AEL: All Creatures, Skyrim, SU eps, The Language of Bees

I feel like I started writing this AEL already and then maybe lost the draft somehow, ’cause I could swear the SU eps in particular already had some thoughts about them somewhere, and that there were more than just the things I can think of at the moment lined up to be written about. But maybe I’m just going crazy. Onward!

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot — When I last wrote about this, I had maybe three hours left in it. At this point, I mostly want to reiterate how annoyed I am about the combination of the two books into this one. It got monotonous, despite how much I liked the stories it contained, and I think I broke away from it three separate times to listen to fanfiction instead. Half as long (i.e. the length of each of the two books that were combined) would have been perfect, and I’m really not pleased with the combination trick.

So in Skyrim, when you’re looking to get married, at one point you hear the following explanation of how the process works in this country: “Love in Skyrim is as earnest as the people who live here. Life is hard, and short, so there’s little room for long courtship.” And as I was reading All Creatures Great and Small, that statement — and the idea of shallow marriage to an NPC in general — kept coming back to me.

This may only have been because I started playing the game and reading the book at about the same time, so certain associations were inevitable, but I kept picturing James as the PC running around the game-world of the Yorkshire Dales completing quests and meeting NPC’s. And I couldn’t help wondering when he would meet the NPC he wanted to marry. When eventually he did, it really felt very much like a Skyrim marriage in that no love or connection or even much getting to know each other was readily apparent (he liked her because she wore pants!!). Not that it was a huge drawback in a collection of veterinary anecdotes that is not intended as a romance, but it did still have that video game feel to it. Helen even practically said the same thing my Skyrim wife did when proposed to XD

And speaking of my Skyrim wife… I know Skyrim bug stories are a dime a dozen, but I want to mention this. When I married Camilla Valerius, I was aware of some of the bugs that can occur in and around the ceremony, so I wasn’t surprised when my new wife and all my guests walked out of the temple during the priest’s main speech. Since I wanted to hear it all at least that first time, I didn’t quickly click through it in order to chase after Camilla; I just went to find her a few minutes later back in Riverwood to discuss where we should live.

Except that when I found her again, she said something to the purpose of, “I don’t know how you have the nerve to speak to me after what you did. You broke my heart.” A bit puzzled, I chose the dialogue option in response that I’d made a mistake and wanted to try again, and went back to the temple to arrange another wedding. However, the wedding option was gone! So I loaded to back before I’d proposed to her, thinking I would just start the whole marriage process over. But this time, looking for Camilla, I couldn’t find her anywhere.

As I was wandering around Riverwood forlornly calling her name, a dragon attacked. Since I didn’t want to waste all the effort it took to slay the thing (remember I suck at video games), I continued with that particular save. And Camilla was nowhere to be found; she’d dropped off the face of the game.

Heartbroken, I kept playing, keeping my eyes open for some other NPC I might want to marry. (Actually my first choice for marriage would be Idgrod the younger, but she’s not available.) But the bravery of Camilla declaring she would go up against bandits seeking a stolen family tresure herself, despite being a shopkeeper rather than a warrior, and her pleasant demeanor besides that, were unmatched, and I remained lonely. Breezehome was a place of great solitude (I could make a fabulous pun out of that if I tried), its only appeal the consistent entertainment of asking Lydia to carry stuff for me.

And then I purchased Proudspire Manor, and who should show up in my giant new unfurnished home but Camilla Valerius! Apparently she lived there now — though, you may recall, this continuity was from a save before I’d ever asked me to marry me — but her Idiot Dialogue was still, “You broke my heart.” Confusing as shit, really.

And then I adopted a child via the Hearthfire expansion, and the moment he came to live at Proudspire, suddenly Camilla was fixed! The first time I talked to her after Francois moved in, she was all, “Now that we’re married, we should decide where we’re going to live. Oh, but you have children, don’t you?” No less confusing than before, but apparently I now have a loving and functional wife! All it took was buying a house and an expansion XD

Counting on bugs to enhance a gaming experience would, of course, be even more insane than counting on nostalgia to add greater artistic value to mediocrity… but, just as nostalgia can enhance an artistic experience (as I went on about with No. 6 and DoP), humorous bugs that don’t break the game can enhance a gaming experience without ever having been intended. That’s why I had to document this occurrence, because, totally inadvertently, it really made the game more fun more me.

Steven Universe episodes — OK, first, let me complain about Amazon’s release procedures for a moment. I do not at all mind being asked to pay again for a new collection of episodes. This series is well worth paying for, and I don’t think the prices are unreasonable. However, is it too much to ask Amazon to let me know when the collection I’ve subscribed to has come to an end and new episodes are being released into a new collection? Also, could they stop referring to these collections as “seasons” when they’re not? Also also, could they ever possibly go back and rearrange the distressingly out-of-order episodes in the first collection or two so it’s not quite such a headache to rewatch the series or show it to someone else?????

So, episodes. I loved every minute at the Zoo. The writers continue to tease us by drip-feeding information about gem society, especially social hierarchy, rarity, and function of various types of gems. Did quartzes not exist before Earth was colonized? Are there no amethysts or jaspers on Homeworld? And I’m so fascinated by the fact that Blue seems to have every single other rose quartz that exists bubbled at the Zoo. So much potential!!

In fact there were a lot of ideas presented in these episodes that didn’t get explored very thoroughly, and it made me think of a major complaint I have about some other series ostensibly aimed at children (*cough*FriendshipIsMagic*cough*): that interesting and complex ideas are often introduced but then treated as shallowly and disappointingly as possible as the writers take the path of least resistance when it comes to dealing with potentially serious and complicated issues. I do not feel this has been the case in Steven Universe. Here when something isn’t explored in detail, it’s typically because of in-story logistical considerations rather than laziness on the part of the writers.

How ethical was it for our heroes to leave behind all the Zoo-dwelling humans? To leave behind the entire Famethyst that’s been abused by Holly Blue presumably for thousands of years and will probably be treated even worse now that she’s been outsmarted, robbed, and humiliated? These questions are not discussed because our group of characters just doesn’t have time to think about them — they’re on a mission with a specific objective, and they have limited resources (time, space aboard their ship) with which to carry out that mission.

Problems — even rather horrific problems — such as the almost animalistic nature of the captive humans, the low quality of life for the downtrodden quartzes, and even the distant possibility of the entire Zoo’s being destroyed one of these days and everyone left on it killed or shattered, are alluded to or implied, not ignored, but then moved past because the narrating perspective has to follow character that don’t have the resources to deal with them. It’s not comfortable, but it’s far more realistic than simplifying these problems into nonexistence and/or completely ignoring their more complex aspects… as another, lesser series might have done.

It was very interesting and believable (and somewhat distressing) that Greg, being the newest, most different, fascinating, and engaging thing that had literally ever happened in the lives of the Zoo humans, managed to essentially make them all fall in love with him. And I also really liked how when the gems came rushing into the habitat after everyone was hurt by his rejection of them, they pretty much just came to offer comfort and counsel. That was seriously adorable, and demonstrated that our Amethyst’s good nature is a trait seemingly generally shared by her sisters.

And, holy Poe, that scene between the diamonds. That song. That was some SERIOUSLY GOOD SHIT — really emotional and informative and ridiculously well performed for highlighting character traits. I loved that Yellow proved she’s got some softer emotions in there, and that, though, yeah, she’s still a terrible person, she’s not completely without redeeming qualities. Also I appreciated the tidbit of information that lapises (geez, trying to pluralize shortened gem names) are designed for terraforming — which answers the question I’ve long held about what the crap our Lapis was doing in the situation that got her cracked when she obviously wasn’t part of the active conflict.

So, yeah, definitely loved the Zoo storyline, even if they did seem to completely forget about picking up the rubies from space on their way back.

The New Crystal Gems was kinda cute, but largely forgettable. Storm in the Room was good, though. I thought the first half — with Connie worrying about her mother — was maybe dragged out a bit too long for the only purpose it served (emphasizing to Steven the lack of mother/child relationship he has in his life), but it wasn’t bad. The second half, however, was far more useful, if only because Steven had some valuable thoughts, some of which were entirely new to me.

It had never crossed my mind that Rose might have created/become Steven in order to escape from her past. The idea not only adds another strike against Rose’s character, but would of course also threaten Steven’s sense of self-worth. And though he seemed to abandon the idea by the end of the episode, I’m not so ready to abandon it. I do absolutely believe Rose truly wanted to have a child with Greg for the sake of that experience and bringing new life into the world, but I can’t say I think it’s impossible that there might have been some of what Steven speculated in there too — a desire to avoid the ramifications of her own actions and thinking about mistakes she’d made. It adds another potential complexity to Rose’s character that I hadn’t considered before, and I love it.

And then we got Rocknaldo, which was not very interesting. It wasn’t bad, of course, and there was a brief moment of “don’t let your desire to be a loving and accepting person make you the victim of abuse” that I appreciated, but mostly it was just more somewhat amusing filler before we get back to the drip-feed.

In any case I really love this show.

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King — I like this book quite a bit. I still don’t think Justice Hall will ever be surpassed as my favorite Mary Russell installment, but this one may be #2. (Though I’m aware that one or more of the two or three books at the end of the series that I haven’t read yet could possibly become favorites!)

This book comes very well on the heels of Locked Rooms, paralleling the complications of Mary’s past arising during that volume with Holmes’s showing up here. But I have to admit, I find the Holmes/Irene pairing very tiresome. Of course it was inevitable in a series like this, and I never want to say, “Fanfiction authors should not write such-and-such a pairing,” but in general I find I encounter it far more than I would prefer.

Damian is a good character, though. This author has a fine line to walk between “Sue enough to fit with canon” and “way the hell too Sue” (and since canon is very Sue, the Sue Event Horizon is never far off), and the son of two such remarkable and Mary-Sueish people as Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler is going to be particularly difficult. That may be why he doesn’t actually have all that much pagetime, but in any case I think King came up with an excellent design for him: a brilliantly artistic and eccentric young (former) drug addict not entirely forthcoming about his personal life but completely devoted to his wife and child.

Another fine line King has to walk is that between obnoxiously depowering Holmes and rendering Mary useless as anything beyond what Watson originally was. Coming up with an equal partner for Holmes — and consistently maintaining that equality — must have been a ridiculously finicky task, but I think she managed it well (in large part by embracing canonical Sueness, as aforementioned XD), not just in general characterization but in specific instances of storytelling. She often does it by having multiple evidence chains to follow so Holmes and Mary have to split up — allowing them both to be useful and effective, but us to follow Mary so she can retain the narrative spotlight. It may be a bit amusingly repetitive at times, but it works very well.

Now, I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned this specific thought, and I’m too lazy to go look it up, so forgive me if this is a repeat of something I’ve said before: it kinda weirds me out how Mary constantly uses her own actual name, instead of giving a false one, when she’s out doing what amounts to undercover investigation. To me this seems careless and sloppy and potentially dangerous.

In fact it kinda weirds me out that, within this conceit, we’re allowed to believe Watson actually used anyone’s real name in his stories. To me it would have made sense for the narrating Mary to start the series by saying, “When Dr. Watson began working with Mr. Doyle to publish these stories, all the names were changed to protect the identities of the real people involved. Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, John Watson, Irene Adler, even Professor Moriarty — these names were all invented for the magazine. However, to continue that protection of real persons, as well as for the sake of avoiding confusion in readers forced to learn a new set of names for a set of characters they already, to a certain extent, know, I have retained in my memoirs the fictional appellations invented by the good doctor.” She could then have added that even her own name has been altered for storytelling purposes.

But instead we have an England — and to some extent, a greater world — that knows Sherlock Holmes by his real name, even if it does believe him to be entirely fictional. Of course many of the jokes might not work out quite so well if his actual name, and the way he introduced himself to strangers, was Bob Smith or something, and I can’t entirely fault the author for sacrificing sense for humor… but it still strikes me as odd on a regular basis, which is sometimes a bit jarring.

Anyway. I love Mycroft and how lovable he is. I think the next book in line is when we get “his funeral” and I laugh myself sick, so I’m looking forward to that. In this book he’s just adorable.

Speaking of laughing myself sick, this line from a letter between Holmes and his brother cracked me the hell up: Tourist charabanc to Salisbury and Stonehenge leaves in two minutes, I have bribed the conductor to begin with the latter. Have already been informed twice that I look like Sherlock Holmes. Kindly pray I do not have to ask you to stand me bail for murdering a visitor to Olde England.

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