AEL: SU eps and soundtrack, The Sword in the Stone, Wonder Woman, Garment of Shadows, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Queen of Air and Darkness

Steven Universe episodes — HOLY SHIT, you guys. Rose might not have done it after all??? I am so overcome by this, a possibility that had never occurred to me, that I’m not sure I can comment on anything else in this set of episodes. I mean, meeting the off colors was great even if I feel like that should be hyphenated, and this weird new development with zombie Lars (and the accompanying implication that Lion is long dead) is strange and interesting, but I keep coming back to this idea that Rose might have been set up.

I mean, we’ve been dealing with this for so long… Both the viewer and Steven have been struggling to understand Rose’s choice, and the seemingly contradictory attitudes that could lead someone to bubble and confine her own ally because that ally had created a killing weapon and yet be willing to kill an enemy outright herself. It’s been a huge part of Steven’s development, and one of the biggest mysteries in the complicated past the story has set up. The idea that it might not, in fact, have happened at all is kinda mind-blowing at this point.

Not that I’m complaining! The way it’s been presented so far makes perfect sense, and honestly it does seem more consistent with what little we know of Rose and her attitudes. And I’m sure it’s going to make for some interesting story moments going forward. Just… my mind is seriously blown.

Actually I do have one specific thought not about the Great Rose Mystery. It’s interesting to see Steven consistently misgendered by the Homeworld gems presumably because they don’t really understand (and, most of them, wouldn’t bother to learn) that there is a gender beyond what they’re used to. Steven doesn’t really react to it, I think because being identified as Rose is so important to him at that point, but it’s got to bother him at some point. And I don’t know if this is a deliberate analogy for an unpleasant experience trans people have, it certainly fits.

I should probably mention Steven Universe Vol. 1 (Original Soundtrack) at least briefly too. I don’t really have any new comments to make on the songs themselves, but I should mention that the way this album is put together is fantastic. The pieces sound discrete and clear, not as if they were lifted directly from episode audio, and the choice to arrange them in the order they appear in the series was a very good one. I’m extremely happy to have this soundtrack.

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White — OK, it’s really frustrating that there are different editions of this and some of them don’t have the ants. Why do I have to play roulette to determine whether I get the ants or not? I think it should be compulsory to include. But moving on. I still think this book is utterly charming.

One thing in particular I love about it is that it never becomes the Catalog of Abuse it could so easily have been. Wart has trials and tribulations, yes, but it never devolves into character torture. Sir Ector is a buffoon, but very kindhearted and charitable. Kay is not always as kind as he could be, but he’s never an over-the-top evil step-brother, and Wart understands him very well — and his understanding helps the reader feel more sympathy than bitterness toward Kay. Who hasn’t met Kay? –a person that lacks real self-confidence, and tries to compensate with bravado and bullying behavior? I haven’t actually read the rest of The Once and Future King yet (as of time of writing), but I’m really hoping we get to see more of Kay and what he becomes.

Something else I found interesting about this book was its very faery tale feel, with all the requisite randomness and arbitrariness. This, of course, reflects the antiquity of the story being told: you get down to the actual pulling of the sword from the stone, and it’s a great big faery tale WTF. Of course it’s likely that anyone reading the book already knows about that particular legend, but if by some chance they didn’t, there would be a large question mark hanging over that scene. So random.

Wonder Woman — I loved every single instant of this movie, and would happily watch it again a dozen times. I would like to present my thoughts on it in an organized fashion, but I really can’t. I find I tend to dissolve into tears of awe and love that don’t allow for very coherent logging. Additionally, my opinion matches many I’ve seen online — about Diana’s excellent characterization, how wonderfully feminist the movie is (and a great representation of an admirable male character as well, and male-female cooperation), how well everyone performed their roles, and how stunning and inspiring and brilliant the No Man’s Land scene was. So I’ll just throw out a few other random thoughts (which may also be repetitive):

Watching a superhuman discover their powers is always a delight. It’s wish-fulfillment, exposition, and characterization all in one. But watching this superhuman discover her powers, and not merely take the usual charming childlike pleasure in the discovery but immediately consider how she can turn those powers toward her driving motivation and overall goal of helping and protecting, added an unaccustomed depth to the pleasure of watching her discoveries.

Next, everyone has seen me rant about underdeveloped love stories, stories in which characters that haven’t had time or opportunity to get to know each other “fall in love” solely because, more or less as Yahtzee put it, we have to shove a line-dancing competition arbitrarily into every story. I did not think that was the case here — I thought Diana and Steve were just beginning to fall in love, on a very rational timeline — and of course the capacity for love in human hearts was a hugely important part of the story. And I liked the feeling I got that Steve might not have broken out the L-word quite so soon, in keeping with the rational timeline of emotional development, if he hadn’t known he was going to his death. If I’d thought the movie was trying to convince me he had a complex and highly developed love for Diana at that point, I would have eyerolled pretty hard… but I’m always ready to forgive characters that know they are about to die for letting go of social baggage having to do with the expression of love and saying what’s in their hearts, however simplistic it may be.

My last thought is my only real criticism of this wonderful movie, and it has to do with the climax of the story devolving somewhat into more typical and less interesting superhero fare. Now, I won’t say, “They should have had Ludendorff actually be Ares as a surprise for viewers,” because, though that would have been a nice twist, a false victory that led to no change around her, as well as Steve’s subsequent words on the nature of mankind, was essential to Diana’s development.

However, that did leave us with a somewhat tedious and anticlimactic run-of-the-mill showdown with the real Ares that felt very much like every showdown between a superhero and a major villain. It wasn’t terrible, and the moments with Steve broke it up nicely, but I could have done with a better climax to such an amazing story.

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King — This book felt like an intro to a story that never happened, and it’s not high up my list of favorites in this series.

Like, really, amnesia? I think I may actually have specifically mentioned at some point how much I appreciated Holmes’s line in Locked Rooms, “That condition is extremely rare outside of ladies’ fiction.” That he went on with, “and generally stems from a severe head injury,” might have been foreshadowing (deliberate or otherwise) to the events in this book, and there certainly is some irony in that the series is at least written by a lady if not necessarily “ladies’ fiction…” but really? Amnesia? Ali reiterating the improbable and melodramatic nature of the event seemed less like a lampshade and more like an embarrassed acknowledgment.

I really shouldn’t get on her case about the amnesia, since it absolutely fits with many of the absurdly improbable and melodramatic happenings in this series about Sherlock Holmes and Mary-Sue. But it felt like padding on the one hand and a method for inserting cheap tension on the other. I kept waiting for the story proper to actually begin, and it never did. This wasn’t a bad book, but it mostly left me alternately shrugging and rolling my eyes.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin — I keep an uncomplicated two-column spreadsheet that lists all my audiobooks and the dates I last read them, so I can work through the list methodically instead of just rereading the Tolkien and Amelia Peabody over and over and neglecting many other things. And I’m thinking I may start giving certain books/series an asterisk that means “skip this one next time” so I only hit them every other time around.

Because some books, though I do enjoy certain aspects of them, are FUCKING BORING. And I’m coming to consider this one of the worst sins that isn’t actually a sin that I can think of. A Wizard of Earthsea definitely fits the bill, at least sometimes. I know The Farthest Shore does, and to spare, on account of I have read it multiple times and have literally no memory of what it’s about except some secret-prince kid with a huge crush on Ged.

The actual story of this first book is quite decent, and obviously I love the fact that it’s all about people of color, but the style of writing leaves something to be desired — for me, at any rate. It isn’t detailed enough to promote any real emotional engagement in most scenes, yet is much longer-winded than a more concise faery tale style and therefore drags a fair bit more than it should.

The Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White — What a bizarre book this is. The charming lighthearted tone of The Sword in the Stone changes not one whit, and half the book is about the ridiculous shenanigans of foolish people, yet many of the other events in the story are unsettling, even gruesome, making for a series of tonal shifts that would be agonizing to read if that aforementioned lighthearted tone didn’t tie it all together unexpectedly well. Hell, the book opens with the silly dialogue of children juxtaposed with their mother fucking torturing a cat to death , a scene I really wish I’d never had to read.

I am forced to admit, though, that brief and hideous scene is a remarkably excellent moment of characterization for Morgause, showcasing her casual willingness to engage in evil she isn’t really invested in for no real reason and then her tendency to lose interest halfway through. Her later actions (seducing Arthur apparently just for the hell of it) are, if not necessarily understandable, only to be expected from such a person.

And I was, as anticipated, happy to see more of Kay. Pride and subconscious bitterness like his take some ironing out, but it does seem as if, slightly older and working alongside Arthur, he’s in a position now to be a fairly decent guy. I enjoyed seeing him apparently willing to recognize Merlyn as a source of wisdom, yet largely failing to grasp the concepts Merlyn would like to see take hold not because he’s unintelligent or particularly unkind but because he’s just not as forward-thinking as his brother.

In fact I liked following the debates that would eventually lead to the formation of the Round Table, which was essentially all Arthur did in this book XD I just can’t quite decide how I feel about the tonal inconsistencies.

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