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Monthly Spotlight: Tamora Pierce

something something Harry Potter soon mumble mumble

This month we’re looking at Tamora Pierce, a rather underrated young adult author who seems less well known now than she was when I started reading her stuff aged twelve or so. In many ways she is the first ‘young adult’ author, I suppose; her first book was published in 1983 and nobody was quite sure how to categorise it. Which caused a few issues, as we’ll see later. She’s known for decent female protagonists (before the world and his wife started throwing around the term ‘strong female character’) and for addressing everyday practical concerns such as menstruation and birth control.

Her books mostly consist of quartets following individual characters, and are set in one of two fantasy worlds, Tortall and Emelan. I’ve talked to a lot of her fans over the years, and without exception it seems that the ones you read first are the ones you like best. It has to be said that one of the reasons for this is probably because there are quite a few similarities in character and storyline between the two, but more on that later. Since I read Tortall first and Mitchell has only read Emelan so far [I did read the Alanna quartet also, just not the rest of them yet], you get both of us rambling at you this month. I’ll let him go first, under the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Robin Hobb’s Farseer novels

Eventually there will be posts aside from these, I swear. As ever, life gets in the way. Neither of us are dead though.

This month’s post was going to be a different author that we both will have a lot to say about, but being the clever person I am, I left it so late in the month that I decided it’s better to postpone that and make sure it’s a decent post. So instead we’re going to talk about the three Farseer trilogies by Robin Hobb. (For once I’m breaking one of my rules for this series; I haven’t actually finished the final trilogy yet.)

[Mitchell here. Unfortunately I’m going to have to be quiet this month (please try to hide your sighs of relief), as I haven’t read these. They sound like something I’d enjoy and I want to get to them at some point, but I have no idea when that will be.]

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Posted by on April 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time

This month we’re going to look at some epic fantasy. The Wheel of Time turns throughout fifteen monstrously huge books (well, fourteen and one shorter prequel novel) that make the A Song of Ice and Fire books look like novellas in magazines. Seriously, I could kill someone with one of the hardbacks without much effort. The first eleven were written by James Oliver Rigney Jr, also known as Robert Jordan; after his death the series was finished by Brandon Sanderson. Mitchell gets to have some input this time too. Cut for length, though this is nowhere near as long as the Pratchett post.

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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Chapter Six

Been a while, hasn’t it?

The chapter illustration purports to show a mandrake. We’re going to be talking about those later. For now let’s jump into what turned out to be a pretty tedious chapter that was almost entirely padding. Try not to step in the foreshadowing.

Chapter Six: Gilderoy Lockhart

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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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New Feature: Monthly Spotlight

Hey folks, time for something new now that the Strike nonsense is a thing of the past.

In addition to the ongoing Harry Potter coverage, I’m going to start doing one post a month showcasing something from my bookshelves, be it an author, a series, or (rarely) a single book. I can’t decide which of them, if any, should replace the aforementioned Strike nonsense as my side series here, but doing this should help me pick, as well as showing me which of my books you’re all familiar with and/or want to know more about.

(No, it’s not a cheap way of giving myself potentially years of blog content! Well… not just that, anyway.)

I’m thinking at the moment they’ll mostly be spoiler-free, for the benefit of people who want to discover them on their own, but for some of them it might not be possible to do it that way. We’ll see when we get there.

Mitchell is allowed to comment on posts about things he’s familiar with, IF he behaves himself! Because I know before I start that he has quite strongly negative opinions about at least some of the things I’m planning to write about. Certainly generally valid opinions, but we already have enough posts ripping things to shreds here, and there will be plenty of time for that if and when I take any of them on as full deconstructions.

I think that most if not all of these will be mainly positive (while still acknowledging that there are problems, because I have yet to find an actually perfect book/series/author and I really don’t think it exists). Most of the things I’m planning to cover are long-established favourites, while some are things I used to like a lot more than I do now, and I’m sure along the way I’ll find new things to feature too. Anything I feel mostly negative about doesn’t deserve a spotlight, after all. I expect the vast majority of features will be at least passingly familiar to most of you, but hopefully I can recommend some new things as well.

So, starting at some point in January, that’s hopefully what I’ll be doing. I think it’ll be fun and a nice change of pace.

As for Harry Potter, I was hoping we’d have the next chapter ready by now… but it’s December and I work in retail, so my time and energy levels are about what you’d expect and falling every day. Mea culpa. Keep commenting on the arbitrary death count so far if you like, and what passes for normal service will hopefully resume soon. Happy end-of-year festival of your choice in the sadly possible event that we don’t update again until after Christmas, and let’s hope that next year is better.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in loten

 

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Harry Potter – Death Count so far

One of the (myriad) reasons for the Harry Potter coverage being delayed was my decision based on your feedback from the last update to start a count of all the times the characters really should have died had various scenarios been written realistically. After some thought and discussion we decided not to include a lot of the more obvious ones simply because the narrative does provide a way for the problem to be dealt with – for instance, fighting the troll would probably have killed three first-years, but the book acknowledged the danger and showed an actual solution so it gets a pass. Likewise, Harry fighting Quirrell should have killed him but there was an explicit in-universe reason why it didn’t. (And Harry being alive at all, of course, but let’s not completely invalidate the entire series. At least not yet.)

[Basically, if the narrative acknowledges the danger and provides an in-story explanation for why the characters survived and/or weren’t badly injured, we’re probably not going to count it. We’re focusing on evidence of authorial neglect (and, in-story, things like supervisory neglect at Hogwarts), the dangers that should be there if the setting adheres to any level of realism but are elided or glossed over by the narrative.]

I finally found a coherent way of explaining this – we’re explicitly counting things that Rowling didn’t realise would have killed her characters, not things she explained away.

So let’s see the body count so far. Lots of head injuries, as you might expect…


Philosopher’s Stone:

  • Harry dies of exposure after being abandoned overnight on a doorstep in Britain in November at the age of one.
  • (Edit: Neville dies the first time from being thrown off a pier in Blackpool as a toddler. This could have been an honourable mention but there’s nothing in seven books to support the idea that his family care enough to fish him out before he drowns.)
  • Neville dies again from a broken neck after being dropped out of a window by his uncle as a child – he may well have bounced but he still explicitly hit the ground head first.
  • Neville dies a third time in the present day after falling twenty feet off an out of control broom during his first flying lesson.
  • Katie Bell and Marcus Flint both take cannonballs to the head during a Quidditch match.
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione fall an unknown distance of at least four stories down the trap door.
  • Ron dies again shortly afterwards when a giant stone statue bashes him in the head.

Honourable mentions: Vernon, Petunia and Dudley probably drowned trying to swim back to the mainland after Hagrid stole their boat, but it is theoretically possible that the old guy who owns the boat realised they hadn’t come back and sent help, or that there was a lifeboat patrolling nearby after the storm. [Or they could have died of thirst or starvation if they were stranded there long enough without rescue. But there’s enough ambiguity around how to count this that we’ve decided to let it slide.]

Harry nearly swallowing the Snitch likewise gets an honourable mention, since although it would have sliced his face up nicely and caused some damage through choking it wouldn’t have killed him per se. Nor would the resulting fall, since he’s probably the only student anyone would bother trying to save instead of the usual Hogwarts method of letting them splatter.

Scabbers gets an honourable mention for being thrown into a window after biting Goyle. We decided not to include animals because the counts would be sky high, nobody feeds their pets or gives them anywhere safe to sleep and all owl owners constantly make them fly way too far in unsafe conditions, but this one stood out. [Loten didn’t want to include this one, but I argued for it and this was our compromise. I think it’s relevant because Scabbers will later turn out to be (or be retconned as) a human character who is important to the plot, and instances in which he should really have died or sustained brain damage are relevant to assessing how stupid his plan is (and/or how sloppy the retcon was).]

Possible honourable mention, this might be moved to the main count later – any of the kids could have tripped over and broken their necks or fallen on broken branches in the Forbidden Forest detention. The narrative insists the monsters are no threat, and Quirrellmort were too incompetent to be a danger to anyone, but wandering around proper ancient woodland in total darkness isn’t safe regardless of external hazards.

Final count: Neville: 3. Ron: 2. Harry: 2. Minor characters: 2 (Katie and Marcus are unlikely to feature here again). Hermione: 1.

[It’s worth keeping Katie in mind though, for when we eventually get to Half-Blood Prince in something like a decade’s time. She barely exists as a character but might still have more than one entry on the death tally. Though the second one might be better counted for a different tally, “would have been a death if not for Snape’s intervention.”]

I think that tally would be a little redundant since by the end of the series it would comprise literally every character still alive…

Interesting that Neville racks up the highest count despite not being a major character and – according to the narrative – not having the angstiest backstory to ever angst. Yet another argument in favour of his being the superior protagonist.


Chamber of Secrets:

  • Harry and Ron die of dehydration and heatstroke in the flying car that the book insists is more of a flying oven, or alternatively die of dehydration and hypothermia in a more realistically written one.
  • Harry and Ron die again almost immediately when the car crashes.
  • Ron then dies a third time from complications caused by his untreated serious head injury. He’s not doing well.

Count so far: Ron: 3. Harry: 2.

Honourable mentions: Hedwig and Scabbers were both in the car, though Hedwig’s already died from malnutrition and again from exhaustion.

Overall total so far: Ron: 5. Harry: 4. Neville: 2. Minor characters: 2. Hermione: 1.

Feel free to jump into the comments if we forgot something, or if you think something should/should not be included – our criteria were pretty arbitrary and I’m happy to tweak this before we return to the main series.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Get Out (2017) initial reactions and review

My apologies to our regular readers for our silence recently; we’ve had a lot going on offline and haven’t had as much time to write as we’d have liked (though we do have a few more posts in the works that should be coming relatively soon). Thanks for your patience. In the meantime, have a thing I dashed off pretty quickly.

One of my coworkers recommended “Get Out” to me recently; I ended up watching it last night, and wrote up my thoughts shortly afterward to aid in the subsequent discussion. I hadn’t really intended to do a blog post, but I realised it would probably be publishable with a bit of minor editing and there might be discussions worth having about this film. The remainder of this post will contain spoilers for the film, and for various genre reasons this is a film which is probably best watched unspoiled, so if you are interested in seeing it you may not wish to proceed. That said, I was not nearly as impressed as I was led to believe I would be, and can give it only a lukewarm recommendation at best, so I am not necessarily saying to stop reading this post if you haven’t seen the film.

Also, as an advance warning, this is a film that deals directly with racial issues and seems to have been written by Blacks primarily for Black audiences; as such, I feel a bit uncomfortable as a white person criticising it and there may well be things I missed due to not having the cultural context. Let’s get that disclaimer out of the way.

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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in mitchell

 

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