Wine

For me, wine tastes like vomit.

That’s not a hyperbole, or even a synonym I’ve picked because I want to convey the exact shade of disgusting that wine holds for me.

No.

Wine literally reminds me of the aftertaste left in my mouth after I’ve vomited.  It evokes the feelings I have after I have vomited.  One sip of wine, and the ghost of stomach-illnesses-past steals over me.

I can’t be the only person this happens to.

 

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Discussion on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Waterfall”

“The Waterfall”, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I’m not rating this, because it’s just a short story that was included in my copy if The Planet Savers/The Sword of Adonais.  But I want to review it, because my feelings about the story are very, very mixed, and I want to take a stab at putting them in order.

Synopsis: Sybil-Mhari is fifteen years old and a member of the aristocracy (I think—I’m not yet familiar enough with Darkover to fully understand her place in society). She recently underwent a test to determine whether she was suitable to join the ranks of these sorceress-type people.  They told her that she has the power, the potential, to be one of them, but there’s also something dangerous about her which makes them unwilling to train her (because that would grant her more power, and make her even more dangerous).  She’s bitter about this.  Having been denied entrance to the order of sorceresses, her only other option in life is to stay locked up in this fortress (until a man marries her/uses her to produce children).  One night she was hanging out by the waterfall feeling emo about her life when an unfamiliar guard came across her.  He mistook her for a serving girl and tried to kiss her.  She struggled and he let her go, realizing that she hadn’t actually been playing coy when she’d initially resisted his advances.  On finding out exactly who he’d just tried to force himself on, the guard became very, very afraid.  Sybil-Mhari noticed his fear, and realized that this meant that she, a little fifteen-year-old girl, had power over this big burly man.  So she had sex with him, then when some other guards saw her in her disheveled state she had her ‘lover’ thrown over the waterfall to his death.  The end of the story made it  clear that she greatly, ahem, enjoyed this power, and that she planned to exercise it in the future.

On one hand, this story reads like a man’s worst nightmare (ok, second worst).  Sybil-Mhari is a woman who uses the male libido against men.  She cries rape, and uses the societal mechanisms which are in place to protect women to punish him even though the sex was consensual.  Sybil-Mhari is twisted; she is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and she punishes men for giving in to their sexual desires.  She, I might note, derives no pleasure from the actual act of sex, but she did have an orgasm when her ‘lover’ was murdered at her word.  This is a woman whose sexuality is twisted and unnatural (as all female sexuality is, amirite??).

(Personally, my biggest problem with the story was that she falsely cries rape.  That shit’s inexcusable.)

On the other hand, being stuck in Sybil-Mhari’s position is a woman’s worst nightmare (ok, the other half; the inverse, if you will).  I found that link by googling “woman’s worst nightmare” and clicking the first result.  TL;DR: the modern woman has quite a lot of freedom.  She can hold a job, live independently, go where she wants, and make decisions for herself.  None of this makes her safe from violence, beatings, and rape at the hands of men.

Lady Sybil-Mhari has no freedom.  She is safe from rape and physical abuse, but only at the cost of every other freedom she could possibly want: “…all other women of the [highest caste, who are not sorceresses] were powerless, given in marriage and forced to bear children for their clan, but wielding no power of their own.”  She dreams of power and freedom, of sprouting wings and flying away from the restrictions that are placed on her.  Men control her life in every way.

And she’s discovered the one way that she has power over them; the one bit of power that society has granted her exactly because of her role as a sheltered, highborn young woman.

So yes, Sybil-Mhari is deranged.  Yes, it would be better if she had found a way to change or increase the amount of power and control she has over her own life.  But at the same time I can’t fault her for feeling trapped and powerless, and I can’t fault her for seizing what power she could when she found it.  Or…you know…for getting every bit of pleasure out of exercising that power that she could.

Book Reviews and Rants, March 2012

My rating system is explained here.

Count to a Trillion, by John C. Wright.  ☼☼.  I wanted to like Count to a Trillion.  I really did.  The moment that the Rapture of the Nerds got a shout-out in the prologue was the moment I knew that I was going to read every last page of the book.  And then it tanked.  I suppose that could have been the intention; it clothed itself in all the trappings of the dazzling space operas of the Golden Age, and then it (purposely, I guess) subverted the core tenants of that genre.  Everlasting peace is never achieved.  Society becomes more, not less, stratified.  All the Science in the world can’t come up with a way to make the humans play nicely together.  Despite this subversion, I did not enjoy the book.  The dialogue was constantly bogged down in eye-glazing technobabble.  The characters were uninteresting.  They constantly talked to each other about the solution to this or that problem whilst simultaneously discarding each solution as it was presented.  They never seemed to do anything.  Or, rather, we were never present for the doing, only popping in after everything had been built or destroyed to be treated to another treatise on the hopelessness of attempting to surmount human nature without excising out the “human” part first.  Maybe the “nature” part too, come to think of it.  It could have been interesting and funny and dazzling all the way through but…it wasn’t.

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi.  ☼☼☼.  Nailer is a ship breaker.  He belongs to a crew of people who scavenge broken and abandoned oil tankers for parts and raw materials.  They live in shacks at the edge of the jungle which rings the Gulf Coast.  Nailer’s life is looking pretty hopeless—soon he’ll be too big to fit in the ducts of the ships, and then he’ll be too small to do heavy lifting—when a Category 6 hurricane blew in and smashed a swanky sailing yacht against a nearby island.  What he found in the ship while scavenging for scrap would change his life….

I keep hearing good things about Bacigalupi, but I didn’t feel like tackling The Windup Girl cold (I sometimes have a hard time getting through dystopian novels).  So I started with Ship Breaker, because it’s YA so it’d be a quicker read while still giving me an idea of the author’s writing style.  Thing is, I don’t really like YA novels.  I’m not sure why.  I tend to get the feeling that I’ve got blinders on; that there’s so many interesting things I want to know about and explore, but the plot’s more interested in the characters, and the characters are more interested in surviving.  Something like that.

So there’s my caveat; it’s not my genre.  Still, the book was interesting, even exciting, in places.

The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells.  ☼☼☼☼.  I liked The Cloud Roads.  I can’t really think of what to say about it, though.  The presentation feels simple, in the same sense that A Fong of Ice and Fire feels complex.  However, that does not mean TCR is boring.  I found myself thinking about the characters, story, and world even when I wasn’t reading it.  It was difficult to put down, not in a pulse-pounding, can’t-take-my-eyes-away sense but instead in an insatiable-curiosity, what-happens-next? kind of way.  I’m definitely reading the sequel (if I can get my hands on it).

Goblin Quest, by Jim C. Hines.  ☼☼☼.  I really didn’t enjoy this book, and I can’t figure out why.  On the face of it, GQ is Pratchettesque; it combines a bunch of standard fantasy tropes, characters, and settings, then messes with them in humorous ways (and btw, Pratchettesque is a good thing).  I didn’t find it funny, though.  It didn’t make me smile, let alone laugh.  I didn’t care for any of the characters.  The plot was boring.  I can see what he’s doing, and I can appreciate intellectually the way he’s inverted the tropes, but the experience left me cold.  Judging from the Goodreads reviews, other people enjoyed the book much more than I did.  So…I have no clue what went wrong when it came to me.

The Planet Savers, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  ☼☼☼.  HAHA.  Apparently I’m a sucker for protagonists with multiple personality disorder (Miles Vorkosigan/Admiral Naismith, anyone?).  I’m pretty sure that’s why I liked TPS so much.  It’s certainly not because of the treatment of psychological, medical, gender, or racial issues; those are all very 60’s.  I knew what I was getting into when I saw the date it was published.  It’s not worth railing against.  Anyway, even the author admits that TPS has issues.  I’m definitely going to read more Darkover books and see if they get better.

(Also, I started to read Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1) but the writing style seemed too…affected?  inconsistent?  I’m not sure.  It rubbed me the wrong way, and I wasn’t able to brave my way through it, despite the fact that I kept imagining Miri as Eliza.)

Misogyny 101

Dude.  I think everyone should read this article right now.

Ok.

Welcome back.

I’m not, by any means, saying that everything the article says is true, and I definitely don’t think it applies to every straight male on the planet (much of it strikes me as being apologetically hyperbolic, which makes sense because it’s on Cracked.com).

However, I think it does do a lot to illuminate certain nebulous feelings I have about how women are portrayed and treated in movies, books, and even the great theater act that is Real Life.  I’m in my early 20’s, and I’ve noticed that:

a) I’m only worth notice if I’m pretty, and

b) If I’m pretty, guys are going to dissect me with their eyes.

Either way, there’s no chance I’m getting their respect.

But this article takes it so much further.

Why are women “asking for it”**? Why is it so common for women’s descriptions in books to have attribute-by-attribute accounting of their appearance, while men just get a brief sketch?  Why is getting the girl” synonymous with “and they lived happily ever after”?  What’s up with the Blank Page Heroine?  How the hell do femme fatals even work?

For some reason, the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop sticks in my mind as a particularly egregious illustrations of where questions three and four came from, though just about any non-princess, animated kids film would work, too (I think the men in princess movies are just as briefly sketched, but I could be wrong).

Guy is a loser/nobody/screw-up/quack/mall cop who holds a romanticized view of public service.  Girl is a friend or acquaintance who is sexy as hell but would never in a million million years think of him in that way.  Guy does something crazybrilliantheroic to gain the admiration of everyone who ever doubted him, but mostly because he wants to win the affection of the girlSpoiler alert: he succeeds.  And then the film congratulates him, by going GOOD JOB KID NOW YOU GET TO HAVE SEX.

Because seriously.  What do we know about the chick?  She’s pretty.  Umm…yep.  Probably pretty nice in a dim sort of way if she’s the type to be swayed by fame and success as opposed to…I dunno…personality and ideological compatibility?

So, let’s see what he hasn’t won:

1. A friend (what the hell do they have in common, anyway?)

2. A partner (what does she have to offer him?  What does he have to offer her?)

3. A companion for life (won’t she get annoyed when he goes back to being a weird screw-up?  She seems like she’d be fickle that way)

WTF.  Just…WTF.

That doesn’t sound like Happily Ever After to me.

 

 

**I’m using this phrase sarcastically.  Just for the sake of clarity, I mean “why do men apparently believe that she ‘was asking for it'”.

 

Liaden Universe, Rants and Reviews

My rating system is explained here.

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold was absolutely delicious.  It was long, character-driven, and has awesome worldbuilding.  Also, it was easy to read.  Easy, that is, as in compelling.  I wanted to do nothing but read those books.  I was deliriously happy to learn that one of the library systems I belong to has almost the entire series on e-audiobook (because otherwise the bathroom would not have been cleaned, nor dinner cooked, for a solid three weeks).

Needless to say, I wanted more like it.  And oh, how my wish was granted.  I stumbled into the Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and I was sucked in despite the roughness of Agent of Change.

Caveats: I like all sorts of books.  I like bizarre, funny books.  I like dark, gritty books.  I like a touch of horror, or a bloom of romance.  I like books where the characters are all scheming assholes, and there is no such thing as a happy ending because why the hell would I want these people to be happy?  And I like comfortable books where I know that, no matter what happens, the characters will overcome all adversity and none of them will be…damaged…beyond repair.  Books with hard science, or soft science, or magic.  So, the Liaden books fill a certain niche in my bookcase.  Many of them have romances, and they are invariably the happily ever after type.  One Amazon reviewer notes of Conflict of Honors “[…]the situations are almost too easy. I didn’t really get the sense of jeopardy from them, and they seemed too easily dealt with.”  This is true for all of the books.  However, for me that means that these books are comforting to read.  I don’t want ill to befall these characters, and I’m happy to know they will prevail no matter what.

The biggest problem with this series was figuring out the frelling reading order.  I will lay the novels out in internal chronological order, for the edification of the public.  Then I will pontificate about the reading order which I, in my infinite wisdom, wish that someone else would have laid out for me before I started in.  Finally, I’ll summarize the short stories of the Liaden Universe which I’ve read so far.

–Crystal Soldier/Crystal Dragon.  ☼☼☼☼☼.  This is the Great Migration Duology.  Although I am decidedly on the internal chronology side of the Reading Order Spectrum, I’d recommend reading these dead last. They deal with Jela, Cantra, and the tree, in the most part, but they also contain a dizzying array of cameos which will only be recognizable if you’ve read the rest of the books first.  Also, (and this is a big also), I feel like it’s better to be thoroughly introduced to the Liaden Universe’s current politics, social tensions, and other stuff, in order to appreciate how much different things looked a couple millennia ago.

Quibble: The Clutch do not make an appearance.  I was really hoping for some background on them.  Oh well.

–Balance of Trade.  ☼☼☼☼.  This book has information (and minor characters) which make events in Saltation (and subsequent books) clearer.  It is a good introduction to both Uncle and old tech.  It has nothing to do with clan Korval.  Read sometime before Saltation.  (It felt like the focus of the book was more on the setting and old tech and less on character development.  I thought it was an interesting change of pace.)

–Local Custom.  ☼☼☼☼.  How Er Thom and Anne Davis end up together.  They are the parents of Shan, Nova, and Anthora.  Er Thom is brother/cousin to Daav.  This will serve as an introduction to the characters, as well as to the customs of the Liaden and clan Korval (which Er Thom and many of the subsequent main characters belong to).  It does not, really, set up any future events in the series, and can be read later if one wishes.  (The cultural misunderstandings were painful to watch, and I think the conflicts were resolved much too quickly with respect to the angst they generated.)

–Scout’s Progress.  ☼☼☼☼☼.  How Daav and Aelliana meet.  They are the parents of Val Con.  This directly sets up events in Mouse and Dragon, and should not be skipped.

–Mouse and Dragon.  ☼☼☼☼☼.  More Aelliana and Daav.  Knowledge of events in this book will make Plan B and subsequent books clearer.  (I was deliriously glad when Aelli saved herself, despite my burning desire to sweep in and save her myself.  Also, I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard while reading a book as I did this one.)

–Conflict of Honors.  ☼☼☼☼.  How Pricilla and Shan meet.  This serves as an introduction to both characters, as well as the crew of the Dutiful Passage.  They will appear in later books as supporting and main characters, so it is good to read it now.  However, the events in this book do not directly impact later books.  (The antagonists are needlessly evil, which annoyed me a bit).

–Agent of Change.  ☼☼☼.  How Val Con and Miri meet.  Directly sets up events in Carpe Diem.

(This is the first book actually published, and you’ll probably notice a dip in quality.  Occasionally I found the narrative to be difficult to follow, or confusing.  There are some terms used, such as “geek” for non-Terrans, which sound so very 80’s to me.  Don’t fret; it failed to appear in any of the other books.

Also, in my befuddled state, this was the first book I read.   I wouldn’t recommend it; there were certain things done to Val Con which I only truly felt the horror of after I got to know and love his family.  In my opinion, this really needs the perspective of the other books, even if events in them don’t directly set up the events in AoC.)

–Carpe Diem.  ☼☼☼☼.  More Val Con and Miri, though Shan, Pricilla, and a bunch of other characters make reappearances.  Directly sets up Plan B.  (Now it’s picking up!  This was the second book I read, and I ended up having to reread it later because I’d skimmed every part that didn’t involve Val Con and Miri.  Whoops.)

–Plan B.  ☼☼☼☼☼. Pretty much all the characters from Carpe Diem, plus more.  Directly sets up I Dare.  (By this point, I couldn’t upload these books into my brain fast enough.)

–I Dare.  ☼☼☼☼☼.  Pretty much all the characters from Plan B, plus more.  Directly sets up for Ghost Ship.  (I’m a bit pissed that the book Shan picked up in the hall of weapons thing is never fully addressed.  Pricilla seemed really worried about it.  Then again, maybe that’s going to crop up again in the future.  There’s certainly more books planned….)

There is a character who is introduced very, very late into I Dare.  She, Theo, is the heroine of her own series:

–Fledgling.  ☼☼☼☼.  Can be read any time after Mouse and Dragon.  The end of Mouse and Dragon sets this novel up fairly directly.  Directly sets up Saltation.  (The books was interesting, but not the best.  One, Theo is still in school and that places certain constraints on the character and the plot that I find annoying.  Also, that weird religious sect confused me more than anything else.)

–Saltation.  ☼☼☼.  Can be read any time after I Dare and Balance of Trade.  The novel begins before the events of I Dare and ends neck-in-neck.  Events from I Dare are mentioned in Saltation, and so it’s really more comprehensible this way.  Information from Balance of Trade also helps.  Directly sets up Ghost Ship.  (Theo’s still in school.  Blah.)

–Ghost Ship.  ☼☼☼☼.  Continues story threads from I Dare and Saltation.  This was a bit fragmentary, as the main story threads tended to weave their own paths throughout the novel.  By the end, there were three distinct ones, none of which gave me as much information as I wanted.  Only consolation is that there must be a sequel in the works, or else Kamele’s story line would have been completely pointless.  I just hope I don’t have to wait too long.  (They wanted to cover too much in this book.  Get all the characters together in the same place, publish separate books for separate characters’ story arcs, or pick the main ones, give them a book, and publish supplementary short stories.  Do something to ensure the next books won’t be such a mess.  Please?)

The Reading Order of Win:

Local Custom, Scout’s Progress, Mouse and Dragon, Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, Carpe Diem, Plan B, I Dare, Balance of Trade, Fledgling, Saltation, Ghost Ship, Crystal Soldier, Crystal Dragon.

Short Stories—

“To Cut an Edge”: How Val Con met Edger.  Absolutely hilarious.

“A Day at the Races”: Shan, holding the title of First Speaker until Nova comes of age, is stuck on Liad.  He takes up racing, and Kareen asks Val Con to intercede.  It doesn’t go exactly as she’d planned….

“Changeling”: How Ren Zel became clanless.

“Veil of the Dancer”: How Inas Bhar met the Juntavas.

“Quiet Knives”: After Edger cancels his birth on Capt. Rolanni’s ship (in Carpe Diem), the captain falls into an adventure of her own.  Dovetails with Edger’s journey.

“Lord of the Dance”: Set sometime after Ghost Ship.  Audrey hosts a fete for the bosses and the Korvals, and Pat Rin is persuaded to dance.

“This House”: Set on Liad, this story involves three people I don’t know.  A bit interesting, if only to show the great variety that dramliz come in.

“Prodigal Son”: Val Con returns to Vandar.  Some bits were included in Ghost Ship.  I don’t see why the whole lot wasn’t included, but maybe the editor didn’t want to include the people you’d have to have read Carpe Diem to know.

“Fighting Chance”: How Miri fell in with mercenaries.

“The Story of the Weatherman and What Became of Him”: The story of the nightmare Miri has near the end of Carpe Diem.  Highly recommend.

“Intelligent Design”:  Ever wonder how a battle robot (retired) became Trealla Fantrol’s butler?  Now you know.

“Hidden Resources”: While Plan B is in effect, the children of clan Korval are hidden from the eyes of their enemies.  Takes place during Ghost Ship.

“Moon on the Hills”: How Yulie Shaper acquired Jelaza Kazone as a neighbor.  Takes place during the very beginning of Ghost Ship.

“Skyblaze”: What happened to one of the taxi drivers who transported the mercenaries in I Dare.

“Kin Ties”: The last remaining member of Clan Jabun seeks balance with Ren Zel.

“Guaranteed Delivery”: Concerns Daav and Aelli’s courier service.

There are a bunch of short stories set during the Great Migration Duology, and some more which focus on Lute and Moonhawk.  However, I do not have the monies needed to buy them at this time.  😦