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In the news today are a bunch of obits for director George Romero. Pretty much all of them focus on Night of the Living Dead, and to be fair, it's the work he is best known for.

But let's pause a moment and remember his movie Knightriders -- the closest thing the SCA has to its own motion picture. Legend (maybe true, maybe not; I honestly don't know) has it that Romero happened to attend a particular SCA Crown Tournament, and was swept up by the drama he saw there; his producers weren't thrilled by the idea, and said, "Enh -- maybe if you add motorcycles and a good soundtrack, we'll think about it". So he did.

Knightriders has always been on my personal list of Movies Every SCAdian should see. Not because the club portrayed is the SCA, mind. It very much isn't: it's essentially a traveling RenFaire where they joust on motorcycles. But the feel of the group, I've always thought, reflects the SCA beautifully. You have the folks who are dead-serious about The Dream, who see something better in the ideals of their club. You have the stick-jocks who are here for the sport and the babes. You have the craftsmen who are making it all possible, and, yes, you have the folks who are just here to party. (There's even poor Patricia Tallman, better known for Babylon 5, in her first major role as the token mundane who is enamored by the whole thing but doesn't quite seem to get it.)

The movie gets a bit full of itself at times, and some people mock it mercilessly, but I love it -- not least for Ed Harris (in my favorite of his roles) as King Billy, who is trying desperately to keep his people both safe and united, and to pursue his dreams while everything around him is falling apart. He is a wonderful study in obsession, illustrating both the advantages and problems of having a strong leader.

If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's not the most brilliant movie ever, but it's wonderfully human. For pretty much every character in it, I can say, "Yeah, I know folks just like that". That's one of the higher compliments I can pay a director...

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Okay, let's get the awkward part out of the way. Sunstone (a 5-volume graphic novel from Image) starts out with, "This is a love story about two BDSM-loving girls".

No, it's not porn.

Well, mostly not. Bear with me.

Our narrator is Lisa, a struggling writer (and novice sub), who works as a barista by day and writes BDSM porn online by night. Her primary series of stories is "Lisbeth", something of a MarySue featuring the title character and Allison, who is based on...

... Ally, a successful game programmer (and moderately experienced domme), who has been Lisa's online penpal for some time now.

The story opens when Lisa finally gets up the nerve to ask to meet Ally in person, and they get together to play out their fantasies a bit. They hit it off really well, and the book follows their evolution from play partners, to best friends, to roommates, to...

... well, that's the hard part. Sunstone isn't porn; it is very much a romance novel, about the difficulty of admitting to your best friend that you've fallen in love with her. It head-on tackles the not-unusual problem of modern society that sex is easy, but romance can be much, much harder.

Now, normally I'm not a huge fan of romance novels -- I've hit a few too many stories that depended on someone being outrageously dumb, or some Terrible External Force Keeping Our Protagonists Apart, or something like that; stuff that I can't really relate to all that well, and which has made me a little cynical about the form.

Sunstone has basically none of that: our heroines are smart and witty, there are basically no antagonists (indeed, pretty much everyone in the story is quite likeable), and nothing horrible happens. Rather, both Lisa and Ally are real, well-rounded people -- but both are smart enough to be horribly prone to over-thinking things, a little bit proud, and insecure enough to be lousy at communicating about the stuff that really matters. In short, they remind me an awful lot of me and many of my friends.

It is pure character study, and most of the content of the five volumes is simply people talking. I credit the author, Stjepan Sejic, for managing to pull that off well enough that I intentionally read the story quite slowly, a few pages a day, just to savor it. (At the end, he confesses how terrifying it all was. He seriously contemplated putting an alien invasion into the middle, just so it would be more in his comfort zone. Fortunately, he thought better of it.)

Now, I should explain that "mostly not" above. While Sunstone is a pure romance novel in structure and style (and quite a sweet one at that), it is a novel about two people who get together over their shared interest -- and their shared interest is BDSM. So bondage is a constant element of the story, and if you get off on beautiful women in leather and vinyl, you'll find plenty of lovely artwork here. There's a moderate amount of nudity, and there is occasional partial porn -- you'll sometimes find yourself three pages into a scene, and just around the time you start going, "Wait, this is getting kind of porn-y", it snaps back to reality as you realize that it has digressed into Lisa's latest story, which she is using to process what's going on in real life. And at times it gets a wee tad didactic about Safe Bondage. Suffice it to say, it's not porn, but it's not SFW either.

There isn't much "will they or won't they" tension to it -- the entire story is told in retrospect, from a viewpoint about five years later, and it's pretty clear that they will wind up together eventually. This is all about the road to getting there: the initial nervousness about meeting, the passion at the start, the settling down to deep and abiding affection, the stumbles, mistakes and fights (including what amounts to some hard-learned lessons about poly), and eventually figuring it out.

It's a delightful journey, and I regret getting to the end -- I've been using it as my end-of-the-day reading, because it pretty much always leaves me feeling good, as few comics do.

Highly recommended, especially if you like romance stories. Not quite High Art, but excellent enough that it's going onto The Shelf, at least for the moment. The story reaches a clear end with Volume 5, although Sejic is by now having enough fun that he is moving on (as often happens in romance universes) to spin-off novels about Lisa and Ally's friends. Check it out...

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While I think of it, a couple of reviews.  The most recent television season included two new genre (more or less) TV shows that were both brilliant and yet *wildly* different from each other.  In the modern TV environment, only a fraction of my friends have seen each, so it's worth talking them up.

Let's start with the obvious one: Westworld.  I'm not going to mince words here: it's the best new science fiction in ages -- best in the past decade that I can remember.  We'll see whether it lives up to the comparison, but the last time I was this jazzed about a series was Babylon 5.  And that's not an idle comparison: I've heard that this is going to be a five-year novel in the same way, and the pacing supports that.

In case anyone hasn't heard the premise: Westworld is vaguely a remake (but mostly just inspired by) an old SF movie about a theme park with robots run amok.  And that's kind of what's going on here, but it is *so* much more -- not least, in that the Hosts (the robots) might yet turn out to be the good guys.  At least, by comparison.

Mind, this story isn't light and fun.  One of the execs is Jonathan Nolan, who was behind Person of Interest (which I would previously have dubbed the best show of recent years), and he's exploring somewhat similar themes, but with HBO's budget and standards.  So whereas PoI got a bit grim sometimes, this one gets downright DarkityDarkDark.

The thing is, though, it doesn't just get dark the way you expect.  Yes, there's a good deal of violence and a modicum of sex.  But there isn't nearly as much sex as nudity, and the nudity gets downright disturbing -- it's used as a narrative tool, to show the way that the humans think of the hosts as *things*, not as people.  And even that only begins to set the stage for where the story winds up going, exploring concepts of sentience and free will very deeply, very honestly, and bone-chillingly.  This may be the first TV show since The Twilight Zone that manages to be fundamentally creepy through its exploration of existential questions.

Pretty much everything hangs together here.  The writing is tight (although I will warn that you need to be prepared for quite a bit of, "not all is as it seems"), the direction is solid, the effects are fabulous, and the acting ranges from solidly good to marvelous.  (I am a confirmed member of Team Maeve by now.)

Most importantly, the *structure* is delicious.  This feels like a novel, not a serial: deep, incredibly intricate, and finely woven together.  I'm fairly sure that Season 1 is just giving us the surface of the story -- there are ample indications that there is far more to this world, and I would bet we're going to see a lot more of it as the epic progresses.

We'll see if they can continue as well as they've started; I'm praying we don't get another Galactica at the end.  But this was the best first season I've seen of anything, period, and Nolan has demonstrated that he can finish strong.  This may turn out to be one of the all-time greats, and it is well worth seeking out.
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Staying away from details, but -- yeah, that's Doctor Who at its absolute best. I'm still not 100% sold on 11, but the writing absolutely sings in the conclusion of the season opener. It manages to get as creepy as Blink in places; it squeezed exhiliration and terror and heartbreak all tightly packed inside an hour; and as always happens, the more you scratch the surface of the story, the more hooks you realize they've left for the rest of the season.

There are two delicious gotcha moments, and both worked exactly as I prefer it: I figured out what was going to happen just about five seconds before it actually did. (If I figure it out sooner than that, it's *too* obvious, but there's an odd thrill to being just a hair's-breadth ahead of the story.)

Rory is growing some real depth; I'm gradually falling for Amy as badly as I did for Rose; and River is turning into an increasingly appealing mystery. After a Season Five that I found a bit flabby, Six is showing a lot of promise. Any TV episode that actually manages to leave me jittering is a fine story...
jducoeur: (Default)
Staying away from details, but -- yeah, that's Doctor Who at its absolute best. I'm still not 100% sold on 11, but the writing absolutely sings in the conclusion of the season opener. It manages to get as creepy as Blink in places; it squeezed exhiliration and terror and heartbreak all tightly packed inside an hour; and as always happens, the more you scratch the surface of the story, the more hooks you realize they've left for the rest of the season.

There are two delicious gotcha moments, and both worked exactly as I prefer it: I figured out what was going to happen just about five seconds before it actually did. (If I figure it out sooner than that, it's *too* obvious, but there's an odd thrill to being just a hair's-breadth ahead of the story.)

Rory is growing some real depth; I'm gradually falling for Amy as badly as I did for Rose; and River is turning into an increasingly appealing mystery. After a Season Five that I found a bit flabby, Six is showing a lot of promise. Any TV episode that actually manages to leave me jittering is a fine story...
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It occurs to me that, amongst all of the impressions that I posted, I never got around to actually talking about the most basic question: did we have a good time, and was the cruise a good idea? Overall, the answer is "yes"; a detailed review follows.
Cut for length )
jducoeur: (Default)
It occurs to me that, amongst all of the impressions that I posted, I never got around to actually talking about the most basic question: did we have a good time, and was the cruise a good idea? Overall, the answer is "yes"; a detailed review follows.
Cut for length )
jducoeur: (Default)
Having caught up with our current TV series, as previously mentioned [livejournal.com profile] msmemory and I are plowing through some of the backlog. A surprise delight turns out to be the miniseries Regency House Party.
Capsule Summary: A High-Stakes LARP with a *heck* of a budget )
jducoeur: (Default)
Having caught up with our current TV series, as previously mentioned [livejournal.com profile] msmemory and I are plowing through some of the backlog. A surprise delight turns out to be the miniseries Regency House Party.
Capsule Summary: A High-Stakes LARP with a *heck* of a budget )

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