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Six years since the Christchurch earthquake. I didn't do the one minute's silence today, but every time I look at a clock and see '12.51' there's that shock of recognition, a gap opening up beneath things. Thinking of all those others affected.

Photo taken the day of the earthquake. This was a few hours after the main quake; I'd walked home to see what I could do there and then gone out to get my dog from his daycare, which I'd been unable to contact. In another hour or so the entire central city was shut down by the army and I had to leave.

(I can't get alt text to work; three wooden villas, twisted and distorted by the earthquake, but still standing. A figure on a bicycle watching in the foreground)

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Books read, January

Rather than keep getting further behind I will post all this behind a cut: this is all of January except for four books by Robin Stevens that I loved and which will get their own entry. Someday.

Sarah Dressen, Dreamland
Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit
Yoon Ha Lee, Raven Stratagem
Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun (x2)
Sherry Thomas, Not Quite a Husband
Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
Stephen King, Riding the Bullet
KJ Charles, Wanted, a Gentleman
Jenny Lawson, Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Naomi Alderman, The Power
Megan Abbot, You Will Know Me
Elin Gregory, The Eleventh Hour
Emma Newman, Between Two Thorns (the Split Worlds, book 1)

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Chocolate Box 2017

Dear Chocolatier,

Thanks so much for creating for me! This is going up late, sorry, so if you've started something already, run with it - really, I just would like to spend more time in these worlds with these characters.

General likes:

Worldbuilding, action, humour (witty dialogue or slapstick), friendship, teamwork, food & mealtimes, moments that change people for the better. Happy or bittersweet endings.

Do not wants:

Child/animal harm or death. Earthquakes. Non canonical character death. Non con. Mundane AUs (except FFVII), ABO, mpreg.


Compilation of Final Fantasy VII.

Zack Fair/Cloud Strife
Zack Fair and Cloud Strife

I played this for the first time in the aftermath of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake, and not only is it a fabulous game in its own right but it was the best possible distraction. I love Cloud, and I'd love to see him happy (despite all his own attempts to ensure the opposite!), and, well, obviously it would help if Zack were around. Friendship or relationship fine, although if you go with relationship, please don't erase Aerith. Ideas - well, pre-game bonding, either in the military or out socialising in Midgar? En route to Nibelheim, especially if you can work in a chocobo or two? (or any of the game stuff, phoenix downs and materia and all) Given events of canon I am more than happy with canon AU or other AUs, and I'd be thrilled if you could give them a happy(ish) ending.

Gundam Wing

Chang Wufei/Duo Maxwell
Chang Wufei/Heero Yuy (Gundam Wing)
Chang Wufei & Duo Maxwell
Sally Po & Chang WufeiFanart Fanfiction

Basically I love this series and its completely incomprehensible approach to space warfare, and I am especially fond of Wufei for his grumpiness and actual competence (I am less keen on his misogyny and would prefer to see this not being a major feature). As per tags, I am not particularly attached to any one pairing, or indeed a pairing at all. I would prefer to keep to canon but canon AUs are fine; I love space battles, space colonies, people repairing their Gundams, and am also fond of the total fanfic cliche of hiding out in a safehouse.

Babylon 5

Delenn/John Sheridan
Susan Ivanova/Talia Winters
Vir Cotto & Londo Mollari
Susan Ivanova & John Sheridan

This is really my "I love everyone in this bar!" fandom (well. Except Byron, but fortunately he wasn't nominated). I still think it's one of the best TV series when considered as a whole. I would love to see anything with any of the nominated characters and would find it impossible to pick a favourite out of them. I am actually really fond of the low-key moments in canon as well as the universe-changing, and I love the moments when cultures collide. How about a banquet (or state meal, or picnic, or hideaway obscure alien restaurant)? A visit? A diplomatic incident?

Artwise, I like cool stuff and quiet moments, interesting styles and pieces that make me appreciate characters all over again.

But anyway - I hope you enjoy your assignment!!

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Books read, 2016

91 books, 2 of which I read twice (My Friend Cousin Emmie and Ninefox Gambit). Captive Prince, Prince's Gambit, The Wizard of London, Last Call, Death on the Nile and Firestarter are also all re-reads, although not within the year. On demographics I really do need to make an effort to read more nonwhite authors (and, uh, possibly more men). I have not really been reading manga this year apart from a few volumes of What Did You Eat Yesterday that I haven't logged. I also need to tackle some of the (many!) books I've owned for years and haven't read yet.

Favourite new book:

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I haven't written this up, sadly, but I loved it - amazing worldbuilding, fascinating characters, intriguing plot, impressive prose, and very cool magic/tech system. I think it's brilliant. I have read the sequel in draft and really enjoyed it too, but the first one just blew me away.

A Notable Woman: the Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, by Jean Lucey Pratt (ed Simon Garfield) is a close second.

Favourite old book, or possibly favourite new series:

The My Friend(s) series, by Jane Duncan. These I have written up as I've gone through them. They are a stunning masterclass in writing and do so many things so well - character and setting particularly, but the way she explores and exposes motive and personality is outstanding. So far, My Friends the Mrs Millers, in which all the casual assumptions about race that her characters have been making (at this time they are living on a fictional Caribbean island) are suddenly overturned, My Friend My Father, which left me in tears, and My Friend Cousin Emmie, in which the titular character is shown to be both an incredibly difficult character and a truely tragic heroine, are my favourites.

Book I most wanted to love but didn't:

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. I love her blog and I think a lot of what this book is doing is fascinating, but as a narrative it never quite cohered for me and it's such a static book. Despite all the authorial work I am unconvinced by the 7-10 lists as worldshakingly important, I dislike urbane serial killers, I like Bridger but am troubled by the reliability of the narrator and the sabotage thread is interesting but only got going in the last chapter. I will however read the sequel and hopefully having lowered expectations will help.

Series I most wanted to love but didn't:

Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad, reviewed here. I did love The Secret Place; the detectives, the mystery and the characters all worked together really well, and hit a lot of my personal buttons. The others haven't been as good - either the narrator (Faithful Place, Broken Harbour or the plot The Likeness) haven't been as compelling, and too many of French's quirks dull with repetition. I do like them and would recommend them, and I'll certainly read the next one, but I have no real urge to own them and will stick to library copies.

Longest time to finish:

Jilly Cooper's Jump!, which I started about seven years ago. Now I'm stalled out on Mount! so, you know, expect an update around 2023.

Still in progress but I will finish soon, no really:

KJ Charles' Jackdaw, which I am enjoying and keep putting down and forgetting about. ZA Maxfield's The Pharaoh's Concubine, which is terrible and despite its name is contemporary m/m (escaped toyboy of Russian criminal mastermind hooks up with former gangbanger), but I'm only a couple of chapters from the end and feel committed, just not compelled. Shirley Barrett's Rush Oh!, historical whaling book, v good but I had heaps of other things to do and lost it in the car until it was overdue from the library and had to take it back.

Picture books:

I have not logged these because the numbers would be ridiculous; we usually have 40-65 out from the library at any one time, plus purchases, second hand sales, gifts etc. My favourites for the year are Tohby Riddle's Nobody Owns the Moon and John Birmingham's Aldo.

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Yuletide Reveal Post

For Yuletide this year I received Backpack about Will and his friends on their journey towards the White Mountains; although the mood of the piece is bleak, there are moments of kindness and connection that are very true to canon. I know my request went out to pinch-hit and am very grateful it was picked up!

Backpack (2708 words) by spiderfire
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Tripods - John Christopher
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Characters: Will Parker (The Tripods), Beanpole (The Tripods), Henry (The Tripods), Original Characters
Additional Tags: Canon-Typical Violence, Missing Scene, Vagrants, Original Character Death(s), Canon Compliant

Some encounters Will, Henry and Beanpole had on their way to the White Mountains.

I wrote End in Fire, a crossover between two of my recipient's requested fandoms, Stephen King's Firestarter and Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine. I matched on the former and had not actually read the latter; I had, however, read the prequel-written-later, Harrison Squared, which is YA horror and had some great characters and a nicely dry sense of humour, while completely failing at any sort of satisfying conclusion, which is just the sort of thing that nags at me and meant that when I reserved Firestarter through the local library I also reserved We Are All Completely Fine, just to check.

I re-read Firestarter and found some interesting hanging threads (other survivors of Lot 6, the hints that Charlie's power will somehow lead her to do something with/to the sun), and started a few ideas which went nowhere (also, inexplicably, research on climate change does not indicate whether it is possible to fix it by accelerating the life cycle of the sun, although it looks as though Charlie would have to cause core hydrogen exhaustion to get anywhere, which has other disadvantages!). While thinking about this I read We Are All Completely Fine - cool set-up, interesting characters, ending not as cliff-hangery as Harrison Squared but still not as good as the set-up - and discovered it had Greta, a girl raised in an all-female cult to be the bride/vessel of an unearthly destructive spirit of fire. I wavered for a bit (another Yuletide where I write a crossover between two tiny fandoms? at least there were a tiny handful of fics out there for Firestarter) but the idea was too compelling to let go, and at rather a late stage I emailed the mods to ask if my recipient would be okay with a crossover.

The story itself was easier after that - I wanted to get Greta out of being a containment device, and I wanted to show a possible future for Charlie, and I wanted a happy(ish) ending for both of them.

End in Fire (4990 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: KING Stephen - Works, Firestarter - All Media Types, We Are All Completely Fine - Daryl Gregory
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Charlie McGee, Harrison Harrison
Additional Tags: Crossover, Psychic Abilities, secret government agencies, Unlikely meetings, Cthulhu Mythos

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

I did mean to post a recs post, but I did a lot of reading instead (and still have a dozen or so windows open on long stories). The Wimsey and Wodehouse (Psmith and Jeeves & Wooster) fics were all good this year, and I also liked Mission Impeccable (GBBO spoof), The Fragile Skiff Attains the Shore (Master and Commander, Jack and Stephen endanger and rescue each other), and Many Havens, a Mercedes Lackey Vanyel fix-it fic.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/113549.html. Comment here or there.
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Reading Wednesday

Over a month's worth.


Tana French, The Trespasser. I liked this, although still not as much as The Secret Place. It follows Antoinette Conway from that book, investigating what appears to be an open and shut case of murder of a young woman and dealing with the fact that the rest of the squad apparently dislike her to the point of sabotage. It does not have a moment when Antoinette says, "This was the moment when I had the chance to do something different, but instead I stuffed everything up," (or similar) and it has a happyish ending, and there are lots of bits I liked about it (the resolution of the storyline with her father), but the case itself didn't grab me on this one.

Dick Francis, Comeback. Solidly middle-tier Francis in which a diplomat between posts finds himself investigating sabotage at a veterinary practice. The main character spent time in the town as a child and has his own memories of people/places, but because his name is different and he is now an adult there is an element of working undercover, which I liked, and there’s a vivid and startling image when the sabotage turns to murder, but the rest of this is fairly forgettable (the love interest is appealing as a character but the romance works even less well than usual).

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited Simon Garfield. Mentioned elsewhere. This was great. I put heaps of little bookmarks in when reading, but had no time to go back through it; basically, though, an excellent example of illustrating the general through the particularly, but also an excellent example of a particular experience - that of a single woman - that is all too often overlooked. You do get a sense of her crystallising in her 40s; the journals are shorter, her attitudes less flexible, and I do think about this as I'm in the same decade. I think it's common but not inevitable; Doris Lessing's memoirs don't do this for one, although I'm not keen to emulate her in many other respects.

Matthew Reilly, The Four Legendary Kingdoms. Latest in the series that started with Seven Ancient Wonders and is counting down, this one has Jack West Jr kidnapped to participate in the deadly games of a secret underworld kingdom that will serve the dual purposes of signalling to extraterrestrial intelligences that Earth's existence should continue and also granting power to one of the secret kingdoms that rule the world. Also, Scarecrow (from Reilly's other series) shows up as a rival competitor. I am not remotely in these for anything other than the ride, and on that level they work fine. I particularly like all the little diagrams of the ridiculously over-engineered challenges. If you are going to read any of Reilly's books I would pick this series or Hovercar Racer, although I really should read his first two as well.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call, or The Distinguished Thing. 1930s set murder mystery with East End (London) theatre backdrop; I really liked the worldbuilding and the characters, who are vivid and complex and interact with each other in interesting and unexpected ways, but then it fell apart at the end. This, I think, is largely because the murderer themselves is not so well characterised, and so the denouement falters.

[redacted for Yuletide] 2 books.

And then I discovered how to load ebooks from the library's extensive digital catalogue onto my Kobo *and* had to spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room with it.

JL Merrow, Played! – actor hiding out in Shamwell before taking up the finance job his father favours entangles himself with local dyslexic repairman, who he gets to coach as Bottom in the local theatre group’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s hard to go wrong with this set up.

JL Merrow, Out! Closeted workaholic quits his job and offers to take in teenage daughter when ex-wife is having trouble coping, and gets entangled with a charity worker who is not going to pretend not to be gay for anyone. This is a lot slighter and after I finished it I kept wondering if I’d forgotten to read the end.

Courtney Milan, Trade Me. Tina Chen is a poor student who, after an argument, swaps lives with Blake Reynolds, the handsome billionaire who just happens to be in one of her classes. I read this for Tina, really, because she's a great character who actually has a family and friends and a context, but I didn't have much time for Blake and the denouement with his dad and the product launch felt horribly cringe-inducing.

Stephen King, Blockade Billy. Novella length piece about baseball, pretty much all voice and imagery, but it stuck with me.

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller: writing lessons and more from 27 years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop. Part history/memoir, part teaching guide. Bits of this were more helpful than others (there's some repetition as well), and it's also very much an original Clarion book (I went to Clarion West) in talking about the Clarion experience itself. Worthwhile.

KA Mitchell, Ready or Knot books 1 (Put a Ring on It) and 2 (Risk Everything on It). Marriage-themed collection about 4 gay friends. Book 1 has the up-and-coming Broadway director Theo and his introverted Korean IT boyfriend dealing with the fallout after Theo’s massively public all-singing, all-dancing, Times Square proposal goes viral, book 2 is closeted former child star Jax starts a relationship with recently separated Oz, who parents two foster children with intermittent involvement from his scatty (male) ex, and does not want any more drama or lack of commitment. I do like that KA Mitchell has a lot of non-white protagonists (Oz is black and his ex Latino), and I do actually like the characters, but these are pretty slight. Everyone is super successful and rich, and there’s a lot of skimming over things – in book 1 both characters go off and have relationship epiphanies off-stage (at different times), then come back and narrate them to their partner, which successfully dulls the impact. Book 3 will deal with the last two friends, who have an on-again, off-again thing going, which is not my favourite trope but if the library has it I suspect I'll read it anyway.

In progress:

[Redacted for Yuletide]

Elin Gregory, Eleventh Hour. Historical m/m. I got about one chapter in and got distracted by something, will go back.

Lyn Gala, </i>Mountain Prey</i>. Contemporary small town m/m with a lead who is out on forest patrol when a handsome stranger seeking revenge on a criminal bad guy captures him and ties him up a lot, which is great because Stunt (the lead) really likes being tied up. I think this is just not working for me but I'm not sure why, given some of the stuff I've happily put up with previously.

Kate Sherwood, Dark Horse. M/M contemporary romance with the most glacial slow build ever - I think I was about 300 pages in before anyone had sex (and not within what I presume is the end-game relationship) *but* this is mostly because the lead, Dan, is grieving the loss of his long-term partner and also because he does have a job - training horses to compete in eventing - and there's a lot of horse in here, too. I do think it could have done with an edit, but it's doing quite a bit that I don't usually see in m/m (other details redacted for spoilers) and it's worth reading.

Up next:

I have been eyeing up my unread manga pile wistfully, but realistically All Yuletide All the Time.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/113008.html. Comment here or there.
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Silo Theatre 2017

I am currently filled with the milk of human kindness (and rather a lot of ice-cream) - I went to the launch for Silo Theatre's 2017 season; the 2016 has been a mixed bag, and I've skipped the surrealist elk play after the reviews suggested it was much more interesting to act in than watch. But for 2017 all the plays look great; two directed by Shane Bosher (the previous artistic director, who has done so many plays I've loved), at least one of which looks having a high chance of male nudity (it's called Cock) and the other is a contemporary take on Streetcar Named Desire, not my favourite Williams play but I think it will at least be interesting, a feminist one called Revolt. She said. Revolt Again, a return of Hudson & Halls: Live!, a black comedy Shakespeare in prisons NZ (TOA Productions) piece with Rob Mokaraka involved, reminding me I need to write up his excellent Shot Bro: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet, and last but certainly not least a production of Peter and the Wolf with puppets, film and rotating narrators, which will be screening when my two are 3 and 3/4 and hopefully able to enjoy it. They did have the video with faceless individuals doing allusive dramatic things (last year in balaclavas, this year in rainbow sheets) but otherwise all much more promising.

Anyway. We had vast amounts of ticker tape dumped on us in celebration, and a live band with a remarkably unintelligible singer and then nibbles in the foyer, and then as the nibbles were rather small we wandered off to Giapo, which has very nice ice cream under a ridiculous layer of ornamentation and presentation experience (I declined the offer of a Yorkshire pudding with my ice-cream), and I ate an ice-cream that probably doubled my calorie intake for the day, discussed theatre, and finally separated from my companion and went back to the car. At which point I discovered I'd lost my parking ticket. I went back to Giapo with no luck, then the theatre with even less optimism, given all the people and ticker tape, but when I got into the stage area and asked a guy with a leaf blower looked up and said "Oh yes. I handed it into the bar." I should have left him a drink, actually, for saving me the $70 lost ticket fee, but these sorts of things only occur to me now.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/112756.html. Comment here or there.
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Kaikoura Quake

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit North Canterbury (in the South Island) just after midnight this morning, and aftershocks are ongoing. It was felt up here by some (not me) and there's a lot of damage to land and property around Kaikoura, and to a lesser extent in Wellington, but there have only been two deaths, which after Christchurch is a massive relief even though it still feels like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Friends and family are okay but tired due to middle of the night evacuations and aftershocks, and unfortunately the weather forecast for tonight in the affected areas includes gale warnings, just what you need when you're trying to work out if it's wind or an aftershock rattling the house. I agree with [personal profile] china_shop that the pathetic fallacy re the effects of the US Elections is getting out of hand. All the best to all those affected.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/112442.html. Comment here or there.
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Reading Friday

Just finished:

Tana French, The Likeness. Cassie Maddox, Rob’s police partner from In the Woods, goes undercover as a murder victim when the body turns out to a) look exactly like her and b) be using the fake student identity Cassie herself used some years earlier when working undercover. She returns to the house her doppelganger shared with four fellow PhD students in a rural part of Ireland to investigate her own murder.

This is such a great concept and I wanted to love the book, but in the end I didn’t – I liked it, it’s readable, but once again French has her police characters start doing something unprofessional very early on in the piece despite acknowledging to themselves how stupid this is, it takes ages to get going (we know from the set-up that Cassie will go in; there’s no tension there) and for a murder mystery there’s a lack of actual catharsis at the revelation of the killer - something she has done much better in most of the others of hers that I’ve read, although Faithful Place also didn’t work for me. There’s a bit more in the revelation of the body’s identity, but again no explanation for the uncanny resemblance. Also, I’ve read these out of order but the close-knit group of friends who are somehow other worked much better in </i>The Secret Place,</i> and I had a much clearer sense of them as individuals. For all the length of this, the student cast feel underdeveloped.

I found myself thinking wistfully of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, my first encounter with and still the best at this trope – the characters are also distinctly more vivid despite the shorter length, and there’s much more of a pay-off at the end ("Retribution, [redacted]. Don't you recognise me?"). My copy of this is one lent to me by one of my high school English teachers, and I still feel a little bit guilty for not giving it back (it was part of a class set, so possibly not as bad – or maybe worse! – than a personal copy) but not enough to ever part with it.

Rose Lerner, Sweet Disorder. I actually quite like the characters and the world while not finding the story particularly convincing and not being remotely invested in the romance. I’d probably try another one by her but would be hoping for a strong non-romantic plot to keep me diverted; I kept putting this one down due to a lack of caring.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile, and Tim Powers, Last Call - both re-reads. I'd forgotten how many other people get killed in the Christie, but watching the plot tick along like a Swiss watch is always enjoyable. Last Call still works for me as a novel even while I am increasingly aware of some of Powers' conservatism (small c) creeping in - I think in previous reads I was focussed on the Fisher King and his wound, whereas now I am more struck by all the mystical marriage and heterosexual pairing; there's quite a bit of playing with gender in Last Call, and for the most part that's effective, but then I run into the assassin with such an overblown case of gay panic that I think we are supposed to read him as potentially gay, and it makes me twitchy.


Levi Black, Red Right Hand. YA horror with lots of short chapters, and the first page of every chapter is white text on a black background. I made it through the first 4-5 chapters (teenage heroine with baggage has mysterious figure arrive at her house at the same time as unearthly beasts show up to attack her, figure saves her life and offers her a deal) but it all felt like it was trying way too hard and I bailed.

Edward Wilson, A Very British Ending. Spies and plots in post WWII Britain, focussed around the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson; I might have liked this if I’d gotten more into it, but after 60 pages my only emotion about the main characters was dislike. This was fairly heavily coloured by the lead tracking down the former Nazi officer involved in an atrocious war crime only to reveal that the motive for the crime was because French partisans had killed off the male lover of the officer who then ordered the atrocity, and the whole thing came across as “Not just Nazis but Moral Degenerates”, which given the numbers of homosexuals forced into concentration camps by the Third Reich was not working well for me at all (the atrocity in question is historical fact, but the motive as far as I can tell is the author’s own). I keep meaning to read more Le Carre and should obviously stop trying alternatives.

In progress:

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield. See previous. Excellent.

Anna Butler, Gyrfalcon (Taking Shield: book 1). M/M sf romance. I read this before the serial numbers were removed, which is probably just as well because the two leads don’t actually interact at all until about a third of the way through the book and I would have been wondering if I’d downloaded the right thing. I like the worldbuilding in this.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call. 1930s England; a West End actress having a liaison with a married man at a hotel interrupts an attempted murder, and the man involved is a suspected serial killer. There’s also an ageing theatre critic and an up-and-coming artist, and I’m quite enjoying this without getting much urgency.

Up next:

Yuletide-relevant works are showing up, plus trying to get through some of my ebook backlog.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/112062.html. Comment here or there.