Competence: The Custard Protocol

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about books, but I wanted to talk about this one because I enjoyed it so much.

I read a lot, and one of the reasons I read a lot is because I love to lose myself in another character, to feel their emotions for awhile instead of my own. Writers talk about “hacking” our readers, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re fiddling with your brain chemistry to help you see things a different way.

When you read a lot, there’s a chance that you will become inured to that fiddling. Of course, there are also those masters that always manage to bring it out in you – laughter or tears or, if you’re very lucky, both. One of those authors that can evoke laughter in me is Gail Carriger.

I first read Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series about ten years ago now, and devoured the rest of the books in that series. Alexia’s practicality – which sometimes bordered on insanity – was something I could commiserate with utterly. Perhaps that is why I so enjoyed this new installment of the follow up series the Custard Protocol, Competence. Whereas Prudence and her method of going off half-cocked was annoying, Primrose with her deep practicality, was someone I could get behind. And the core emotional conflict of the story – that practicality can sometimes cause you to make choices that are harmful in the same way trying to walk in too small shoes is harmful – was something that I felt deeply.

This story is a coming out story of the best kind. It deals with not only attraction, but with the broader implications of coming out – the costs, both perceived and actual, and how those are not always the same; the embrace of family, both found and otherwise; and the joy of finally being yourself and letting go of the ideas of who you should be. It is absurd, as all of Ms. Carriger’s books are. It is also kind. In short, I recommend it.


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A breath of fresh air: Kamisama Kiss

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved anime and realized that there was endless amounts of it on Hulu. She promptly subscribed, and got lost in anime for months. This is not her story.

This is the story of Momozono Nanami, who accidentally becomes a god.

One of the things I loved so much about Kamisama Kiss was that Nanami has a very distinct personality. From the start of the anime, she’s plucky and angry and stubborn. In fact, she borderlines to tsundere status – but Nanami is also gentle and infinitely honest and open about her feelings. She’s a complex person, which is rare enough to see on the anime screen. Women in anime are too often put into very specific boxes – the gentle, childlike love interest, the boyish tomgirl, the insane seductress. They’re stereotypes that parallel but do not overlap American patriarchal concepts of women. If you are sexually confident or open, you must be unhinged. If you are too loud, you should be available.

How rare, then, to see a loud, self-determining woman who is comfortable with her attraction to the main love interest but who nonetheless is not overly sexualized? Nanami has been betrayed continuously by men in her life, but chooses to give them second chances – on her terms. She balances strength and kindness, force and compassion, and stays true to herself, all while growing into a power. All of this while navigating a world of magic that is mostly foreign to her, full of demons and gods and every kind of creature between.

In short, I definitely recommend the main series of Kamisama Kiss, especially the first season.

However….

I do not recommend the OVA. Let us pretend the OVA never existed.

As often happens in anime adaptations of stories originally told in manga, pacing and plot resolution becomes an issue in Kamisama Kiss. We see this clearly with such classics as Fruits Basket, where an ending was tacked onto the anime that made no sense, all the way up to one of my favorites, Akatsuki no Yona (Yona at the Blush of Dawn) which just…ended without any resolution. In Kamisama Kiss, they managed a little bit of both. The ending of Season Two had far too many plot threads dangling in the wind. In order to fix these, a three episode OVA was made. It does succeed in collecting and resolving the major plot threads (though not all of them) but it fails to leave Nanami as a powerful individual at the end. She is forced to give up her god power and her new way of life in order to save Tomoe, the fox demon who has been acting as her familiar.

Questions about how they will survive together – and whether Tomoe successfully becomes human, a key requirement according to the dialogue – are never fully resolved on screen. Overall the ending seemed rushed and generally unsettled me, especially when Tomoe threatened to rape Nanami while she was incapacitated, an incident whose emotional repercussions were never fully addressed. While knowing what happened helped to sooth some of my feelings of being cheated at the end, the hopeful and emancipatory emotional resonance of the series was largely spoiled by the OVA plot.

Nonetheless, Kamisama Kiss remains one of my favorite recent shoujo forays and will intrigue those with an interest in Japanese mythology as well. Give it a watch.


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Heroes and Dreamsnake

We’ve lost a lot of people in the past few years.

Perhaps it just feels that way because there are so many other bad things, and so the losses hit harder. Perhaps it is just part of growing up. I’ve just recently entered my third decade. It’s probably about that time. But you’re never ready to let go of your heroes.

Carrie Fisher was a hard one for me. So was Mary Oliver. This week, we lost Vonda McIntyre.

If you’ve been reading science fiction for a while, you’ve probably heard of Vonda McIntyre. Her book, Dreamsnake, is one of those canonical works that become their own entity, irrespective of author, almost separate from the author. Though no work could or should be separated from the one who made it, Dreamsnake has its own weight within the world of science fiction.

I first read this book in middle school, where I found it in the school library. I’m not sure who made the decision to stock that book in the middle school library of a small town in Southwest Virginia. It was shelved alongside Redwall and Jane Yolen, and I picked it up all unsuspecting. I have not read it since. I remember it so clearly, nonetheless. The desert landscape where the book begins, the craters from a long ago war, the idea that there were some things that could not be healed and that, sometimes, the only peace that could be given was sweet dreams. The found family Snake accrues in her travels, and the joy of discovery, the hope that remains a core of the story despite all of the darkness that inevitably fills a post-apocalyptic world. The book showed me what fiction could be. In some ways I have always been aspiring to do to others what that book did to me at twelve.

If we are lucky, we lose our heroes to death. Not to controversy, or an unkind word when we needed or wanted their kindness, not to villainy, but to death, which takes us all eventually. So though each of these losses makes the world feel smaller, I am grateful.

Look, if we’re lucky, we’ll leave some small mark in the hearts of those we meet. If we’re very lucky, it will be a mark like Dreamsnake left on my heart.


In less somber news, you can catch me this weekend at Roanoke Author Invasion from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday. Stop by and tell me about your heroes.

Cover reveal!

It’s that time!

I’m so excited to finally be launching this serial. It’s a slow burn, a feminine horror in the truest sense. I first knew I wanted to write this story or something like it around the time I wrote this post on the term.

You see, when I was pretty young and cassettes were still a thing, my parents got my little brother and I each a fairytale recording for Christmas or Easter or some other holiday. My brother got “The Tinder Box”, a story about a morally gray soldier who lies and murders his way to being king with the help of a magical matchbox. I got “Bluebeard” the story of a girl who is too curious and so gets murdered by her husband.

To be fair to my parents, I’m not entirely sure they were familiar with either story.

Every since, I have always been fascinated by Bluebeard tales. Now, at last, I get to tell my own. It’s called Veridian, and I hope you enjoy it.

Scroll down for the cover reveal, and an excerpt!

Continue reading “Cover reveal!”

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