Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Book Review: The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version of this story, narrated by the author. Valente brings her story to life fantastically.

I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. Despite the suspense, the book lived up to my expectations, and then some.

Valente is a talented scholar of myth. She draws symbols, tropes, and archetypes together with her own imaginings and arranges them into patterns that feel so right. As a reader you get the sense that her stories ought to be true because they make so much sense, and they resonate with the deepest threads of human storytelling.

'The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland...' could be enjoyed equally by children, teens, and adults. There are layers upon layers to the story, and everyone remotely interested in myths or fairy tales would discover something profound while reading this book.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Movie review: Pacific Rim

I haven't blogged in a while because my day job has been crazy and I haven't had the brain power. I thought that my first blog post when I found my brain again would be about Au Contraire 2, the convention I attended the other week, but then I saw Pacific Rim. I have a lot of thoughts to dump regarding Pacific Rim, so I thought the Au Contraire post could wait a little longer.


When I first heard about Pacific Rim, I wasn't particularly excited to see it. As a former anime fan I've seen my share of mecha stories, and for me the trope was somewhat tired and worn. But then I heard that Guillermo del Toro was the director. He's one of my favourite directors, so my interest was piqued. Then the trailers started coming out, and as I learned that these robots (Jaegers) have two neurally linked pilots, well, all of a sudden I really wanted to see the movie.

I should have realised earlier how much I would love Pacific Rim. I am the one who gets obsessed with movie soundtracks and sees the small gestures, the visual symbols. Therefore I am pretty much the ideal audience for anything directed by Guillermo del Toro, including giant robots and monsters, despite the fact that my demographic would suggest otherwise.

So, how was the movie?

First, the not so good things

There are a few poor reviews of Pacific Rim floating around, mostly complaining about the script and concept. Yes, the script is so-so, the science is flaky, and some of the characters are annoying (particularly the campy scientists). The names of the characters and Jaegers were also a bit cringing. Yes it is cheesy, but it is supposed to be cheesy. This movie is a love letter to a lot of other media products, some of them B-grade. I think the silly names were necessary; they were an important part of the feeling and spectacle of the movie.

Now some great things

  • The special effects were simply awesome. First-rate stuff.
  • The soundtrack is amazing (I'm listening to it right now, and I had the title track on repeat at the gym yesterday).
  • The use of colour is awe-inspiring. This is something del Toro is a master of. (I will speak about colour a lot in this review).

del Toro made full use of all the elements available to him as a director to pack a lot of heart into sequences that were very sparse on quality dialogue. One sequence that particularly struck me was the prologue section in Anchorage.

Case study: My thoughts on the opening sequence and how I got teary

The Jaegers and the Jaeger pilots were introduced in a sequence that showed Raleigh and Yancey Beckett suiting up and preparing to fight a kaiju. This sequence was perfectly put together and made me, I kid you not, cry at the grandeur. The title music, heavy on the drums and electric guitar, played as these two young, swaggering men suited up and strode to the pilot area of their Jaeger. Electronic strains kicked in as the technology of the Jaeger was shown on screen. The colour palette of the sequence was golds, bronze, and red, reflecting youthful optimism and surety, and echoing the colour of their Jaeger Gypsy Danger's nuclear engine (her heart). As Gypsy Danger's head dropped into place and the orchestra came into the music, I teared up while grinning like a loon. In a single minute of perfectly sculpted movie magic, I was fully caught up in Gypsy and her pilots' story.

For some people the Jaegers or the Kaiju will be the best part of Pacific Rim, but I am always interested in characters first.

Best thing of all about Pacific Rim for me

For me, the best thing about this movie is the Drift, the neural connection between the dual Jaeger pilots. This single concept has taken an otherwise tired, used-to-death trope (mecha with human pilots) and made it sparkling new. There is so much potential in the psychological exploration of the link between pilots and the sharing of their memories. Many examples of this link are given in the movie: siblings, father and son, husband and wife, and in Raleigh and Mako the "OMG where have you been all my life" instant connection.

Is there romance in Pacific Rim? Not such an easy question

Something I've noticed is that some people see a romance in the movie and some people don't. What particularly struck me is that the people who don't see a romance are those who don't want to anyway. The ambiguous way it has been set up, people see what they want to see, which is a wonderful way of respecting the movie's audience.

I personally think there could be a romance, or there could not. They certainly have an instant connection, which could be the beginning of love, but not necessarily. Either way, it is not our business. It is their business only. The characters keep it to themselves, which ties tightly into the motif throughout the movie of how Jaeger pilots don't need to discuss their issues because they already understand fully what each other are thinking. Mako and Raleigh don't kiss like they would have if someone else had made the movie (although the fight scene was sparky enough alone, as was the hug at the end). They don't have some sappy talk about their feelings. But why would they? They've Drifted. This theme is explained by two other characters (the father and son) who talk about how you don't need to talk in the Drift. They already know what each other thinks. Raleigh and Mako's first little sparks of possible romance are told in a few looks, but they are all that is needed. And that tells a story about the most important part of human interactions. It isn't sex. It is those looks. Those deep understandings. And that's an important message.

My favourite Jaeger

An important part of the Pacific Rim experience is choosing one's favourite Jaeger. Fan communities have sprung up online based around the Jaegers and their pilots, none so invested as the Cherno Alpha fans, who are a vocal lot indeed.

At first I liked Crimson Typhoon, because it is shiny and unique, but on reflection my favourite Jaeger is Gypsy Danger (even though I don't like the name. Er, racial slur, much?).

Why do I like Gypsy Danger? And here is where I get to talk about Guillermo del Toro's use of colour. I love, love, love the colour scheme of Gypsy Danger and how it reflects both the two main characters and the thematic thrust of the whole movie.

Gypsy's hull is blue-gray iron, strongly reflecting Mako Mori's colour palette, the palette that in turn reflects her memories of Onibaba's attack on Tokyo. Gypsy's nuclear heart glows orange-red like the lighting and colour palette of the prologue when we see Raleigh and Yancey, confident and cocky as they suit up to ride Gypsy.

The blue and glowing red heart together reflect several things at once:
  • Child-Mako clutching her red shoe to her chest over her blue coat and looking up in wonder at Stacker Pentecost exiting Coyote Tango.
  • The kaiju world, which is lit in blue, except for the fat, soon-to-go-nova red sun in the sky.
  • The dark emotional pain cloaking both Mako and Raleigh, and hiding their heroic, strong-willed and passionate hearts.
  • That in amongst darkness, if the heart (togetherness) glows bright, there is hope.
Plus: chain sword FTW.

In summary:

I think this may be my favourite movie ever. Seriously. Yes, it is a movie about robots punching monsters in the face. And whacking them with oil tankers. But it is perfectly crafted for the genre, does what it says on the tin, and is exactly the right size in regards to storyline and theme to satisfy an audience. I want to see it again.

(A spoilery note follows the jump)

Current progress on Reality Shifting:

Listening To

Pacific Rim soundtrack

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Things I Am Angry About - June 2013

June 2013 has been quite a month, hasn't it? Truly, so many incidents have filled me with Righteous Feminist Rage®. Each time I've thought I should blog about the issue because making noise is the only way to cause change, but I've always been too angry to be coherent. By the time I've calmed down, so many people have said far more intelligent things than I ever could have, so I've left it.

But staying silent only adds to the problem.

Rather than try to say something intelligent myself, I thought I'd signal boost some fabulous posts that other people have already written.

Rage-making Incidents 1-5 - The SFWA Debacle

For those who aren't aware, a series of articles appeared in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Bulletin (their professional publication) talking about:

  1. how hot the female editors in the 1960s were and how great they looked in bikinis 
  2. how women writers should be like Barbie (the doll) because she "maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should"
  3. the "censorship" the poor men who wrote article 1 had been subjected to (i.e. people correctly calling them out for being sexist). This article was written as a long "back in the good old days"-type rant by the same people who had written that first article.

On top of all this, one of the Bulletins featured on its cover an illustration of Red Sonja in her chainmail bikini in the snow (Frank Frazetta-style artwork had its time, but that time is not now). Then to top it off, SFWA's most racist/misogynistic/general arsehole-ish member called uber-talented author N.K. Jemisin a black hysterical savage because she gave a keynote speech at a con encouraging inclusiveness in the SFF community and calling for reconciliation. While a lot of this started before June, it all boiled to a head in the early and middle parts of this month.

I hope you don't need me to point out why I got so angry about all this stuff. If you'd like to read more, my friend and fellow SpecFicNZ member Amanda wrote some great summary posts:

Some other great links:

This week in SF by Ann Aguirre
After reading this post, I ordered Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Old men yelling at clouds: SFWA sexism by Foz Meadows

Rage-making Incident 6 - The Wendy Davis Filibuster

In particular, how the Republicans responded to it, and how they tried to illegally pass a vote after midnight. Also, how mainstream media within the States gave the end of the filibuster almost zero coverage at the time, and a lot of the coverage they did give it seemed to focus on how Wendy Davis wore pink tennis shoes while filibustering. I'm not even going to bother linking to information about this, because it is all over the internet right now.

Rage-making Incident 7 - Reporting Sexual Harrassment

This morning, my Twitter feed lit up with the news of author Elise Matthesen laying a formal complaint about a senior Tor editor who sexually harassed her. The rage-making part of the Incident is that this editor has been harassing people for years, and people have tried to complain about it before, and yet somehow he hasn't yet suffered any consequences that anyone can tell. People who worked with him at Tor seemed unaware, although naturally they are not in a position to comment about it at the moment (as Tor is going through a legal process).

The article by Elise has been posted to several high-profile authors' blogs:

Cherie Priest also wrote a great blog post in response to this issue.

In this case, do read the comments. A lot of interesting, intelligent things are being said in the comments of all those posts, and all the authors are actively monitoring what's going on in those comments one way or another.

So, yes, June: you brought us a lot of shit, but also a lot of positive reaction. July, I hope you build on the positive aspects more than the negative ones.

Current progress on Symmetry Breaking:

Revision on hold

Current progress on Reality Shifting:

Currently Reading

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Friday, 21 June 2013

In Which I Make a Wiki

This morning for a couple of hours we had Winter Solstice snow in Christchurch. It was oh so exciting, but it did not stick around for long. Alas, the cold did linger, as it tends to do. Well, at least from this point on the days will be getting longer, not shorter.

Mid-winter and mid-summer are the times when it suddenly strikes me that I live in a different hemisphere than most people who speak my language. While those of us who live in NZ have been experiencing an Antarctic blast, Twitter keeps bringing me little snippets of people enjoying this mythical "summer" thing: mentions of barbeques, trips to the beach, ice-cold drinks, etc. It's funny how in the middle of winter, summer feels illusionary, and vice versa. Or maybe that's just me?

Writing Update

I've been pushing on with my novel Reality Shifting (see word count below). I've had to put the revisions of Symmetry Breaking on hold due to burnout, but I hope to get back to that soon.

When I've needed a break from writing, I've been brainstorming for another story I want to work on later in the year. It is a sci fi story that I think will be serialised rather than a novel, as the story is coming to me in discrete chunks. A complex world underlies the story, so I have started putting together a wiki for the series in Evernote. There are three great things about making the wiki in Evernote:

  • It is easy to put together and edit across all my devices (with the small exception that the links between pages have to be inserted via the desktop app)
  • I can share it with whoever I want, and I can even make the wiki notebook public (i.e. it could be a bonus for readers in the future)
  • I already have Evernote and know how to use it (whereas if I downloaded a wiki-specific program, I would then have to teach myself how to use the thing).

All in all, this is an excellent idea and I can't believe I haven't thought of it before. 

A Random Picture

Because I feel like it, here is a random photograph taken by me.

At Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion), Kyoto

I've been thinking about Kyoto a lot, for a few reasons. One is that I am reading a book set in Kyoto nearly 1000 years ago (Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter). The other is that I have been doing some research into Heian Period Japan because of another story idea I have. 
I have lots of ideas.

Current progress on Symmetry Breaking:

Revision on a brief hiatus

Current progress on Reality Shifting:

Currently Reading

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A week of Kermit Flail

Hi, how have you been? It's been quite an eventful week for me. I meant to blog earlier but I got distracted by a book (more on that below).

Writer Week 2013

As I mentioned last time, this past week I have been off work specifically to work on my writing. I didn't quite get everything done that I'd hoped to, i.e. I didn't manage to finish the current round of revisions of Symmetry Breaking. However, I did write 2000 words (or very, very close, stopping only because I'd reached the end of a scene) all five days of my writer week. I was fairly tired by Friday. If I wrote that much every week I'd soon get used to it, but it was a bit of a push this week. All in all I'm proud of my effort, and I wish I could do this every week.

Profile on Helen Lowe's blog

I was profiled on Christchurch fantasy writer Helen Lowe's blog. Go check it out.

Thanks for the opportunity, Helen!

The Ministry Initiative Kickstarter

The Ministry Initiative kickstarter campaign started this week. The campaign is raising money to fund a new anthology and a fate core-based RPG in the world of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. Pip and Tee gave me my first break, accepting my story 'The Wrong Camera' into the related podcast and ebook series 'Tales from the Archives'. I hope you'll take a look at the kickstarter and read the existing books too if you haven't done so. They're very good, and I'm eagerly awaiting the upcoming anthology and the third novel.

Forged in Blood I

The sixth novel in Lindsay Buroker's Emperor's Edge series was released yesterday. As I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of these books and so of course I bought it straight away and read the whole thing in one day. 

I am so, so sorry to anyone who I have already convinced to try this series. Not because it's bad (it is brilliant, by the way). I am sorry because Forged in Blood I ends in an EPIC CLIFFHANGER OF DOOM. Seriously. You must read this series, but if you haven't started it yet, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES START UNTIL THE FINAL BOOK IS OUT. You won't have to wait long. As Lindsay is an indie author, the expected release date is August this year.

Wait, what am I saying???? That's months away! I can't wait that long! Wah!!! Sniffle.

The book that currently has me flailing like Kermit the Frog every 5 minutes, in both a good and a bad way

Current progress on Symmetry Breaking:

In revision

Current progress on Reality Shifting:

Currently Reading

Re-reading a certain scene in Forged in Blood I over and over ::wink wink::

Friday, 10 May 2013

Writing catch-up

So it turns out that I haven't blogged in ages. I've been working hard, though! Look at my word counter at the bottom of the post. What do you think of that? Nearly 35,000 words in six weeks. My word count is the main reason that I haven't been blogging recently. I've been spending my word-pennies elsewhere. On top of writing Reality Shifting, I have also been revising Symmetry Breaking and re-reading Lindsay Buroker's Emperor's Edge series in anticipation of the upcoming release of book 6. So yes: busy.

Writer Week

I will be on holiday from my day job next week for Writer Week 2013. Yay! This is nothing official, just something I do occasionally. I take a week of leave to sit at home in my pyjamas writing and get ahead on my word count. I'm really looking forward to it. Writer Week 2012 was a disappointment because I caught a bad cold and spent the whole week sipping Lemsip, going through multiple boxes of tissues, and generally feeling sorry for myself. Then when I got better, I had to go back to work.

This year I will not get sick. I'm not allowed. (You hear that, immune system? Take note!) My aim is to begin to establish an at-home writing routine. I already have an around-the-day-job writing routine, but to have an at-home one as well would be great.

SpecFicNZ Meetup

Last Saturday I attended the May Christchurch meetup of SpecFicNZ. Yet again it was an absolute pleasure to catch up with like-minded people and talk about books, publishing, Iron Man 3, and other assorted geekeries while nomming delicious food. We meet at Under the Red Verandah*, which is a wonderful cafe. 

*(If you're in Christchurch, don't be put off by the location. Yes, it's in Linwood; and yes, it's only a block away from a "massage parlour". But any bacon lover's life is incomplete until they have tried UtRV's oaty pancakes with bacon, fried banana and maple syrup. And the dessert cabinet! Good grief!)

Current progress on Symmetry Breaking:

In revision

Current progress on Reality Shifting:

Currently Reading

Conspiracy — Lindsay Buroker

Listening To

Firefly soundtrack

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Back in the swing of things

It feels good to be writing again. I'm about 10 days, and exactly 8000 words, into book 2. Not bad. Also, I think I am writing a cleaner first draft than book 1. The whole process feels easier this time around.

Steering the Craft

I have had Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin for a while, but had only done the first two exercises or so. The other day, I fetched it out again and had another look-see. It's a fantastic book for anyone interested in writing fiction. I think it would be particularly useful for those who are worried about how to find their own "voice".


I heard about BookBub from writers discussing book promotion. I signed up yesterday as a reader, not a writer. BookBub is an opt-in email list containing links to ebook that are free or on sale. When you sign up you select which genres you are interested in. Also, the list is curated, which means only quality books appear in the email (i.e. nothing with bad covers, bad formatting, or too many bad reviews). If you read ebooks you may be interested in signing up.

Current progress on Symmetry Breaking:

In revision

Current progress on Reality Shifting: