Monthly Archives: February 2014

Notice of Disassociation

This post was a difficult one to write, but I’ve been wanting to write it for some time. I wasn’t going to post it outside of tumblr, but you know what? At this point I don’t give a fuck, and if this loses me followers and friends, well, I’m okay with that.

When I first talked about writing a devotional anthology, Raven (Kaldera) was the first person who approached me about it. Others approached me  offering to help with it, but at that point I’d already said I’d go with Asphodel Press. At that point, I genuinely liked the books that he wrote with Galina Krasskova, although, there was a part of me that winced whenever he used the term “shaman” to describe himself, and there is a ton of unmarked UPG everywhere, and something about their writing seemed “gloomy” like serving a deity was all pain and suffering, and any voice that was encouraging was a person’s own sockpuppets.

So, I just wanted to let you know that, despite the fact that I did publish my anthology with Asphodel Press, that is the extent of my dealings with Kaldera, and i will not be publishing again with them in the future. I also no longer identify as Northern Tradition Pagan and would ask that people please not refer to me by that label. I am Vanatru. 

Keep in mind that this was before the big kerfluffle re: Pop Culture Paganism, where the Piety Posse started drawing lines in the sand and saying “no fake polytheists past here”. At this point, I thought about at least pulling Krasskova from the anthology, if not completely cutting ties with Asphodel Press. Maybe I should have, maybe I should have just abandoned the project as a whole, maybe it wasn’t the best decision to keep going in spite of my own misgivings.

On a related but separate subject (as Kaldera generally stays out of Internet debates), I am disgusted by the piety posse’s violent rhetoric and “us vs. them” mentality, and I think they are doing way more harm to polytheism than any of the people that they are complaining about.

Unfortunately, the damage has been done and the assweasels are probably going to lump me in with people I disagree with (sometimes vehemently) regardless of what I say, but I wanted to make it perfectly clear where I stand in the “twu polytheist” thing. Namely, I don’t really care if you’re devotional, soft….or your deity is Superman. I also don’t care for cultural appropriation, including the use of appropriative language like “shaman” to describe someone who wasn’t raised in that culture, especially when there are other, Heathen terms for such people.

Review: Celtic Myth and Religion

Some of you who follow me on tumblr are aware that I’ve been posting my reactions to material in this book a lot recently. Well, I’ve finally finished it so here’s my review.

I’ve never really been interested in mythology from Celtic countries (yes, I’m aware it’s better to refer to Irish or Scottish myths instead of a catch-all like “Celtic” but I use it for clarity and brevity’s sake). I sort of poked around in Celtic stuff due to my exposure to eclectic Wicca (where it seemed like everyone was constantly referring to Celtic–particularly Irish and Welsh–things) but I never really felt a connection to any of these traditions despite my adoptive family’s Irish heritage.

However, more recently I’ve become interested in comparing Norse and Celtic traditions, in part inspired by a Facebook group that used to do the same but was abruptly closed. I guess you could call it a bit of self-directed study. Hence, this book, Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod.

The book is exactly what it says in the subtitle: “A study of traditional belief, with newly translated prayers, poems, and songs” the author has taught Celtic literature and mythology, presented papers at the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork, and the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. She is also a faculty member of the Celtic Institute of North America, so she sounds like someone who really knows what she’s talking about.

The book is divided into three parts: Celtic myth and religion, Celtic shamanism and wisdom traditions, and Celtic legends and folklore. (I should note here that the material in this book is mostly concerned with Irish, Scottish, and Welsh sources, lore of Cornwall, Brittany, and the Isle of Man is barely present, and the author encourages interested readers to do further reading if interested). Part one gives a general overview of Celtic religious traditions, including sections on deities, the role of druids and seers, and the ritual year. Part two looks at various “shamanic” techniques and examines similar techniques in Celtic countries, as well as cosmology, the lore of plants and animals (including a discussion of ogham) and wisdom traditions. The third and final part looks at legends and folklore, including the Mabinogi, Arthurian traditions, fairy lore, and folklore associated with the seasons. Appendices look at the role of women (specifically as outlined in legal texts), the tradition of folksongs, and a recommended reading list for further study. The book also includes endnotes, which are mostly full of citations with little additional information. There’s also a robust bibliography (although most of her scholarly sources aren’t that current) and an index.

The author states that this book is meant to be a sort of introduction for students who, in the past, have had to wade through many academic texts, especially since much of the material isn’t available in English, and in this regard, I feel like it’s done its job. It definitely has the feel of a more introductory text. There’s a lot of information in this book, but at the same time, the book only gives you a fleeting glimpse of the richness of these traditions, the tiniest sip at the Well of Wisdom, leaving you wanting more. This book is a starting point, where you go with it is up to you. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, you’ll be quite comfortable with this book.

My overall impression is that it’s a good introduction to the material, but this is coming from someone who isn’t very familiar with the subject matter, and can’t translate the bits of Old Irish that the author quotes to know if it’s translated accurately. Those of you who are probably more familiar with the subject probably wouldn’t be as interested in this, in fact, most of the material is probably nothing you haven’t seen before. As I said, this book was written for students and it definitely feels like the sort of book you would use in a 101 type course in university. Here’s a fun activity: go find a Llewellyn book on “Celtic” Paganism and compare it to what this book says about the ritual year. (Hint: Beltane is not about the heterosex, marriages were actually arranged at Lugnasad.) One thing I did appreciate was in the chapter on plants and animals, where the author states that the use of ogham for divination is in question, but provides meanings for each tree based on traditional sources in case you want to use them in that way. I thought that was a cool thing to do, not completely dismiss it, but not wholeheartedly endorse it either, instead, offer it to readers if it’s something they’d like to try.

In terms of things that I found annoying about this book. I know the title says “Celtic” but the book really only talks about Irish, Scottish, and Welsh material. Another annoying thing is the way the author lumps many different practices together under the label of “shamanism” which is very annoying but not uncommon in academic circles, sadly.  The author could have simply called it “Magico-Religious Practices” but I guess that doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Celtic Shamanism”.

Overall, I would give this book a tentative recommendation, it seems like a solid book on the subject and a good resource for people who aren’t that familiar with Irish, Scottish, and Welsh traditions apart from what they read by Llewellyn and other “popular” publishers, and it isn’t written in a dry academic style. But, as I said, I’m not an expert on the subject matter, so tread carefully.

First Impressions: Solstice

So I just finished the preview build for Solstice, the latest game from MoaCube (who also brought us Cinders), and I’d just like to record my first impressions (not a review, the review will come later).

Solstice is a mystery/thriller visual novel that takes place in a mysterious domed city in the middle of a frozen wasteland and is inhabited by those who won’t–or can’t–leave the city for a season. When the local archaeologist goes missing, however, the city’s new physician and a mysterious woman who arrived with the last dog sleds start asking questions. What starts as a hunt for the missing archaeologist may end with the city being claimed by the frozen wastes.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. The visuals are absolutely breathtaking, and while the music is mostly placeholder music from Cinders, the music I did hear sounded fantastic. Then again, if you’ve played Cinders, this is old news to you. If you haven’t played Cinders–just go and play Cinders, it’s awesome.

Galen and Yani, the two main characters.

If you’re familiar with Cinders (or you’ve played visual novels before) you know the drill–read through text, click to read more text, occasionally make a choice that will impact the story. (Considering that Cinders had a bunch of variants for every ending, there’s no reason to believe Solstice won’t be more of the same).

There are a few marked differences from Cinders, however, the first and most obvious is that you make choices for two main characters: Galen and Yani. Galen has been called in to replace the city’s previous doctor, and Yani is a mysterious woman who was lucky enough to be found and brought to the city before she froze to death (saying more would kind of spoil things). You can play either of them in a couple different ways: I chose to go with a more understanding, compassionate Galen and a more assertive Yani, it remains to be seen how things will actually play out in the full game, however. There’s also a journal feature where your characters record information about the characters they meet, and the narration is also presented in the format of one of the main characters writing in a journal. Characters now gesture while speaking (these are a bit distracting) and there’s a bit of animation. Sound effects have also been added to the dialogue, especially to emphasize certain words or phrases.

The supporting cast is also very interesting. My favourite so far is Constance, who runs the bath house and knows a little something about everyone. Every character in Solstice has a secret, and some will more readily spill those secrets than others. There is definitely a sense that not all is as it seems (appropriate for a good mystery) and there is definitely something more sinister at play. Although I must admit I found some characters to be far more interesting than others (I don’t really like Sem, the misanthrope who only cares about dogs, but he did say some interesting things so I’m willing to give him a chance).

I’m also happy to report that MoaCube has given us a far more diverse game than they did with Cinders (which only had the one black woman). Both main characters are POCs (Gavin is black, Yani is Asian and from a culture that sounds like it might be inspired by China), there’s also Yakone (not to be confused with the character from The Legend of Korra) who is also Asian (I thought maybe Mongolian or the fantasy equivalent) Madame Ghede also makes a cameo appearance (although I’m not sure if it’s just for that one scene or not). There’s also a character who is struggling with mental illness.

Also, MoaCube decided to do a really great thing with regarding romance in the game. Since the game isn’t really focused on romance, Yani and Galen each get one love interest.

Now guess which one of them is queer?

Considering that MoaCube went from one possibly offensive portrayal of a black woman and no queer characters in sight to what I just described, I like the direction that Solstice is headed in, and I want to see more of this in general in games, (but again, I haven’t played the final game, so it remains to be seen). What I am a bit nervous about is how the game portrays mental illness and how it affects a person and their loved ones. Again, I haven’t played the full game, and I’m not really in a position to judge whether it’s a good portrayal or not. At this point, I’m not sure what to think, so I’ll wait for the full game.

The biggest issue I have with Solstice is that the dialogue and narrative parts can feel very unnatural at times (understandable since the devs are Polish). This is a problem that Cinders had as well, and it doesn’t make the game unreadable by any means. In fact, Cinders is easily one of my favourite visual novels ever. However, if you’re going into Solstice having never played Cinders, this is just a heads up.

Overall, Solstice looks to be cut from the same cloth as Cinders, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. I also really appreciate the fact that MoaCube is going for a bit more diversity with its cast, especially considering that Cinders was noticeably lacking in diversity.

Anime Review: Attack on Titan

I started to watch this show because tumblr wouldn’t shut up about it.

I watched the first episode and was like “Okay, I’m done! This is not a show for me, I’m done!”

But then I decided to give the show a second chance.

And then I suddenly found myself five episodes in, and I was like “Okay, this isn’t usually my cup of tea, but it’s interesting.”

And then I found that I’d finished watching it, and I was like “OMGS WHEN IS THERE GOING TO BE MORE?!”

Attack on Titan is set in a future where the last vestiges of humanity live within walled cities to protect them from creatures known as titans, giant humanoids who exist seemingly for the sole purpose of eating people. The titans cannot breach the walls, and attempts to take back territory from the titans have been unsuccessful. This stalemate has lasted for a hundred years.

That is, until the day a colossal titan breaches the wall if the small village of Zhiganshima, allowing smaller titans inside. In the ensuing massacre, three children manage to escape: Eren Yeager, our main character, Mikasa Ackerman, his adoptive sister, and Armin Arlert, the bookish sort who is Yeager’s best friend. The three of them decide to join the Survey Corps, a branch of the military devoted to fighting, researching, and eventually eradicating titans once and for all, Eren vowing to destroy every last titan on Earth.

If I had to categorize it, I’d say Attack on Titan is part post-apocalyptic dark fantasy (as in fantasy with horror elements that is heavy on the horror), part action-adventure, and part drama, in fact, there’s much more drama than action (although action is certainly present). This is a story about survival. loss, and let’s just say there’s a good reason this show has a large cast of characters.

Speaking of characters, of the three “main” characters (Mikasa, Eren, and Armin) Eren is probably the least developed of the three of them. His motivation can be summed up as “KILL ALL TITANS!” that’s it, that’s all, and I didn’t find that he grew past that at all. Likewise, Mikasa seems solely motivated by a desire to protect Eren and keep Eren out of danger and Eren, and it’s kind of a shame that her motivations are so centered on a man and what a man is doing when she’s kicking ass and taking names like a boss (more on this later). In contrast, Armin starts as a boy who relies on Mikasa and Eren to protect him and ends the series as an intelligent young man who is gutsy enough to shout down members of the Military Police to protect his friends.

The series has garnered praise for the way it treats its female characters. Women fight the titans alongside men (wearing the exact same practical outfit, I might add) and are every bit as competent as their male counterparts (easily surpassing them in a few cases), although many of the senior officers in the military are men and society still seems to be pretty patriarchal. From the very beginning of the series, Mikasa is constantly rescuing Eren (and she’s also top of her class as a trainee), his fellow trainee Annie soundly beats his ass during training. In fact, pretty much every woman in the army is a badass (you have to be if you want to kill titans). It’s pretty refreshing to have a post-apocalyptic setting that includes women doing things that don’t involve staying at home and in the kitchen.

In terms of representation, Mikasa is explicitly stated to be the last Asian alive (everyone else having been devoured by the titans) and the rest of the cast is, based on their names, meant to be white Europeans. In terms of queer representation, there are only hints of it in the anime, but Word of Gay says that Ymir is a lesbian (Ymir only has a small part in the anime) and Reiner makes suggestive comments towards everyone, there’s also a fair bit of subtext between Marco and Jean (although I believe this is a case of the anime expanding on the manga). There’s also the interesting case of Hange/Hanji Zoe, who is non-binary (the mangaka has requested that the English translation of the manga avoid gendered pronouns for this character). In the anime, Hange is depicted in a more “feminine” manner, but the subtitles do not use gendered pronouns (and AFAIK, no official Japanese sources use them). Hange is probably one of my favourite characters in the whole show due to their boundless enthusiasm when it comes to carving up titans FOR SCIENCE! And scenes with them in it mean that less time is spent on Eren’s wangsting.

Hange is the coolest.

Attack on Titan isn’t the kind of show I usually watch because I generally have a low tolerance for drama (at least, TV drama, Internet drama is another thing) and gore, and Attack on Titan is probably one of the goriest, creepiest examples of anime that I’ve ever seen. Most of the titans look like overweight, naked Barbie dolls (titans have no sex organs) with really creepy vacant expressions (if they aren’t smiling like idiots, which is somehow even creepier). Some are missing skin entirely (making them look like massive moving anatomical models) and that’s before they start eating people. If images of people being dismembered, eaten alive, dismembered and then eaten alive, and the like disturb you, you will want to run far away. Part of the reason I stalled for so long after watching the first episode was the incredibly unnerving death scene at the end, and it only gets worse from there. The titans’ design also leads to some unintentionally hilarious moments though, such as a terrifying moment with a titan running towards a large group of civilians hilariously flailing its arms about or another titan managing to punch itself in the face.

Most of the things I didn’t like about the series were already touched on earlier or are due to my personal preferences. It’s difficult to have a lot of action scenes when your enemy is really, really tough to kill, so much of the episode is focused on teh drama and characters spend a lot of time screaming at each other with nothing to break it up. (As I said, I don’t usually go for a drama-heavy show) and the flat characterization makes it worse. There were parts where I really wished I had some duct tape so I could tape Eren’s mouth shut. I hate shonen protagonists, you guise. Although, it is nice to see Eren constantly being the one being rescued by Mikasa instead of the other way around (although that happens a couple times too).

In short, it was tough to get into at first but ultimately Attack on Titan was surprisingly good. If you can stomach (terrible pun is terrible) all the people-eating and tolerate the flat characterization, especially of the main character.

The Thirteen Houses Project: Heliotrope

[Once a month for the next twelve months, I will be doing a post on the 13th of each month based on one of the Thirteen Houses of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers from Kushiel’s Legacy.]

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day so it seems like an appropriate time to talk about Heliotrope House. The canon of Heliotrope House is devotion and love, and its motto is “Thou, and no other,” Heliotrope House holds that when Naamah slept with the King of Persis, she “basked in love as in the sun”. It is said that a patron who spends a night with a Heliotrope adept will feel as if they are the only one to have ever touched their heart.

Elua’s Precept, “Love as Thou Wilt” informs every aspect of D’Angeline society (at least, ideally, whether D’Angeline society lives up to it is up for debate). While all of the Houses of the Night Court have their own ways of expressing love and desire, Heliotrope House makes love (particularly the devoted love of lovers towards one another) front and center. To spend time with a Heliotrope adept is to experience this sort of love.

Of course, there are many different kinds of love, erotic and romantic love being only two of them. There’s familial love, love between friends, love of one’s country, love for one’s deities, love of a favourite food, place, or other thing, love can be intense or fleeting, you might love animals, or love an idea. There are so many different ways to love, and for some, certain kinds of love will be more important than others. For some, love of one’s deities eclipses all other concerns, others may have no use for love that is romantic or sexual in nature, either by choice or orientation. For some, love of things is superficial. Philosophers have argued since forever about “higher” forms of love, but for me personally, there are so many different kinds and ways of love and expressing love that it’s up to each person to decide where their priorities lie in this matter.

There’s a whole lot more I could say on this topic, but for now, enjoy tomorrow by whichever name you wish to call it, including simply “Friday”.

Love as thou wilt.

Image: Heliotropium peruvianum by Algirdas (via Wikipedia)

Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #2

Since I made myself a promise that I’d go through each volume individually rather than review the whole set, I find myself at a loss to describe what goes on in volume 2 without completely spoiling the plot.

Basically the entire plot of #2 is that Usagi wakes up in Mamoru’s apartment and then it all goes downhill from there. There’s a very brief “Monster of the Week” plot and then we learn a whole lot more about the princess, the Legendary Silver Crystal, and Queen Beryl’s Four Kings of Heaven (that is, Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite, and Kunzite) a lot of mushy stuff happens between Usagi and Mamoru, some of the material in this was likely in episode 39 of the dub (“The Past Returns”) but other parallels to the anime are less obvious.

Also, is it just me, or is Moon Healing Escalation basically a giant “fix everything” button?

If this sounds incredibly confusing, it’s because I’m deliberately leaving a ton of information out because, once again, the manga does not screw around when it comes to telling us who’s who and what’s what.

As I mentioned before, #2 continues the trend of very awkwardly translating everything so it doesn’t sound natural at all (even for manga) and includes some very obvious mistakes (“Princess Beryl, Queen of the Dark Kingdom”) but at this point you should probably go into it expecting the entire series was translated this awkwardly.

So….the recommendation is that it’s more of the same? It’s the classic magical girl thing that made magical girls popular in North America? I mean, if you like Sailor Moon and you’ve read vol. 1, you really can’t go wrong with vol. 2…..

Review: A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

[TW: racism]

I’ve been in the mood for neo-Victorian (Steampunk, Gaslight Fantasy, floriography) things lately, there must be something about winter that brings out a hunger for stories about tea and repression or non-fiction about pretty flowers. On second thought, that just might be winter finally getting to me. Once the holidays and my birthday are over, I’ve just about had enough of winter.

A Study in Silks is one of those books where I read the back cover and rolled my eyes because of course the protagonist is related to Sherlock Holmes, yes, of course. How does anyone solve mysteries in London in the Victorian era if they don’t call upon Sherlock Holmes? Not even the blurb from Jacqueline Carey could sway me in this. However, I was intrigued by the mention of sorcery, I like a little magic with my clockwork, so I was like “Eh, it can’t be worse than some of the other books I’ve read recently,” and bought it.

As it turns out, A Study in Silks was one of those pleasant surprises overall.

A Study in Silks is set in a Victorian London ruled by a council of steam barons, who have a monopoly on mechanical power. The main character is Evelina Cooper, a woman who grew up in a traveling circus until her Grandmama Holmes plucked her from that life and thrust her into Society to be raised as a proper lady. Now living under the roof of Lord and Lady Bancroft, Evelina dreams of attending college while her friend Imogen prepares for her first Season in London. What no one under Bancroft’s roof knows, however, is that Evelina has secretly mastered magic that can power machines, , but, with the practice of magic banned throughout the Empire and suspected magic users sent for a long stay in Her Majesty’s laboratories, this is something Evelina doesn’t dare breathe a word of to anyone, but, when a murder occurs under Bancroft’s roof, it’s up to Evelina to solve the case without it hurting her friend, if she can only keep thoughts of Lord Bancroft’s handsome son and the dashing trick-rider from her past at bay.

I read some other reviews of this book and I think some people are under the impression that this is meant to be more of a mystery story (probably because it name-drops Holmes) but this isn’t the case. There is a mystery to solve, but it’s definitely not the focus of the book. Think of it as more of a gaslight fantasy (akin to something like The Parasol Protectorate, which I need to read) with romance and a bit of mystery and you have A Study in Silks. It’s not a very substantial read, but I wouldn’t call it light and fluffy either. Still, I would say it definitely falls in the “fun” category, and is best enjoyed wrapped up in a blanket with a warm drink (and by a “warm drink” I mean tea, obviously, always tea).

One thing I liked about this book is that there are a lot of plotlines happening at once (not all of which are resolved by the end of this book) you have the big overarching plot of the murder that quickly balloons into a search for a mysterious artifact, but you also have Imogen searching for a husband and Evelina worrying about her future, you also have Lord Bancroft’s son, Tobias, who is anxious to stretch his creative muscles through tinkering, something that the steam barons have forbidden, and you even get a glimpse of the life of one of the steam barons, Jasper Keating, and his ambitions. These are just a few of the plotlines that run through the book and they aren’t even the most important ones. In some books, it can be difficult to keep track of plots and characters, but in this case I found that all the various plots weave together nicely even if most of them aren’t resolved at the end (obviously this is where sequels come in).

The characters themselves were interesting to a point. Evelina is smart but comes across as being way too dependent on her uncle, constantly saying things like “if only Uncle Sherlock were here”. Tobias is a bored aristocrat looking to stretch his creative muscles, Nick, Evelina’s Romani friend from the circus, is trying to reconnect with her and somehow ends up caught in the whole mess, and then there’s the mysterious Dr. Magnus, who seems to have his fingers in a lot of pies, Jasper Keating, who, as a steam baron, definitely has his fingers in a lot of pies (plus a daughter, Alice, who is definitely more cunning than she lets on) and then there’s Lord Bancroft himself, who is hiding his share of secrets, They’re not what I would call very complex, but I wouldn’t call them flat either.

I also like how Evelina’s relationships with both her grandmothers and the friendship she shares with Imogen are just as important to her (if not moreso) than the relationships she has with men. She is motivated to shield Lord Bancroft’s family from scandal for Imogen’s sake, and both her grandmothers played pivotal roles in her childhood and young adulthood (Grandmother Cooper taught her how to use magic, whereas Holmes taught her how to function in Society). Even though she spends a significant amount of time with one or the other of her love interests, Imogen’s friendship remains constant, and she even accompanies Evelina on her investigation at Imogen’s insistence.

In terms of the romance…yay….a love triangle, how original, although there are a couple twist that make this tired old trope at least somewhat interesting. I still hate love triangles though, and I wish they would go away.

Something that also surprised me about this book was that there are POC characters who a) are not servants/working class and b) a major part of the plot, of the major characters, Nick is Romani, Magnus is black, Jasper Keating’s “enforcer” Striker, is brown. Unfortunately this is where the book falls flat on its face, and not just for the (period appropriate) racist language. Dr. Magnus in particular is very much “othered” (not only for his skin but is use of sorcery) and seems to become progressively more antagonistic towards the end of the novel. Nick and the Coopers are “magical POCs” who pretty much embody every single Roma stereotype (although, as the narrative says, they have little choice in the matter). There’s also that old chestnut of the protagonist inheriting magical abilities from a parent of colour. There are also characters of colour who basically exist to be killed to further the plot (including the murder that started the whole mess, if the victim’s “almond” eyes are any indication, as well as a bunch of Chinese workers). Although Evelina at least expresses some desire to see their killers brought to justice, even though, due to the racism of the time, there appears to be little chance of that. On the one hand, it’s always nice to see more authors not completely erase POCs from these kinds of stories, on the other hand, it would be nice if more of them didn’t kick the bucket by the book’s end.

In sum, racefail notwithstanding, A Study in Silks was a pleasant surprise and if you like your gaslight fantasy with romance and a little mystery, it’s not a bad read.