAN 2016 (Part 1) - Planes and trains

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 11:27 am
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[personal profile] gramarye1971
Here's the start of my photojournals from my trip to Japan earlier in the month! Not all the photographs have been taken by me -- my well-travelled friend J, whom I met up with for this trip, has a much better camera and eye for travel photography, so I've nicked some of his pictures where mine weren't quite good enough. Not many pictures from this first day, since I arrived in Japan late in the afternoon and the sun was well and truly set by the time I was on the move, but the next picspam will have much more to look at.

Day 0/0.5: BOS-NRT, and trains north - More text than pictures in this one. )

Next up: Akita by day, Aomori by night.

The Only Way Is Down: Faller by Will McIntosh

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 03:30 pm
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Posted by Stefan Raets

Faller by Will McIntosh

At the start of Faller, the new SF novel by Will McIntosh, a man regains consciousness lying on a city street. He doesn’t remember his name, the name of the city, or how he got there. In fact, his mind is almost completely blank, just like all the other people who are waking up in complete confusion around him. What’s even stranger, the world appears to end a few city blocks from where the man woke up. Rather than more streets and buildings, there’s just a chasm looking out over empty sky, as if this fragment of a city was torn from a larger whole and then tossed into the air. This feels odd to the man, somehow, even though he has no recollection of what a city is supposed to look like.

The man finds three objects in his pockets: a toy soldier with a plastic parachute, a mysterious map drawn in blood (and since his finger is cut, he assumes he drew the map with his own blood, suggesting it must be important), and a photograph of himself with a woman he doesn’t recognize. Since clues are the only thing he has, and he doesn’t recall his name, he decides to go by the name Clue.

Eventually, inspired by the toy soldier in his pocket, Clue decides to construct a parachute. That’s how he discovers that the floating city fragment on which he regained consciousness isn’t the only one. Taking the new name Faller, he embarks on a quest to find the mysterious woman on the photograph…

Not a bad hook to start a novel, right? But wait, as they say in infomercials, there’s more! After eight chapters about Clue/Faller, Will McIntosh suddenly switches to a second story line. The chapters, which thus far had been numbered with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), begin a new count with Roman ones (I, II, III), and from that point on the two stories are told in parallel.

The main character of this second story line is Dr. Peter Sandoval, a brilliant scientist who is just about to win his first Nobel Prize for his work on “quantum cloning,” an invention that can duplicate living tissue by sending it through a miniature wormhole. In itself, this would be a godsend for millions of patients waiting for organ transplants, but since the wormhole transfer also somehow removes diseases from the cloned organs, the invention has world-changing medical potential. It’s even more important now: The threat of war is becoming more and more real, and a terrifying new neurological affliction is being used as a biological weapon….

If all of this sounds a bit spoilery, rest assured, because what I’ve outlined here is just the starting position for the two story lines in Faller. Once you get over the initial disorientation, you’ll see that the two stories continue chronologically, a few chapters of one followed by a few chapters of the other, and so on. More importantly, based on this and several other clues sprinkled throughout the story, it becomes clear fairly early on that the two stories are connected in some way.

This makes reading Faller an interesting experience. You start out trying to make sense of one of the most surreal post-apocalyptic settings I’ve seen in SF in a while. Then, once the second plot is introduced, you’re suddenly also collecting clues and figuring out how we got from point A to point B. Clue/Faller being an amnesiac, he’ll occasionally meet people or see things that don’t mean anything to him but will make all kinds of light bulbs go off for the reader because they link back to the other storyline, or even because they’re a recognizable landmark from the real world.

This odd scavenger hunt for meaning is a large part of what makes reading Faller so enjoyable, so I don’t want to spoil the experience by pointing out some of the connections. I’ll just say that fans of Will McIntosh, based on his previous novels, have come to expect a certain amount of, let’s say, emotional darkness in his works, and those fans won’t be disappointed by that aspect of the novel. Combine that with the sheer strangeness of the post-apocalyptic setting and you end up with a very odd combination: a novel full of Will McIntosh’s trademark psychological drama in which, for about half of the book, the main character has no awareness of his history or, for that matter, his actual identity.

All of this combines to make Faller a true page turner. Once the connections between the two stories begin to become more apparent, it’s hard to stop reading. I tore through most of this novel in one sitting (which rarely happens for me anymore) and ended up finishing it up later the same day because I simply had to know how we got from point A to point B. I even ended up going through the first half of the novel a second time, to catch some of the details I missed. Such is the power of a strong hook.

Given all this praise, it may come as a surprise that I can’t call Faller an unqualified winner. It’s entertaining, ambitious, and mostly successful, yes, but it also has its issues. Part of this can be traced back to its very nature: Many of the amnesiac characters are difficult to relate to because, well, they have no memories. They’re like faceless mannequins trying to survive in a surreal post-apocalyptic landscape. After a while their lack of definition, combined with the relentless danger they’re in, becomes a bit numbing.

Fortunately the second story line (about Dr. Peter Sandoval) picks up some of the slack when it gradually becomes more clear how we ended up with the situation at the start of the novel. Some points of overlap between the two stories become more obvious to the reader, if not to the characters themselves, and as a result, it all starts to make sense. Unfortunately, this second story line has its own problem in that it heavily relies on a major technological breakthrough that feels, for want of a better term, hokey. Unwrapping that thought would lead to more spoilers than I’m comfortable with, so I’ll just say that I was disappointed, even as someone who usually really doesn’t care much about how “hard” the science in my science fiction is.

Taking all of this into account, I confess that I’m not entirely sure what to make of Faller. The post-apocalyptic story line has a powerful hook to keep the reader turning pages, and a surreal setting I really enjoyed, but the amnesiac characters are often bland. The second story line features fascinating, well-rounded characters (most of whom I’ve ignored in this review to avoid spoilers) and adds a unique dimension to the other half of the novel, but I just didn’t care for the way McIntosh developed the science that powers the entire novel.

And yet. Despite all these quibbles, I have to say that Faller is a novel I won’t forget quickly. There’s something about it that’s reminiscent of Gene Wolfe, especially in the way Will McIntosh uses his (very unreliable) narrator to gradually reveal the links between the two story lines and their characters. There are flaws, yes, but in the end this is still a novel I couldn’t put down, which has to count for something, right? As a fan who has read everything Will McIntosh has published since his 2011 debut novel Soft Apocalypse (my review), I also may be suffering from a severe case of unrealistic expectations. So, final verdict: Faller isn’t the author’s strongest work to date, but it’s still more than worth your time.

Faller is available from Tor Books.

Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. His website is Far Beyond Reality.

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Posted by Mahvesh Murad

Photo Credit: Nariman Ansari

Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad.

This week’s episode is a reading of a story from the world of Fire Boy—an urban fantasy set in contemporary Karachi, and writer and comedian Sami Shah’s first novel. Sami’s memoir I, Migrant, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing. You can find more of his writing here.


Listen to Midnight in Karachi Episode 69 (8:48):

On a mobile device or want to save the podcast for later?

Midnight in Karachi Episode 69: “Fire Boy Interlude C”

Subscribe in iTunes

Get the Midnight in Karachi feed

If you have a suggestion for Midnight in Karachi—a prospective guest, a book, a subject—please let me know at and we’ll see what we can do for you!

Running on fumes

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 11:45 am
selenay: (Default)
[personal profile] selenay
I know I said that I can't imagine time existing after my Big Deploy weekend, but I lied. Not that I can make plans or even consider the possibility that specific dates exist, but...

I am so very, very tired. And stressed. And TIRED. This weekend I've got a bunch of stuff that I need to get done, none of them relaxing things. Next weekend, I'm theoretically at my local convention (unless I have to work and then I'm working), which will hopefully be fun but will definitely be exhausting. Then it's Deploy Weekend. The 11th should be a holiday, but we're working it. And the Saturday. And the Sunday. And then we spend the following week putting out fires and possibly working part of the weekend due to another team's big Thing that my upgrade team may need to support.

So there's going to be this period of time where I have absolutely no time off and no rest and I've somehow got to write the last chapter of my Big Bang fic and get the whole thing edited for November 15th, so I've started fantasising about this:

Having an entire day, maybe two, where I have nothing I have to do. Where I am free to read or watch TV and do not need to think about working or writing. It sounds like heaven.

Hopefully all the time in lieu I'll be accruing will enable me to make that happen at some stage. For now, it's just a fantasy. I really, really want it to happen, though.
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Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Star Trek Discovery

In a disheartening (but perhaps not surprising) turn of events, it would seem that Bryan Fuller will no longer be the showrunner of Star Trek: Discovery.

The good news is that STD executive producers Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts are stepping into Fuller’s role as showrunners. The duo worked with Fuller on Pushing Daisies, and they’ve been on the project from the start. Fuller has already written two scripts for the show and outlined the arc and mythos of the first season–he announced his happiness with Harberts and Berg’s promotions via Twitter:

Bryan Fuller tweet

CBS is intent on keeping Fuller around the project, but quickly realized that he already had too much on his plate–between his Amazing Stories reboot and American Gods–to handle the day-to-day production of Trek. Keen on keeping their May airing date, they jointly decided that it was best for Fuller to step down as showrunner. He will remain executive producer, and stay involved in the development of the show’s storyline.

Sources claim that most roles in show have already been cast, but the lead character is proving to hard find. Once she has been discovered (see what I did there?), we can likely expect a cast announcement.

[Via Variety]


Thursday, October 27th, 2016 10:26 am
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[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
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Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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