Under some dirty words on a dirty wall

Although I know that it’s a little late, I’m pulling my finger out to make mah monthly monograph meander. Alright, I’ll acknowledge an alliteration addiction… ahem. Less of the monographs more of the novels, comics, essays and non-fiction books. Wonderful words, in others.

I enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle more than I thought I would.

I know that when I was younger I was always eager to get my hands on any books I could, especially those that came from genres I knew that I liked such as fantasy, and this led to me becoming a sort of garbage disposal bin for the written word. Several relatives and family friends thought they could fling any books at me and I’d enjoy them, even if they really didn’t appeal to me or were very, very bad. My aunt used to do it too, since she’s a school librarian by trade she used to like using me as a booky guinea pig. Sometimes this had positive effects, I never would have read the first Harry Potter, at least not so early, if it hadn’t been foisted on me. The cover art was so ugly and I was so bored of books about troubled boys who became wizards that I stuck it right at the bottom of my to-read pile, and even did my fractions homework inside (in pencil at least). At other times it just annoyed me though, I think I have my aunt to thank for the fact that I can’t quite stand Michael Morpurgo or Phillip Pullman (maybe I just don’t like alliteration as much as I think I do), but I’m not quite sure I can blame her for DWJ too. Maybe I just mentally listed her with the other semi-insipid fantasy writers who just produced something standard that wasn’t overly-appealing after reading a dull introduction or something.

I think part of why I was suspicious of DWJ was that I was aware that she was one of those authors who included the mundane real world in her fantasy novels. I was never much of a fan of that kind of style when I was younger, I was captivated by fantastic worlds full of magic and mythical creatures. When reality was part of such a story it tended to encroach- to ruin the magic somewhat. Sure, there were some stories where it worked well- when the everyman (or more likely the everychild) character was plucked from reality and/or obscurity and set on a challenging yet rewarding path involving destiny, magical artifacts and terrible beasties most likely. However the majority of stories like that just didn’t overly appeal, maybe it’s just the examples that I happened upon tended to have been a little dated and often written for a primarily male readership. Whatever the reason I’d generally have preferred to read about dragons, elves, witches et al safely ensconced in their own world.

I have less of a problem with it now though. Maybe Harry Potter changed my mind, and maybe watching shows like Buffy and Supernatural played their part too. Perhaps I’m starting to like my heroes and quests a little more accessible, or at least a little more obviously allegorical. Approaching stories from a slightly academic perspective can be a little problematic. It’s difficult to purely indulge in escapism, or to just enjoy things in and of themselves. Something relatively simple holds its own charm.

So too do fairly simple explanations. To whit: I don’t think I would have understood that Howell was a Welsh rugby player. I found that twist almost charming when I read the book, but I think it would have gone over my head and therefore annoyed me if I’d read the book as a kid.

Either way I feel a little bad about it, as I definitely enjoyed the book. It seems to gently mock the conventions of the fantasy genre it belongs to, while not violently breaking away from it either. The sibling switcheroo amused me too, since it reminded me of Alanna and Thom doing so at the beginning of The Song of the Lioness quartet (three years earlier, might I add).

I preferred the book to the film, while the film version was enjoyable it had a slightly incomprehensible quality to it- as if there was more to the myth of it which I just didn’t have access to. For example the whole thing with the scarecrow and Prince Justin was fleshed out far more in the book, as was Sophie’s family situation. There were quite a few times in the film where things were simply stated without explanation which worked alright since it had a surreal style to it anyway, but that just were more satisfying when resolved properly. This is why I should always read the book first! The book is simpler because it’s more straight forward, and thus the characters are more understandable and likeable. I think this is a simply fun fantasy novel  but ultimately it won’t become a solid favourite.
Next I read Equality in Action: A Way Forward with Persona Dolls which was fabulouso, obviously, since I got an acknowledgement. If for some inexplicable reason you require more information than that, read on. My grandmother’s book (for that is what it is) is essentially a study of how Persona Dolls are and can be used as a part of children’s education that is truly inclusive and utilises anti-discriminatory practice. This topic is in no way related to my academic focus, and I have a very limited understanding of it. Nonetheless the book is written in a clear, concise and, above all, accessible manner which made it perfectly comprehensible to me.

It starts off with a wonderful MLK Junior quote, which almost didn’t make the cut because it was impossible to find the source for the damn thing (turned out to be Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, FYI).

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

[I feel like I ought to include a blanket ‘sic’ for the nonsense American punctuation.]

Sadly there is nothing in this world which provides an instant antidote to all the bollocks (see why I prefer the unsullied fantasy genre?), and the dolls aren’t capable of making everything automatically better. But the message is clear, as part of truly inclusive education they work; they help; they’re a useful tool. The world’s moved on too, but paying lip service to ideals of equality, fairness, multiculturalism etc aren’t enough. Educators actually have to be proactive, and to try to avoid pitfalls such as ‘celebrating diversity’ by perpetuating stereotypes. Certainly the (British) education system could do with being poked, prodded and generally (wo)man-handled, it’s riddled with contradictions and stupidity. All the multi-lingual ‘Welcome!’ posters in the world aren’t particularly useful if they’re not backed up by educator’s practice, and “community” languages are consistently devalued.

The way to make it better, in my opinion, is through questioning and encouraging others to do so too. The results of the study were quite shocking in some ways, basically many educators are running scared. They’re over stretched and often working without adequate training or resources. There were many cases of people who’d been on PD training, but who didn’t have the confidence to use the dolls in the classroom, and also many who only felt able to use the dolls to discuss fairly neutral issues rather than tackle issues of discrimination. I don’t think that I’d ever want to teach young children, it just feels like far too much responsibility. The idea of shaping somebody’s world view that much is daunting. But that’s what teachers do, and it’s why they have to step up and do it well; tackling whatever bullshit they come up against.

And maybe it’s just because I enjoy being an annoying little birdy who does this but I do think that teachers ought to be tackling exactly what is meant by slick and easy terms like “Black” (and “White”); “race”; “ethnicity”; “disabled”; “ethnic minority”; “gender”, and so on. Words do have importance and power, and this type are constantly abused; I find myself wanting to scream “that word doesn’t mean what you think it means” a little too frequently. (Point in case, I swear to you that none of these words mean the same thing: Korean, Asian, East Asian, Mongol. Also ‘foreigner’ doesn’t actually mean “everyone who isn’t Korean”.) I was driving my grandmother a little mad when she was writing her definitions of the terms Black and White, but as political categories they’re simply not straight forward. Sociologists often write about a (I want to say monochromatic but I think that might suggest something a bit more greyscale-y than what I mean) black-and-white world far removed from reality- this is not the kind of fantasy story I like, you can tell because of the absence of dragons. At the very least I expect footnotes explaining what is meant by ‘black’ and ‘white’, and/or an explanation as to why these were the only “ethnicities” included in yon study, research or rant. Furthermore these things aren’t static, Eastern Europeans and Latin Americans, for example, may be considered more or less ‘White’ on random whims. The whole idea of ethnicity is a dodgy one, but especially when you get those inane forms to fill in, in which apparently only non-white people have an ethnicity. I’ve taken to just ticking the ‘S’ box for other instead of writing ‘YOUR CATEGORIES MAKE SO LITTLE SENSE THAT I AM LAUGHING’ because I’m lazy. The use of the term ‘ethnic minorities’ tickles me a lot too, when it’s not applied to a specific situation or location. I’m going to argue that everyone who isn’t ethnically Chinese or Indian belongs to an ethnic minority, and then argue that the concept of ethnicity is fuzzy at best, and then smirk a lot. Possibly with booze.

I do enjoy being annoying, I’ll admit it. I don’t think I’ve ever met an argument I didn’t like, although sometimes I can’t be bothered to have the same one fifty times over. There’s pretty much no argument that I’m not prepared to see the other side of either, so I’ll play devil’s advocate and take up the opposition. Tiptoe and I once drove one of Pimpette’s friends round the bend by refuting everything he said about blink-182 and punk just for the hell of it, graduating to ‘racism is wrong, prove it’ until he was purplish with frustration. He did get arrested for eating his own shit on a bus though. My point, however, is that I will poke and prod at any statement, because although certain terms and words are used as a sort of shorthand that’s not good enough. Say what you mean, mean what you say, believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. When I was writing my dissertation we had weekly workshops where the eight or so of us would discuss things in a fairly useless manner. I was constantly ragging on the girl who was looking at something to do with race in the UK (I forget the details, I’m very self involved and anyway Japanese porn is actually interesting) along the lines of “what do you mean by white people?” and “if you mean WASPs, you should say WASPs”.

I was annoying my grandma permanently too, of course. There was a bit about those who attended training being asked to share their own stories about encountering discrimination, and there was something about the likelihood of white men having an example being relatively small. I went off on one about how the phrase “white men” was being used to imply “normal”, and didn’t give any indication as to class, sexuality, religion, (dis)abilities etc. I know that it’s a small detail, and you know what? I don’t care. Because the small details fucking matter. The fact that a lot of women couldn’t think of anything without prompting was a little odd, and it makes me sad to see that gender discrimination is so entrenched and accepted. (Even if I’m blatantly a sexist misandrist about half of the time, and a misogynist most of the rest of the time.)

Some of the stories are really touching. They almost make me not want to throttle children all the time, and maybe even hope a little too. I’m an idealist I guess, I believe in pretty ideas and dreams, and I admire passionate people even when I don’t agree with them. Sometimes the stories were sad, like Glenda MacNaughton’s story “Kim’s blushes” and the starkly different responses from White and Black commentators to it. Sometimes though they were laugh out loud funny, like an educator asking a child who’d been teased because of her skin colour if she’d ever been called a bad name, and feeling all proud of herself when she got an affirmation, only to be very confused when the child launched into a complaint about the name her parents had given her. And I know that there’s no easy answer none to blame or forgive, but the most important thing is for educators to be supported. They need greater access to resources and training, no question, but they also need to be proactive. They need to admit what they do not know and what they do not feel comfortable tackling, and then they need to do something about it and improve- and then hopefully encourage others to do the same. The lack of access and confidence that educators face was probably the study’s most important findings, and positive changes were implemented as a result. Which just illustrates one of my favourite admonishments, that you cannot know what the outcome of any research will be, I’m usually talking about scientific research but it definitely holds here. There’s no way to judge what investigations will produce useful results, if we knew what results we’d get there’d be no point doing anything. I hate it when people pay lip service to this idea, and then say “…but I really think that research into sludge shouldn’t be government funded”. Supercolliders FTW, in essence.

After that dose of realism I indulged in the nice thick American Gods which is, absolutely and without question, made entirely of awesome. I’m still flailing a little bit. I seem to have really hit my stride with this burgeoning Gaiman obsession, and now I’m a little scared. He’s not living in my head is he? It’s just a little weird to have an author hit so many of my literary kinks. I adored Neverwhere because it encapsulated so much of what I love about my London, and then in American Gods Gaiman’s clearly so enamoured with small town America and that’s what I’ve been mildly obsessing about for the last couple of years. I want pie. And tequila. I really want to go roadtripping. Fuck it, I might actually have to learn to drive. And Kripke has apparently even said that he was inspired by American Gods in creating Supernatural (and in fact there’s apparently been some speculation about Good Omens too), and since I’m pretty sure that Gaiman is a Buffy fan I’d love to see what he thinks of Supernatural. Certainly that connection was very clear with Hinzelmann and his yearly sacrifices of youths in Lakeside, which was built up really well and the idea that Shadow was considering this explanation seeped in and joyously didn’t make me want to smack him upside the head. I can definitely see how the episode ‘Scarecrow’ took inspiration from this, but it still did it in its own way and I don’t think it was a rip-off or anything. Plus it had Dean screaming “I hope your freaking apple pie is worth it!”, which just fills me with love. And also a desire for pie, dammit.

It had this brilliant darkly comic tone, and a likable lead character in the reticent Shadow, and there was no way I wasn’t going to be sucked in by something which had such a focus on mythology. I love stories and legends and gods, I’m especially such a geek for Egyptian, Norse and Pagan mythologies but really I’ll take anything. This book made me seriously tingly. I was snorting the moment that Wednesday introduced himself because to me that word just means ‘Odin’ (too much looking at the glossy pictures in my 25p set of encyclopaedias), but mostly these introductions were done so subtly and so well that I didn’t want to mock and/or abuse Shadow for not getting what was going on- which is pretty rare for me. Undoubtedly there were literary and mythological references which went skimming right over my head (and I’m still kind of ashamed that I didn’t pick up on the Low Key thing straight away), but I still think that the book was breathtakingly well constructed. The idea of gods’ power and very existence dwindling and growing as belief in them waxed or waned just makes so much sense to me, and did even before reading the Discworld books. Maybe it’s because historians often use such language to describe religious trends? Likewise the suggestion that Shadow caused Laura’s undead status through his strong desire to see her rings true, in a rather maudlin way. I’m not a religious person at all, but theism captivates me definitely. Joss Whedon’s said a similar thing about Christianity, I think that atheists see these kind of beliefs as wonderful shiny toys they want to play with. I think that the ideas that are present in Pratchett and Gaiman’s writing really encapsulate the way that I like to think of religion and the afterlife too- the pluralism of anachronistic and contradictory belief systems which manage to co-exist; the benign force of Death that doesn’t kill but merely collects and people getting what they think they deserve in the afterlife. If anything I come pretty close to actively believing in Dead Like Me‘s reapers, and South Park‘s superfriends. Is that weird?

But that so isn’t even all. The reason I liked Supernatural to begin with was Eric Kripke’s insistence on the fact that America does have its own mythology. (This was also kind of the point of Interstate 60 which Naomi made me watch, which was sort of selectively brilliant although it made me want to smack James Marsden and ask him why he only has two facial expressions. Seriously.) If you buy into the whole ‘boiling pot’ notion, and set aside all the weird power implications of reality for a moment, there’s this great mix of beasties, gods and tricksters. I’m really glad that Gaiman did actually include a lot about Native Americans too, because to start with it seemed as if he wouldn’t, and that would have pissed me off. (Although not as much as when we had to read some politics article sixth form which talked about the white population of the US as ‘indigenous’ and I was the only one who went “bzuh?”. Seriously.)

Maybe the fact that I’m attracted to the idea of all these different theologies (relatively) happily co-existing is the fault of postmodern theories, but I think that it goes deeper than that. Gaiman explicitly characterises most of these religious icons as pre-modern and almost inscrutable. With the American setting he certainly emphasises the fact that these different beliefs aren’t and weren’t demarcated, that they interacted and bled all over each other- I especially liked the reference to the people who might have thought of themselves as Christian but spent far more energy on believing in creatures belonging to an entirely different belief system. Also the idea that this interaction was a new one was countered again and again- sometimes the explanations of how people brought their beliefs to American rang a little ridiculous and seemed to have been played for humour, but I’ll buy the idea that the Americas have been “discovered” far more times than people seem willing to believe. I like anything that challenges the current belief that we live in this extremely globalised age in contrast to previous epochs. Am I arguing against the idea of a markedly different postmodern, hyper-globalised era? Probably not, although to be fair I’m happy to take up either side of that argument when necessary. I just don’t think that an abrupt break’s ever been made, I think that what’s so “different” about the world today is most of the time just a new spin on old ideas. The world was never neat and tidy, people were always flitting around the place threatening boundaries, it’s just that they don’t necessarily fit into the image that people wanted to create of their world and their stories get subsumed.

So I guess that’s why I also found the idea of the new gods, of the Internet and credit cards and so on, so appealing. The idea that these things have been raised to the level of religious icons is interesting, and it brings up all sorts of questions about what constitutes religious belief which are very difficult to answer satisfactorily. I would have liked it if perhaps there was more detail about these gods, and if they were more specifically identified. Nonetheless, it was definitely an interesting idea. And then the nice twist that this wasn’t just a straight up battle of old vs. new was great, and I really wasn’t expecting it. I think that the book still would have worked perfectly well if it had just been about a conflict between the old gods and the new, but the way that it was flipped on its head was delicious. Instead of being their saviour Odin was being a complete and utter bastard, conning them into fighting a battle so that he could utilise the power from their deaths (kind of like Adam in season four of Buffy, but with less demonic cyborgs). It was really clever, but it’s more than that- it (hell the popularity of the book too) emphasises that people’s desires to believe in stories endures. People might have their cruel ‘new gods’ too, but we’ll never stop being what Terry Pratchett called pan narrans, the storytelling chimps. And also reading this (as well as some random J2 AU con fic) made me want to be a hustler. I could do that on my roadtrip with the tequila and the pie and the chauffeur(s), I just need to get good at pool (impossible) and poker (slightly less impossible). C’mon. Unless I can start hustling choh da di somehow… I just need to go somewhere where it’s actually popular and I reckon I could actually be great at that particular con.

I do feel that the characterisation of (ex-)prisoners and the prison setting itself sometimes felt a little forced. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a personal bias because I know that Neil Gaiman’s actually a good middle class English boy (and Jewish! I don’t think I knew that…), but somehow it didn’t quite sit right. Also Laura calling Shadow ‘hon’ all the time started grating on my nerves very quickly. In general I was impressed by the fact that the book did ring true as American, and I think that the difference from Neverwhere and Stardust is noticeable, so it’s not just me going “Haha, I know you’re English!”. There was also another departure, in the sense that American Gods had a lot more sex than his previous books. Now obviously I’m not opposed to sex (as long as it’s well written) even if it’s completely gratuitous, but the sex in American Gods was wonderfully plotty. It was sometimes ridiculous and comic, sometimes tragic, and sometimes steamy but most of all it was entirely pointy. (If largely free from bad puns.) Which is nice, really, because I kind of balk at the idea of writing sex scenes and I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s just the idea of people reading them, rather than an actual inability. I think I write to spec better than under my own volition sometimes, someone challenge me to write porn.(Preferably with characters belonging to one of my favourite fandoms because I’m too lazy to invent characters.)

I caved and bought The Physics of the Buffyverse. It wasn’t inaccessible but actually I was surprised by it and felt that it was actually a little less easy to get to grips with than I’d thought it would be. I really did have to put my thinky science cap on, it wasn’t quite as easy to read as Jennifer Ouellette’s blog (which I do think is great, by the way). Sadly I really don’t think that the book flowed all that well from the beginning, and it would have benefited from having the idea of the structure laid out properly. There was actually a tight inherent logic, but to begin with it seemed that Ouellette was just dancing all over the place from topic to topic in ways that only arbitrarily related to each other. Similarly pointing out that the physics of Buffy’s world was identical to ours in terms of electronic equipment etc was often unnecessary and pointlessly trite.

Mostly I felt that the use of language was very good. It was clear and concise, using appropriate scientific terms but parsing jargon into understandable phrases. Now obviously I don’t have a problem with Buffyisms, I use them all the time (in fact I think a few might have slipped in here), and in stream of conscious-y (eep, does that even count as one?) prose I don’t mind them, but there were a few occasions when Ouellette slipped them in and I just found them jarring. I hope that they aren’t always irritating, because if they are I’m probably royally screwed. Then again I am 22, and not writing about science all that much so maybe I can get away with it. On the other hand it may be that many people who’d pick up this book are Buffy fans who are less interested in science than I am and who, therefore, might appreciate those little references.

So while I think that the first couple of chapters seemed to be Ouellette finding her ground (with a few unnecessary observations perhaps), I think that she really hit her stride after a while and certainly had my interest piqued. All the stuff about the relativism of time, quantum mechanics, alternative realities, multiple universes and string theory was honestly captivating. The material definitely meshed with these topics way more than with discussions of electromagnetism or the laws of thermodynamics. I think that Buffy honestly has a lot to offer when discussing those (far more interesting) areas of physics, not only in terms of providing interesting analogies which is definitely useful in terms of the dissemination of scientific knowledge (Ouellette actually recently discussed the way that television treats science on her blog), but also in showing how those ideas have been taken on and applied outside of the physics community. Angel actually explicitly tackled string theory in ‘Supersymmetry’ for example and Buffy name checked quantum mechanics in ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’ with the invisible girl. Ideas of distorted time have been covered from a scientific view point in episodes like ‘Life Serial’ and ‘Happy Anniversary’ as well as a mystical one in ‘I Will Remember You’, for example. Alternative realities and dimensions permeate the Buffyverse too, and I think that Ouellette could probably have written a perfectly satisfying book which focussed on this topic.

I totally became super smart for a coupla days after reading this book, and had this deep understanding of theoretical physics which was great. It wasn’t great for everyone else of course, because every time anyone asked me for advice (or just a simple question) I found a way to bring it back to the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics. Alcohol definitely didn’t lessen this tendency. This knowledge (and my awesome feeling of being at one with the universe) has faded a lot since, which everyone else is probably a lot less upset about. I still understand the implications of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and I think that Schrödinger was actually pretty stupid. I also definitely think that the importance of scientific theories in shaping thoughts outside of their realm shouldn’t be overlooked, not just in terms of the zeitgeist and pop culture but also in terms of the way that scientific ideas leaked into the humanities and social science- and gave all those crazy postmodernists ideas. However, while I ultimately did enjoy this book I have to say that the first Science of the Discworld book was way more captivating. That filled me with a desire to go and study physics, The Physics of the Buffyverse mostly just made me want to engage in another great rewatch.
Speaking of the Discworld books, I decided to read The Wee Free Men, cos frankly there should be more Pratchett love. It was relatively standard fare, but entertaining all the same. I think that I just felt compelled to read this, being such a big Pratchett fan and having an obsessive completist streak, rather than being all that drawn to the book in and of itself. Tiffany Aching may have had a stupid name but she was a great character, I just think that I would have appreciated her (and the book) more if I’d read it as a young kid. It didn’t stop it being enjoyable, and I like plenty of children’s books, I just could definitely tell that this was aimed at younger readers in way that I couldn’t with Maurice. I liked the character of Tiffany’s grandmother too, Pratchett always writes great no-nonsense witches. The ideas about the type of witch produced depending on the ground they’re from (and the different ideas about different types of grounds) was interesting and inventive. Certainly it was a nice setting for an adventure, and that idea of magic seeping in worked well. I thought the Queen was well constructed, and I’ve always liked Pratchett’s conception of elves in the Discworld series. This quote from Lords and Ladies might actually be one of my favourite:

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
Nobody said elves were nice.

And once again the idea of multiple realities was definitely important, that’s something that’s always been relevant in the Discworld books. It’s certainly something which I find interesting- and I like the way that Tiffany found her way into Fairyland.

I think that the recurrent themes of knowledge and learning were well handled. Intelligent young heroines are generally pretty easy to like when they’re not too annoying, and Tiffany’s affection for (properly spelt) words was endearing. I do like the Nac Mac Feegle too, I find them amusing, I’m just not head over heels for them. They’re kind of gimmicky, and once the few jokes about them have been played out they’re kind of redundant. The storylines about Tiffany becoming a witch and venturing into elf country were far more interesting as far as I’m concerned, although that doesn’t mean that I think that the Feegle were pointless or that they didn’t add anything to those plot lines. Granny Weatherwax’s cameo was fantastic of course, she’s definitely one of my favourite Pratchett characters. Overall I don’t have any major complaints, but I don’t think I’d bother buying the sequels. I wouldn’t mind reading them, but then again I’ve got that whole completist thang going. I imagine they’d be amusing enough, especially as they’d focus more on Tiffany becoming a witch and growing up a bit- and possibly even have more Granny Weatherwax. Maybe I’ll grab them out of a library one day.

Next I read a collection of essays entitled Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. It was certainly interesting and enjoyable, but I think that ultimately it wasn’t all that satisfying. See I love Buffy, and I love Joss Whedon (and not just for Buffy, I’m all about Firefly and SerenityAngelDr Horrible, the comics, Toy Story and so forth), and maybe I’m just a little territorial about people muscling in on my obsessions but… Joss Whedon is not God. Buffy is not the be all and end all. Stating that isn’t blasphemous, at least I’m pretty sure. Buffy was a great show and I’d happily take up residence in Joss’s brain, but Buffy (at least in the earlier seasons) was great because it was something that was so fun and playful, something so campy and yet emotionally engaging, something that was capable of being layered. What it was not was some kind of manifesto, or something consciously imbued with deeper philosophical meaning. Me saying that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t tinged by strains of that, or that the show doesn’t provide good advice or even a good template for how people lead their lives. Just, some perspective please people.

Also the show provided a relatively black and white morality early on, and although it was shaken up far more in later seasons and especially in Angel (and now even more so in After the Fall, oh wow) the complexities weren’t always there. I dislike it when writers and academics project these things backwards. The grey areas emerged gradually and were largely consistent with the show’s ideas (and ultimately its flexibility) but they weren’t always that evident. Some ideas were never fully resolved either, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the ambiguousness of vampires would probably never have been developed if characters like Spike and vampire!Willow hadn’t proved such fan favourites. The show’s mythology and plotlines can be used as useful analogies when discussing philosophy, certainly. Some philosophical ideas are pertinent to a broad discussion of Buffy, like with Oz’s thoughts in ‘Earshot’ (and certainly this is relevant to Firefly too, as Joss Whedon explicitly references Sartre’s theories in the commentary for ‘Objects in Space’). However it can definitely be taken too far, and has been by some of the authors of this collection. No matter how you slice it Buffy was never an exposition or discussion of Platonian, Nietzschean or Kantian ideas.

I think that I definitely preferred What’s At StakeFear and Trembling did benefit from being written later, and therefore being able to take more of the show’s development into consideration. The problem is, I suppose, that the canon is still expanding with the comics- and things are changing in remarkable ways what with Warren being alive, Angel being re-humanised, Gunn being vamped and so on. I do think that future texts on the show take into account the comics because they are official new seasons, sanctioned by the creator, which represent the way that the shows’ characters’ futures might have played out.

Certainly there was definitely some good stuff in this book, I don’t want to gripe too much. I liked the fact that the first section focussed on Faith (in relation to Buffy and Feminism) since she’s one of my favourite characters. Using characters such as Faith or Buffy to illustrate a philosophical point works well, trying to graft a theoretical argument onto a television show does not. Repeatedly I could see something that had some very good points, but that tried to pull together into an argument that didn’t really hold. I really liked most of the section on knowledge because a lot of it focussed on Buffy‘s treatment of science- something which I was definitely feeling especially interested in after reading The Physics of the Buffyverse. James South’s essay on human irrationality was also very interesting, although I can’t help thinking that it would have made perfect sense if he’d deleted all the references to Willow and replaced them with another fictional character. It wasn’t at all specific to Buffy, and I suppose that it doesn’t have to be, but if these arguments aren’t then what’s the point of the book?

A lot of the stuff on ethics bored me a little. There are interesting arguments to be made about the Feminist and/or small-scale version of ethics that Buffy provides, but I really don’t think that the show’s a how-to guide. Milavec and Kaye’s chapter on Aristotle’s love paradox and Stroud’s Kantian analysis of moral judgement in the show had a slightly different bent though, even if the former was a bit too Bangel. The penultimate chapter on religion and politics in the Buffyverse was probably the most interesting for me, and while Pasley’s article on the revolutionary and/or subversive nature of superheroes rang true for me I think that Neal King’s might have been my favourite. It takes a relatively tongue in cheek look at the show and proclaims that Buffy’s a fascist. Now I think that some of the conclusions drawn might be a little farfetched (I really don’t think that Buffy’s anti-Semitic, not with that nose and a Jewish best friend) but it was one of the few articles to really probe the problems with the show. The vampires of Buffy were explicitly caused by the mixing of two ‘species’ (a term commonly interchanged with ‘races’), and the morality of Buffy’s violence is ambiguous at best. Rather than lauding the show and Joss Whedon constantly it’s interesting to see a well constructed argument that problematises the show by looking at it from another angle.

I think that Whedon writes strong female characters exceptionally well, and he’s actually capable of writing more than one of them which Aaron Sorkin is arguably not. I think that Buffy provided wonderful examples of this, not just with Buffy but with Willow and others too. It also gave us one of the first decent portrayals of a lesbian relationship on mainstream television, and that’s awesome too. That doesn’t equal a carte blanche (or maybe it does and that’s the problem, heh) when it comes to the treatment of race in the show. Has anyone ever managed to get this addressed by the writing team? There were shockingly few non-White characters in the show- until season four I can only think of the counsellor who got killed in the only episode he appeared in, Mr Trick who was evil, the vampire preacher who was evil and Kendra. Kendra was a sort of ridiculous stereotype with a generic (and terrible) accent, and while she was a sympathetic character her behaviour (and death) mostly existed to be contrasted with Buffy’s. Later on we got Forrest who was annoying and then an evil zombie, Olivia who was great but swiftly disappeared and then some of the potential slayers including Rhona (played by Indigo who I love) and Robin Wood, not forgetting the rather essentialist First Slayer and Shadow Men. This was something of an improvement but not by much, and where were the Hispanic characters? (There’s an argument to be made that characters like Kennedy and Cordelia were also non-White given the mixed ancestry of the actors portraying them, but since references weren’t made to that as far as I know it’s suspect. And kind of like claiming that Neo isn’t white in The Matrix. Which I totally will do if it suits my argument obviously, but still.) The treatment of indigenous American peoples in episodes like ‘Inca Mummy Girl’ (in which the gang assume that Ampata can translate the seal) or ‘Pangs’ is often uncomfortable to watch because it’s just so cheesy and bad. Combine the racially “other” nature of the demons and vampires that Buffy routinely kills (unless they’re extra special, natch) with a largely homogenous white population and main cast and you’ve got something quite disturbing. A mostly white cast wasn’t unusual for 90s America certainly, but I do think that it’s something that ought to have been thought about more carefully and addressed at some point- beyond Mr Trick’s comment on the whiteness of the town and Rhona’s observation that the black chick always gets it first I mean. At least the comics allow some scope for that, as did the Angel spin-off- although not unproblematically. Firefly certainly seemed a lot better on that front given that it was set in a futuristic world characterised by cultural fusion and two (count ’em, two!) of the main cast were black. That still didn’t really negate the problematic nature of the Reavers as the Injuns, and the fact that in a world where everyone spoke Mandarin and many people had Asian surnames I don’t think there were any Asian characters, but baby steps I guess.

The last section of the book contained an interesting essay on metaphor by Tracy Little which I really liked despite the fact that it referenced Baudrillard and used the word ‘simulacrum’ (trust me, this is high praise indeed coming from me). I was frustrated by the last one in the collection, and really wish that the book had finished with something else (preferably Neal King’s thought provoking chapter on brownskirts, but really anything would have been preferable). Levine and Schneider started by ripping into various academics for over-emphasising the importance of Buffy, something which I can kinda get behind. They claimed that the success of the show is based in Buffy’s “girl next door” persona, and had the makings of an interesting theory. Instead of pursuing it they wandered off down a Freudian argument about the psychical nature of debasement, love and lust. It was maddening because this line of argument made me completely lose respect for them, and their self-important tone and rudeness about other academics wasn’t doing them any favours either. So in conclusion while I enjoy reading or watching pretty much anything on the topic of my favourite things, especially Buffy (the Paley 08 interview is pretty good if you haven’t seen it yet, FYI), and while this book definitely had some good moments, it could definitely have been a lot better. I feel as if quite a few of those chapters were written by people who thought “ah, twisting my argument to being about Buffy, that sounds like a good idea” rather than people who felt they had anything important to say about the show or its characters. I really wish that people weren’t afraid to say negative things about the show either. It is flawed, and it’s ok to say that- in fact doing so produces honestly interesting and thoughtful arguments that I’d much rather read than a badly constructed argument about a Platonian interpretation of Faith’s behaviour.

A-a-and, I feel that I could have segued from that rant into talking about Barrack Obama’s first book, Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, somewhat better. Um. Anyway, first off you should know that I’ve turned into a reasonably enthusiastic Obama supporter. He’s going to win, right? I watched season seven of The West Wing, I know how it’s supposed to go. And I do know that nobody’s perfect and that there’s no way that he’s going to be able to actually deliver on everything he promises. But. It’s just so nice to have a presidential candidate (President, please) who it’s worth getting excited about, someone who I can actually believe has ideals and workable plans, who has passion and vision, someone who is passionate about oratory and about meaningful ideas. A real statesman, in other words. I’m not even an American and I’m excited (although fair enough, I have watched far too much West Wing to be objective), and if Obama doesn’t win I am seriously going to beat up every American I know here who was too lazy to vote. People who don’t vote offend me, as a woman and as someone loosely affiliated with South Africans (including my mother and her family), and just as a person. Maybe it doesn’t change anything (at least a lot of the time) but if you want it to change something then you damn well vote and then do a hell of a lot more. Otherwise suck it up and shut up, and stand still while I smack you upside the head. I quite enjoyed this advert on the point too.

Ok, so the book was sometimes unbelievably sentimental and schmaltzy and it is clearly written by someone with aspirations in the public arena and therefore a little guarded and prim (although there’s some relatively frank stuff about booze and drugs), but it ain’t bad. I honestly think that it’s pretty well written, and some slack does have to be cut, as he himself points out in the preface to the 2004 edition- but that doesn’t make it less true, when you consider that he was pretty young when he wrote it. I mean that might sound ironic coming from a 22 year old, but it’s not. I just think that while whatever of someone’s writing ends up in the public sphere (and this is makes me understand the whole paranoia about writing anything online, especially if it can be traced back to your ‘real life’ persona) helps to inform their public persona there has to be some flexibility. People change and learn and grow with time. Or you hope that they do anyway. I definitely think that this book was fun to read too, it clocks in at 457 pages but I just sat there and read it for a couple of days without getting tired of it, and my eyes were once again just gleefully dancing along the page. It’s like a lite-snack. I even got sniffly occasionally, but that’s probably just me- I do that kind of a lot. It’s been suggested to me that getting emotional about fiction and other people’s lives is the sign of a deep underlying pathology and an inability to connect with people in my own life. I actually don’t think that’s true though. Probably.

And anyway slightly weird racial sentimentalism didn’t make me dislike Kerouac so I’m not exactly going to start running off in the opposite direction. I think that Obama was pretty careful to paint everyone in the book as realistic- not perfect. His maternal grandfather might have seen himself as a forward thinking liberal, but doubt can certainly be cast on this image. And Obama doesn’t do so unkindly, it’s just that people tend to portray themselves in their best light and project their ideas back into the past- but that’s not reality. People are flawed, and that’s ok. The important thing is to know that, and to strive to make things better. Maybe I’m just being sappy because I’m half way around the world but oh I do love people thinking that family is important. (Aw crap Roses just came on, I might have to go email my grandmother about ceiling wax and fluff in a minute.) And I do feel like a bad feminist and a little sexist, but really that image of a gaggle of his female relatives in Kenya fraffling about together cooking and feeding everyone just… well first of all it makes me feel like a solemn three year old again eating avocado sandwiches in the park, but also I do just love women. It might just be social conditioning, but it ain’t all bad. Women, in the right environment, just like each other so easily and so much. And you don’t even need a common language or all that many common experiences. You just need a cooking pot, and that’s kind of nice.

I liked that he admitted in the intro that although this book is of an autobiographical bent (without exactly being an autobiography) that it is to an extent fictionalised. He talks about the way that he created some characters out of composites of real people, and how he sometimes fudged the true chronology of events. This book isn’t presented as some great truth (with a voice of god-esque narration) this is some interpretations of one person’s interpretation of life, or at least some aspects of it. Sometimes real life is a lot like fiction, but when you chose to begin a memoir with the phonecall from a ‘stranger’ informing you of your father’s death while you deal with the burning breakfast you’re choosing to write about Reality in a highly stylised way. The distinction between reality and fiction is as blurred as any, and I think that this writing style was consciously chosen. It allows Obama to tackle important issues, but also to tell a story. And it’s honest in a way that an attempt at writing the bare facts can’t be. It makes for a more interesting read too, and I think allows readers to connect with him more.

I think it’s quite nice to read about the progression of the idea of the book within the book. What I mean by that is that you can clearly see the strands which made him want to write about race issues in the US. He could have written a perfectly reasonable and engaging book without reference to his family or his own life (or with very few), but he didn’t. This isn’t just a political or theoretical book, it’s a memoir. It’s about one man looking at problems that faced him and those he knew, and trying to theorise about it, and then trying to work out how to make things better. And if that’s not inspiring then, seriously, point me at something that is. [Sidebar: just using your pain and writing an angry diatribe? So not the same. I am still pissed as hell at the Annika character in the ‘Coke Dick & First Kick’ ep of Californication for apparently writing a mean review of Hank’s book because she was having man troubles. It’s this kind of shitty characterisation of women, nay feminists, nay again actually, women that pisses me the fuck off, and I’m pretty sure that the writer of that episode was a woman. I am not making a happy face.]

Obama’s life history; the mere fact that he’s biracial; the fact that he grew up in a multi-ethnic and somewhat non-typical (of the US at that time) setting just by being in Hawaii; that he spent some of his childhood on a whole different continent (in Indonesia); the fact that he lived and worked in inner-city Chicago… it’s all just, well exactly what the world wants I guess. Polling data has apparently shown that if the world population got to vote in the US presidential election Obama would win with an overwhelming majority, and apparently some American voters are taking this into account. (Although can you really trust polling data? Short answer: no. And anyway I’m getting this from The Korea Herald which might not be the most reputable source in the world ever, who knows.). I think that’s cos we (and yes I do feel equipped to speak for the entire non-American population of the world, thanks for asking) are so desperate for America to have a leader who is eager to tackle the problems that America faces effectively (all of them, not just the ones that garner votes) but also to actually acknowledges the rest of the world- to understand that it exists and understands that the American president (the person, not the movie since I still haven’t seen it) has to interact with that. As far as I understand it it’s generally only the people from the states around the edges who actually get that, which I guess makes someone who grew up off of the mainland a prime candidate (hey, a senator from Rhode Island would have been fine with me too). Actually spending a meaningful amount of time outside the US is golden too, especially in a developing country because one hopes (and from the book it seems) that this would nurture an awareness of global issues. Facts and figures are one thing, but the experience of living somewhere, of having ties with a place and people, I think really does bring a place (and its struggles) alive far more. Obama also tied his experiences in Indonesia explicitly to poverty and problems in other places- inner-city Chicago and Kenya for examples- and that contains the promise of action and change- making those connections, and saying this isn’t how it should be, and attempting to bring about change.

And yeah, identity matters. It’s nice to have a goddamn presidential candidate care about identity, and about political ideals (and theory!). I might be geeking out but fuckit, he actually seems to care about academic pursuits and scientific research. Is it weird that that makes me develop a bit of a brain crush on him? Should I even ask, that’s weird, right? And in terms of real life, yeah identity fucking matters. I’m just, I’m gobsmacked, how the hell is Barrack Obama only the third black senator (in modern times)? I don’t think that the UK is that much better, but I’m just looking at the numbers and according to the 2006 census ‘black and African American’ people make up more than 13% of the population, whereas the 2001 census puts the black population of Britain at under 2%. It’s difficult to work an adequate analogy for the parliamentary houses of the two countries, but I’m pretty sure that there’re more than three black members in both UK houses of parliament at this moment, not just since 1967. The second wave feminism of the 1960s and 70s noted that there was sexual equality in law but not in reality, and where’s the second wave Civil Rights movement in the face of this ridiculous lack of actual racial equality? I mean anyone who thinks that there’s actual sexual equality in real terms in the world can shut up and suck my dick, but the obscene racism that pervades American mainstream society and culture is disturbing. And I’m not just talking about the crazies [and ok, apparently that guy wasn’t quite as insane as I first thought, but seriously not the poster boy for sanity].

And yeah, Barack Obama cannot claim to speak for all black or all “Black” people in America or the world. But, um, who the hell can? Maybe he can actually speak for a large portion of the somewhat disenfranchised, and I guess that was kind of the point of that 30 minute ad (I don’t know, I went to sleep about 30 seconds in- what? I was fricking tired!), and isn’t that the model for the new world order anyway? That maybe everyone who’s affected by the fact that this world is run kind of shittily, and the people who benefit from it but think that it’s a farce, band together as tightly or loosely as they feel and create change. It’s not necessarily, or rather not uniquely, about race: the point is that a large population of the US (and the world) is frustrated and economically struggling and/or freaked and angry.

And yeah, he has a different heritage to many black Americans, but so? Do you think he wore a badge (“button”, oh fuck off) proclaiming that fact? People treat you based on the impressions they make of you, and that impression isn’t necessarily formed by responses to actual questions. And anyway, this is why the term ‘African American’ kind of pisses me off (ooh yes, white British girl does feel entitled to rant about it), although I actually feel kind of bad for Jesse Jackson. Again maybe this is just something that doesn’t quite translate well to Bringlish, but I feel like if people started knocking around the term ‘African Brit’ they’d get some incredulous looks and then hopefully get smacked on the back of their head. I mean if people want to identify as ‘African American’ then that’s fair enough I guess, I’m not either of those things (unless you count that loose affiliation with the South Africans which I a) don’t and b) apparently keep forgetting about) and don’t really have a leg to stand on- it’s just that I really don’t get what’s wrong with the term ‘black American’, or just ‘black’ if it comes to that. You can even capitalise, I don’t care. Most people labelled as ‘African American’ have far less of a tangible connection to Africa than Barrack Obama, and if you think that people are going to forget a legacy of kidnapping, abuse and slavery if the ‘African’ modifier is lost then… Well then I don’t really know what to say. I mean I guess you could be right seeing as how people are pretty fucking stupid, but I find it hard to believe that they’re quite that dumb. (Naw see what having a decent presidential candidate has done? I’m, like, all hopeful ad shit.)

And, I’m not particularly comfortable with the “n” word (despite the fact that Elvis Costello and John Lennon managed to get away with it) which Obama used with some frequency. However, I actually finally got around to listening to Nas’ new, very untitled, album and I think that I might actually be changing my mind. It might have been the “no matter what colo[u]r you are” bit, I don’t know it’s just such an intelligent and well thought out album. Go and listen to it now, and not just cos Fried Chicken actually made me laugh out loud. Thing is I’m all about allowing for the fact that words change their meaning and that language isn’t static, it’s just that I get really fucking hypocritical about ‘gay’ and ‘nigger’ (and conflicted about ‘cunt’). And the former got kind of appropriated in a mean way, whereas the latter’s arguably been/being reclaimed. And, oh, I don’t know. This totally ended up in a different place than it started, and I feel like I’ve written an awful lot of stuff that had nothing whatsoever to do with the book. But, hey, the album also has a song on it called Black President which samples that line from I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto (which actually kind of made me ecstatically happy because it made me feel like I wasn’t the only person who started humming it every time someone said the words “black president”) which is almost cringeworthily cheesy, but is redeemed by the fact that I’m a sappy Sorkin fan, and anyway it’s somehow still pretty good:

I think Obama provides hope, and challenges minds
Of all races and colors to erase the hate
And try to love one another; so many political snakes
We in need of a break, I’m thinkin I can trust this brother
… but will he keep it way real?
Every innocent nigger in jail, gets out on appeal
When he wins, will he really care still?

So I guess just consider this my wholehearted endoresement instead of anything approaching a book review. Better late than never, right?

Hey, did you, like, notice that, like, every second book for a while there was Buffy-centric? That’s right, this an awful segue to more of the same. In this case, Fray. Which I enjoyed, obviously, but I can’t help feeling that it was a little expensive. Graphic novels and comics (which apparently I’m suddenly way into, I’ve got Joss’s stretch at Astonishing X-Men all ready to go when I finish this entry of doom) are generally a little pricey, and I understand why. Thing is I’m kind of a cheapskate and don’t really want to cough up the dough, cos I read them super quickly and I’m not that likely to want to re-read them. Or so I think now. It probably also helps that they’re pretty easy to access without buying (at least the ones that I’m after), and that reading them on the screen doesn’t kill my eyes the way that reading novels probably would. (Although to be fair, the amount of fic I read I’m surprised that my retinas haven’t completely burnt away. I think very little of digging into a 119,000 word fic now apparently. This is disturbing, yes/yes?) I’m really liking Buffy‘s season eight, as well as both of the After the Fall titles (which comprise a sort of sixth season for Angel), but to be honest if I couldn’t easily read them online/download them I’m not sure that I’d bother with them. They’re just so costly, and I’d have hassles with getting hold of them here anyway I reckon. I was totally itching to get at the new Angel and Spike issues (the latter also being the last of the spin-off) for a while, but finally got my fix today and am now in a fabulous mood. I know, I’m way too easily pleased.

So Fray‘s enjoyable, definitely. It’s not the most amazing or original thing in the world though, as Joss himself pointed out in the intro, and I’d probably have enjoyed it more if I’d read it when it first came out rather than after hearing so much praise heaped onto it. I’ve got to learn to jump onto pop culture as it happens properly. I liked the character Fray- her being a naughty little thief was fun and kind of explored the lighter side of characters like Faith who have no real regard for the rules. The idea that she’s not quite a “proper” slayer because her twin brother got some of her power is quite interesting, although I’m not sure what the gendered implications are.

The futuristic world was captivating too, and the comic medium really brought it to life brilliantly. It’s almost dystopic though, and hardly in the same spirit as the triumphant tone of the last episode of Buffy (which has continued in the comics, even if it’s been tempered). Interestingly Fray was written pre-‘Chosen’, and contains references to a much earlier Slayer who got rid of all the magic. This may or may not be a (mangled) reference to Buffy’s actions, I kind of like the idea that it isn’t and that a future Slayer got rid of all the magic and that’s what caused the world to be all fucked up. Anyway it’s always possible that a future story set in the Frayverse would have Fray saving everyone, and probably using her trusty scythe. However I somehow don’t see it happening. I feel that Joss kind of moved away from stories about Big Damn Heroes like Buffy. Buffy ended on the triumphant band of buggered, and on a close up of the hero’s blazing smile- and while the season eight comics are more fraught with problems than that moment (well obviously, there needs to be some, like, plot) it’s still definitely about a ragged bunch of hero(in)es who clearly win against the evil government or whoever they’re facing. They have to win reasonably unambiguously, even if they can’t quite eradicate evil entirely from the world. That’s Buffy’s story, and that’s why SMG and ultimately Joss had problems with season six (as you can see from that fabby Paley 08 interview). Buffy can be put through the wringer, but she does have to pull herself together and be the big hero. And while I actually quite liked the emotional turmoil of season six (and the Buffy/Spike interaction), I agree that there can’t be too much wallowing, Buffy does have to find her inner strength and heroism.

Fray is definitely a different kind of story, more like that of Angel or Firefly. It’s about a few loners (or even just one), just trying to get by. Not having that core knowledge that they’re doing the right thing, but scrabbling for it and struggling, and maybe getting dragged into doing good about as often as they actively try to. Buffy’s story is compelling and epic and writ large. These other stories aren’t any less interesting though, and maybe they’re actually more mature and compelling when it gets down to it. I think that the Firefly mindset of Joss’s can definitely be seen in Fray, not just in terms of this kind of angle and the futuristic setting- even the language of Fray is often quite similar to Firefly‘s.

The supporting characters were pretty decent, I could see some appeal in Loo but I’m not quite sure why everyone was going goo goo over her. At least her death led to an interesting twist which I really liked. Personally I can understand better why people were obsessing over George the fishy demon from Brian Lynch’s Spike comics. Oh, I’m loving Brian Lynch so hard right now, you don’t even know. Reading Fray has helped me understand the crossover in Buffy season eight a leetle more, although I still don’t really know what the hell is going on with Dark Willow. I do hope that it’s wrapped up satisfactorily. Basically, I think that Joss done good. He seems to be genuinely so happy to have finally got a chance to create an uber-cool female comic character. That’s all fine and dandy, but again I don’t think that that makes him king of the world.

I’ve definitely gotten into comics more recently, and have been racing through the Whedon “canon”. As I said I’m loving Brian Lynch quite a lot- for both of the Spike titles (Asylum and Shadow Puppets) and now After the Fall, I think he’s done great work- and created some awesome new characters- although I do think that he’s maybe over-emphasised the fact that Spike’ll do anything for a pretty face. After the Fall has definitely taken some interesting twists, its tone is predictably darker and randomer than Buffy season eight. As much as I grew to appreciate (and perhaps even love) the cliffhanger ending of ‘Not Fade Away’ I’m happy to have more Angel, it really does tie up a lot of loose threads and it’s clear that there’s so much to explore in this world (or hell dimension in this case). The comic format plus the general craziness of Angel means that everyone (and I mean everyone- dead Wes, the dragon, Gwen, Cordy, vamped Gunn, Fred sometimes…etc) can pop up again, and it doesn’t seem all that unbelievable either. There’s a wealth of interesting new characters dotted around too, plus that psychic fish demon. Which is just… neat. It definitely raises further interesting questions about what this means in terms of Angel’s representations of vampires, humans, demons, morality, gender, race and so on, and I’m eager to see where it heads.

As for the other comics, I enjoyed Tales of the Slayers and Tales of the Vampires, although to be honest some of the stories were a bit meh-worthy and I think that I would be a bit annoyed if I’d spent actual money on it. I think my favourite tales were Whedon’s ‘Stacy’ and Espenson’s ‘Presumption’ (I could totally guess the author from the Austen-ish setting, it really reminded me of the Firefly episode ‘Shindig’) and ‘Spot the Vampire’ because they were honestly well written and had fun twists. I did like the character of Edna Fairweather, and the nice little reference to Giles. I liked the connection of the two ‘Broken Bottle of Djinn’ stories, they weren’t particularly deep but it was done nicely- and it really emphasised how well the different styles suited the different tales (a lot, by the way). The ‘Sonenblume’ story might have been a little trite, but it was nicely done and had a good message. Goddard’s ‘Antique’ story gave a bit more of a backstory to the interaction between Xander and Dracula in Buffy season eight, although I still think it’s a bit over the top and silly. In general I think that there were just too many stories all emphasising the moral ambiguities of vampires, one or two would have been fine but this was just overwhelming. It’s already problematic enough within the confines of Buffy, and this just served to problematise it further. Are we supposed to empathise with them or with Buffy? We can’t be pulled in two directions endlessly, it’s kind of messy. Considering that the ‘Prologue’ made me roll my eyes at an even more detailed emphasis of how the First Slayer and vampires were created by the naughty mixing it’s quite nice to have these sympathetic vampire characters (and to have their symmetry with the ‘good’ slayers emphasised), but still it’s all rather tricky.

It was definitely nice to see Fray again in ‘Tales’, and to see where the idea of the scythe started off, but I still wonder why Joss decided to shove it in at the end of Buffy’s season seven. It also still seems way deus ex machin-y, and I’d quite like to see a comic which dealt with who the hell these female guardians were and what the hell they were doing hiding out with the scythe. I can understand what season seven was trying to do, and I’ll acknowledge that they didn’t necessarily have the requisite time/space to cover everything. But, hey, I’m totally on board with the idea that comics can tie up loose ends neatly now.

Interestingly Joss has said that he wouldn’t mind throwing over comic canon if he got a chance to make a Buffy movie (or whatevs) with all those lovely people again. (This is from that Paley DVD again.) I don’t see that ever happening, which is probably a good thing- and I think that maybe he was saying it because it was what he was supposed to say rather than because he thought there was any likelihood of it happening. I’m actually more invested in seeing a Serenity sequel anyway, but maybe that’s because both of the Firefly verse comics were fun enough, but I want to see something set post-Serenity (although of course information about Shepherd Book’s backstory will be great too). I want to see pregnant Zoe (which is totally canon, yes?) and awkward MalnInara and sane-ish River. Of course it is nice to see the classic version of the crew too, especially since that includes live versions of Wash and Book.

And, oh, I so want to read the Sandman graphic novels now. That’s not at all related, and should probably have gone up there with the stuff about American Gods if anything, but I just thought I’d throw it out there. I really think that I’d feel fleeced if I bought them all though, I wonder if I can find an English library hiding somewhere? Or…maybe I’ll just wait til I’m back in the UK. Hmm.

Anyway the next book I read was Brave New World. I really don’t know why I ever make claims about anything. I said that I’d had my fill of books written in the first person, and suddenly I discovered that I seriously love some. Then I bitched and moaned about the majority of sci-fi, and of course now I’m salivating over good SF. And don’t even get me started on what happens when I say I’m not going to drink (much).

Brave New World is really very good! I know that this doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but I’m just going to throw it out there. It’s a pretty short book, but it actually took me a while to read it. I was consciously trying to savour it cos it was just so nummy. Plus I’ve started doing the crosswords in The Korea Herald to try and feel like an intelligent person again. Sadly it takes me ages to complete them.

It isn’t what I was expecting at all. This is because I maintain some really quite odd preconceptions about books. It’s not that I actually judge them by their covers, in fact Brave New World, had a pretty awesome cover, it’s just that I seem to store up these weird assumptions gleaned from insane places apparently. For example that idea that I didn’t like DWJ. In Brave New World‘s case I had somehow decided that it was a completely different book. I thought it was of more of a straight up sci-fi persuasion, like a Dune style thang involving people wandering off to live on another planet. And I figured that there’d be, oh I don’t know, lasers or lightsabers or something along those lines. Instead it’s set mostly in a futuristic London. Which is, you know, awesome. And it’s just so insidious andwonderful, looking at the terrible potential for governments to control citizens- in this case via decanting, eroticism and hypnopaedia. I think that Huxley really sells it, partly just because of the confident command of scientific knowledge and the clever use of language, but also because it’s such a shocking world but it’s spoken about so matter-of-factly. I really liked the fact that the book launches straight into this world without prior explanation- the device of having students shown around might not be unique but I think it worked very, very well. Some really great techniques were used, I absolutely adored the overlapping conversations that ought to have been confusing but really weren’t; in fact they were very easy to picture.

I loved the idea that words like ‘mother’ and ‘born’ became unbearably smutty. It reminds me of being eleven and giggling in science lessons. Ah, sweet memories. It’s kind of ironic that critics found Huxley’s stark descriptions of erotic play almost obscene. The idea that not even Helmholtz would be able to take Shakespeare seriously when there was ‘smut’ or crazy ideas about love and fidelity was great. I (wo)manfully do not laugh at ‘lovemaking’ in Austen novels. Much. I’m not that much of a Shakespeare buff but I could appreciate and understand what Huxley was doing. I’ve not actually read The Tempest in full (gasp!) although I found it in my loft once, along with absolutely everything in the known universe. It’s probably not there anymore, maybe hidden in the piano or something. My mother is a total insaniac. But since it’s my father’s favourite Shakespeare play I’ve dutifully watched the marionette adaptation a couple of times, plus (and way better) when I was in Jo’burg I got invited to see this absolutely amazing thing called Forbidden Planet, loosely based on the film of the same name. It was indescribable. There was a robotic Ariel zipping around on rollerblades, and quite a lot of Elvis songs. I cannot possibly do it justice, but it was fabulous.

I was reminded a little of Dune, although the idea of hypnopaedia isn’t quite the same I guess it’s just that focus on control of the mind. Also I thought a little of V for Vendetta, just in terms of the control of culture and literature. I guess that kind of idea is ultimately terrifying for authors. I definitely liked the idea that Mustapha Mond had access to those kind of productions, and had a good knowledge of Shakespeare etc. That idea of the dictators standing outside of the social order they insist on is powerful. I liked this book better than 1984, I think it’s more powerful and less dated and, actually, has a scarier image of a dystopic society. I think that the ending of 1984 might have been better though, it’s not that I disliked Brave New World’s ending, it’s just that it was easy to see it coming. I rarely like book’s endings that much though, although it’s hard for anything to fail as much as the ending of Deathly Hallows (even if I have a soft spot for Albus Severus’ name…aww). I really loved the seriousness of Huxley’s letter to Orwell that it was included in my edition too, it was all “your book is very nice, but I think I’ve come up with a more sensible theory”. Dude had a point though. And, goshdarnit, I loved the emphasis on Ford, and to a lesser extent on Freud, and the fact that crucifixes were chopped and turned into ‘T’s. Ford’s mass-production techniques are sometimes cited as the starting point for our new epoch, it was definitely a canny choice.

You know, Huxley’s a damn good name. All names should have ‘h’s and ‘x’s in I think. I’m totally going to go and name a character Huxley now. The names in Brave New World were well done also, by the by. The characters too I think, they were somewhat sympathetic but managed to balance that line and be kind of foul as well. The Savage, John, might have a little overblown but I’m very glad that he wasn’t actually a Pueblo Indian because that would have definitely been taking the whole dichotomy way too far and into ridiculousness. I’m totally taking the line that John’s birth was one of Mustapha’s naughty little experiments. It would also explain why Linda was so confused by it. And I quite liked the fact that John’s moniker was capitalised, calling him the ‘Savage’ as if it was just his role in this society not particularly pejoratively (like Bill Ferguson’s explanation of ‘Foreigner’ in Japan). Also any mention of (the) Zuni makes me feel like I’m hearing some special anthropologists’s shout out. Cee and I might have squealed a bit at Transamerica for that reason. I also liked the idea that Jesus existed merely as part of John’s pantheon, even if Huxley was taking a bit of a religious angle it wasn’t a specifically Judeo-Christian one- he was merely encouraging spirituality, and I can appreciate that.

And, ah, I do rather like the word ‘soma’, even though it appears to get everywhere and kind of reminds me of reading Bourdieu and scrunching up my nose in confusion. I’m ok with it now, I think. But, hey, since I’m on the topic: I don’t think that Huxley was at all advocating an abandonment of the social. He was arguing against totalitarianism and for individuality, certainly, but it was a brand of individuality tempered by embedded social interaction. Maybe he would have got on with Charles Taylor et al. (I seriously have very little idea as to why that thought just popped into my head, but ok).

For all the apparent uniformity of this future world there was still the capacity for mistakes, as shown by Bernard’s physique, and constant worries about deconditioning. Maybe that’s a little heartening? And then there was also the ever present problem of the alpha pluses, who might attempt to fight their constraints. In fact that reporter who hid in the bushes watching John for three days was surprisingly resourceful all things considered, and perhaps was an alpha. The fact that there were still Savage reserves and random islands (which, Mustapha was right, would totally be the best place to go hang out…well unless you happen to be Rincewind) also hinted that the control was not as total as it seemed. Maybe that’s relevant too, just consider how pervasive we consider things like Internet use- but then look at actual rates of Internet access, for example.

Thing is, now, I really want to read Brave New World: Revisited, and The Island. I think I’ve got The Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell, back on my shelf of books to read back in London that is. Dammit. And I really want to read We. And some HG Wells. And…argh. Actually all things considered what I probably need to start with is Utopia. Why are there so many things that I want to read and watch and do? Le sigh. I might be a bit of an idealist, but I enjoy a good book about a dystopic future and I don’t think I actually believe in any type of utopia (yeah, I’m gonna stick with Proudhon), but dammit if that French quote at the beginning of Brave New World basically just saying that didn’t take far too long for me to translate properly. I really need to learn French properly. Which might be easier if I was in a Francophone country. And, preferably, not trying to do a billion other things at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Under some dirty words on a dirty wall

  1. woot, thank you! I’ve finally came across a website where the owner knows what they’re talking about. You know how many results are in Google when I check.. too many! It’s so annoying having to go from page after page after page, wasting my day away with tons of owners just copying eachother’s articles… ugh. Anyway, thankyou for the information anyway, much appreciated.

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