The Valley of the Moon by Jack London — You may or may not be able to tell I’m working my way through a Jack London collection. Obviously it started with White Fang and The Call of the Wild, and here’s the third novel. And it’s been… kinda weird to go from wolf-dogs to 1907 drama/romance.

In fact there was so little conflict in Book 1 that I became pretty anxious waiting for any shoe to drop. Surely wolf-dogs would show up any minute! I went back and forth between expecting wolf-dogs and thinking that maybe this book is so little-known because it’s a story largely without conflict. If it were the latter, I would be very interested to read the entire thing, because, though conflict is essential to storytelling, sometimes a story entirely without it can be fun and interesting as well. I rather expected wolf-dogs, though.

This book seems to be relatively obscure, and I had a hard time finding any sort of interesting cover image for it.

And while I was waiting for that, I enjoyed the shit out of the romance between Saxon and Billy. They’re one of the cutest couples I’ve ever read, and in a book by the wolf-dog author, I was not expecting that. Their relationship is integral to the plot of the book, and therefore had to be carefully developed, but it was still a huge and delicious surprise. They’re both well drawn, engaging characters that I like, and some of the things they say to and think about each other are just too adorable for words.

Along those same lines, though the sexism and racism of the time period is definitely in evidence, it’s far less intense (especially the sexism) than I had anticipated and braced myself for. That the book is written from the point of view of its lead female character, that a woman is actually the main character, and that she’s treated with so much respect by the author and written so well, is a big huge part of that. It’s delightful.

Oftentimes in a discussion of why there aren’t more main characters (sometimes in whatever genre, but sometimes just in general) that are female, queer, of color, etc., one of the bullshit excuses dumbasses use is, “Well, I’m not a woman/gay/Black, so obviously I can’t write a female/gay/Black character well, so I’m going to stick with what I know (which is the same main character we’ve had ad nauseam since the beginning of time).” And just fucking look at Jack London in 1913 writing this believable, lovable, respectable female character across the course of a long and excellent novel. I admire him so damn much for that.

So then Book 2 appear, and so did the wolf-dogs.

Interestingly, it didn’t feel like a shoe ever dropped, because it was such a gradual buildup to the really awful stuff. Their married life started out so charming to observe, and then Mr. London introduced a discordant note, which led into a feeling of uneasiness (or an increase of the anxiety from Book 1), with the unscrupulous, worldly wise Mercedes. Then the brawl in the street was true wolf-dog stuff, really horrible, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what it would lead to.

The change in Billy’s personality and Saxon’s psychological breakdown were handled so respectfully, it made me weep. It painted such a vivid picture of how a bad place and a bad situation can poison people and their relationships. I really felt Saxon’s despair of life in Oakland ever getting better; it’s how I often feel when thinking about broken aspects of our current social and political systems. I was in agonizing fear that something would stop her idea of escaping that life from coming to fruition; I was just sure the book would go full wolf-dog and end with Billy sinking farther into the Oakland striker mindset and their relationship either ending with the miserable death of one or both of them, or dragging on into a bleak future with no foreseeable improvement.

And Book 3 went back to the adorable, loving feeling of Book 1, and kept it up until the end. I loved to watch them improve their situation while wandering, learn various things about farming, and make so many friends. It was especially nice to see them learning different philosophies and deciding with what attitudes they wanted to live their lives. And how they both improved as people, and started to mine their own intelligence, once they had their farm! I was so happy for them by the end, and, though it came as no surprise that the book ended with Saxon telling Billy she was pregnant again, I totally approved.

I thought it was the cutest thing that they started to call their goal their “valley of the moon” because of the guy that teased Saxon about the impossibility of ever finding it… and then they ended up in an actual place with that name. Knowing there was an actual place by that name, I’d assumed the book was simply named after the place they eventually settled down in, so that adorableness took me by surprise.

I ended up enjoying this book very much, and I’ll be happy to reread it when it comes back up in my reading list. Book 2 wasn’t so horrendous that I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone looking for a very sweet romance with an excellent happy ending.

Walpurgisnacht by Ptolemia — This fanfiction is a perfect mix of excellently set up serious plot and emotionality with totally absurd and hilarious banter and flirtation. The magical and religious elements of the story are fascinating and come together very well, and simultaneously I’ve never seen constant dick jokes used to better effect. At times I cried because the emotional interaction among the characters was so expertly portrayed and touching, and at times I cried because I was just laughing that hard.

I loved the slant this author took on the characters, what with Sypha being completely unabashed and frank about… well, everything; and Alucard much shyer than any vampire has a right to be; and Trevor a hopeless but lovable caveman. They fit this type of story very well, and seemed a natural follow-on to the series if the series went in this direction (which it really should, because by ‘this direction’ I mean ‘toward my OT3’).

I appreciated the development of the romantic and sexual relationship without any graphic sex I would have been forced to tune out and roll my eyes through. They were all so damn cute about each other, pining and smitten and sometimes trying to hide their real admiration and desire behind ostensibly joking flirtation and dick jokes. Moments when two of them gushed together about the third were some of my favorites.

I also enjoyed the modernity of the characters’ language and some of the references made without their being too modern and destroying the feel of a proper Castlevania story. That and their constant profanity made their dialogue really entertaining to follow. Especially since you can tell how damn much they all love each other through it all *__*

For many moons I’ve wanted to write Castlevania fic of my own with the same ship, but never really had any concrete ideas for stories. This brilliant piece, however, has inspired the hell out of me, and I’m just about done plotting out the idea I’ve had because of it. That makes me incredibly happy, though I really shouldn’t be starting more stories, ugh. BUT SYPHA IS MY GIRRRLLLL.

A note on my fanfiction-reading habits: they are not good, and there are a few reasons for that. I love fanfiction, but I literally forget about reading it, and just get buried in my normal reading list. In the past I’ve put fanfiction on my reading list, and I’m not sure why I stopped doing that. It’s about time to start again. Another problem I have is even stupider. I prefer to leave a comment on every chapter of a good story, because that often makes writers so happy. But the way I read fanfiction is the same way I read profic: by having it read aloud to me whilst I’m doing other stuff. So it’s really only feasible to leave a comment on the story as a whole. So instead of doing that, I often avoid reading fanfiction until sometime when I can leave all the comments — a time that never comes — so instead of enjoying a fun story and leaving a comment, I don’t read the story at all and leave zero comments. Ugh.

Starting right now, I resolve to read more fanfiction.

Animal Farm by George Orwell — OK, I’ma frankly admit that I’ve never been much of a history or government student. I’ve forgotten most of what I “learned” in school, and, other than research for stories (which hasn’t needed to be very extensive thus far), haven’t looked up much since. Therefore a political/historic allegory like this goes largely over my head as such. But the beauty of allegory is that it’s usually subject to multiple interpretations, and I enjoy this one very much as a story of attempted social change and the betrayal of their own people by the unscrupulous. Feminism, gay marriage, transgender rights… a lot of situations far more social than overtly political come to mind, and the book flows along just as easily down that path as down any that discusses Stalin and whoever else.

I admit, though, to having read a book about Napoleon since the last time I read Animal Farm, and I laughed so hard during this reread every time the pig Napoleon invented a new honor and awarded it to himself.

So, yeah, I like this book a lot, but I don’t have much to say about it. I have more to say about a section of the commentary by C.M. Woodhouse that’s included in the audiobook version I listen to — specifically, his definition of faery tales. I’ve always been interested in the nature and definition of faery tales, in comparing and contrasting them to each other and to different versions of the same stories. And I’ve always disliked and disagreed with the claim that faery tales were intended as moralizing tales when this was clearly not the case with most of them; as well as the idiotic modern concept of a “faery tale ending” as being a neat and happy affair where everyone gets what they deserve.

Despite this, I always had a hard time coming up with a personal definition of faery tales that seemed to satisfy all points. They’ve always seemed to me to be old-school pulp fiction: driven purely by the cool factor, not by any desire to teach a lesson, give a warning, or convey some type of oral history. The three characteristics I found I could boil most faery tales down to were randomness (referring in this context to seemingly random, and randomly combined, aspects of surroundings and culture), coolness, and arbitrariness. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better statement on faery tales (involving my own concept of arbitrariness, no less, and, to a certain extent, the coolness also) than Mr. Woodhouse made in his discussion of Animal Farm. The most relevant part of his argument follows; please excuse the discrepancy between the house spelling “faery” and his references to “fairy-stories.”

The point about fairy-stories is that they are written not merely without a moral but without a morality. They take place in a world beyond good and evil, where people (or animals) suffer or prosper for reasons unconnected with ethical merit – for being ugly or beautiful, respectively, for instance, or for even more unsatisfactory reasons. A little girl sets out to do a good deed for her grandmother and gets gobbled up by a wolf; a young rogue escapes the gallows (and gets an old Jew hanged instead) by his talent on the fiddle; dozens of young princes die horrible deaths trying to get through the thorn-hedge that surrounds the Sleeping Beauty, just because they had the bad luck to be born before her hundred-year curse expired; and one young prince, no better or worse, no handsomer or uglier than the rest, gets through merely because he has the good luck to arrive just as the hundred years are up; and so on and so on. Even when the Grimms’ stepmothers are called “wicked,” it is well to remember that in German their Bosheit is viciousness and bad temper, not moral guilt.

Allow me to reiterate the excellent phrase, not merely without a moral but without a morality. To me this is the entire difference between a work that seeks to moralize (and often trips all over itself in so doing) and a work that seeks to tell a good story (from which many a moral message may be drawn by reader interpretation because it, as Woodhouse also mentions, “leads us with a deep indefinable feeling of truth”). Faery tales, ancient or modern, reflect life because of that feeling of truth — because the universe is without a morality, and often seems entirely arbitrary in its selection of whom to favor or disfavor. Instead of trying to teach us a moral lesson, they give us both hope and despair at how little effect we really have over our own situations.

Or perhaps they teach us the lesson, “Appeal to whatever higher power you believe in to help you through this life in which everything is really a matter of chance.” O Fortuna indeed.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe volume 3 — This volume felt like it went by very quickly, but when I checked it against the others, it’s about the same length. It was probably because we broke away from our good friend Mary-Sue and skipped to a brand-new story and Mary-Sue #2 kindof at random.

Actually I felt like a lot of Emily’s story in this part was filler and not as interesting as it could have been. Like when the castle was attacked and she was sent away for a while? What did that accomplish? Getting me good and ready for a new character whose story hopefully will remain cohesive this time?

I’m not really all that bothered by this. I was far more disappointed, in drawing to the end of the section that took place at the castle, to have encountered so few horrors. I think the author was taken up with the horrific behavior of Montoni and his Montoni-cronies and (gasp!) the presence of PROSTITUTES, and had no idea that that’s pretty snoozer stuff 225 years later. I still want skeletonns, dammit.

I’m still overcome with curiosity about the eponymous Mysteries, though. In that, at least, Ms. Radcliffe did a good job maintaining interest and suspense. Like what the crap is behind that stupid veil; I’m still just dying to know. It was fun to wonder whether Valancourt was really there and they could make a daring escape together, and kinda hilarious when it turned out to be a different Frenchman in love with Emily XD Like, Emily is great, but why does everyone fall instantly in love with her?? The answer lies in two words: Mary-Sue. Annette, however, is not a Mary-Sue, and I still adore her. She’s so funny and loyal and cute. And that she found love through this adventure is kindof adorable as well.

And then there’s Blanche. I like her too, but she’s basically a clone of Emily, and it made me laugh so hard when we just abruptly switched over to her story and it was Mary-Sue in the Wonders of Nature all over again. Her developing friendship with Emily is sweet, though, and I wish they’d fall in love with each other. Like, what if Valancourt really has become evil, and Emily has to turn her attention elsewhere??

It’s great to get hints at solutions to the Mysteries that have been left behind at Udolpho, but it’s also funny and somewhat pathetic that what Ms. Radcliffe thought good to replace them with was, “Oh, no, Valancourt has done some bad things??” It’s that idea of immoral behavior being as horrific as actual horrors again. I STILL WANT SKELETONS, DAMMIT.

The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan — Time for more Kyralian shenanigans! Coming straight from The Black Magician Trilogy into The Traitor Spy Trilogy (as I didn’t the last time I read these later three), I had a chance to sample the strongest of Ms. Canavan’s autobody-shopping. And you know what? It’s not as bad here as in many a book with better prose. It’s still bad, of course — autobody-shopping is inexcusable in the best of circumstances — and there are some very silly As You Know moments… but none of it made me shout at the Echo Dot.

I enjoy the minimalism in the covers for this trilogy, but still find them remarkably irrelevant.

An issue that appears early and lasts long in this book (and, if I recall correctly, the rest of the trilogy) is that the characters mostly don’t feel 20 years older. The author reminds us perhaps more often than she needs to that we’ve had this time-skip (sometimes in the course of autobody-shopping), but I don’t get a sense of Sonea being my age now or Rothen being genuinely elderly, and so on. This doesn’t bother me a huge amount throughout the book, but thinking about the timeline of all the Kyralia stories does feel a little weird. And this brings me to a point about writing that I might as well make here as anywhere else.

I’ve always thought the advice to “write what you know” is bullshit — I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before — and should really be “write what you can adequately research.” And sometimes you can’t adequately research something, because it’s how people feel based on experiences (sometimes a lifetime of experiences) you haven’t had. Yet even then I believe that, with what research you can do and a good imagination, you can still often pull it off. And I also believe that you should try, because if you just write what you know, fiction would become so fucking boring. I mean, I’m already bored with that cis-het white guy I’m always reading about and seeing on TV and in the movies.

Something else I know I’ve mentioned elsewhere is that I’ve resolved to try. Every main character I write in original fiction (and sometimes even in fanfiction) breaks the cis-het-white trend in one way or another. I can try to figure out how to write characters of various genders, sexual/romantic orientations, and races. I might not get it exactly right, but I will try, dammit.

But what I can’t quite wrap my head and my writing around is narrating characters significantly older than myself. Yes, I can read all sorts of things told from the point of view of someone older, and, yes, I have a great imagination… but how do you dream up greater wisdom and a greater accumulation of life experience than you yourself possess? And, of course, I will still try, and have tried, to get this right… but I feel far less confident about it than I do writing, say, a 14-year-old Mexican-American boy after reading several books from the point of view of Mexican-Americans and also a history of Mexico.

So, yeah, though I assume Trudi Canavan was older than many of the characters even after the 20-year jump, I don’t necessarily blame her for not getting the feel of characters that have gained 20 more years of wisdom since the last time we saw them. It is still a little jarring, though.

I’m really impressed with the way she handled Dannyl and Tayend’s relationship. It feels very realistic and, if perhaps a little sad, so very natural that I can’t complain much. It’s excellent characterization and understanding of how human relationships work, and it fits with her reasons for killing Akkarin in the previous book — not everything always works out perfectly with everyone paired off and living happily ever after. I’m a big fan of the two of them together in the first trilogy, but I’m also kindof a fan of them drifting apart the way they do, because it just resonates with reality so well.

In one way I appreciate that relations between Kyralia and Sachaka are so central to all seven books, because that gives us a large-scale story we can follow through all the years we spend in this world. In another way, I think it does the series a slight disservice, because it contrasts so sharply with a lot of the other stuff that happens that’s totally unconnected and seemingly random — pretty well everything going on in Imardin, for example. Everything going on in Imardin is absolutely interesting and fun to follow, but there’s a big sense of disconnect between it and the other story. Anyway, moving on.

Have I ever mentioned how much I adore this design that mimics the original game cover??

Castlevania (Netflix) — This time I watched in German. My impression of German voice acting over the years has always been that it’s rarely better than adequate, and also that there are no Black German voice actors — seriously, try the German dub of The Boondocks. Just try it. Anyway, the guy voicing Isaac actually sounded Black, and that was great. However, the only character’s voice I actively liked was Carmilla’s; everyone else was just OK.

Trevor and Sypha — main characters, I might remind you — were particularly disappointing; he because he sounded like he had gravel in his throat all the time, she because her eccentric personality didn’t come across nearly as well. And Alucard, like most of the rest of them, was just OK.

Loving this series as much as I do, I always think I’ll be happier with the second season and its pacing this time around. This never happens. The very instant season 2 starts, you can feel the drag. What is it with second seasons? No matter how often I watch this series, I don’t become any more attached to the new characters or any less bored during their scenes. I still love every moment when my OT3 is onscreen, but the rest of it just plods.

I think this actually makes me more interested in season 3. Second seasons, in my experience, are always difficult for writers, and shows usually (though not always) improve for the third. On the other hand, if Trevor and Sypha become overtly romantic without including Alucard, my heart will break. But I’ll still watch it.

Having watched this series so many times over is, I believe, the reason I’ve dreamed about Dracula so much lately. There’s always a sexual relationship between me and Dracula, which makes me uncomfortable inside the dream and very uncomfortable outside it, but other than that they’ve been pretty cool dreams. In one, I was fighting off Dracula’s enemies that were attacking the castle with melee weapons (while Dracula’s wife very thoughtfully protected all the pets belonging to Dracula’s slaves so they wouldn’t be hurt in the battle); and in another, I was a super-badass magician that flew and broke windows and stuff. So that was fun.

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