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HOLY CRAP I GOT STRAIGHT A'S FOR WINTER QUARTER!

Borders last night was probably my best night so far. I scored about $30 or so in tips, although a bunch of that came from my friends, my brother, and my dad. Still, even subtracting the money they put in, I earned $14 playing two short sets, which I think is my best haul so far. I even had some guy come up to me who said he would've put in more than $2 if he had more to give and when would I be performing again? My friends joked that I got more cash because I was showing more skin - I was wearing a boatneck-style top where one side routinely kept sliding down my shoulder, which subsequently amused me and then creeped me out. (It's not like my shoulders are particularly sexy...)

Also, I am never playing covers again. Well, okay, that's an exaggeration, I'm sure I'll play covers again once I get more talent, but seriously, why is it that I can never manage playing VT's "Gravity" in public? I totally forgot the song halfway through when I played it back in December, and I botched the final iteration of the chorus extremely badly. I managed to get through to the end because I remembered, vaguely, the base chords of the section, but it's really galling because I know this song I've played it a million times from memory during practice and nailed it most of the time. Le sigh. Just another reminder that I need to get more original pieces done.

Speaking of original pieces, against my better judgment, I also debuted "Wasted" during my second set, which is still only maybe 70% finished but technically performable. I got through it well enough, but it's not one of my more interesting songs. It is one of my more personal songs, and I am proud of the lyrics, but musically, especially for the vocal lines, I feel like something is lacking. Is it intrinsic in the composition, or do I - once again - simply lack the vocal ability to pull it off? I don't know. I have to work on this song more and see what I can do. I also played "This Song Sucks", which I've been trying to avoid for a while because that song seriously sucks, but I was getting lethargic audience reaction during my second set, so pulling the comedy card out was partly to (attempt to) amuse them and partly to amuse myself.

But enough of my music for now - I must work on my art. Somehow. Somewhere.

***

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is one of the best high fantasy trilogies I've read. Admittedly, that's not saying much since I don't think I've read that many fantasy trilogies. I think the last one I read was Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy trilogy a couple of years ago, which I liked. Both The First Law and Kushiel's Legacy are set in something like an alternate Earth world, with extra magick and supernatural shenanigans, but that's where the similarities end. The First Law, really, is more akin to George R.R. Martin's massively epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, in its dark, gritty tone; in its narrative structure of multiple interlocking viewpoints; and in its world-scale story. I've only read the first two books of ASoIaF (and I'm not entirely sure if I want to read the rest), but if I had to compare that series with Abercrombie's series, I think Abercrombie's series is, in some ways, easier to get through. There's still a massive cast of viewpoint characters, but it's limited and none of them die while the shit is still hitting the fan. (After it is a different story, but alas.) Also, this series is actually finished within three books, so at least you're not left hanging like you are with ASoIaF at the moment. If you enjoy GRRM's work for ASoIaF, you'll want to take a look at The First Law trilogy (the first book is The Blade Itself, followed by Before They are Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings). And if you're just looking for something different in fantasy and you're willing to wade through some pessimistic, gloomy material, then this might be for you as well.

One of the things I admire about this trilogy is how tightly plotted it is. Not so much in terms of the individual books - I frequently felt as though this story was broken up into books only because to put them together into one huge honkin' volume would just not be practical. It would make an awesome weapon though. But in terms of how plot points were laid out and then woven into the tapestry of the plot and tied up, The First Law feels very compact (...maybe that's not the word I'm looking for, since there is a lot of stuff going on in these books). The ending is open...and yet it also feels claustrophobically closed, as a result of the development of the characters in the book (another thing I admired about this series) and how Abercrombie has turned common fantasy tropes on their head and then drowned them in a barrel of sewer water.

I should warn that, although The First Law technically ends with the "good guys" winning, it's not a happy ending. I know that seems like a huge spoiler, but trust me: what will interest you the most is the journey, not the destination. If you trace the character development and story trajectories throughout the series independent of broader context and details, it would seem like a happy ending: one characters accomplishes zir overall goal, another one gets to return home, another one gets a promotion, and so forth. And yet, within the story, all of it only seems sad, futile, and meaningless. One of the themes repeated throughout The First Law (mostly, I think, from Bayaz, a wizard known in the world as The First of the Magi, who's a helluva piece of work in this series) is that history invariably repeats itself as a result of the folly and short-sightedness of mortals. The overall story arc of The First Law is cyclical: although many of the viewpoint characters have changed considerably through the series, they nevertheless end up returning, physically or otherwise, to where they came from. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The other theme that runs naked and screaming throughout The First Law trilogy is that life ain't fair, and boy howdy, is that ever bludgeoned home in the story. Although every viewpoint character has their moments of Fuck My Life, it's probably most prominent in the character stories of Superior Sand dan Glokta (a former distinguished upper-class gentleman and military man, now turned crippled torturer in the employ of a monarchy) and Ferro Maljinn (a woman who was sold into slavery as a young child, then later escaped). Both of them eventually get vindicated, but the schadenfreude is tempered with the knowledge of the events that brought about those chances for vindication. The victory is a hollow victory, like a large loaf of bread you buy at the marketplace that's actually mostly filled with cobwebs. This further contributes to the "claustrophobic" feeling with regards to the ending that I mentioned earlier, and the reader ends up pitying the characters. You know that they "won", and yet you can't really feel "happy" for them, knowing what you know. In fact, I don't think even the characters feel "happy" about their victory, just relieved that they're still alive. As Logen Ninefingers (the most feared man of the North) would say, you have to be realistic about these things.

I have some minor quibbles with this series, mainly concerning Abercrombie's writing style, which is noticeably clunky in parts of The Blade Itself but gets better in the next two books (but which I still found, oddly enough, kind of hard to get through - it's not even flowery or anything like that). The characters are also immensely flawed in many ways, which is certainly a refreshing change from bland stereotypes or blatant Mary Sues/Gary Stus, but the degree to the flaws manifest in the narratives may be off-putting to some people. Certainly there have been many times where I wanted to strangle Glokta and Maljinn, who are intensely single-minded in many ways, defined almost solely by their past tragedies. It's understandable but irritating at times. Logen Ninefingers and his friend the Dogman are probably the most likable characters in the book, in terms of being a comforting personality lens to read through. [SPOILER]I was also disappointed that we didn't get a plot related reason for Logen having the other personality of the Bloody-Nine, since we got plot reasons for a lot of other character quirks in the series, like why Ferro has amazing reflexes and is colorblind, why Logen can talk to spirits, and why the bumbling apprentice Malacus Quai suddenly knew his history.[/SPOILER]

But The First Law is, overall, well executed. I'm interested in picking up his next book, Best Served Cold, which is set in the same universe as The First Law but with a different kind of story, a different cast of characters (though I've heard that many of the other characters from the previous books will return in some measure), and a different setting (another country in the TFL universe).

Randomly - I'm also fond of the name "Tolomei" from the book. Wish I could use that as an alias for something.

***

Lauren brought over her DVD for Pan's Labyrinth, which I'd been meaning to watch for some time but never could park my ass down to watch it. I don't watch movies very often, and I rarely watch them when they first come out in theatres. What usually happens is that I'll see an interesting trailer or hear about something, make a mental Post-It of it, and then promptly forget about it. I seriously can't sit down and watch things for some reason - it makes me feel like I'm being idle. Because there's clearly nothing idle about obsessively refreshing my usual pages on the interwebs. /goes off on tangent

Anyway, Pan's Labyrinth is a dark fantasy story set against the background of rural Spain in 1944, under the dictator Francisco Franco. (Who has a real name that you could run a marathon across. This factoid has no relevance at all to the story, but I thought it was amusing.) Young Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen are heading to the countryside to move in with the heartless Captain Vidal, the father of Carmen's unborn child. Vidal is, at best, apathetic to Ofelia and Carmen, and at worst he's actively violent (physically and verbally) towards them. As Carmen's health unravels, relegating her to bed rest, and as Vidal continues his campaign to flush out guerilla fighters in the forest, Ofelia is left to her own devices to do what she wants, including investigating the mysterious labyrinth nearby.

I really wish I could write a longer review for this movie, but there's so many layers to peel through and I lost half my life getting distracted by the Fuck My Life website that I linked earlier and I have classes again tomorrow that I'll just say that it's an excellent movie, but heartbreaking. It starts out slightly whimsical but quickly descends into darker depths. Like Abercrombie's series, this is another narrative that takes common fantasy elements (in this case, the young protagonist with a less-than-desirable real life, the non-human mentor, the quest for mystical objects for the realization of some lofty goal) and then takes a potato knife and completely mutilates them. I'm seeing two different readings of the movie's overall message - it's either that great things come at great sacrifice, or that living in a fantasy world for too long will destroy your real world. I'm not entirely sure which message we're supposed to take away. I've heard it argued that the fantasy element of Pan's Labyrinth is superficial and trivial to what is a perfectly good story examining the casualties of the Franco regime, and while I'm not sure I entirely agree with this argument, I don't think it should be completely dismissed, either. The entire premise revolves around the existence of that fantasy world, and it's Ofelia's hope - and the audience's - for something happier. But things occur that call into question whether that fantasy world truly exists. There's some parallels between what happens in the real world and the fantasy world, but instead of cementing a solid connection between the two worlds, it suggests the possibility that Ofelia - who is an active bookworm - simply has an overactive imagination that she's using to escape from her disastrous home situation.

Randomly - we watched this movie in the original Spanish with English subtitles, but as I was reading the English subtitles I was hearing the Japanese equivalent in my head. It manifested as a string of Japanese syllables for some of the longer sentences, and for the basic stuff ("thank you", "welcome", "yes, sir", "where are you?") I "heard" the actual Japanese translation. I'm told this is a phenomenon called retroactive interference. My friends wonder how I didn't go insane. I wonder too.

***

Holy crap, I just found out that DePaul's CDM school is holding auditions for animation and game design majors with senior standing to audition 100 professional voice actors who've agreed to work for free for their capstone animation and game projects. That's amazing. It kind of makes me wish I'd stayed with animation. But then again, I have no talent with animation, so I'd just be intimidated and then depressed at the idea.

Hopefully in the next few entries I can talk about the ending of Michiko to Hatchin.

-Reileen
you might say that I'm the last man standing now

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Date: 2011-01-16 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Love this blog. I’ll be bookmarking this one. Thanks!

painter 11

Date: 2011-01-17 08:42 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

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Reileen van Kaile

April 2010

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