Middlemarch by George Eliot — I’m tempted to start this in the same way I started my second set of Pale Fire thoughts THERE JUST AREN’T WORDS FOR HOW AMAZING THIS BOOK IS.

It interests me the extent to which Eliot points out ironies in the way men and women interact and the societal expectations on each, but doesn’t really make suggestions for improvement. It’s like she’s saying, “Funny old system we have, innit?” and leaving the active change up to others — as far as you can consider pointing out evils and inconsistencies a lack of action toward change.

Rosamond, for example, seems to have tremendous potential as an effective, influential person, and that potential is entirely wasted due to the type of education she had growing up. At first when you’re getting to know her, if you’re anything like me, you feel kindof indulgent toward her, even though she’s recognizably a waste of space. But when she’s poisoning her own marriage, sabotaging her husband’s every effort, and considering herself the central, suffering heroine throughout, she becomes thoroughly detestable and extremely frustrating to read about — especially if you recognize her potential as a much better, more reasonable person.

But, though you can see the root of her problem — the shoddy, amoral education she received, as aforementioned — you’re kindof at a loss as to what could have prevented this problem. Because you can’t really see the money- and fashion-conscious Vincy parents having taken any other route with their daughter. And what is the root of that problem? Who gave them the attitude, “An expensive and ostensibly classy upbringing is more important than an emphasis on morality or prudence?”

How far back do you trace something like this before you just have to throw up your hands and say, “Here’s a system that needs to be completely broken down and rebuilt from the ground up?” That’s how I feel about much of the culture I live in today, and it’s painful to watch George Eliot seeming to make the same point about something entirely different. Apparently humanity is constantly getting itself into this type of scrape.

And I love Lydgate so much! His kindness, his noble aspirations, his initial prudence are all so admirable and lovable that it absolutely kills me to see his life destroyed by Rosamond — especially (once again) when considering Rosamond’s potential and how excellent a partner she could be in his endeavors if she hadn’t grown up the way she did. And I think this is largely due to the way Lydgate was raised.

He starts out determined not to allow socializing to distract him from his determination to make a difference in the world, and look how quickly he caves! And he makes the excuse that Rosamond is going to ~help~ him in his life of medical achievement, because the process of “falling in love” in this society has very little to do with actually getting to know someone and how likely they are to have any coinciding values or goals with you… and because he simply doesn’t have the moral fortitude to stick to the plan he knows will best allow him to complete his life’s ambitions.

He has morals, but the awareness of and determination to do what is right in a discrete situation is different from the fortitude to continually do not only what is moral but what is expedient for a long-term moral goal. And of course that kind of fortitude is an inborn trait, but it can also be learned to some extent, and can definitely be increased and improved — by education/upbringing that Lydgate, like his wife, simply never had.

I also love Lydgate’s sweet friendship with Dorothea, and sometimes even treasonously wish those two could be married to each other. In another timeline, they could have been so happy together, and done so much good! With the way Rosamond is, I wouldn’t regret her not being married to Lydgate or anyone else… seriously, Rosamond, whatever. But I would be a little sad for Will.

Because Eliot goes out of her way to characterize Will, not only as spectacularly well as she characterizes everyone else, but above and beyond that as the most adorable guy that ever breathed. Like, I literally squee out loud when I get to that part about him taking the children out on excursions and building a bonfire and improvising a puppet show for them. It’s true that sometimes he’s not as kind as he could be, and I’m afraid his harshness may at times wound Dorothea, but I can’t help wishing for his happiness (and her happiness with him!) just as much as I wish for Lydgate’s success. Sadly, only one of those wishes really comes true.

That’s about it for my random thoughts on this spectacular book. The last thing I wanted to mention is that I long for a spin-off The Adventures of Mrs. Cadwallader the Hilarious Badass.

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines — This is my second time into the Princess Series, and it’s interesting to read it again after seeing how far Jim has progressed with Magic Ex Libris. This particular book is an awkward beginning to a series I know gets better (and that I do enjoy from the off despite its drawbacks).

The dialogue is often very poorly and unnaturally placed, and just as unnaturally carried out, especially if there’s any exposition involved — and it’s not infrequently obnoxiously repetitive, too. The narration isn’t much better. I wasn’t thrilled at Magic Ex Libris being in first person, but first person at least offers some excuse for deficiencies in narration, one that is certainly not present here.

The plot, however, is excellent, with various interesting elements coming together extremely well for compelling adventure and drama. Worldbuilding happens a lot more naturally than any of the other exposition, and the setting lends itself perfectly to the stories to be told. Also, there is some freaking fantastic foreshadowing that (obviously) you just don’t notice the first time around. If only Danielle didn’t spend the entire story saying over and over again, “I don’t understand.”

However, now that I’ve mentioned Danielle, let me talk about characterization for a bit, because day-um, Jim, did you ever nail that here. These three women with unique personalities and characters developed by their unique experiences are a delight to read about. They’re distinctive and interesting, and in many ways lovable not only due to specific traits but also, more generally, simply because they’re written well. Moreover, the feminism that went into their creation makes them all the more compelling. These women are allowed to enjoy sex, make decisions about their own bodies, and express femininity in a variety of ways that are all portrayed as completely acceptable. Characterization — and of females! — is definitely where this series shines.

(Though I have to admit I’m not terribly happy with how young they all are, or at least present as; and I think Jim missed a perfect opportunity for body diversity by making all three princesses “slender,” especially when — in my opinion, at least — it would be super sensible for Snow to be at least a little bit fat.)

I’m kinda coming to loathe the term “girl power” just as I do “strong female character,” because it’s often used to describe what a story or character is in relation to men, so let’s say that this book (and the entire series) is very much woman-orientated (LOL Talia joke) and empowering. In fact it would be downright comical the way Jim deliberately gets the male characters captured or sends them off on business elsewhere or has them simply relegated to less important and prominent roles than the women… if that weren’t exactly (if perhaps less deliberately) what is constantly happening to female characters in so much of fiction. I guess it’s still funny, though, in a painful sort of way XD

And speaking of feminism and body autonomy and all that, I need to touch on the kissing-Diglet scene, because it may be the first and only Smooch of Victory scene I’ve ever encountered that didn’t get my hackles up. Exactly why this is I’m still not entirely sure, and that may be what makes it so interesting.

Is it because, though the princesses do require assistance (“rescue”) from Diglet, they are not helpless damsels and in fact he is the one (at least in the long run) in the position of least power? Is it because the kisses, though they are certainly interpreted as such by Diglet’s companions, are not actually presented as sexual or pseudo-sexual favors (give or take some voluntary coquetry on Snow’s part), but as a calculated diplomatic gesture? Is it because Talia is allowed to decline to participate (at least in the part that would typically be sexual or pseudo-sexual) when her friends recognize, though not her lesbianism yet, her loathing of fairies? Is it all of this and more? I don’t know. I just know that I’m fascinated and pleased by that scene.

Oh, and on the topic of Talia’s lesbianism, I JUST LOVE HER SO DAMN MUCH. She was actually what led me to read these books — what led me to Jim — in the first place: I saw mentioned somewhere online that there was a series out there about badass faery tale princesses wherein Sleeping Beauty was in love with Snow White, and you better believe I scrambled for that shit XD

And I’m very glad I did! No matter what complaints I may have, as I said above, I really do enjoy this series quite a bit. I’m happy to be reading it again, and look forward to logging certain other thoughts I already remember having about the rest of the books when I get back around to them.

Batman: The Animated Series episodes — OK, so I’ve heard a lot about how great this show was (and in fact saw one episode myself on actual TV once upon a time), and I guess it leads into all these DCAU movies I’m trying to watch, and it’s free on Amazon, so I figured I’d check it out.

And I guess… it maybe gets good later? Four episodes in, it’s as stupid a cartoon as ever cartooned. It’s not quite as hilarious as He-Man and She-Ra, which will forever be my gold standard of terrible animated entertainment, but it’s still deliciously awful. It’s almost hard to believe this was made in the 90’s rather than several decades earlier.

I have to admit, though, that the music, though rather ham-fisted and relentlessly present throughout every moment of the show, is quite decent. The series definitely has potential; we’ll see if it ever lives up to its reputation.

And speaking of its reputation, there’s an interesting phenomenon that often comes up when discussing a series like this, and that’s “Better than anything we’d ever seen at the time” syndrome, sometimes given the more dignified name “historic context.” My mom in particular is fond of using the argument that some work of art (in fact this is usually in reference to the original Star Wars trilogy) is good because it’s a significant improvement on its predecessors and even contemporaries.

This is kindof along the same lines as my discussion of nostalgia as it relates to art and art experience. “Better than anything we’d ever seen at the time” may explain why many people like something, and is definitely useful in comparative analysis and in tracing the evolution of a genre or medium, but it does absolutely nothing to establish the actual artistic value of a work. And I’m reeaaallllyyyy hoping Batman: The Animated Series doesn’t turn out to be merely relatively good, a progressive but not yet an actual quality work. I’ll watch more episodes and find out.

The Cabin in the Woods — I first watched this movie two years ago with Zombie Girl, and I’ve been wanting brother to watch it ever since. Now we’ve finally gotten around to it.

First let me say that the horror genre and I don’t have the best relationship. I adore the concept of deliberately writing a horrifying or frightening story in theory… but in practice I dislike gore and really hate adding yet another reason to have difficulties sleeping to my extensive list. There have been some suspense or horror stories I’ve enjoyed (though I tend to enjoy the suspense ones more, due to that aforementioned disliking of gore), but there have been more that I’ve really, really hated.

Well, this movie is not one that I really, really hated. And part of that is probably its deconstruction of a genre that I often approach in the uncertain way a dog approaches a cat he wants to play with but that may very well leave him traumatized and bleeding. Simultaneously involving aspects of comedic horror and sometimes even playing horror tropes completely straight, it works on several levels — so you kinda get to choose the level you’re interpreting the movie on, which makes for an experience I, at least, enjoy better than that of a typical horror movie.

I also, morbidly enough, tend to enjoy stories with the twist (or sometimes totally straightforward) ending “everybody dies” and/or “the bad guy wins” — not because I like death and evil (though occasionally, admittedly, the bad guys are more compelling or likable than the good), but because I like interesting stories written to be good stories rather than to check off a list of cliches. It’s so much fun to sit there on the edge of your seat wondering how Our Heroes are going to get out of this one, only to realize in horror (Legitimate horror! The ostensible purpose of this genre!) that they simply aren’t.

So the fact that this movie culminates with not just all the main characters dead but LITERALLY THE END OF HUMANITY makes for a delightfully interesting break from the norm — not necessarily the norm of horror movies (though there is a certain up-the-ante feeling to THE END OF THE FREAKING WORLD), but certainly the norm of movies — and a lot of other storytelling — in general.

Of course the ultimate question of the narrative — if a species is forced to horrifically sacrifice its own members to survive, is that species worth preserving? — makes for a much more thought-provoking story than your average slasher flick. Aside from being literally, within the context of the story being told, a meaningful question, it’s also more generally applicable to many situations in reality. How is the answer different when it comes from the victims rather than those conducting the sacrifice? Does that difference, which certainly indicates the imbalance in the situation, weight the answer in one direction or another?

I found it fascinating that the Harbinger’s warnings applied 100% to the people in the complex as well as to the sacrifices, and that the complex’s eventual fate was so similar to that of the college students — right down to Hadley specifically choosing how he would die just as they did. It added a brilliant additional touch of meta to an already extremely (brilliantly) meta work.

And it’s wonderful to see how artfully the employees in the complex — the people that are trying to preserve humanity — are presented in an almost completely unsympathetic light. That seems so counterintuitive, and may have been a bit of a challenge to write — but the writers did it extremely well.

It’s a fun piece of narrative trickery in that they’re essentially painted as the “bad guys” while blatantly working to save the world. Yeah, on the surface, they’re just ordinary people doing their job (even if their job is anything but ordinary), but constant little moments throughout the movie reinforce, not necessarily that they’re inherently reprehensible people, but the viewer’s disliking of them and resultantly greater sympathy with the other protagonists.

I also love how the actions of Daniel, the only facility employee to question the ethicality of what they’re doing there, seem to reinforce a sort of “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” theme when he dies along with and just like the rest of them. Because I think a lot of us in real life do a fair amount of relatively passive questioning of ethicality without ever taking any action — in the end leading to exactly zero change.

Also, the scene in Japan with the happy little frog is so funny it makes me cry. Fucking amazing movie.

Steven Universe episodes Steven’s Dream and Adventures in Light Distortion — This show is just gleefully torturing us with this “WTF exactly did Rose do to Pink Diamond and why?” question, but at least it has the grace to acknowledge that Steven feels precisely the same as the viewers.

OK, obviously not precisely the same. None of us feel like it was our own mother/former self that supposedly murdered someone; details would be way more important in that scenario. But, yeah, damn, I’m so freaking curious. And still kinda want the Rose Is Pink Diamond theory to turn out to be true.

Anyway, I’m obviously very happy that we’re exploring at least the periphery of the Rose vs. Pink Diamond thing, though I have a sneaking suspicion we’re still not going to get any real information out of the current storyline.

I thought a lot of the dialogue in these two episodes was abrupt and unnatural, and that characters reacted in a dramatic fashion to things that it would be perfectly understandable for them to react dramatically to, but not in a believable manner… as if the writers and cast were getting back together after a hiatus and hadn’t quite gotten back into the groove yet, though it hasn’t technically been that long.

And the second episode felt pointless. I’m not sure any real breakthrough was reached with the climax wherein… Steven cried some more and tried really hard? While admitting to himself that he… never had bad intentions, but maybe made some bad choices? Perhaps that admission will be used later as a parallel for Rose’s actions regarding Pink Diamond, but at the moment it felt like padding and manufactured drama.

In any case, it was cool to see Blue Diamond again (and in such detail for the first time), to see her feelings for Pink and that she, at least, doesn’t seem to be as monstrous as Yellow is, and to get some more mileage out of one of Steven’s random assortment of powers. I assume the weapon Blue was referring to was the Cluster and not some other, new thing we’ll need to actually worry about. Also, the moment with the Korean animator was funny, and I’m happy Andy got to have a cameo with a pretty good line.

I’m very happy to see this series return, and looking forward to more episodes. I just hope they’re more purposeful than Adventures in Light Distortion XD Also, if Amazon could put up the rest that have already aired so I could watch them one of these days, that would be great?