Category Archives: Reviews

Book, film, TV and other arts reviews.

Hobson versus the trolls…

Posted on May 27, 2011 by

I’m travelling tomorrow, and not to Wiscon (alas!) so I thought I’d see if a few of you might have time and wit available to shove a fiery-hot rhetorical poker of feminist logic up the hind ends of the trolls gathering on M.K. Hobson’s blog post about her Bustlepunk Manifesto.

I’ll explain, but in that roundabout fashion I sometimes use, because it has Been. A. Week. I couldn’t come straight at a thought right now unless it was covered in dark chocolate frosting.

Many years ago Canada decided to get a $1 coin, along the lines of the Susan B. Anthony, and they put a lovely bird called a loon on one side. As a result, many people call this coin the loon or, more popularly, the loonie.

This worked out reasonably well for someone (presumably the government and the Royal Canadian Mint) and in time they followed up this sterling bit of governance (yes, pun, hahaha) by deciding to go with a two dollar coin. And hey! Some folks speculated we’d call it the doubloon.

If you were me (or my wife) when that suggestion was floated, you went OMG. COOL. Doubloon, doubloon, doubloon. And could not be shut up about it. You would still use the term to this day, even though nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about.

Because the rest of Canada, you see, mistakenly refers to the thing as a toonie. Loonie. Toonie. No! I say! You are wrong! I don’t care if it rhymes, it’s not as elegant! Where’s the historical humor in that?

But I am outvoted. That’s what’s caught the public imagination and until I manage to achieve dominion over you all, toonie it is.

So why am I telling you this?

Some weeks ago I read THE HIDDEN GODDESS by M.K. Hobson for Tor.com, and when time came to write the review, I surfed over to her Bustlepunk Manifesto and refreshed my memory on a few points. Then I wrote the following:

Such books are the softer cousins of steampunk—historic romantic fantasies…

The review occasioned some squeeing over the book in the comments thread (because THE HIDDEN GODDESS rocks!) along with a lot of reaction that boiled down to “Another Punk, oh sigh.”

I’d seen this before. One of the last articles I wrote for Syfy was on the Stitchpunk animated feature 9, and the various other SkiffyPunk terms… what they meant and who was writing them. That article got a lot of the same reaction. Which, in my opinion, boils down to: “Stop calling it punk already! It’s a doubloon.”

We punk stuff in this genre. It happens. If you want it to stop, become cooler than the mutant love child of Doctorow and Scalzi and coin something catchier. That would make good use of the energy you currently spend griping about punk variations. And the weather.

Hobson has posted a thoughtful note today about that line of mine, “softer cousin of steampunk,” by way of mentioning how ‘softer’ in our culture tends to mean ‘girl cooties,’ and how to many a reader ‘girl’ still automatically means ‘lesser’. She wasn’t offended by what I’d said… it was just part of this lovely longer entry about some internet comments discussing the bustlepunk/toonie thing.

Now the comments have become trollage. As far as I can tell, the guys in this comments thread are now lambasting her for her tongue-in-cheek coining of ‘bustlepunk’ and accusing her of … well, of censoring them by letting them comment on her blog, and not politely. And marginalizing herself by acknowledging the feminine stuff in her work. They’ve also kindly letting us know, Dear, that sexism, in the world and in book publishing is so over.

A lot of the comments are entirely missing the point of her initial post, which was thoughtful and laden with good feminist content, stuff that’s well worth thinking about and discussing. Some responses on point would, I’m sure, be very appreciated by Hobson. Or hey–if you’re looking for a Memorial Weekend flamewar, just go with the fiery-hot implements I mentioned.

Literary blackmail, televised DIY surgery and other lite squicks

Posted on May 20, 2011 by

I wrote a post this week for TOR.COM, about blackmail in fiction, and in Veronica Mars. The post is here; I hope to follow it up with some musings on other varieties of crime. Let me know what you think?

Second: I dunno how many of you have seen this past week’s new episode of a certain medical drama, so I’ll confine my comments on that to “OMG, squick! Ewww!” Either you know what I mean or that evil chuckle you hear is your DVR, waiting for you to boot it up.

Also TV adjacent, I am 3/5 of the way through watching Mildred Pierce on HBO and should probably hold my tongue until I see the conclusion, but I have to say that as viewing experiences go, this one so far has been entirely bizarre. Kate Winslet is fantastic, as usual, and her Lauren Bacall accent is a marvel to hear. And I’m always so happy to see Melissa Leo in anything.

But the story–I haven’t read the original novel–has all this peculiar class and gender stuff.

The message so far seems to be that men are useless parasites, and… um… something about social class and snobbery involving Guy Pearce’s naked bum. Seriously. The class stuff is, at this mid-point in the story, entirely murky. Mildred was a snob, but now she seems to be evolving. Unless she isn’t. It’s incredibly hard to tell.

The story is just intriguing enough to keep me watching, but it’s also very cold. Kate as Mildred seems as though she should be poised to be a source of joy and warmth in an otherwise harsh and chilly world, but she’s as icy as everyone and everything else. I am entirely baffled by it.

Shoulding all over oneself

Posted on May 13, 2011 by

Like a lot of writers, I often feel I should read more. Which is ridiculous, in a way: I read research books and novels and mountains of student fiction. But there’s always more, and I want to keep up with my friends’ books, and learn all of history evar, except the parts that bore me stiff.

So I review. This makes me responsible to others for the reading, and I’ve always had the good fortune to review for editors who give me a lot of latitude to pick books I expect to like heartily, or even love. (I have no interest in reading bad books or panning same.) I get a deadline and a free copy and a financial carrot for pushing something I’d do anyway to the top of the pile. Ideally, everyone wins.

In recent weeks this strategy has led to my reviewing Lyda Morehouse’s wonderful AngelLINK prequel, Resurrection Code and M.K. Hobson’s delectable bustlepunk romance-romp The Hidden Goddess. Now I’m onto a delightful and surprising mystery, by Wayne Arthurson, Fall from Grace, which among other things evokes the prairies and Edmonton so vividly it’s a miracle I don’t have hives.

Still. I should read more, dammitall. And when I’m reading fiction I think I should be reading research stuff, and when I’m deep in a history book I think about how I write novels and should read them. And someone gave me that book out of the goodness of their heart, and I asked for that one as a birthday present… oh, I know it’s ridiculous. Shut up, inner voice, and all that.

But this month I’ve taken that fortune-cookie advice I mentioned awhile ago, by way of a discussion of characterization and revision, to heart. (It’s the one that goes, roughly: “if you want something you’ve never had, you have to try something you’ve never done.”)

I’ve never ever been one to read more than one book at a time. I’ve always been a serially monogamous reader; I’ve met people who claim to have three, four, even five books on the go and goggled at those individuals like wondrous marvels of nature, like chameleons or sperm whales or Venus flytraps. Now I’m making an effort to go poly: to have one novel and one non-fiction book happening at once. So, along with the Arthurson, I’m poking my way through American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, by Howard Blum.

Normally when I catch myself shoulding, I do try to go for more of a “Shut up, inner voice!” type of strategy. But fictional and factual texts satisfy related but different parts of my brain. I feel not only happier but healthier when I’m reading history or science or political theory, just as I do when I eat a delicious and thoroughly wholesome meal: I feel smarter, sharper, enriched by the experience. A fine novel, on the other hand, adds to happiness too, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel dumb. But the experience falls more in line with a hot bath, a good massage… there’s something sensual about it. Both are recreational and both are work, but non-fiction is meat and an invigorating hike, I think, while fiction is tropical fruit and sun on a beach.

My hope is that by reading a little of both, on an almost daily basis, my overall intake of books will go up. Since I track my reading so closely, I’ll be able to tell you how it goes, once January is here.

Cumberstein! Frankenbatch!

Posted on March 18, 2011 by

Last night the National Theater in London beamed a live performance of FRANKENSTEIN out to movie theaters ’round the world. The show has Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller, who we saw in a recent and rather shrill adaptation of Austen’s EMMA, as Victor “Whoops, shouldn’t have gone there!” Frankenstein. The two men trade off the lead roles, and I was glad Cumberbatch was the monster: he did some amazing physical acting, strenuous, fascinating stuff, in the coming-to-life scene. It was unbelievable.

Nick Dear’s script eases us smoothly through all the pivotal scenes in the Mary Shelly novel, but–and this was the show’s only flaw–the dialog was sorely lacking. The characters speeched at each other… and so their emotional connections came off a bit stilted. The actors did what they could to imbue these pedestrian exchanges with more charisma and passion than the words really deserved. And they did rise above. A good actor can lift workmanlike words, after all, and these performances were stunning. The staging, meanwhile, was utterly brilliant and creative. I am so glad I saw it. My brain is filled with happy theater vibes.

On the 31st NTLive is swapping the leads and doing it all again. If you want to see Benedict get his half-mad golden-haired Boy of Science on, there’s still time to get a ticket.

Or, if puppets are more your thing, Superbass and I also saw a preview for an upcoming NT show, War Horse, which I assume will get broadcast next season.