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This is wonderful.

"Did you know there are more than 60 public access routes through private buildings in central Auckland?

The routes exist to allow for private development in areas where public access may otherwise be restricted. They are known as ‘through links’, and they include public viewing decks, plazas and access to privately owned artworks."
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Posted by David Emery

Fake news web sites floated an incoherent story alleging that a white supremacist arrested for vehicular attack in Charlottesville, Virginia is a Democrat who met with Obama in the White House.

Culprit identified....

2017-08-16 21:11
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[personal profile] flick
While weeding the back garden (this time with gloves on), I found another mystery plant, this time with white flowers, and Mike identified it as self-seeded nicotiana, the sap of which the internet confirms can cause skin irritation.

Fortunately, my diagnosis of the blisters as big but minor was correct: they've come off, and the skin underneath is undamaged. I'll have to remember that in future!
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[personal profile] mizkit

Or don’t, as you see fit. But if you’ve ever wondered how ordinary decent people let Nazi Germany happen, if you’ve ever thought “I would have done something, if I’d been alive back then,” well, this is how it happened, and what we do now is what we would have done then.

Hi. My name is [   ] and I’m a consitutent in [   ], zip code [   ]. I don’t need a response to this, but I do want this message passed on to my [ Senator / Congressperson ].

I’m calling to tell the Senator/Congress(person) that it is imperative that they denounce not only the Nazi gatherings in our country, but also the President of the United States, who has now openly defined himself as a white supremacist. Thoughts and prayers are, at this stage, deeply insufficient. Any action less than a full and swift removal of Donald Trump from the Presidential office is inadequate. We as Americans must be better than this, and the Senator/Congressperson, as an elected official, must stand up and say we will not tolerate fascist leadership. Every day that they delay doing so aligns them more powerfully with an authoritarian regime, and history will not be kind to those in government who do not take decisive action now.

Thank you for your time.

If you really hate talking to people on the phone, call during off-hours so you’ll get an answering machine. But call, because you can’t pull punches when you’re fighting fascists.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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Posted by Anne M. Pillsworth, Ruthanna Emrys

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at H.P. Lovecraft and Duane Rimel’s “The Disinterment,” first published in January 1937 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

“Intuitively I knew my own tombstone; for the grass had scarcely begun to grow between the pieces of sod. With feverish haste I began clawing at the mound, and scraping the wet earth from the hole left by the removal of the grass and roots.”

Summary

Our unnamed narrator is a very good sibling, for he traveled to the far Philippines to nurse a brother dying of leprosy. Too bad he’s not also a good judge of friends.

After narrator returns home, his long-time companion and physician Marshall Andrews discovers he’s contracted the dread scourge. Narrator is currently symptom-free, but if authorities find out about his condition, he could be deported to die in lonely squalor. Luckily Andrews keeps his secret and allows narrator to remain in their ancient abode, a veritable medieval fortress perched on a crag over crumbling Hampden. Andrews is a surgeon of high local reputation, but the wider medical world might look askance at his experiments in glandular transplantation, rejuvenation and reanimation, and brain transference.

Leaving narrator in the care of venerable servant Simes, Andrews travels to the West Indies. In Haiti he learns of a curious drug. It induces so profound a sleep that the taker’s bodily functions mimic death closely enough to fool the cleverest examiner. How does this concern narrator? Well, Andrews has a plan. Faking death might not cure narrator, but at least he could be dead to the world and achieve the partial freedom of a new identity.

Narrator agrees to the macabre scheme. He takes the Haitian poison and “dies,” after which he’s interred in his family’s burial ground. Andrews and Simes dig him up shortly afterwards. Back in the crag-top “fortress,” narrator slowly recovers consciousness, only to find himself paralyzed below the neck. Andrews assures him the paralysis will pass with time. Certainly the doctor lavishes attention on his friend, constantly examining him and inquiring about his sensations. Despite—or because—of this, narrator begins to fear that Andrews now views him more as an experimental animal than a comrade. He doesn’t like the “glint of victorious exultation” that sometimes gleams in the doctor’s eyes.

More troubling still is the “terrible sense of alienation” narrator feels from his slowly-recovering (and still unseen) body. His limbs barely respond to his mind’s commands. His hands feel woefully awkward. He dreams of “ghoulish graveyards at night, stalking corpses, and lost souls amid a chaos of blinding light and shadow.” Meanwhile Andrews grows colder, and the cries of his lab animals grate on narrator’s overwrought nerves.

New life begins to vibrate in narrator’s body, a fact he conceals from Andrews, as he’s now determined to escape his “refuge.” One night he creeps from bed and dons a robe that is oddly too long, shoes that are oddly too big. A heavy candelabrum in hand, he makes his dizzy way to Andrews’s laboratory, finds him asleep over notes, brains him. As he looks at the “hideous half-visible specimens of [Andrews’s] surgical wizardry scattered about the room,” he feels no contrition for the murder.

Simes isn’t as easily dispatched, but narrator chokes the life out of him, ignoring his gibbering pleas for mercy. Then, in a “frenzy of something more than fear,” he staggers from the “fortress” and heads to his nearby ancestral home, and the cemetery where he briefly rested. Bare-handed, he unearths his own coffin. The stench of rot overwhelms him—what fool could have buried another body in his place?

He scrambles from the charnel pit but must return to wrest open the coffin. What he sees there drives him screaming into unconsciousness.

Waking, he finds himself at the ancestral door. He enters the study he deserted years before. He will write out his story until the sun rises. Then he’ll throw his deformed self into a nearby well. You see, Andrews meant all along that narrator should be his “masterpiece of unclean witchery…perverted artistry for him alone to see.” The other body, which narrator has been slowly learning to control, must have come with Andrews from Haiti along with the poison. “At least,” narrator writes in closing, “these long hairy arms and horrible short legs are alien to me…that I shall be tortured with that other during the rest of my brief existence is another hell.”

And what did narrator see in his own grave? Only “[his] own shrunken, decayed, and headless body.”

What’s Cyclopean: This week’s selection reminds us that “hideous” was in fact Howard’s most-used word. There is also bonus gibbering.

The Degenerate Dutch: Scary medicines causing death-like paralysis come from Haiti. Naturally. So do alien creatures suitable for experimental body transplants.

Mythos Making: Creepy activities with dead bodies also occur in “Charles Dexter Ward,” “Herbert West,” and “Cool Air,” among many others. Creepy identity-warping body horror shows up in too many stories to count.

Libronomicon: Andrews’s library includes “any number of fanciful subjects hardly related to modern medical knowledge.” Most focus on “monstrous” surgical experiments, “bizarre” transplants, and attempts to develop new drugs.

Madness Takes Its Toll: Whatever the effect of Andrews’s experiments on his subjects, they don’t seem to do wonders for his own mental health.

 

Anne’s Commentary

I’m not sure that the underlying message is tinged with homophobia, but it never works out for two Lovecraft guys to live together. Remember the cohabiting pair of “The Hound?” The arrangement gets even more dire when one of the roomies is a surgeon with dubious ambitions, like everyone’s favorite reanimator Herbert West.

So narrator of “The Disinterment” was doubly doomed, wasn’t he? Long-time cohabitants, check. One of the pair a brilliant mad scientist, check.

And is there a specific phobia assigned to those who dread the amalgamation of human and nonhuman bodily parts, or sometimes gene pools? Because Lovecraft capitalizes on that one a lot, too. Humans and white apes mating: “Arthur Jermyn.” Snake-human hybrids: “The Curse of Yig.” Fish/frog-human hybrids: “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Ancient man-animal mummies: “Under the Pyramids.” Changeling ghouls: “Pickman’s Model.” The offspring of woman and Yog-Sothoth, for the love of the Outer Gods: “The Dunwich Horror.”

Can’t we just keep humans HUMANS and animals ANIMALS? Shades of Dr. Moreau, fiction’s greatest (?) vivisectionist! But H. G. Wells’ point, ultimately, is that animals made to look and behave like humans, not that big a deal, since humans routinely behave like animals, since after all humans are animals.

For Lovecraft, as race should mate with like race, species should mate with like species. And nobody should mate with Outer Gods, period. Except—maybe humans and Deep Ones aren’t so bad a match-up. What with us all coming from the sea originally, right? Even boozy old Zadok Allen knows that.

But, come on, Anne. Let’s get back to “The Disinterment.” There’s no way the non-consensual attachment of human head to ape body can be a good thing. For either the human or the ape, no matter how big a kick it gives the mad scientist. Unnamed narrator got seriously screwed. Though one must wonder. One must wonder several things.

First, how could narrator live with Andrews for years without knowing his dark tendencies?

Second, kinda confusing how fake-dying and then coming back to assume a new identity could help narrator. [RE: Step 3—profit!] I guess the authorities would no longer be looking for him in particular, but he’s still got leprosy, could still be deported if he leaves off hiding and parades his eventual sores in public. So taking an FDA-unapproved death-mimicking drug in return for identity change doesn’t seem all that tempting to me. A better fictional ploy, for both Andrews and Lovecraft-Rimel, would have been for Andrews to claim the death-mimic drug would actually cure narrator of leprosy. Now that would make the risk far better worth taking. And so what if the cure was a lie. Once narrator woke up with an ape’s body grafted to his head, he wasn’t going to be happy even if leprosy-free.

I’m thinking the only one who could really profit from narrator’s supposed death, all along, was Andrews. I presume someone knows narrator lives with him; by making the world think narrator’s six feet under (um, in toto), Andrews doesn’t have to account for his permanent disappearance from public view. But narrator never realizes this, nor does Andrews muhaha about his cleverness. Not that he muhahas about anything, to narrator, except via his clinical chill and gleaming eye.

Third (and this is how my mind works, detail-wise), what kind of ape comes from Haiti? There are no native species. Of course, the Haitian ape could be an import to the island, possibly a pet or zoo animal. Or the ape need not have come from Haiti at all—narrator just shiveringly speculates that it did, in tandem with the death-mimic drug.

And (my mind continuing to “work”) what kind of ape body could at all reasonably bear a human head? Narrator’s noggin would be ridiculously over-sized on a gibbon and kinda biggish on a chimpanzee. It would probably look too small on a gorilla or orangutan, but at least it wouldn’t be weighing their bodies down. I don’t know. I guess I’ll go with a large chimp or a little gorilla. Like a female gorilla. Uh oh, though. Now narrator would also have to contend with a sex change!

In the end (literally), this very short story aims for a quick reader frisson at the shock of narrator’s postsurgical situation. Okay, that’s a legitimate aim for a piece of this length—it’s not likely to wow with character development or world-building. The idea’s creepy, but narrator’s too gullible for me, and too unobservant. It really takes him a look in his grave to realize he’s got an ape body? He couldn’t make that out in all the time he’s lying around convalescing? Wouldn’t ever take a peek under the blanket Andrews prescribes for his warmth? Wouldn’t notice the difference while he’s murdering his “caregivers”?

And, last quibble, he wrote this last narrative down with his awkward ape hands? Because it does read like a last narrative. I guess we would have needed a frame story with whoever finds the document remarking on how singularly scrawly-clumsy the script is in order to get this across. You know, like the fly-writing of “Winged Death.” [RE: A human hand is a lot more like an ape hand than a Yithian grasping appendage. As far as Lovecraft’s concerned, handwriting is the product of the mind alone.]

At least, thank gods, we don’t have narrator realizing he’s part-ape because he suddenly craves foliage or termites or bananas.

 

Ruthanna’s Commentary

Leprosy is a disease known nowadays more for its stigma than for any great familiarity—a stigma intense enough that modern sufferers prefer to use the more recent technical name of “Hansen’s Disease.” They’re also fortunate enough to have effective treatment available—antibiotics are your friend, and the growth of antibiotic resistance an insufficiently-mined source of modern horror. So the primary effect of “The Disinterment” was to make me very, very grateful for modern medicine.

I also wanted to be grateful for enlightened modern attitudes towards disease, but then I had to google “leprosy deportation” to figure out when and where the story takes place. And except for the lack of antibiotics, “sometime in the last decade” would have been a possible (though unlikely) answer. Actually, I had trouble tracking down any point at which a white guy (which we can presume narrator at least started as) could get deported for leprosy. Such policies are deeply entangled with two centuries of screwed up beliefs about race and cleanliness and exactly the sorts of imagined “impurity” that wigged Lovecraft out. At one point the British Empire at least considered treating caucasians with leprosy as no longer being legally white, so, um, there’s that?

In less fraught echoes of the story’s medical details, it turns out that an obsession with head transplants will still get you looked at funny by your colleagues.

So, anyway, the story. “The Disinterment” is very different from “Dreams of Yith,” a sonnet cycle notable for the mysterious “lidded blubs” and a distinct lack of Yithians. I liked it, Anne hated it, and it’s definitely not what you’d call a full-fledged linear narrative. This week’s story isn’t among the more impressive in the Lovecraftian canon, but it has some seriously disturbing moments. It also has a narrator who actually responds to his lover/totally-platonic-friend-for-whom-he-deserted-his-family’s ill treatment by deciding… that he doesn’t like him any more. I’m willing to forgive him some of the gullibility Anne mentions, on that basis alone. It’s a refreshing bit of sense after all Howard’s narrators who refuse to desert their beloved friends because, um, because then we wouldn’t get to see their ghastly ends, I guess? Here, narrator takes said ghastly end into his own hands.

Or somebody’s hands. Or something’s hands. That’s a twist that genuinely managed to surprise me. I guessed early on that Narrator was the victim of a non-consensual head transplant. I expected an Outsider-like moment of revelation in a mirror—the titular disinterment (nicely masked by the story opening post-disinterment) was an effectively ghoulish alternative. And then the body turns out not to be human. Eek! Is it really an ape, paralleling the scary primate relations of “Lurking Fear” and “Arthur Jermyn?” I personally have trouble describing an orangutan as “alien to all natural and sane laws of mankind,” but Duane and Howard might disagree. Maybe some passing extraterrestrial got swept up in Andrews’s experiments, poor thing.

Speaking of Andrews, I’m usually sympathetic to people with a tendency to shout “I’ll show them all” in the middle of thunderstorms. But Andrews earns no sympathy, first, because of his terrible informed consent practices. Seriously, you’ve got your dying friend right there, who’s desperate enough to agree to your weird useless faking-your-own-death plan. Why not just ask him if he’d like a new, leprosy-free body? Oh, yeah, because you’re not satisfied with running the first successful brain transplant—you’ve got to make it interspecies, too.

And my second complaint about Andrews is that he doesn’t want to show them all. He doesn’t want to show anyone. If you’re going to break all the laws of god and man, then for pity’s sake, publish.

 

Anne and Ruthanna will both be in Providence for Necronomicon this weekend! When we get back next week, we’ll share some highlights from the con, and the plethora of theatrical productions taking place alongside. Will we make it to Weird Tales Live? A performance of traditional Sea Shanties? A live showing of a certain story about a ruler dressed in golden robes? Only time, and our next blog post, will tell.

Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian stories “The Litany of Earth” and “Those Who Watch” are available on Tor.com, along with the distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” and “The Deepest Rift.” Winter Tide, a novel continuing Aphra Marsh’s story from “Litany,” is now available from Macmillan’s Tor.com imprint. Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Dreamwidth, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.

Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story.The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her young adult Mythos novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.

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a cute photo of a puppy and an older photo of that same dog - list of aging dogs

"Dog Years" is a look at the lives and stories of 30 dogs. Of 30 best and loyal friends... then and now. Photographer Amanda Jones presents each dog as a puppy and again as an older dog. Her gorgeous portraits capture each of the dogs everlasting personalities. 

These are only a few photos from her book "Dog Years" Available Here 

To see more of her work, make sure to check out her website at http://www.amandajones.com/ 

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Posted by Victor Milán

Science fiction and fantasy have been around for centuries. Millennia, depending on which criteria you prefer. Only in the twentieth century did they coalesce into the genre-spectrum they are today, and begin to win large-scale popular and commercial success.

But humans forget. Here are five books by a mere sampling of the writers from the recent past whom we must not forget.

 

Jirel of Joiry by C. L. Moore

Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987) had to use her gender-neutral initials to get published in the 1930s. That didn’t stop her creating the fledgling genre of sword and sorcery’s first female protagonist in Jirel of Joiry. As brave, capable, and arrogant as any man, yet far from invulnerable, Jirel was more than just a red-haired, female Conan. While her adventures were clearly influenced by Robert E. Howard, as well as by Moore’s and Howard’s literary acquaintance H. P. Lovecraft, they focus less on her sword-swinging than her spirit and furious determination. A curious blend of compassion and cruelty, she’s a pious Catholic who’ll risk damnation to gain the means to overcome her foe—then brave the very Hell she sent him to, to free his soul from eternal suffering.

And you’ll never catch Jirel in a mail bikini. She wears the same practical armor as any other warrior of her unspecified Medieval period would.

Moore’s writing is brisk, strongly sensory, and evocative of settings Earthly and alien, though flavored with a few too many adjectives for the modern palate. She had a long and successful career with Jirel and the space opera adventures of Northwest Smith, then writing in collaboration with her husband, Henry Kuttner. Jirel of Joiry is a collection of most of the Jirel tales.

 

The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark by Leigh Brackett

While you may not have heard of Leigh Brackett (1915-1978), you’ve heard of her screenwriting work. Maybe not The Big Sleep or Rio Lobo, but how about The Empire Strikes Back? While the final script is credited to Lawrence Kasdan, her influence on what’s widely considered the best of the Star Wars films is marked – here’s a great vindication of her contribution to it by Charlie Jane Anders.

A vigorous, proficient writer who, like Moore, brought depth to her swashbuckling characters, Brackett wrote space opera at a time when it was widely disdained, even among fellow SF writers, as “mere pulp,” simply because she wanted to. “I suppose most of my stuff would be called escape fiction,” she said. “This is the type of stuff I love to read.” Which goes for me as well.

Indeed, the reason George Lucas called Brackett in to work on Empire—aside from the fact he thought she was a man—was not her prior film success, but because of her “pulp science fiction” stories. These were strongly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “planetary romances” like the Barsoom series, and often starred this collection’s protagonist, Eric John Stark.

 

The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Jack Vance (1916-2013) is my favorite writer. Vance was a master stylist, whose remarkably rich descriptions, often picaresque characters, wry perspective, and unmatched ability to portray bizarre yet believable cultures, human and alien (his years spent traveling the world as an able seaman in the Merchant Marine may have something to do with that), gave him a powerful, distinctive voice.

The Dragon Masters is a novella, sometimes sold bound as a book, which won the 1963 Hugo for Best Short Story. It’s classic space opera adventure, with Vance’s unique twist. Like much of his fiction it’s a rumination on human nature, with its quirks, virtues, extravagant vices, and malleability, shown directly and mirrored by aliens and humans’ interactions with them. “Dragon Masters” takes “malleability” literally, pitting human defenders against reptilian alien invaders on a far-off world, both sides fielding armies of specially-bred, monstrous versions of … each other. Its protagonist Joaz Banbeck, like many of Vance’s, is far from a spotless paladin. But despite his grey areas, he fights the good fight with wit and courage as well as compassion.

The Dragon Masters was also a key inspiration for and influence on my own Dinosaur Lords fantasy novels…

 

Berserker (Berserker Series Book 1) by Fred Saberhagen

­

red Saberhagen (1930-2007) was a quiet, gracious man. He was also a friend, who with his wife, author Joan Spicci Saberhagen, entertained much of the New Mexican SF/F creators’ community at parties celebrating Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. A master storyteller, he wrote a large number of novels and stories which spanned horror (The Dracula Tapes) and fantasy (The Books of Swords.) But he’s best known for his science fiction stories of the Berserkers—autonomous, intelligent killing machines hell-bent on ridding the galaxy of life.

A champion of courage and compassion, with a strong moral center and a dry sense of humor, Saberhagen wrote gripping tales of the Berserker-human war in which he not only encompassed human foibles, but used them as strengths to combating the implacably hostile machines. The stories have been massively influential on science fiction, echoed by Star Trek’s Doomsday Machine (although episode writer Norman Spinrad based it on his own unpublished work, related works like The Star Trek Concordance call the Machine a “Berserker”) Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons, Mass Effect’s Reapers, and Skynet from the Terminator movies.

Berserker stories also helped hook me on SF as a child.

Happily these stories of murder-robots who turned on their creators have no relevance today, since it’s not as if DARPA is actively trying to develop autonomous killing machines. Oh, wait…

 

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

To me, Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) is SF/F’s greatest author, and Lord of Light is my favorite novel. Like Fred Saberhagen, Roger was a friend, a fellow New Mexican, and an all-around good guy. He was also a contributor to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards shared-world anthologies, as am I.

Deliberately blending fantasy and science fiction, Lord of Light is a beautiful, sprawling in scope yet tightly constructed grand adventure, with compelling and surprising characters, and technomagical settings so fantastic that, when a movie based on the novel was proposed in 1979, the filmmakers brought in comic book artist-god Jack Kirby to design the sets. (Asgard, in the MCU Thor movies? That’s Kirby’s vision, brought brilliantly to the screen.) The novel explores the nature of power, faith, and enlightenment – and the uses and misuses of both – with the heart and irreverent wit that marked Zelazny’s multifarious and multi-Hugo and Nebula-winning body of work.

Sadly, the Seventies movie never came about. But a fake production of it, renamed “Argo,” was used as cover for the “Canadian Caper” rescue of six US diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis. And, yes, that’s the basis for 2012’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Argo.

Roger’s risk of being forgotten may drop precipitously if the proposed TV adaptation of Lord of Light comes to pass. But please, read this and other works by him, Moore, Brackett, Saberhagen, Vance, and other past writers—and keep our genre’s history alive.

In previous worlds Victor Milán has been a cowboy and Albuquerque’s most popular all-night prog-rock DJ. The Dinosaur Princess, book 3 in The Dinosaur Lords series, is available now from Tor Books. He’s never outgrown his childhood love of dinosaurs, and hopes you didn’t either.

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Posted by Alex Brown

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

GAAAAAAHHHHHH!! Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, y’all. I mean. I can’t even. Like. It’s so good. It’s sooooooooo good. It’s very existence is a tonic for my troubled soul. And now having read it (twice!) it’s my everything. Open a new tab and buy this novella RIGHT. NOW. I’ll wait. ……… Done? Good. Now let’s talk about how awesome it is.

When Danielle Cain finally makes her way to the squatters’ settlement of Freedom, Iowa, it seems like a queer punk traveler’s home sweet home. It’s anarchy with structure, a free-for-all community run by shared responsibility. Or so they say. There’s a reason Danielle’s best friend Clay killed himself after abandoning Freedom. Just as there’s a reason suspicion, doubt, and mistrust saturate the town.

On her way into Freedom, Danielle encounters a three-antlered deer the color of freshly spilled blood, whom she later learns is a protector spirit called Uliksi. It was summoned by several Freedomers in a desperate bid to protect the town from further violence, but things quickly spiraled out of control. As the creature starts killing off its summoners, fear and unrest trigger a schism in the community. Civil war, police brutality, zombie animals, and a bloodthirsty ancient being converge on the commune and Danielle may be their last hope.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is a novella that feels like a novel. It’s deep and expansive, and while much of the details are few and far between, you hit the end knowing everything you need to. The plot breezes by but isn’t rushed. It’s a whole world in 130 pages. While the novella is categorized as dark contemporary fantasy, it also crosses into horror:

The sun sat fat and low on the western horizon, at the top of the street, and the last light of the day lent everything vivid faded colors White lambs, dappled with red and purple wounds, paced a circle around both lanes of the street, not twenty yards from where we stood. Geese dodged in and out between them, and a regal goat oversaw the parade Each had only a gaping wound where its rib cage had been, yet they lived. They opened their mouths to bellow and squaw and bleat, but their organ-less bodies let out only strange rasps…

A fluttering, above me, caught my eye. On the power lines, hundreds of birds without rib cages – sparrows and finches, jays and pigeons – cried dry and unholy, an angry jury to the trial below. I was transfixed. I can’t say if it was magic or shock. I can’t say the two are wholly distinct.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, Margaret Killjoy is a revelation. Her writing is crisp, taut, and stunningly evocative. She effortlessly bobs and weaves through supernatural thriller, horror, and romance, not sitting too long in one attitude but not coming off as jarring or disjointed either.

Danielle isn’t a girl you typically see in supernatural thrillers. She’s tough and hard, but isn’t a seasoned warrior or a Strong Female Character. She has to figure out how to take down Uliksi and the rebels like everyone else, all while dealing with her personal turmoil. Her co-conspirators—Vulture, a couple calling themselves Doomsday and Thursday, and Brynn, Danielle’s potential love interest—are a masterclass in how to reveal a character’s layers through action and dialogue rather than biographical infodumping.

Killjoy has crafted a world filled to the brim with queer people of all races, body types, and gender/sexual identities with fascinating and complex personalities. This isn’t an author playing with diversity. Killjoy is a trans punk anarchist, so there’s an undercurrent of the truth of experience in her story.

There’s a bit about halfway in where Danielle suffers a panic attack that hit a little too close to home for me. “It hit like a fever or drugs or something. A panic attack just drops you through the ice into freezing water. Even when you drag yourself out of the water, you’re left with the memory that forever-and-always, you’re walking on ice. It’s worse than anything. It’s worse than watching a demon eat a stranger’s heart.” Having gone through my own share of anxiety attacks over the years, the way Killjoy describes it was visceral. Just recalling my last anxiety attack last week and my heart is already racing and my fingers trembling. It’s rare to have anxiety/panic attacks described so realistically.

Tor.com is killing it right now with their novellas. And no, I’m not just saying that because I’m on the payroll. They’re publishing the kinds of stories no other mainstream house dares. I fell in love hard and fast with The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion. It was everything I never knew I wanted, and more. The ending wraps up most of the loose threads but leaves enough dangling to setup the forthcoming sequel, and you can bet your ass I’ll be there cash in hand the day it releases.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is available from Tor.com Publishing.
Read an excerpt here.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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Posted by Leah Schnelbach

Studio Ghibli is known for making coming-of-age films, and for films with complex female characters, but there are two in particular, made 6 years apart, exemplify these traits better than any of their other work. One is considered an all-time classic, while the other is a lesser known gem. One gives us an alternate world full of magic and flight, while the other stays purely grounded in this world. But taken together, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Whisper of the Heart celebrate the single-minded passion of the artist, and the need for young women especially to ignore societal pressures in order to create their own destinies.

 

Historical Background

Kiki began life as a children’s book written by Eiko Kadono, a much simpler, picaresque adventure story compared to the film, which stresses Kiki’s emotional growth and existential crises. When Miyazaki chose to adapt it he also added Kiki’s struggles with her loss of magic, and then wrote a dramatic blimp accident to supply the film’s climax. Trust Miyazaki to find a way to stick an airship into a story about witches…

When Kadono wrote the story, she titled Kiki’s service “takkyubin” which literally means “express home delivery” or “door-to-door service”. This phrase had been used and popularized by the Yamato Transport Company—whose logo, a mother cat carrying her kitten, bears a resemblance to Kiki’s familiar, Jiji. Yamato’s logo is so popular that the company is often colloquially called “kuroneko” – black cat. Miyazaki’s partner Isao Takahata approached the company when they began the adaptation, and the transport company eventually agreed to co-sponsor the movie, thus smoothing over any copyright worries.

Yamato Transport Logo

Kiki was a big hit, and was the highest-grossing movie movie at the Japanese box office in 1989—the film’s success inspired Kadono to write a series of sequels to Kiki’s original adventure. It was also one of the first Ghibli films available in the US, when Disney released an English-language dub on VHS in 1998. (And, if you’d like to read a completely obsolete sentence, according to Wikipedia: “Disney’s VHS release became the 8th-most-rented title at Blockbuster stores during its first week of availability.”) The dub featured Kirsten Dunst as Kiki, Janeane Garofalo as Ursula, and the late Phil Hartman as the acerbic  Jiji—a prominent cast for a fairly early foray into Disney’s attempts at marketing anime.

Whisper of the Heart was based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi. The film, released in 1995, was the directorial debut of Yoshifumi Kondo, a veteran Ghibli animator (including on Kiki’s Delivery Service), who was seen as the obvious heir to Miyazaki. The film was a success, and two years later, following the blockbuster of Mononoke Hime, Miyazaki announced his retirement, seemingly with the idea that Kondo would become the studio’s primary director, while Takahata would continue turning out masterpieces at his slower rate. But, as Helen McCarthy’s history of Studio Ghibli relates, mere days after Miyazaki’s farewell party, Kondo died suddenly of an Aortic dissection. This obviously threw the studio into disarray, and led to Miyazaki coming back to work, but at a much slower pace, as many in the industry felt that Kondo’s tragic death was a result of overwork. With his one directorial effort, Kondo proved that he was a delicate, sensitive craftsman with an eye for the tiny details that imbue every day life with magic.

Whisper of the Heart was a hit in Japan, earning 1.85 billion yen, and garnering strong reviews. But it didn’t get anywhere near the traction in the US that some of Ghibli’s other films did. It’s about kids in mid-90s Tokyo, with very little of the fantastical element that people had already come to expect from Ghibli, and it’s also a deceptively simple story, as I’ll discuss below.

 

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki is a young witch, and since she’s turning 13, it’s time for her to follow the witch tradition of setting out on her own and establishing herself in a witchless town. She leaves her mother and father and flies toward the sea—but since this is Ghibli the burst of freedom is tempered by responsibility. Kiki can only take her cat, Jiji, with her, and she has to dress in a regimented black dress so everyone will know she’s a witch. From now on her own desires have to take a backseat to the needs of her town, as she’s essentially a public servant.

She finds an idyllic city near the sea, establishes that they don’t have a witch already, and lands on the street to take stock. She immediately attracts the attention of a group of young girls of the town, who look at her like an odd zoo animal—her freedom is inextricably bound to her otherness.

In short order she finds a homey bakery in need of a delivery girl, and agrees to exchange her work for an apartment behind the shop. The bakery’s sales go up once they start advertising their magical broom-based delivery service, and Kiki gains a new set of parental figures in Osono and Fukuo, the husband-and-wife bakers—but they’re also her employers. They check on her when she’s sick, and encourage her to take time off, but they also expect her to work hard, and they treat her as a young adult rather than a little girl.

She does make one friend her own age: a boy named Tombo. Tombo resembles a younger version of Kiki’s dad, and he’s awkward and nerdy and completely enamored of her witchiness, just as her father seemed to have been enraptured by her mother years before. Tombo loves flight, and part of his interest in Kiki is sparked by seeing how much she loves it, too. The tentative friendship turns on their conversations about flying, with Kiki supporting Tombo’s ridiculous attempts to build flying machines, but since her confidence has taken a hit since she left home, she’s also apt to run away when she’s faced with Tombo’s friends. It’s just too much to take.

Kiki’s Delivery Service becomes a success, but it also means that Kiki can’t practice any other witch skills. (I could say something about how even in a children’s fantasy movie the realities of capitalism constrain magic…but that’s a whole other article.) This radiates through the film in a surprising way. During a delivery, Kiki is attacked by birds and drops the toy she’s carrying to a country manor.

She finds it in a cabin, but more importantly she meets an artist named Ursula, who kindly fixes the damaged toy, allowing Kiki to finish her job. A few weeks later she’s commissioned to deliver a fish pie to an elderly lady’s granddaughter, but has a rough flight. Soaked and bedraggled, she learns that the pie is for one of the snotty girls who gawked at her on her first day in the city. The girl is dismissive toward both Kiki and the pie, and haughtily sends the girl back into the storm. For a moment Kiki has a glimpse of the life other girls her age are living: birthday parties, time with friends and family, pretty clothes and gifts. Between her depression and the chilling weather, she ends up with a fever…but far worse, she has a crisis of confidence that robs her of her ability to fly, her broom breaks in a crash, and maybe worst of all she realizes that she can no longer understand Jiji.

She has no other talents to fall back on. She’s never learned potions or healing magic or divination. So the witch ends up as a shopgirl, answering phones for Osono, knowing that she’s not really earning her keep, with no idea whether she’ll ever get her powers back. Will she have to go home in disgrace? Is she even a real witch?

Luckily Ursula shows up.

The older woman recognizes the thousand-yard-stare of an artist who has lost her way, and chooses to do the generous thing: she invites Kiki to take a damn vacation already and come back to the cabin with her. For me, this is the heart of the film. Ursula removes Kiki from her ordinary life to give her a new perspective, the two women discuss the similarities of art and magic, and for the first time the young witch is able to see her life from a distance. The next day Ursula reveals her work in progress, and Kiki realizes that she’s inspired her friend to create a beautiful work of art:

Seeing herself through her friend’s eyes makes her realize that she’s more than just the town witch.

She visits Madame, her elderly friend, who makes her a version of the pie that her jerk granddaughter rejected. And then a crisis hits: Tombo is involved in that zeppelin crash that I mentioned earlier. Kiki rushes to help, borrows a streetsweeper’s broom, and rescues him. The film ends with Kiki able to fly again and restarting her delivery service, but more importantly, it ends with her knowledge that she’s a whole person, not just a function. Her magic is an art that will grow with her. Best of all she knows she’s not alone. She’s part of Tombo’s group, she’s part of Osono’s family, she has Ursula, Madame, and Madame’s maid—adulthood doesn’t mean going it alone without her parents, it means building a new community. Plus Jiji has started a family with the cat next door.

 

Whisper of the Heart

 

I’ll begin by saying that Whisper of the Heart, while one of my favorite-ever Ghibli film, features more renditions of John Denver’s 1971 hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” than any film should have—including a cover by Olivia Newton-John. The movie opens over Tokyo—bustling sidewalks, commuter trains, office windows still lit long into the night. We join our heroine Shizuku as she steps out of the corner market, dodges neighborhood traffic, and finally steps into her family’s tiny, cluttered Tokyo apartment. Her father works at the family’s computer in the one large room, as her mother works on a paper at the dining table. The room is dilapidated, dishes piling next to the sink, books and papers sliding from shelves. Shizuku’s older sister, a college student, also lives at home.

The details build gradually—the washing machine is in the shower room, separated from the main room by a curtain. The two sisters have bunk beds, each with their own lamp and a curtain, so they can essentially retreat into their own space and block some of the light and sound out. We never see the parents’ room, because the girls have no reason to go in there, but I think it’s safe to assume that it is as Spartan-yet-cluttered as the rest of the house.

We’ve met Shizuku at a crossroads in her life: she’s in the waning days of her summer vacation, and when school resumes, she’ll be taking her high school entrance exams. These exams will determine her future, and it’s all anyone at school talks about. Things are changing at home too—father is a librarian at the large county library, and they’re switching from card catalogues to digital records (father and daughter agree that this is not a good change); mother has started classes at the local university, with plans to start a new career after graduation, which has required Shizuku and her sister to help with the housework; older sister is juggling college and part-time work, and planning to move out on her own. Shizuku is trying to hold onto the last scraps of her childhood—sleeping in, reading fairytales—as her family tries to push her into adult responsibility and her friends try to push her into romance. The plot is whisper thin, but also not the point.

Shizuku notices that each time she check out a book for her project, the name Seiji Amasawa appears on the card above hers. She starts researching the Amasawa family to try to learn more about this mystery reader. Later, she sees a cat on the train, follows it at random, and discovers an antique shop run by a loving elderly caretaker who just happens to be Seiji Amsawa’s grandfather. Shizuku visits the store and becomes entranced by a particular antique, a cat figurine called The Baron.

She spends time with Seiji while struggling to keep up with her studies, and the film seems to be a sweet YA anime. But the whole film shifts abruptly when Seiji announces he’s going to Cremona, Italy to learn to make violins. This doesn’t happen until about the 45-minute mark, but suddenly the story snaps into focus: talking with her best friend Yuuko, Shizuku realizes that what she really wants is to write a story like the ones she loves. She decides to spend the two months that Seiji is gone testing herself by writing an entire short story. Seiji’s grandfather agrees to let her use the Baron as her main character, on the condition that he gets to be the first person to read the story.

It becomes extremely clear that Kondo has been lulling us with a comfortable coming-of-age movie for nearly an hour, when he was actually creating the origin story of an artist. We’ve been passively watching Shizuku’s ordinary life, just as she was content to read for hours at a time, but now she is actively challenging herself. She spends hours in the library doing research for her story, and we get to see snippets of it—a lovely fantasy of a cat who must rescue his lover with the help of a young girl and a magical jewel. We see traces of stories like Peter Pan and Pinocchio, but also some moments of real originality.

Her grades fall, her sister freaks out, her parents worry, and she doesn’t sleep much, but she meets her deadline. As promised, she shows the finished story to Grandfather Nishi, before having a slight breakdown from all the stress. And then she returns to normal life, but it’s clear that she’s a changed girl. She treats her romance with Seiji as the beginning of an artistic partnership. and makes it clear she plans to make her own way in the world. Even her decision to recommit to school is framed as an artistic choice, when she says she needs college in order to become a better writer.

 

The Perfect Pairing

So last time on the Ghibli Rewatch, I talked about how watching My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies together was not exactly a fun experience. I’m happy to report that Kiki and Shizuku make for a perfect pair. In fact, if I had access to a daughter and her friends? I would suggest that this is the best slumber movie marathon ever created by human hands. There are two elements that I think make these among the most important of Ghibli’s movies…

 

The Power of Female Friendship!

Whisper of the Heart is slightly weaker on this. Shizuku has a tight-knit group of friends who are supportive of her artistic tendencies, including encouraging her English to Japanese translation of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, but they’re not in the film that often. While I personally find Shizuku’s sister insufferable, she is trying to be helpful, and thinks that bullying her kid sis into better grades and more chores will make her stronger. I don’t agree with her methods, but I do think her heart is in the right place. The other two women in Shizuku’s life are more significant. Shizuku’s mother mostly leaves her daughter alone to work (which is probably as much a result of the mom’s own studies as any attempt to encourage independence) but when Shizuku faces her parents and tells them of her need to test herself with her writing project (more on the below), her mother doesn’t just tell her to go ahead and try—she also goes out of her way to tell Shizuku that she, too, has had times when she needed to test herself against deadlines and challenges. She makes herself, and her hard work and sacrifice, a model for her daughter to follow. And then she nudges the girl and tells her she still has to come to dinner with the family. Finally we come to Shizuku’s best friend, Yuuko. Yuuko doesn’t have a terribly large role, but her friendship is pivotal. Shizuko first decides to test her writing through a conversation with Yuuko, not Seiji. It would have been easy for the film to give Seiji that scene, since he’s the other character with a real artistic passion. Instead the film shows us the more emotionally resonant path of placing that decision in a conversation between two best girlfriends.

This theme is much stronger in Kiki. The generosity of all the characters is incredibly touching. Kiki is part of a matrilineal line of witches. When she leaves the safety of her mother, she is taken in by Osono, and befriended by Ursula, Madame, and Madame’s maid. She does have to deal with a few mean girls, but Tombo’s female friends actually seem cool—it’s Kiki who freaks out and runs away from them, but by the end of the film it’s clear that they’re completely accepting of her. The film subtly shows us different phases of a woman’s life, all presented to Kiki as potential choices: she meets a snooty witch, and then a group of girls who represent the typical teenager girlhood she’s leaving behind for a life of witchery; Osono is hugely pregnant, so Kiki also gets an immediate, non-parental model of marriage and new motherhood; Madame provides an example of loving, dignified old age.

Best of all, though, is Ursula. Ursula is a young painter, in her early 20s, working to make it as an artist. She lives alone in a cabin, and is entirely, gloriously self-sufficient. She gives no fucks about social mores, feminine beauty standards, corporate ladders—all that matters to her is her art. When she sees that Kiki needs her she steps into a mentorship role, with no expectation of reward beyond a sketching session.

She is perfect.

 

The Life of the Artist

I will admit that there was a time in my life (college) when I watched Kiki at least once a week. I didn’t really have the time to spare, but I felt so adrift and unsure of what I wanted to do with myself that losing myself in Kiki’s story of failure and rebirth became my own sort of reset button. Each week I’d watch this girl prove herself, fall and get back up. I watched it in the hope that the story would rewrite my own synapses, make it possible that failure was a temporary condition, that I, too, would get my magic back. While Mononoke Hime was my first Ghibli film, and Porco Rosso my favorite, I think Kiki was the most important to me. It’s so rare to see a story of an artist in which failure is treated as natural, inevitable, and part of the process. Of course her magic fails—she’s killing herself with too much responsibility, and she isn’t allowing herself to enjoy flight anymore. When flying stops being fun, you need to take a break and reevaluate.

It’s a perfect metaphor, and the fact that Ursula is the one who steps in to help just makes it all the more resonant. No matter what art or craft you practice,  you have to refill your tank occasionally.

Where Kiki has adulthood thrust upon her at the age of 13, Shizuko actively chooses to try living as an adult, full-time writer for two months, to see if she can produce a real story like the ones she loves reading. No one would blame her if she gave up and lived as a regular student for a few more years before heading off to college—her family would actually prefer it. And she isn’t doing it to impress Seiji, as he isn’t even there to see how hard she’s working, and at that point she thinks he’s staying in Italy for several more years. This is purely for her—to test her own mind and resolve against a blank page.

The film goes from being a fun piece of YA to a great look at the artistic life by treating this completely realistically. Shizuku doesn’t just sit and scribble words down—she goes to the library repeatedly to do serious research for her story, which is the thing ironically that finally gets her to focus rather than passively reading storybooks constantly. She pours herself into her work with a dedication that is far beyond her work on exams, and has stacks of books around her so she can cross-reference. We see her re-reading, editing, swapping words out. She’s trying to craft a real, publishable story. You don’t get to sit down and manically write your way through a montage that ends with a perfect, polished story that magically flies through the New Yorker’s slushpile. You stay up late, you get up early, you drink an unhealthy amount of coffee, you hear a lot of voices (all of them louder than the whisper of your heart, and many of them your own) telling you your project is foolish, and at the end of the whole process you collapse in tears from stress and exhaustion as one person tells you the story’s pretty cool. (And hell, Shizuku’s lucky—at least one person liked the story. Plenty of people write stories for years before anyone likes them…)

The film doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of the creative process, and it also doesn’t try to turn Shizuku into a cute kid who’s doing her best. She wants the story to be great, and she falls short of her own standards: “I forced myself to write it, but I was so scared!” When Grandfather Nishi tells her he likes her story, he also tells her “you can’t expect perfection when you’re just starting” and makes it clear that this isn’t a masterpiece, it’s only a beginning. Writing, like all endeavors, requires work and practice. It requires failure. Most adult films about writers never capture this kind of work, so seeing it here made me ecstatic.

Maybe the absolute best part of all, though? Once her parents notice her obsession they sit down and talk with her, seriously, about why she’s pursuing writing. In what may be my favorite-ever Ghibli moment they tell her to go ahead with it. Her father says, “There’s more than one way to live your life,” but follows up by saying that she’ll need to live with the consequences if her writing project tanks her chances of going to a top high school. And as she learns in working on the story, she’s going to need proper research skills and strong discipline to make it as a professional writer, so she’s going to have to be serious about studying. After Grandfather Nishi reads her first story the two eat ramen together and he shares a little of his life story. She goes home and tells her mother that she’s going back to being a regular student…at least for now. And even when the film ties the romantic plot together, and makes it clear that she and Seiji are going to embark on a romance, both of them frame it as a creative partnership rather than just two kids dating.

These two films are so good at showing what it means to try to follow a creative path in life—whether it’s writing or painting or craft beer brewing or hairstyling. Any time you try to express yourself creatively there is going to be an undercurrent of terror that people might not get it, might reject you, might mock you. Your work might not live up to your own standards. But Studio Ghibli was brave enough to give us two films, neaarly a decade apart, assuring young girls that failure was just part of growing up, and that when you found something you were truly passionate about, you should pursue it with your whole being.

rachelmanija: (Default)
[personal profile] rachelmanija
Looks like the Nazi scum saw how many people planned to show up to stand up to them in LA, and ran like the cowards they are. Apparently the Venice Nazi rally has been cancelled (but Nazi rallies are still planned in other cities). But it looks like OUR rally is still on, whether the Nazis show up or not.

I will keep updating but if our rally is happening, I'll still be there. I think it's important to show our solidarity and fire. Hey, just talking about showing up chased the Nazis out of LA before they even came - let's give them crowd photos to haunt their dreams and keep them out.
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
This is the second climax, as tense and emotionally powerful as the Hunting Lodge battle--and there is a third to come.

One of the many things I love about this series is that now, so near the end, it could easily have descending into all grim all the time, but first there was Nie’s surprise reappearance, and then Lin Chen strolls in, and proceeds to tease absolutely everybody with his insouciant wisecracking and unruffled competence.

The result is, the serious scenes still hit with resonating impact, carrying all the emotional velocity of the storyline so far, but we get these delightful moments of relief and delight that keep emotional reaction swinging from bright to dark and back again.

Read more... )

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