Archive for January, 2010

January 29, 2010

January Reading (II)

(In which there is much genre)

One of the books I’ve been looking forward to for a while now is N.K Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (it’s out in a few days, and I am checking the post every day with great anticipation). Recently Jemisin wrote this post at the Orbit Books blog.

All those stories about restoring a deposed king to a usurped throne, for example — well, what makes the deposed king any better than the usurper? Why must power be kept in the hands of the people who originally had it (and weren’t competent enough to hold it) as opposed to someone new, with better organizing skills and possibly fresh ideas? The message in these fantasies seems to be support the status quo! Don’t question it! Change is bad! What does it mean that we readers find such comfort in these fantasies that we’ve made quite a few of them bestsellers?

Which made me curious to revisit a set of fantasy books I’m very fond of: Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. I’d reread the Song of the Lioness quartet comparitively recently, so decided to read the Immortals Quartet (after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the Numair-Daine relationship was refreshingly noncreepy) and the last two Protector of the Small books to see how they dealt with monarchy.
So to list those out in a format easily readable to people skimming this:

Wild Magic
Wolf Speaker
Emperor Mage
The Realms of the Gods
Lady Knight

And…I’m not sure Pierce does anything particularly radical with the notion of monarchy, however awesome she is in other areas. The first two series are told from the perspectives of characters who are reasonably close to the Royal family – Alanna and Jonathan (the prince in the first few books, the king in all the books thereafter) are close friends, and Daine is definitely a fan of the king and queen. Thayet’s status as deposed royalty definitely contributes to her attractiveness as a prospective bride for Jon. And King Jonathan’s enemies are the enemies of The People as a whole – they are all shown to be ruthless, unconcerned with the larger population or the land itself, and power-hungry – none even attempt to appear as liberators or people with a Cause.
Then in the Protector… series you finally have an outsider of sorts (still a member of the nobility, but a critical outsider to the court) who is able to see that a lot of Jonathan’s actions are flawed, if well meant. But while Keladry, and occasionally Raoul, criticise a lot of Jon’s actions, it is ultimately understood that a) ruling is complicated business b) Jon and Thayet are doing better than most and c) when it comes down to it, they’re on the side of the king. Who is their employer, so this is hardly to be wondered at.
I need to reread the Daughter of the Lioness books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) soon – those actually do deal with a successful people’s movement and the removal of a royal family. Which is the sort of thing I love to read about, but the royals here are replaced with someone who is not only a distant relative, but also a descendant of the rulers this last set of royals replaced. And she’s destined to rule; it’s in a prophecy and everything.

Felix Gilman – Thunderer: I got about half-way and there was a freak accident with the book and a tomato, and I am going to have to get myself a new copy or perform extensive surgery on this one. I’m quite upset about this, since up until that point I’d been utterly absorbed. This is the first thing by Gilman I’ve read, and I am definitely a fan now.

Philip Pullman – Northern Lights: My first reread in many years, and I realised I was picking up a lot more of the alt-history and steampunky elements I had overlooked as a child. I’m now very tempted to reread his Sally Lockhart stories – I’m pretty sure my knowledge of (and appreciation for) Victoriana has increased exponentially since I read them at fourteen or so.

Maureen Johnson – Suite Scarlett: Maureen Johnson was awesome and put her book up for free on the internet for a few weeks. I like free books, and I like what I’ve seen of her as a writer. Suite Scarlett worked wonderfully for me; it’s charming and warm and generally happy-making. Must get hold of Scarlett Fever soon.

Sandra Marton – Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin: Oh dear. Mills and Boon titles are getting more and more ludicruous, and this – honest Italian-American banker who hates his family’s mafia connections is coerced into marrying pretty Sicilian girl with mafia connections and she yells at him a lot before they fall in love – is not one of the better pieces I’ve read; these books really need a completely over the top ridiculous (as opposed to mediocre ridiculous) plot to carry it off. On the bright side it does, as Supriya reminds me, describe the Tempestuous Virgin’s pubic hair as “the delicate curls that guarded her feminine heart”. Which makes the whole thing worth it, somehow.

Stephanie Laurens – Devil’s Bride
Rake’s Vow
Temptation and Surrender: I will read any regency romance that is written in recognisable English. I cannot help it. I blame my mother for all the Georgette Heyer love – Regencies are the only form of romance novel that really grab me, and I am not picky at all. Even so, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have now read all of Laurens’ “Cynster” books – a series of sixteen or so books about a the Cynster family (the men have names like Devil Cynster, Scandal Cynster, Lucifer Cynster, Gabriel Cynster…I don’t know) and how each of them finds love, while solving a mystery (frequently a murder). Rake’s Vow was disappointing in terms of what was at stake in the murder plot – more disappointing still is my knowledge that I must now commence upon Laurens’ Bastion Club series.

One more post on a couple of days and my January list will be at an end. Coming up next, among other things: school stories, child prodigy, and Angela Carter!

January 27, 2010

January Reading (I)

Since I am rubbish at keeping track of what I’ve read, I’m going to be listing what I read in 2010 by month here on the blog. How many books I read in a month and how much I talk about them will, of course, vary. I’m dividing this month’s reading into a few parts so as not to scare myself out of writing, or you out of reading.

Laini Taylor – Lips Touch: First, this book could do with a better cover, particularly when you consider the sheer brilliance of the illustrations inside . I would never have picked this up if I hadn’t already read a number of positive reviews. Lips Touch is a collection of three separate stories about young girls and desire. The first, “Goblin Fruit” is the one that pleased me the most, though it’s not the best of the stories. “Goblin Fruit” bases its back story on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market – the protagonist is the granddaughter of one of the sisters (the good one) in the original story. Yet the other text that informs “Goblin Fruit”, and the comparison is, to me, inevitable, is Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. The story works for the same reasons Twilight works: there’s the sense of danger, there’s the centring of female desire that is shown to be overwhelming, there’s the consummation of that desire, continually postponed. But there’s also the knowledge gleaned from the Rossetti story that that danger is concrete; that desire is being used to manipulate the protagonist; that this Goblin, however attractive, is not a sparkly vegetarian. So you have a text that positions itself between two opposing attitudes to female desire and then (to me, at least) manages the best possible resolution. And the artwork really is wonderful.

Karl Alexander – Jaclyn The Ripper: I’m supposed to be reviewing this, so will not begin here to go into all the reasons this book amazed me. But I find myself full of questions. Why was this published? Did anyone read it before it was published? Was it edited? Will I ever again experience this horror, this indignation, this hysteria all at the same time?

John LeCarre – A Murder of Quality: At some point in December I decided to read (and in some cases reread) a set of crime novels set in schools, including Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey (magnificent – also, here is some amazing crossover fanfic for anyone who is both a Tey and a Forest fan), A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake, and Report For Murder by Val McDermid. More suggestions would be welcome; I find myself appreciating these more than ever after a year of researching public school stories in general. I’d read A Murder of Quality years ago and had completely forgotten everything about it. As usual, LeCarre is excellent.

L.T Meade – A Modern Tomboy: See here.

Kate Douglas Wiggin – Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm: I had never read this before, and I wish things had stayed that way. Imagine all the twee bits of Anne of Green Gables interspersed with the creepy bits of Daddy-Long-Legs. The only redeeming factor, if it can be called that, is that the child character who grows up to (presumably) marry the benefactor who has waited for her does not refer to him as “daddy”.

L.M Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables: After the awfulness that was RoSF, I had to revisit it. I am very fond of all of the Anne books up until her marriage to Gilbert – though I think Rilla of Ingleside has its moments. Anne and Rebecca remind me, though, that I’ve noticed that young Budding Writers in these books (all the examples I can think of are female, presumably due to the quantities of Girls Own literature I scarfed down as an infant) are always too florid and wordy and over the top, and they become good writers as they learn to turn this down. Even as I write this I realise it doesn’t apply to Rebecca; either because Rebecca is Perfect or because Wiggin was genuinely unable to recognise bad prose when she saw it? But it’s interesting, because when I was growing up and trying to write I often had the opposite problem. I very rarely let loose the adjectives, and tried so hard to be understated that I often ended up stating nothing at all. Different times, I suppose.

Anil Menon – The Beast With Nine Billion Feet: I’ve been looking forward to Anil Menon’s young adult novel for ages. This is a work of science fiction, it’s set in Pune, and it is incredibly satisfying. I came into this with perhaps unrealistically high expectations, having already read some of Menon’s shorter work (and fangirled his blog) – as a result it didn’t blow me away quite as much as it could have. But it’s good, and layered and thoughtful and never overdoes things, and there are so many angles (Tara’s relationship with Sanskrit and her Sanskrit teacher, for example) that I really want to revisit and think about some more. I will be rereading this, and soon.

January 24, 2010

Girls are important

This story is amusing


(Click for embiggerance)

Notice that all the important people in this particular advertisement are men.I realise that the government have issued lots of public-service ads in the past highlighting the idea that women are actually worthwhile, contributing members of society and that we might want to keep them around… but this? The girl child is important because she may some day give birth to boy children who are what really matters. Never forget that that is what we’re here for.

January 17, 2010

Practically Marzipan: Girls, Geeks, Sports.

People who have been reading this blog for a while probably know that I write a fortnightly column of fluff in The New Indian Express titled Practically Marzipan, and have been doing so since early 2008. Most of these columns have not been put on the blog – this is partly because I’m lazy, and partly because the blog and the column are (I think) addressed to different audiences.* But a couple of people who do seem to want to read the columns have asked me to put them up anyway, and so from now on I’m going to try to be more regular.

Recently a party I was attending descended into chaos when someone brought up the subject of sports. It started with a discussion of the merits and demerits of two particular major tennis stars that nearly led to bloodshed. Luckily, the subject was changed to football, and while things remained tense, the fear of actual physical violence was considerably lessened. The people doing most of the arguing, however, were young women. There were men at the party, but most of them were too busy looking surprised to join in.

I was brought up in a household full of sports-loving women. My mother is the local expert on cricket, and my aunt knows far more about tennis than anyone I’ve ever met. Yet when I went to school I was informed that sports was something that girls knew nothing about. It took a while to convince the people who said this that I did know what I was talking about. After that, however, things got really strange. Now that I had been established as a girl who liked sports, I was constantly told that I was unusual, and special, and superior to the majority of girlkind. With a family like my own, I had no reason to believe that this was true. But I did; everyone wants to think s/he’s special.

I know a lot of women to whom this experience will be familiar. We all grew up with some interests that were not “conventionally” female, and were told by everyone around us that this made us unique. Cars, quizzing, comic books; all of these raised us in some way above other girls. We were placed in a position where it was convenient to think of other girls with mild contempt, for traditionally “girly” activities with scorn. We could, while being female ourselves, make blanket pronouncements about women that (somehow) were not meant to apply to us. It was a weird position to take, but none of us ever really examined it or noticed its inconsistencies.

Adulthood (and a few years in an all-girls college) taught me that no one runs entirely to stereotype, and that “female” activities (as if no man ever engaged in any of these) could be as engaging, and absorbing as those typically considered to be dominated by men. I like sports (though the women at the party put me to shame with their technical knowledge). I like romance novels. I wear a lot of pink. I quiz. I cheerfully admit to being technologically challenged. And I am surrounded by people who, being individuals rather than stereotypes, have eclectic sets of likes and dislikes of their own.

And so I have been known to bite off the heads of people who dare to compliment me now by telling me how unusual I am, or male geeks who whine about a lack of female geeks in their lives. Just last week I mentioned my own geekiness on twitter and a few minutes later received a message asking if I was single from someone who knew nothing else about me. Of course I’m glad if anyone approves of my tastes in things, but surely it’s possible to compliment me without an implied insult to the rest of my gender?

An edited version appeared here yesterday

*In that if you’re reading this blog you’re probably already into a lot of the stuff that I am into, and I tend to assume you’re familiar with what I’m talking about.

January 11, 2010

Irene goes to school

A few of you know (and some have possibly guessed, considering the frequency with which they appear on this blog) that my masters thesis had something to do with school stories. I read quite a lot of the things, particularly the girls’ school ones, for various reasons ranging from mockery to genuine respect.

It’s something of a cliche (and one that is not appreciated by many fans of the genre) that girls’ school stories tend to be rather homoerotic. – Angela Brazil did not help things by calling a major character Lesbia. But I really enjoy that element of women looking at women that you see throughout the genre – I’ve long held that Antonia Forest is the writer who first taught me to look at women.

I was unprepared for this scene from L.T Meade’s A Modern Tomboy, though. I can’t find an exact date, but it’s somewhere before 1914.

Nothing could exceed Rosamund’s amazement, and a scream almost rose to her lips, when she entered and saw, curled up snugly in Jane’s bed, no less a person than Irene Ashleigh. Irene’s exceedingly bright face peeped up above the clothes. She gave a low, impish laugh, and then said slowly:

“Don’t scream. Keep your nerve. I climbed up by the wistaria. I have been in bed for the last hour, expecting you. I happened to be hiding just below the window, clinging on for bare life to the wistaria and the thick ivy, and I heard the conversation between you and Mrs. Merriman, so I knew that you would have your room to yourself, and decided that I would share it with you. Now lock the door, for I have a great deal to say.”

“But we are not allowed to lock our doors,” said Rosamund.

“You will lock it to-night, because I order you to,” said Irene.

“I shall do nothing of the sort. It is my room, and I will do exactly as I like.”

Irene sat up in bed. Nothing could be more picturesque than her general appearance. She was in the red frock that she usually wore; her wild hair curled in elf-locks all over her head; her eyes, bright as stars, shone in the middle of her little elfin face; her charming lips pouted just for a moment. Then she said in a clear tone, “What if I get up and strike you right across the face? Will you lock the door in preference to that?”

“I will not lock the door.”

Like a flash, Irene was out of bed and had struck Rosamund a resounding blow on her cheek. Rosamund felt the blow tingling, but she stood firm.

“Will you lock the door now?”


“What if I give you a blow on the other cheek?”

“Here it is for your majesty,” said Rosamund, turning her other cheek to the foe.

Irene burst into a laugh.

“What a creature you are! But you know we are in danger. I have such a lot to say to you, and any one may nab us. Won’t you lock the door just to please me? I won’t slap you any more. I am sorry I hurt your dear cheek. I came because I could not help myself, and because I could not live without you any longer. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and no sign of you, and I just hungered for you. I am pining for you through all the days and all the nights, through every hour, in the midst of every meal; not speaking about you, for that is not my way, but just hungering and hungering, and yet you say you will not lock the door.”

“No, Irene; and you ought not to be here. What is to be done?”

Poor Rosamund had never felt more bewildered in her life. She had given her word of honor; and her word of honor was, to her, worthy of respect. She had never yet broken it. Should she break it now? Irene looked at her for a few minutes in wonder. The two girls were standing in the centre of the room, for, of course, Irene was fully dressed. Compared to Rosamund, she was a small girl, for Rosamund was tall and exceedingly well developed for her age. Irene was a couple of years younger, but she was as lithe as steel. Her little fingers could crush and destroy if they pleased. Her thin arms were muscular to a remarkable degree for so young a girl. She had not a scrap of superfluous flesh on her body. At this moment she looked more spirit than girl; and if Rosamund could have got herself to believe that there were such creatures as changelings, she might almost have given credence to Irene’s own story of herself.

…Before Rosamund could utter a word, Irene had sprung upon her, seized her round the waist, and compelled Rosamund to seat herself upon the side of the bed, which she herself had been occupying a few minutes ago.

“Now, darling,” she said, “you are not going to get away from me, and I believe in your heart you don’t want to.”

Poor Rosamund! a great wave of longing to help this queer child swept over her heart; but there was her word of honor. She was a passionate, head-strong, naughty girl; but she could not give that up. Besides, she could not do anything with Irene in the future if she did not conquer her now.

…”As a matter of fact,” said Rosamund, “I like you very much.”

“There, then, I am satisfied,” exclaimed Irene, and she flung her thin arms round Rosamund’s neck, squeezed herself up close to her, and kissed her again and again.

“Ah!” she said, “I knew that all my life I was waiting for somebody; and that somebody was you, just you, so big, so brave, so—so different from all the others. I should not be the horrid thing I am if the others had not been afraid of me. I got worse and worse, and at last I could not control myself any longer. I did things that perhaps I ought not to have done; but if you give me up I don’t know what will happen—I don’t know where things will end. Are you going to give me up?”

“I will tell you now exactly what has happened, Irene, and will leave it to you to judge how you ought to act for my sake at the present moment. You say you love me——”

“I suppose that is what I feel,” said Irene. “It is a queer sort of sensation, and I have never had it before. It seems to make my heart lighter, and when I think of you I seem to get a sense of rest and pleasure. When you are away from me I feel savage with every one else; but when you are near I think the best of others. And I think it is just possible that if I saw much of you I’d be a sort of a good girl—not a very good one, but a sort of a good girl, particularly if you’d manage mother and manage the servants, and tell them not to be such geese as to be afraid of me. For, of course, you know, I can’t help being a changeling.”

“Now, Irene, you must listen to me. I ought to be in bed and asleep. People will hear us talking, and I won’t allow the door to be locked, whether you like it or not, because it is against the rules.”

“Gracious!” said Irene, “couldn’t we both get out of the window, and climb down by the wistaria and the ivy, and reach the ground, and go and hide in the plantation? We could spend the night there, locked in each other’s arms, so happy—oh, so happy! By the way, I saw a little summer-house—we could spend the night in the summer-house, couldn’t we? Couldn’t we?”

January 6, 2010

Classics: could use some editing

I was skimming through The Time Machine and this happened:

(click to embiggen)

January 2, 2010

We’re not entirely sure what he does

I have nothing as awesome as an inflatable giraffe on a hammock to share with you this year, but I do think this particular toy (which I’ve been hoping to find again and buy, ever since I took this picture) has its own appeal.