Friday, April 30, 2010

Official Versus Fan Translation: I Grumble About Snobs

From what I've heard (and seen), in the early days of manga and anime coming over to the US, the official translations tended to be very poor, incredibly inaccurate, and on occasion the "translators" would completely change the story line. (As evidence of this, think about Warriors of the Wind , an early English dub of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa.) So I can more or less understand where the "fan translation is the only one true way, all official translations stink!" crowd are coming from. But...

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Harper Collins
400 pp

Unseen Academicals (Discworld)This Discworld novel is about football (but as is often the case with a Discworld novel), not just about football. Vetinari, the Patrician (and best Tyrant EVER) of Ankh-Morpork has decided to revive the tradition of the Unseen University fronting a football team composed of staff, faculty and students. Oh and, he would also like the game altered so as to cause fewer riots, brutal deaths, and maiming. (The reason why he wants this has to do with an urn revealing that the game was originally held in honor of a goddess--and the winning team usually strangled the losing team. Pies are also involved, so basically, the game is about Ritual Sacrifice, With Pie.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shalador's Lady, by Anne Bishop

476 pp.

Shalador's Lady: A Black Jewels NovelShalador’s Lady takes place not long after the events of The Shadow Queen. Cassidy has successfully solved the riddle left behind by Prince Theran’s ancestors, and has at least partially come into her own as a Queen. Despite her successes and having “won the hearts and minds” of most of the males in her First Circle, and her work in helping the Territory’s recovery, the Warlord Prince is still only backing her with great reluctance. (His cousin Gray on the other hand, thinks she rocks like a rocking thing that rocks.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Outline of Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffrey

This is an Outline, not a serious review or critique, meant for parody and humor purposes only.

Other Outlines can be found here

The Crystal Singer Omnibus
Crystal Singer is a great book when you’re fifteen and/or know nothing about music. (Why a writer who supposedly does have voice training would hold something like perfect pitch in such high universal regard is mystery to me, for instance. Also, it’s kind of weird that there’s apparently no “popular” genres a of music in The Future--just classical. Instead of recommending non-classical music careers, the maestro immediately jumps to things like “crystal tuning.”) It doesn’t really stand the test of time in a lot of ways, but it does manage to be entertaining...if you like the main character, which I don’t all that much. Much like the irritating burr in her voice, I find her to be a bit annoying.

In which there are Divas.

Friday, April 23, 2010

One of the Many Reasons I Love xkcd

Alternate text: Telescopes and bathyscapes and sonar probes of Scottish lakes, Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse explained with abstract phase-space maps, some x-ray slides, a music score, Minard's Napoleonic war: the most exciting new frontier is charting what's already here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

101 Tropes 1-30

This is a repost from a meme that was floating around on another blog's friendlist. (It was originally called 101 Kinks, but "kink" was being used in the sense of "thing I really like" instead of "thing that turns me on." I've expanded on some of the tropes in some cases.

1. Characters who have some variety of "damage," but aren't crippled by it. Characters who have something severely wrong with them, but are still able to "get by" in one way or another. (Or, if they're literally crippled, they still have the determination to keep going.)

2. Hurt/Comfort where the emphasis is on the comfort. Heart to heart conversations on the porch, friends hugging, breakfast in bed for a friend, lover or partner who's sick.

3. Domestic. I love casual interactions between people who are just having an ordinary day. Tomorrow they might have to do Important Things like slay vampires or something but right now they're doing the laundry, or feeding the dog and cat.

4. Snarky and sarcastic mechanic/engineers/scientists geniuses. This could also be part of a General Love of Competent People Who Fix Stuff. Bonus points if they are also tough/athletic.

5. Strong partnerships that slide into some variety of romance. (Without becoming some variety of cliche and without losing the aspects of the partnership that made it a partnership.)

6. Relationships between "complementary opposites," where one half of the partnership has abilities and character traits that dove-tails with/compensates for abilities and character traits the other partner does or doesn't have.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bad Ass Babes (With and Without a Man)

This essay is something of a sequel or companion piece to a previous article I wrote.

Early science fiction and fantasy tends to be mostly male-oriented. Which is to say, the main character and a large percentage of the supporting cast will be male, and female characters generally have tertiary roles more often than not restricted to “love interest,” “femme fatale,” or “innocent.” Even when the female character has a primary role within the story, she’s usually sidelined in favor of the Hero of the piece. Because of this, I generally paid more attention to/identified with the male characters because it was very rare for a female character to have the same depth of personality and character motivation as a male one.

It’s interesting to note that since the writers of said early science fiction and fantasy stories were for the most part male, I had a general belief that male writers were unable to write convincing female characters. Oddly enough, this dualism didn’t extend to female writers, who I felt could write convincing male or female characters. No, I have no idea why I thought this. (It’s possibly rooted in some kind of pseudo Mars and Venus meme.)

As new writers came onto the scene (or at least, as I became aware of them), my opinions about the ability of male writers to create a female character changed. What mostly changed my opinion were books with female writers who really didn’t write female characters all that well and male writers who I felt were able to create engaging female characters without turning them into Mary Sues. In addition, more books were coming out with female lead and supporting characters, and those women were often extremely badass.

With all that in mind, here are a few of my favorite badass female characters. Many of them will be combat-oriented but there are quite a few who are not. I’m going to be covering mostly literary characters, with a few side trips into manga/anime and comic books.

Ilisidi (C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Universe)
Ilisidi is the very elder stateswoman of a civilization where you can file for assassination as easily as filing for divorce. (Both are very easy to arrange for among atevi.) She has immense political influence, and it is much more preferable to have her as an ally than as an enemy. Bren Cameron, the protagonist of the series meets her when he’s sent to live on her estate for a while because of a difficult political situation. (And also because he is the difficult political situation.) She is a very fierce, very cranky dragon with a conservative bent and no tolerance for foolishness.

Izumi Curtis (Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa)
Izumi is an alchemist, and the teacher of Edward Elric and his brother Al. Her trademark phrase is “I’m just a housewife!” and it’s most often said just before she does something incredible, like turn a sandbag levee into stone. Despite having a medical condition because of a human transmutation, she manages to kick some serious ass. (Her personality is such that her students Ed and Al regard her with a combination of terror and adoration.)

Ariane Emory (2.0) (C.J. Cherryh, Union/Alliance Universe)
Ariane Emory is the clone of an old dragon of a woman who was considered to be one of the “architects” of Union. Since she was raised to have the same basic personality of her predecessor, she’s just as much of a dragon, though with a slightly different ethical standard. She is terrifyingly intelligent, and even at a young age very skilled at manipulating people. (She does not need to physically kick your ass in order to kick your ass. Chances are good she’s all ready owned you, you just don’t know it yet.)

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (Lois Bujold, Miles Vorkosigan Universe)
Cordelia is impressive in a larger than life sense. She isn’t a lot like the general run of female protagonists in many science fiction and fantasy books. She’s a lot older, with more experience and maturity Her family adores her, her extended family is in awe, and her enemies tip toe very carefully around her because they all remember her “shopping trip” and what she brought home from it (the head of the guy that tried to usurp the throne). Despite that, she isn’t a combat oriented character--instead she is a very maternal figure with and ability to solve problems and give advice.

Ista (Bujold, Chalion-verse)
Your first reaction to Ista (in The Curse of Chalion ) is “poor Ista.” As you discover exactly why she’s half crazy with horror and despair, you think, “ow, yes, you have FML.” Ista is a failed saint who accidentally made things a lot worse because she tried to treat a miracle as if it were magic that would respond to a specific ritual (hint: miracles generally don’t work that way). The results got a lot of people killed, and Ista has been living with the sense of failure ever since. In Paladin of Souls, Ista decides to break free from the past, by having something of a midlife crisis that turns out to be a call to service of sorts from the Bastard, the god of Unexpected Stuff That Comes Up When You Least Expect It, who decides she is shiny and would make a great saint. Ista would beg to differ (I think she’s one of the few heroines I’ve encountered who responds to the Call to Adventure with total exasperation).

Honor Harrington (David Weber, Honor-verse)
Hi. Honor is a Mary Sue. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though I prefer the earlier books to the later ones. (Which are kind of * “shark-week” for me, since they don’t have a lot that’s new except for very long world building essays about the tonnage of the new space ship design.) Honor Harrington is a very strong, determined woman. A combat-oriented heroine who is written as a apolitical (because she sucks at politics) juggernaut with Strongly Held Opinions that are often expressed with her fist as with her words. Weber created a very strong female character, and I was impressed with her and her take-no-prisoners attitude.

Jame (Kencyr-verse, P.C Hodgell)
Jame is a tornado of “wtf,” and ten pounds of awesome in a five-pound bag. What drew my attention to her was her wry sense of humor and her completely blasé attitude to the strange things that happen around her. (These Strange Things are usually extremely chaotic, strange, or dangerous--or all three at once. Jame is a very talented girl when it comes to Strange.) She’s a character with a code of honor, though she doesn’t possess the best moral sense in the world. Another factor for why I love her so much is possibly because she’s a character who wants to learn and discover everything (even if sometimes she’d almost prefer to be ignorant, thanks.)

Illyana “Darkchilde” Rasputin (Marvel comics)
Illyana is possibly an example of convergent evolution is fantasy/sf heroines. She has a great deal of similarity in personality with Jame, though she has a darker, literally diabolic edge. (Some aspects of her origin also have parallels with Jame’s situation. Belasco wanted Illyana so he could summon Chthulu; Gerridon wanted Jame because he needed a new Dream-Weaver since the old one’s warranty had expired.) She is mischievous, brave, clever, and short tempered and occasionally very, very depressed. (Usually about the circumstances that led to her becoming the ruler of a dimension filled with demons.)

Lessa (Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey)
Lessa is a bitch. By which I mean she is a very determined woman with a fierce intelligence, and near-sociopathic tendencies when she gets angry enough. She waged a one-woman guerrilla war against Fax, the Lord Holder who conquered her family’s Hold and murdered her entire family. (Why she was doing this entirely without any assistance from supporters or retainers isn’t very clear.) She is capable of cold-blooded murder, and is quite able to end you without a qualm or hesitation, despite not being combat-oriented. (She will just sneakily arrange for you to die.) Unfortunately, instead of allowing Lessa to keep these aspects of her personality, McCaffrey opted to “tame” her via F’lar, the Benden Weyrleader. The very things that made her interesting to me were muted or played down to fit in with a more “traditional” romantic heroine.

Lilith Iyapo (Lilith’s Brood/Xenogenesis, Octavia Butler)
Lilith is a brave and intelligent woman thrust into a completely strange situation. (One that would seem to belong to an early science fiction pulp featuring the traditional **BEM clutching a swooning heroine in its tentacled grasp.) Her greatest strengths lie in her ability to communicate and work with others. She is a character who is quite capable of rescuing herself, (it seems as though Butler apparently decided that it would be fun to have a character like this and then put her in a situation she couldn’t rescue herself from. As narrative/plot device it works really well).

Segnbora d’Welcaen (Tale of the Five series, by Diane Duane)
Segnbora--is a mess. Because of a childhood trauma, she had been completely blocked off from being able to use the powers she had been born with, and spent most of her time after that trying to compensate by recreating herself over and over again. (She went off to become a bard, a master swordswoman, a skilled sorceress, but she was never quite able to complete her training in any of these things because what was blocking her off from her power was also blocking her off from everything else about her life/herself which in turn repeatedly set her up for failure.) That she’s also a loyal friend, brave, and usually kind offsets those parts of her personality that are darker and unhappy. A complex and interesting character that I’ve always been fond of.

Rosette Christopher (Chrono Crusade, by Daisuke Moriyama)
Rosette is a brave and stubborn character of the combat-oriented type. She is reckless and enthusiastic, who also has a few moments of wisdom and insight about situations that come up in the story. She is very much a tomboy type though she does have the occasional “girly” moment (which is brought out more in the anime than the manga.) She also has a very short temper, and a very physical way of showing her aggravation. She is a very skilled marksman (though this is much less obvious in the anime than the manga) and is very effective exorcist, though she has a tornado of disaster effect about on par with Jame’s. (If you want an entire building to collapse or an ocean liner to run aground, Rosette’s your girl.)

* As in, "jumped the shark."

** Bug Eyed Monster, used to indicate any non humanoid alien life form, whether or not they have bug eyes or not.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sekrit Rools: John Ringo

The following is a parody for humor purposes only: it is not an in-depth analysis. For a definition of "Sekrit Rool" go here

John Ringo is in fact a favorite writer, though I don't read a lot of his books anymore because he's a writer with many axes to grind--and I vehemently disagree that certain of those axes need to be ground. That said, if you really like explosions and action-adventure, Ringo is probably a writer you'd like. (As long as you have a nice fluffy pillow when something you read makes your head hit the desk. There's a reason why "OH JOHN RINGO, NO" became a meme.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop

429 pp.

The Shadow Queen: A Black Jewels Novel
This review is mostly to get this book out of the way so I can review the sequel, Shalador’s Lady. This latest book takes place a certain amount of time after the purge that wiped out most of the Blood in Terrielle in Queen of the Darkness, and the events of Kaeleer’s Heart from Dreams Made Flesh. (It’s also after the events of Tangled Webs which I didn’t really care for very much because there was a great deal of “stupid kids get axed by being stupid” slasher film mentality going on there. The Shadow Queen is really a lot better than Tangled Webs, and a notch above the original trilogy, which I felt tended to be a little heavy handed in regards to certain themes.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon (2010, Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois)

After seeing some trailers for it, and hearing a lot of excited squeeing about it on the friends list of one of my online journals, I decided to go see How to Train Your Dragon. From the trailer I saw, it looked like it would be a fun movie to see--and it was. The movie is a standard coming-of-age/heroic journey themed film that manages to work the various tropes of the genre in a way that is fun and inviting without some of the Morality Anvils that occasionally plague it. The movie based loosely off a book by the same name by British author Cressida Cowell. (I think this is one of the few cases where I’d prefer the movie over the book version--the book synopsis didn’t really grab my attention.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bound in Blood, by P.C. Hodgell

308 pp 

Bound In Blood (Seeker)
Bound in Blood continues not long after the events of To Ride a Rathorn. The opening reveals the aftermath of the failed assassination attempt of Randiroc, the true Randir heir whose position was usurped by Rawneth, The Witch of Wilden's son. Jame and one of her classmates, a boy named Gari are on hand to witness a near insurrection among the Randir Kendar, which will lead to plot complications later down the road, since the insurrection is only averted by Rawneth causing her people to forget the names of the ones who died, which in turn causes them to go varying degrees of bonkers.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fragment, by Warren Fahey

Delacorte Press
356 pp.
Fragment: A Novel“Mysterious” lost in time secret continents, civilizations and creatures were once a staple of early science fiction. As more of the world became less “mysterious,” the creation of these lost and hidden worlds-within-worlds became less frequent--it being much easier to arrange strange worlds and fantastic creatures on other worlds than our own. (No, Jurassic Park doesn’t count as a “lost world,” since it was deliberately created.) Therefore, I was a little skeptical that Warren Fahey would be able to pull off the venerable (and extremely tricky to engineer in this day and age) “lost world.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Total Laugh Riot (Emphasis on the "Riot")

There have been times when I have felt deeply sorry for my father. (My compassion setting was usually reset to its usual parameters the next time he did something that made my head hurt.) Dad is the sort of person who does not handle being teased very well. It tends to upset him and make him lash out. (I share this this trait to a certain extent.) He especially does not like being embarrassed or having practical jokes played on him.

At all.