davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

No standard print media since the last update, that was just last Sunday, but I accidentally got sucked into re-reading some Schlock Mercenary. Schlock has been running daily since 12-Jun-2000, which makes for a very large archive - it just completed book 16, so a post the other day suggested a few potential starting points for people. The earliest suggestion was the start of Book 10, so I followed the link to remind myself which one that was, and, erm, started reading. From 29-Feb-2008. 3025 strips in three days. Eek!

What rereading them revealed is just how good a storyteller Howard Tayler has become, there are bits buried at the start of books that illuminate things that happen a year or more later in our real time when the story reaches the end of the book. It''s often difficult to remember those when reading them daily, but they really show up in a reread.

Ostensibly about Schlock, the series developed into an ensemble cast:

Schlock - Cheerfully amoral 'Carbo-silicate Amorph', a sergeant in the mercenary company Tagon's Toughs. A shapeshifter, he keeps being mistaken for a 1.5m pile of manure. Occcasionally bright, commonly childlike, mostly violent.
Captain Kaff Tagon - Commander of Tagon's Toughs. Inclined to appear a bit dim, but actually very good at what he does. Which still doesn't stop him wedging his foot in his mouth with predictable regularity
Commander Kevyn Andreyasn - Possibly the smartest biological sophont in the galaxy. Has repeated revolutionised technology (and started galaxy spanning wars as a result). Resident Mad Scientist.
Ennesby - Formerly the AI running a virtual boy band, now Tagon's snarky adjutant.
Petey - Formerly the AI running the Tough's starship, now the face of the Fleetmind, a hivemind of starship AIs that control the Plenipotent Domain, the galactic superpower, which is running the war against the dark matter Pa'anuri of Andromeda, a war Kevyn accidentally restarted. Appears as a koala-like hologram,
Ebby, Legs, Andy, Nick, Elisabeth, Chisulo - the other members of Schlock's squad, with Ebby in command. Nick's the only human, and he makes Tagon look bright. Eventually designated as Xeno Team.

Book 10: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

The Toughs get a new job - escort a shipment of relief supplies to the artificial world of Credomar (a cylinder about 6km in diameter and 40 in length, with a population of 5 million). But first they pick up a few new recruits, including 18 year old roboticist Para Ventura. To a large degree Book 10 is about Para finding her place in the Toughs

So how difficult can delivering a few supplies be? Very, it turns out, when Credomar is factionalised over control of the food supply, the contract says they have to distribute the supplies, and the docks are out of action. With 65 megatons of supplies to unload, they should be done in about 25 years. That's when Para repurposes a damaged tank as the eponymous Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse, which promptly proclaims that it, LOTA, is too mighty for puny pronouns. When things go wrong, the Toughs have to launch a desperate raid to sieze a stock of antimatter, Para finds herself alone against a mob, and LOTA siezes a solution to the problem.

And meanwhile, there's the puzzle of Credomar's wierdly inefficient design.

Book 11: Massively Parallel

After accidentally bending their ship and its AI in Credomar, the Toughs have to split up to make enough to cover wages while it's repaired.

Schlock, Elisabeth and Chisulo get a job at the circus. As Chisulo is an uplifted elephant and Elisabeth looks like a elephant-sized gorilla they aren't entirely out of place, though Carbo-silicate amorphs are old news, which leaves Schlock playing janitor. They're undercover to investigate a murder, but something smells very off about their employer.

Kevyn, meanwhile, is back off to Credomar, King LOTA wants an evac mechanism for the city's inhabitants, and Kevyn is the inventor of the teraport. Things get murkier when they figure out the smoking gun of just why Credomar is so inefficiently designed, Are they building a safety mechanism, or unlocking a weapon of mass destruction? And can they trust LOTA?

And for Tagon and most of the company it's the humiliation of being reduced to mallcops. In Mall One, a rotating spacestation, full of open spaces and plagued by a mysterious set of urban runners. There's only one way to catch them - train the Toughs in Parkata Urbatsu, the martial art of urban running. Meanwhile, is Nick about to get a girl, and which girl is it going to be, the mysterious blonde spy, or the fast food clerk?

And all the strands braid back together again with a desperate mission into the heart of an enemy-held asteroid to rescue Kevyn's clone, and Tagon's dad. Of course neither are exactly helpless - never underestimate a man with a remote-controlled headless monkey and a bandolier of grenades.

Book 12: Force Multiplication

An earlier book saw the Toughs stumble on a deep black UNS intelligence operation, one that they only got out of alive by agreeing to have their memories altered. Petey now has a way to reverse that, and it's time for the Toughs to remember what really happened, what really never happened, and who did it to them. One of the not-memories is the wedding of Doc Bunny Bunnigus and the Reverend, which means doing the whole thing over.

Given the need to speak to her (not-)mother-in-law, Bunny quickly decides on a field trip to check up on Shep, one of the Toughs' retired soldiers. Given Shep lives in a rough habitat, she takes Schlock, Para, Legs and Ennesby along with her, and hires Kathryn (that would be the mysterious blonde spy) to ferry them there. Things rapidly escalate as they discover the whole habitat is under the control of the mysterious Professor Pau, who doesn't like doctors, but has a medicine to cover every eventuallity. With Shep kidnapped, it's up to them to get him back, and Kathryn may have just the skills they need. Well she would have if she hadn't just defaulted on the contract she signed, giving Schlock the right to eat her.

So it's Kathryn vs Schlock in the bowels of Haven Hive, and Kathryn turns out to be unexpectedly resourceful. But then she stumbles onto what's really going on, and she's not about to let that go unanswered. Even if it means a chance of running into Schlock again as the Toughs make their move to free Shep.

Book 13: Random Access Memorabilia

The Toughs are hired to provide security on an archaeological dig, the dig being on an artifact, Oisri, that's so old it has a planet wrapped around it. The problem being Oisri is potentially so valuable it may be worth throwing entire fleets at them. Fortunately the Toughs have an answer for that, an autofabricator with a large pile of dirt going in at one end and lots and lots of missiles coming out at the other. That takes care of the overt threat, but leaves covert routes open, including nano-warfare, which it turns out Tagon has a history with.

It actually turns out the major threat is on a more human scale when one of the scientists accidentally rips his head off, then gets up again. The Toughs are up against Redhack, the culmination of the intelligence project they stumbled on. It was supposed to be a means of immortality, now it's a weapon, turning people into killing machines, and the only way out may be to kill everyone the Toughs signed on to protect.

Meanwhile, there is a spy aboard their ship.

Book 14: Broken Wind

Kathryn is back at Mall One, bonding with Tagon's dad over a little urban running, when they run into an alien with a job for both Tagons and the Toughs. Which is when Karl Tagon finds out his son has blown up yet another UNS battleplate; time to get everyone out of Dodge before they're scooped up by UNS intelligence. That includes Kathryn's urban runners and Alexia Murtaugh, the mercenary/cop who took the blame for what went down in Book 12.

Meanwhile the Toughs are facing up to the news their ship was totalled when its AI went berserk during the events at Oisri. Petey wants them to retire, and some of them are seriously tempted, the Plenipotent Dominion is a post-scarcity society, thanks to having turned the galactic core into a power generator. If money isn't an issue, then boredom may be, and when Karl Tagon turns up with a gunship and a job, he finds his son and the Toughs ready to board. Of course there is the small matter of the gunboat refusing to answer to anyone but the spy who betrayed them.

The job the Oafans have for them is a bug hunt, but the scale of the bug hunt wasn't actually as clear as it might have been. Eina Afa, the ancient spacestation that needs delousing, is big enough you could stuff the Moon and Mars inside with room to spare. The job gets fairly rapidly rescoped as a biological sampling mission, but then the station's old defences wake up, and they're stuck trying to find a way to talk down yet another berserk AI.

Book 15: Delegates and Delegation

The Oafans send an embassy to Sol in Ennesby's new ship, with Captain Murtaugh and  Xeno Team along as security. Of course, diplomatic credentials or not, there's a certain intelligence agency that may consider the Toughs to know too much. If they knew what the Toughs really have in mind they'd nuke them from orbit, as the only way to be sure.  This time the Toughs aren't going to revolutionise technology, they're going to revolutionise society.

Of course theirs may not be the only revolution people have planned. So it's up to the Toughs, a UNS ship designer, and a killing machine in a body he doesn't own to save the day and stop the UNS descending into civil war. (With a little help from a 750kg uplifted Polar Bear).

Book 16: Big Dumb Objects

The Toughs are still helping get their new home in the Neofan Freehold (aka Eina Afa) up and running. There are cities to be built in a day (okay, two), judiciaries to be created, and ancient librarians to be resurrected to see if they know enough to save the Galaxy (they don't, but they do know where the index is). Fortunately money isn't an issue when you have an ancient spacedock stuffed to the gills with millions of derelicts whose trans-uranic hulls are individually worth a fair fraction of the annual GDP of Sol system. And in between times, there's an archive Petey needs looting access to, which rapidly descends into a crime-scene.

But everything comes together when the science team stumbles onto the location of an ancient Oafan 'world forge'. Only one problem, it should be the size of Saturn, and it's been squished down to the size of Earth. Plus someone's already living there.

Fortunately the Essperrin are perfectly willing to sell access, for a ship or two. They would even be cute, as knee-high space ant-butterflies, but for their habit of 'improving' any technological system they can get their hands on. And their senior commander can't help noticing how much portable worth the Toughs new ships represent....

Over-Arcing Thoughts

I don't quite know how far back Howard Tayler has had the Schlock arc pinned down, but it's been clear for a while that the core arc is the Redhack technology and what functional immortality is going to do to society. The roots of that arc stretch right back into the very earliest days of Schlock Mercenary, when it was still primarily a daily strip and a long story arc was a month. The stories above represent the arc moving into the end game (Tayler's said as much), which is perhaps obvious when Book 17 is called A Little Immortality.  There's still the war against the Pa'anuri to resolve, and will Petey end up a benevolent god, or a tyrant, but I think those are the backdrop against which a more human story plays.

Schlock went through the same art evolution as a lot of webcomics, in fact it's early art is much more basic than a lot of comics start with. Tayler himself says: "Seriously, don’t start people at the beginning. Just don’t."  But if its art has evolved further than most, I still think it's the storytelling that has come furthest. That goes for characterisation too. Earliest Schlock had almost no female characters, but current Schlock has 5 female command characters out of 10 and several significant female characters in the enlisted ranks. Schlock doesn't just beat the Bechdel test, it has military operations being entirely run by female officers (the male officers are almost entirely absent from Book 15), and other female characters getting together to talk about the spaceships and robots they're designing and building. Kevyn, the resident mad-scientist, is regularly mocked by Para, who is simply better with robots and AIs than he will ever be (and Elf, his partner, is often the more practical engineer) Meanwhile Tagon started out as almost a buffoon, and he still has his foot in mouth moments, but he's now convincingly a commander to be reckoned with.

Howard Tayler is right, the Schlock archive is huge and intimidating, but I think it's worth the investment. Personally I might start with Delegates and Delegation to see if it appeals, the story is relatively self-contained even if some of the motivations won't be. That will leave you in a good position to work forward from there to the leading edge of the story, and you can go back and pick up the older stories at your leisure.
 


davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)
A little bit of a catch-up as a couple of these go back almost a month.

Currently Reading

Anno Dracula - Dracula, Cha, Cha, Cha, Kim Newman

It's 1959 and the Italian Dolce Vita is watching eagerly as the guests assemble for the wedding of the year - Dracula's marriage to the vampiric Princess Asa Vajda. Also in Rome, watching Dracula in his Italian exile, is Charles Beauregard, the man who thwarted him in Victorian Britain. But Charles is 106 and waiting to die, and not even Geneviève Dieudonné, the love of his life, can persuade him to let her give him the vampiric kiss and bring him over to be one of the undead. Arriving to help Geneviève with Charles' final days is Kate Reed, the vampire journalist whose credentials stretch back to being a prominent part of the resistance to Dracula. And it soon transpires that also in Rome, in fact working as Dracula's chatelaine, is Penelope Churchward, the third of the vampire women in Charles' life.

Reading Newman's notes after completing this, I realised that I had missed a large element of the story. Newman's work as a film critic means he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, and the core motif for Dracula Cha, Cha, Cha is apparently Three Coins in the Fountain, which I'm not certain I've ever seen, with Charles' three women taking the title roles. Of course, that's not the only film motif. The Talented Mr Ripley is contemplating the prospect he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew in trying his games on Dracula's household. Secret agent Hamish Bond is in town, and there are several perfect adaptions of Bond film motifs, though Geneviève finds Bond a pale shadow of her Charles. Drawing on the Italian vampire movie tradition is a major subplot involving Matre Lachrymae,  the Mother of Tears, the guardian spirit of Rome, and a series of vampire murders, culminating in one at the wedding itself, and leaving our three protagonists needing to find the real culprit in order to clear Kate, who was caught literally red-handed.

Also included with the package is the novella Aquarius, which is a solo effort for Kate Reed as she is asked by the Diogenes Club to investigate a rare vampiric murder as a favour to Scotland Yard's vampiric B Division. It's easy enough to imagine Jack Regan of the Sweeney as a vampiric cop, but George Dixon of Dock Green?!? Lying close to the root of things is one of the creepiest images of the whole series, amoral secret policeman Caleb Croft turned into an academic of the beat generation, with his own little cult of followers.

Anno Dracula - Johnny Alucard, Kim Newman

It's 1976 and Francis Ford Coppola is in Romania to film his Dracula,  with Kate Reed as his technical advisor. Vampires are persecuted in Romania as the Transylvania movement is agitating for the creation of a separate Transylvanian state, to be ruled by vampires, of course. When Kate finds a half-starved Romanian Vampire, Ion Popescu, she helps him get a job on the production as a fixer. He thanks her by setting her up for the murder of their Securitate watcher. What Kate didn't realise was that Ion is Dracula's last child.

Having achieved his aim of slipping into the States, Ion Popescu becomes Johnny Pop, master of the disco dance floor, drawing the attention of New York's most famous vampire, Andy Warhol, just as another familiar face, Penelope Churchward decides to move on. Behind the scenes he starts to build his empire, by creating the drug Drac, which gives mortals an all-too-brief experience of vampirism. His New York career is cut short, courtesy of an intersection of the plot of Saturday Night Fever with Taxi Driver, The French Connection, (probably) Shaft, and Scooby Doo.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, Geneviève Dieudonné has run into an old PI, taking on one last case. Her help prompts him to suggest she has an eye for it, and she reinvents herself yet again. Things turn ugly when her friends start dying, and she finds herself faced with a tiny blonde cheerleader, convinced that Genè is the fount of all evil. Yes, it's Genèvieve versus Barbie the Vampire Slayer, but there's more to it than just those darn annoying kids, and she quickly  finds herself afoul of the new power in the movie business, Johnny Alucard, a man newly arrived from the East Coast and who seems to be financing a surprising number of Dracula films across all sorts of formats.

Having moved on from Andy Warhol, Penelope Churchward has gotten herself a job as an instructor on one of America's most secret projects, teaching America's best to be the best that they can be. Newman claims it's the film he hates above all others, but it's a gesture-perfect evocation of Top Gun, with Penny in the Charley role. Penny's success there prompts Alucard to bring her onboard to coach a protégé of his own.

As the Eighties pass Alucard entrenches himself in Hollywood, the Transylvanian Movement grows stronger. Geneviève reinvents herself as a forensic specialist - Bones, with blood. But in the UK Caleb Croft is back in the secret policeman role he fits best, and Kate is not his favourite person.

The endgame comes with the fall of the Wall. Alucard proposes that he should stage the Anno Dracula version of Liveaid, but this time the beneficiary is Transylvania, and the concert is the cover for a coup. The Transylvanian Movement just don't realise whose coup it actually is.

Structurally this is very difficult to review, it covers fifteen years in the character's lives, and it does it via a series of self-contained novellas. Geneviève the PI and Geneviève as Doctor Dee, the forensics specialist, I'd happily read far more of, or watch the TV series, but Kate's story is harsher, and the reality is that both our running protagonists spend the entire book being persecuted for their earlier interactions with Dracula, while all the while Alucard grows in power.

Apparently a fifth book is contracted, which is just as well, because this one ends with evil triumphant.

The Course of Empire, Eric Flint and K D Wentworth

The 'course of empire' here seems to be a descendant of the old Roman 'Cursus Honorum', the path of offices that would take a young Roman from his first position to dictator. Junior Jao leader Aille arrives on Earth for his first posting. He is literally marked for great things, the once in a generation hope of one of the leading clans of the Jao. But the occupation of Earth isn't going well, 20 years after the conquest there is still resistance, and Governor Oppuk, once the great hope of his own clan, the traditional mailed fist antithesis of Aille's clan of elegant plotters, is regularly driven to furious retribution by Humanity's refusal to accept that the Jao way is better.

Aille steps into his waiting slot as second in command of the human Jinau troops, which is roughly equivalent to sending someone fresh out of Sandhurst/West Point to command all forces in Afghanistant. But Aille has been sent to learn, and as he doesn't have any staff beyond his personal tutor in the art of command, he sets about creating one from people who have things to teach him, picking up a technocrat here, a potential bodyguard there. And scandalously he doesn't restrict himself to only Jao, drafting the hyper-competent Jinao general Ed Kransky, Caitlin Stockwell, hostage daughter of the puppet president of the US, (also the one human who truly understands the Jinau's postural sub-language, though she lacks the ears to be truly fluent) and Pfc Gabe Tully, a resistance plant in the Jinau, who can't decide whether to kill himself now before the interrogation starts, or if he's fallen into an incredible intelligence gathering opportunity.

Initially the game plays out as a dance between Aille and Governor Oppuk, each trying to lure the other into a mis-step, but Aille keeps raising the stakes, and then the stakes are taken out of their hands entirely as the Ekhat, the legendary world-scouring xenophobes for whom the Jao themselves were once Jinau, announce their arrival in the solar system. Humanity thought they were just a Jao bogeyman, meant to scare them and justify the occupation, but now they're here, and Oppuk's response is to abandon the humans in favour of a last stand in space. Aille has different ideas.

I started reading snippets of the later books in the series online, and went looking for the earlier ones, and it turns out the first one is actually free at Amazon, so if military SF is your thing, or for that matter alien societies with some nicely observed non-human edges, then this may be worth a look.

Blunt Force, K B Spangler

The fourth Rachel Peng technothriller, the novel series spun off from Spangler's 'A Girl and Her Fed' webcomic. Two years ago, in the first of the series, Digital Divide, OACET Special Agent Rachel Peng, the cyborg liaison to the DC MPD, allowed psychopathic murderer Jonathan Glazer to escape from custody. She had a good reason, he was going to escape whatever she did, he really was that competent, and her way meant he did it without killing anyone, and paid his debt with enough information to prevent OACET being wound up by Congress and the cyborgs drafted into the military. Now Glazer is standing at her front fence, wearing a dead friend's face, and telling her he has been sent to help her, because another move against OACET has been set in motion.

What that move is soon becomes clear as Rachel finds out Hope Blackwell and Avery Hill have been kidnapped. Whoever kidnapped Hope (aka 'the Girl') is riding the tiger, because she's one of the top ten judoka on the planet, and has anger management issues (plus her husband is Pat Mulcahy, aka 'the Fed', director of OACET, who was lethally dangerous even before he was a cyborg). But Avery is Hope and Rachel's honorary niece, and she's two. The game becomes a little clearer, and a lot murkier, when the kidnappers make themselves known. They're a militia, one focussed on the bizarre political world of the US sovereign citizen movement, and their leader has a little problem he'd like Mulcahy's help with. So it's a standoff, and if some of the militia were hoping for something a little Ruby Ridge or Waco, what they actually get is Josh Glassman, Mulcahy's deputy, a man who can turn anything into a party, even a siege.

Thanks to Glazer's reappearance as Marshall Wyatt, the cyborgs know there's a deeper game, but they don't know who the enemy is, or what their end game is, and explaining just why Glazer/Wyatt is helping means Rachel needs to 'fess up to the whole letting-him-escape thing, which causes some major soul-searching among her bosses and the rest of the cyborg collective. But they need Rachel, she's their best investigator, particularly when backed by her MPD team, their best bet of figuring out what the endgame is before the endgame happens to them. And all the while the clock is ticking, because Hope is off her meds, and eventually her judgement will go and she'll push the militia further than they can tolerate*.

Beneath all the technothriller edges, there's a solid political thriller here, one rooted in the story of OACET and its creation and continued existence, and a disturbing dive into the worldview of the militias. While lurking in the background, 'helping'  is Glazer/Wyatt, whose 'help' is likely part of an even deeper game.

I thought this had one or two slightly rough edges, I'd personally have done without chapter one, which is in a different viewpoint, but I still consumed it in a single sitting and Rachel remains one of my favourite characters in contemporary fiction.

* Even with her judgement intact Hope is still regularly beating up her guards, even while duct-taped to a chair. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was going on. Her explanation is "Martial artist tricks", but there's a side of the Girl and Her Fed universe, Hope's side, that the technothrillers don't address.

Up Next

I've got some beta reading to do, not sure what comes after that.

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

I stumbled across an interesting background article on Peter Thiel over the weekend (and I do mean stumbled, I'd actually googled 'Jamethiel'), which I'd already been meaning to flag up for people, but another article I came across today was on Steve Bannon, and they really do synergise with each other into something seriously scary.

Here's the Thiel piece, it's a general 'who is Peter Thiel' article, useful for giving a better feel for the man - German-born naturalised American gay techno-geek-financier/ultra-libertarian who co-founded Paypal. (Basically think Rabid Puppy in a $10,000 suit). This is someone who took the money from Paypal and didn't use it to build rockets, but used it to co-found Palantir Technologies, and that name is no accident, it's a seriously high end government surveillance tools company that explicitly uses the corrupted Palantiri of LoTRs as it's identity/mission statement, so fighting for Truth, Justice and the inevitable triumph of Sauron. But then the article starts digging into his politics,and things get even darker.

"I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible," he wrote in a 2009 essay; he believes in monopolies but denounces multiculturalism as "exist[ing] to destroy Western culture".

In that 2009 essay, "The Education of a Libertarian", published by the Washington-based Cato Institute, Thiel writes: "The 1920s was the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron."

But if Thiel sounded hopeless or resigned in 2009, he sees Trump as a bridge to somewhere - possibly to his sense that to protect capitalism the democracy must be shrunk; get the vote back from those damned women and welfare recipients, and capitalism has a better chance in a tighter democracy of more sympathetic voters.

Thiel's argument against democracy as we've known it reads like the web-based Dark Enlightenment or Neo-reaction movement, sometimes abbreviated to NRx, a key element of which is described as a post-libertarian futurism – it touts authoritarianism, even some kind of monarch-and-subjects rule, as preferable to democracy because libertarians are unlikely ever to win democratic elections."

The Bannon article isn't nearly so deep a study, Trump’s Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon, said he’d prefer it if only property owners could vote, but the similarity in views comes screaming through:

Now, though, a former Bannon colleague, Julia Jones, who worked alongside him as a partner on a Ronald Reagan film project, revealed to The New York Times that he not only spoke on issues of “genetic superiority,” but that he “once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.”

When Jones offered the rebuttal that such a plan “would exclude a lot of African-Americans,” Bannon allegedly quipped back in return that “maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

So that's two of them, both racist authoritarians who think only people like them should have the vote, and both whispering in Trump's ear. Maybe that Palantir analogy is even closer than I thought.

 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

A friend just linked to this - two wheelchair-using sisters blogging spoonie life on wheels via comics and snark - The Disabled Life

So much 'yes, that!'

Two comic panels, the first titled 'expectation', the second 'reality'. In the first, a hunky topless fireman has plucked our wheelchair using heroine to safety, In the second, she's still in her chair at the top of the stairs, leaning over and asking 'Uh, is somone coming?'

And the writing is just as sharp:

" With great power comes great responsibility… like having the ability to run someone over, but CHOOSING the right moment to do it."

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

Three possibilities:
1) Drunk Tweeting
2) He really is this insecure (in which case he really shouldn't have his finger on the nuclear button)
3) He means the Afro-American, Hispanic, LGBT, Muslim and Jewish votes, or maybe just anyone who didn't vote Donald J Trump
4) All of the above.

In all cases, worrying.

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)
 I get the most interesting dreams when sleep-deprived enough I fall asleep again after semi-waking.

This one started out with me, and in the garden at my parents, then sheltering under a board propped shack-like in the corner when the rain came down. That had me confronted with some stuff that real world needs thinking about, so I crawled through a hole in the fence into a dreamscape (yay, symbolic escapism). I think there was a crowd scene, and then it segued into a fantasy in which I definitely wasn't me as I'm fairly sure I'm not female and called Jamethiel*. I think some of the plot stuff that followed has faded away, but I was hiding out, pretending to be dead, and unfortunately the people who believed the story include my female lover Surethiel. But then my team came to town, including Surethiel, and I was able to sneak into the inn(?) where they were staying and change into my own clothes. And as I peeked out of the room where I was changing, I could see the others having a council of war down the corridor with Surethiel pacing up and down in front of everyone. So I stepped out, and she saw me, and stopped, and her mouth dropped into this littlest 'oh'. I walked towards her and we hugged**, and I picked her up and carried her to one of the chairs and sat down, still holding her.

I only remember one line, from Surethiel to me as we sat down, but I think it's a good one. "Only you could marry two men and (then realise you) still need a wife.'

And then a delivery guy knocked at the door. But spot on bit to end at, Brain. And Brain, I think you're a romantic!

*Yes, I know.a female character named Jamethiel comes with not a little backstory, but it's so long since I read the early Kencyr books I have no idea if my dream was drawing on anything more than the name.

** As I walked towards Surethiel she did one of those dream-morphs and became visibly well-endowed, interestingly I was sufficiently aware of myself outside the dream to protest 'but that's not my type'.
davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)
Shopping at Asda, and so is everyone else.

Roll up to the wheelchair accessible accessible till. (Only one I can use due to the width of the clip-on wheelchair trolley)

Someone being served, someone unloading a very full trolley, couple in front of me with a trolley packed to the gunwhales.

Mutter, mutter.

"Would you like to go in front," says the guy in front, "we've got loads".

I'm not sure they actually had more items than me, theirs were just bigger, so I said, "No, you were here first", while feeling embarrassed at their generosity versus my ill grace

One of Asda's junior managers then appears (remarkable how they're all young men, and the till staff aren't). "If you go over to the self-service aisle I'll have one of our staff put everything through for you."

Dubious, but "Okay"

Get to the self-service aisle, staffer is pleasant, but a bit dubious it will help. First we have to find an aisle we can join, while she keeps being pulled away for people with "unknown item in bagging area"

Finally we join an aisle, the two girls in front of us are taking forever. Can't help noticing the couple with the packed trolley are loading their last few items onto the conveyor.

Eventually get to swipe stuff through, and it turns out the self-service aisles really aren't designed for wheelies. The 'bagging area' is far too low, so the staffer has to hit "I don't want to bag this item' before every item, then turn and put it in my bags on the clip-on trolley. Even doing that she has to override the system with her card about five times.

Time saved? Umm, took about three times as long.(And the staffer was touchy-feely, so I got patted on shoulder/back three or four times, which really doesn't help)

Aaaarrrrgh!
davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

Drive over to Rochester for lunch, end up having to park so far out I was on the point of turning around and going home.
Wheel down into town, realize when most of the way there the reason it's so crowded is it's the Christmas Market.
Get to the High Street, realise it's so crowded it's hell on earth for wheelies, turn round, push back up hill to the car.
Go shopping at Asda, which is worth a post on its own
Argh! *headdesk* Argh!....

And next weekend is the Dickensian Christmas, which will be worse.

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

Sigh, even the DWP admitted that Two Ticks was being abused and needed to be replaced because employers were overwhelmingly not following through on their commitments towards disabled people under the scheme. (Research showed one in five did nothing, and over half met only one of five commitments)

So it created Disability Confident as a (badly flawed) replacement

Then what does it do?

It hands Disability Confident status to every company that had Two Ticks

Utterly farcical

Article with comments by Yours Truly

At least it explains where DWP found 2400 firms to sign up to Disability Confident so quickly. 2300 of them didn't.

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

Trump's nomination of Nikki Haley as US Ambassador to the UN prompted one of my online friends to link to this poem by South Carolina's Poet Laureate, Marjory Wentworth, which Haley's staff cut from her inauguration, allegedly for talking about slavery.

Over and above the politics, I think it's a gorgeous piece: One River, One Boat

Some background on the cut.

Some background on Haley (fairly hopeful in that she's the daughter of Sikh immigrants, OTOH Tea Partyista)

If nothing else, she should set Steve Bannon's teeth on edge...
 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)


Currently Reading

Penric's Mission, Lois McMaster Bujold


The certainties of Penric's life in the World of the Five Gods have changed since last we saw him in Penric and the Shaman. He's now around 30, though still taken as younger, the Princess-Archdivine has died, medicine has lost its attraction, and he has moved on to a new Duke's court. His new lord has decided he might make a useful spy, which is quite a change for a Sorceror-Divine (and almost a doctor) of the Bastard. The change in role clearly excites Penric, but things don't go so well, and soon he's quite literally in a hole, with Desdemona, his inner demon, she of the 11 prior lives, all female, called on to perform a little life-saving self-surgery. Still, it's difficult to keep a good man, and his demon, down in a hole and Penric and Des manage to figure a way out. Which still leaves him overseas, in a city where he is visibly a foreigner, and there's the small matter of the man he was sent to meet, who will have been thoroughly incriminated by the documents he was carrying.

Penric is rather too late to prevent his contact's thoroughly Byzantine punishment, but his stubborn side, and maybe also the Bastard, mean he's not about to abandon him, or his interestingly widowed sister, even if that means taking up doctoring again. It's perhaps surprising just how dangerous a spy Penric could be, but he's constrained by his ethics as both doctor and divine, though of course that's a divine of the Bastard's order, and the Bastard's ethics are interestingly flexible (I loved the way Penric finance's himself). And only Penric could interrupt a duel to the death to tell his opponent 'look, you're doing it wrong' and deliver theological advice.

Grand Central Arena, Ryk Spoor

Ariane Austin is your typical space-racer pilot, bar the blue hair and the all-powerful AI in the box on her belt, in a post-scarcity society that has expanded to dominate the entire solar system, but can't make the jump to an interstellar society for some reason. Then up pops Dr Simon Sandrisson, who just happens to have figured out a jump drive, but can't get it to work as all the automation fails the instant his test probes jump. So he needs a pilot, and the rest of a crew. Cue crew assembly montage, mostly focused on power engineer Dr Marc C DuQuesne, who is More Than He Seems.

The jump drive is based on the everything's closer in warp space principle, what they hadn't bargained on is warp space being full. There is a mini Dyson sphere for every star system, and at the centre of everything is the Arena. It's sort of the Babylon 5 scenario, but rather than a beacon of hope, all alone in the night, the Arena is a beacon of full-contact sports, where everything is up for challenge. The Arena is old, and ruled by what is presumably an AI, but no other AI works in Arena Space. Nor do nuclear reactors, which is a bit of a bugger when you need your fusion plant to recharge your jump drive. The Arena is also the meeting place for the various factions of Arena Space, and the medium of commerce is betting on formal Challenges. But that's okay, Humanity is a society of insane risk-takers by Arena standards. (Of course we are, got to have that human exceptionalism) So it's up to Ariane, as newly designated leader of the Faction of Humanity, to figure out a way to refuel their ship.

Obviously this means Humanity variously bonding, having scientific meet-cute, or thoroughly annoying all five main factions in no time whatsoever. The Molothos are your typical aggressive xenophobes, the Vengeance think it's all an alien plot, the Faith are the Arena's version of B5's Vorlons (the cuddly Kosh version, not the fascist planet destroyers of Season 4), the Analytic are scientists and the Blessed to Serve are the biological slaves of an AI dominated society. And then there's Orphan, clearly the same species as the Blessed, and leader of the Liberated, a faction of one, who serves as their guide to the Arena. And lurking in the backgroud are the Shadeweavers, the polar opposite of the Faith, with more than a touch of B5 techno-mage about them.

And it's up to Ariane to win the prize of a trip home.

If you imagine Babylon 5 crossed with Golden Age SF you'll get the right feel for this, it's space opera on a grand scale, with all humanity's fate in the hands of Ivanova Ariane, backed by a certain power engineer whose name is a flaming banner he's more than he seems.
 

Spheres of Influence, Ryk Spoor

The sequel to Grand Central Arena. Ariane and the others have been back to the Solar System, to explain why Humanity is now at war, and the politicians and diplomats are Not Happy. But it's time to head back to the Arena ahead of the official mission, but with a new recruit to the crew. Marc thinks Ariane needs a bodyguard, and he has just the 'man' for the job, Sun Wu Kung, the Monkey King.

Here be spoilers for Grand Central Arena )

 

Meanwhile, back at the Arena, everyone is plotting, especially those factions Ariane managed to humiliate the first time around. And the plotting gets worse with the arrival of two human diplomats, and a wildcard. But Ariane was difficult to beat the first time around, and this time she's got the Monkey King backing her.

I liked this just as much as the first, but there are two major flaws. The first is it loses a little focus on what makes the Arena so attractive a storytelling venue, the second is the real problem, the story seems to be missing about it's first sixth. There's a back-story summary that includes about a page of 'and what happened in between' that's actually fairly important to the plot. I'm not certain whether that means it was written as a separate novella, was a late editorial deletion, or what, but it should definitely be there at the start, and it isn't. It's still a thoroughly entertaining story, but it's a flawed entertaining.

Shadow of Victory, David Weber

I'm a fan of the Honorverse, and Weber in general, but I found this seriously irritating. That's not to say I didn't also thoroughly enjoy it, I read all 800 pages in under 24 hours, but it has some serious issues. This is the latest in the Shadows sub-series, which concentrates on the exploits of Admiral Michelle Henke and Captain Aivars Terekhov and his crew in the newly annexed Talbot Cluster (because Honor is now far too senior for the ship-to-ship stuff), and the main problem is it's a thematic repeat of Shadows of Freedom, the previous book, with walk-on parts for A Rising Thunder, the last mainstream Honor Harrington novel and Cauldron of Ghosts, the last novel in the Crown of Slaves Zilwicki/Cachat sub-series. Essentially we're getting three years of history we've already seen three times over, from a fourth perspective.

Shadows of Freedom was the Mesans (slave-creating, ubermensch, behind-the-scenes manipulators) using agents of the Solarian League (the 800lb gorilla of oppressively corrupt bureacratic states) as puppets to set up local liberation movements/terrorist cells to oppose the Manticoran annexation of the Talbot Cluster (never mind the overwhelming majority of Talbot cluster residents being firmly of the thank god you got here before the Sollies, where do we sign up to be imperial subjects opinion). Victory has them repeating the same stunt, but in Solly territory, telling the liberation movements on various Solly client states that they're the Manticorans, here to help them break free of Solarian oppression, and that the Navy will be there when they do rise up to keep the Solarian headbreakers off their backs - the operational concept is for all these efforts to fail and tarnish the Manties' rep.

So you have the Polish planet with its football-based liberation movement, the Czech planet with its party-based liberation movement, the Celtic planet with its forestry-based liberation movement, the US planet with its redneck liberation movement, and the other planet with its non-denominational liberation movement. All expecting Mantie help and the Manties none the wiser. Results are varied, for values of varied ranging into circa 10 million dead. (I'm not convinced having both Polish and Czech liberation movements was wise, I got thoroughly confused as to which character belonged in which movement).

There aren't actually that many new characters. A couple of Solly intel types who are beginning to figure out the Mesans are manipulating them (of course we already had a couple of Solly intel types who are... etc),  a new Mesan junior spymaster and his sociopathic deputy, and Aivars Terekov's wife Sinead, who is A Force of Nature - a significant chunk of the book is Sinead flattening anyone who stands between her and her husband after he's redeployed after precisely two nights at home. For fan-service Ginger Lewis finally gets her own ship, but having built her and it up, she and it aren't even present for the culmination of her own arc. And at the end of it all the overall series narrative has moved on a whole 12 hours from Cauldron of Ghosts.

Irritating.

Other observations. Not having read any Honorverse in a while, the relative lack of familiarity rather beat me about the head with just how keen Weber is on tall, thin female officers with 'exotic' looks. Here including a literal catwoman. And his mainstream characters do seem to be rather predominantly Western. Oh, Manticore's Queen Elizabeth (and her cousin Michelle Henke) are black, so it's not the white man's burden, but anyone of Asian background is overwhelmingly likely to get exotic hung on them (this includes Honor and her mother). I don't think we've seen an Asian-derived society in the entire series, while even the Czechs now have a star-system to call their own. The non-denominational liberation movement does have a Thai family involved. They run a Thai restaurant where the coup leaders meet, and the family patriarch goes by Thai Granpa. Seriously?!

ETA I remembered last night that the Honorverse's Andermani Empire is ethnically Asian, but culturally it's explicitly modelled on Prussia. *Headdesk*

Anno Dracula, Kim Newman

I've now read the last two books (to date) in the series, Dracula Cha Cha, Cha, and Johnny Alucard, but this is big enough already, so I'll save those for a separate update,

Up Next

Not certain, I'm tempted to re-read the entire Eric Flint/Ryk Spoor Boundary series, I'm probably 30 pages into Boundary, but might settle for just Castaway Planet, which is the next in the series after the two I've read. It's a shared setting, rather than a related plot, so the re-read is optional.

Ticked Off

Nov. 17th, 2016 10:07 pm
davidgillon: A pair of legs (mine) sitting in a wheelchair (wheelchair)
Not me!

"Ticked Off" is a piece of analysis I've been writng to look into the government's Disability Confident scheme, which has morphed into a replacement for Two Ticks, the much derided (by us) and much abused (by employers) scheme to guarantee the employment and fair treatment of disabled staff.

To illustrate the 'quality' of the new scheme, you can be a 'Disability Confident Leader', the top level, with no disabled employees and an inaccessible workplace. It's extremely poorly written, and very difficult to comprehend all the requirements as a whole, so I set out to dissect it. I ended up with 5,500 words, 16 pages and 6 data tables. I don't think anyone had sat down to do a line by line comparison between Disability Confident, Two Ticks, and the Equality Act 2010 before. But when you do it's clear that Disability Confident is actually a weakening of employer commitments, and only very marginally stronger than existing legal requirements, and in places considers legal requirements optional.

The report is here: Ticked Off

A news article on it from Disability News Service is here. I think John Pring did a really good job of extracting the highlights to give a TLDR version, and it was really surprising to see the Business Disability Forum come through with comments that backed my analysis (that must have turned up at the 11th hour as John had had nothing back from them when we talked late last night).


 

 

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

I was just prompted to google Darius Jedbergh, the Joe Don Baker character in Edge of Darkness (the 1985 version) as he turns up as a minor but influential character in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula : Johnny Alucard and I have fond memories of the character (if you don't remember or have never seen the role, it's basically the same CIA maverick Joe Don Baker plays in a couple of the Bond films). That got me reading the wiki entry for Edge of Darkness, and I was struck by

<blockquote>“I am writing this story about a detective who turns into a tree” was what writer Troy Kennedy Martin told his colleagues when asked what he was working on during the early nineteen-eighties. Kennedy Martin had become frustrated that “at the BBC there was no political dimension to their drama whatsoever” but had chosen to write a political story anyway, not really believing it would ever get made.[ The election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan as President of the United States had brought about a major shift in the global political landscape and Kennedy Martin was motivated to write out of concern arising from such issues as the Greenham Common protests, the Falklands War, unrest among the miners and, arising out of the escalation of the Cold War, the fear that “born-again Christians and Cold War warriors appeared to be running the United States”</blockquote>

That seems awfully familiar.

Doubly so given Edge of Darkness was ultimately about the Gaia Hypothesis and the planet needing to defend itself against man-made change, and Trump is a climate change denier.
 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Just back from Asda. There's two sets of 4 disabled spaces by the door, with an access road up the middle. I parked a little further away, but when I roll up, sitting in the middle of the access road, blocking all 8 cars in, is a large car.

Sitting in the driver's seat is a young woman, when I stop by her door she winds down the window and says "Yes?" She's holding a mobile in one hand, a chihuahua in the other.

"You're blocking everybody!" says I (and the way she was parked it would have been impossible to get a wheelchair+trolley to at least half the cars, never mind blocking them in).

She looks at me like something she's accidentally trodden in and winds the window back up. Then looks puzzled when I don't move off. Eventually she decides to reverse out, still with mobile in one hand, chihuahua in the other.

When I start to turn away she stops. So I turn back around to watch her until she does actual drive off. Still with chihuahua in her arms.

And the car? It was a Bentley. Talk about giving the 1% a bad name.

I almost burst out laughing when I saw the chihuahua.If it had been the set-up for a comedy sketch you'd have said it was a cliche too far, but there it was.

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

Actually I think there's room for both mourning and organising, and mourning is important to self-care, but this is mostly about organising in the wake of Trumperdämmerung. This is something I posted in response to [personal profile] randomling asking how people organise to resist when they're spoonies with available physical and mental resources compromised by disability, but in writing it I realised it has wider applicability, so I'm making it a post of its own. This focuses on the disability side of things, and there's potentially so much more at risk, but disability campaigning is where my experience lies. It should hopefully be applicable to most areas of equality and human rights. Anyway:

The UK experience might offer some insights into how to resist the regressive forces that seem to be suddenly ascendant. Most of my disabled friends were fairly apolitical until near the end of the last Labour government, when we realised how bad the new Work Capability Assessment was. Then under the ConDem government, and now the Tories alone, things got rapidly worse, with a calculated plan to paint disabled people as lazy scroungers, and pretty much all of us radicalized.


The more active types formed Disabled People Against the Cuts and protested on the streets. The spoonies, my people, the ones who can't, who may struggle just to make it out of bed, went the web route. There were a couple of blogs/news sites which formed, and which became fairly influential, in documenting what was going on, analysing the reality, and reporting lived experience of harassment and the like. We started to get journalists following what we did, and recycling our news into national media. In some cases we were invited onto national media, and we even had government ministers refusing to appear opposite some of our spokespeople. There were also a small group of journalists who were themselves disabled, and working on social stuff, and who were very useful links.

A second prong was analysis of government proposals and data to show the reality. What became known as the ''Spartacus Report' showed that the government had lied in claiming that disabled people had backed their reforms in a consultation (it was actually c2000 against, 12 for). This forced the first defeat on the Condem government in the Lords since it had taken power, though they reversed it in the Commons. The Spartacus team followed it with a bunch more of influential reports (it helped to have a statistician and a mathematician in the core group).

A third approach was using pro bono law firms to force Judicial Reviews on the government to rule on the legality of their policies (the sort of stuff ACLU and SPLC does in the States). This has rarely stopped them dead, but has been very useful for publicity purposes, so people see what policy actually means, and very good at forcing the government to produce Mark 2 versions of policy that are slightly less offensive than the initial versions.

Another route was activism within political parties, proposing disabled friendly policies at their annual conferences, and forging links with politicians who would give us a hearing. We also had the support of several disabled members of the House of Lords who sit as independents and are acknowledged as disability experts.

It may also be necessary to target supposed ally groups. There has been a very successful campaign to shame charities involved in the government's workfare scheme. I personally found it necessary to administer a public rebuke (it trended!) to the crowdsourced campaigning group 38 Degrees, which was deliberately ignoring disability issues, even when its own processes said it should be campaigning on them as a priority.

A necessary caveat is that most of us have burned ourselves out. Self-care is important, but burn-out is probably inevitable for a percentage of those involved, so take care of yourselves, and try to keep recruiting new blood.

Ultimately our protests haven't stopped the government, but they have ameliorated the effects, and we caused so much damage to the reputation of some of the firms involved in implementing policy at the point of delivery that one actually walked away from a contract worth hundreds of millions, because our campaigning was destroying the value of their brand.
davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)
 And the resilience and strength to survive the next four years.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 I could have done with rather more than three hours sleep, but accidentally discovering Lois McMaster Bujold has a new Penric novella out makes up for being awake at 5AM.

Penric's Mission, if you're a fan you know you need to read it. Review to follow.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
... when you come half-awake, try to roll over, and feel the laptop start to slide off your chest.....

I'm quite impressed I almost managed to grab it in mid-air, but I didn't quite. Fortunately it landed on its end, had only dropped about a foot and seems to be fine.

But that was not my favourite way to wake up.
davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)


Currently Reading

The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman

Carrying on from Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron moves the story on to the Great War. It's 1918 and Dracula is now Germany's war leader as the Allies brace themselves for the German spring offensive using the troops liberated from the Eastern Front by the surrender of Russia. Something dark is brewing on the German side of the lines at Chateau Malinbois, home of Baron Von Richthofen's Flying Circus and Charles Beauregard, now one of the ruling troika of the Diogenes Club, assigns young intelligence office Edwin Winthrop to Condor Squadron to watch over their attempts to penetrate the security of the Chateau. Condor Squadron is an elite assemblage of ace pilots, ranging from Albert Ball to Biggles, each of them a vampire, as are many pilots and infantrymen in this post Anno Dracula world.

Beauregard's vampiric partner, Geneviève Dieudonné, has retired to California to raise oranges, but Kate Reed, the vampire reporter from Anno Dracula, is in France, theoretically as an ambulance driver, and determined to figure out what Charles is up to, when she isn't making a nuisance of herself by exposing incompetence in the high command. Meanwhile, in Prague, Edgar Allen Poe, also a vampire, and exiled from America after fighting for the South in the Civil War, is offered the chance to redeem his flagging literary career by ghosting an autobiography of Baron Von Richthofen.

Condor Squadron's first attempt at Chateau Malinbois sees the drained body of their pilot dumped onto their aerodrome. Winthrop joins the second attempt, made in greater numbers, and becomes its sole survivor, forced to make his way back to allied lines through No Man's Land, with a short diversion as a dinner guest, or perhaps just dinner, in a mash-up of Good Soldier Schweik and Heart of Darkness. He emerges a changed, harsher man. Meanwhile Kate Reed embarks on a peregrination towards the front that shows her the grim reality of life in the trenches, while Poe arrives at Chateau Malinbois to discover the horrific secret of the Flying Circus.

And finally the Spring Offensive launches, and Condor Squadron meets the Flying Circus head on, while Dracula watches his plans unfold from his command zeppelin, complete with Engineer Robur on the pipe organ. Kate is caught at the front, while Charles is stuck at HQ, able only to watch.

Also included with the Kindle edition is Newman's rather different reworking of the story into a film treatment for Roger Corman, and Vampire Romance, a novella set in '20s England. Geneviève Dieudonné is back in London, having fled Prohibition Era America, though Charles is off in India, putting down a rebellion. She emerges from having her hair bobbed, ready to recreate herself as a flapper, only to find Edwin Winthrop waiting for her. The Diogenes Club would appreciate a favour.

Meanwhile, in Mildew Manor in dankest, rain-swept Cumbria, vampire-obsessed schoolgirl Lydia Inchfawn is awaiting the arrival of the vampires invited by her Great Aunt, Mrs Gregson. Mrs Gregson believes that there is a power vacuum at the head of vampirekind, and proposes to annoint the new King of Cats from amongst the elders she has invited. What she gets instead are those who can be bothered to turn up, and Geneviève.

Attendees include Kah Pei Mei, High Priest of the Temple of the Golden Vampire, waited on by his nameless, sailor-suited, child-vampire bodyguard (soon rechristened Mouse); Kleopatra, with her spokesman Professor Bey; Countess Marya Zaleska, daughter of Dracula; the bluff and brutal Australian vampire Hodge, supported by former secret policeman (and antagonist of the Diogenes Club) Caleb Croft, the pair of them likely proxies for former PM Lord Ruthven, and General Karnstein and his wife, supporting their strangely familiar son Liam. And lurking in the shadows is master criminal the Crook.

No sooner have the rising waters cut off the Manor then the traditional entertainments of English Country House weekends start with the first murder. It's up to Geneviève and Winthrop, or maybe Lydia and Mouse, to find the killer, and maybe stop a revolution before it can get started.

I found the opening of this a little irritating, Lydia's vampire infatuation is laid on with a trowel, but Geneviève's sections are fine, and Lydia's soon segue into more traditional girl's boarding school stories territory. Add a couple of nicely engineered plot twists and in the end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once Broken Faith, Seanan McGuire

The latest outing for Toby Daye sees her dealing with the fallout from her previous escapade, which saw her unseating yet another fae monarch, while her tame alchemist Walther managed to invent a cure for being elfshot, potentially destabilising the entire political structure of faery. Forbidden to kill each other, the pureblood fae find that elfshot, which puts its victims into a century-long enchanted sleep, makes for a rather nice substitute. Add its use as a judicial punishment and a cure is not seen as a good thing.

Toby has people she needs cured, people she's equivocal about, and people who need to sleep the full hundred years. It's complicated, and gets more complicated when Arden, her Queen, turns up on her doorstep, wanting Toby's help to end-run a couple of cures past High King Aethlin's injunction against any further cures before they've held an all-Kingdoms conclave on the matter. The fallout from that gets Toby commanded to attend the conclave herself, along with Quentin her squire (aka Crown Prince Quentin).

That means Toby as the only changeling amongst a whole ballroom's worth of pure-blood fae, most of whom would look down on her for being a changeling, never mind the kingbreaking, and god forbid anyone should mention the killed one of the fae Firstborn thing. Fortunately Toby isn't entirely without allies. There's Tybalt to start with, her fiancé, and King of Cats, though enforcing his equality among the other royals means he's going to have to snub her, at least at first. And Queen Arden, though she and Toby are still negotiating a way around the pricklier edges of their personalities. Not least of Toby's allies are the High King and Queen, who owe her for raising their son in secret.

And then there's the Luidaeg, Faery's favourite scary monster, and Toby's aunt, who shows up at the Conclave with Toby's 15yo honorary niece Karen in tow. Eira Rosynwyr, the Luidaeg's even scarier sister, and creator of elfshot, isn't content to go unheard when people are debating the destruction of her most famous creation, not even when she's lying elfshot and comatose in the back of beyond, and she's found a way to make Karen her mouthpiece. And then the killings start.

So it's Toby trying to find the killer inside a locked building. We've been here before and even she admits she's not actually very good at it. But she has a clue, and that's more than the rest of Faery, the only question is whether she'll find the killer before they find someone she can't bear to lose.

It's an entertaining story, though I'm not entirely convinced by the murder gimmick. There's still character growth going on: Arden is growing into her role; Quentin into his adulthood, and Toby is still learning how to deal with being the daughter of Amandine, daughter of a Firstborn, without sacrificing all of her humanity to it. And best of all, we get the Luidaeg for almost all of the book, which hasn't been the case in recent books.

Also included is Dreams and Slumbers, a novella featuring Arden as the protagonist. It isn't as frenetic as a Toby story, revolving around Arden dealing with the slow emergence of a decades-old plot against her, but if she doesn't deal with it, it could cost her the one person she's spent her life caring for, her brother Nolan. It's mostly a story of Arden growing in to being Queen in the Mists, but there are also plot developments for Walther, and for Toby's niece Cassandra (Karen's sister), which are likely to have consequences down the line.


Up Next

Probably Dracula - Cha Cha Cha, next up in the Kim Newman Dracula books, Kate Reed flies out to 60s Rome to be with Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard as Charles' life draws to an end, but Dracula is also in town for the society wedding of the year - his.

Web Comics

Cut Time, an unplanned new one, its banner ad on one of my regular comics caught my eye. Not very far into the story yet, it's a typical fantasy world (Legend of Zelda influenced?) which is still introducing the key characters. The core character is Rel, a young woman (girl? it's difficult to be sure of her age) with a mysterious mission. Cursed to be blind, she has a guide-falcon, and that concept had me hooked from the moment I realised what the bird was. At the moment she's haphazardly assembling an expedition, including a young noble, Solus, who is disenchanted with his gilded life and Nal, a mysterious doctor cum wizard, there's also an assassin floating about in the background who really doesn't seem overly enamoured of his choice of careers. The manga-influenced art is fine, more than competent, my only complaint is it's very difficult to determine character ages, I initially took Solus for 30-40, while it's more likely he's actually around 20, Rel could be anywhere from12 to 25, and Nal looks 16 and acts 45.

Web Fiction

Great Deeds, I read a bunch of online military AH stuff while I was stuck with no creative energy from the chest bug I had. One of those is APOD, 'A Point of Departure', a collaborative effort that spins out of the published French-Language France Fights On/La France Continue, with the point of departure being that France doesn't surrender in 1940, but evacuates to North Africa. APOD looked at alternate strategies for the British Empire, and one of those was the possibility of invading Norway before D-Day, which is where Great Deeds comes in. It's a 57k short novel, about neutralizing the German battleship Tirpitz, Bismarck's sister-ship, in its lair in the Norwegian fjords; something that occupied British thinking for a large part of the war. Great Deeds is APOD's very innovative, yet traditionally British solution. It reads as fairly traditional British military fiction in the Dambusters/Sink The Bismarck/Heroes of Telemark style. Not quite professional quality, but not bad.


 

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Met friend X for Saturday lunch, having not seen any of my local friends face to face since May*, and in the process of catching up with her she brought me up to speed with everyone else. I'd known some of it was going to be bad, our regular Saturday lunch dates stopped suddenly when my friend Y's adult son was hospitalised, and I knew that was dragging on, but not how badly. And she opened that tale by saying "We didn't even see Y at John Z's funeral", to which my reaction was unfortunately, "What, John died? When?"

He was a friend who'd moved away, but formerly another of the Saturday lunch crowd. I was never entirely sure how he felt about me, but I liked him. He'd had serious health problems for years (I think since early 30s and he was pushing 70) and when they worsened had apparently chosen his moment to stop ongoing treatment and time his exit to his satisfaction. He was the archetypal engineer and controls were his speciality, and that is just so like him.

No better news WTR friend Y's son, I knew he'd been rushed into hospital with what they initially thought was an infection, and apparently the diagnosis wandered through meningitis and encephelitis before settling on terminal brain cancer with a 2 year prognosis. Needless to say Y has been distraught. Obviously I then felt a bit of a shit for not being more supportive, but X pointed out she has been offering to meet Y for coffee or whatever on pretty much a weekly basis and hasn't been taken up once (and she just lives around the corner from them). I'll make a similar offer now I know, but it sounds like it's unlikely to be taken up. The one piece of hopeful news is they've just switched his treatment from Kings to Guys**, and Guys thinks a chemo regime is worthwhile, where Kings didn't.

The one truly bright point among all this is that X's husband has been formally declared to be in remission after the bone marrow transplant he had at the start of the year.

I'm okay, sad for friends rather than sad for myself, but sometimes you need to write stuff down to work out how you feel.

* I actually live next town over from everyone else, so unless we actively plan to meet, we tend not to run into each other.

** Major London teaching/specialist hospitals

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davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
David Gillon

December 2016

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