Feb. 22nd, 2017 09:14 am
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
Six years since the Christchurch earthquake. I didn't do the one minute's silence today, but every time I look at a clock and see '12.51' there's that shock of recognition, a gap opening up beneath things. Thinking of all those others affected.

Photo taken the day of the earthquake. This was a few hours after the main quake; I'd walked home to see what I could do there and then gone out to get my dog from his daycare, which I'd been unable to contact. In another hour or so the entire central city was shut down by the army and I had to leave.

(I can't get alt text to work; three wooden villas, twisted and distorted by the earthquake, but still standing. A figure on a bicycle watching in the foreground)
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Rather than keep getting further behind I will post all this behind a cut: this is all of January except for four books by Robin Stevens that I loved and which will get their own entry. Someday.

Sarah Dressen, Dreamland
Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit
Yoon Ha Lee, Raven Stratagem
Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun (x2)
Sherry Thomas, Not Quite a Husband
Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
Stephen King, Riding the Bullet
KJ Charles, Wanted, a Gentleman
Jenny Lawson, Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Naomi Alderman, The Power
Megan Abbot, You Will Know Me
Elin Gregory, The Eleventh Hour
Emma Newman, Between Two Thorns (the Split Worlds, book 1)

Books read, January. )
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Dear Chocolatier,

Thanks so much for creating for me! This is going up late, sorry, so if you've started something already, run with it - really, I just would like to spend more time in these worlds with these characters.

General likes:

Worldbuilding, action, humour (witty dialogue or slapstick), friendship, teamwork, food & mealtimes, moments that change people for the better. Happy or bittersweet endings.

Do not wants:

Child/animal harm or death. Earthquakes. Non canonical character death. Non con. Mundane AUs (except FFVII), ABO, mpreg.


Compilation of Final Fantasy VII.

Zack Fair/Cloud Strife
Zack Fair and Cloud Strife

I played this for the first time in the aftermath of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake, and not only is it a fabulous game in its own right but it was the best possible distraction. I love Cloud, and I'd love to see him happy (despite all his own attempts to ensure the opposite!), and, well, obviously it would help if Zack were around. Friendship or relationship fine, although if you go with relationship, please don't erase Aerith. Ideas - well, pre-game bonding, either in the military or out socialising in Midgar? En route to Nibelheim, especially if you can work in a chocobo or two? (or any of the game stuff, phoenix downs and materia and all) Given events of canon I am more than happy with canon AU or other AUs, and I'd be thrilled if you could give them a happy(ish) ending.

Gundam Wing

Chang Wufei/Duo Maxwell
Chang Wufei/Heero Yuy (Gundam Wing)
Chang Wufei & Duo Maxwell
Sally Po & Chang WufeiFanart Fanfiction

Basically I love this series and its completely incomprehensible approach to space warfare, and I am especially fond of Wufei for his grumpiness and actual competence (I am less keen on his misogyny and would prefer to see this not being a major feature). As per tags, I am not particularly attached to any one pairing, or indeed a pairing at all. I would prefer to keep to canon but canon AUs are fine; I love space battles, space colonies, people repairing their Gundams, and am also fond of the total fanfic cliche of hiding out in a safehouse.

Babylon 5

Delenn/John Sheridan
Susan Ivanova/Talia Winters
Vir Cotto & Londo Mollari
Susan Ivanova & John Sheridan

This is really my "I love everyone in this bar!" fandom (well. Except Byron, but fortunately he wasn't nominated). I still think it's one of the best TV series when considered as a whole. I would love to see anything with any of the nominated characters and would find it impossible to pick a favourite out of them. I am actually really fond of the low-key moments in canon as well as the universe-changing, and I love the moments when cultures collide. How about a banquet (or state meal, or picnic, or hideaway obscure alien restaurant)? A visit? A diplomatic incident?

Artwise, I like cool stuff and quiet moments, interesting styles and pieces that make me appreciate characters all over again.

But anyway - I hope you enjoy your assignment!!
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
91 books, 2 of which I read twice (My Friend Cousin Emmie and Ninefox Gambit). Captive Prince, Prince's Gambit, The Wizard of London, Last Call, Death on the Nile and Firestarter are also all re-reads, although not within the year. On demographics I really do need to make an effort to read more nonwhite authors (and, uh, possibly more men). I have not really been reading manga this year apart from a few volumes of What Did You Eat Yesterday that I haven't logged. I also need to tackle some of the (many!) books I've owned for years and haven't read yet.

Favourite new book:

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I haven't written this up, sadly, but I loved it - amazing worldbuilding, fascinating characters, intriguing plot, impressive prose, and very cool magic/tech system. I think it's brilliant. I have read the sequel in draft and really enjoyed it too, but the first one just blew me away.

A Notable Woman: the Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, by Jean Lucey Pratt (ed Simon Garfield) is a close second.

Favourite old book, or possibly favourite new series:

The My Friend(s) series, by Jane Duncan. These I have written up as I've gone through them. They are a stunning masterclass in writing and do so many things so well - character and setting particularly, but the way she explores and exposes motive and personality is outstanding. So far, My Friends the Mrs Millers, in which all the casual assumptions about race that her characters have been making (at this time they are living on a fictional Caribbean island) are suddenly overturned, My Friend My Father, which left me in tears, and My Friend Cousin Emmie, in which the titular character is shown to be both an incredibly difficult character and a truely tragic heroine, are my favourites.

Book I most wanted to love but didn't:

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. I love her blog and I think a lot of what this book is doing is fascinating, but as a narrative it never quite cohered for me and it's such a static book. Despite all the authorial work I am unconvinced by the 7-10 lists as worldshakingly important, I dislike urbane serial killers, I like Bridger but am troubled by the reliability of the narrator and the sabotage thread is interesting but only got going in the last chapter. I will however read the sequel and hopefully having lowered expectations will help.

Series I most wanted to love but didn't:

Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad, reviewed here. I did love The Secret Place; the detectives, the mystery and the characters all worked together really well, and hit a lot of my personal buttons. The others haven't been as good - either the narrator (Faithful Place, Broken Harbour or the plot The Likeness) haven't been as compelling, and too many of French's quirks dull with repetition. I do like them and would recommend them, and I'll certainly read the next one, but I have no real urge to own them and will stick to library copies.

Longest time to finish:

Jilly Cooper's Jump!, which I started about seven years ago. Now I'm stalled out on Mount! so, you know, expect an update around 2023.

Still in progress but I will finish soon, no really:

KJ Charles' Jackdaw, which I am enjoying and keep putting down and forgetting about. ZA Maxfield's The Pharaoh's Concubine, which is terrible and despite its name is contemporary m/m (escaped toyboy of Russian criminal mastermind hooks up with former gangbanger), but I'm only a couple of chapters from the end and feel committed, just not compelled. Shirley Barrett's Rush Oh!, historical whaling book, v good but I had heaps of other things to do and lost it in the car until it was overdue from the library and had to take it back.

Picture books:

I have not logged these because the numbers would be ridiculous; we usually have 40-65 out from the library at any one time, plus purchases, second hand sales, gifts etc. My favourites for the year are Tohby Riddle's Nobody Owns the Moon and John Birmingham's Aldo.

Everything (in roughly chronological order): )
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
For Yuletide this year I received Backpack about Will and his friends on their journey towards the White Mountains; although the mood of the piece is bleak, there are moments of kindness and connection that are very true to canon. I know my request went out to pinch-hit and am very grateful it was picked up!

Backpack (2708 words) by spiderfire
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Tripods - John Christopher
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Characters: Will Parker (The Tripods), Beanpole (The Tripods), Henry (The Tripods), Original Characters
Additional Tags: Canon-Typical Violence, Missing Scene, Vagrants, Original Character Death(s), Canon Compliant

Some encounters Will, Henry and Beanpole had on their way to the White Mountains.

I wrote End in Fire, a crossover between two of my recipient's requested fandoms, Stephen King's Firestarter and Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine. I matched on the former and had not actually read the latter; I had, however, read the prequel-written-later, Harrison Squared, which is YA horror and had some great characters and a nicely dry sense of humour, while completely failing at any sort of satisfying conclusion, which is just the sort of thing that nags at me and meant that when I reserved Firestarter through the local library I also reserved We Are All Completely Fine, just to check.

I re-read Firestarter and found some interesting hanging threads (other survivors of Lot 6, the hints that Charlie's power will somehow lead her to do something with/to the sun), and started a few ideas which went nowhere (also, inexplicably, research on climate change does not indicate whether it is possible to fix it by accelerating the life cycle of the sun, although it looks as though Charlie would have to cause core hydrogen exhaustion to get anywhere, which has other disadvantages!). While thinking about this I read We Are All Completely Fine - cool set-up, interesting characters, ending not as cliff-hangery as Harrison Squared but still not as good as the set-up - and discovered it had Greta, a girl raised in an all-female cult to be the bride/vessel of an unearthly destructive spirit of fire. I wavered for a bit (another Yuletide where I write a crossover between two tiny fandoms? at least there were a tiny handful of fics out there for Firestarter) but the idea was too compelling to let go, and at rather a late stage I emailed the mods to ask if my recipient would be okay with a crossover.

The story itself was easier after that - I wanted to get Greta out of being a containment device, and I wanted to show a possible future for Charlie, and I wanted a happy(ish) ending for both of them.

End in Fire (4990 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: KING Stephen - Works, Firestarter - All Media Types, We Are All Completely Fine - Daryl Gregory
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Charlie McGee, Harrison Harrison
Additional Tags: Crossover, Psychic Abilities, secret government agencies, Unlikely meetings, Cthulhu Mythos

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

I did mean to post a recs post, but I did a lot of reading instead (and still have a dozen or so windows open on long stories). The Wimsey and Wodehouse (Psmith and Jeeves & Wooster) fics were all good this year, and I also liked Mission Impeccable (GBBO spoof), The Fragile Skiff Attains the Shore (Master and Commander, Jack and Stephen endanger and rescue each other), and Many Havens, a Mercedes Lackey Vanyel fix-it fic.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Over a month's worth.


Tana French, The Trespasser. I liked this, although still not as much as The Secret Place. It follows Antoinette Conway from that book, investigating what appears to be an open and shut case of murder of a young woman and dealing with the fact that the rest of the squad apparently dislike her to the point of sabotage. It does not have a moment when Antoinette says, "This was the moment when I had the chance to do something different, but instead I stuffed everything up," (or similar) and it has a happyish ending, and there are lots of bits I liked about it (the resolution of the storyline with her father), but the case itself didn't grab me on this one.

Dick Francis, Comeback. Solidly middle-tier Francis in which a diplomat between posts finds himself investigating sabotage at a veterinary practice. The main character spent time in the town as a child and has his own memories of people/places, but because his name is different and he is now an adult there is an element of working undercover, which I liked, and there’s a vivid and startling image when the sabotage turns to murder, but the rest of this is fairly forgettable (the love interest is appealing as a character but the romance works even less well than usual).

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited Simon Garfield. Mentioned elsewhere. This was great. I put heaps of little bookmarks in when reading, but had no time to go back through it; basically, though, an excellent example of illustrating the general through the particularly, but also an excellent example of a particular experience - that of a single woman - that is all too often overlooked. You do get a sense of her crystallising in her 40s; the journals are shorter, her attitudes less flexible, and I do think about this as I'm in the same decade. I think it's common but not inevitable; Doris Lessing's memoirs don't do this for one, although I'm not keen to emulate her in many other respects.

Matthew Reilly, The Four Legendary Kingdoms. Latest in the series that started with Seven Ancient Wonders and is counting down, this one has Jack West Jr kidnapped to participate in the deadly games of a secret underworld kingdom that will serve the dual purposes of signalling to extraterrestrial intelligences that Earth's existence should continue and also granting power to one of the secret kingdoms that rule the world. Also, Scarecrow (from Reilly's other series) shows up as a rival competitor. I am not remotely in these for anything other than the ride, and on that level they work fine. I particularly like all the little diagrams of the ridiculously over-engineered challenges. If you are going to read any of Reilly's books I would pick this series or Hovercar Racer, although I really should read his first two as well.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call, or The Distinguished Thing. 1930s set murder mystery with East End (London) theatre backdrop; I really liked the worldbuilding and the characters, who are vivid and complex and interact with each other in interesting and unexpected ways, but then it fell apart at the end. This, I think, is largely because the murderer themselves is not so well characterised, and so the denouement falters.

[redacted for Yuletide] 2 books.

And then I discovered how to load ebooks from the library's extensive digital catalogue onto my Kobo *and* had to spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room with it.

JL Merrow, Played! – actor hiding out in Shamwell before taking up the finance job his father favours entangles himself with local dyslexic repairman, who he gets to coach as Bottom in the local theatre group’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s hard to go wrong with this set up.

JL Merrow, Out! Closeted workaholic quits his job and offers to take in teenage daughter when ex-wife is having trouble coping, and gets entangled with a charity worker who is not going to pretend not to be gay for anyone. This is a lot slighter and after I finished it I kept wondering if I’d forgotten to read the end.

Courtney Milan, Trade Me. Tina Chen is a poor student who, after an argument, swaps lives with Blake Reynolds, the handsome billionaire who just happens to be in one of her classes. I read this for Tina, really, because she's a great character who actually has a family and friends and a context, but I didn't have much time for Blake and the denouement with his dad and the product launch felt horribly cringe-inducing.

Stephen King, Blockade Billy. Novella length piece about baseball, pretty much all voice and imagery, but it stuck with me.

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller: writing lessons and more from 27 years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop. Part history/memoir, part teaching guide. Bits of this were more helpful than others (there's some repetition as well), and it's also very much an original Clarion book (I went to Clarion West) in talking about the Clarion experience itself. Worthwhile.

KA Mitchell, Ready or Knot books 1 (Put a Ring on It) and 2 (Risk Everything on It). Marriage-themed collection about 4 gay friends. Book 1 has the up-and-coming Broadway director Theo and his introverted Korean IT boyfriend dealing with the fallout after Theo’s massively public all-singing, all-dancing, Times Square proposal goes viral, book 2 is closeted former child star Jax starts a relationship with recently separated Oz, who parents two foster children with intermittent involvement from his scatty (male) ex, and does not want any more drama or lack of commitment. I do like that KA Mitchell has a lot of non-white protagonists (Oz is black and his ex Latino), and I do actually like the characters, but these are pretty slight. Everyone is super successful and rich, and there’s a lot of skimming over things – in book 1 both characters go off and have relationship epiphanies off-stage (at different times), then come back and narrate them to their partner, which successfully dulls the impact. Book 3 will deal with the last two friends, who have an on-again, off-again thing going, which is not my favourite trope but if the library has it I suspect I'll read it anyway.

In progress:

[Redacted for Yuletide]

Elin Gregory, Eleventh Hour. Historical m/m. I got about one chapter in and got distracted by something, will go back.

Lyn Gala, Mountain Prey. Contemporary small town m/m with a lead who is out on forest patrol when a handsome stranger seeking revenge on a criminal bad guy captures him and ties him up a lot, which is great because Stunt (the lead) really likes being tied up. I think this is just not working for me but I'm not sure why, given some of the stuff I've happily put up with previously.

Kate Sherwood, Dark Horse. M/M contemporary romance with the most glacial slow build ever - I think I was about 300 pages in before anyone had sex (and not within what I presume is the end-game relationship) *but* this is mostly because the lead, Dan, is grieving the loss of his long-term partner and also because he does have a job - training horses to compete in eventing - and there's a lot of horse in here, too. I do think it could have done with an edit, but it's doing quite a bit that I don't usually see in m/m (other details redacted for spoilers) and it's worth reading.

Up next:

I have been eyeing up my unread manga pile wistfully, but realistically All Yuletide All the Time.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am currently filled with the milk of human kindness (and rather a lot of ice-cream) - I went to the launch for Silo Theatre's 2017 season; the 2016 has been a mixed bag, and I've skipped the surrealist elk play after the reviews suggested it was much more interesting to act in than watch. But for 2017 all the plays look great; two directed by Shane Bosher (the previous artistic director, who has done so many plays I've loved), at least one of which looks having a high chance of male nudity (it's called Cock) and the other is a contemporary take on Streetcar Named Desire, not my favourite Williams play but I think it will at least be interesting, a feminist one called Revolt. She said. Revolt Again, a return of Hudson & Halls: Live!, a black comedy Shakespeare in prisons NZ (TOA Productions) piece with Rob Mokaraka involved, reminding me I need to write up his excellent Shot Bro: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet, and last but certainly not least a production of Peter and the Wolf with puppets, film and rotating narrators, which will be screening when my two are 3 and 3/4 and hopefully able to enjoy it. They did have the video with faceless individuals doing allusive dramatic things (last year in balaclavas, this year in rainbow sheets) but otherwise all much more promising.

Anyway. We had vast amounts of ticker tape dumped on us in celebration, and a live band with a remarkably unintelligible singer and then nibbles in the foyer, and then as the nibbles were rather small we wandered off to Giapo, which has very nice ice cream under a ridiculous layer of ornamentation and presentation experience (I declined the offer of a Yorkshire pudding with my ice-cream), and I ate an ice-cream that probably doubled my calorie intake for the day, discussed theatre, and finally separated from my companion and went back to the car. At which point I discovered I'd lost my parking ticket. I went back to Giapo with no luck, then the theatre with even less optimism, given all the people and ticker tape, but when I got into the stage area and asked a guy with a leaf blower looked up and said "Oh yes. I handed it into the bar." I should have left him a drink, actually, for saving me the $70 lost ticket fee, but these sorts of things only occur to me now.
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit North Canterbury (in the South Island) just after midnight this morning, and aftershocks are ongoing. It was felt up here by some (not me) and there's a lot of damage to land and property around Kaikoura, and to a lesser extent in Wellington, but there have only been two deaths, which after Christchurch is a massive relief even though it still feels like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Friends and family are okay but tired due to middle of the night evacuations and aftershocks, and unfortunately the weather forecast for tonight in the affected areas includes gale warnings, just what you need when you're trying to work out if it's wind or an aftershock rattling the house. I agree with [personal profile] china_shop that the pathetic fallacy re the effects of the US Elections is getting out of hand. All the best to all those affected.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

Tana French, The Likeness. Cassie Maddox, Rob’s police partner from In the Woods, goes undercover as a murder victim when the body turns out to a) look exactly like her and b) be using the fake student identity Cassie herself used some years earlier when working undercover. She returns to the house her doppelganger shared with four fellow PhD students in a rural part of Ireland to investigate her own murder.

This is such a great concept and I wanted to love the book, but in the end I didn’t – I liked it, it’s readable, but once again French has her police characters start doing something unprofessional very early on in the piece despite acknowledging to themselves how stupid this is, it takes ages to get going (we know from the set-up that Cassie will go in; there’s no tension there) and for a murder mystery there’s a lack of actual catharsis at the revelation of the killer - something she has done much better in most of the others of hers that I’ve read, although Faithful Place also didn’t work for me. There’s a bit more in the revelation of the body’s identity, but again no explanation for the uncanny resemblance. Also, I’ve read these out of order but the close-knit group of friends who are somehow other worked much better in The Secret Place, and I had a much clearer sense of them as individuals. For all the length of this, the student cast feel underdeveloped.

I found myself thinking wistfully of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, my first encounter with and still the best at this trope – the characters are also distinctly more vivid despite the shorter length, and there’s much more of a pay-off at the end ("Retribution, [redacted]. Don't you recognise me?"). My copy of this is one lent to me by one of my high school English teachers, and I still feel a little bit guilty for not giving it back (it was part of a class set, so possibly not as bad – or maybe worse! – than a personal copy) but not enough to ever part with it.

Rose Lerner, Sweet Disorder. I actually quite like the characters and the world while not finding the story particularly convincing and not being remotely invested in the romance. I’d probably try another one by her but would be hoping for a strong non-romantic plot to keep me diverted; I kept putting this one down due to a lack of caring.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile, and Tim Powers, Last Call - both re-reads. I'd forgotten how many other people get killed in the Christie, but watching the plot tick along like a Swiss watch is always enjoyable. Last Call still works for me as a novel even while I am increasingly aware of some of Powers' conservatism (small c) creeping in - I think in previous reads I was focussed on the Fisher King and his wound, whereas now I am more struck by all the mystical marriage and heterosexual pairing; there's quite a bit of playing with gender in Last Call, and for the most part that's effective, but then I run into the assassin with such an overblown case of gay panic that I think we are supposed to read him as potentially gay, and it makes me twitchy.


Levi Black, Red Right Hand. YA horror with lots of short chapters, and the first page of every chapter is white text on a black background. I made it through the first 4-5 chapters (teenage heroine with baggage has mysterious figure arrive at her house at the same time as unearthly beasts show up to attack her, figure saves her life and offers her a deal) but it all felt like it was trying way too hard and I bailed.

Edward Wilson, A Very British Ending. Spies and plots in post WWII Britain, focussed around the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson; I might have liked this if I’d gotten more into it, but after 60 pages my only emotion about the main characters was dislike. This was fairly heavily coloured by the lead tracking down the former Nazi officer involved in an atrocious war crime only to reveal that the motive for the crime was because French partisans had killed off the male lover of the officer who then ordered the atrocity, and the whole thing came across as “Not just Nazis but Moral Degenerates”, which given the numbers of homosexuals forced into concentration camps by the Third Reich was not working well for me at all (the atrocity in question is historical fact, but the motive as far as I can tell is the author’s own). I keep meaning to read more Le Carre and should obviously stop trying alternatives.

In progress:

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield. See previous. Excellent.

Anna Butler, Gyrfalcon (Taking Shield: book 1). M/M sf romance. I read this before the serial numbers were removed, which is probably just as well because the two leads don’t actually interact at all until about a third of the way through the book and I would have been wondering if I’d downloaded the right thing. I like the worldbuilding in this.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call. 1930s England; a West End actress having a liaison with a married man at a hotel interrupts an attempted murder, and the man involved is a suspected serial killer. There’s also an ageing theatre critic and an up-and-coming artist, and I’m quite enjoying this without getting much urgency.

Up next:

Yuletide-relevant works are showing up, plus trying to get through some of my ebook backlog.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Performed on alternating nights, both one-man plays; definitely a triumph of stamina (for the actor – they were both about 100 minutes long). I liked them both but for me Shylock had the edge.

Shylock is, obviously, about the character in the Merchant of Venice, but the character Masterson plays is Tubal (or the actor playing Tubal), a wealthy merchant friend of Shylock’s and the only other Jewish character in Shakespeare’s plays, with a whole 8 lines. The piece – set against a backdrop of fraying banners with the word “Jew” written on them in various languages – is a history and a performance of The Merchant of Venice; we skip through the play from one scene with Shylock (and Tubal) to another, and digress frequently. It covers Jews in fiction and history from Pontius Pilate to the 1190 Jewish Massacre in York, to the Venetian ghettos and the shadow it casts forward into the Holocaust. In addition, we touch on Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, the Italian source for the Merchant, the various actors who played Shylock and how they evolved the part, and up to tday. There are a lot of great moments and when we end up at the court scene with Shylock’s greatest speech and his total defeat it’s magnificent, and very disturbing. I would definitely see this again.

Under Milk Wood – I saw this years back at the Basement staged as a 1950s radio play, the actors stepping up to the mikes in turn, a Foley artist off to the side; an excellent production. This one-man version is enthusiastic, polished (I think he’s done over 2000 performances) and still affecting, but I am not sure making it a one-man performance improves it as a piece, even while it does showcase Masterson’s impressive acting abilities. He also lost me a bit with some of the female characters, especially the younger girls (all coy falsetto), but he does Polly Garter, looked down on by the town for her multiple children by multiple men, very well – she and Captain Cat (signified by him putting on a pair of sunglasses) get the best bits, really.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am currently reading A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield, and enjoying them hugely. They start in 1926 when Jean is 15; I am at present in 1942, and probably about a third of the way through the book. I am avoiding reading the blurb, the introduction and any reviews, because I don't want to know what happens until I get there! (I found out about the book from a rec on-line, which I stopped reading as soon as it sounded interesting enough to pursue. This is my standard method but does lead to problems as I picked up another book recently which I thought was a version of Pride and Prejudice in which the Bennet sisters are drafted into the Napoleonic Wars; alas, this turns out to be a literary flourish on the part of the reviewer and the book is set in a rather shaky fictional fantasy world with a similar level of technology plus magic, and the protagonist is not Austenish in the least)

Ahem. Jean is educated, privileged, literary; prone to analysis and emotional flourishes, mad about cats, brilliant at details; I feel for her even when her actions infuriate. Where I am she is 32 and still single, but has finally lost her virginity with the latest of a series of fairly hopeless men she entangles herself with (but then again, how do they look from someone else's perspective?). It is refreshing to be vividly reminded how much people haven't changed, and how much some things have.

Jean aged 24: "I've got to get to know Colin. I've got to cut this nonsense out of me. Since those drinks with him this evening I've been in a flat stupor. Perhaps I shouldn't have had gin on top of poached egg and tea."

The war details are fascinating; she kept a separate diary for a while for the Mass Observation project, and Garfield uses bits of both, but she is not someone who separates things. The rumour that Hess has come secretly to Britain to arrange for peace is in the same day as a description of how she is learning some of the practicalities of love-making, douches and pessaries etc (from a married female friend and the new boyfriend, who tends to get himself so worked up quoting DH Lawrence that he can't actually consummate the relationship. In 1939, before war is declared, she writes of her char telling her about a Jewish friend sent to a concentration camp; in 1940 her First Aid unit are put into a gas-filled cell as a drill to check the effectiveness of their gas masks: "a harmless experience". Friends are killed, the bombing draws closer(she is living in a rural cottage near the coast), the rationing gets increasingly limited. She is concerned about her cats when the milk ration drops from 1/2 pint a day to 2 pints a week, but particularly concerned about access to cigarettes and the depth of her need for them. ("F. [boyfriend] tells me it indicates a craving for sex. I would really (at the moment) rather have the cigarettes.")

It is 700 pages long and I keep putting in tiny bookmarks. Recommended.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
This is the opening production at the new Waterfront Theatre, Auckland Theatre Company’s purpose-built venue, and it is indeed very nice; spacious, comfortable, excellent acoustics and a fantastic stage. It also had surprisingly cheap parking, but I’m not sure how long that will last.

Anyway. This is the musical of the film about a miner’s son in NE England who discovers his talent for dance against the background of the 1984/5 miners’ strike; the book and lyrics are written by the film’s scriptwriter, the music by Elton John. It was enthusiastic and enjoyable, and the performances (many of which are by children) are all solid, although the accents are a bit wobbly; however, I still end up with some of the same misgivings I had when seeing the movie, and maybe a few more.

More discussion, spoilers. )
I did like the songs, and the performances, and I’d recommend it with caveats (not least of which being that it’s three hours long!). In contrast with other similar movies (at least one also turned musical) about artistic efforts in depressed British small towns with failing industries - The Full Monty and Brassed Off, though, I think it loses something by focussing solely on the individual, however talented.


Oct. 9th, 2016 09:43 pm
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
What I like hasn't changed much from previous years (including this sentence, which is copied over from multiple other letters!). I like plot, humour, and justified angst, singly or simultaneously. I like all the characters I have requested and enjoy seeing more of them. I have no problem with sexual content as long as it fits with the characters, although pages of explicit anatomical detail are unlikely to be my thing. I like stories that make me remember why I love the original inspiration as well as stories that make me think about it differently (and both! both is great). And I do like the canons themselves. I like these characters being part of their worlds, even when they struggle against them.

In terms of writing, I am open to traditional or experimental forms; I prefer past to present tense but if it works for the story I'll enjoy it. If you match on Donaldson, you don't have to write like him! (although feel free to stick in the occasional "telic" or "mien")

DNWs: earthquakes, child or animal harm as a major plot point (I prefer no fatal earthquakes at all as due to personal experience it kicks me completely out of the story, but off-stage glancing references to the second two are okay).

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen Donaldson. - Linden Avery requested character. Linden Avery was hugely important to me as a character in my teens, when there weren't a lot of adult females in sf/fantasy I could see myself in, and I still love her as well as what the Second Chronicles do with portal fantasy, which was fascinating and heart-breaking all in one. I re-read the books a lot and still think of them fondly; the first trilogy not so much, and I have read only the first two of the third and am not entirely convinced by them yet.

I would like; more Linden! On Earth or visiting the Land, and I'm happy to ignore the third series or go AU from the second if you have a better idea. I do like the third chronicles idea of time-travelling within the Land's history, if you wanted to do that, and would love exploring more of the Land (I nominated (ha) Nom for the tagset; I haven't requested him, but I'd love it if he showed up). Outside the Land, I wonder how Linden reconciles her experiences with her everyday life on returning to our world, especially her healthsense given her job, and I'd like to see her finding some peace or happiness there, having healed from her past. I am curious about how Covenant and Linden were summoned to the Land, and how porous the borders can become - what happens if characters from the Land show up in Linden's world?

I do actually like Covenant as well, but I understand he isn't everyone's cup of tea and his actions in book 1 are appalling. I didn't nominate him as a character and don't have strong feelings about whether you keep him alive or not.

The Tripods, John Christopher. Will Parker requested.

I imprinted on these books at a young age, and then watched the BBC adaptation when I was only a little older (so feel free to use elements of both!). Yes, the female characters are atrociously underserved but I loved the set-up; the division between the toxic world of the Masters and the controlled, limited world the Capped humans live in, the tensions between those fighting back, the body horror aspects of the Capping and the bug planted on Will. And I loved Will himself with all his flaws; short tempered, impulsive, and unthinking, but loyal and heroic despite this.

I have received fic for this before and enjoyed it – a retelling from the Masters' point of view - but as stated above I've always loved Will as a character and would like to see him again. I'm happy with AU - what if the confrontation between Will and his Master went differently, for example - pre or post canon, outtakes, or even crackier rewrites - genderswap would be fascinating, for a start, and then there's all those canonical tentacles...

Imajica, Clive Barker. John Furie Zacharias, Judith Odell, Pie'oh'pah. This is another recurrent request, although I've never received fic for it (and no-one has written any). Again, this is a book I loved at a certain time in my life, and I still admire the sheer audacity of it as a novel and as a universe. I think there's a huge amount of space there to do anything with it. I like all three characters but would prefer slightly less of a focus on Furie than in the book - I think the other two have earned some attention. I am happy with just exploring in the Imajica, or going into the characters' pasts or futures (if you can manage that!). I love the way art runs through this book (painting, theatre, magic), and anything around an artwork or a performance – making, taking, destroying – would be fabulous. In this fandom, I'm happy with explicit sex, although I'd like something else to happen as well during the story.

Banana Fish Okumura Eiji. This manga series pretty much broke me - it's brilliant and tragic and totally over-the-top in a way that manages to be somehow completely convincing emotionally. You can find recaps of all but the last volume on the banana fish tag - I did write notes on the last volume but could never quite manage to type them up and make it that final.

I asked for Eiji - I'm happy with any of the other tagset characters and, really, you can pretty much do anything with this (this is the fandom where I am totally open to cracky AUs - space, post-apocalypse, French Revolution, secretly a robot) but I am also happy to just have more time with Eiji. Before the manga, during or after - the glimpse we get of him afterwards did pretty much have me sobbing into my pillow, but if you can find a way to go on from that I'd love to see it. I would love to see him doing something with photography, in the US or Japan, and getting to see him in his areas of competence. I am not really looking for fix-it fic - if you are going to change Ash's fate, I'd prefer it not to be the only change (i.e. in a wild AU, fine, but not as the story as it stands but the ending different.

Anyway. These are all optional details, and you should feel free to go where your story takes you! I hope you enjoy writing it - I am very much looking forward to reading it.

UK people

Sep. 29th, 2016 09:56 pm
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Anyone in the UK reading this who would like a Thermapen? (i.e. the fancy thermometers they use on Bake Off) I ordered one from the UK outlet via a mail-forwarding service but didn't realise they won't forward goods with lithium batteries, and because I am disorganised it is now too late to get a refund even if they did one on sale items. I can, however, forward it to another UK address.. (I have written off the cost and will be getting my own local one as a Christmas present, I'd just like it to go somewhere it can be appreciated!)

ETA: Sorted!
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This is probably the last month or so.

Finished reading:

Tana French, Broken Harbour. A family living on a post-boom half-finished housing estate start to fall apart when the father becomes obsessed with animal noises in the attic; the view point in this, “Scorcher” Kennedy, has bitter family ties to the location (called Broken Harbour in his childhood, it now rejoices in the name of Brianstown). The bit where the lead detective has a family connection that they don’t disclose is growing thin here with repetition here,, as is the moment where the detective tells the reader that this is the moment when they could have stopped everything from falling apart but didn't. Kennedy is less likeable than Rob but more principled in the end, and the relationship with his rookie partner Richie slightly less dysfunctional than Rob and Cassie, and it’s all very readable and has a great sense of place, but I do want something a bit different. I am third out of ten holds for The Likeness and somewhere in the 30s for The Trespasser, and looking forward to both.

Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom. A black hustler, Charles Thomas Tester, takes a job playing music for a white man who turns out to be summoning the Elder Gods; this is inspired by and criticising Lovecraft, specifically his Horror at Red Hook story and LaValle dedicates the book to him with all his complicated feelings. The scene setting and Tom and his father are all great, and I would have happily read more of it, but the book switches to Malone's (he's the investigating detective who is the protagonist of Lovecraft's piece) pov and although I can see why LaValle did it it lost me as a reader. There are a number of revisionist Lovecraft pieces out or coming out at the moment, and I would particularly recommend Ruthanna Emry's The Litany of Earth.

Jilly Cooper, Jump! I started reading Mount!, which is just out, and realised less than a chapter in that I never finished Jump, which I think ran into earthquakes or something similar, as I stalled less than a hundred pages before the end. It’s still not up there with Appassionata and Polo, but I do admire Cooper having her romantic lead be a grandmother in her late 60s, with a secondary character being a Pakistani stable lad who is suspected of terrorism. I remember the flood as being more significant than it was on this re-read but I think mostly that was because that was where I stalled last time so it felt as if it went on for ever. I do find the way spoiling animals is totally approved of and done by all the best characters while spoiling children is terribly wrong a bit irritating. Some of this is due to having read Jilly Cooper’s The Common Years, a sort of personal diary of nature via dog-walking, in which not one but two of her dogs have to be put down (I think for both killing cats or else a child's small dog is the final offence) despite her doing everything possible to control their terrible behaviour except a) training them or b) having them neutered. I did cry at the end, because there's a bit that reminds me of my favourite moment in Riders and even though I have massive, massive issues with all the human characters involved I still love the horse.

Barbara Hambly, Fever Season. I started reading this and then everyone else in the household got sick (although not with yellow fever or cholera) so it ended up on hold for a bit. I think having not one but two mysteries running during an epidemic is a great idea, but the relentless death scenes as backdrop did make this a rather depressing read. I was also spoiled by history for a fairly key event. The characters are great, though, and even when bleak it’s still fascinating. The next two are available on Overdrive *if* I can actually work out how to use my library's digital subscription (my last attempt got me files readable on a laptop but I couldn't get them onto the ereader).

Matthew Reilly, The Great Zoo of China. A selected group of interested parties are invited to tour a not-yet-open top-secret zoo that turns out to be inhabited by DRAGONS! Much to everyone’s surprise things go horribly wrong. The usual Reilly fast pace and cinematic scenes, with a change to a female protagonist (CJ Cameron, an alligator expert), and there are some nice moments in here but it’s very, very obvious who is going to survive and how. The Four Legendary Kingdoms, the next one in his Indiana Jones-style world-ending conspiracy series, is out next month, and I think he’s probably better in series. I did pick up an ex-library copy of his The Tournament, which is historical and features a young QEI - must give that a go and see what on earth he's done with it.

Jan Mark, Trouble Half-way. Amy is a cautious child who is not wild about her new stepfather; when her mother has to take Amy's toddler sister and look after her suddenly unwell father, Amy ends up having to go on her stepdad's lorry delivery round. You are probably envisioning all sorts of Problem Novel occurrences, but this is Jan Mark and the mid 80s, and so it is a well-drawn believable story in which Amy learns that she can be a little more independent and people are not always threatening just because you don't know them. Mark as an author will always mean The Ennead to me, a stunningly brilliant YA one-volume fantasy that I am enthralled by and argued (in my head) with in equal measure since I first read it as a teenager.

I also skimmed through the Narnia series – the beginning of Prince Caspian, beginning and end of The Dawn Treader, most of The Silver Chair and The Last Battle for writing And All Points North. I am still never going to like The Last Battle, and I can still remember how betrayed and irritated I felt at reading the opening Shift & Puzzle section for the first time as a child. Reread a bit of Mike and Psmith and (mostly) resisted getting sucked into Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes, all conveniently on Project Gutenberg.

In progress:

Jilly Cooper, Mount! Jump! was at least trying to extend the bounds of romantic protagonists. This has Gala, who is employed as a carer for Rupert's increasingly demented father and is a widow from a violence-riven country in Africa whose husband was murdered by possibly state-sanctioned agents of organised crime, and I would like her much more if she were a Sudanese refugee and not a white Zimbabewan who was putting off having children due to a court case over her farm and whose husband ("a true Rhodi") died in a hail of bullets while hugging a baby rhino to save it from poachers. I would also like her more if the description of the revenge attacks on her husband and her farm spent less time going on about how all the dogs were killed and clarified whether the farm workers were also all killed. So far this was mentioned only briefly in the second of three (so far) retellings, and I am unsure if this is the author's or Gala's oversight. It is also heavily about Rupert Campbell-Black, of whom I am not fond, and I am reading it rather grumpily.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile. The Peter Ustinov movie of this was one of the first films I remember seeing, but it’s been a long time since I read it. I can remember vividly how the murder was done, which means I know who, but it’s still fun watching it all fall into place.

Tim Powers, Medusa’s Web. I bought this on my last-but-one trip to Kinokuniya in Sydney and found it still in the suitcase on the most recent trip. I am about 60 pages in but was getting wistful fondness for what I consider to be Powers’ best books, so:

Tim Powers, Last Call. I actually borrowed this from the library despite owning it, because my copy is, like most of my other books with authors starting with “N” and after, in one of a large number of inaccurately labelled boxes either in an attic or jammed into a wardrobe somewhere. I can never decide which one of a handful of Powers I like best, but this is up there – it’s so believable and completely bizarre at the same time. I am possibly being unfair to Medusa's Web as I'm not that far in, but it does feel thin by comparison.

Rose Lerner, Sweet Disorder. Widow Phoebe Sparks can, by marrying again, generate a vote in the hotly contested district election and so, despite her lack of keenness, both the Whigs and Tories attempt to provide her with suitable candidates. Nick Dymond, crippled war veteran and brother of the Whig candidate, gets involved a little bit more than he should with Phoebe’s decision. This is holding my attention more than the last Lerner I tried, which I gave up on; it’s enjoyable and there’s enough history there to work for me, even while a fair bit of contemporary creeps in. It hasn’t really got me as involved as I would like, though, and it may be that I’m just not all that into contemporary het romances at the moment, unless they're also re-enacting National Velvet in the background.


Louise Doughty, Black Water. I liked the idea of a book dealing with the Indonesian genocide, but this wasn’t working for me; as with Apple Tree Yard, there’s an early immediate sexual connection that didn’t feel believable, and flipping through to see if things picked up got me then not one but two past child deaths told in that particular literary styling where you know they’re going to die and it’s just being dragged out in nicely turned prose, so I bailed.

Mark Haddon, The Red House. I could probably have handled all the dialogue being in italics without quote marks if I could have been bothered remembering who any of the characters were.

Up next:

Finishing all this lot and then probably alternating Benjamin January with the My Friends series.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I pounced on a pinch hit for [personal profile] lirin_lirilla in the [community profile] genex fic exchange because it had so many fabulous prompts that I could do (Oxford Time Travel! Mara Jade in the Star Wars EU! Psmith) and ended up writing for Narnia, a series which was probably my gateway into reading past picture book level, and certainly my gateway into fantasy. I have loved all of the books except The Last Battle (which I will never love) for different reasons at different times, but never thought of writing fic for them, so it was both a challenge and a process of discovery at working out what I wanted to say.

Which was about Edmund and trains.

And All Points North (2631 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Edmund Pevensie, Susan Pevensie, Lucy Pevensie, Peter Pevensie, Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole
Additional Tags: England - Freeform, Trains, Stealth Crossover, Public Transportation

"And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?"

W.H. Auden, Night Mail.

Brief story notes. )

[personal profile] sovay had posted recently about seeing the film of The Night Mail as part of a train film marathon, so that was still in my head when I was looking for titles/epigraphs, and she very kindly provided beta, along with [personal profile] china_shop and Orannia. [personal profile] sovay has also written a fabulously evocative piece of Calormene history and archeology off the back of my mention of the Assyrian lion hunt sculpted reliefs at the British Museum, and I strongly recommend it; Not a Tame Lion.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Television I've watched this year - about an hour all-up, of free-to-air Olympics, none of which coincided with anything I was especially interested in (I caught up with NZ performances on liveblogs), eight episodes of Kirsty and Phil's Love It or List It (I started watching their Location Location Location when I was living in England and something about them stuck with me, even though they are both appallingly smug embodiments of class privilege and capitalism, also I like to pretend their younger selves are Pip and Posy in the titular series of children's books), and six and a bit series of The Great British Bake-off, which is by far the best of the lot. I realise everyone else is probably already on the bandwagon, but it is deserved, and the news that this will be the last series in its current format (or with all but one of its current presenters/judges) is sad but somehow feels inevitable.

Anyway. I picked up Mary Berry's autobiography, which came out in 2012, and it's an interesting look at someone who on the one hand has had a pretty privileged life, but on the other has also been a career woman and started this in a time where it was not at all expected or encouraged (she married late for her era - born in 1935, married at 31 - and only took a few weeks off with each of her babies). She refers to herself as a home baker on the show, but that's very much an understatement - what she does do well is show how she combined her work with the expected duties of running a household and taught plenty of others as well. There's a great bit in Bake-Off where they're making pastry, and Paul Hollywood is going on about using your hands, something like the following:

Mary: I use a food processor. That way I can do something else at the same time.
Paul: Ahh, you're not in control doing it like that -
Mary: I feel very in control.

and you can tell exactly what she means by her steely glare.

She doesn't really examine any of the politics of food and its preparation, and when she touches on it you can see a lot of unexamined assumptions - "If we all just walked a little more we wouldn't have so many problems with obesity in this country", for example, but if you run Aga cooking courses your clientele is going to have a definite bias. And her recipes sound good. I wish we were getting more of her and Bake-Off.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
"Women are just men with less money."

Astrid Wentworth is a successful city broker and the only female broker in her firm. She takes on a trainee, Priya, and coaches her in how to succeed, mainly by telling her how terrible the firm and everyone there is, herself not excepted, with a lot of rapid-fire profanity. In her spare time she hires a female prostitute, possibly to befriend her, and fails to notice events moving to their inevitable conclusion. There's a frame narrative with her drinking alone at a bar, so things are obviously not going to end well, and cabaret songs, and all the actors are women, either as women or playing men, which mainly means bad behaviour and peeing standing up, and as is possibly apparent, the performances were strong but the play really didn't work for me. I spent the last twenty minutes or so thinking wistfully about Caryl Churchill's Top Girls instead, which despite being over 30 years older is far more revolutionary.

Spoilers for both plays. ) This was the last one of my season pass plays, and the one I was least sure about - it was either this or a surrealist play with an elk. I will have to check out the reviews to see how that one plays out...
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Everyone here is sick, grumpy and unpredictable, so reheating dinner and eating half of it has taken me an hour and a half so far. So this is brief:

That Bloody Woman is an enthusiastic and entertaining punk rock musical about Kate Sheppard, the suffragette who got women the vote in New Zealand in 1893; it celebrates her while it looks at how far things have come - and how far they still have to go.

The songs are great. The staging is rock concert with a platform out into the audience, which worked well (there's a fair bit of interaction - I had a backing guy grinding enthusiastically next to me during one song), and the costumes were brilliant - Kate (Esther Stephens, excellent) goes from Victorian to punk, all in white, throughout the play, while her antagonist, the then Prime Minister Richard Seddon who rejoices in the historically accurate nickname King Dick is, um, dressed appropriately.

Kate is on the NZ $10 note, and a few reviews have mentioned Hamilton (one of the creators says it was actually the earlier musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jacksonthat sparked the idea; it's not as musically clever, although it has its moments (the opening title number manages to rhyme "man-hating menstruator" with "shit-stirring agitator"), but it is good. And they are currently fundraising for a soundtrack recording, with three days to go. The website is not the most helpful, but I believe all donors will get a copy.

I mentioned how far things had to go. Kate's temperance work is linked to an attempt to reduce domestic violence, still all too prevalent, and while she gets the audience to agree to the principles of feminism, it's obvious that she knows that what you do matters more than what you say. Which is why the scene in which the bill is finally passed (on its third attempt) works so well; banners tumble down from the ceiling, showing the signatures that signed her petition, and showing who was prepared to follow her into action.


cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)

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