All posts in the Scholastic category

Book Report: Compendium of North American Cryptids

Published May 23, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

You can already tell two things from the image I started out with.  One, this isn’t for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, and two, I took the picture of the cover myself.  Now, technically, that turned out not to be necessary, as (just now) I looked it up on Goodreads and found that it does actually have a listing (though it doesn’t have any reviews) so I could have downloaded the cover image from there.  But since I’d already taken my own photo, I figured I’d just go with it.  (Please ignore the sheet beneath it.  When your preferred method of buying new bedding is “on clearance at Target,” you don’t have as much choice of patterns as you might like.)

The full title of this book had no hope of fitting into the title of the post.  I could say “click on the thumbnail and read the photo for yourself” but then you’d have to wait while it loaded, so I’m just going to transcribe the text on the cover of the book, line by line:

Compendium of
North American Cryptids
& Magical Creatures
The Official Magimundi Guide
150th Anniversary Edition
Written by Foxfire Castellaw
Annotated by Wyn Diego

By Mike Young, Maury Brown & Ben Morrow
Illustrated by Ffion Evans

As you can guess from all that, this is roughly the equivalent of buying Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, but actually by J.K. Rowling.  (My mother, I might add, actually did buy that.  In a three-pack of books that were produced to benefit charity.  I actually used the one on quidditch for my Read Harder book on sports last year, in fact.)  The biggest difference here, though, is that I didn’t realize that was what I was getting.

See, I was backing a Kickstarter called “Cryptid Cuties” that was enamel pins (soft enamel, unfortunately) of various cryptids.  As add-ons, you could get a copy of this book, a plush cactus cat (very cute and cuddly, but mine has a slight factory defect, which is sad) and when I added it on, I thought I was getting a Faeries-like book compiling all the different regional folklore/urban legends of mysterious critters.  So I was pretty surprised when I got it out of the package and read that cover!  (Though I’d already been confused by the return address on the package, which was from Learn Larp, LLC, and I was sitting there going “what the heck is this?  I didn’t order any cosplay supplies, and I don’t even have the social skills to play a tabletop RPG, let alone a LARP!”)

It turns out that this book is a sort of bestiary for a particular LARP (that’s Live Action Role Playing for those of you who aren’t geeky enough to know the term), but rather than being written as a collection of stats and such, it’s written as if it was an actual book for within the fantasy world, so it’s a perfectly entertaining read even for people like me who have no intention of ever playing the associated game.  (It does, however, mean I won’t be using it as fodder for any future April A-to-Z sessions, though!)

The creatures covered in the book fit into four categories:  “actual cryptids,” “general mythic/legendary monsters,” “definitely made up for this,” and “wait, is that a real cryptid or did they make it up?”  With a few outliers that are hard to categorize, like the Fiji Mermaid, which isn’t really any of the above, having been a carnival hoax.

The first category includes old standbys like the Jersey Devil, the Mothman, chupacabra, jackelopes, and sasquatch.  The second category has things like thunderbirds, golems, homunculi, werewolves and vampires.  The third category has things like gobwins (no, that’s not a typo) and humfaeries (both of which were actually designed by Kickstarter backers from a previous campaign, it turns out)  The final category ranges from things that really sound made up, like the cactus cat and the wampus cat (picture a centaur with a puma’s body instead of a horse’s), to things that I could believe are actually folkloric, like duwende, fiddle spider and lightning snake.

Each entry has an illustration, and they’re all quite nice, though of course the artist is no Brian Froud (then again, who is?).  The entries themselves vary in entertainment value, since not all the concepts can be described in a particularly entertaining manner.  That, however, is where the annotations come in:  the annotator is snarky, thinks he knows everything, and has a very low opinion of the author.  In the course of his annotations (which are not, admittedly, on every entry) you get a good sense of what kind of character he is, and his attitude towards the author is almost always entertaining.  I think the annotations are what really sets this apart from other books of the type.

I don’t know if the book is actually available for purchase anywhere, because of the three web addresses printed inside the book, I only actually visited one,, which obviously is not set up to sell merchandise.  The more official-sounding one,, I couldn’t access, because my anti-virus software was adamant that it was a phishing site.  I have no idea why they would think that, but…when it gets that screechy about it, I tend to chicken out.  The third web address was, which sounded more like it was about the LARPing aspect than about the magical world that had been created as the setting for the LARP games.

I actually finished this on Monday and haven’t started a new book yet, because I’ve been too glued to my 3DS to figure out what I want to read.  (That’s the problem with MegaTen games:  they really sink their tentacles into me.)  I’m disappointed that they didn’t add any 3D elements, but I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that they didn’t dub it!  (I’m gonna freak if they don’t give us a voice cast in the end credits, though.  The computer’s AI sounds to me so much like a particular seiyuu that it’s driving me crazy wondering if it’s really him, but noplace I’ve looked online, so far, has had a cast list for it.)  What I’ve seen of the new material, so far, has left me a bit uncertain:  the new human character looks like a female Vincent Valentine, and seems to have the same exact motivation as the villain of Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army, which could be good or bad, and they introduced a new “demon” in the form of a lolita Persephone/Kore who for some bizarre reason is calling herself her own mother.  (Seriously, that is not Demeter.  No.  Freaking.  Way.)

I realize no one cares about any of that, but I just had to get it out there.

Also, I found a line really hilarious because they didn’t quite think through the overtones of the way they localized it:

D’you have any idea what you’re saying, Jimenez?


Sorry, I meant to talk about what I’m gonna read next.  Probably 16, because I have something picked out that’s been sitting on my “to read” shelf for like three years.


Book Report: As You Wish

Published May 13, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I’ve been meaning to read this since the first time I saw it on bookstore shelves, possibly as much as four years ago.  (Not sure if it was the hardback or paperback I first saw.)  This book was selected to meet Challenge #12 “A celebrity memoir.”

The acid test of a memoir like this (that is to say, one narrating only the events during the filming of a particular movie, as opposed to an actor’s whole career, or what-have-you), I think, is if it changes the way you watch the movie afterwards.  So, when I sat down to start my evening’s Internetting (ack), I popped The Princess Bride into the DVD player.  (I thought I had the Blu-ray, but evidently I haven’t upgraded yet.  Or I can’t find the new copy.  Given what this place is like, that’s very possible.)  Thus, I’m only starting to write with a little over an hour to go before midnight, because I can’t multi-task like I used to, and the better the movie, the harder it is to ignore.

So, in short, no, it didn’t change the way I watch the movie; I still love it to pieces.

But let’s back up and try to go about this the way I planned, because I have limited time before I’ll be impinging on the grand(?) return of Missing Letter Mondays.  The 1980s produced a number of live-action fantasy films that are loosely called “family,” in that they’re kid-safe (even kid-friendly), but which have become classics because they’re also entertaining for adults.  In alphabetical order (because I no longer have time enough to look up order of release, though I think I know which ones came out when, but I’d hate to get it wrong), there are The Dark CrystalLabyrinthThe Neverending Story, and The Princess Bride.  And I’m pretty sure there are actually more; those are just the ones that I’ve watched so many times that I pretty much know them by heart.  I mean, I couldn’t recite their whole script to you on demand, but if you’ve read the book of Ready Player One, I could do with all four of those movies what Wade was able to do with War Games.  (I get why they changed that, but it’s also kind of a shame; the one in the book was a much harder challenge to complete, even if it wasn’t as hard to get what you were supposed to do.)  Easily.

Naturally, therefore, the idea of reading what it was like to film The Princess Bride, as it was experienced by the leading man himself, sounded like the perfect experience.  And while it maybe wasn’t “perfect” (that’s actually a pretty tall order!), it was definitely entertaining.

It could have gone terribly wrong, though.  There are movies out there where the behind-the-scenes story is that everyone on set hated each other, and every moment they weren’t filming, the leads were an inch away from killing each other.  (Though I suspect in most of those cases that animosity bleeds through onto the screen…)

Thankfully, however, The Princess Bride was one of those blessed films where everyone got along fantastically (even if some of the actors were convinced that they were about to be fired at any second), and he has nothing bad to say about anyone involved:  even the off-camera people who often go unmentioned are praised for their hard work, skill and dedication.  (Okay, that’s not entirely true.  There was one catering company that was decidedly not praised.)

Don’t let that make you think it’s boring, or some kind of kiss-up situation, though.  It’s very entertaining, because a lot of funny people worked on the movie, and he relates a lot of anecdotes about things they did on and off camera (or the hybrid of on and off camera that is outtakes, which were obviously extensive for Billy Crystal’s 3 minute scene, which took a whopping three days to film, in part because of cast and crew laughing at his ad libs and wrecking the take), and it all feels decidedly genuine.

He also talks about the work that went into creating the fantastic duel between Inigo and the Man in Black, as well as how various stunts and effects were achieved.  Which isn’t the disillusioning thing that it would be in some other movies (for example, do we really want to think about the (actually pretty obvious) way Hoggle gets around the set?) because the effects are minimal (mostly just the R.O.U.S.) and it’s pretty easy to tell in the final film when it’s a stunt person and when it’s one of the cast.  But you can’t tell by watching just how many times a stunt had to be performed, or what the name of the stunt person was (yeah, it’s in the end credits, but there’s that awful song over them) and so on.

In the early part of the book, he talks about how difficult it was to get the movie made, how many other directors had tried and failed to get it going before Rob Reiner got his hands on the script.  And there are some mind-boggling prospective actors mentioned (either attached to failed earlier films, or people talked to but never seriously considered) that are really, well, inconceivable!

Oh, speaking of which, at the beginning, he mentions how many of the lines from The Princess Bride are frequently quoted by fans, and while “Inconceivable!” was of course one of them, he didn’t mention “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Which I always thought was just as popular a quote.  (If it isn’t, it certainly should be!)

The book isn’t a one-man show, though.  In addition to the introduction listed on the front, there are also frequent quotes throughout the book, presented at the side of the page in boxes, from the rest of the surviving cast, as well as Reiner, William Goldman, and the producer.  Their additional perspectives definitely add a lot to the experience.

So, all in all, I obviously enjoyed reading this.  Probably most fans would.  (I expect it would be largely uninteresting to those who have never seen the movie, though.  Unless they’re great fans of Andre the Giant, in which case they would surely have seen it, so…yeah, I’m not sure where I was going with that.  It’s getting late; I’m losing coherence.)

One more thing:  there are a few photos throughout the book, but most of the pictures are in a photo section in the center.  In that section is included a shot of the gathered cast (along with the director and the writer) who were in attendance at a 25th anniversary screening at a film festival, which was directly why he decided to write this memoir, as he had wanted to share even more of his memories than there had been time for in the question and answer session.  Looking at that picture (from 2012), I was really stunned at just how long it had been since I had seen any photos of any of the male cast.  I mean, the last picture I’d seen of most of them has to have been at least ten years old.  (And then there’s Robin Wright, who I’ve seen much more recent pictures of, because she was in Wonder Woman.  Which, jarringly enough, I’m planning on watching tomorrow night, because I need to revisit it before I write my fix-it fic for it.)  Random, yes, but there you have it.

Okay, so once again, I have failed to write anything like a coherent review.  (*sigh*)

I’m not sure which challenge I want to try next, so the next book I’m going to read isn’t actually going to be part of the challenge.  Because I’m feeling ambivalent, and it’s newly arrived and I wanna read it.

Book Report: The Grey Witch

Published April 29, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

So, today I’m bringing you the report on my selection for Challenge #19, “A book of genre fiction in translation.”

Firstly, that graphic I got off Goodreads isn’t accurate.  There’s no white on the cover; everything white you see there is also black.  And everything that isn’t black is gold, and the black is, well, I’m not sure if it’s real leather or pleather, but it’s something leather-like, at any rate.  This is a very spiffy edition, and it’s certainly been a long time coming:  it missed being a 30th anniversary edition by a few weeks.  (It released in December of last year.  Had it come out in January, it would have been a 30th anniversary edition.)

Those of you with even a passing acquaintance with anime — older anime, anyway — are probably familiar with the name Lodoss War. but for those who aren’t, let me explain that this book spawned a massive franchise, with many more novels, lots of manga (graphic novel) adaptations and spin-offs, and two anime series, one an OVA (direct-to-video, limited episode) and one on television.  Oh, yeah, and the Crystania movie (blehh), and the Rune Soldier Louie TV anime.  And a number of video games, of which I think only the Dreamcast game ever came over to this country.  (It was a bit clunky, but a pretty decent game.  Even if the best part, to me, was watching the anti-hero laugh after his goblin minions obeyed when he ordered them to drop dead.) Record of Lodoss War is something of a cultural institution in Japan (at least in pop culture terms), and has had a profound influence on all the fantasy that followed in its wake.  It also, according to the afterword, apparently invented the “light novel” almost single-handedly.

The best way to sum up the genre of Lodoss War is Lord of the Rings by way of Dungeons & Dragons.  Quite literally, actually, as Record of Lodoss War started out as life as a tabletop RPG session, which the author fleshed out and novelized into this book.  (According to the afterword, written for a now-five-year-old Japanese edition, all the further novels came from Mizuno alone, rather than from further RPG sessions.)  In some ways, the Lord of the Rings influence is extremely obvious (like the dwarf being named Ghim and hating elves), and in other ways, there isn’t much Tolkien influence at all:  thieves (aside from Bilbo Baggins) don’t play much of a role in Middle Earth, but Wood is an important part of the story, and there is nothing anywhere in Tolkien’s work that is anything like Karla the Grey Witch.  (Not that I’m aware of, anyway.)

Read the rest of this entry →

Book Report: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Published April 22, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I teased a bit about this book earlier this week, so I’ll try to get right down into it, but there’s a lot to say here!  This was fulfilling Challenge #14, “A book of social science.”  On the assumption that anthropology counts as a social science.  Because if it doesn’t, then something is broken.

This is a classic of cultural anthropology (though the author’s area of specialty is more ethnobotany) from the mid-1980s.  It starts out in the early ’80s, when a more senior researcher calls the author, Wade Davis, into his office and tells him about the surprising case of Clairvius Narcisse, who was found wandering in a small town in Haiti nearly twenty years after his death.

Yup, the man sickened and died — in a hospital staffed with “Western”-trained doctors — and was buried in 1962.  And yet there he was alive, and reporting that he could remember being buried, and then being dug up and made into a zombi slave for years.  (Davis uses the spelling “zombi” instead of “zombie” and “vodoun” instead of “voodoo,” at least in part to avoid the goofy images associated with those more familiar spellings…though he doesn’t outright say that’s the reason.)  All the necessary precautions had been taken to assure that the Narcisse of the 1980s was the same one who was declared dead in 1962 (I’m assuming, since it wasn’t mentioned, that they didn’t have any pre-burial fingerprints for the man).  Although reports of such things had been floating about for decades, this time there was solid proof that someone had been declared dead and then turned up very much alive.  There was also a woman for whom the same proof was available.

Long story short, Davis was given funding to go to Haiti and investigate these cases, because they had come to suspect that these zombis had been created by the use of a drug that made them seem dead (this is literally compared to the drug Juliet took to convince her family she had died) and an antidote that was then administered to revive them after they were dug up again.  Such a drug would be invaluable for use in, for example, inducing suspended animation in astronauts about to begin an interplanetary (or interstellar!) flight, so Davis went to learn the secret of the drug.

This book is the story of what he learned about vodoun, Haiti, and the social forces binding the two.  I won’t tell you the conclusions he came to, except to say that their initial suspicions were quite naive.

I dog-eared so many pages in this book that I can’t possibly share all of them with you…so I’m just going to try to find the ones that support what I want to say.

First, his depiction of what Haiti is — of what the Haiti he saw was — is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book; rather, Haiti was the main “character” of the book, not the narrator-author-anthropologist.

The Haiti described by Davis is vibrant, lively, and full of a spiritual warmth that has been lacking in the few other accounts I’ve read of visits there.  (I think Roxanne Gay mentioned visiting Haiti, where her parents were born, but the description was largely focused on the jarring presence of opulence side by side with the most abject poverty.  Something I’ve read recently did, anyway…)  Some of that may be due to the fact that this book was written in the ’80s, and Haiti has been hard-hit in the last ten years or so by natural disasters.  But I think some of it has a very different explanation.

In the chapter where Davis goes into distressing detail about Haitian history, starting back in the days of the French colony of Saint Domingue (which actually treated its slaves even worse than the American South did!) he moves on past nationhood into the scholarly study of Haiti and vodoun.  And he talks about how in the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Haiti to produce an anthropological study of Haitian vodoun.  (I hadn’t realized she was an anthropologist — and student of Franz Boas! — as well as being an author.)  Before he tells us about what she learned in Haiti, he tells us about what the world’s (and especially America’s) perception of Haiti was at the time:

For some time American and European foreign correspondents had indulged their readers’ perverse infatuation with what was known as the Black Republic, serving it up garnished with every conceivable figment of their imaginations.  For Americans, in particular, Haiti was like having a little bit of Africa next door, something dark and foreboding, sensual and terribly naughty.  Popular books of the day, with such charming titles as Cannibal Cousins and Black Bagdad, cast the entire nation as a caricature, an impoverished land of throbbing drums ruled by pretentious buffoons and populated by swamp doctors, licentious women, and children bred for the cauldron.  Most of these travelogues would have been soon forgotten had it not been for the peculiar and by no means accidental timing of their publication.  Until the first of this genre appeared in 1880 — Spenser St. John’s The Black Republic, with its infamous account of a cannibalistic “Congo Bean Stew” — most books that dealt with vodoun had simply emphasized its role in the slave uprising.  But these new and sensational books, packed with references to cult objects such as voodoo dolls that didn’t even exist, served a specific political purpose.  It was no coincidence that many of them appeared during the years of the American occupation (1915-1934), and that every Marine above the rank of captain seemed to manage to land a publishing contract.  There were many of these books, and each one conveyed an important message to the American public — any country where such abominations took place could find its salvation only through military occupation.

I think the image created by those books has still not fully been wiped away, especially if the words of certain excessively loud individuals in modern day are any indication.

More people should read this book to get an idea of the real Haiti.  Well, the real Haiti of the 1980s.  (I’d love to see a follow-up now, to find out what was the same and what was different.)

One of the most evocative images of Haiti actually came during one of Davis’s returns to America.  He brought with him “a kaleidoscopic Haitian suitcase constructed from surplus soft drink cans.”  On getting back to his office at Harvard, he had this to say about it:

It was amusing to look at that colorful case so symbolic of an entire nation.  Haiti, it is said, is the place to discover how much can be done with little  Tires are turned into shoes, tin cans into trombones, mud and thatch into lovely, elegant cottages.  Material goods being so scarce, the Haitian adorns his world with imagination.

On a similar note, after returning to Haiti and going to a hounfour (a place where a houngan (vodoun practitioner) practices, in this case acting to heal some very desperately ill people).  Unasked, the patients shared their food with Davis, despite that they likely realized that as a foreign blanc, he had far more money than they ever would:

It was not surprising to see such sickness in the hounfour, which is, after all, a center of healing.  But to encounter such generosity and kindness in the midst of such scarcity was to realize the full measure of the Haitian peasant.

The role of vodoun in Haiti he summed up beautifully here:

Yet images alone cannot begin to express the cohesion of the peasant society; this, like a psychic education, must come in symbols, in invisible tones sensed and felt as much as observed.  For in this country of survivors and spirits, the living and the dead, it is religion that provides the essential bond.  Vodoun is not an isolated cult; it is a complex mystical worldview, a system of beliefs concerning the relationship between man, nature, and the supernatural forces of the universe  It fuses the unknown to the known, creates order out of chaos, renders the mysterious intelligible.  Vodoun cannot be abstracted from the day-to-day lives of the believers.  In Haiti, as in Africa, there is no separation between the sacred and the secular, between the holy and the profane, between the material and the spiritual.  Every dance, every song, every action is but a particle of the whole, each gesture a prayer for the survival of the entier community.

Another passage that really set me thinking was this one:

Perhaps our biggest choice came four centuries ago when we began to breed scientists.  This was not something our ancestors aimed for.  It was a result of historical circumstances that produced a particular way of thinking that was not necessarily better than what had come before, only different.  Every society, including our own, is moved by a fundamental quest for unity; a struggle to create order out of perceived disorder, integrity in the face of diversity, consistency in the face of anomaly.  This vital urge to render coherent and intelligible models of the universe is at the root of all religion, philosophy, and, of course, science.  What distinguishes scientific thinking from that of traditional and, as it often turns out, nonliterate cultures is the tendency of the latter to seek the shortest possible means to achieve total understanding of their world.  The vodoun society, for example, spins a web of belief that is all-inclusive, that generates an illusion of total comprehension.  No matter how an outsider might view it, for the individual member of that society the illusion holds, not because of coercive force, but simply because for him there is no other way.  And what’s more, the belief system works; it gives meaning to the universe.

Scientific thinking is quite the opposite.  We explicitly deny such comprehensive visions, and instead deliberately divide our world, our perceptions, and our confusion into however many particles are necessary to achieve understanding according to the rules of our logic.  We set things apart from each other, and then what we cannot explain we dismiss with euphemisms.  For example, we could ask why a tree fell over in a storm and killed a pedestrian.  The scientist might suggest that the trunk was rotten and the velocity of the wind was higher than usual.  But when pressed to explain why it happened at the instant when the individual passed, we would undoubtedly hear words such as chance, coincidence, and fate; terms which, in and of themselves, are quite meaningless but which conveniently leave the issue open.  For the vodounist, each detail in that progression of events would have a total, immediate, and satisfactory explanation within the parameters of his belief system.

For us to doubt the conclusions of the vodounist is expected, but it is nevertheless presumptuous.  For one, their system works, at least for them.  What’s more, for most of us our basis for accepting the models and theories of our scientists is no more solid or objective than that of the vodounist who accepts the metaphysical theology of the houngan.  Few laymen know or even care to know the principles that guide science; we accept the results on faith, and like the peasant we simply defer to the accredited experts of the tradition.  Yet we scientists work under the constraints of our own illusions.  We assume that somehow we shall be able to divide the universe into enough infinitesimally small pieces, that somehow even according to our own rules we shall be able to comprehend these, and critically we assume that these particles, though extracted from the whole, will render meaningful conclusions about the totality.

I feel like this tells me so much about what’s wrong with the world today:  our culture has subdivided itself into mini-cultures with their own incompatible worldviews, and we’re all unable to look past them to find common ground.

Also I keep wondering about that example with the tree.  What would a scientist say about why it happened to fall just when someone was passing by?  Particularly someone like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who doesn’t like to fall back on words like “coincidence.”

To close out this disjointed quote-fest (there not being much here other than quotes), I should probably point out that since this was written in the 1980s, certain aspects of it are not very politically correct.  (Like, for example, the references to “peasants.”)  But it’s very clear throughout just how much Davis admired and respected the culture that he had spent so long researching and becoming a part of.  It’s a fascinating read…though the chapter about pre-revolutionary Haiti does require a strong stomach in a couple of places.

Book Report: Witches Abroad

Published March 29, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

This time, I’ve tackled challenged Challenge #23, “A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60.”  Of course, as soon as I thought about that challenge for even a moment, I knew there was only one protagonist to look to for this challenge:  Granny Weatherwax.

Yes, that is truly the cover of the copy I read.  (Meaning it would also have counted for Challenge #20, “A book with a cover you hate.”)  When you borrow a book from your father, you usually end up with an old edition.

Aaaaanyway, the book technically has three protagonists:  the three witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.  Although Magrat (the only one who isn’t an old crone) is a bit at the center of the story, Granny Weatherwax is still the most important of them, though why in the world this cover has fused her with Nanny Ogg I cannot imagine.  (Seriously, she’s wearing Nanny’s red boots and Nanny’s cat Greebo is sitting on her head, but that’s definitely supposed to be Granny.  And the one in the back with the mirror is the villainess, so…yeah, lousy cover.)

So, what’s the book about?  Well, it starts out with Death.  Who, on the Disc, SPEAKS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.  In this particular instance, Death has come for Desiderata Hollow, a witch who’s also a fairy godmother.  Wait, no, actually, that’s not where it starts.  Where it starts is

This is the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A’Tuin, the sky turtle.

Things on the Discworld are both like and unlike things on other, more likely worlds.  For example, Genua, the home of Desiderata’s goddaughter Ella Saturday (nicknamed Embers, or Emberella for not-short, because of the meager fire she cooks over), at first seems to be based on a Renaissance Italian city-state (any of them will do), until you get there and discover that yes, it’s rather like a Renaissance Italian city-state, but it’s also definitely like New Orleans.  (It might also be part of the inspiration for the land of Far Far Away in Shrek 2, but I can’t be sure of that.)

And what brings our witches three to Genua?  Well, when Death escorts Desiderata off the Disc, she leaves her magic wand (and job as fairy godmother) to Magrat, and specifically orders Magrat not to allow Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg to accompany her to Genua, because she knows that’s the only way to ensure that all three of them go.  Because, of course, something is afoot in Genua, which requires the witches three to set it right.  Though they have quite a few adventures in foreign parts on the way there.  (They rarely leave the Ramtop Mountains…and only Nanny Ogg has even the slightest grasp of foreign languages…and it’s very slight…)

There’s more to it than that, of course, but that gives you a good idea of the premise.

And what’s the book like?

Well, it’s a Discworld book.  So it’s clever, funny, and well-written.  I’m not sure what else to say, y’know?

Except this:  I suddenly noticed at one point that Pratchett almost never used any dialog tag other than “said.”  I mean, he even used “said” when “asked” would typically be the tag of choice.  That flummoxed me a bit.  (The “said” instead of “asked” part, I mean.)  The advice people often give about said being invisible is both true and wrong:  you don’t notice it until you happen to notice that it’s the only thing being used, and then you can’t stop noticing it.  Just an odd observation.

Well, it’s not much of a report, I realize, but…well, among other things, I still have a lot of work to do for next week.  I’ve only written two of my April A-to-Z posts so far, and since I’ll also be doing Camp NaNo’s April session, I need to have a lot more of a headstart than that!

Oh, but I have decided on (and even started) the next challenge I’ll take for Read Harder:  it’ll be Challenge #14, “A book of social science.”  It just felt so fitting after this.  (For reasons that will make sense after I finish it and post about it.)

Missing Letter Monday No L; Movie Reaction: “A Wrinkle in Time”

Published March 26, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, so I saw a movie today.  Can’t write the name inside today’s post, but it’s right up there^.  (Or in my book report on the book, which I posted about a year ago.)


I wanted to be fond of the movie.  Very fond, even.   The effects work was great.  The acting was good (though the younger brother is…uh…not written in such a way as to showcase if the kid can act…).

But the script was…not great.  Very, very not great.

I knew going in, of course, that trying to make a movie of that book was pretty much not something that can be done.  (Awkward phrasing…stupid Monday posts…)  I knew that, and yet I kind of assumed that they had figured out the right way to do it.  Or a good way to do it, anyway.

It is a tragedy that the way they decided on was “omit most of it.”  (They even omitted the Murry twins Sandy and Dennys!  Movie Meg has one brother instead of three!)

Even more so, given the time they dedicated to the portion on Earth, and the many, many memory-scenes of Meg’s father before he disappeared.  Okay, yeah, so they wanted more time with Chris Pine to justify whatever overpriced pay he got.  (Not that he was bad, mind you.  Might have been the best performance I’ve seen from him.  Or the best right after Wonder Woman.)  And they may have thought that more time with him was what the audience wanted.  (Who knows, maybe that is what most of the audience wanted.)  But if they hadn’t wasted so much time on Earth, they’d have had the time they needed on Camazotz to do it right.  Or to do it better, anyway.  Much of what happened on the way to Camazotz was not suited to being adapted for the big screen, but the events on Camazotz were so suited.  And they got omitted in favor of stuff that wasn’t even in the book.

Trying to set the Earth stuff in a big city in the present day was one of the worst decisions.  In a tiny(ish) town in the 1960s, it was easy to see why Meg wasn’t in therapy over her father’s disappearance.  In 2018, with her behavior?  Of course she’d be in therapy.  It beggars the mind that she isn’t.  And her brother (who for some reason is now adopted) ought to have been written as a super high functioning autistic, as that’s rather how he reads.  (Or rather, that’s what I thought when I read the book.)  But no, he was just treated as a strange boy who can’t act ordinary except around his mom, sister, and three strange women from some mysterious dimension.  (If their origin point came up in the book, I’ve forgotten.  And the movie sure didn’t say.)  So much of the Earth stuff doesn’t make sense in the new time and the new setting.  And yet it got so much time devoted to it.

Argh.  Just…argh.

As my brother (who hasn’t read the book) said, trying to interpret my reaction:  “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”


I won’t go into anything about the bizarre choice of the unfortunate, distant orb being named after a Mayan bat god, because that comes straight out of the book.  But it’s weird.  Very weird.

Book Report: Roxane Gay

Published March 20, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, this one is for Challenge 22 “An essay anthology.”  And I put the author’s name in the title of the post rather than the title of the book, because I don’t want anyone misinterpreting based on the title of the book…

Honestly, I first picked it up off the shelf because I wanted to know what the title meant:  was it equating being a feminist with being bad, or was it the author saying she was bad at being a feminist?  Thankfully, it’s (basically) the latter.   (Well, duh; I wouldn’t have bought it if it had been the former!)  She explains in the Introduction:

I openly embrace the label of bad feminist.  I do so because I am flawed and human.  I am not terribly well versed in feminist history.  I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be.  I have certain…interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.  I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.

The essays in this book cover a range of subjects — literally spanning from the lightest of topics, like Sweet Valley High books, Twilight/Fifty Shades of Gray and competitive Scrabble to the very weighty topics of oppression and social injustice of several sorts — but there’s a very good flow between them, and she starts you out with the light stuff, getting you used to her style before launching into the more serious subject matter.  Many of the essays are on a subject that was mentioned briefly in the essay before it (or possibly the one before that).  There’s a humor that runs constantly through the book, but it’s a very mournful humor in some cases,  combating the worst that society has to offer.  Ironically(?), right after an essay in which she was talking about how she wasn’t sure that trigger warnings actually did any good, she stumbled onto one of my triggers:  the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.  Like most people in my generation, I remember exactly where I was when that happened (watching it in school, like most others my age), and like many other grade school students, at the time I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut.  (It wasn’t actually that disaster that changed my mind on that.  It was more not actually liking math and science much.)  I think it must have affected me more deeply than most, though, because I can’t see a recording of a space shuttle launch without my mind’s eye replaying the Challenger for me instead of letting me see what’s actually in front of me.  Though I like the ill-timed movie Space Camp that came out so soon after the disaster, I can’t watch the part where their space shuttle takes off.

*clears throat*

Sorry, wandered off topic.

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Book Report: Destiny, NY

Published March 9, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Though I now wish I hadn’t (for reasons I’ll get to at the end of the post), I decided to make Challenge #18, “A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image,” into the next challenge I tackled.  And as I have, for some reason that is inexplicable to me (as a self-described non-comic-book-person), backed a surprising number of graphic novels on Kickstarter, I had several to choose from already lying about my hard drive, waiting to be read.  (Yeah, I tend to go for the non-physical tier on them.  Because I lose things.  And my house is too cluttered already.)

I went with this one:

I chose this one in large part because the Kickstarter I backed was actually for Volume Two, and I figured I probably ought to read Volume One before Volume Two comes out.  Here’s the description off the back of the book (er, final page of the .pdf?):

Adulting is hard.  Adulting when you used to be a magical girl is way, way harder.

Set in a version of New York City where magic is a real and accepted part of life, Logan McBride struggles to find purpose.  She was the subject of an incredible prophecy when she was a child, but fulfilled her foretold destiny when she was just thirteen.  Now in her twenties, Logan navigates through graduate school for Prophecy Kids while searching for her place in a world that tells her sheʼs already finished.

Mostly, I’d say this is a very apt description of the book, with one significant discrepancy:  Logan was not a magical girl by the definition I am accustomed to.  Maybe to non-anime folks, the definition of “magical girl” is a bit more loose, but to the anime/manga crowd, a magical girl typically has a transformation of some sort whenever she’s going to use magic (not necessarily a magical transformation), often (if not always) has a talking animal companion, usually has several very identifiable (and marketable) accessories that feature prominently in her story, generally is having to lead a double life as she hides her magical life from her family and friends, and typically takes a long time fighting monsters of the week before facing off against the big bad.  There are exceptions (Cardcaptor Sakura has neither monsters nor a villain), but for the most part, the formula is as I just described.  Whatever Logan would properly be described as, “magical girl” is not what I would pick, though it is technically accurate, as she was a thirteen year old girl when she completed her prophecy, and she did so magically.  (Sparkler has a property that’s actually a former magical girl trying to get on with her life that I’m very much looking forward to reading…if I ever get the back issues I pledged for.  *grumble*grumble*)

Anyway, that aside, here’s what I feel I can tell you about Volume One of Destiny, NY, without spoiling too much.  Logan (the blonde) is going through a period of personal turmoil (in large part caused by her ex-fiancee not unfriending her before posting engagement photos on Facebook) when she meets Lilith (the redhead), and, as you’d expect, sparks rather fly.  Only Lilith has some very vicious enemies who aren’t afraid of playing very dirty…

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Book Report: Origins

Published March 8, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Whew, finally finished reading this one!  Took me almost two weeks, and just in the nick of the time, as it’s due back at the library today!  (Important note, of course, is that I’m actually writing this last night.)  Anyway, I started reading this in February, wanting to pick something that seemed appropriate for Black History Month but not really coming up with anything that really grabbed me.

Then I had a brilliant idea.  (As Mr. Smee would say, lightning struck my brain.)  Challenge #6 is “A book about nature.”  Something is “nature” if it is natural, that is, not made by humanity.  Space is natural, therefore it is nature.  And Neil DeGrasse Tyson is African-American as well as one of the most awesome people currently living, so one of his books on space would both answer the challenge and be appropriate February reading.  Therefore…

Of the ones available at the county library system, this seemed like the one that was the best combination of being “about nature” and being interesting without being too difficult for someone like myself without any particular scientific background knowledge.  (Introductory biology and chemistry were a looooooong time ago…)  The one that actually sounded like the read I’d most enjoy, unfortunately, was ruled out right off the bat, because it was about the history of man’s fascination with/attempts to pursue spaceflight.  (Or something like that.)

Anyway, in one respect, my casual use of Goodreads to select a book steered me wrong on this one.  Specifically, I didn’t look too closely where it talked about the publication date.  I saw the date 2014 and thought “oh, nice, it’s pretty recent,” without noticing that right below that it said “originally published in 2004”.  And, of course, the library’s copy was a first edition.  So it was a bit out of date, which was particularly noticeable when it was talking about a space probe that had just reached Saturn’s moon Titan, but its pictures hadn’t arrived back yet.  (Thankfully, I was able to look up the results on Wikipedia.)

All that aside, let me get back to the subject of the book itself, setting aside the datedness of some of the material (which would be much less dated in the second edition from ten years later).  The purpose of this book is to outline everything currently known and theorized about the entire history of the universe, from its beginnings to the present day, and to do so in a way that laymen can read and understand it.  The authors aren’t coy about admitting that there are things science still hasn’t figured out yet, most of those things centering around, well, origins:  the origin of the universe (yes, the Big Bang was a thing, but why and what came before it?) and the origin of life being the two biggest question marks.

So, do they achieve what they set out to do?  The answer is both a big “yes” and also a moderately loud “no.”

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Book Report: Goldie Vance, Volume 1

Published February 25, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

To call this review overdue is a bit…I’m not sure if it’s an understatement or an overstatement.  I actually read this on Friday, but it was too late when I finished to write a review then, and yesterday I was in the most foul mood and didn’t want to in any way deal with other human beings, not even in the absurdly remote format of writing a blog post.   Aaaaaanyway, that aside, I actually interrupted another book to read this.  Because since I finished the last book, after a day of “what am I gonna read next?”, I’ve been working on Challenge #6 (possibly too loosely interpreted), only then I went to Book Riot’s site and saw that they’d posted a list of suggestions for Challege #21 “A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author.”  When I read the description of this one, I knew it was the one to use for that one.  And it seemed appropriate to read and review it really quickly, so it’d still get posted in February.

This is a graphic novel (well, trade paperback of comic books, actually) about a teenage girl, the titular Goldie Vance, in what I can only call an idyllic alternate early 1960s.  It has to be after 1961, because her friend Cheryl has a crush on Alan Shepard because of his trip to space (I can think of worse reasons to have a crush on someone), but it can’t be much later than that, based on the visual style.  But it’s utterly unlike the real 1961, because no one in this entire volume has any problem with (or even mentions) Goldie’s, her father’s or Cheryl’s skin color.  Not to mention that Goldie’s mother is white — with Goldie being about sixteen or seventeen (it’s unclear what her age actually is) in the very early 1960s, she was probably born around 1945, possibly a year or two after.  There were states where a mixed race marriage was still illegal in the 1940s, particularly in the south.  (I think the south didn’t purge those laws until the 1960s, in fact.)  So, like I said, this is an idyllic alternate 1960s where racism doesn’t exist and apparently never did.  (Perhaps this is what America would have looked like if the northern colonies had stuck to their principles during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and had left in the clause about the abduction of innocents from Africa was one of King George’s crimes against which the colonists were rebelling.)

Uh, anyway, all that aside, let’s get to the book itself, rather than talking about its world.  Goldie’s father is manager at a Florida resort inn, and Goldie has a (summer?) job as a valet, parking cars.  Her best friend is Cheryl, who works at the desk and is studying to be an astronaut.  (Cheryl is the pink-jacketed girl on the cover.)  Goldie also spends a lot of time hanging around with Walter, the house detective, because she really likes trying to do his job for him.  The last person we need to mention is Diane, who works at a local record store, and is the object of Goldie’s affections.  (Yep, she’s not only a woman of color, she’s also a lesbian.  This, of course, is why I had to read this!  That and because it’s aimed at younger readers, so the mystery isn’t a murder.)  I have trouble getting a good read on Diane — though she’s undoubtedly cool — because I keep getting distracted by her design, which for some reason reminds me of the unaired-pilot-episode version of Susan from Doctor Who.  I’m not even sure why she reminds me of Susan, she just does.

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