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Thursday, January 2nd, 2020
10:18 pm - Collected Fanfiction Post
Links to all fanfiction I've written in various fandoms. That I'm admitting to.

Alias )

Angel the Series )

Babylon 5 )

Battlestar Galactica )

Breaking Bad )

Buffy the Vampire Slayer )

Citizen Kane )

Doctor Who )

Farscape )

Earth: Final Conflict )

Heroes )

Highlander: The Series )

Historical Fiction )

Lost )


Merlin )

Mythology )

Once upon a time )

Penny Dreadful )

Rome )

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine )

Star Trek: The Next Generation )

Star Wars )

Sunset Boulevard )

The Americans )

The Beatles )

The Borgias )
The Godfather )

Torchwood )

X-Men )

The West Wing )

Crossovers )

current mood: exhausted

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Tuesday, October 10th, 2017
7:24 am - Star Trek: Discovery 1.04
In which Spock would be proud of Michael Burnham, while all previous Security Chiefs of Starfleet facepalm.

Read more... )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Sunday, October 8th, 2017
3:14 pm - Foiled by history
I see that this year, someone nominated (future) Friedrich II and Katte again for Yuletide (Category: 18th Century Prussia RPF). Having just read Michael Roes' novel "Zeithain" about Katte, I was reminded of joking with rhea_silvia about how fandom would react if someone (HBO, Netflix, BBC, whoever) ever does a tv series about Frederick the Great with lots of budget and good actors. To wit: everyone would love the first season, because the youth of Frederick the Great follows favored slash tropes to ridiculous perfection. There's the mean, abusive Dad to bury all mean, abusive Dads. No need to invent or exaggarate anything - Friedrich Wilhelm, "the soldier king" - der Soldatenkönig, did it all: verbal abuse (especially Fritz and his oldest sister Wilhelmine), physical abuse (think gruesome historic punishments used in education and military training, multiply), homophobia ("sodomite" as a favored taunt) complete with possible supressed desires as cause (Friedrich Wilhelm was at the very least very homosocial, thirteen kids or not, he adored his soldiers and wanted to be with them always while not thinking much of women) and then he capped it by forcing Fritz to watch his boyfriend's execution. Try to top that, fanon bad fathers!

Then there's the tragic love story both people fond of royal tales and more critically minded "off with their heads" folk can root for. Our abused prince finds true love with his best friend, dashingly Byronic Lieutenant Hans Herrmann von Katte. When the King's abuse becomes too much, he wants to run away, and despite knowing this could go dreadfully wrong even if they do make it abroad because of the desertion factor (they're both members of the army, after all), not to mention that princes in exile don't exactly have a guaranteed income, Katte agrees, because he can't bear to see the prince suffer anymore. Things promptly go wrong, both of them get imprisoned, but the prince because he's a prince doesn't get condemned to death. The military tribunal condemns Katte to a life long prison sentence. Friedrich Wilhelm, the King, promptly revokes that sentence, says desertion is desertion and changes it into an execution order, complete with order his son is to watch the whole thing. (Possibly because he knew that "life long" would mean release as soon as Friedrich ascended to the throne, or, if you want to think better of him, because he wanted the law to be followed and didn't want the tribunal to give Katte a lenient sentence on Friedrich's account.) Katte was brave and dignified at his execution, with a heartrendering last encounter with Friedrich. (In French, because like much of the German nobility of the day, Fritz loathed the German language and spoke & wrote French whenever he could. (What documents exist of him written in German are terribly spelled.) "Veuillez pardonner mon cher Katte, au nom de Dieu, pardonne-moi!" ("Please forgive, my dear Katte, in God's name, forgive me."). With Katte replying: "Il n'y a rien à pardonner, mon prince, je meurs pour vous la joie dans le cœur!". ("There is nothing to forgive, I die for you with joy in my heart!")

As I said: all the tropes are covered. (Except for the last minute reprieve and happy ending, alas.) For those who want an interesting, layered female character whom canon will never put in a position to come between the OTP, she's there as well, in the form of Friedrich's sister Wilhelmine. (Undoubtedly the hypothetical tv show would also spawn some incest tales because that's how fandom rolls, but since canon would not go there, slashers whose 'ship is canon would not mind... I think?) Female characters turned into Yenta Sues, eat your heart out: Wilhelmine is her brother's confidante, has gone through the same abusive childhood and adolescence, and gets put under house arrest as well. (Though Katte exonorates her at his interrogations.) As the first season would undoubtedly end with Katte's dramatic death, the season hiatus would be spent by AUs, denial fic (endless last minute rescues - "faked his death", otoh, is not an option, what with the beheading in front of poor Fritz), and hurt/comfort starring Wilhelmine in the comforter role.

Season 2, otoh, would be hated by nearly all the fandom. Wilhelmine gets reduced from regular to guest star by marriage to a nonetity and gets estranged from her brother. Friedrich reconciles with the wrong people (read: his father, though how sincere that reconciliation was is debatable). He even gets married. Quelle horreur! Though since that marriage was Dad's idea and he's never more than coldly polite to his wife, parting ways with her as soon as his father is dead, fandom would go from detesting Elisabeth Christine sight unseen to feeling vaguely sorry for her and then forgetting she exists (as Fritz does).

Katte's actual successor in Friedrich's affections, Fredersdorff, would be very controversial and start fandom's first shipping war. "Too much of a power differential", "boring!" and "not enough chemistry" complaints would be countered by "you're all too addicted to angst, what's wrong with a secure relationship!"

Friedrich Wilhelm gets killed off mid season 2, and after Fritz ascends the throne, it would start to dawn to the Breaking Bad familiar of fandom that they're in for a main character arc that can be roughly described as "Jesse Pinkman becomes Walter White". In non-BB terms: fandom's woobie (Froobie, in this case?) turns into a magnificent bastard at best and a large scale life destroyer and creator of other woobies at worst. Friedrich reconciling with Wilhelmine would only vaguely pacify fandom. "Bring back Katte!" would still be the overwhelming cry.

Seasons 3 and 4 would regain some popularity for the show, with our (Anti?)hero now in full gear magnificent bastard mode, set on turning Prussia into the new European superpower, and the more woobie-longing part of fandom being given his younger brother Heinrich as a new favourite. (Heinrich is also openly gay, a gifted soldier, can provide some sibling jealousy angst and since he'll never rule anything won't be in danger of letting his admirers down by increasing ruthlessness and life ruining.) There are now three female characters as Friedrich's three major antagonists: Maria Theresia of Austria, Madame de Pompadour in France, and the Czarina Elisabeth in Russia. This again provides interesting women in major roles without breaking up any m/m couples, though with three female opponents, discussions about how much a misogynist Fritz is start. (Especially if the scripts include some of his more infamous statements about women, including about the way they smelled.) His defenders point out that he's also the most reform-minded ruler in Europe (true), with the episode in which a miller successfully sues the King in court (only possible in Frederician Prussia) being their favourite, while a part of fandom would embrace the "hate the main character, love the rest of the ensemble" way of fannishness and would point out to the Seven-Years-War bodycount as Friedrich's fault. Shipping wise, the introduction of Voltaire would provide fandom with its first love/hate 'ship in this 'verse. Snarky Voltaire would be the type of ambiguous trickster character with uncertain loyalties who is guaranteed to become a fandom favourite, and Fritz/Voltaire snark-and-sex stories would outstrip Fritz/Fredersdorff h/c and curtain fic in number , though neither would ever gain the popularity of Fritz/Katte.

Season 5 would bring things full circle with old Fritz managing one last major war victory courtesy of the Czarina dying at just the right time, and would even include a surprise new 'ship for the fandom (Casanova visits the court, briefly, and Friedrich canonically notices he's good looking). Mostly, though, this season becomes a beloved farewell season because it brings back Katte in the form of a ghost with whom old Fritz increasingly holds conversations as he prepares to meet his maker. The "King goes anonymous among the people" tropes are also served (especially since those tales were tradition about Old Fritz), with Friedrich realising the world is very different now (the French Revolution is just around the corner), whether for better or worse, he can't say, but it's time for him to go. As the season finale ends with his death and young Fritz having a ghostly reunion with Katte, even affirmed Friedrich haters sob in their hankerchiefs, though whether in grief or satisfaction, no one could tell.

One more thing: Zeithain, the novel I just read which brought the resurrection of this frivolous speculation, tries to avoid the Froobie-to-Prussian-Machiavel dilemma by being about Katte, with Fritz making his entrance only around page 500 or thereabouts. Before, it's a Bildungsroman about Katte, which gives him a bad Prussian dad as well (honestly, I have no idea whether or not Katte's father was particularly strict as far as non-Friedrich-Wilhem Prussian aristocrats went, the one thing I knew of him was that he tried in vain to get his son pardoned, which was natural, but doesn't say anything about how he raised him) and generally tells about how awful it was to grow up gay in 18th century Prussia. Our hero crushes on a schoolmate but doesn't dare to do anything about it, and doesn't have any sex until his (female) cousin casually deflowers him, which makes him realise what he does and doesn't want (he then goes off and has sex with a sailor). When young Fritz does show up, Katte is aware that actually caring about the a future king can't lead to anything good (even as just friends, because of the future power differential), but they fall for each other anyway, and history proceeds. The one point where I'd say our novelist is cheating a bit is that he has Katte, while waiting for his death sentence, speculating that while Fritz is going to survive he'll be emotionally crippled for the rest of his life, which is more hindsight of history and less what the character is likely to know/guess in these circumstances. But still, the story is movingly told.

However: the first person Katte narration is just one part of this book. It's interspersed by the increasingly tedious postmodern novel device, a contemporary character telling his story as well. Said contemporary is a fictional descendant from the Earl of Chesterfield, called Philip Stanhope like the Chesterfield's illegitimate son of famous letter fame, and thus distantly related to Katte as well, with the device connecting the two plots being that Stanhope has inherited some letters of Katte's to his British relations and is now tracing Katte's biographical steps. And the Stanhope part of the novel is just increasingly annoying. Because Katte and Friedrich between them don't provide enough daddy issues, Stanhope has a mean, distant dad as well. (Seriously, the only good father in the entire novel is Johann Sebastian Bach, because of course he is. Haven't come across a fictional take on Frederick the Great in which Bach doesn't get contrasted as the Good Father versus Friedrich Wilhelm as the Bad Father. The connection being that Friedrich had one of Bach's sons at his court as composer and met the great man himself once, too. In Zeithain, it's Katte who meets Bach decades earlier, watches him interact with his kids and for the first time realises that the harsh parenting he's experienced isn't without alternatives.) Stanhope's mean distant dad had a homoerotic interlude as a young man, as it turns out, in case we're missing the theme that homophobic dads are mainly homophobic because they themselves are repressed homosexuals. In conclusion, I really wish novelists would stop interjecting perfectly readable historical novels with present day interludes when these contribute nothing of interest to the tale.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: silly

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Saturday, October 7th, 2017
7:21 pm - Blade Runner 2049 (Film Review)
Aka the movie I had no intention of watching until two reviews, one in English and one in German, swayed me. Mostly by the promise that it does manage to be both a good movie and a great homage while being its own thing, that most tricky of balances for sequels.

Now Blade Runner is one of my all time favourite movies, and when I heard there was to be a sequel, my immediate thought was "do not want", and until I read those reviews, I had not departed from it. Said reviews, however, were glowing enough for me to say, what the hell, let's watch it, I'll always have the original anyway. (In both director's cut and 80s voice over version. *g*)

So, did it live up to said reviews? Yes and no and yes and no and yes and no... First of all, it certainly lived up to the cinematography praise. Denis Villeneuve, of whom I had last seen Arrival, riffed on the famous iconic original, and came up with new images both gorgeous and disturbing as well. Importantly, he also took his time instead of going for something fast paced. This is a plus in my book. One reason why Blade Runner was a flop back in the day was that a great part of the audience seems to have expected something Star Wars like, an action movie, not least because of Harrison Ford, then at the height of his Han Solo fame. And if Blade Runner was regarded as slow back then, you can imagine what newbies think now. But Villeneuve still chose to give his film breathing room, let events proceed in that dream/nightmarish, slow way, the very rare occasional physical confrontation excluded. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack is Vangelis ventriquolism, so in terms of looks and sounds, we're good. Not to mention that the way the movie styles the actors does a creative remix thing in terms of the roles they play, i.e. the person they echo in looks is not necessarily the role they have in the new narrative. This helps providing the sense that you're in the same universe but at a different point in the symphony where the themes are played in a new variation, so to speak.

Content-wise, we get to why I have a mixed response to this movie. On the one hand, it tries to hit similar emotional beats without providing a mere copy. For example: the director's cut of Blade Runner, though not the original first cinematic release of Blade Runner, introduces ambiguity about whether or not Deckard himself is a Replicant (without being aware). (I can never make up my mind whether I prefer Deckard as human or as an unaware Replicant, but I'm happy to report the new movie doesn't settle this eternal question, either, but keeps the ambiguity.) On the other hand, Ryan Gosling's character, K, is introduced as a Replicant in his very first scene, which is why I don't consider it a spoiler. There is an ambiguity waiting for him to discover as well, but not about whether or not he's a Replicant. (On the other hand, the scriptwriter(s) is/are definitely fond of Kafka jokes, because when K later in the movie is given a name, it's Joe.) The questions of what makes a person a person, the question of memories and what they mean, they're all here as well.

But. And there's a massive but for me. The oddest aspect this movie had was the way its gender politics worked, or didn't. On the one hand, you had several characters as female who back in the 80s probably would have been cast with male actors - for example, K's boss, the harsh and weary LAPD Captain (Robin Wright!), the underground leader of the Replicants, the memory designer (who, like the original movie's J.F. Sebastian - who, remember, designed parts like eyes for the Replicants - , has a life-endangering medical condition. On the other, the design of this particular dystopia does not reflect this at all. For starters, the advertising (famously a big part of the Blade Runner look) seems to be geared towards straight men. (No gay men or women of any persuasion are paying for anything?) Then there's the central m/f relationship. Now the original Blade Runner had two of those: Deckard and Rachel, Pris and Roy. I don't think I'm very far off when stating that the one between the two Replicants, Roy and Pris, was the one that came across as both being between equals and as the more passionate of the two. (Which fit with the movie's attitude towards the Replicants.) Blade Runner 2049, otoh, has the one between K and Joi, a non-physical AI designed as a mass product for those who can't afford Replicants. (Basically, Joi is a hologram capable of adapting.) And while there is pathos there - they're both artificial beings designed as slaves, Joi as a simpler form, who still regard their emotions for each other as real - there's also a strict hierarchy which is never transcended. (Joi is designed to flicker from housewife to erotic fantasy to whatever male wish fulfillment her user wants to have, with him being her entire purpose. While Pris was designed as a "pleasure model" for off world colonists as well, while Roy was designed as a combat model, Blade Runner never gives you the impression they being together was anything but mutual choice, or that Roy is who Pris' entire existence depends on, or her prime motivation in life. (Like the other Replicants in the original movie, she wants more life than the four years the Tyrell Cooperation was given them.)

But okay, let's argue that besides the K/Joi relationship, the one actually proves K to be more than what he was created to be is spoilery ). That still leaves the new movie having almost all of its characters declaring the one key element that separates Replicants from humanity, the one that, if/when it's gained, will ensure the revolution, is a plot twist straight of a tv show I've watched in the last decade )

Not unrelated, two negative observations about the two villains of the movie: one is Wallace, our new Tyrell. Only this movie apparantly doesn't trust its audience to get that rich industrialists benefiting from slave work who confuse themselves with God are the bad guys. No, to prove his villainy, Wallace is introduced via a scene in which something sledgehammery happens ) Then there's Luv, his replicant henchwoman. Spoilery remarks about Luv follow. )

Retro gender politics aside, I think what may come down to is: Blade Runner was courageous in terms of its characters in the way this new movie isn't. The Replicants in Blade Runner get audience sympathy not because the audience is pushed towards it. They're introduced as the antagonists, and the movie trusts its audience to get that their situation is massively unfair while never downplaying that they're also lethally dangerous, and at least on one occasion even towards someone who means them well. The final sequence reverses every action movie cliché in the book in terms of how hero/antagonist confrontations are supposed to go. Blade Runner 2049, otoh, is very clear on who is good and who is bad, whom to sympathize with and whom to despise, and doesn't budge from that. Our protagonist has a learning arc, but the movie is careful not to let him do something non-heroic even before he knows better. More spoilers. ) The one character with claims to moral ambiguity, to not being identifyable as either a villain or a hero, in the new movie is Robin Wright's police captain, and all her scenes with K are excellent. Not coincidentally, she's also the character who owes the least to the original movie. (Deckard's boss was simply an evil racist, and we only see him twice.) The end of her plotline, though, is predictable.

After all those nitpicks, though, I have to return to the powerful cinematography. Dystopian Calfornia, without any natural life left. Las Vegas as an orange-palette fantasy. The rain and water imagery, which in a current movie doesn't just evoke the original but makes a very likely prediction about the climate. Return and change of the small animal figures as signifiers. (Oh, and an E. Olmos cameo, which reminded me that while I hadn't recognized him when starting to watch BSG despite loving Blade Runner, the first time I rewatched Blade Runner after having gotten aquainted with Adama on BSG was odd in that regard.)

Oh, and lastly: Treasure Island quote in unexpected places, and entirely for the win. I'd never have thought of this character as that character, and yet, it totalyl works.

So, in conclusion: if you watch it, try to do it in the cinema, because it's one of those movies really worth watching on a big screen, the bigger, the better. If you don't watch it, you're not missing anything that would either enhance or destroy however you feel about the original.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: pensive

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Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
8:11 am - Hollywood History
Smart, wonderful review of Cleopatra, 1963 version, too often dismissed as campy extravaganza. ([profile] amenirdis, this one is for you!) It was, of course, scripted and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, who in this most recent list of 100 greatest screenwriters of all time makes it to No. 23 ("Says Phyllis Nagy: “There may be a more endlessly quotable screenplay than All About Eve, but I’ve yet to find it.”).

About that list: as per usual in such lists written in the English language (US edition), what they mean is "100 Greatest American Screenwriters", with the odd foreigner thrown in. They also confess right at the start: It’s worth noting that Hollywood’s traditional exclusion of women and people of color makes it extraordinarily difficult to truly qualify the best in the craft, but acknowledging today’s urgent need for more inclusive storytelling doesn’t negate the contributions of these 100 pioneers.

That said, it's very satisfying to see pioneer Frances Marion (first scriptwriter, either male or female, to win the Oscar, twice) acknowledged at No.20), and the (imo deserved) number 1 spot goes to an immigrant to whom the English language was something he only learned as an adult (which turned out to be one of the all time successful love stories between a writer and an adopted language), the late, great Billy Wilder. Some of the other choices (even keeping the US pov in mind) are bewildering, no pun intended, but such is always the case.

In terms of Hollywood history, though, it amuses me that Joe Mankiewicz' brother Herman only makes it to No.56 while Orson Welles lands at No.41. Pauline Kael would roll in her grave. As the list writers themselves put it: Once upon a time, a small firestorm might have ignited over placing Orson Welles on a list of great screenwriters. For years, his co-authorship of Citizen Kane was in dispute, with many claiming that the credit belonged almost entirely to the great Herman J. Mankiewicz. (Pauline Kael even wrote an explosive, brilliant, deeply problematic essay arguing so, only for much of her research to be discredited later.) But even if he hadn’t co-written Citizen Kane (which he absolutely did), Welles would have been one of the great screenwriters of the 20th century. He was certainly one of the great adapters, able to take everything from the most acclaimed classics (think The Trial) to the lowest-brow pulp (think Touch of Evil) and make it his own. His Shakespeare adaptations are gems of concision and imagination, balancing respect for the text with a willingness to innovate. Look at the incredible Chimes at Midnight, where he takes pieces of several of the Bard’s plays and turns them into something completely modern.

I'm totally with them in terms of Orson as an adapter. (Which, btw, Welles biographer Simon Callow argues is what he did with Citizen Kane, too - Hermann Mankiewicz' original script - with some imput from John Houseman - was over three hours long, and Welles did what he did with Shakespeare, Kafka, and whoever wrote Touch of Evil - he cut, edited, added, rewrote, until the script had the shooting shape.) It's what makes his version of The Trial infinitely more interesting than the far more literal, bland and justly forgotten version of Kyle McLachlan as Joseph K. much later, and makes Chimes at Midnight show up later adaptions of the Henriad such as The Hollow Crown as deeply conventional and pulling their punches by comparison.

On a book-to-film note, thanks to [personal profile] chaila I've discovered Fall Equinox, a vid-athon wherein the vids in question are using book-based source material. I've only just started to watch my way through it, but check out Wherever I Go, a breathtaking exploration of the Gods in American Gods!

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: calm

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Monday, October 2nd, 2017
11:01 am - Star Trek: Discovery 1.03
Wherein we mee the crew and the Discovery, and I have an idea about just how Bryan Fuller channelled his Voyager issues when conceiving this show before he withdrew.

Read more... )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

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Sunday, October 1st, 2017
2:35 pm - Yuletide Letter
Dear Yuletide Writer,

thank you so much for creating a story for me! I hope you'll enjoy the experience and appreciate the work you're doing - writing a story in a tiny fandom we share is absolutely lovely, and I'm guaranteed to be pleased by your gift, so don't fret. My prompts are just that, prompts, not absolutes; if you have an idea that doesn't fit with any of them, but features the characters I asked for, I'll love it with added joyful surprise.

General stuff )


The Last Kingdom )

Borgia: Faith and Fear )

Logan )

Class )

In conclusion: no matter which of these you'll pick, you'll make me a happy recipient. Again, thank you so much - and see you at Yuletide!

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: energetic

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7:56 am - Further on up the road (Torchwood/Doctor Who)
Reveals at [community profile] missy_fest, so I can link the story I wrote here. It's a Torchwood/Doctor Who crossover. The original vignette, which featured Jack centuries later meeting, courtesy of the Rift, Tosh, gave me the pre Exit Wounds time frame, and the first idea I had for this story was to confront a Jack Harkness to whom his torture by the Master was still very recent with The Doctor Falls era Missy. (Which of course meant confronting Missy, whose state of mind re: people not the Doctor the show left ambiguous, with one of her victims.) Hard on its heels came the second idea, which was that this wouldn't be in Jack's pov, not least because I'd already written Jack (albeit post Children of Earth Jack, which makes a big difference) versus the Master relatively recently. Nor would it be Missy's. Because if it's pre-Exit Wounds, then my original point of interest character in TW is still around, and dealing (or trying to) with being effectively a zombie, which makes for a given contrast to Missy's (and the Master's) spoilery doings ). Not to mention that the original vignette's theme of immortality and how it effects Jack in his interactions with others could be mirrored and contrasted in Missy and Owen (who doesn't know at this point whether he'll die next week or will stay in this condition for centuries). And, as a bonus, I got to explore the Owen and Jack relationship a bit more, which, to me, was the most interesting one within the team in the first two seasons. Lastly: [personal profile] londonkds and other readers of my previous tales featuring the Master, I swear, this time the Master does not end up in the wrong body. ;)

Further on up the road (9120 words) by Selena
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Torchwood, Doctor Who
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Jack Harkness & Owen Harper, Jack Harkness & The Master, Owen Harper & Missy, Jack Harkness & Missy, The Doctor/The Master (Doctor Who), Owen Harper & Toshiko Sato
Characters: Owen Harper, Missy (Doctor Who), Jack Harkness, Toshiko Sato, Ianto Jones
Additional Tags: Post-Episode: s10e12 The Doctor Falls, Remix

When a Time Lord emerges from the Rift, it's the wrong one for Jack Harkness. But could Owen Harper be the right Doctor?

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: creative

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Wednesday, September 27th, 2017
1:29 pm - Legion, and Yuletide
Having heard nothing but praise for Legion, a series consisting of eight episodes based on X-Men comics, I watched it during the last week, and lo, this one really lives up to its hype. The hype being that it's completely unlike other superhero based tv and movie versions of recent years and takes a truly original approach to its subject while also being true to its comics origins.

Now, while I've heard via general osmosis of the central character, I have never read any of the X-Men comics in which he's featured, so I have no idea whether the last part is literally true, but it's certainly true in that this series/season (as it's now being greenlit for a second season, though I'm not sure a second will work as well) roughly follows the general superhero pattern of origin story, confrontation with main villain, defeat of main villain (sort of). How it approaches its narrative is where the big difference lies. Starting with the looks (and use of music). I've seen comparisons to David Lynch, and you could also throw in some Cronenberg and Del Torro for good measure. Which is to say: it's visually breathtaking and wildly inventive. It also takes considerable risks with its viewer comfort. Most of the early episodes are scrictly within the main character's pov, and since said main character is possibly schizophrenic and/or a powerful mutant, definitely drugged (he starts out in a mental hospital), and emotionally messed up, this means the viewers get constantly unsettled as to whether anything they see is real. Or just in David's head. David being the main character. Or whether any of the other characters are real, or manifestations within David's subconscious. (Or... something else.)

One possible drawback for this may be it prevents identification with any of the characters (because you don't know whether or not they exist), but to be honest, I usually don't "identify" with characters anyway, and I felt the doubts about the reality of said characters impending on my take on the story just in one case. (Though that one case was a major character: Syd(ney) Barrett, whom David falls in love with early in the pilot. For the longest time, I thought it would turn out he's made her up, not least because the show had them fall in love via montage very early on, but as the series went on, I concluded the reason for this was that they couldn't spend more time on the falling-in-love part given all else the show wanted to explore.)

The later half of the season makes it easier to identify the different layers of reality - i.e. what takes place in anyone's minds and what happens in a physical world -, but is no less unsettling for that. I also like the way it twists what tropes it does use. Spoilers ensue. )

I wasn't familiar (at least to my knowledge) with the various actors of the show except for Dan Stevens, who plays David, and used to be Cousin Matthew on Downton Abbey, so this very different role was one of those occasions when you go "oh, actor previously used as bland love interest can actually act!" (He's playing David as an American, though there's a hilarious sequence when he gets to use his own, i.e. English accent.) Of the various ensemble members, Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement have the juiciest roles (and excell in them), but really, there isn't a bad player among them. You can watch the show without familiarity with the X-Men movies (let alone the rest of the Marvelverse), though I will say that after a certain revelation, trying to figure out just when all of this happens in relation to the X-saga is fun, and of course begs for crossovers, fanfiction-wise.

In conclusion: definitely a winner, and proves you can tackle a well-trod genre with verve and lots of inventiveness.

Speaking of creativity, I see the Yuletide 2017 Tag Set is up. Lots of entries there both for fandoms in which I hope someone else will write and for those I marked as possible offers to write in. (Sometimes they overlap, of course.) I'm boggled at the sheer amount of Karl May novels nominated. Also, someone put up "German Literature RPF" with two of the Brentano siblings, Clemens and Bettine, plus Achim von Armin and Goethe, which makes me wonder what they're hoping for - slash, incest or unabashed groupiness? All of the above? Looking forward to find that out.

Meanwhile, here are possible "I could write for this one without having to reread/rewatch the entire canon" fandoms for me:

Dickens, David Copperfield

Kästner, Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer (long live Erich Kästner)

Barbara Hambly, Bride of the Rat God

Matthew Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom

Order of the Air series by Jo Graham and Melissa Scott

Plantagent Series by Sharon Penman


Logan (this one surprised me, because of the X-movies, but I suppose as its own thing, it's a small enough fandom still. Having rewatched the movie recently, I checked out the fanfic and stumbled across endless reader inserts featuring Pierce, of all the people. So Yuletide to the rescue!)


Defenders (again, in despite the MCUness because it's recent enough so its own category is not above the limit, I suppose, which I'm grateful for)


The Last Kingdom (definitely one I'll both request and offer for)

Borgia: Faith and Fear (aka the Other Borgias; will request)

Rome (enough characters nominated that I could offer without ending up with Vorenus/Pullo requests - nothing against that pairing, I just can't write it)

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: impressed

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Tuesday, September 26th, 2017
1:13 pm - Star Trek: Discovery (Episodes 1 and 2, i.e. the pilot)
In short, hm. Could go either way.

Spoilers wonder when internal communication systems are going to be used )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Monday, September 25th, 2017
9:33 am - National nightmare time, German edition
You may or may not be aware we had elections in Germany yesterday. The results weren't very surprising (if you've been following news and polls), but nonetheless shocking, because Nazis in German parliament for the first time in over 70 years should be. (Let me qualify the technicalities: of course we had original flavour Nazis in the very first post war parliament, it being 1949. We even had a rather prominent one, the original commentator of the Nuremberg "race laws", in Adenauer's cabinet. And there were right wing extremist parties since then who didn't pretend very hard to be anything else. But none of them reached 13%, which the right wing extremists du jour, the AFD, just did.) In practical terms: this means 80-something MPs drilled in verbal abuse and little else entering parliament as of next year. At least they won't be the official opposition, since the SPD, which had its historic worst result in the entire post war history with 20 something %, ended the governing Big Coalition last night. (This is actually a good thing and was direly necessary to save the party, imo. It governed in coalition with Merkel's conservatives for two out of three terms Angela Merkel has been chancellor, and while this wasn't the only reason for its steady loss of votes, it was a big one.) How the "Jamaica" coalition (so called because of the colors associated with the parties in question - black for the CDU/CSU, the conversative union, yellow for the FDP, the business-oriented liberal party, which will return to parliament after having been voted out four years ago, and green for the Greens, obviously) will work out is anyone's guess, but it's the best of currently available alternatives. And since the AFD does have a lot of inner fighting between its heads going on and hasn't yet managed to actually do something constructive in any of the provincial parliaments they were already in, they might destroy themselves over the next four years, as the 80s flavor of right wing extremists did (they were called Republicans, I kid you not). None of that changes me feeling thoroughly disgusted this morning at 13% of our electorate, and angry with a lot of other people as well.

Here are two articles from two of our leading papers translated into English which analyze the election and its results:

Tears won't change a thing (from the Süddeutsche, in which Heribert Prantl says that we're the recovering alcoholic of nations, which is why it's differently serious when part of our electorate falls off the wagon to get drunk on demagogery, racism and authoritarianism again)

The Panic Orchestra, which also analyses the role the media played (because just as with Trump, the bloody AFD seemed to be on tv all the time)

On the bright(er) side of things, there were spontanous anti AFD marches on the street in Berlin and Cologne last night, and they were soundly defeated as also rans in Munich. (Which is a relief on a personal level, since I live there, and also because of history.)

Speaking of Munich, to conclude on a distracting and cheerier note, the Süddeutsche also hosts an US journalist who last week penned this column:

11 things Americans get wrong about the Oktoberfest

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: sick

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Friday, September 22nd, 2017
6:17 pm - Philip Kerr: Frederick the Great Detective (Book Review)
Back when I marathon-read Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, I saw he's also authored a lot of novels for children, and had a new one coming out this month, a standalone called Frederick the Great Detective, which, however, mysteriously seems to be available in German before it is in English. (Mysterious because Kerr's Scottish and writes in English, and the novel, which got released today, is indeed translated from the English original, I checked the imprint.) Anyway, the novel has a very similar premise to a movie I saw at last year's Munich Film Festival, Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday - the review I wrote about the film is here: boy falls in love with Emil and the Detectives, befriends its author, Erich Kästner, in the twilight of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich ensues, boy tries to maintain ideals of novel versus increasingly awful reality. Having read the novel now, I can add a further parallel: both Friedrich in Frederick the Great Detective and Hans in Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday have an older sibling who is enthusastically joining the Nazi cause. My original suspicion as to why Kerr picked a fictional main character instead of Hans, who actually existed and did befriend Erich Kästner, was because Hans' fate was sealed by history, and that Kerr wanted a better fate for his young hero. Spoilers ensue. )However, by that point, I had already guessed various other reasons why Kerr chose a fictional over a fictionalized "real" main character, and the differences to Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday are instructive here.

For starters, there's the difference in focus: Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday is, as far as Hans is concerned, a coming of age story - he goes from child to teenager and young man in the course of the story - and has Erich Kästner as the other lead, whose perspective through the movie is even the slightly favored one. Frederick the Great Detective, by contrast, has Kästner only as a supporting character, aside from a prologue and an epilogue ends in late 1933/early 1934, and is above all a homage to Kästner's novel in structure, focusing on Friedrich and his same-age friends, who play detectives until it gets lethally dangerous. (The adults, whether benevolent or malignant or in between, are seen from the outside, the point of view is Friedrich's throughout.) For, befitting the author of the Gunther mysteries, there are actually cases to solve. (Though as opposed to Bernie, young Friedrich - who wants to become a detective through much of the novel - gets the point that you can't be a detective in a system where the criminals have taken over when Kästner desperately tells him just this.)

Indeed, while reading I wondered whether the basic idea for the novel might not have been a wish to write a sequel to Emil which tackles how Emil & Co. would act when the Third Reich starts, because Friedrich's gang with its twins has some similarities. Then again, Friedrich has a distinctly different background to Emil (or Hans Löhr) - no working class single parent mother, instead, middle class parents with his father a journalist and friend of Kästner's, which is the original connection, which allows Kerr to depict the way the press lost its freedom within a year. It also allows Kerr to let Friedrich and his parents vacation on Rügen where Friedrich meets Christopher Isherwood and Isherwood's boyfriend Heinz on the beach. (Leading to a charming scene where Friedrich manages to solve his very first case by finding Isherwood's lost watch.) Kerr provides quite a lot of real life characters making cameos throughout the novel - Billy Wilder (during the premiere of the "Emil and the Detectives" movie version which he scripted), Max Liebermann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Walter Trier etc. - but the Isherwood cameo was for me the most vivid of these. (And I'm not surprised, having come across an interview where Kerr says bascially Berlin for him as a reader, before he got there, was invented by two British writers, Christopher Isherwood and John Le Carré.)

Kästner himself lis of course the real life character with the most page time, but he feels more like a generic version of Kästner's author persona than an actual attempt at depiction of the man. (As opposed to the Kästner in Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday.) Meaning: he's a benevolent adult the way, say, Justus the Teacher in "Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer" is, with no hint of any inner conflicts, and Kerr slims down the biographical and authorial data about him to "wrote Emil and the Detective, also works as a journalist"; in this book, there are no mentions of either Kästner's other books for children or his adult novel, Fabian (the one who got burned by the Nazis at the 1933 book burning), nor of his sharp political poetry (which in Germany he was and is almost as well known for as for his prose). (Hence ahistorically Emil ends up as the burned book, when in rl Emil and the Detectives was so popular that it got published, as the only one of Kästner's works, within Germany until 1936. Then it was for the axe as well.) The one biographical background fact about Kästner mentioned in conversation by Friedrich's father is in fact a wrong one, or rather, a wrong assumption, that Kästner's mother, like Emil's, raised her son alone. In rl, not only was Kästner's father around and in contact with his son, but he outlived Kästner's mother. There is, however, a reason why I didn't mind this particular wrong statement, which is: Kästner kept his father and his relationship with him very low key as long as his mother was still alive, while his relationship with his mother was intense and very public, so a colleague from work like Friedrich's father could be forgiven for assuming the guy was either dead or had left the family. ( If you've read Kästner's autobiographical writings, one of the most memorable childhood scenes which makes you cringe in sympathy is his parents' christmas competition about him, when his father, a craftsman, proudly presented presents he made with his own hand while his mother spent all her money on presents, and both parents would regard whichever present their son showed any favour to as proof whom he loved more or a rejection respectively. And thus it went on for as long as Kästner's mother lived.)

What the novel does really well, though, is presenting a group of children responding to their world changing radically, and Friedrich as a likeable child hero who ends up rejecting the demagogery, scapegoating and promise of glory that lures his older brother in because he sees how both people he knows and strangers are abused in its name. Again, in an homage to Kästner's novel which has a memorable dream sequence, Friedrich's ongoing crisis of conscience and wonder how to avoid becoming a Nazi himself climaxes in a surreal dream where the various things he has experienced come together. The lesson he draws from this is simple and profound at the same time, very Kästnerian and indeed great advice in current day circumstances as well, to the question as ow to act: Be kind. Being kind and you can't become what you fear and hate. Be kind.

Mind you, the 1945 prologue and epilogue does spoilery things ) But all in all, Frederick the Great Detective is still a very readable children's novel set in a dark time which also manages to pay homage to a classic while being its own thing.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Wednesday, September 20th, 2017
12:07 pm - Adaptions and remixes
Two filmed novels in, the tv version of JKR's written-as-Robert-Galbraith mystery novels called Strike comes across as very enjoyable. Holiday Grainger is a delight as Robin, Tom Burke still isn't how I imagined Cormoran Strike, but he's entertaining to watch, and they have good chemistry. Inevitably, characters and subplots were for the axe in both Cuckoo's Call and The Silkworm, but so far they've kept the important emotional beats. In the case of The Silkworm, I'm especially glad my favourite sentence of the entire novel gets to be used in dialogue, though a different character gets to say it on tv: Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels."

Of the guest stars, the actresses playing Leonora and Orlando were especially good. I do notice that some of the sharpness of the novels is lost when it comes to politics. I mean, The Silkworm, the novel, has passages like this: : Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, was announcing plans to slash 350 million pounds from the legal aid budget. Strike watched through his haze of tiredness as the florid, paunchy man told Parliament that he wished to 'discourage people from restoring to lawyers whenever they face a problem, and instead encourage them to consider more suitable methods of dispute resolution.' He meant, of course, that poor people ought to relinquish the services of the law. Nothing like it on tv. But the result still doesn't feel as awfully castrated as the tv version of The Casual Vacancy, which lost all the bite and anger and ruined what might not have been a masterpiece but was a novel with genuine points to raise by turning it into inoffensive blandness, more angry reviews here, possibly because such asides aren't the main issue in the Galbraith novels.

In other news, [community profile] missy_fest has been revealing one Missy story per day-ish. This was the smallest ficathon I ever participated in, but a delight to write and read, and as soon as it's de-anonymized, I'm going to link and talk about the story I wrote. Meanwhile, check out the one I received, which was The Master's Faithful Companion (Forever or Just A Day Remix), which remixed my story Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: grateful

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Monday, September 18th, 2017
1:31 pm - 15 Characters Meme
1. Norma Bates (Bates Motel version)

2. Philip Jennings (The Americans)

3. Missy (aka Gomez!Master) (Doctor Who)

4. Jimmy McGill (Better Call Saul)

5. Rachel Duncan (Orphan Black)

6. James McGraw/Captain Flint (Black Sails)

7. Ahsoka Tano (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)

8. Bernie Gunther (Philip Kerr: The Bernie Gunther Mysteries)

9. Sarah Connor (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)

10. Alfred of Wessex (The Last Kingdom)

11. Andra'ath/Miss Quill (Class)

12. Londo Mollari (Babylon 5)

13. Phyllis Crane (Call the Midwife)

14. Doc Holliday (Wynona Earp incarnation)

15. Jessica Jones (MCU version)

And you came up with some awesome prompts!

Now the questions: )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: exhausted

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Sunday, September 17th, 2017
6:55 pm - Once More Into the Breach: 15 Characters Meme
I've acquired new fandoms and revisited some old ones since the last time I did this, thus, from [personal profile] astrogirl:

1) Make a list of fifteen characters first, and keep it to yourself for the moment.

2) Ask your f-list to post questions in the comments. For example: "One, nine, and fifteen are chosen by a prophecy to save the world from four. Do they succeed?", "Under what circumstances might five and fourteen fall in love?", "Which character on the list would you most want on your side in a zombie invasion?"

3) After your f-list has stopped asking questions, round them up and answer them using the fifteen characters you selected beforehand, then post them.

Also, this unique summary of A Legacy Of Spies cracks me up. :)

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: silly

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Saturday, September 16th, 2017
6:47 pm - And then there's this
The other day, I could hear Arundhati Roy present her new novel and talk about the situation in India today in Munich. And reinforced that by now, I'm not just bugged but disturbed by part of Kala's storyline in Sense8, because it's so exactly in contrast to Indian reality, and so exactly what a vicious government propagandist would want people to believe, that I'm starting to wonder whether the reason why the Wachowskis and JMS came up with it wasn't that they otherwise would not get permission to film in India. Spoilers for both seasons of Sense8. ) Why? Because consider the depth of current day Hindu fundamentalism from Modi (the PM) downwards. Arundhati Roy mentioned the saying "there are just two places for Muslims - the grave and Pakistan", which gets said by officials in the country with the second largest Muslim population in the world (Indonesia has the largest). People get lynched for the crime of possessing or eating beef. Modi belongs to the RSS, the same organisation Gandhi's assassin did, and the vocabulary of said assassin is now mainstream politics. A popular taunt makes the word "secular" into "sickular". An MP could say Arundhati Roy should be used as a human shield in the war in Kashmir to punish her dissent, and not get reprimanded but applauded. (For more, check out check out these statements by today's most famous Indian origin writers.) Basically: the kind of story Sense8 tells is about as likely to happen in this India as a story about, say, a rabid atheist rising in Saudi Arabia's government and starting to persecute Muslims would be. Or, to bring it closer to home, a story about a fanatic atheist becoming a US government official and starting to surpress Christians. Which, of course, is what Breitbart & Co. tell their ilk already happened under each Democratic president. ("War on Christmas", anyone?) Which tells you what type of propaganda this is.

Now don't get me wrong: I don't believe the Wachowskis and JMS are aware. At first, I thought it was simply that they wanted Kala to be a faithful believer and needed some type of conflict for her that wasn't about her not wanting to get married, picked Hinduism as the most popular Indian religion (and the one with the film friendly statues), and didn't do much research about the Indian present. But now I wonder whether they did tell some staff member to do research, and that person came back with this storyline, getting it as a condition for the crew filming Kala's story in India. Because it's just too perfect BJP propaganda to come across by accident, my inner conspiracy theorist says.

For distraction, something lighthearted:


Up in the air, Junior Birdman: in which the Avengers (plus Maria Hill, Sam Wilson and Rhodey) go camping. Set at some point between the frst and second movie, this Natasha-centric story is ensemble-tastic, and has Bruce as co-lead.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: crappy

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Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
4:15 pm - Hillary Clinton: What Happened
Briefly; originally I intended to wait for the library to feature What Happened, but the sheer amount of hate Hillary Clinton's book has already produced made me buy it in a hurry. Having read it yesterday, mostly I agree with this review on its major strengths and weaknesses. (My main area of disagreement is with the reviewer's screpticism re: the role of sexism in the election and her comparison between the respective type of hoslitiy aimed at Hillary vs her husband, John Kerry and Mitt Romney.) Therefore, I'll add some trivial observations of my own which are pop culture related:

1.) Wasn't surprised to learn that Hillary, as opposed to The Orange Menace, loved her SNL counterpart. Up and including Kate-as-Hillary singing Halleluja post election.

2.) Was amused that of the various new terms the internet coined in recent years, her favourite is "Mansplaining". (""The second I heard it, I thought"Yes! We needed a word for that.") Of course, the sheer number of guys currently mansplaining what REALLY happened in the election to Hillary Clinton was also predictable.

3.) HC also mentions The Good Wife among the shows she's watched post election for distraction. Given the various comparisons the show draws between the Clintons and the Florricks (my favourite being the Diane and Will conversation where he admits to not getting it and says Peter and Alicia are Bill and Hillary on acid), enquiring minds wonder how distracting that one could have been. Mind you, Hillary is way more positive about Bill in this book (and per previous one) than Alicia ever was about Peter. What Happens includes not just a wry "I heard it again in the 2016 campaign: that 'we must have an arrangement' (we do, it's called a marriage)" and lots of praise for his unwavering support but a straightforward love declaration as well as the statement that if she'd known what was ahead, dark times, public humiliation and all, she'd still marry him again without hesitation.

4.) She loved that pony meme as a summary of her dynamic with Bernie Sanders, and I have to confess it cracked me up as well.

5.) Apparently her Game of Thrones reference ("They shouted "Guilt!Guilty!" like the religious zealots in Game of Thrones shouting "Shame! Shame!" while Cersei Lannister walked back to the Red Keep") is held up as an example of Hillary not getting that Cersei is a villain? Which, well. There are lot of times GoT doesn't want you to sympathize with Cersei. That sequence, though, wasn't one of them.

6.) I don't know the woman, so I have no idea whether or not the book is Hillary Clinton unrestrained, but she certainly sounds like it. ("The President of China had to explain the complexity of the North Korea challenge to him. 'After listening for ten minutes, I realized it's not so easy,' Trump said. Can you hear my palm slapping my forehead?") Also, on Comey: "(Comey) said that he was 'mildly nauseous' at the idea that he influenced the outcome of the election. Hearing that made me sick." I have a bit more sympathy for Comey than she does, but yeah, no kidding.

Generally speaking, I found the book easier to read than her previous memoirs, not least because of her greater focus on one particular era and set of issues.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
12:12 pm - A trailer and a story
Trailer spotted: The Man Who Invented Christmas seems to be trying to take the Shakespeare in Love approach to Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. The following thoughts occured to me in no particular order:

- Dan Stevens is actually made to look like a young Charles Dickens and has something of that manic energy, but:

- as Dickens' favourite daughter Kate Perugini put it, writing to George Bernard Shaw: "If you could make the public understand that my father was not a jolly, jocose gentleman walking about the earth with a plum pudding and a bowl of punch you would greatly oblige me."

- no such luck, Kate, not with this movie. Though Dickens really wasn't

- I know I complain about Mark Gatiss written episodes of Doctor Who a lot, but his very first one, The Unquiet Dead, actually did something more interesting with the basic idea of Dickens + Christmas Carol + supernatural elements than this trailer indicates

- why is it that "based on a true story" movies that tackle author plus famous work always feel the need to pretend the author in question had writers block and/or dire difficulties before hitting on the inspiration for the famous work? Do we blame Stoppard for this one, too? Finding Neverland did it as well, and it's just as untrue here (neither Barrie nor Dickens were when writing Peter Pan and Christmas Carol respectively in any type of financial or inspirational difficulties)

- the idea of Charles Dickens, of all the people, having writers' block is hilarious, though, because his problem was more the opposite. Neil Gaiman in the Sandman story Calliope lets Dream curse a writer with literally unending inspiration (spoiler: it's not a boon when you write your fingers bloody because you really can't stop), and Dickens wasn't quite there, but nearly.

Mind you, the film makers are probably safe to assume most tv watchers know zilch about Dickens' biography. But not for the first time, I wonder whether a miniseries wouldn't be a great format to tackle that, Dickens in his morally ambiguous complexity, covering the whole life from child-of-a-conman Charles to celebrated writer, philantropist and terrible husband Dickens going on one last reciting tour. Abi Morgan did a good job with The Invisible Woman, taking one particular part of his life, and she has tv experience, so she'd be my first choice to write such a series.

Meanwhile, in another fandom, to wit, Star Wars:

Balance Point: now by now there are some stories in which Force Ghost Obi-Wan Kenobi haunts Vader, but this story is the first one which lets someone else who used to be close to Anakin Skywalker do so instead, and executes that premise beautifully.Spoilers for Star Wars: Rebels ensue. )

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: cheerful

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Monday, September 11th, 2017
6:01 pm - Multifandom recs
The Americans:

While pondering whether or not to volunteer for The Americans this Yuletide, I checked whether there were new stories since last year, and indeed there were. I especially liked:

It's never over: a look at Oleg in season 5.

My last night: Philip and Elizabeth post Martha.

The Defenders:

Saints in Effigy a Claire pov on her relationships.


Spider-Sitting: what Happy Hogan thinks about basically being made Peter's handler.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: busy

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Saturday, September 9th, 2017
1:48 pm - John Le Carré: A Legacy of Spies (Book Review)
In which our author in a way comes full circle, going back to the territory of his third novel and big breakthrough, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, as well revisiting some of his most famous characters in this and later novels, to wit, George Smiley and friends. Though Smiley himself, in present day, only makes a cameo appearance at the very end. He's the Luke Skywalker to this novel's The Force Awakens, looked and searched for throughout the story by everyone, and none more so than a younger adlatus, who only tracks him down at the end of it. Mind you, "younger" in this case is relative, since the man in question is a senior citizen himself. He's also our narrator, and none other than Peter Guillam, possibly familiar to non-readers because Benedict Cumberbatch played him in the more recent cinematic version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gets referenced a lot, and there are some other veterans from it making appearances, notably Jim Prideaux towards the end, but really, the Le Carré novel which this one serves as a remix, bookending, counterpart, whatever you want to call it as remains the earlier The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The one which which, in pop culture consensus, Le Carré reinvented the spy genre, presenting a counter vision to James Bond in the form of his shabby, worn down civil servants and the way the Western side of the Cold War was presented as performing morally ambigous to downright villainous acts. (Mind you, as Le Carré himself acknowledged, Graham Greene went there before him, but Le Carré still popularized the type.) The film version had Richard Burton as Alec Leamas, and Alec Leamas is the (dead) character most revisited in A Legacy of Spies.

The premise: Peter Guilllam, enjoying retirement in France (the Bretagne to be precise, as he's half Breton and spent his early childhood there before being dumped into the horror of a British public school), gets summoned to London and given the unwelcome news that the children of Alec Leamas, Elizabeth Gold (and as it turns out the offspring of a third party who is new to the saga) are sueing the British government for what happened to their parents at the end of the earlier novel. (If you don't recall Leamas and Gold having kids in said book/film, don't worry; this is meant to be news to the reader, though Guillam knew about Alec Leamas' illegitimate son, if not about Gold's illegitimate-given-up-to-adoption daughter. Since the current secret service and government has no intention of being embarrassed, that means they need some individual to blame, and with Smiley mysteriously unable to find, this means Guillam as the sole survivor of "Operation Widfall", as it was called.

In practical terms, this means we're getting both flashbacks from Guillam and lots of excerpts from reports made at the time by various parties concerned. Le Carré avoids just rehashing old material (only viewed from the other perspective, as opposed to that of Alec Leamas) by not arriving at the actual events of The Spy... until the last third. Before, we get the backstory, involving Leamas as head of Berlin station and Guillam as a courier. It's also Le Carré's opportunity for a good old suspense plot; the extraction of an asset. Meanwhile, in the present day, the various current day "Circus" members are gleefully skewered and satirized in their fake chummyness. (Footnote: one of them is called "Bunny", which is all you need to know. Is there ever a male character named Bunny who isn't an object of satire to his author?) Guillam, being a Le Carré spy (retired), lies of course to his investigators. Whether or not he also lies to himself regarding his motives at various points is up to the reader.

Nitpicks: for starters, I think Le Carré is making things easy for the readers as who to sympathize with, which didn't use to be the case. Having established the "children sue" premise, he goes out of his way to not allow any narrative identification with them. Elizabeth Gold's daughter (and btw, the gender choice - a daughter for Liz Gold, a son for Alec Leamas - is another thing that strikes me as lazy) never makes it on screen, err, page, she's only referred to; Alex Leamas' son Christoph (half German, because of course he is) first shows up in the flashback as a sullen teenager, then in the present as a money-hungry thug, and by the time it's revealed that some spoilers ensue ), it's too late for the readers. The son of the new character, the asset Leamas and Guillam first had to cultivate and then to extract, an East German secretary code named Tulip, gets a bit more development in that he's presented as likeable as a child and the way he's as an adult is clearly due to what happened to his mother and the choices our heroes made back in the day. But again, he gets just one scene. Meanwhile, Leamas, Smiley (in the flashbacks - when I said cameo appearance only, I meant present day George Smiley, the one in the 50s and 60s gets a lot of scenes) and Guilllam himself get a lot of pages to show their mental and emotional state about those hard choices.

Secondly, it's not until the last third when a sympathetic female character not romantically involved with any of our male regulars shows up; she's Tabitha, Guillam's thoroughly unimpressed lawyer, and she's great, but until then, Le Carré leaves us with types: (lj-cut text="Spoilers explain a bit">Tulip, who of course is sexy, brave, and doomed to die, Millie, Smiley's enigmatic and mostly silent house keeper of old, Catherine, Peter Guillam's present day beautiful and much younger French love interest, and also in the present mean career woman Laura who has it in for our narrator. Since Le Carré in an article about the recent tv version of The Night Manager freely admitted the best thing about it was the gender change that allowed Olivia Colman to play the handler character, I'm surprised that he didn't at least try to get out of his boys' club mentality for this novel. Make Christoph a Christine, for example, who still is damaged, has spent some time in prison and is on a revenge quest, and then even with the drawback mentioned above you immediately have a more interesting character. Granted: as a rule, you don't read Le Carré for his female characters (with the odd exception), you read him for the various male characters with myriad issues neurotically interacting with each other, and as always, he delivers a plenty.

Thirdly, for a novel which has a trial looming as a threat, it's a bit frustrating that spoilers happen ).

Not a nitpick, just an observation: if you're only familiar with the recent movie version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and not either the 70s tv version of the novel, you might be surprised and/or annoyed that Peter Guillam isn't gay in A Legacy of Spies, but this was a movie-only thing, not mentioned or indicated in the original novel. Though while Guillam's het affairs are plot revelant, I admit he'd have been a more interesting character to me if Le Carré had decided to make him at least bi. Anyway, this novel isn't a case of a narrator truly telling his own story, it's more a case of the narrator telling other people's stories, in this case, Leamas', Smiley's and Tulip's.

Lastly: if The Spy Who Came In From The Cold advanced the cause of shadiness in the spy genre, it for all its moral ambiguity - Spoilers for a spy novel and movie classic ) it did so with the underlying assumption that it was still justified by the need to not let the Soviet Union win the Cold War. A Legacy of Spies, written by a much older John Le Carré who is thoroughly disgusted by current day politics, has its narrator wonder increasingly what any of it was for. And then George Smiley in his Old Luke Skywalker cameo answers that question with a passionate declaration that's very obviously also an authorial fourth wall breaking, of a writer in the age of Brexit and Trump. Smiley, on why he did the things he did:

"For world peace, whatever that is? Yes, yes, of course. There will be no war, but in the struggle for peace no stone will be left standing, as our Russian friends used to say. (...) Or was it all in the great name of capitalism? God forbid. Christendom? God forbid again. (...) So was it all for England, then?" he resumed. "There was a time, of course there was. But whose England? Which England? England all alone, a citizen of nowhere? I'm a European, Peter. If I had a mission - if I ever was aware of one beyond our business with the enemy, it was to Europe. If I was heartless, I was heartless for Europe. If I had an unattainable ideal, it was to lead Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason. I have it still.

It's the last sentence that draws the line between nihilistic despair and critique allied to resolve and hope, despite it all.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

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