MLM No “M” – “Peril-Led Princess, Part 3”

Published February 20, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Part 1, Part 2

“Peril-Led Princess”

Part 3

Princess Spiderweb asked the tiktox a great deal of questions, which it was at pains to answer, but it did his best, because that was what all tiktox did.  “Tiktox are constructed out of all different types of alloys,” it told her.  Then it gestured to its shiny body with two of its hands, still using two to hold the jeweled egg, and the last two to hold on to her horse.  “This tiktox body is brass, the substance of the servants to the court.”

The princess thought about that a bit.  She had often heard the ex-queen talk about the servants she used to have.  “You’re a butler?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” the tiktox answered, with a grating sigh.  “There is no good equivalent.  Tiktox are very different than flesh creatures.”

“But they lay eggs?”

“Of course not!” the tiktox shouted, gesturing with all four of its free hands, so that it nearly fell off the horse’s back as they flew.  “This is not an egg!”

“What is it, then?” Princess Spiderweb asked.

“This is the rightful executive function of the tiktox,” it told her, nodding serenely.

“I don’t understand,” Princess Spiderweb said, a bit reluctantly.

“Hardly a surprise,” the tiktox replied, shaking its head.  “Flesh creatures have things like kings and queens and dukes, rather than the honest and pure executive function.”

“That’s your king?” Princess Spiderweb asked, staring down at the golden egg as it sparkled with jewels of every color.

“No,” the tiktox insisted, “an executive function is nothing so tyrannical.  A king is a person, a distinct flesh creature unattached to the other flesh creatures.  The executive function is one of us, part of us, just as all of us are part of us.”

“I don’t understand,” she told it sadly.  She wanted to understand, but she had not been free very long, and this just wasn’t the sort of thing that the trollup — or even the old prince or the ex-queen — had taught her, because very few outsiders knew anything about the clockwork world of the tiktox, and even if they did, why would they have bothered teaching her about a race she would surely never encounter?

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Book Review: Flaming Iguanas

Published February 17, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

OMG, I started writing this post on Tuesday.  WTF happened?


My choice for challenge #19, “Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey,” is untraditional in a number of ways.


Flaming Iguanas:  An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing has a casual, comical narrative style, interspersed with the occasional clip-art style illustration, often humorous (and sometimes a bit racy.)  It also doesn’t fit most traditional definitions of a “spiritual journey,” but I think Tomato’s journey does count as spiritual.  It also has what I call “Internet formatting,” wherein the paragraphs aren’t indented, and have a blank line between them.  That normally drives me batty on paper.  (Which sounds odd, when you think about how many blogs I follow…)  Between the formatting and the fact that Tomato Rodriguez begins her journey by accidentally running over someone’s cat, it’s surprising I was able to get more than a few pages in.

Once I got past the distressing kitty death (which was also distressing for Tomato, of course), it didn’t take long for the text to carry me away despite the Internet formatting.  Tomato Rodriguez (yes, Tomato is what she calls herself, and no, it’s not her real name) is an unusual narrator, in that she’s entirely honest — perhaps sometimes too honest — but also a fairly standard narrator of the tale of a journey, because she’s not really sure who or what she properly is.  She has a long section, early on, describing all the ways she doesn’t really feel like she fits into any of the categories everyone else does (not white, not black, not Puerto Rican, not straight, not gay) and that passage was I think the first part where I was like “you are totally speaking my language.”  (Though I’m less unsure of where I fit on some of those points…)

Allegedly, the reason Tomato starts her motorcycle trip across the country is because her father is dying of cancer in California, and she wants to go be with him, or say goodbye anyway.  But mostly she’s trying to discover herself.  Admittedly, that’s one of the cliches of the “road trip” genre, but I feel like Tomato’s self-discovery is different enough from the (usually very macho) standard that there’s nothing cliched here.

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MLM Repost No “L” – “Princess Spiderweb, Part 2”

Published February 13, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

(Part one is here.)

“Princess Spiderweb”

Part 2

The horse brought Princess Spiderweb to a tiny city by the sea.  Princess Spiderweb had heard of the the sea before, but she had never seen it before, and so she stood there for some time, just watching the waves swishing back and forth.

“Quite some ride you’ve got there,” a man said from behind her.

Princess Spiderweb turned and saw that he was a short, stocky man covered with soot.  “Thank you,” she said, not knowing what was the right response.

“Never seen anyone riding a dragon before,” the man commented.

“Oh, no, that’s my horse,” the princess assured him.

“Is that so?” the man raised a dirty eyebrow, then shook his head.  “Around here, that’d be a dragon.  You must be from some far off kingdom, if that’s a horse there.”

“I suppose I must be,” Princess Spiderweb agreed.

“What brings a human such as you to a dwarven port town?” the man asked her.

“Oh, are you a dwarf?!” Princess Spiderweb asked, excited.  “I’ve never seen one before!”

“Missy, I’m sure you don’t mean nothin’ by it, but that’s a very rude thing to say.  I’m a dwarf, not a court jester.  I don’t want to be gawped at.”

“I’m sorry,” the princess answered, ashamed of her behavior.  “My escape from the tower was so recent.  I didn’t mean to ‘gawp’ or be rude.  I just don’t know how to behave around others.”  She didn’t quite know what ‘gawp’ even meant, but she was sure it was a very bad thing if it had made the dwarf so angry.

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Book Report: The League of Regrettable Superheroes

Published February 7, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros


This one came at me out of nowhere.  It was an impulse buy when I went to the used book store.


Between the cover art and the title, I had to pick it up and leaf through it to see what it was.  If it had been a graphic novel parodying old school art styles and depicting a team of failure superheroes, I probably would have put it right back down again.  Because I’m not a big fan of the superhero genre as a whole, and the typical art styles tend to leave me cold.  (Though looking at the art on display here, I think I’d get on better with much earlier comic art than modern comic art.)

Given the fact that I am writing a review of it, you can obviously guess that it is not a graphic novel.  Instead, it’s a book about various failed superheroes over 70+ years of the comics industry.  If you can see the cover image well enough, you might notice it says “The Loot Crate Edition” on the front.  Turns out this is an abbreviated edition — a bit over 150 pages, lacking a hundred pages of the regular edition — that was sent out in some Loot Crate shipment.  (I have only the most minimal knowledge of Loot Crate, so I’ll just leave it at that; I’m feeling too lazy (not to mention pressed for time) to bother looking up more detailed information at present.)  I don’t know if it was shortened by removing pages just of art, or if it removed a lot of the superheroes the longer version covered.  Probably the latter.  (Either way is a bit tragic.)

Anyhow, since it’s about comic books, I figured that was close enough to qualify for #3: “Read a book about books.”  Especially since the point of the challenge is to get you reading things you wouldn’t necessarily read otherwise, and I’m much more likely to pick up a book about Oscar Wilde’s library (my previous selection for #3) under normal circumstances than one about an eclectic selection of failed superhero comics.

The heroes on display in this book ranged from the “what in the world were they thinking?” to the “y’know, I think I might actually like to read some of that.”  And their rate of success varied from a single appearance to some who lasted for years, and even a few who were reinvented later and folded into major comic universes (or at least had their names taken away and given to new heroes who became part of those universes).

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MLM No “K” Repost – “Peril-led Princess” Part 1

Published February 6, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“Peril-led Princess”

Part 1

Once, in a land far over the hills, was born a princess.  She was cursed at birth, because her parents told the world the truth that they didn’t believe in love.  “Love is a fairy story your parents told you when they wanted you to grow up to get married,” the queen told the people.  “It’s just a lie to benefit society’s needs,” her husband agreed.

And so the spirits who lived in the temple of love and ate all the offerings left there by would-be lovers became angry.  They decided that the best way to punish the parents was to punish the child.  (Because that’s the way you would see the world, too, if you were a spirit.)

So the princess was born under a terrible curse.

No one was quite sure what the curse was, of course, oh no!  But all the fortune tellers agreed it was there.  And the soothsayers were adamant that the princess would be a danger to the whole land.  And the augurs — oh, the augurs!  They were most terrifying in their accounts of what would come to pass from the terrible curse on the princess.

The new parents felt they had no choice.  For the safety of their subjects, they would have to send their daughter away.

But it wasn’t a problem, because they didn’t love her.  They didn’t believe in love.

When the baby was three months old, her mother set her in a sturdy pouch, wrapped up tightly in a snug afghan.  Since the baby was too little to feed herself, the queen prepared several bottles for her, and gave them to the mercenary to whom her husband had entrusted their child.  “Give her some of this if she gets thirsty,” the queen told him.

“How will I tell if she’s thirsty?” the mercenary inquired.  This was not his usual job, and he felt quite out of his depth already.  Normally, if he was being given a job involving a royal baby, it involved assassination, not…whatever this was.

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Book Report: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Published February 5, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros


This was my choice for #4:  “Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.”


Like last time, I feel like I didn’t get a very accurate picture of what the book was really going to be like from reading the blurb on Goodreads.  But — unlike last time — I don’t feel at all conflicted about it, or wonder if I’d have been better off reading a different book that would have fulfilled the challenge.

Before even hitting the main body of the novel, I was already being educated by it, which is sort of humiliating, in that as a history graduate student, I find it shameful that there’s so much history I’m still utterly ignorant of.  (On the other hand, I have always had a tendency to avoid 20th century history like the plague, because by the time you hit the 20th century, human beings are altogether too efficient at being horrible and cruel to each other.  (In the third Crusade, it took days for Richard I to have thousands of prisoners slaughtered while he watched (remember, in the Middle Ages, “Lionheart” was an insult referring to cruelty, not a compliment referring to bravery), unlike in the 20th century onwards, where thousands (or millions) can be killed with the press of a single button.)  So, until I read this book, the majority of my knowledge of the Dominican Republic dated to the time when it was still called Hispaniola.  If I had ever learned about Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina and his lengthy reign of terror, I’d forgotten about it.  Most of the book takes place after Trujillo’s assassination, but there are a number of chapters describing the lives of our hero’s (and yes, I’ll get to him in a minute) mother and grandparents on the island, and one passage in particular in talking about his grandfather, Abelard, really struck me:

As a general practice Abelard tried his best not to think about El Jefe at all, followed sort of the Tao of Dictator Avoidance,

It struck me painfully, because Abelard’s head-in-the-sand way of avoiding trouble felt all too familiar.  I don’t want to be like that.

All right, so, on to talking about the main story of the novel, the life of Oscar de León, overweight, shy, and interested in fantasy, science-fiction, comic books and (tabletop) role-playing games.  One of the footnotes (yes, this novel has footnotes) early on sums up Oscar’s youth beautifully:

You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like?  Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto.  Mamma Mia!  Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.

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IWSG – Untitled

Published February 1, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

(This time, I have thought ahead and pre-written my post!  Yay for not forgetting!)

So the prompt question this month is how being a writer has changed me as a reader.

I’m not sure it has, really.

I started trying to write fiction when I was still in grade school.  (What little I remember of it makes me shudder now, of course.)  So I don’t really remember a time before I was trying to write.

Of course, the writing I was doing in grade school is immensely different from the various levels of writing intensity I’ve passed through since graduating high school, and yet…it is still, to a great extent, me acting out my childish desire to tell myself stories.  The stories have gotten more complex, and have gained some maturity (and a lot of swearing and sex), but they retain in many respects the original desire for diversion from the mundane and boring life around me.  (The outright escape from this world, these days…)

I’ve always sought escapism in my reading material as well as in my writing, so…I dunno.  (Wow, I’m so eloquent tonight…)

I guess I have been more conscious of things like world building and character development than I would have been at an earlier point in my life, when I wasn’t taking my writing hobby quite as seriously.  (Ironically, I don’t think I was taking it as seriously back when I actually thought it was a potential career.  Go figure…)

Oh, another thing I’ve become aware of is the notion of giving the characters a little taste of Heaven right before thrusting them into Hell.  I noticed it first in my own writing (and I’m rather a pantser, so it wasn’t really anything I was planning; I just found that I would have them go through something wonderful right before things turned awful) and then I started noticing it happening in a lot of things I was reading, too.

Bah, what a lousy post.

Maybe I’ll be able to come back and fix it up before the 1st.  (But I’m hitting the “Schedule” button just in case!  Don’t want to miss again…)

Read Harder 2017 — Questioning my choice for #17

Published January 31, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

So, as I was looking over the list of challenges, one of the early choices I made was that for #17 (“Read a classic by an author of color”) I would read something by Dumas, because I’ve never read any Dumas, and that seemed like it might be fun.  (Depending on which book, naturally.  Some will be more fun than others.)

But I’ve been thinking about it in the last week or so, and I feel like that would be obeying the letter of the law in defiance of its spirit.  Yes, Dumas was a person of color, which makes it especially awesome that he became one of the most famous and well-read of French authors.  But he wasn’t writing about his own experiences, about what life was like for himself or other people of color in 19th century Europe.  And coming from an aristocratic background (on his father’s side, that is), his experience were decidedly atypical anyway.

I know Book Riot doesn’t give a specific reason for any of the individual challenges, but I feel like the idea behind the whole challenge is to ensure a fully diverse reading experience.  Dumas mostly wrote about the elite experience — kings, queens, and the upper classes — and almost all of it about white people.  Turns out he did write one book with a mixed-race lead, Georges, but in learning about it, I accidentally read the whole summary on Wikipedia and now it feels sort of pointless to read the book until I’ve forgotten what the summary said.  (Yeah, that was dumb of me…)  Besides, the lead was still very much a part of the upper class, like Dumas himself.

So, I’m trying to pick out something new to read for this one.  I know there’s no shortage of them, but if possible I’d like to read something I already own or can get out of the library, as I’ve already bought a lot of books for the challenge, and plan to buy more.  (I can’t help it; I found nearly a dozen books on their list of YA/MG books by LGBTQ+ authors that all sounded really good, and none of them are in the library!  Besides, many of them are debut novels and therefore the authors need the support.  “Classics,” being defined as books over 50 years old, obviously don’t need my financial support.)

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MLM No “J” – Characters Running Away with the Scene

Published January 30, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

What I’m about to quote to you (with one mild edit for language of the sort I don’t use on my blog) comes from the story I was writing in late October, to which my NaNo novel was a sequel.  I’d been working on the same scene (a press conference being held by a rock star and his boyfriend, whose relationship had recently had recently been exposed (in every sense of the word) by a sleazy paparazzi-type in a tabloid) for a while, and had started to lose touch with it, I suppose…

            “You better believe it!” Curt laughed, before kissing him passionately.  Arthur could hear the flashbulbs going off, but he couldn’t force himself to break away from the kiss.  It felt too good.  And, deep down, a part of him hoped that maybe photos of them kissing might help other young men accept themselves the way photos of Curt and Brian had helped him.  Even having that thought made Arthur hate himself for putting on such airs.  That he would have the nerve to compare himself to Brian — to imagine that he could ever be even a quarter as important to Curt as Brian had been — shocked and disgusted him.  No matter what Brian had become since, he had been the love of Curt’s life, and Arthur knew that wasn’t going to change for someone as pathetic as he was.

The reporters were already shouting more questions by the time they parted.  “What else are we supposed to be asking you, man?  This scene is growing tedious!”

“You’re telling me?  Let’s get the f*** out of here.”

As you may have guessed, they weren’t supposed to say any of that…but yes, I really did find myself typing that as I realized I didn’t remember what else I needed the reporters to ask them.

(Yeah, I’m still hooked on writing Velvet Goldmine fanfic.  Actually been posting this one to AO3, in fact.  Though I haven’t gotten this far in the posting yet.  Oh, uh, spoiler warning.  If anyone happens to see this who’s been reading it.  Which seems unlikely at best.)

MLM icon init MLM J

Book Report: Captain Pantoja and the Special Service

Published January 29, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros


I’m not quite sure how to begin or where to respond to this book.  The issues are complex, though they would have felt a bit simpler a year or two ago.

To begin at the beginning, this book was what I read for Challenge #4 “Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.”  My first impulse was to read something by Jorge Luis Borges, but it turns out most of his fiction isn’t actually set in South America.  So I looked over Book Riot’s list of 100 Must-Read Latin American Books, and somehow I decided on this one.


(Unlike in my previous posts, that cover image is not the cover of the edition I read.   I got it out of the university library, and it’s an old edition — first English edition (1978), as far as I can tell — unlike the one above, which seems to have gone to press in 1990.  But since the dust jacket isn’t on it, I don’t know what the cover looked like, so I just went with this one.)  Since it’s what I was consulting to decide which book to read, let me quote to you the blurb from the book’s Goodreads page:

This delightful farce opens as the prim and proper Captain Pantoja learns he is to be sent to Peru’s Amazon frontier on a secret mission for the army—to provide females for the amorous recruits. Side-splitting complications arise as world of Captain Pantoja’s remarkable achievements start to spread.

There’s nothing strictly incorrect (other than “world” instead of “word”) about the summary — though I think it fails to qualify as “a delightful farce” no matter how you look at it — but the tone it suggests is not the tone of the book.

First off, this isn’t an entertainment novel:  this is literature.  Which is fine and dandy, as long as you go in knowing that.  (And I freely admit that I didn’t actually read any of the reviews on the Goodreads page, just the summary.  Which somewhat defeats the purpose of the site, I suppose.)  I didn’t know, so I was immediately taken by surprise when the first chapter was written in a style that…well, if there’s a name for it, I don’t know what the name is.  It’s not stream-of-consciousness, because you’re not inside anybody’s head, but you keep jumping about through time and space (though not too much time jumping, not more than a few days).  It’s more like stream-of-conversation.  You’re getting snippets from as many as four or five conversations, some of which you’re actively intended to follow, and some of which are just there to give depth, illustration or counterpoint to the ones you’re following.  It’s confusing at first blush, though you wrap your head around it pretty quickly, but it’s hard to get back into the flow of the thing if you have to leave off mid-chapter.  (Which can be a problem if you’re reading it during your lunch break!)  About a third of the chapters are in that style, whatever it’s called.  The others are nightmares (literally the only time you’re ever really in anyone’s head), military dispatches, newspaper articles and such.

Moving on, let me give you my summary of what the plot is:

All throughout the Peruvian section of the Amazon basin, complaints are being registered against the army for the myriad sexual assaults and rapes being perpetrated by the soldiers, causing the Army considerable irritation and anger.  For his logical and stiff-shirted military nature, they select Captan Pantaleón Pantoja to create and run the Special Service for Garrisons, Frontier and Related Installations (SSGFRI).  The purpose of the SSGFRI is to bring prostitutes to the prostitute-free regions of the Amazon so that the soldiers can safely relieve their sexual tensions without assaulting the civilians.  This, of course, must be performed with the utmost secrecy, forcing Pantoja to lie to his wife and mother (who lives with them), and to dress as a civilian the entire time he’s in Iquitos, his base of operations.  As the Secret Service begins its duty, a cult led by the mysterious Brother Francisco is sweeping through the Amazon basin, causing great worry to the church leadership, as the cult has a tendency to crucify small animals and has definite overtones of blood worship.

Women are at the heart of the story, but we never get to see inside their hearts, not really.  (Though for the most part we don’t see inside anyone else’s heart, either, to be fair.)  The novel starts out in 1956, and there’s much discussion of proper conduct, both for women and for the military, but it keeps circling back and showing that basically no matter what a woman does, someone insists she’s doing the wrong thing.  (To the extent that at one point, one of the prostitutes decides to get married, but she is censured and kicked out of the Special Service, and the only time anyone praises her for deciding to change her ways to live a more upright life is after she’s changed her mind and is trying to get back into the Special Service, so she’s still doing the wrong thing.)  Now, to my mind, this is part of the point of the novel.  The women in the Special Service have been literally commodified (and are at several times in the book compared to cattle) but they actually feel better about themselves than ever before, because they were already commodities, and now they’re at least being protected and run with military regularity, as opposed to being helpless in the hands of pimps and madams.  Things are no better for the women outside the Special Service.  Pantoja’s wife and mother are constantly complaining about each other, and his wife has lengthy speeches about the immorality of the women of Iquitos.  (Speeches that could only come in the 1950s; the only part of that behavior that would raise any eyebrow by the 1970s is the part where one woman (who turned out to be a prostitute anyway) was having sex with a policeman in a movie theater.)

For the most part, everything about women comes back to the cliche of “the Madonna and the whore.”  Either a woman is supposed to be a pure, virtuous and pious mother, or a prostitute.  That’s how society clearly wants it to be, but that’s not what they’re getting:  thanks to Brother Francisco’s cult, piety and impiety are becoming mixed and confused, and thousands of women are being pious in sacrilegious ways, and the ‘specialists’ in the SSGRFI are just as enthusiastic about the new cult as the other women.  As the novel progresses, working in the Special Service becomes equated with regular Army work, so that it becomes — at least in the mind of Pantoja and/or some of his colleagues — expected that a woman’s duty will eventually be to work as a specialist, so that when there’s talk of a particular woman being removed from active duty because she’s the girlfriend of an officer, it’s a discussion of her ‘being exempted from service,’ just as it would be if a man was being exempted from his military service.  More telling, when Pantoja’s wife becomes pregnant, he starts talking about the future baby as ‘the little cadet,’ prompting the former madam who’s helping him run the SSGRFI to ask “And if instead of a cadet a little specialist is born, Mr. Pantoja?”  Naturally, Pantoja is horrified by her ‘joke.’  I don’t think it was intended as a joke.  Not, at least, by the author.

One point that I’m curious about is how one of the characters’ speech was handled in the original Spanish.  The man is a Chinese immigrant, and given an offensive stereotype of an accent, which — along with various typical grammatical issues — includes turning all his ‘r’s into ‘l’s.  (Which is typically something in offensive stereotypes of Japanese accents, rather than Chinese…)  That has the effect of turning both “brother” and “brothel” into “blothel.”  I have to wonder if that was done intentionally, in order to mimic however his accent was done in Spanish to make him render one masculine and ‘honorable’ word into the same as a feminine and ‘dishonorable’ word.  (Can’t be “brother” and “brothel,” though; those are nothing like each other in Spanish.)  It is probably significant that most — if not all — the times that character used the word “brother,” it was in discussing the cult and its cultists, who called themselves “brothers” and “sisters.”

Backing away from details of the book and back onto my reactions, like I said, it’s hard to know how to react.  I didn’t give it as careful a reading as I would have if I’d been, say, reading it for a literature class.  Likewise, I wasn’t taking notes on the treatment of and attitude towards women, either, so to a certain extent I can only generalize.  The impression I got — and I have no idea if it’s accurate — is that the author was pointing out the fallacies of Peruvian culture in the 1950s (and the 1970s? I’ve no idea what it was like in either decade, beyond a certain amount of assumed influence from social and cultural trends in the rest of the world) by illustrating them in an over-exaggerated way.  If that’s the case, then the implication is that he doesn’t agree with the sentiments behind those fallacies.  And that should make up for a lot.  But the book still leaves me feeling unsettled.  And maybe that’s the point of it.  I don’t know.

I dislike ending a review with the sentiment “I don’t know quite how I feel about this book,” but what else can I say about it?  It’s excellently crafted; the overlapping threads are woven together with considerable care, and the sections that could (and probably should) be very confusing manage to make perfect sense.  But in the end, I just don’t know what to think.

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