Monthly Archives: November 2012

Review: Gosick

Today is that liminal period between “winning NaNoWriMo” (YAY!) and “OMFGs DECEMBER IS STARTING!” (“Ugh….”) December and January in this household are the months in which everyone and their dog (including my dog) has a birthday on top of Christmas, which means I have to buy a ton of gifts all at once. Hooray.

I started watching Gosick around Hallowe’en and then took a break from it these past couple of weeks. I’m an infrequent watcher of anime. I suppose you could say that I’m more of a casual fan. I’ve never been to any conventions and the closest I’ve ever come to cosplaying was dressing up as Sailor Mercury for Hallowe’en one year.

So, this latest weird thing from Japan that I’ve seen is Gosick, which I can basically sum up as “boy meets girl” meets Sherlock Holmes. Gosick takes place in the fictional French-speaking European nation of Saubure (anglicized as ‘Sauville’ for some reason) in the 1920s. Our main character, Kazuya Kujo, has just transferred to St. Marguerite’s Academy, where the students are really into horror stories. There, he meets Victorique, a strange girl who spends her days skipping class, reading books in the library, and solving cases that leave the police stumped (yes, really).  The series spans twenty-four episodes, with every three episodes or so dedicated to one case that Victorique has been given to solve. (In a nutshell, things that you see in one episode WILL turn up later, sometimes several episodes later).

However, the focus of the series isn’t the detective work, as Victorique solves cases by essentially waiting until she has enough information to “reconstruct the Chaos” with her “wellspring of wisdom” (A.K.A. her insanely acute powers of observation and deduction. Rather, it’s more about Victorique’s relationship with Kujo. Depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing, these scenes can either be cute or aggravating, because it probably isn’t anything you haven’t seen before: the boy is a dogged nice guy and the girl is cold and emotionless with a soft mushy center, and the boy has this thing where he has to protect the girl, yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. Seriously, this is pretty standard stuff, and I found that I didn’t enjoy it as much when Victorique wasn’t being uber-serious, even though her behaviour is completely justified (let’s just say that calling her childhood “neglectful” is a HUGE understatement). Why was I watching this series again? Oh yeah, because I liked trying to solve the mysteries, which can involve everything from Arabic to the language of flowers that was popular in the Victorian era to alchemy.

The other thing I like about this series is its setting. This may sound strange, but Saubure feels very European, and at times the show feels a bit more like a period piece, alternate-history-with-magical-realism thing (there’s a reason Wikipedia lists so many genre’s on the series’ page). I wouldn’t say that Kazuya’s race is really an issue, although it is pointed out that despite being drawn the same as other characters, he is meant to be seen as Japanese, or “Oriental” to use period speak, and characters do tend to mistakenly call him “Chinese” (because, of course, all Asians from that part of the world look alike, amirite?). I don’t say this very often, but I also like the opening sequence, which is done in an art nouveau style.

As far as potentially triggery content goes. Well, there are a lot of murders, including of children (hence all the mystery-solving), the aforementioned parental neglect, and that old chestnut, rape as part of a character’s back story (are you tired of that trope, yet?) as well as references to slavery (including a very creepy song about it) and well, war, which is par for the course for anything set in the 20s.

Overall, I’d say watch if you like a good mystery and have a high tolerance for the mushy stuff I just mentioned. The best part is that you can watch it on Crunchyroll for free. Free is good, free is very good.

BTW, “Gosick” is supposed to be pronounced like “Gothic”, not, you know “go sick”, not that I actually pronounced it that way, ever.

Christmas Wasn’t Stolen From the Pagans

It’s that time of year again, when Christians cry about the “War on Christmas” and Pagans fire back with “Christmas was originally Pagan”. I’m already seeing posts on this on Facebook.

Therefore, I thought I’d post this awesome (and long) post from The Cauldron forum, known infamously as “Post 33” by Christian theologian Koi, on why Christmas really wasn’t stolen from the Pagans, no, really:

+++Why, I’d love to! First of all, based on a more careful reading of the nativity stories, as found in the New Testament, it is very unlikely that the historical Jesus was born in December to begin with (winters in Judea tend to be very cold, and shepherds are described as tending their sheep in the fields; the two definitely don’t go together).+++

Had you expanded your careful reading a little bit, you’d be aware that Christmas is “the Feast of the Nativity,” not “Jesus’s Birthday.” While modern fundamentalists typically claim it’s Jesus’s ACTUAL birthday because they’re theologically and historically ignorant, mainline denominations have never so claimed.

+++It is well known that the Romans celebrated Saturnalia around the 25th, while in later centuries it was the holiday of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus), the chief holiday of one of the most important cults of the late Empire (one held in special regard by such emperors as Constantine and Julian “the Apostate” and also one extremely popular among the Roman soldiers who spread the cult, along with Mithraism all over the Empire).+++

This fails to take into account movement of the dates relative to the solar year and relative to the calendar due to adjustments to the Julian calendar, the creation of leap-year and 10-day readjustment in the middle ages, and the switch from Julian to Gregorian calendars. But it would be a really nice argument if it were true! Christmas used to be somewhat different in date-relationship to Saturnalia and the solstice. (Also, you’ve failed to provide any support whatsoever for the assertion that coincidence in time equals shared origins.)

+++The pagans of northern Europe celebrated (and continue to celebrate) Yule at that time, long before Jesus was born and most of present-day Christmas customs, including carols, Christmas tree etc. have, beyond any doubt, origins in Celtic or Germanic winter solstice customs.+++

Here again we have a “yes, but.” You’ve failed to provide an important connecting point: Did Christians have contact with northern Europeans at the time of the setting of the date for Christmas? In fact, no. Christmas was set near the date of Yule before Christians were evangelizing northern Europeans or, according to extant evidence, had any meaningful contact with that culture. (And again, you’ve failed to provide support for the assertion that coincidence in time equals shared origins.)

Furthermore, the “present-day Christmas customs” you cite are NOT universal Christmas customs by any stretch of the imagination. They are NORTHERN EUROPEAN Christmas customs. Christianity has always engaged in what’s called “inculturation” in theological jargon – the acceptance of aspects of local culture into church customs. For example, in Hawai’i, hula is used in church celebrations because of its importance in local culture.

Others can talk about carols better, but carols-qua-carols didn’t appear until the middle ages, so I’m not really sure how you’re claiming Northern European pagans fit into that. Many Christian hymns are set to older tunes, but again, that was common cultural custom. And most of the tunes are medieval themselves.

As for trees, I have a terrifically boring revelation for you: Since the second century, churches (formal separate buildings or informal house churches) were “required” (in quotes because the authority structure was quite informal until the 10th century or so) to have green plants in the church as an expression of creation and new life. For all services, not just special ones. You can go into any Catholic Church today for a service and there will always be plants except on Good Friday. (And if not, they ought to be reported to the bishop; it’s liturgical law and they’re breaking it.)

If you’re in Northern Europe, and it’s late December, and you’re required to have greenery in your church, what are you going to use?

Oh, right – fir trees, evergreen boughs, and holly.

Which is probably, more or less, the same theological justification for their use in pagan winter celebrations.

The reason Christmas trees are so popular as a symbol of the season is because Hallmark is a company coming out of a Northern European-derived culture that maintains those Christmas traditions. Prior to 1950, Italians would have looked at you like you had two heads if you tried to give them Christmas trees. (Well, there are evergreens in Italy too and some were used as Christmas decor, but not exclusively because there’s other greenery available during that season, so there’s not the same strong association of Christmas with firs. Lots of cultures prefer Christmas lilies. In Northern Europe, lilies had to be confined to Easter.)

+++It wasn’t until 350 CE that the Church of Rome declared December 25 as the day of “Christ’s” birth, in order to ease the process of converting pagans to this new religion. The same process is clearly visible in Easter and other main Christian holidays. So rather than being Christian holidays with added pagan symbolism, it is more accurate to say that they are Christianized pagan holidays.+++

Oooooh, brilliant! You’ve hit all my favorite calendrical myths in one paragraph!

Point the first: Easter is not set according to any Pagan date, which should be immediately obvious to even the most casual observer. Easter is set according to THE DATE OF PASSOVER because Jesus’s crucifixion coincided with Passover. Prior to the 9th century, Jews (who use a luni-solar calendar; that is, a lunar calendar with solar corrections so it doesn’t “march backwards” around the year with way the Islamic calendar does, because several Jewish feasts are agricultural in nature and that’s silly when it turns up in the wrong season) set the date of Passover and certain other important dates, including beginnings of months, based on actual physical sightings of the moon (as Muslims still do today). (The reasons Jews went to an astronomical calendar in the 9th and 10th centuries – it was a process, not an event – has largely to do with the diaspora and slow communication that made it difficult for one rabbi to tell ALL the Jews when to start the month.)

For Christians, this presented a problem after their asses were booted from the Temple prior to its destruction in 70ish CE. (There’s some debate but it doesn’t actually matter for our purposes.) As Christianity became more and more Gentile, and diverged from Judaism even in areas where Jewish Christians were the norm, they had to find their own way of setting the date of Easter, since the Jewish authorities were no longer willing to “share” the calendar-setting info with the apostates, and the Gentiles were ever-farther away from Jerusalem.

The debate began almost as soon as Christ’s death, and by 180 AD there were two firm camps: one that wanted the date always to fall on Nisan 14, which could be any day of the week, and one that wanted the date to always fall on the Sunday closest to Nisan 14. There’s an important theological point to this, which has to do with the Saturday sabbath as the seventh day, and Sunday as the first. Since Jesus was arose on a Sunday and this made a “new” Creation, Sunday became both the 8th day (fruition of God’s plan in Creation) and the 1st day (new Creation). Weekly Sunday celebrations were conceived as “little Easters” – smaller celebrations on every 1st/8th day of the week to commemorate the resurrection and new creation and fulfillment of God’s promises. So to put Easter on a NOT-Sunday, argued one side of the debate, was to reject this important theological point. But to put it on NOT-Nisan 14, argued the other side, was to reject the actual commemoration of the historical date. By the third century, Christian/Jewish relations were getting relatively ugly, and Sunday won out.

Different systems developed, but the one that eventually was adopted for setting the date of Easter so that it would be near Passover and universal across a church that could take a long time to communicate, but didn’t require Jewish assistance in sighting the moon, was to set Easter for the first Sunday after the first (astronomical) full moon after the spring equinox. This is basically how the Jewish luni-solar calendar corrects itself, using the equinoxes, so this puts Easter within a week of Passover.

According to their calculations on the Julian calendar, early Church calendar obsessives thought that Jesus was crucified on March 25. (Tertullian, who was notably bad at calendar math and was in fact wrong, was the first to say so, although it’s clear the date of March 25 was important to Christians prior to that because of earlier extant texts and Tertullian’s obsession with fitting the calendar to that date.) This must mean, they decided round about AD 220, that because Jesus was in all way perfect, his life began on the same date. So they set the date for Jesus’s conception on March 25. Which means that his BIRTH, because Jesus is an all ways perfect, had to be EXACTLY nine months after the conception. (These are already celibate monks. Nine months is as good an approximation for a “perfect” pregnancy duration as we’re going to get from them.) This put the celebration of Jesus’s birth on Dec. 25.

(early authorities, incidentally, suggest the actual physical date of Jesus’s birth was around 25 Pachon/20 May in 28 Augustus. But Jesus was a nobody in a backwater, so who was really keeping track?)

Although, in point of fact, the earlier celebration is Epiphany, dating back at least to the 2nd century and extant texts suggest even earlier, which celebrates the revelation of Christ to the magi. We’re not entirely clear why Epiphany was January 6, but it wasn’t until your magic date of 350 CE that Christmas was broken out from the earlier and holier date of Epiphany. The 25th – 12 days before the 6th – was chosen for a variety of reasons, including that it was 9 months after Tertullian’s magic date March 25 (now firmly the Feast of the Annunciation), and that it beautifully fit with the happy number of 12 (apostles, etc.). However, the elements of the Christmas liturgies existed in the Epiphany liturgies long before the 350 CE breakout.

Finally, to reiterate, Christmas is NOT “Jesus’s Birthday.” It is “The Feast of the Nativity.” Feasts mean we CELEBRATE it on that day, not that we believe it actually HAPPENED on that day. (Otherwise “The Feast of St. Thomas More” would be quite silly, because how could he himself occur entirely on that day?)

So, to sum up: Christian calendar dates based on Jewish calendar dates, quasi-mystical beliefs about perfection, and sometimes crappy math.

Easter is the earliest celebration, and the setting of its date has zero relationship to anything but Jewish celebrations (and again, if you have done a “careful reading,” this should be utterly obvious). Most other early Christian calendar dates are based off Easter, with the exception of the mysterious date-preference of Epiphany. (Moreover, in terms of importance of the holidays, it goes Easter, Epiphany, Lent, THEN Christmas. Christmas is low man on the liturgical totem pole.)

+++To cut a long story short, neither is it Christ’s actual birthday, nor the customs have anything to do with Jesus or Christian doctrine. Everything about is far more pagan than it could ever be Christian, which is, again, why I don’t have any problems with celebrating it.+++

And to sum up the entire post, your assertions are wrong in almost all particulars. It appears to me that you have a particular bias – that Christianity is Pagan-derived – and that you have set out to only consider evidence that proves your belief. A truly careful examination of extant evidence would have shown you how baseless your assertions are. Even a cursory examination of the Bible and a glance at the modern calendar might have clued you in to Easter’s dating basis, so your assertion that Easter’s date is Pagan-based leads me to conclude that you’ve looked at evidence with serious blinders on that only allowed you to consider things that proved your biases.

Finally, your last sentence is UNBELIEVABLY rude and presumptuous. Would you like it if a Christian walked into your holy day and said, “Well, everything here is obviously Christian-derived, even if you’re too stupid to know it.”? Why do you feel comfortable being so dismissive about my holy day, and being so rude about my level of intellect? Do you really feel comfortable telling a billion and a half Christians that they’re ACTUALLY celebrating a Pagan holiday and just haven’t noticed? Or do you think it’s remotely possible that EVEN IF any of your assertions had been remotely based in fact and Christmas WERE a Pagan-derived holiday, that those billion and a half Christians were actually managing to celebrate a holy event of their faith, regardless of date?

Does it please you when fundamentalists inform you that even if you don’t know it, you’re actually worshipping Satan? Why, then, do you feel it’s okay to tell me that even if I don’t know it, I’m celebrating a Pagan holiday? Bad form. Very bad form.

-Koi
Koimichra

Senior Staff at…
The Cauldron

Stop by
Theologica
my CafePress shop

“Pray for the dead; fight like hell for the living.”
– Mother Jones

Seeking the Other: Christian-Pagan Dialogue
An article by Koi on the importance of interfaith relations.

Nazis hate me. Men with small dicks fear me.
Most of the former have the latter.

Now can we please, please, please consign this to the same dustbin as the “St. Patrick really drove the druids out of Ireland” story? It makes about as much sense.

Stay Classy, Asatru Lore

[Trigger warning: ableism, death threats]

This is from the Grumpy Lokean Elder tumblr:

And thus, in a nutshell, why I don’t recommend Raven Radio despite the fact that the AsatruLore staffers tone down their rhetoric on their radio show:

According to their account holder on Facebook, anyone who incorporates a particular deity that they don’t like into their personal theology and practice is, automatically, a “tard” and not to be given an opportunity to speak.

There’s more gross behavior and commentary to be found. Go take a gander at the AsatruLore forum if you have the stomach for it – searching Loki as a keyword brings up some classy things. Bonus points for every time you spot references to executing people they find undesireable by bogging (tying someone up and tossing them into a bog to sink and drown), sealbagging (putting a sealskin bag over someone’s head and walking them off a cliff), etc. There’s also a super classy thread in there somewhere about bringing back old iron shaming masks that forcibly silence the person strapped into them while dehumanizing them (with the mask’s shape of a shunned animal) – and that such masks should be used on Lokeans.
(link to original post)

On a more personal note, I joined up there and was actually threatened within a few posts of posting an intro.

And before someone comes in here and tries to defend them, here’s a tip: Don’t even try. There is NO EXCUSE for advocating violent behaviour against anyone, NONE! You can go on and on about what a great resource you are, and how you do a lot for Heathenry, and what are YOU doing for Heathenry….

…..and you’ll still be an asshole.

You will be an exceptionally knowledgeable asshole, but an asshole, all the same.

And guess what, asshole. You can cry all you want about judging people by their deeds. Well, I’m judging YOU by your deeds, and you are fucking FAILING the decent human being test!

Thank you, now if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to finish.

Game Review: King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame

It’s that time of year again, the time when Steam wreaks havoc with everyone’s wallets with the Steam Autumn Sale (and then later, with the Steam Winter Sale). In which I went in intending to buy Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (which was the only horror game not on sale on Hallowe’en, for some inexplicable reason) and came out with, well, see my future reviews.

Anyways, I bought this game because Extra Credits someone said the words “Mass Effect-style choices in a Total War game” and I love the Mass Effect series, even after they really fucked up Mass Effect 3’s ending. The thing is, I’ve never played a real-time strategy game, ever, but there’s a first time for everything, so I figured, whatever, the game’s like $3, I’ll give it a try….

….only to be thwarted by REALLY tiny in-game text, like, so tiny I couldn’t read it and had to rely on the narration, except that there’s a lot of text that isn’t narrated. Therefore, if you’re thinking of trying this game, here are some instructions to fix it:

Program Files > Steam > steamapps > common > kingarthurii > Cfg > Constarray > open the file ConstArray.cfg in notepad or wordpad > change the ‘0’ (zero) at the end of the LAST TWO LINES in the file to ‘3’ > save and close

Make sure you make a backup of the ConstArray file before you do this, though. It worked like a charm for me.

Anyways, there’s some stellar game design right there. /sarcasm

Okay, so, annoying text problem aside, you might have assumed that this is a) the second game in a series and b) that’s it’s about King Arthur. I confess I’ve always been kind of a casual fan when it comes to the Arthurian mythos. I know some of the stories (I like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and I read the one about Sir Gawain and the loathly lady in high school) and I’ve read a handful of the “but King Arthur was really in service to The Goddess” Paganized versions, and I LOLed when they were like “and now here’s King Arthur” in the Mabinogion, because it was kind of random. I even saw that one movie where they ditch the whole chivalry thing and go for the badass Saracen warlord “historical Arthur” thing, and TBH, I have this thing against Merlin, he just pisses me off.

This is why I particularly like the setup for this game, because in this game, King Arthur is seriously wounded via Holy Grail explosion (probably from letting Lancelot and Guinevere in the room with it) and is now pulling a Fisher King, which means Camelot has gone in the toilet. The Knights of the Round Table have all turned against him or vanished, as has Merlin (vanished, that is) and to top it all off, Morgause has summoned the Formorians (who are teh ebils, of course) to royally screw the already royally screwed Camelot over.

Enter William, or as I like to call him: Wee-um, who is King Arthur’s son (presumably not gotten off his sister). Wee-um was raised outside of Camelot, because the devs needed an excuse to allow the player to sculpt his background, and, naturally, it’s up to him to find a cure for his father and save Camelot from destruction.

This is one of those games (like many games that Paradox Interactive is involved in) that looks simple on the outside but can get pretty busy. When you aren’t having it out with opponents RTS-style, you’ll be managing your troops, researching skill upgrades, improving stats by building up towns that are under your control, solving disputes between rival parties in diplomatic missions, and making decisions that impact which quests you do and upgrades you can get as well as defining your morality (more on morality in a moment). Oh, and reading, you will be doing a lot of reading, hence why I was bitching about the text size before. (Seriously, this is really failtastic on the part of whoever didn’t fix this before it was released, because there’s a lot of text.) As someone who likes non-combat dialogue-based missions a whole bunch, I really enjoy the more talky portions of the game. I haven’t played a whole lot of the game, but I’ve already been forced to make some interesting choices: Do I throw the Saxon woman who might possibly be mad to a horde of prisoners whom I know are demon-possessed, or do I put a guard on her to make sure she doesn’t pull any funny business? I’m not sure to what extent all these choices impact gameplay, but I have a feeling there are probably some choice-specific missions down the line.

In terms of morality, yes, there is a moral choice system. It’s divided along two axes: Rightful – Tyrant, and Old Faith – Christian, and before you ask, yes, that means you can play as a good Pagan, which is why I’m playing as a good Pagan diplomacy and leadership-based Warlord, plus I got to call the lady in the previous paragraph a “Christmonger”. In a nutshell, the “Rightful” options are what you might expect from a chivalric romance, the “let’s help all the poor people and children of the world” and the “Tyrant” options are, well, the asshole options, each axes gives you access to different kinds of troops which all seem to be roughly equivalent, so I don’t know if there’s really a benefit to choosing one or the other. I’ve been playing this game in small chunks, so I haven’t really seen the impact of any of my decisions.

Combat-wise, I confess I had a bit of trouble with it at first. Here’s a tip: When your player’s reaction to winning a battle is not “Yay!” but “I won? What? Okay…” then you need a more in-depth tutorial. At this point, I would normally guess that the devs are banking on people having either played the first game or played Total War, but given that I’ve played seconds, fourths, and thirteenths in a series that always included a tutorial, I’d say they were perfectly justified in including an optional one that was a little less vague then “here, watch this video that kind of shows you how stuff works!”

That said, by the second battle, I did manage to figure stuff out. You click on your troops, then you click on the enemy troops you want to die, and then you watch your troops slowly advance forward until they kill the other troops, and some of your units can do magic. The battles are okay I guess, but I honesty think this game would have been 20% cooler with Mount and Blade style skirmishes, because nothing was more epic than being at the head of an army and getting covered in blood as you killed enemies, but that’s not RTS gameplay, so there goes that idea. I suppose the combat is okay, but not seat-of-your-pants-OMFGs-exciting, and that could make or break the game depending on your perspective. For fans of RTSes, I’ve read that it’s basically a clone of the Total War series, in other words, probably nothing special.

As far as issues go, I’ve heard lots of people complaining about game-breaking bugs, but thankfully, I haven’t encountered anything of the sort (I expect to be back in here swearing about this game a week later). I will say that the load times are impossibly long (even longer than the load times for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines pre-patch) and I don’t think they need to be, because the graphics are, well, not exactly the most hyper realistic graphics ever, and then there’s the narration…

Oh gods, what can I say about the narration? For starters, it’s like someone said “Okay, we’re making a cheesy King Arthur game, so we need you to be like, really over-dramatic, about everything…” so you get a narrator who rolls his ‘r”s and randomly emphasizes words and probably pronounces have the words wrong (Pen-DRAGON) and most people will probably find it very annoying, but I confess, I find it too funny to mute it. There is the added annoyance that the in-game text doesn’t often match up with the narration, so if you don’t like it when that happens, stay far away.

There’s also, it must be said, something about this game that makes it fiendishly addictive. I’m supposed to be finishing my NaNoWriMo novel, and all I want to do is play more of this game, because skinner box techniques, or something. Even as I’m writing this, I really want to go and play this game some more even though there are other, unquestionably better games waiting for me to play them, and, I don’t know, I guess that makes this a “good” game, from my perspective, even though the execution falls short of many other games I’ve played.

In close, I’m really hesitant about recommending this game because of the aforementioned game-breaking bugs. I would say that if this review has peaked anyone’s interest (or if you know people who would be interested) wait for it to go on sale (like I said, I bought it for just over $3) and then pick it up. I will say that in the hands of a studio with a bigger budget (like BioWare) I think this game could have been awesome, as it is, it, well, does some interesting things, and I keep coming back for more, but it ultimately feels like, I don’t know, like there’s a lot of potential that just wasn’t realized, that there’s this overall lack of polish, and WTF is up with the small text?!

Now If you’ll excuse me, I need to play this electronic crack before bed. BTW, word count is at 44K 264 (OMFGS NANOWRIMO I AM DOING IT!) I hope to be finished by Thursday, and then maybe I’ll write more of the Tithe-Boy or another review or something.

Oh, and for those of you who like hearing about Trixie (which I suspect is just me by now) she’s gone Greek. Yeah, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking right about now, which is that you should keep a hardhat close by, just in case, or maybe a bomb shelter. Seriously, Nerthus may scare the crap out of me, but Greek deities scare the crap out of me on a whole ‘nother level, except Dionysus, I will always, always be a Dionysus fangirl….except for the whole madness bit, also, I don’t drink, ever, (except for that one time when I was like, twelve, and my mom didn’t tell me there was rum in that punch, I ended up with such a headache, so I said never ever again, ever) so I will just fangirl from afar.

Review: Magic’s Pawn (The Last Herald Mage #1)

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Mercedes Lackey’s books. I first read 2/3s of her Enduring Flame trilogy (with James Mallory) and gave up at the end of the second book because it was so generic I probably could have replaced random passages from books in the same genre and it would have still made sense.

Then I read Gwenwhyfar: The White Spirit, perhaps the most blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of The Mists of Avalon ever (protip: Authors, you will never top The Mists of Avalon, ever. Stop trying). However, I enjoyed it enough that I was willing to give Mercedes Lackey another chance to impress me.

Hence, Magic’s Pawn….

Right, now before I get into the review, I need to put the obligatory SPOILER warning up top, because it’s difficult to talk about this book without spoiling anything. (In all honesty, does it even count as a spoiler if most people have probably read it by now?) So, yeah, SPOILERS, read at your own risk.

Our main character is Vanyel Ashkevron, the spoiled eldest son of Lord Withen and Lady Treesa. Vanyel dreams of becoming a Bard, much to the displeasure of his father, who wants him to learn swordplay like a “proper” man, while his mother only really cares for him when it serves her to do so. In fact, the only friend Vanyel has at home is his sister, Lissa, who is being sent away for fostering. Eventually, the metaphorical shit hits the metaphorical fan and Lord Withen sends Vanyel to foster with his aunt Savil, one of the few Herald-Mages of Valdemar. Heralds do the kinds of things that you would expect from other elite forces: they keep the peace, and, if necessary, they use deadly force to keep the peace.

Its while he’s fostering with his aunt that he meets the love of his life, and it all goes downhill from there.

Is this sounding formulaic yet? Well, get ready for the biggest not-spoiler ever.

Vanyel is gay.

You see, if Vanyel were heterosexual, this would probably be the most formulaic book ever: main character is inexplicably different from his siblings? Check. Is sent to live with super awesome people with super awesome powers? Check. Eventually gets super awesome powers of his own? Check. Fights villains that are supposed to be waaaaaay out of his league? Check. But it’s okay, because he’s actually very powerful, he just hasn’t been trained properly? Check, check, and check, and I would probably have finished this book thinking “Man, I just read the most generic fantasy ever….” with zero desire to read the second one. Most of the characters are flat: Lord Withen? Asshole. His training master, Jervis? An even bigger asshole. His mother? Constantly described as shrill and/or hysterical, and of course, there’s Lissa, who is the kind older sister who is the only one who really gets Vanyel, of course. Even Tylendel, his lover, can be described by the short phrase “really cares about his twin brother”. Vanyel himself is a spoiled, selfish little shit for most of the book, until he drops the act around Tylendel, then he picks it right up again. Suffice it to say that it’s not the most stellar characterization I’ve ever seen, as I said, everything about this book just screams formulaic, all that’s needed is Vanyel and Tylendel riding off into the sunset, and–

–and then Tylendel dies.

At this point, I put the book down and swore a whole bunch, because, as typical as I found the story to be, I had grown attached to these characters. I liked how Vanyel and Tylendel were so easily affectionate with each other. I liked this new Vanyel who wasn’t such a spoiled brat and was learning to accept his sexuality. I really, really liked this pairing, and for once I didn’t have to resort to something as drastic as writing slash fanfiction just so they could be together.

Needless to say, Vanyel does not take Tylendel’s death well, at all. In fact, he spends the rest of the book grieving, and not even being Chosen by a Companion can heal those particular wounds, most importantly, he doesn’t just “get over it” and come back two pages later with a new (interchangeable) love interest, which is an annoying trope no matter the genders of the people involved, and while he does eventually get super cool awesome powers (in fact, the most powers of any Herald-Mage), he gains so much power that he’s pretty much a live nuclear bomb unless he learns to control himself. (Take note: If Vanyel were a girl, how long do you think it would be before the accusations of “Mary Sue” came about?)

I think what it really comes down to is that this book is as much about love, loss, and healing from emotional wounds as it is about people who get to bond with cool horses and do magic. Even when I found Vanyel to be an insufferable little shit, I didn’t think it was entirely unwarranted (especially in the second half of the book) and I certainly know what it’s like to have to live in the closet, as Vanyel had to do before he was Chosen. In the end, this went from the most formulaic book ever to one that I just couldn’t put down, as if it were made of chocolate and the words were that whispering in my ear that says “Just one more piece….” and even though I keep saying I need to lose weight, I just can’t resist taking another bite.

Now, before I close saying that anyone who is interested in fantasy with LGBT+ characters who hasn’t read this should read it, I’d just like to make a few notes regarding the portrayal of the gay characters in the novel. The reason I didn’t jump on them right away (as I usually would) is because this book was written in 1989, so it gets one of those “product of its time” passes. Suffice it to say that every gay character is pretty, really really pretty. Vanyel really likes clothes, and looking good in clothes, and just clothes, and the major villain (who is introduced quite late in the book) is so ridiculously camp that it’s just ridiculous (and I stopped at one point to just laugh my ass off, that’s how ridiculous he is). Also, it’s implied that he’s bisexual (or perhaps just evil enough to do terrible things to women regardless of his orientation) because I have no fucking idea. So if you can handle the utter ridiculousness of the villain and the cast full of pretty boys, I’d say give this a shot. While I’m at it, I should also note that the sex is the very tasteful, fade to black kind, so don’t worry about getting an eyeful of graphic sex scenes. There’s just kissing and cuddling and mushy stuff.

Overall, I went into Magic’s Pawn expecting it to be formulaic, and now Magic’s Promise is sitting on my desk waiting to be read. Why am I still writing this when I could be reading it? Bottom line: If you can get past the stereotyping (this was written in the 80s) and the fact that it really isn’t all that groundbreaking (aside from the fact that OMFGs there’s a gay main character!), pick this up, seriously, you could do far worse than this.

Things I Learned from Skyfall….

[Racism, sexism and MAJOR spoilers ahoy!]

I just came back from seeing my first James Bond movie (because my biomom wanted to see a movie and she doesn’t like “cartoons”, srsly, WTF is up with that? Cartoons are fun!). Here is a brief list of things that I learned about life from Skyfall:

1) Black women can’t shoot.

2) Actually, women can’t shoot. Guns are for men, ladies, and don’t you forget it!

3) When you learn that someone was in the sex trade, it’s totally okay to boink her in the shower. (Especially if you’re in Macau, because we all know sex trafficking is the only thing that ever goes down there, ever.)

4) “It was a waste of good scotch.” is a perfectly acceptable reaction to the murder of said person mentioned in #3. I guess Bond is just cold like that.

5) In fact, the only thing black women seem to be good for is doing sexy shaving scenes /notstereotypical Oh, and desk jobs, no more field work for her, because apparently she’s not cut out for being in the field, see #1

6) Of course the old women dies at the end and a man takes over the secret service, as it should be. Amirite?

7) Oh wait, apparently black women are good at stomping on henchmen right as Bond’s about to get shot.

Seriously, I wasn’t really expecting much (and, to be fair, the action scenes are great, the sets are gorgeous, and the soundtrack is awesome, but WTF? Could you TRY to be more racist and sexist?

I need to go watch D.E.B.S or something, it’s corny and stupid, but at least it has lesbians in it.

I’m Not a Science Fiction Fan, But….

I had this idea for a story about humans discovering an alien race that has developed/evolved sentient spaceships that bond with their captains, probably not the most original idea, but let’s go with that. Anyways, so humans are like “Give us this cool thing,” and the aliens are all “Sure, we’re into sharing and stuff,”. So everyone gets super advanced technology and everyone’s happy, and no one ever uses it for evil, oh no, not at all.

So, the military, being the military and wanting to hoard all the cool toys for themselves, is all like “k, only the best pilots get to fly these things,” but then one of the newborn ships accidentally bonds with a scientist’s newborn daughter. (I have no idea what she was doing around sentient spaceships with a baby, just roll with it.)

So anyways, the scientist basically has no choice but to put her daughter through military school, but our main character is all “nuts to this” and decides to run away and get a liberal arts degree, because she’s a rebel like that. Then her spaceship suddenly crashes into her dorm room the one day (spaceships get really depressed without their captains, they have special spaceship anti-depressants for captain-withdrawal), and her mom is all “Honey, you get in this ship right now and help save the galaxy!” and she’s all “But I have an exam tomorrow!” and her mom is like “I’ve already assigned you a crew taken from a random cross-section of humanity (and it is really random, not just a bunch of white people and a token black person), plus a few aliens, now, move it, or there won’t be a university to attend!”

Then the main character basically resigns herself to getting her degree through correspondence courses, and going on adventures…IN SPACE!

I’d like to write this story, but I’m not really an SF person, physics and astronomy just aren’t my thing. (In fact, I was one mark away from failing physics altogether). I’m sure someone would read it. Wait, didn’t someone already do something like this before?

Notes to Self

Dear Me,

32 K words into your novel, and you STILL haven’t introduced your main antagonist? WTF is up with that?!

On a related note: Pacing is a thing, remember it for next time.

When you start keeping a tally of minority characters you’ve put in your novel, you’re not giving your characters the opportunity to be someone else, and it looks like you’re trying to score inclusion cookies. Stop it. Now.

I know you weren’t planning for the story to become a love story from the point of view of someone who isn’t the character in love, but that’s what happened.

You keep second-guessing yourself when characters decide they want to use magic to do things. Seriously, let your metal spirits turn into fucking hovercrafts if they want to. This is fantasy, you’re allowed to break the laws of physics (and all the other laws governing the universe) and no one gives a shit.

Anyways, don’t worry about any of this too much, just finish telling the story, and save hacking it apart for December, these are just a few things to keep in mind for future projects.
Love,

Gef

It’s Cheesy and Over-dramatic, but….

…here’s the synopsis I wrote for my NaNoWriMo novel:

Once, it is said, the Powers–the four deities who rule over Love and War, Knowledge and Nature–walked the land.
But now, they are gone, entrusting the guardianship of the world to the spirits that live in the world. These spirits of flame and sea, of tree and metal, of wind and storm, form bonds with humans, strengthening humanity’s tie to the land.
In this world, bereft of the powers that created it, a girl bonds with a spirit of the elder. All is not right with the world, however, and it will be up to these two companions to survive an invisible war of conflicting ideologies in which politics, religion, love and jealousy are major players.

I need more ham with my CHEESE!