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BTVS Tarot deck: OH WOW…Oh crap.

BTVS Tarot deck: OH WOW…Oh crap. published on 3 Comments on BTVS Tarot deck: OH WOW…Oh crap.

Some time ago, someone got the genius idea to do a BTVS Tarot deck and contracted an illustrator who can actually create likenesses of the characters, and the previews of the cards looked intriguing and attractive, and I was instantly ready to drop $30.00 for it, just for the pretty pictures, and then…

Then Dark Horse canceled it. How very disappointing.

Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton’s movie version

Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton’s movie version published on No Comments on Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton’s movie version

Appealingly fleet in pacing, Tim Burton’s adaptation of the opera — filmed in two colors: sepia and BLOOD RED — plays up the mordant comedy with stylized performances from all principals. Pasty, broody Johnny Depp, distracted by vengeance, anchors film as Sweeney Todd with a very inward, focused melancholy. Pasty, frazzled Helena Bonham Carter holds up much of the comedy with her insouciant, greasy gaiety as mad scientist of pies Mrs. Lovett. Music is competent, but players mumble too much, but that’s not a problem because the simple, pantomime-like nature of the story communicates everything you need to know through body language. Cliched objectification of walking plot points Lucy, Sweeney’s wife, and Joanna, Sweeney’s daughter, severely mars an otherwise lightweight and satisfying feature.

American Gothic by Michael Romkey and The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein

American Gothic by Michael Romkey and The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein published on No Comments on American Gothic by Michael Romkey and The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein

American Gothic by Michael Romkey follows Yankee Civil War general Nathaniel Peregrine through three stages of his life. During the first, he becomes a vampire in New Orleans, LA, and, indulging in his grief over his family’s death, he avenges himself on the South, including, in a very cool segment, planting the idea for Pickett’s Charge into Lee’s head. During the second segment around the time of WWI, Peregrine, now in rural Haiti,  commissions a Dr. Lavalle to find a cure for vampirism, meanwhile competing with the doctor for the love of some woman. In the final segment, Peregrine hops up to San Francisco, CA, and redeems himself by saving a Goth teenager from a psychopathic therapist. End.

Such arcs about characters’ falls and redemption only work if we care about the characters, but I don’t give a shit about Peregrine. Romkey writes pretty well and creates a convincing historical atmosphere, but he can’t make a well-rounded character to save his life. Though he has a motivation in the first segment, Peregrine becomes more of a cipher in the rest of the book. What makes him turn from vengeance? I assume that he is prompted by his attachment to aforesaid woman in Haiti, but, since we barely see the two interacting AND she has the personality of celery, the love story fails. Things brighten up in the third part when we get a passably well-rounded character in the form of the Goth girl, but, this time, Peregrine himself flattens out. He shows no emotion, reports on none and gives us no justification for his change of heart. Who cares?

Bottom line: This book is filled with the most boring characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Read only as a cure for insomnia.

I can forgive the character flatness in The Becoming by Jeanne Stein a bit more because at least Stein knows how to move a story along at a steady clip. Bounty hunter Anna becomes a vampire and must kill the rogue who turned her, choose between sexy good vamp and sexy mortal boyfriends, deal with bloodlust and, oh yeah, rescue a kidnapped friend. Running around, staking and ass-kicking ensue. Because The Becoming had no pretensions to literary merit the way that American Gothic did, I easily accepted it as a tough, cool-looking summer action spectacular, a mental roller coaster where I didn’t have to use my brain.

Bottom line: Mindless fun. If you have to choose between American Gothic and The Becoming, choose The Becoming.

After about 150 years of existence, you’d think he’d learn some style!

After about 150 years of existence, you’d think he’d learn some style! published on 1 Comment on After about 150 years of existence, you’d think he’d learn some style!

But he doesn’t. 1:6 Will is back after about a year of lying in the drawer. He has a new body — arms too thick, torso too muscular, but I can live with it. I also gave him new eyebrows and eyeshadow and touched up his blush. Not new, however, are his endearing expressiveness and his inveterate attraction for trashy outfits. Will and Anneka are my best beloved dolls ever.

Photography notes: All of these pictures were taken in my cheapo light box. To compensate for the atrocious yellow fluorescent light, I adjusted the color balance in Photoshop so that there was +35 more blue. This helped.

Bash notes: Will is a custom sculpt of James Marsters as Spike, done by eydyllhands, modified and painted/drawn/scraped by me. Bangs are from a Joanna dark fig, repainted by me. Hair is sculpted and painted by me. Neck is from a Hot Toys True Type body. Most of the body is an Obitsu regular male body. Hands are Medicom RAH. Ankle cups and bootfeet are from a CG 1.5 body. His outfit consists of Barbie tank top, Best Friends [9″ dolls] stockings modded by me for sleeves, Barbie pants [from a Vitamin C doll!] and platform heel Mary Janes from a Mezco Fashion Victims doll [13″]. Whew!

Still to be done on Will: Put double-sided tape on neck post. Swap out Obitsu regular male arms for something slimmer, like a ZC Girl’s Eve arms. Get Volks or Kotobukiya glasses.

Awesome 1:6 stuff

Awesome 1:6 stuff published on 1 Comment on Awesome 1:6 stuff

Little T-shirts! Ostensibly air fresheners for the car, these shirts have been tested by MWDers and proven good fits from male and female figs. The following appeal to me: “0% Angel,” “Chicks Rule!,” “God Bless America,” “Hottie,” “Naughty,” “Princess” and “San Francisco.” I can see Baozha in “Hottie” [just to piss off Chow], Mark in “God Bless America” [when he’s not wearing his “I Love Cactus” shirt], Rori in “Chicks Rule!” and Will [or one of my Frank dolls] in “Princess.” 

There are some more little T-shirts here about the same size. I can’t really tell if they are complete shirts, but they seem to be.  I think I need some with Disney Princesses on them, if only to pervert.

Stuff I Want In No Particular Order

Stuff I Want In No Particular Order published on 1 Comment on Stuff I Want In No Particular Order

New for this list:

Davry’s body [coming?]

Rori 2.0’s head [coming]

1:6 glasses [coming!!!]



1:6 broom skirts [talk to amyj]

1:6 underwear [coming]

a folding light box

non-yellow lights

From my previous list:

Some high-quality lights for taking pictures

A good table that goes flush against the wall and doesn’t wobble for taking pictures

A bigger apartment Got it!

A blond wig for Jennifer Jennifer has enough hair already.

A pink wig for Jennifer

OrientDoll Wol $219.00

Supernatural, season 1: $60.00 Got it!

Smallville, season 5: $60.00 Got over it.

Arthur Spiderwick’s Guide to the Fantastical World Around You: $24.95

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection (Seasons 1-7): $220.00 Got it!

Twilight Zone Season 1: $96.00 Now available on hulu!

Twilight Zone Season 2: $80.00

Twilight Zone Season 3: $90.00

Twilight Zone Season 4: $90.00

Twilight Zone Season 5: $80.00


The last vampire in southern New England was exterminated just 116 years ago.

The last vampire in southern New England was exterminated just 116 years ago. published on 1 Comment on The last vampire in southern New England was exterminated just 116 years ago.

Got your attention, didn’t I? Listen to this story.

In the 1800s, tuberculosis, then commonly known as consumption, was one of the most common, deadly and feared diseases. One of the families it struck was the Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island. First the mother, Mary Brown, died of consumption in December, 1883. A little over half a year later, the eldest Brown daughter, also named Mary, succumbed. When a son, Edwin, contracted consumption a few years later, he was sent out west in the hopes that the salutary air of Colorado would halt his sickness. It didn’t. When Edwin returned to Exeter, his sister Mercy got sick with the "galloping," or fast-acting, version of consumption. She died in 1892.

Edwin’s condition worsened. Alarmed at the mortality rate of the Brown family, friends, neighbors and other townspeople began to worry that the Browns suffered from a vampire. What else could be systematically draining the vitality of parents and children except for some hungry relation come back from the grave? Encouraged both by this speculation and by desperation, the remaining Brown men took drastic action.Continue reading The last vampire in southern New England was exterminated just 116 years ago.

This is WHY we can’t have nice things!

This is WHY we can’t have nice things! published on No Comments on This is WHY we can’t have nice things!

Ever since Hulu began coughing up Angel season 1, I’ve watching a bit here and there and rediscovered my other favorite Angel ep: I Will Remember You. Angel turns human again; Buffy pops up; they get it on, and nothing good can come of it. Status quo is restored at the end of the ep, in part because the status quo, i.e., Angel’s suffering, motivates the entire show. 

Also it is a fact of TV shows and other media that “you can’t always get what you want, but, if you try sometimes, you just might find you’ll get what you need,” in the immortal words of Mick Jagger. Or, in the immortal words of Geoffrey Chaucer, “Forbid us thing, and that desiren we,” which means, “We want what we can’t have.” All of this is to say that we as humans are driven by our yearning for unobtainable states of being and, when we do obtain these states, we often discover that such states have undesirable consequences. Then we realize that we shouldn’t have obtained what we wanted, but what we needed.

Anyway, I really like this ep because it takes the cliches of Forbidden Love, Angsty Suffering, Wish Come True, What-If Futures, Overrated Bliss and Return to the Trenches and really makes ’em work. I credit most of the success to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s guest turn as Buffy and the comfortable chemistry she shares with David Boreanaz so that it’s really believable that they want, but can’t have, each other. Oh, all right, I guess I have to credit David Boreanaz’ acting skillz for emanating pain and suffering out Angel’s pores, despite the fact that the character is a dense, obtuse, uncommunicative BLOCK even on his good days. Incidentally, momentary humanity really becomes Angel, allowing David Boreanaz to act out moods other than “staring off into space” and “brooding;” Boreanaz’ noted comic talent appears, for example, when Angel discovers the glories of non-blood-based food. Hah!

Spike agrees with me.

Spike agrees with me. published on 2 Comments on Spike agrees with me.

I find Angel 1.3, In The Dark, incredibly amusing for the following soliloquy from Spike, who is watching Angel do good:

Spike in high voice:  “How can I thank you, you mysterious, black-clad hunk of a night thing? 

“(low voice) No need, little lady, your tears of gratitude are enough for me.  You see, I was once a badass vampire, but love and a pesky curse defanged me.  Now I’m just a big, fluffy puppy with bad teeth. (Rachel steps closer to Angel, and Angel steps back warding her off with his hands) No, not the hair!  Never the hair!  

“(high voice)  But there must be some way I can show my appreciation.  

“(low voice)  No, helping those in need’s my job, – and working up a load of sexual tension, and prancing away like a magnificent poof is truly thanks enough!  

“(high voice)  I understand.  I have a nephew who is gay, so… 

“(low voice)  Say no more.  Evil’s still afoot!  And I’m almost out of that Nancy-boy hair-gel that I like so much.  Quickly, to the Angel-mobile, away!” 

Transcript from Buffyworld. 

Originality? Check. Fascinating ideas? Check. Witty writing? Check. Characters and plot? Nah.

Originality? Check. Fascinating ideas? Check. Witty writing? Check. Characters and plot? Nah. published on No Comments on Originality? Check. Fascinating ideas? Check. Witty writing? Check. Characters and plot? Nah.

If you get H.G. Wells, Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Wilde, William James, Nikolai Tesla and Dracula all together in the same room for a night of philosophical speculation on the eve of the 19th century, it’s got to be good…or, at the very least, fascinating and unusual. Makes you want to read the book, right? The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires by Brian Stableford thus kicks off with an original, engrossing premise: that the aforementioned luminaries, fictional and otherwise, have gathered to listen to the narrative of a man who claims that he has time-traveled to a far future when vampires have subjugated humankind.

This idea could definitely sustain a novel or 3, but …Continue reading Originality? Check. Fascinating ideas? Check. Witty writing? Check. Characters and plot? Nah.

Incredibly anti-fat, anti-happiness ad for Realize Gastric Band

Incredibly anti-fat, anti-happiness ad for Realize Gastric Band published on 11 Comments on Incredibly anti-fat, anti-happiness ad for Realize Gastric Band

From Shakesville, Paul McAleer of Big Fat Blog posting…This horrid TV commercial on the Realize Gastric Band site equates the controversial stomach reduction surgery known as gastric banding with happiness, success and fulfillment. It does so with dramatized examples of 1) a fat man playing with his karate-learning kidsy and 2) a fat woman slow-dancing with her [also fat] romantic partner. The fat man in 1) says, “I want to watch my little warrior do karate” or something very similar. The fat woman in 2) says, “I want to kiss him [romantic partner] under the Eiffel Tower.” 

The commercial goes on to tell viewers how the Realize Band can help them get what they want. “Ask your doctor if bariatric surgery is right for you,” the voiceover encourages. The commercial concludes with how wonderful the Realize Band is, especially since you can track your success and have a support group. Incidentally, “tracking your success” is accompanied by a picture on a user’s computer screen of a line graph showing a steady trend downward. We also see an animated female morphing from fat to less fat.

This ad is offensive for so many reasons. Where do I start?

1. The fat man and fat woman who have exciting goals in life do NOT have to undergo bariatric surgery in order to achieve them. In fact, bariatric surgery has nothing to do with their goals, which are about the people they love. Being fat does not impede one’s ability to love, support and show affection for one’s loved ones. Being less fat is not necessary in order to truly prove one’s devotion to another person.

However, the commercial for the Realize Band obviously wants to encourage potential consumers that, if they really loved their families, they would undergo controversial, risky and damaging surgery. In this way, the Realize Band perpetuates the old chestnut that a person’s weight/physicality/shape/size represents a moral issue. According to this commercial’s subtext, being fat is a deep personal failing and horrible vice.

2. I object to ads for medical procedures that motivate the consumer to say, “I want this product. Doctor, give it to me!” While I’m all for being an aggressive, assertive, inquisitive consumer and searching out a range of treatment options for any condition, I do not think that people who suggest treatments they have seen on TV are truly being informed consumers. As I illustrate in point 1, TV ads such as this one for the Realize Band work in impressions, rather than information. Realize Band’s commercial here exploits feelings of guilt, inadequacy and shame to motivate people to use its product. Feelings of personal worthlessness stemming from emotional manipulation never make a good basis for choosing a particular medical treatment.

3. The concept of “tracking your success” gives the false impression that the Realize Band will have a wholly beneficial effect on one’s life, which could not be further from the truth. Gastric reduction or bypass surgery creates a host of health effects in those who have it. 

–For example, since one’s stomach has been drastically reduced and/or routed around, one loses the ability to easily absorb nutrients and minerals. One can’t just take supplements to combat these deficiencies. Anemia may result from iron deficiency. You may need intravenous iron infusions for the rest of your life.

–One’s stomach often becomes much more sensitive to spicy, hard or dense foods. One may get bad heartburn or what the business likes to call “productive burping.”  Actually, “productive burping” isn’t just about embarrassing noises emanating from your gut; it’s about throwing up. Gastric bypass or banding surgery increases the chances of the survivor throwing up a whole lot. 

–If a survivor of gastric surgery throws up a lot, stomach acid flows frequently across the teeth. Like people with bulimia, survivors of gastric bypass or banding may suffer rapid degradation of their dental enamel. This is not the picture of an unqualified success.

4. While the Realize Band commercial shows a picture of “success,” i.e., steady weight loss, in the form of the downward trending line graph and the shrinking woman, the story is rarely this straightforward. Gastric bypass or banding surgery often results in an initial weight loss. However, very few people keep off all of the weight that they shed. In fact, they may slowly gain it back. For example, one study associates laparoscopic bands, like the Realize Band, with “inadequate weight loss” and “uncontrollable weight regain” in some patients.  Another recent long-term study of people who have had gastric bypass surgery found that about half of participants regained weight within 2 years after their surgery. A study with a 10-year perspective on gastric-bypass survivors notes, “Significant weight gain occurs continuously in patients after reaching the nadir weight.” It is very rare for a person who has had gastric surgery to go from size 22 to size 12, which it looks like what is happening in the commercial’s illustration. 

5. The fat man and the fat woman look perfectly happy as they are. Maybe if they stopped internalizing the medical community’s hatred of their shapes and realized that their size does not limit their capacity for humane, compassionate, joyful existence, they truly would reach their stated goals.

Stupid, insulting ad.

Visible disability encoded as “culturally feminine??”

Visible disability encoded as “culturally feminine??” published on No Comments on Visible disability encoded as “culturally feminine??”

Gauge, proprietor of the Radical Masculinity blog, muses on the struggles of those who have identities both as butch persons and persons with disabilities. Gauge observes that visible disability simultaneously highlights and erases those who have it. Visible disability highlights its possessors because the obvious physical symptoms and/or implements of physical disability catch viewers’ eyes rather than the people themselves. Relatedly, Gauge explains, visible disability erases the people who have it because viewers tend to concentrate on the manifestations of disability, the superficial signs, rather than the character of the people who have the disabilities. I think this is a great explanation for how stereotypes work; they HIGHLIGHT or emphasize certain traits of people in a stereotyped group, then ERASE the individuality of particular persons within the group because the perps of the stereotypes are too busy seeing the stereotype, not the people upon which they are projecting the stereotype.

Butch-wise, Gauge observes that butch identity has its roots in a working-class conception of strong, independent persons engaged in physical labor, those who protected, repressed their feelings and evinced strength both mental and physical. The brute fact of having a disability and experiencing physical weakness, dysfunction and/or need for assistance often conflicts with the conception of butch identity as physically strong. In lieu of such a limiting definition, Gauge argues for a definition of butch identity that focuses on the characters of those who evince it:

Being butch is about honor, pride, being a nurturer and protector of the community, about helping others, and many other qualities of character and identity both able-bodied and disabled butches share. 

It is possible to do that through the force of character, not necessarily through the force of muscles. Gauge boils down masculinity to its positive, helpful traits and demonstrates that one can be constructively masculine, something I don’t think many people, no matter what their gender identity, know how to do!

BTVS season 2, ep “School Hard”

BTVS season 2, ep “School Hard” published on 1 Comment on BTVS season 2, ep “School Hard”

I just watched [well, listened to] this ep, my first reacquaintance with BTVS in a long time. In the introduction of Spike and his inevitable confrontation and therefore contrast with Angel, the show creators prove how much they failed in portraying Angel as an interesting, desirable, attractive character.

Spike, as a more flamboyant, demonstrative character, is instantly engaging. Whereas Angel lurks in the shadows and interests the audience because he’s a mystery, Spike from his debut evinces positive personality traits that get the viewers perked up.

Upon entering the screen and crashing the Sunnydale sign, he demonstrates recklessness, sarcasm and the bad-boy attitude that I believe Angel was supposed to be endowed with. Since Spike actually does something from the get-go instead of just hanging around, he commands attention. He engages viewers not because he’s a cipher, but because he’s an energetic presence.

Spike benefits not only from a contrast with the introverted, suffering, mysterious, repressed Angel, but also with vampires in general as portrayed on BTVS. Seasons 1 and 2 show the vampires of Sunnydale relishing the kill and maybe making a mordant joke or two, but generally they take themselves very seriously. The Annoying One and his henchmen epitomize this tendency; all they do is stand around making dire pronouncements, barking orders and snarling. Spike undercuts this pomposity from the start with his impromptu drop-in and his skeptical sneer at Henchman A that of course Henchman A wasn’t at the Crucifixion because, if all vamps were at the Crucifixion who said they were, “it would have been like Woodstock.” Spike’s cavalier attitude toward the Annoying One’s deadly seriousness shows that he has a sense of humor, something that all the other vamps apparently lost when they were turned. He’s like the built-in peanut gallery of the Hellmouth, always ready with snarky comments about the pretentiousness of vampires and the general silliness of the whole thing. In this way, he takes on the ironic self-consciousness of the viewers who are laughing at the whole idea of slaying vampires. We like him because he flatters us by being like us.

I think, if he really wanted to be convincing, Angel should have gotten some of Spike’s traits. Why does Angel have to be defined by his suffering and his mystery? Couldn’t he have a sense of humor, especially since everyone else in the show does? I think  that was a tragic waste of an actor on the show’s creators’ part, especially since David Boreanaz does have a comic sensibility, especially as an expressive, reactive “straight man.”

P.S. As much as I love the scoring for the show, very stirring and dramatic, I mostly wished it would shut up because it kept overdetermining the emotional content of the scenes. I could just listen to hours of the emotionally freighted music without the script behind it.

Will is on the way.

Will is on the way. published on 2 Comments on Will is on the way.

I E-mailed the dealer and said I wanted my order canceled and card refunded. He said he could send Will out today if I still wanted him. I said yes. He sent Will out. Now I have a tracking number for a priority mail package, which should take 2 days to come from New York, if mailed today. Assuming he’s mailed today, Will will either come Saturday [ohpleaseohpleaseohplease] or Monday.

…Hey wait…no one’s listening.

Ambivalence toward Nazi dolls

Ambivalence toward Nazi dolls published on No Comments on Ambivalence toward Nazi dolls

While poking around online, looking for more information about DiD’s Hitler Youth figs [one of which, Timo Ducca, will be supplying Davry’s head], I found another Hitler Youth fig [Hermann Weber] sold at a site called PzG. Billed as “Your Third Reich Nazi Adolf Hitler HQ!,” this site promises products “void of distracting propaganda and politically correct distortions.” What does that mean? Uh, that means you can get reproductions of anti-Semitic posters put out by the Nazi regime, mouse pads with Hitler portraits, costumes for reenactors and 1:6 figs of WWII German soldiers.

Why yes — it’s an Internet storefront run by white supremacists, a fact reinforced by the photos of satisfied customers giving straight-armed salutes. The militant, defensive, unreasoning hatred oozing from this site — even though it pretends to be reasonable and balanced — makes me feel queasy. I am distressed that some weirdo extremists want to glorify and relive what other people find interesting for historical, admonitory or just military reasons.

Fantasy/sci fi lovers: I have good books for you!

Fantasy/sci fi lovers: I have good books for you! published on No Comments on Fantasy/sci fi lovers: I have good books for you!

Bet most of you [that means 2 out of my 3 readers] don’t know that I write sci-fi/fantasy reviews for The Fix Online. I’ll be linking from the Blog of Eternal Stench to my reviews at The Fix from now on. Anyway, for those interested in fairy tales, gothic baroque writing a la Tanith Lee or Angela Carter, not to mention a semi-Byronic hero who meets his match, check out my latest review of the novella The Duke in His Castle by my friend Vera Nazarian. To get a taste of her energetic, precise, creative and engaging style, read the complementary interview I did with her.

Here’s my other work at The Fix:

Interviews in reverse chronological order:

Catherynne M. Valente

Ellen Klages

Ellen Datlow

Reviews in reverse chronological order:

The Duke in His Castle, by Vera Nazarian

Lace and Blade, edited by Deborah Ross

Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 2008

Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, 2008

Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Ellen Datlow

Heroes in Training, edited by Martin Greenberg and Jim Hines

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXII, edited by Elisabeth Waters

So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction, edited by Steve Berman

Where vampirism is human nature and the end is death [The Vampire Tapestry by S. Charnas]

Where vampirism is human nature and the end is death [The Vampire Tapestry by S. Charnas] published on 1 Comment on Where vampirism is human nature and the end is death [The Vampire Tapestry by S. Charnas]

Despite its silly title and remote, slow-moving beginning, The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy Charnas turns into a powerful meditation on humanity [well, that’s how I interpret it]. Through several interconnected stories, Tapestry follows Edward Weyland, one of the most realistic vampires ever designed. A long-lived, emotionally remote predator who resembles his human prey due to extensive mimicking capabilities, Weyland approaches his existence without sentiment, moral qualm or engagement with the human world. He masquerades as a brilliant university professor involved in dream research, but a rare hunting mistake leads him to injury at the hands of a would-be vampire hunter. The rest of the stories follow Weyland imprisoned and harassed by New Age weirdos, in therapy (!) with a woman who falls in lust with him, viewing opera that touches him emotionally [much to his alarm] and otherwise forming a close bond with his prey. 

Charnas exerts herself mightily to make Weyland a non-human and comprehensible being, which she does, but, since the whole point of the book has him taking on humane characteristics, I do not read Weyland as an alien being, no matter how much Charnas wishes me to. Instead, I read him as an alienated person. He starts off as unreflective and sociopathic, but grows more emotionally expressive and reflective as the stories progress. His development toward humanity occurs not because he develops a moral scale, but because he develops a sense of himself as a social being, affected by other people, their feelings and actions. In a way, Charnas may be putting forth the interesting argument here that it is our sociality, rather than our morality, that defines us as human. 

Charnas’ story about a man struggling to become human without being overwhelmed by empathy takes on poignant dimensions in the end, when Weyland feels less like an aloof predator and more like a sponge overrun with the feelings of other people. He can’t take it any more, so he chooses to enter a period of hibernation, which effectively means death for the Weyland persona and all memories and experiences associated with it. For me, the ending is heartbreaking because Weyland feels assaulted by all that emotion, but also promising; though overwhelmed, he realizes that his hibernation will not end everything, but will send him back into the cycle and prompt a new rehumanization. He seems to accept his humanity, however grudgingly, because he keeps choosing to subject himself to it. It’s an expert use of vampiric metaphors to explore the very human themes of life, death, hope and redemption.

Where is Will?!?!?!

Where is Will?!?!?! published on No Comments on Where is Will?!?!?!

So I just finished my ‘bash of 1:6 Gemini, and I’m getting another Mark doll from a generous MWDer. My 1:3 Will is also returning from a customizer, ready for a new, meretricious faceup. I’m excited to start taking pictures of my LHF cast again, but I am agitated because my 1:6 Will hasn’t shipped, even though my card was charged on May 20th. I WANT MY DOLLY!

Is blogging a form of activism?

Is blogging a form of activism? published on No Comments on Is blogging a form of activism?

Does it make a difference? Does its capacity for change depend on how many readers you have? How does it measure in efficacy compared to writing letters to the editor, sending complaint E-mails, protesting with signs on the town green, marching in yearly celebratory parades, boycotting, writing sarcastic graffiti on ads, making Web comics, praying, delivering sermons, donating to fundraisers, yelling at your TV, lobbying local/state/national government, etc.?

Michelle Obama Sexism Watch keeps an eye on the bigots crawling out of the woodwork.

Michelle Obama Sexism Watch keeps an eye on the bigots crawling out of the woodwork. published on No Comments on Michelle Obama Sexism Watch keeps an eye on the bigots crawling out of the woodwork.

With Barack Obama cinching the Democratic nomination for President, he and his family now suffer even more scrutiny and bullshit from those who can’t bear the thought of a black guy in the world’s most powerful office. Michelle Obama Watch, a newly instituted blog, stays on top of one form of prejudice in particular: those attacks directed at Michelle Obama and the “wee Michelles” :D, Sasha and Malia. Stay on top of the poo-flinging from all quarters with this rapidly [and tragically] expanding Web site.

P.S. Ever since developing a minor obsession with the notoriously shielded Chelsea Clinton, who moved into the White House when she was a teenager just a few years younger than me, I’ve been particularly vigilant about the mainstream media’s use of Presidential or possibly Presidential kids. I supported the Clintons’ decision to privatize Chelsea as much as possible, and I continually applaud Chelsea’s opacity and reserve in the face of the press constantly asking her stupid prying questions. I think that her parents’ attempts to create a Poo-Flinging-Free Zone around Chelsea in her childhood allowed her to develop into the tough character that she is today. Now that she is an adult and the anti-poo shields are down, she clearly has a force field of determination and composure that allows her to resist the intrusive idiocy of the mainstream media.

I see the Obamas creating the same Poo-Free Zone for Sasha and Malia. While Sasha and Malia appear with their parents at campaign events and while their dad refers to them in interviews, both Sasha’s mom and dad protect them from direct interrogation. They also do not exploit their girls as campaign symbols. I have hope that they will keep such vigilant protection around Sasha and Malia for as long as the Obamas remain in the political arena, not because the wee Michelles 😀 are delicate feminine flowers that can be shattered easily by animosity, but because they are kids who deserve a healthy environment in which to grow up. A healthy environment means one in which they can build realistic self-concepts without people constantly questioning and criticizing them.

All of this is to say that one of the recent entries in the Michelle Obama Watch especially unnerves me. It’s the entry about an artist whose exhibit, The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama, included a picture of Sasha and Malia labeled “nappy-headed hos.” It’s bigoted and stupid and racist and objectionable to launch such nasty aspersions at any member of the Obama family, but it’s especially bigoted, stupid, racist and objectionable to use these terms to describe the Obama daughters, who, as children under the age of all marks of adulthood [voting, driving, drinking, consenting], are minors without power or recourse to defend themselves from such stupidity. The artist’s statement that he wanted to “raise dialog” about “substantive things” misses the point that name-calling people who are littler than you actually kills the opportunity for civil discourse, even if you think you’re doing it ironically. Inflammatory language like “nappy-headed hos” makes you look like an insensitive douchebag who’s so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t realize the punishing power of language, especially when wielded by the powerful over the powerless.

I’m trying to think of a tag for entries that discuss “race,” ethnic background, skin color and related stereotypes, bigotry, beliefs, etc.

Just in case you weren’t convinced that PETA thinks women = meat…

Just in case you weren’t convinced that PETA thinks women = meat… published on 1 Comment on Just in case you weren’t convinced that PETA thinks women = meat…

Feministing links to a recent PETA  “demonstration” outside City Hall in Memphis during Vegetarian Week. With a mostly naked man and woman splattered in red paint and wrapped in plastic wrap on an 80 degree F + day, PETA is apparently demonstrating that inhumane, degrading treatment of non-human animals may not be okay, but inhumane, degrading treatment of people is perfectly fine. Mike Brown, photog for the Commercial Appeal, who photoed the event, agrees with me on the astounding levels of hypocrisy and sadism demonstrated in PETA’s stupid, sexist tactics. Aforementioned photo is below the cut. Take the link about Mike Brown for complete context. I previously discussed objectification of women as meat here.


What passes for normal in the LHF universe

What passes for normal in the LHF universe published on 2 Comments on What passes for normal in the LHF universe

Davry started out as an experiment in 3-D modeling to see if I could modify a model with average proportions to make a character with achondroplasia, one of the most common types of dwarfism. Then, as soon as I developed his smirk, he informed me that he was a straight guy [unlike most LHF characters], a steampunk aficionado and a UUU [Unitarian vampire]. You’ll see him in the future, primarily because anyone with an expression like the one shown below is irresistible!

P.S. I think I managed to incorporate the common traits of achondroplasia into his physical features.

City of Bones, Trashcan of Dead Plots

City of Bones, Trashcan of Dead Plots published on 3 Comments on City of Bones, Trashcan of Dead Plots

I just read City of Bones [Book 1, Mortal Instruments trilogy] by Cassandra Clare, in which 15-year-old Mary Sue Buffy Princess Leia Clary and her dorky friend Xander Simon [who has a crush on her] experience the supernatural world of the Hellmouth New York City.

While grooving at the Bronze Pandemonium, Buffy and Xander Clary and Simon happen to see Cordelia and the fangirl’s Draco Malfoy Isabella and Luke Skywalker or maybe Han Solo, since he acts like a douchebag most of the time Jace dust a vamp kill a demon. Turns out that Cordelia and Draco are super-special supernatural Slayers Shadowhunters whose fated burden it is to dust vamps kill demons with a variety of cool weapons and magic.

Naturally, Buffy discovers that she too is a Slayer, so she accompanies the Scoobies to Hogwarts the Institute, a wizarding academy Shadowhunter school, presided over by the grandfatherly Dumbledore Hodge [who has a pet phoenix raven]. She learns about her special Slayer heritage while making goo-goo eyes at Draco and kicking monster butt with l33t skillz that will only surprise you if you’ve never read any Mary Sue stories at all. There’s some crap about a banished evil resistance of anti-mudbloods anti-demon, pro-purity wizards Shadowhunters headed by the charismatic and deadly Darth Vader Voldemort Valentine and the pursuit of a Goblet of Fire One Ring Excalibur Mortal Cup, all of which drives the plot. Princess Buffy and and Draco Skywalker run around, getting on each other’s nerves, until they find the Cup and the truth about their parentage, which is that Darth Voldemort is their father and that they are siblings. Blah blah blah, cliffhanger ending with gratuitous flying motorcycles.

Now I have a long long love affair with fan fiction, especially since my sister and I were doing Labyrinth-based self-insertion tangential fantasies [super-powered twins with Jareth as a father and Sarah as a sister in a world where magic existed, along with many mythical beings and characters from Back to the Future, Disney’s Little Mermaid, etc.] from the age of 8. We shamelessly ripped off our most and least favorite media and spun weird sci-fi plots and make countless overdone jokes. Then we developed our own individual styles of writing and creating, which were clearly reformulating and addressing the media which we had grown up with, but were obviously doing so in an original way.

I am not saying that fanfic is stupid and immature and published professional fiction is better and more mature. I’m just saying that there are different expectations for professional published fiction. In professional published fiction, you have to cite your sources, either literally if you are quoting directly, or figuratively. To do so figuratively, you put your signature on the old tropes so that we know that you’ve actually paid attention to them and not just regurgitated them whole. Clare has not sufficiently degenerated hah Freudian slip! differentiated City of Bones from the rest of the garbage in the Trashcan of Dead Plots.

As I’m sure you gather from the sarcasm in my plot summary, I do not think that Clare cites her sources at all. I think she just hurks them up in such big, obvious chunks that I can easily identify what books and movies she devoured earlier in her life. I don’t want to look at your recycled lunch, Cassandra. In fact, I don’t want to see anything more from you until you can convert the media you consume into actual food for original thought.

P.S. Your vampires were supremely dull.

Gemini comes to 1:6!

Gemini comes to 1:6! published on No Comments on Gemini comes to 1:6!

Nobody knows this except my wife [and now the 3 readers of this blog], but Velvette from LHF has two siblings [that she knows about]. One is her sister Janet, technically her half-sister since they share a mom. But she also has another half-sister, Gemini Beaumont, member of the End of the World [Provincetown vampire clan]. I currently have Velvette and Janet in 1:6, but Gemini will soon join them.

Janet’s an Integrity Toys Janay head on a CG Ebony body without ankle cups, which makes her shorter than usual. Velvette, my most beautiful 1:6 doll ever, is a Barbie Mbili head [yes, I yanked it from a doll that I paid $100 for] on a CG body with a Caucasian skin tone painted over [very sloppily] with burnt umber. Since I want a familial resemblance between Velvette and Gemini, Gemini will be a Mystery Squad Kenzie head on a CG body with Caucasian skin tone. Both Velvette and Gemini have the same head mold [Angel/Goddess], but the differences in skin tone and paint jobs make them look like different people. And yes, I am aware that Velvette and Janet do not have a familial resemblance, but I don’t care. They’re half-siblings because I said so. :p

I’m really excited about Gemini. She has squizzly red hair that I want to put up in a Bride-of-Frankenstein-like ‘do, but I’m not sure how to make it stay up.

Janet and Velvette [and Gemini] have the most convoluted family tree. I’m still trying to figure out how Janet and Gemini are related. Since they have a half-sister in common [Velvette], it seems reasonable to suppose that they are related, but I can’t determine how. Maybe they’re quarter-sisters? :p

“Did my accident paralyze my love life?” — a Disaboom ad

“Did my accident paralyze my love life?” — a Disaboom ad published on 4 Comments on “Did my accident paralyze my love life?” — a Disaboom ad

Have you seen the banner ad below, featuring a wiry, muscular and thoroughly cool-looking guy in a wheelchair? This ad [my copy comes from, a dating site for people with disabilities] promotes Disaboom, a site of news, networking and such for people with disabilities and their hangers-on. 

I’ve been wanting to address this ad for a while because I feel ambivalent about it.  I really like the concept of Disaboom, right down to the name, which contains enough association with the familiar term “disability” so that viewers know what it’s about, but adds the “boom” so that the result sounds like a magical exclamation or an energetic comic-book sound effect. A quick glance at the sight, which divides into Health, Living, Community and Jobs, shows that Disaboom confronts the major concerns of people with disabilities [i.e., notice that Health is one of the primary ones!], but does not emphasize the limitations of disabilities. Instead, with categories like Community and Jobs, Disaboom highlights that the concerns of people with disabilities are universally human ones for a productive existence and companionship. So I’m all for Disaboom as a site.

However, I feel that this ad has both positive and negative points. On the plus side, the man in the ad contradicts the prevailing stereotype that people with disabilities, especially people who have paralyzed lower extremities, completely lack sexual interest, experience and desire. The man is presented as a sexually active person who doesn’t have any time or patience for stupid misconceptions about people with disabilities. Since the ad is aimed presumably at people with disabilities, the audience will probably not put themselves in the place of “people who have stupid misconceptions about the sexuality of disabled people,” but will instead identify with the man, saying to themselves, “Yeah, I have romantic and/or sexual interests and, like this guy, am sick of being seen as asexual!” This appeal to the audience members’ frustration and intelligence will likely motivate them to click through and see what’s going on. I also appreciate that the man is portrayed as confident, active and independent.

On the negative side, the subject of the ad is, as far as I can tell, a hard-bodied Caucasian guy. In other words, he fits many of the current bourgeois American standards for attractiveness [white, muscular, male]. Needless to say, people with disabilities come in all colors and genders, so I think that the ad would be more effective if it were a series, each with a different character with a different race, sex and disability. [That would be kind of hot, actually. Off the subject a bit, I’m picturing a poster showing a grid of photos with all types of people, all types of romantic encounters, all types of disabilities, and the legend LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES.] The fact that there’s only a muscular white guy representing “sexual activity” glosses over the fact that people of other races, genders and disabilities have interests in sex and romance too.

Also on the negative side, not only is this guy the picture of modern white bourgeois hegemonic masculinity, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s also passing as non-disabled. Tattoos aside, he looks like a non-disabled guy sitting down in a chair that just happens to have wheels. While some people indeed use wheelchairs with no back and no handlebars and a low-slung profile, other people with disabilities have much more obvious tools that they use; an electric wheelchair, for example, can have six wheels, headlights and tail lights, a control box with joystick and horn, storage pouches on either side, footrests, leg braces, head rest, reclining seat, adjustable cushions and posture support, a backpack on the back and an obvious computer on board, all of which are much more obvious than a discreet little set of wheels under your butt. Here’s a randomly selected six-wheeler, the Invacare Pronto M94, just for your information, the likes of which I see much more regularly than the chair shown in the Disaboom ad. I feel that the Disaboom ad downplays the unavoidable obviousness of some mobility aids in its attempt to make the guy in the picture seem more stereotypically “non-disabled.”

All in all, though, I think this ad is a great start, provocative and well done. I’d just like to see it as the first in a series, though, featuring a wide array of colors, shapes, sizes and disabilities.

Portrait of a bubble gum Goth: Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schrieber

Portrait of a bubble gum Goth: Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schrieber published on 1 Comment on Portrait of a bubble gum Goth: Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schrieber

Out to bust stereotypes of moany, moony, moody and thoroughly insufferable Goths is Raven, narrator of Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schrieber. Though the title purports that this book is yet another vampire romance, most of the plot consists of bubbly, impulsive, butt-kicking and cheerfully dark Raven’s attempts to be herself in a school and a town determined to quash her weirdness.

Lighthearted, frothy and energetic, just like Raven herself, the main story pits Raven against a preppy soccer-playing snob who bullies and sexually harasses her. Due to her quick thinking, she gets revenge while she stands up not only for herself, but also for her loyal friend, who doesn’t fit in because of her poverty. 

While Raven creates enough excitement in her small town on her own, she also investigates a mysterious new family in town whose possibly vampiric scion, the quiet and sexy Alexander, could be an ally. Class tensions and tensions between the sexes bubble through this story, but Schrieber’s fleet-footed prose never pauses for deep analysis or moral reflection. Instead, we follow Raven in her self-involved, but also amusing and ultimately good-hearted  and compassionate, search for a partner in crime.

Vampire Kisses has no pretensions to originality or depth, but I really enjoyed it. Schrieber perfectly captures the voice of a self-aggrandizing, flamboyant, endearing bubble gum Goth. As a teenager trying to stake out a new and different identity, Raven expends way too much energy in bold, unusual acts designed to make her appear truly original and memorable, but she does not seem insecure. Rather, she seems possessed of so much energy that she just explodes with it, ignorant of the fact that one doesn’t have to be super-duper dramatic all the time in order to be oneself. I find Raven very refreshing because she has an unshakable and positive knowledge of herself, her personality and her desires. I am so sick of self-loathing characters who must learn to believe in themselves that I am very happy to read about a character — a teenaged girl, no less, member of a cohort not known for supernal levels of confidence! — who evinces self-confidence and strength from the get-go.

P.S. I started Dead Until Dark, but it was so…very…dull… So I couldn’t finish it.

Are sexy people with 1.5 legs “bizarre?” [NSFW]

Are sexy people with 1.5 legs “bizarre?” [NSFW] published on 2 Comments on Are sexy people with 1.5 legs “bizarre?” [NSFW]

Sociological Images drew my attention to Viktoria [interview and photos here], the May 2008 cover model for Bizarre, a British glossy about fetish activities and style. Viktoria is a woman in her early 20s who designs and models fetishwear. Her left leg is amputated below the knee. As Lisa asks in SocIm:

What makes Viktoria “bizarre”?  Is it her amputated leg?  Is it the fact that she has an amputated leg and is still incredibly sexy?  Or is it that she has an amputated leg and still considers herself a sexual person?

The comments also got me thinking about the ways in which Viktoria is presented. To me it seems that Bizarre thinks that Viktoria is bizarre because she has 1.5 legs, but she can easily conform to modern bourgeois stereotypes of what white, attractive, sexy, young women with 2 legs are supposed to look like. As the rest of the post points out, though, and as some commenters observe, there’s really nothing bizarre, unusual, original or subversive about this shoot. Viktoria is just being objectified like all the other cover models. 

I do not think it is helpful and subversive and interesting and, above all, feminist and pro-accessibility, if a woman with 1.5 legs ends up treated just as misogynistically as women with 2 legs. A feminist and pro-accessibility view of Viktoria would neither dismiss nor fetishize her 1.5 legs, but instead talk about how being a WOMAN with 1.5 LEGS informs her unique experience of being a sexual person. We get an interesting glimpse into her self-perception, assuming that the interview is true, when she says of her post-amputation reactions, “[My amputated leg] was so cute. It was the biggest release you could imagine.” The article, which would rather profess wide-eyed amazement that a person with 1.5 legs actually has sexuality, does not really investigate the content thereof, contenting itself instead with the facile conclusion that Viktoria is so awesome because she can be airbrushed and Photoshopped just to look as “sexy” as models with 2 legs!!

P.S. I included this particular picture because Viktoria’s outfit in this part of the shoot is hot.

“Get outta the accessible spot, douchebag!”

“Get outta the accessible spot, douchebag!” published on 1 Comment on “Get outta the accessible spot, douchebag!”

Welcome to my new tag, “accessibility,” where I cover the ways in which society does or does not accommodate citizens with differing abilities. Check out this wheelchair with flamethrower. Good for clearing accessible parking spaces from people who have no license to use them.

Press your space face close to mine, love — freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!

Press your space face close to mine, love — freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah! published on No Comments on Press your space face close to mine, love — freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!

Inspired by The Bride of Frankenstein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, here’s a future LHF cast member, Gemini Beaumont, dressed up for one of Will’s shoots.

You make me happeeeeeeeee when skies are grey.

You make me happeeeeeeeee when skies are grey. published on 1 Comment on You make me happeeeeeeeee when skies are grey.

In Sunshine, Robin McKinley revisits her favorite obsession, Beauty and the Beast. This time, a cold, clammy and remarkably honorable vampire, Con [stupid name], serves as the Beast. Much to my frustration, however, McKinley takes an almost failproof idea [Beauty + Beast + vampires + magic = awesome] and sabotages it by not building it a foundation.

On the subject of worldcraft, McKinley doesn’t offer Sunshine enough historical grounding. The Voodoo Wars, which split Sunshine’s world into antagonistic factions of humans and supernatural Others, strongly inform the events of Sunshine, but we never hear about the specifics of these wars. Who won? Who lost? WHY do humans hate the supernatural Others so much? You won’t find the answers in Sunshine.

On the subject of character development, the only person who has any is Sunshine. Even the Beast, Con [stupid name], remains opaque. Not only is he stiff and impenetrable, but we also have no idea of his motivations. He insists that he is “different” from the sadistic vampire Bo [stupid name], but we don’t know why he is or how he got that way. Without a history, he remains a grey, clammy cipher.

Instead of offering readers the essentials of a good story, McKinley kills Sunshine with minutiae. She tells us how many pages Sunshine’s favorite romance novels have. She repeats, word for word, Sunshine’s disturbance when a vampire is in the room, the disgusting texture and feel of Con’s [stupid name] skin and Sunshine’s worries about her bond with Con [stupid name].

All of this goes to show that even brilliant, accomplished, award-winning authors can fail at writing a good vampire novel.

How far can YOU walk in ballet boots? :p

How far can YOU walk in ballet boots? :p published on No Comments on How far can YOU walk in ballet boots? :p

The Turning by Jennifer Armintrout has one interesting idea in its pages: the concept of the blood tie, a BDSM-like compulsion that exists between new vampires and the person who vamps them. The blood tie, like lust, short-circuits the new vampire’s brain, strongly predisposing him or her to submission before his or her maker. The comparison between sexual desire and the blood tie is apt because, at least how Armintrout writes it, the blood tie often occasions hot monkey sex between maker and new vamp.

Hooray! I’m all for struggling with irresistible compulsions and people trying to accept/go against their natures. Unfortunately, Armintrout flushes the concept down the toilet by using it as an excuse for a wholly unoriginal love triangle in which doormat doctor and new vamp Carrie is jerked between two vamps. One, her sire, Cyrus, is the sickest puppy in the vamp world, while the other, Nathan, is morally righteous. Blood calls Carrie to Cyrus, while hormones call her to Nathan. Armintrout hits all the cliches of romance novels on the way down: Carrie’s spitfire comments to Nathan, who patiently keeps rescuing her; Carrie and Nathan’s angry sex disguising their true attraction; Carrie’s sympathy for perverted Cyrus; Cyrus keeping Carrie as a pet and charming her with feminine refinements; Carrie pretending to seduce Cyrus in order to save Nathan, et hoc genus omne ad nauseam. Carrie’s violent, unmotivated mood swings rival Bella’s in velocity.

Besides being a hack of the first order, Armintrout also wouldn’t know consistency if it came up and bit her on the neck. For example, in a truly memorable detail, Cyrus provides fetish shoes for Carrie to wear during the climactic sadistic party/massacre where she’s supposed to escape. Armintrout explicitly describes the shoes as basically pointe shoes with heels or ballet boots. Since ballet boots force all of a person’s weight onto his or her toes and the very narrow heels, they are difficult to balance in, much less walk in for a night, much less run around in while fending off evil vampires. Yet we’re supposedly to believe that she successfully participates in a revolt against the evil vampires, including stabbing Cyrus in the eye, while wearing such footwear. The Turning contains numerous examples of such unrealistic bullshit. Very dull.

It does not help that the photomanipulation on the paperback cover makes it look like dyed paper is coming out of the woman’s neck instead of guts.

Some day I’ll write about the romance novel trope of Requisite Seduction By Frilly Dress, but not now.

Another thing I like about The Changeover…

Another thing I like about The Changeover… published on No Comments on Another thing I like about The Changeover…

…is that Mahy explicitly identifies witchcraft as a feminine power, then makes Laura’s partner, Sorry, a male witch. I’m not thrilled with the idea that certain powers are inherently masculine or feminine, but I definitely like the idea of a male character trying to reconcile himself to the fact that his power is not gendered in the same way that he is expected to be. In an interview about The Changeover, Mahy comments:

…[T]he boy…in spite of everything retained something of his original feminine quality… something he fights against by assuming a degree of sexual aggressivenes. Behind him stand the figures of his mother and grandmother and he has inherited qualities from them that give him an ambivalent nature. 

As Laura goes through her changeover, growing up into her sexual, protective, assertive power, Sorry simmers down from the aforementioned prickliness. He realizes that his front as a bullying, sexually aggressive asshole is a defensive overlay that occludes his actual strengths. In the actual chapters when Laura does her changeover, he coaches her and accompanies her, much like a midwife. This is where he shines: as a guardian, a comforter, a restorer, a carer. He ends up accepting his witchcraft and his role as a nurturer, rather than a predator. This is how he makes sense of his supposedly feminine powers.

Clearly I need my own copy of this book, preferably the hardcover edition with the beautiful cover.

A lot scarier than the squishy candy: Peeps by Scott Westerfield

A lot scarier than the squishy candy: Peeps by Scott Westerfield published on 1 Comment on A lot scarier than the squishy candy: Peeps by Scott Westerfield

You thought Peeps were just marshmallow chicks, right? Well, clearly you haven’t read Scott Westerfield’s YA novel, Peeps, in which the titular designation refers to those people who are “parasite positive.” In Westerfield’s world, peeps are human beings infected with voracious parasites that compel their hosts to transmit said parasite through blood contact. With hopped-up, superhuman senses, long lifespan, bloodthirsty instincts, perpetual horniness and aversions to sunlight, peeps are most commonly referred to as — you guessed it — vampires.

Those in which the parasite is active are dangerous, semi-crazed individuals, but those in whom the parasite is merely latent have all the superpowers of being a host without the crazy side effects. Carriers, such as narrator Cal, hunt down and contain the crazy actual vampires. As we open our story, Cal, member of the centuries-old Night Watch, is hunting down his former girlfriends to whom he has transmitted the parasite, but his constant concupiscence side-rails him…especially when he joins up with an assertive, intuitive and tenacious college student Lace. Together they literally go underground into the dirty, smelly bowels of New York City [juicily and realistically evoked] and discover some really big, slimy secrets that are much more of a threat to humanity than a few vampires.

Westerfield writes crisply, endowing Cal with a likable dry humor that makes everything he says go down easily, even when Cal’s lecturing us about actual parasites and how they fuck up your innards. Besides a charming protagonist who wins instant sympathy, Westerfield also gives him a perfect match in the incredibly snoopy, but also cool and collected, Lace. Cal’s the brawn, and she’s the brains, but they work together well as investigators, complementing each other.

Driven by a well thought-out and scientific conception of vampirism as parasitism, Peeps moves nimbly along, solidly structured and neatly dovetailed. Craftsmanship is excellent, conclusion satisfying.  See — all you idiot writers of knock-off apocalyptic wacko vampire fiction — it IS possible to write an convincing story about vampires and the end of the world as we know it [but I feel fine!]. You just have to ground it in the realistic details.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy: Twilight wishes it were this good.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy: Twilight wishes it were this good. published on No Comments on The Changeover by Margaret Mahy: Twilight wishes it were this good.

In The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, as in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, a young schoolgirl meets an older, wiser, handsome young man. She, with her sharp-tongued asperity, and he, with his awkward remoteness, both lack social graces. Both distant from the usual flurry of teenage life, they are attracted to each other. The girl discovers that the boy is magical and that he lives with a family that are just as supernatural as he is. Increasingly intimate with the boy, the girl struggles with her attraction not only to him, but to the magical power that he and his family represent. Will she choose normal life or an isolating life of power beyond her wildest imagination?

While Twilight bogs itself down in the boring hiccups of its heroine’s obsessive mood, The Changeover establishes an entirely real world, replete with familial relationships, something that Twilight lacks. Laura of The Changeover, like Bella of Twilight, comes from a divorced family. Instead of providing mere plot points, however, Laura’s family — struggling bookseller mom Kate and cheerful 3-year-old Jacko — are an integral part of Laura’s life. Laura’s swiftly burgeoning relationship with jokey new suitor Chris mirrors Laura’s relationship with Sorry, the magical boy. Conflict also arises as Laura tries to accept her mom having a life again. Additionally, Jacko provides the catalyst for Laura’s temptation; prompted by her little brother’s magical possession, Laura seeks out Sorry to tutor her in witchcraft so that she may defeat the evil that is infiltrating Jacko. For all of Laura’s resentment toward Kate and Chris and all the magical machinations against Jacko, The Changeover at heart is a testament to the bonds of blood between Laura’s family and to a pure and convincing affection between siblings.

Speaking of familial relations, Sorry comes across as a real person, really scarred by his messed-up family life and his ambivalent relationship to the supernatural. Unlike Edward of Twilight, who seems serene and untouchable in his glittery vampirism, Sorry looks like an imposing witch, but he’s also a vulnerable boy. Abandoned by his mother to be abused by a foster family and then reclaimed, Sorry takes refuge in arch, snarky comments and his mastery of witchcraft. He can’t hide, however, his real attraction and affection for Laura, who seems to pierce his protective coating and recognize that his magical mastery doesn’t translate into social mastery. Also refreshing is the fact that he, 18, is seriously bothered by his deep connection to Laura, 15. During the teen years, such an age gap matters a lot in terms of maturity [and legality], and Sorry feels disturbed by the age disparity, unlike Edward of Twilight, who just thinks Bella’s a cute little kid, but remarks very little on a 100-year-old loving an 18-year-old. While Twilight tells the story of a stupid naif getting vacuumed up into a world of seemingly perfect magical beings, Mahy chooses to emphasize the essential humanity of everyone involved.
Cheesy, dated cover for paperback issue.

If you’ve been following my rants about Twilight, you’ll remember that Bella as a heroine frustrates me and disappoints me to no end with her passivity, clumsiness and fainting. Indeed, it is hard to write a story about a character caught up in events beyond his/her control without making the character seem solely like a reactive pawn. However, Laura from The Changeover illustrates how to make a sympathetic, active heroine in over her head. When we first see Laura bantering easily with her mother and watching protectively over her little brother, even as she tries to tell her mom about the supernatural warnings that she’s been hearing, we get an immediately endearing picture. Laura is obviously a bit too mature for the stereotypical teenage petulance; she’s devoted to both her mom and her brother in a touching way that shows the depth of her kindness and her compassion. She trades wry, flip comments with her mom that suggest both her appealingly blunt nature and a defense for having to grow up too fast. Her perceptive remarks about Sorry show Laura to be both magically intuitive and intelligent. She’s smart, capable, tough and insightful — all qualities that will serve her well throughout the story. She’s also lonely and a little heart-damaged. What else could she ask for except another tough, smart, defensive, heart-damaged person to understand her and fill the hole of love in her psyche? Good thing Sorry’s around.

Though billed on the cover as "a supernatural romance," The Changeover can more accurately be described as "a supernatural and romantic story about love." For all their faults, both Laura’s and Sorry’s families love Laura and Sorry; the members in each family love each other, and Laura and Sorry love each other too. Parental love, filial love, sibling love, the love of courting adults and the love of courting teens all appear in The Changeover. Because Mahy has sympathy for everyone [even the evil possessive spirit, a lonely psychic vampire who craves the sensuality of human experience], we see through her warm authorial eyes the lovable qualities in each character. Therefore we understand why characters are so attached to each other and how love can be the magic that overcomes all desperation and truly links people together. Unlike Stephenie Meyer, who just writes about some abstract, unconvincing Super-Dramatic Obsessive Love and then tacks some characters on to it, Mahy uses her characters to drive the story.

But yes, because Mahy loves a good love story, The Changeover does have a classic romance woven into it. Laura and Sorry are destined for each other, but they don’t want to accept their relationship’s inevitability. However, of course, circumstances force them to admit that they belong together. Gratifyingly enough, however, Mahy tempers the romantic trends with realism. Instead of falling into Sorry’s arms the way that Bella in Twilight keeps tripping into Edward’s grasp, Laura depends on him for help and guidance in saving Jacko, but she does serious work in her own head first. Sorry does not take over Laura’s story and become the soppy center of her universe; instead, the two of them form a partnership of equals. In another perspective, they each expand their definition of family to allow the other into their circle. In fact, Sorry remarks early on that he feels like his friendship with Laura contains "all the disadvantages of marriage" and none of the advantages. They grow into the advantages.
A haunting cover for the hardback version.

Laura and Sorry together make me incredibly happy because they are both strong, accomplished people who match each other well in terms of maturity, power and familial devotion. They do not compromise themselves in their love, the way that Bella and Edward do in Twilight [with Bella becoming even more of a whiny doofus and Edward refraining from chewing Bella’s whiny head off]. Laura and Sorry complement each other, bringing out strengths in each other. For a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old, they eventually have a remarkably mature [but also thoroughly believable] relationship. They postpone further intimacy at the end when Sorry goes off to park ranger training and Laura goes off to finish high school. While Mahy does not give in to readers’ desires to see the deserving couple remain together RIGHT NOW, this ending really ends up being more satisfying. Hey, if Laura and Sorry are this good together when they are so young, imagine how much better they will be in a few years!

Labyrinth should have been this good. Twilight should have been this good. But they aren’t, so read the one, the only, the best, the nuanced by generally awesome and accomplished Kiwi author Margaret Mahy.

Up next: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, primarily to mock it.

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