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Hound of the Baskervilles

Reading Hound of the Baskervilles in my way through the Holmes canon, and, man, was Holmes an inveterate name-dropper!

In relation to the death of Sir Charles Baskerville: "I had observed some newspaper comment at the time, but I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases." 

And that is where the Vatican Cameo reference in Scandal in Belgravia came from.


(Unfortunately, I can't give a page reference as I'm reading it on my Rocket e-Book, which doesn't give page numbers.)

Jewels

Finished "Jewels: A Secret History" by Victoria Finlay.

Picked it up because of my jewelry obsession, and I read part of her book "Colors" and really enjoyed it. Have been working on "Jewels" for months.

Finished because it's really good. She has a great enthusiasm for her topic, and I like that her research takes her to many interesting places.  She tries to visit many of the historically and currently important places relevant to her subject.  For instance, she visited Burma to explore their ruby mines.  Not many people travel to Burma these days.

She also has a very personable writing style; definitely narrative non-fiction.

Memorable image from the chapter on Amber p.7-8: "Amber really is the tears of trees ... of conifers that grew in great forests millions of years ago. Many evergreens ooze resin as a self-healing mechanism, but for a normal forest with a modest drizzle of resin to be transformed into an amber forest with a flood of it, something special had to happen.
     "...Whatever the reason, at some point in prehistory a species of conifer went into medical overdrive. Judging from the massive lumps of amber that are sometimes found today, some of which can weigh 9 pounds or more, it must have been quite a sight. There would have been resin hanging from the branches like great candy apples, spilling onto the forest floor in honeyed pools and even oozing under the bark of the trees like coagulated butter. As well as being very sticky, the whole place must have smelled intoxicatingly of incense.
     "Over the years, most of the resin dripped into the soil and was absorbed. But ... some solidified, and the long process of fossilization began."

One takeaway - I'm leaning towards continuing to focus on costume and semi-precious jewelry in my collecting. She talks about conflict, or blood, diamonds, and the story is not pretty.  There's also a lot of pain associated with other precious stones (emerald, sapphire, ruby), and I don't know that I have any desire to contribute to any of that, or to the continuation of the cultural practice of venerating these stones just because they're beautiful. Diamonds aren't even really rare - their "rarity" is artificially maintained to keep their prices up.  Interestingly, there's no secondary diamond market.  Even though the stones don't deteriorate, they have very little resale value. 

Interesting fact:  The birthstone table was created in 1921 by the gem industry to give people another reason to buy. The gems originally on the table were the most popular at the time, and gems are added every so often as the become popular.  Yet this table has become very important culturally.  Pure advertising, just like the birth of the diamond engagement ring industry in the post WWII years by DeBeers so they could sell more diamonds (many people used to want colored stones, mostly rubies, as they represented warmth and emotional color), and the recent changes in the anniversary gift tables to put diamonds in 3 times - DeBeers didn't want you to have to wait 60 years to give diamonds again.

Includes extensive notes, bibliography, glossary, and index; a miscellany of jewels, and extensive research and first person accounts. Discusses the science, business, history, cultural significance, myth, and beauty of jewels. 

I'm scanning the notes and bib for further reference.

Black Books

Hung out with friends tonight and watched Season 3 of Black Books. 

Reason watched: Have had Season 3 disc from Netflix on coffee table for how many months?  Too many.  Came up in conversation, and we watched it.

Like it but can't take too much of it at one time.  Best one ep at a time, I think, but doable by the 6-ep season.

Insane.  Surprise Simon Pegg as an aggressive corporate drone.  Very funny. 

Also watched first ep of Doc Martin.  Will have to explore this further.

Fanfic - Could be Dangerous

Posted my first rec to 221b Recs.  Maybe taking a more active role in fandom? More creative? I've also been commenting more.  \o/
"Americus" by MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

Teens growing up in a very religiously conservative town in OK. Kind of scary.  A fantasy series full of magic and dragons becomes the focus for the conservative forces as they try to protect their teenaged children from the forces of evil. 

There was one particular mother who was the motivating force behind the banning effort.  She made military school look like a good option for a 14 year old.

My liberal hackles were raised by all the conservative talk - a biology teacher introducing her class with, "Now we all know that the earth was created 6000 years ago, but science has another theory." WTF?

Found it through Unshelved's Friday book recs.

Finished it.  Devoured it, actually.

Coming of age story.

Gay character

Includes bits of story from the fantasy series. 

Also one of the important characters is a librarian fighting the forces of censorship in the town, and the main character loves to read and spends a lot of time in the library.  How could I not love that?
The 3rd book in Mira Grant's Newsflesh Trilogy, "Blackout," is coming out in May 2012.  \o/.  Thinky zombie novels where the zombies are the catalyst, not the whole point. Really well done. I loved them, and I don't do zombies.

Must read me some Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant's primary identity).

Is Bad Writing Dangerous?

"Alien Tango" by Gini Koch.

Why I read this: I read the first book in the series a while ago, and despite the less than stellar writing, found something attractive about it.  Picked up sequel to see if that would carry over.

50 page test:  Passed.

I finished it. There are currently 2 more in the series; I don't know that I can stand to read them.  Shallow characters, read as anti-feminist in parts, plot holes you could drive a truck through, and a bit repetitive. 

Also, random.  The main plot is a group of aliens on earth who help Terrans fight bad aliens, and one of the major plot points is a psycho stalker after the main character for a boyfriend she broke up with in high school?  Really?  However, random.  Winning a fight against overwhelming odds at the Kennedy Space Center by throwing alligators into the room where the baddies are holding the good guys hostage. That's just crack.

Bombs are Dangerous

Last night we watched "Dr. Strangelove:  Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."  Dark, dark, dark, but very funny.  Truly a classic. 


I can see why it succeeded as it did.  People had enough of being terrified by the cold war and the threat of nuclear annihilation in real life; they didn't need to see a movie that tried to do the same thing.  "Dr. Strangelove" invited them to laugh at it, no matter how darkly. 

Dangerous Santa

We went to a friend's New Year's Eve party this year, and he's a gigantic film buff.  We saw 3 films, all of which were ... odd. 

"Wasabi"
(I only saw part of this.) Really funny.



"Rare Exports"
A Finnish horror movie - very darkly humorous.



"Underground" 
Surrealistic, chock full of symbolism, 3 hours long, and lots and lots of klezmer music. Again, very dark humor.



All in all an interesting intro to 2012. Thanks, Matt!

Dangerous Fiber Arts

I knit my niece a Christmas stocking this year.  My mom knit all 7 of us Christmas stockings when we were little, and my sister had the genius idea of she and I knitting them for our nieces and nephews (all 12 of them).  We (I) only got the one stocking done this year, but we have many years to come.  It was my first sock and was fairly successful.  A little oddly shaped, but the heel came together well and I'll do better next time. I also learned to Kitchner

I'm also knitting stuffed animals for my sister-in-law's baby showers - she's having twins!  And then I'm going to quilt two squares for the baby quilt.  All by the end of January.
So.  I'm bored. I've gone through a lot of emotional ups and downs (many more downs than ups, I'm sorry to say) over the last couple of years, and, consequently, been living way too much in my head with way too little external input.  My habits of thought and emotion have deteriorated, and I've lost a lot of control over my moods and my thought patterns.  Enough!

I now declare 2012 the Year of Reading Dangerously.  And Watching Dangerously.  And Learning Dangerously.  Yeah, it sounds odd with repetition, but my point stands.  I'm going to conquer my boredom, and to start with I'm going to take in a lot more mental stimulation.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my fanfic. In fact, it was a life-saver over the Time of Turbulence. Sherlock is fabulous, and there are a lot of fabulous writers in the fandom.  And I have no intention of cutting it out. But a steady diet of it is getting to be too much. So I'm branching out.

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Is it just me or does it bother anyone else by how many more costumes and clothes for women than men are sexualized?  Watching Masquerade at Convergence right now and so far most of the women's costumes are very short and very tight.  Same with the costumes I've seen just walking around, and the art in the Art Show.  Really? How necessary is that?  I have seen a couple of very sexualized men's costumes, but not nearly as many.  It's maddening.
I'm always amazed to see people saying that Jane Austen is the place to go for idealized romance and relationships.  Now, everything but Pride and Prejudice (the example I'm going to use) is still on my to-be-read list, but I've seen movies of most of her other titles, and even if they're not exactly the same, I'm assuming they get across the main ideas.  I've summed them up as: love matches are possible but not common, and, unless you are insanely lucky - which none of her characters are - if you want one you have to work your ass off for it.

Granted, this whole premise depends on your definition of idealized romance/relationships.  I usually think of the Disneyfied version - my prince will come, happily ever after (HEA) with little to no effort, life coming up roses, etc. Very little of this applies to Pride and Prejudice - Jane & Bingley and Elizabeth & Darcy are definitely love matches, and J&B are easy going enough that their HEA might come with a minimum of fuss, but there's not a whole lot else that applies.  It's for sure that E&D are going to have to work hard at their relationship, being the two stubborn, strongly-personalitied people that they are. I foresee some hum-dingers ahead for them.

Of the relationships that Austen gives us a real flavor of, the love matches (E&D, J&B, the Gardners) are far outweighed by the unhappy (Mama and Papa Bennett, Bingley's married sister), the train-wrecks-waiting-to-happen (Lydia & Wickham), the living-separate-lives-except-for-the-marriage-certificates-and-the-children (Charlotte & Collins), the disappointed (Lady Catherine de Bourgh on behalf of her daughter and Caroline Bingley), and the preyed-upon (Georgiana Darcy).

We don't get much of an insight into the Gardners, other than the fact that they're happy, but, let's face it, Jane and Elizabeth Bennett commit to marrying for love and then work really hard for it.  Jane's work took the form of waiting patiently and not completely giving up hope in the face of an apparently hopelesss situation while facing that there was very little she could actually do to influence the situation. That's hard and frustrating!  Elizabeth took a slightly more active role by turning down Collin's proposal and thereby risking the wrath of her parents and the possibility that she told her only chance for independence-of-a-sort to shove off. She also had the added excitement of having feelings that needed time to mature and almost losing her chance with Darcy in the meantime. Jane and Elizabeth shared the trials that were their family and their reduced circumstances, again something to be overcome.  Truly a women's extreme adventure story.


Articles like this "Gene Roddenberry Wouldn't Tolerate Prejudice Against Klingons" from io9 really bother me. Specifically the issues with Roddenberry believing in the perfectibility of humanity and there being no conflict in the original Trek concept. 

Nicholas Meyer says: "So VI is a film in which the crew of the Enterprise has all kinds of prejudice, racial prejudice, vis-a-vis the Klingons. And some of their remarks, including how they all look alike and what they smell like, and all the xenophobic things which we grappled with - that was all deeply offensive to him because he thought there isn't going to be that."

Frankly, I think this is misleading. I don't know if Roddenberry truly believed that within a span of a few hundred years humanity would have gotten beyond prejudice, and there's a hell of a lot more going on here with the Klingons and a potential treaty than simple prejudice - decades of war, destruction, deaths, etc. But I believe that Roddenberry believed that the crew of the Enterprise would have been, at the very least, a lot more professional then to express such feelings, and more likely to be enlightened enough to get past physical prejudices and deal with their feelings about the Klingons directly.  Hell, the ability to do just that would be a basic survival trait for a Starfleet officer in the Federation - you're dealing with so many different alien species during often-crucial missions, that if you showed prejudice or distaste at every physical characteristic, let alone social characteristic that you didn't like, your career wouldn't go anywhere.  I don't doubt that there are xenophobic folks in the Trek universe, I just don't think there are many, if any, in Starfleet, and I think there're a lot fewer of them in general.

I found the sentiments Kirk expressed at the briefing where Spock volunteered the Enterprise for the treaty negotiations really hard to swallow, given all that he's done in his career.  I believe he was shocked, by the destruction of the moon, the Klingon's plight, and the possibility of a treaty, and I think he was furious that Spock volunteered him without consulting him first - both at the act and the lack of trust it implied.  But I had a really hard time with the idea of Kirk being disgusted enough with the Klingons to want to just "let them die."

Roddenberry's belief in the perfectibility of humanity is one of the things that draws me to the show.  None of his characters actually get there, but they all try hard, and I think that's really important.  Even if perfect is not possible (and depending on the timescale we're talking, that might be debatable), trying is what makes us better both as individuals and societies. If we don't try to be better, we inevitably end up in pretty poor shape. And we can definitely achieve "better," if not perfect.  Isn't that worth striving for? 

As for the no conflict, that's just wrong.  Roddenberry set out to write SF drama, and you can't have drama without conflict.  He knew that.  What he didn't want was to take the easy route, a shoot-'em-up, violence-is-our-first-resort universe.  There's all kinds of conflict in those first 2 seasons when Roddenberry had pretty direct control of the show.  "The Naked Time" - fighting a disease and ourselves when infected with the disease (or generally when we're uninhibited).  "The Enemy Within" - coming to terms with our own darker selves.  "Dagger of the Mind" - conflict with others but by outsmarting them, not outshooting them.  "The Menagerie" - conflict with our physical shells and fighting what we see as our ultimate destiny.  The list goes on and on.

I'm not really impressed with the lack of understanding Meyers is showing here of Roddenberry's vision for Star Trek.  It's not an accident that my favorite Trek is still the Original Series. 

Delicious

I have updated my Delicious account, which you can find here, if you're interested: http://www.delicious.com/blissthisway.

Lots of fic from various fandoms, some vids - fan and not, and other miscellaneous things that have caught my attention.

Enjoy!

Con!

I'm sitting in the Link lounge at the Sheraton South attending CONvergence, a great fan-run SciFi convention that we attend every year with another couple and a friend.  This year, I'm having to work at having fun.  I'm still mourning my Mother - not surprising, she just died in April - and I'm having a hard time maintaining enthusiasm for much of anything.  Thank god this con has such a variety of things to do and that I'm so deeply immersed in fandom because it gives me a lot of "ins" to the con's goings-on.  My tactic is to acknowledge that I'm not going to be as enthused as I have in the past and will be in the future, so I just have to allow myself that and just decide what I actually want to do and do it.  I'm determined to remember this as a good con year, and so far am succeeding.  \o/

Panels I've enjoyed: 

Relationships in Doctor Who:
1.  There is a fairly large contingent that liked the asexual nature of Classic Who and found it a refuge from sex-filled TV.  They are not happy about the introduction of sex into New Who.  There was something of a dust-up in the panel and the moderator had to call it quits on that topic.  V. uncomfortable for me as I don't like conflict.
2.  Classic Who was always a refuge for homosexuals because it presented an effective protagonist who was not aggressively heterosexual a la James Bond, and Russel T. Davies carried it further by introducing aggressively bisexual/homosexual characters.  I had never considered this before but it makes a lot of sense.  

Torchwood:  Inside the Hub:
Season 4 is confirmed.  10 eps.  Worldwide - part in Cardiff, part in US, and other locations.  Produced by BBCWales, BBCEngland & Starz.  John Barrowman & Eve Myles confirmed.  Using one story format of CoE; not sure about the timing of the eps - 10 days vs. 10 weeks.

The Skepchicks are back!:
Learned about Skepchick. Here's what they say about themselves on their blog: 

"Skepchick is a group of women (and one deserving guy) who write about science, skepticism, and pseudoscience. With intelligence, curiosity, and occasional snark, the group tackles diverse topics from astronomy to astrology, psychics to psychology."

Also learned about the Women Thinking Free Foundation which is currently focusing on the campaign to educate women about the dangers of not vaccinating their children, and where to find good information about the current controversy.

Very interesting panel.

Slash Fiction:
Learned about Hetalia. "...presents an allegorical interpretation of political and historic events, particularly of the World War II era, in which the various countries are represented by anthropomorphic characters."  Who knew?

There was a rather intense discussion about the lack of femslash and strong women on TV/in movies.  We also hit on the differences between slash written by women and men, the rise of the OT3, kink, and how writing a good sex scene is just like writing any sort of scene; you follow the rules of good writing.  It was concluded that often fanfic sex is better than professionally-written sex for the simple reason that fanfic writiers are doing it out of love, and pro writers are doing it for, well, professional reasons - money or contractual obligations. 

Recs:
Kate Douglas - writer for Kensington Press' Aphrodisia line. I know she's professional, but she was highly recommended.  Various pairings in various combinations.

Their Finest Hour - Hetalia

Sex Magic by Velvetblood. Harry/Draco

Sleepswithcoyotes - Anything by her.

First Cybermen

So, I recently watched "The Tenth Planet," which is a Doctor Who serial featuring the First Doctor.  Not a bad story over all, although one might wonder why most of it was set at the South Pole, but it was the first appearance of the Cybermen and the first regeneration story, both of which make this an important serial.

I must confess that what really made me want to watch this ep was the costuming of the Cybermen.  Until relatively recently Cybermen have upheld the proud Classic Who tradition of the made-in-your-own-backyard look.  In "The Invasion," for instance, these robot bodies housing human brains came outfitted with silver-painted lace-up work boots. But the "Tenth Planet" Cybermen really take the cake.  It looks like they're outfitted in fetish gear with the addition of random boxes and instruments strapped to their bodies.  It is effective in that they prompt a WTF reaction and do look alien, but they don't look particularly robot-like, and I don't think their creators were going for the "tie me up and have your way with me in whatever manner you please, Mistress" look.   However it did add that extra bit of spice to my viewing experience.

The Blue and the Gray

I just watched The Blue and the Gray miniseries from 1982 (for the first time since 1982, I believe) and enjoyed it.  There is a bit - OK a lot - of melodrama, and some really questionable acting, but it was co-written by Bruce Catton  (who knew?) which added a lot. There were a number of scenes that helped round out what we tend to learn about the Civil War in school - such as units from each side trading informally with each other.  It also made the point that the players were all individual human beings with flaws and virtues.   It's aged gracefully and is well worth another viewing. 

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