trenchkamen: (In the shadows)
[read at AO3 / livejournal]

Title: Sky's the Limit
Author:trenchkamen (via ms_asylum fic-journal)
Fandom: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Rating: This chapter PG, eventually NC-17
Spoilers: Persona 4 (anime and game)
Pairings: Naoto/Kanji, Chie/Yukiko, Rise/Yu (Souji)
Genre: Post-game, character study, romance
Words: 10,964
Summary: Philemon says it is possible for anybody to unlock the Wild Card ability, and draw multiple Personae from the collective unconscious. It will be integral to an impending challenge. But it is easier for some than others, and to unlock that ability, the user must strip her ego and immerse in the psyche of people utterly unlike herself.
trenchkamen: (Pensive)
The Years of Rice and Salt has a simple premise: what if the black plague of the 1300's had wiped out 99% of Europe's population? I've been calling this the "no white people" book as shorthand, and I think that's a fairly succinct summary. The premise is simple, but the outcome, with the imminent super-colonizing-genocidal-power of Europe off the world stage, is not.
Some things never change )
Overall, I enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it to an audience with a background in history and a love of exploring ideas, sometimes at the expense of plot.
trenchkamen: (Sherlock - microscope)
I just added the “Sherlock/John” tag to this. (Which isn’t a lie; you can read it that way.)

Now let’s see how many more hits I get.
trenchkamen: (Sherlock - by smiley)
Danny Boyle's Frankenstein (Reverse Casting)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein, Johnny Lee Miller as the Creature
Phoenix Art Museum, 13 June 2012

I had this informal bet going with myself that it would take me less than five minutes upon stepping into the museum lobby to spot somebody with something Sherlock related. It took about three. I'll let that set the tone for the evening.

Oh shit, the internet is here. )
Maybe I should talk about the production itself. )
trenchkamen: (Sherlock - run)
Title: Pixels Like Acid Rain (Extended Cut)
Author: Trench Kamen
Fandom:Sherlock Holmes, all versions
Genre: AU, Cyberpunk, Concept, gen
Words: 3,728
Summary: This is a short concept piece: Sherlock Holmes goes cyberpunk. It's very old school, retro-futuristic, technobabble cyberpunk, something for which I have great nostalgia. Originally written for the Save Undershaw anthology contest.

[read at AO3// livejournal]
trenchkamen: (Sherlock - gaze)
Title: Mercury Candy Pop
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Spoilers: The Reichenbach Fall

This isn't exactly high-concept: relatively popular songs I associate with Sherlock/John. The vast majority of fanmixes I have seen consist of rather obscure (but good, I have found; fanmixes are an excellent way to find new artists) acoustic or indie music. This... doesn't.

Tracks below the cut )

On Tumblr
trenchkamen: (And I'll always)
Someone wrote a Tokyo Babylon / Sherlock crossover.

I haven't read it, so I can't say how good it is, but the fact that somebody DID IT makes me giddy beyond belief.

One of my oldest/most obscure loves meets one of my newest/too-popular-for-its-own-good loves.


Speaking of which, I'm submitting to the Sherlockology anthology for that "Save Undershaw" movement.
trenchkamen: (Silly boi love)
Half Price Books had TWO Hermann Hesse novels I don’t own—and haven’t read.

They are Rosshalde and Klingsor’s Last Summer, for any interested parties.

There is so much more to Hermann Hesse than Siddhartha (which is what most people know from high school English, and is a delightful book). He is divine. Exquisite.


Apr. 7th, 2012 06:30 pm
trenchkamen: (Colbert dance)
Hey, do you guys remember that really talented awesome painter Thomas Kinkade I talked about roughly a year ago?

He's dead.

Really, when I saw this link I actually started laughing so hard Mike came in from the other room to see what was up. And then he started laughing too.

I'm a fucking awful person, and I'm going to Hell.
trenchkamen: (Bend over.)
The law behind this book ban is, sadly, not new. Nor will it be the last time it is instigated, mark my words. It has supporters. Mostly these are the same people who think the Trayvon Martin case is being played up in the media by liberal radicals who want to stir up racial unrest. The only way to keep the peace, in their mind, is not to point out any white privilege. It's the most disgusting kind of insistence on color-blindness: if you ignore a problem, it doesn't exist. If you bring the problem up, YOU started it.

And then we have one Representative Terry Proud, who is defending an email in which she told a constituent she would like to see a law passed wherein a woman receiving an abortion would, in addition to having an ultrasound and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, have to view a video of the procedure. The levels of fucked up this comprises are beyond comprehension. Clearly, she wants to gross out and scare any potential patients with a surgery video (which, let's be honest, will gross out and scare any but those already exposed to gore and viscera or those with a high tolerance for viewing such). I have never heard of such a law being proposed, for ANY type of surgery. I argue that an abortion is less bloody and gory than, say open-heart surgery or total knee replacement (and far less risky, might I add), but nobody is suggesting patients receiving these procedures view surgical footage so that they really "know what they're getting in to". Surgical videos don't bother me (because the patients are anesthetized; it is viewing suffering that bothers me), but most people would be grossed out and really scared by it. That's a natural human reaction.

This is clearly another shaming obstacle put in the way of women who want an abortion, another cheap attempt to scare. I bet conservative lawmakers in other states are reading these press releases, and thinking that Representative Proud has a mighty fine idea. Expect to see this spread.

At least her colleagues in the Arizona legislature are saying that this is a ludicrous law. Not everybody in this state is completely insane.

What the fuck is with the rash of bullshit coming out of Phoenix lately? Get bent, all of you.
trenchkamen: (Sherlock - Not my division)

I was reminded of this game by this delightful post.

There are two ways to do it: name-specific, and "OC".

I'll start with my name. Here's how you do it.


Step 1: Pick a fandom. The larger and wankier, the better.

Step 2: Go to and choose your fandom.

Step 3: Search within that category using your first name OR "OC" OR "original character".

Step 4: Post the results!


Care to guess which fandom we're going to do first?

You probably guessed correctly.

that's a lot of fic

Here comes the fun )
trenchkamen: (Blah blah blah)
I'm sure by now most of the interbutts has heard about Fifty Shades of Grey, that hott new Twilight-fanfic-turned-bestselling-novel that is being devoured by "mommy bloggers" and, if the various newspapers are to be believed, is allowing fortysomething suburban housewives to rediscover themselves as sexual goddesses and revive their marriages and blah blah blah. Apparently it's helping to portray the BDSM scene in a positive light (???), but as I'm not in the Scene and have not actually read the books, I will not even go there. But I would love to hear from somebody with a perspective on the subject.

All rampant sexism in the newspapers aside ("mommy bloggers", really? I know it implies a Certain Type of Mommy, not all women who have spawned off, but come on), I do acknowledge that any trend that tells women that, yes, they can enjoy pornography, and kinky sex, is desperately needed, especially here in the United States. But the premise is something I find skeezy (just like Twilight, what do you know): a rich, powerful man enters an extreme Dom/sub relationship with a struggling, naive, virginal (why always virginal?) student. The power imbalance is extreme, even though I know they sign a Contract and all that shit (which is apparently printed in full in the book). And I'm sure copious numbers of feminist analyses and MST3K-type takedowns are imminent, to which I say: bring it on. I do get a guilty pleasure out of ripping into everything awful this world has to offer. I say "guilty" only because it's a waste of time outside of providing me with a good laugh.

Now, let's look at the origin of the story. Yes, it was, until a couple of years ago, an AU Twilight fanfic where Edward is the rich, (relatively) young, handsome CEO of a huge corporation, and Bella is the young waif of a student. They have lots of sex. Like, all the damn time, apparently. So it's a standard porn-epic. Every fandom has a ton, of widely varying quality.

For what it's worth, I read the first Twilight novel. It sucked. So, yes, I can say confidently that neither Bella nor Edward have any complexity or personality, at all, unless you count Bella's faux-everywoman bland passiveness and Edward's creepy possessiveness and brooding. But lynchpin traits a fully-developed character do not make. They're not even tropes. I would say 'archetype' is the correct word, but only in the most two-dimensional sense. The upside to this, for fanfic writers, is that writing in-character is really fucking easy, so for matching the canon, E.L. James is spot on.

Now, for commercial publication, the author and her representatives claim that Fifty Shades of Grey is a "lightly re-written" version of Master of the Universe (REALLY?), which is fine if your idea of "re-writing" is abuse of Ctrl-R. Because that seems to be all that is different. Edward Cullen becomes Christian Grey (REALLY?), and Isabella Swan becomes Anastasia Steele (REALLY?). And, uh, I guess some other characters change names too.

Which has brought up a lot of controversy re: the ethics inherent in "lightly re-writing" a fanfic for commercial publication. Every predictable player shows up to comment: the "fanfic is illegal in the first place" crowd, the "fanfic is fine for practice, but this is going too far" crowd, the "I don't see a problem with this, and, by the way where can I sell my fanfic for seven figures?" crowd (which is an excellent question because SEVEN FIGURE ADVANCE HOLY SHIT). And there is the argument that, like Cassandra Claire, E.L. James is benefiting from her already extensive fanbase from her Twilight fanfic days. She benefits from the inbuilt audience of Twilight fans. Publishing houses are hip to this. And there is the accusation that any author who recycles from his or her older stories is being lazy. God knows I've written small scenes or visual snippets or dialogues from older stories I would like to keep for new, published stories. I think it is a question of degree and aptness--how much is recycled, and how relevant to the story is it.

And that's all up for debate. None of that is new. But I'd like to offer a few observations on the mechanics of the writing, or, that which must go into being able to create a product wherein making such superficial changes will result in a whole new product.

If your characters are so bland that changing their names completely obscures them, you wrote poorly-developed characters.

Bearing in mind what I said above (the original canon Bella and Edward are so bland anyway writing them in-character amounts to the same phenomenon), a character will be far more than an archetype. A complex character's PERSON will shape the dialogue, the choices he or she makes, every nuance of movement and dress and action and reaction. A complex character will effect the other characters, play off them. A complex cast of characters will interplay with each other, make choices that effect each other and the plot. All of this amounts to an influence that is deeply interwoven throughout the story. In a truly character-driven story, you can't just yank up the character and change his/her name, and expect the original character to be scrubbed out. Because the SHAPE of the character will still be there, and recognizable. You'd have go back unraveling the threads of interaction, choice, and cause that character has exacted on the story.

So if you really had written a fanfic starring complex characters, and written them well, changing the character's names should be a transparent tactic. It should be obvious that you just did that, because that full, complex character is still there, acting in ways we know he or she would. A story should be driven by the characters. Putting different characters in those same situations would have different results. Putting different characters together will have different results. People play off each other, balance (or unbalance) each other, influence each other.

I know that not all characters are so dynamic, idiosyncratic, or iconic as to be easily recognized in absence of labels. Many people aren't either. And there are people (and characters) that seem to be almost the same, soulmates, or strongly evocative of one another. This happens all the time. And this is all fine; stories need these characters too. But all of your characters should not be so flat that the only thing required to completely change the fabric of a story is to change the name. Bella and Edward, Christian and Anastasia, are just any other interchangeable set of innocent, endearingly-clumsy everygirl (with a little token faux-feminist 'feistyness') and aloof, controlling "dark prince" who unexpectedly falls madly in love with her.

I also think good characters subconsciously effect the author. That cliche about the characters controlling the story, and the author merely being a scribe, is an apt observation. You will notice that authors who write compelling characters will corroborate this. The slightest changes, things you can't quantify but play into a mental picture, kicking crucial visual details--word choice right down to the most basic layers of rhetoric--I think these things are also effected by good characters. A character will notice and bring out different colors, different details in a scene. The sky seems greyer, the flowers bluer, depending on who is in the scene, whose point of view we are in. These are small, subconscious ticks of the author, but they translate to the reader. The entire fabric of a complex story is permeated by the characters. I forgot who said that writing is a form of magic humans can work, because it is telepathy. I think part of that phenomenon is linked to details, visuals, syntax, which communicate subconsciously far more than we think they do, especially when these phenomena become emergent. A skilled author can evoke an entire, complex scene with a few strong eye-kick details. But I digress.

I also realize Fifty Shades of Edward's Christian's Cock is set in modern-day Seattle, without any supernatural elements or original mythology, so there isn't any world-building that has to be tweaked. Which would make scrubbing of Twilight elements a lot easier. Hence my focus exclusively on character.

This is the lesson you can take from Fifty Shades:

If all that it takes to completely re-package your story and render it 'original' is re-naming, and this remove any semblance of the characters you originally wrote, you really need to re-examine your writing. Because it probably sucks.

But look at it this way. If you tried to retool a GOOD, in-character fic with control-R, you'd be nailed as a plagiarist. But if you do the same with a smutty fic with bland characters, you may be a shitty writer, or referencing shitty material, but you'll be laughing all the way to the bank.
trenchkamen: (Bend over.)
I am appalled. I wish I could say "shocked and appalled", but really, I'm not shocked at all. This is Arizona HB 2625; scroll to page 11 to get to contraceptive coverage. The last quarter of page 12, specifically, notes (slashed out in red) that "A religious employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain insurance coverage or prescriptions for contraceptives from another source." BUT, as a subsection: "This section does not apply to evidences of coverage issued to individuals on a nongroup basis."

I'm not a lawyer, but the strike-out for the non-discrimination clause, and the sub-clause, seems like bad news.

And this shit better not pass the House, but it probably will. The state Senate and House tend to lock-step with each other on bullshit like this.

The ONLY semi-ethical reason I could see for this law is to protect innocent doctors from lawsuits--if there was a rash of people wrongfully suing doctors for birth defects they could not have detected pre-birth. There are many such defects, and people do try to sue when there was nothing anybody could have done or foreseen. But I seriously doubt that is what the law is really going for, and even if it was, this sort of legislation is NOT the way to handle the issue. It gives doctors with an agenda the right to withhold the information they DO have.

Tort reform is a whole other issue. Malpractice suits need to go before a panel of peers--other physicians who know the science. But let's be honest here--this bill is about restricting access to abortion, about policing women and their decisions, not about preventing frivolous lawsuits.

And our friends in Kansas are facing an identical bill. Disgusting.

Here is Arizona SB 1395. It is very short, very vague, and very easy to abuse.

God, I am so glad I am leaving this state for California (which, yes, I know, is far from perfect and has a horrific economy).
trenchkamen: (Despair and failure)
Picked Mom up at the airport this evening. I saw this scene on the north side of Terminal 4. Saw the body covered by the tarp. No, I did not see him jump, and at the time I did not know if he had been hit by a car or had committed suicide, but I looked around, saw the parking garage, saw the lack of any civilian cars at the crime scene, and just had a feeling...

Listen. Many of you I have had the honor of meeting in person, and count you among my closest friends. Many of you I have only spoken to briefly online. I don't care. You can always talk to me if you feel suicidal, or hopeless. Talk to me, talk to anybody. Call the suicide hotline. Just, PLEASE, get help. And if your friends seem suicidal, talk to them. Let people know. Help them get help.

I have dealt with crippling depression. I know what it's like to be there. It's never worth it. You just have to deal with things one minute at a time, if that is what it takes. And there are countless others out there who have been there. You are not alone.

These are the help numbers for the United States.

Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272
Runaway: 1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000
Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253
trenchkamen: (Someone on whom I can thoroughly rely)

Image manip of Holmes and Watson kissing courtesy of Rose at itsacrimescene.

Seriously, though.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson had far more adventures than those published during their lifetimes. To protect clients (and others) involved in controversial practices, Dr. Watson requested that certain of his manuscripts remain unpublished until all parties involved were deceased, or until society had advanced its understanding of 'inversion' (a Victorian catch-all term for those with any gender or sexuality deviating from a binary heterosexual rubric) sufficiently that the well-being of those involved would not be jeopardized. This is the premise behind A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes, and, while this is not the first time fanfiction has set itself up to be integrated into the canon in this way, it remains an effective and believable concept.

Despite what I expected, most of the stories were not explicitly Holmes/Watson, at all. They did all involve clients who were in some way "inverts" (the concept of homosexuality as we know it did not exist in the 1890s, remember), and, in many of the stories, it is heavily implied (this is Victorian implied, mind, which means it's all but confirmed) that Holmes is gay, but Watson is totally oblivious. But what is most important is this: despite the orientations of the main characters, they remain sympathetic to those living on the then-criminal edges of society, and realize that there is no justice in stigmatizing those who fall outside of gender and sexuality norms. It is a victimless crime. In that, queer readers and their allies may find solace, and it casts Holmes and Watson as men far ahead of their time.

There is one story in which Watson kisses Holmes, but the execution seems rather contrived, following the narrative: "I'll kiss him to see if he's gay and if he'll react, purely as an experiment; oh but wait, I'm really enjoying this". This is a shame, because it is a rushed premise in an otherwise fluid story. I do not doubt this has happened throughout the course of human history, but I've seen it done so many times as a quick way to get two characters together that my standards of execution are higher. One story ends with the soft implication they end up together, and another deals (far more organically, and this is one of my favorites in the collection) with Watson's burgeoning jealousy and self-realization.

Also interesting is that the book isn't at all smutty. There seems to be a prevailing attitude that equates alternative sexualities with porn, with no room for the chaste sweetness seen with heterosexual portrayals. I dearly love me some smut, but I acknowledge the need for stories that focus purely on the emotional aspect, to cater to all audiences. We see this in fanfiction, and there is a recent movement in commercial fiction in this direction, but for quite a while beforehand stories dealing with homosexuality, bisexuality, etc, was ghettoized as pornography, almost synonymous--and this further restricted access of these stories to young readers. (I argue that violence is more disturbing than sex, but that is another essay.) This past sectioning also made homosexual relationships seem to be purely carnal, especially in the public mind. I am heartened to see a diversification in the way the subject is portrayed, one that reflects the true diversity of experience.

Most of the stories are written in imitation of Doyle's style, with Watson narrating. One story is third-person limited Lestrade, with Holmes acting only in periphery, one story is Holmes first person, and another is narrated by a serial killer who knew Doyle, sort of a meta-take on the franchise.

The stories are of mixed quality. I especially enjoyed "The Kidnapping of Alice Braddon" by Katie Raynes and "The Well-Educated Young Man" by William P. Coleman. These are the standout pieces in this collection, and are by far the best in terms of characterization and plot. "The Adventure of the Unidentified Flying Object" is the weakest in the collection, especially given that it is implied that Moriarty is behind the mystery and the premise is as thoroughly contrived, illogical, and ineffective as putting drug-crazed snakes on a plane to assassinate one witness. If Moriarty wanted a teahouse raided, he would have found a far more effective and subtle way to assure it would have happened. But I digress. I also enjoyed "The Adventure of the Hidden Lane" and "The Adventure of the Posey Ring" very well-written. The former, especially, ends on a painful and poignant note of lost potential, largely because of Holmes' pathological eccentricities. It is a realistic, yet painful, look at one interpretation of Holmes' psychology. "Whom God Destroys" is an interesting addition to the anthology, peripherally related to the Holmes canon through the narrator's position as Doyle's secretary. As a serial killer's narrative it falls flat; there is promise in this story of a deranged young man driven by jealousy and delusion, but the execution lacks the charm of other similar stories, and relies too heavily on weak pop psychology.

I did catch a few typos in the book, more than one would find in the average commercial publication. The writing style and dialogue is clearly modeled on Doyle's, for better and worse, and as a stylistic approach this makes sense given that the authors intended these stories to be 'lost papers', as it were.

Overall, this is a fun little volume, not cheap (it does come from a small press, probably limited print runs if they don't do POD), but worth a look if you would like to see some queer elements fused into the classic Doyle style. It is not perfect, and the stories vary widely in quality, but there is a good, cozy night's reading to be had. Do not expect sweeping epics surrounding Holmes/Watson; the few elements of that there are here are largely peripheral or within the context of the larger mystery. Many of the stories show clear research into Victorian sexual ideology and terminology, and there is, of course, a cameo by that most famous of Victorian inverts, Oscar Wilde. I can read fanfiction of comparable quality for free, even in the Doyle style, but I don't mind paying to support authors putting effort into editing and compiling a print anthology.
trenchkamen: (Colbert dance)
Neither of which need adjusting.

So I'm only a thin clip of pages into The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin, and I already thoroughly approve of this book because:

1) The author used the term "brouhahah", which is an awesome term and should be used more often.
2) He has already referenced Stephen Motherfucking Colbert.


I just finished The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper, and I'm on the fence as to whether or not to write a review. Seems the Amazonites (especially those familiar with her other work; this is my first of her novels, including the prequel to this book) aren't too impressed and seem to think she's rehashing older works, something to which I can't really speak, obviously. I found it enjoyable and liked her take on some old tropes, though by no means perfect.
trenchkamen: (Wow.)
Checking out the little bookstore at the Seattle airport. Apparently Nicholas Sparks has a new book out. I wouldn't have known it was new but for the sign over it saying "NEW"; the cover looks exactly like every other cover of his books, and while the title itself isn't familiar it seemed enough like all of his other titles in content, cadence, and connotation. I especially love the quotes selected for cover review: "Sparks knows how to tug at a reader's heartstrings" (which is not necessarily praise, and is taken out of context; could be an accusation of cheap, maudlin tricks) and "All of Sparks’s trademark elements—love, loss, and small-town life—are present in this terrific read." Granted, a "terrific read" doesn't necessarily mean the book is any good. I'd call at lot of the trashy fanfic smut I read a "terrific read", but that doesn't necessarily mean it's any good.

Wait, it's not new. It was just under the "new" header at the bookstore. Fuck me blind, it wouldn't have made any difference. They're all the same anyway.

Also note that Amazon put it under "literary" and not "trashy-ass, talentless romance rags"; apparently they got the memo about how he's absolutely not a romance author, but on par with Hemingway and Shakespeare.

Also, every young adult fantasy cover is desperately trying to look like Twilight (even books that aren't urban fantasy), down to the serif-gothic fonts, color palates, and hyper-saturated photos of pretty people with color-enhanced eyes. I almost miss the days when every book was desperately trying to look like Harry Potter, because, as obnoxious as that marketing ploy was, and as destructive to the individuality of each book as it was (oh, fuck it; so many publishers were trying to publish books that WERE just like Harry Potter, even in content, and few books that deviated from that formula were making it out), Harry Potter was actually a good series.


Do I find it ironic I am writing about Sparks on Valentine's Day? Hand to God I forgot it was until I just looked at my clock.
trenchkamen: (In the shadows)
Taken while hiking with the grad school interview group. I liked what I saw.
Into the woods )
trenchkamen: (Sherlock - by smiley)

I admit this book caught my eye at the store because I found the cover art intriguing, and the cover summary more so.

I found the book to suffer from an ailment endemic to high-concept science fiction--clumsy, amateurish prose. The plot and concepts are of paramount importance, and neither the author nor the editor pay much attention to redundancy. Many times the narrator tells us, absolutely needlessly, what has just been clearly illustrated with action and dialogue. It ruins the flow of the story and insults the intelligence of the reader. And, sometimes, when the characters' motivations are made clear by context, the narrator states them anyway. It is annoying, and poor form. Example:

"But Karina's spear had already found its target, plunging into the guard's eye. The monomolecular carbon tip pierce the skull and brain and emerged through the back of his head." (229)

And then, half a paragraph later:

"...the speargun... could be just as lethal as a bullet. Karina's spear was made of monomolecular carbon, capable of piercing flesh and bone..." (229-230)

Wow, I never would have deduced that given that she just plunged it through a guy's skull. And killed him in the process. Examples like this abound throughout the book. Cases in which motivation is needlessly stated are more difficult to give in succinct quotes, but I am sure the astute reader will notice them.

What's strange, and, at the risk of sounding glib, amazingly Japanese, is that Ueda leaves a description of a shared flashback the hell alone. The mono no aware and poignant nature of this scene, and the remembrance that later results as the characters meet at a rather dramatic moment, speaks for itself. No elaboration. No philosophical expounding, as I'd almost expect from a Western author. That's good. It's fine the way it is. If you talked more about it, you'd ruin the effect. I saw "the twist" coming the first time the flashback was introduced (rather, I guessed who the mystery person involved was), but it still worked, even just as the shorthand conferred by clichés. It's left weighty, and heavy with complex thought, many things that can't be resolved verbally. It's meditative, and left for the reader (and the characters) to contemplate.

So, I ask, what was the author thinking the rest of the book?

I am thrilled that the translator opted to use gender-neutral pronouns in the English translation rather than defaulting to the masculine, as is often seen with sentient, non-gendered objects. This is a contributing factor to our societal assumption that male is default, and female is a sub-category. I understand that, with a greater tolerance for subject omission, Japanese lends itself far more fluidly to omission of pronouns. The translator uses the Spivak pronouns, something many activists and writers have been pushing for integration into mainstream language, but many editors and writers will argue that they are too cumbersome and interfere with the flow of language, and that we as a society have had our consciousness raised enough to understand that 'he' does not necessarily default to male. This is corollary to the argument that feminism is no longer relevant, something I vehemently protest, but I digress. I argue that with increased exposure they will not seem so alien, and it's far less cumbersome than the current he/she convention we see in official documents, or, even more irksome, the singular 'they'.

The gender politics in the book are covered in a refreshing way, though individual characters do hold disturbingly gender essentialist views (Harding, especially). Humans can fluidly move from one gender to the other throughout a lifetime with medical intervention, and alternate sexualities are largely accepted, but the concept of somebody being bigender (not androgynous, asexual, or neuter), with two functioning sets of sexual organs, is utterly alien, to the point of requiring these Rounds to be isolated from the rest of human society by law, out of fear of pollution. It's the 'containment' ideology one sees in politics today, and has seen, throughout all of human history. Individual humans are willing to be accepting, and are even intrigued, but the masses are still made uneasy by novel, paradigm-shifting concepts. But, slowly, the new things become standard, and humanity finds an entirely new thing to be apprehensive about. This is a trait humanity did not leave behind on Earth, and it is a concept explored time and again by science fiction--rightfully so, as it is so central to human nature. We're a tribal people. Part of the Jupiter-1 project is ridding humanity of these ancient apprehensions, which no longer benefit our survival in deep space (and, I argue, benefit it not now), but that would require reaching deep into our reptile brains. This book represents, of course, just a fraction of the social problems our ancient and unexplored biases cause, but it is a short narrative, and well enough to focus.

The most "alien" newcomers to humanity are, allegorically, exiled to the Jovian system, the furthest humanity has yet traveled. The Rounds distrust the Monurals (the name given to the single-gendered humans) as much as would be expected given their treatment, and the treatment of countless minority groups before them, and addressed is the displacement of characters stuck between the two worlds by circumstance or choice.

The book ends on an uncertain, open note--something few Western writers and editors would stomach. There are few conclusions, not even insofar as the immediate conflict is concerned. I admit it seemed abrupt and unfinished to me at first--to the point that I was annoyed--until I reminded myself that I bring my biases engrained by a lifetime of exposure to Western storytelling. The vast majority of the books I have read (discounting manga) are by Western authors. Had I read this book in manga format, I would not feel something was amiss. I think my brain has subconsciously learned to associate manga with a more Japanese storytelling aesthetic, but it did not yet make the link to prose. I would be interested to see this story told in a minimalist manga style. In eliminating all of the aforementioned prose redundancy (and it runs heavy), it would lend itself well.

That being said, this is definitely a concept piece, and the plot surrounding it is linear and somewhat dry. The simple story really serves as a backdrop for ideas, philosophies. The author is better at making abstract observations of human nature than in writing engaging characters, specifically, and in writing organic dialogue. The dialogue is as wooden as the narration. Occasionally characters show hints of complexity, but the effect is ruined by the author stating the bloody obvious immediately after. I personally found Dr. Tei the most enjoyable, though Shirosaki and Karina are also interesting at turns. But I can't say I came to care deeply for the characters, or for their welfare. As an abstract concept, yes, I came to care for the Rounds, but the individual Rounds did not stand out much to me.

Overall, I found The Cage of Zeus to be an enjoyable read, and an interesting look at gender and philosophy, though its space opera plot is pulpy and simple and the prose frequently drove me up the wall. Many of the plot 'twists' will not surprise anybody with any background in science fiction, and while it's true there aren't any 'new' ideas out there this book doesn't do much with those ideas in a way that hasn't already been done, but it's kind of cool the way Ueda plays with gender binaries. Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to experience sex with different genitals than those with which one was born? The Rounds get to experience both. At once. That's the part of this book that's going to stick with me the longest.
trenchkamen: (Look what I did)
Nominate this for the Nobel, right now.

It's an age old question somebody has finally quantified.

My dad is an orthopedic surgeon, and my dermatologist mother has been making all the standard "orthopedic surgeons are dumb" comments my whole life, so I get the joke.

July 2012



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