1. Delightful news: the first Mythic Delirium anthology is out in the wild. I have a poem in this one, alongside such amazing people as Amal El-Mohtar, Marie Brennan, Sonya Taaffe, Georgiana Bruce, Jane Yolen, Ken Liu, C.S.E. Cooney, and many, many others.

2. Once Upon a Time is even more snarkable than I could have dreamed in my wildest hopes. Good thing, too, since I will be recapping each episode for Tor.com this season. You can catch the initial posts here, here and here.

I've also been chatting about Paddington Bear, because, Paddington.

3. I finally got to the new Harry Potter section at Universal, and I have to say - I like it a lot more than the first section. Fake London, complete with the little teddy bears that I was chasing all over London (at, I must say, a higher price, which - Universal, if you are more expensive than anything in London, you really need to reconsider your pricing stategy), a dragon that blasts fire every few minutes which is undoubtedly going to be very unpleasant in the summer (you can definitely feel the heat), ice cream, evil wands - yay. Did I mention the dragon? Yay! If you can splurge for the dual tickets for both parks, I recommend it - that lets you take the little train over to Hogwarts, which was fun. (I kinda would have liked at least one view from the train to the rest of the park/Orlando area, but I can see how that would have spoiled the Harry Potter effect.

The one negative note: if you do use a large mobility scooter, the restaurant at the new section may be difficult to navigate - to the point where the greeters at the entrance will suggest leaving the scooter at the entrance and walking in. (I know, because they asked me to do just that - and I was in a smaller scooter.) I would recommend NOT leaving the scooter outside - it's a longer line/distance than it appears.
Fair warning: I am in a hideously bad mood today, but I did want to note that Potterpalooza has started up on Tor.com, opening with my reread of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher or Sorcerer's Stone depending upon which side of the ocean you are living on at the moment.

Since it's possible that some of my crankiness is from a lack of food, off to solve that problem first.
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, by Mary S. Lovell and and Wait for Me: Memoirs, by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire.

I can't resist big gossipy biographies about British aristocrats – an admitted weakness – and the bigger and more gossipier they are, the more irresistible they are. Thus, it was probably inevitable that I would pick up Deborah Mitford's Memoirs, and, after a moment, a volume covering the lives of her and her sisters, since between them the six Mitford sisters knew absolutely everybody. Not surprisingly, since one became an admired novelist, two diehard Nazis and intimates of Hitler, one a communist and American civil rights leader, and one a duchess and sister-in-law of one of the Kennedys. As their biographer notes, two of them were also among the very few people who could claim friendship with both Hitler and Winston Churchill; another had a torrid affair with Charles de Gaulle's second in command, a third was close friends with Maya Angelou, and so on. And on. And on. Even Scott Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire and Hillary Rodham Clinton sneak in here. It's like a roster of the 300 most influential people of the 20th century. (Lovell, clearly overwhelmed with the social schedule of three of the sisters, drops about 3/4 of the names, but the Duchess of Devonshire cheerfully includes every last one of them – I think it's about 800 people in total – perhaps feeling that even the dead would be hurt at getting left out. Frankly by page 400 I was reeling, and I freely admit that my eyes glazed over at the chatter about Charles and Diana's wedding because it was Just Too Much.)

Also, they inspired three Harry Potter characters: Narcissa Malfoy (loosely based on the third sister, Diana Mosley), Bellatrix Lestrange (less loosely based on the fourth sister, Unity Mitford), and Andromeda Tonks (loosely based on Decca Mitford.) This little tidbit is not in either book, and I'm not sure if anyone has informed Deborah Mitford that Helena Bonham Carter's performance was inspired by her sister's life. (The Bonham Carter family were acquainted with the Mitfords, although I don't know if Helena Bonham Carter ever met any of them. Quite possibly the Duchess of Devonshire since see above.)

As you might be guessing, the sisters were notorious. And as you might be guessing, both books turned out to be very problematic indeed, and not just because of the various royal weddings and presidential funerals and cheerful memories of Teddy Kennedy landing on the lawn.

Cut for length, Nazis, problematic dealings with racism, British novelists, and a lot else. )
Just returned from seeing The King's Speech, which is a pretty good film that is about to generate several Oscar nominations for most of its cast, especially Colin Firth as George VI (and for those assuming that this is another Colin Firth chick flick role, not really) and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist (his winning moment, oddly enough, is when he attempts to persuade a group of amateur actors that yes, yes, he can play Richard III; depending upon how you feel about that particular speech, you will either be howling or covering your ears in pain.)

The casting is pretty much uniformly excellent, featuring, as it does, so many of those British actors that seem to make period films. But one bit threw me. Timothy Spall plays Winston Churchill. The problem with this is not Spall as an actor (he's fine) but that, well, Churchill had a very distinctive look, and Timothy Spall has an equally distinctive look, and when I saw him, I didn't think Churchill, I thought, Wormtail. It's possible that I might not have had Dumbledore (a very good Michael Gambon playing someone not at all like Dumbledore, really) not slid into the movie earlier.

The feeling only got worse when (Spoiler!) Churchill comes over to have a nice chat with the Duchess of York, played by Helena Bonham Carter, aka, Bellatrix, and despite my very best efforts and some lovely acting by all involved all I could think was that Voldemort was about to try to assassinate the royal family, which added a kinda gripping if wrong suspense.

Also, Derek Jacobi, aka His Imperial Stutteringuous Claudius, makes an appearance advising a stutterer, which, well. I am only grateful that no one jumped into pirate singing. Also, Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice who was also Cicero in Rome which with the Derek Jacobi bit...yeah. An IMDB.com free-for-all.

I'm not saying that this movie wouldn't have worked better had it not been stocked with Harry Potter, I Claudius and Pride and Prejudice actors, mind you, but I couldn't help thinking of Shakespeare's day, where of course they had the same problem of the same actors shifting to different roles, but at least didn't have to worry that their audience knew quite well what these historical personages should look like.

Anyway, good flick. Go and see it, and try not to think that Voldemort is about to descend on the royal family or anything because (Spoiler!) neither he nor Ralph Fiennes appear in this film.
I thought about writing a year end summary, but figured I hadn't even really talked about December yet. So, lessons learned in December:

1. Butterbeer is indeed foamy, sweet, delicious, and, to be truthful, just a teensy bit nauseating. Or more than a teensy bit nauseating.

2. Hogwarts can be explored in many ways. Some of these ways have elevators. Some of these ways lead you through the final store. Some of these ways involve lengthy communication with team leaders and discussions of just exactly where the damn Universal parking lot is and why is it unlikely that any wheelchair user barring a marathon trained one is overly likely to be able to manage getting a manual wheelchair from the damn parking lot to Hogwarts. Suggestions, again, that Universal consider a) moving its disabled parking, b) expanding its disabled parking, c) telling its parking attendants where the disabled parking is so that people do not go round and round and round lakes and find themselves going through the entire parking lot AGAIN.

3. You can, indeed, spend considerably more time in December contemplating disabled parking than you had ever wanted or wished to.

4. Four people can attend Gatorland and have a very different idea of it. Possibly because two of the people sat on gators; three of the people bought fudge, and only one person (to my knowledge) got mad at the bathrooms.

5. Alligators, are not, for the most part, the cutest creatures on earth. Baby alligators, however, are still remarkably adorable, even knowing that they will happily remove your fingers.

6. One issue with living in Florida too long, and spending extensive time in the Everglades, is that the response to a 16 foot and very fat gator is, oh, whatever.

7. The fudge at Gatorland is, hands down, the best fudge at any theme park in Florida, bar none, hands down.

8. I can on occasion be repetitive and wordy.

9. Some of you are doubtless thinking we all learned lesson 8 well before this December.

10. Sea lions are awesomely cute, even when you are hearing a story about how one of them nearly ripped the head off a fellow sea lion leaving him with a bloody and kinda bare scalp. And by awesomely cute, I mean, dangerously awesomely cute.

11. Dolphins are best appreciated under the influence of fudge. And coffee. And coffee and fudge. I think you get where I'm going with this.

12. A restaurant can be perfectly adequate and even enjoyable until you take relatives there, hoping they will enjoy themselves.

13. Waiters who are unable to talk will also find it difficult to deliver correct orders.

14. This sort of combination will lead to skipping any form of tiramisu and heading right on to the Coldstone Creamery. Which, all in all, is not an entirely bad thing.

15. The Sanaa restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually an interesting way to see Animal Kingdom without venturing into it; animals wander by, people bang drums, plus, creative and wildly exciting booze.

16. We, as humans, can design amazingly entertaining and even artistic electrical fences.

17. A woman from the Philadelphia can go to great lengths to try to convince a British magician that she is not, absolutely not, anything like anyone on the Jersey Shore, whatever her accent, while wearing high heeled boots, fishnets and a miniskirt that barely, but barely, covers her butt.

18. Some Americans are, alas, unable to distinguish between images of Queen Elizabeth II and Lady Liberty.

19. It is not as easy as you might think to perform card sharks for an extremely drunk man, also from Philadelphia, and also, absolutely, and completely, not like anyone on the Jersey Shore, however much said drunken man may be appear to be impersonating several of the cast members of the Jersey Shore.

20. The combination of drunkenness, miniskirts and questionable assumptions about the British Royal Family will send even the most warmth-loving British magician out to do card tricks in the cold.

21. From [personal profile] fizzgig_bites and myself: the word of the staff at the Big River Grille & Dining Works at Disney's Boardwalk is not to be trusted in pretty much anything. Except perhaps the beer. Which we didn't order.

22. Fireworks.

Ok, that wasn't a lesson, exactly, more a moment to be savored—it was a pretty amazing show. Hmm. Lesson. I like fireworks, although again, we all kinda knew that one already.

23. It is, indeed, possible to back out of an elevator only to confront a clown.

24. The longer spiced apple cider simmers, the better it tastes. If you are clever, you can conceal this as a cooking technique. If you are not, everyone will yell at you for concealing the spiced apple cider from everyone.

25. A clown can throw a light at a child, and steal it back again.

26. An egret directly outside your window can end up being a rather aggravating experience, especially if the egret is also aggravated.

27. You can spend several minutes trying to sum up visits from friends before realizing that you actually can't, and should have spent this time eating chocolate or baking brie instead.

28. You can spend much of the month barely discussing either of the three most lifechanging things that happened in it.

29. Your very best holiday present may come from a very unexpected place, and may actually end up getting delivered in March.

(Traditional publication/writing summary for the year probably coming up soon. Probably.)

(And as I was typing this out, last lesson: my cats are really never going to get used to fireworks, are they?)
But first, a question from the Americans in the audience: does it really take Londoners that long to brew a cup of cappuccino? And if so, how on earth is London, as a city, going to be able to handle the Olympics?

But enough of this. Some spoilery thoughts below:

Deathly Hallows want to eat your spoilery souls! )
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One does not have enough Alan Rickman in it.

Yes, I'm aware that I've said something of the sort before. But this time it's really, really true.
So, as part of this (so far, mostly failed) attempt to blog daily in July, a tale from last weekend.

I headed over to my mother's for a small July 4th party. So you know, my mother has a condo that overlooks a small lake and just beyond that, Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure on one side. From another balcony, you can see SeaWorld's occasional fireworks, and if you don't mind heading into the hallway, you can more or less see Disney's fireworks in the distance. That, combined with various small private celebrations (Florida: we can and will use gunpowder at will! YAY!) makes it a pretty decent place to watch fireworks, even if this year, the larger celebrations (the various city/town/neighborhood/resort fireworks) were split up between two nights.

Joining us were some friends and acquaintances from my mother's church – A and B (not their real initials), the acquaintances, and C and MF (their real initials; I think a few of you have actually met them), the actual friends. A was a quiet, older, uncertain man, eager to please; B, his wife, held herself carefully, tightly, and watched everyone. C and I bonded again over a mutual hatred for Alamo Rent-A-Car and Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines while A listened and nodded, and in another area my mother caught up on church news with B and MF.

Over dinner my mother, who really liked my story in Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction and wants me to write more things like that, instead of "that weird stuff," brought up, proudly, the subject of my writing and "all of her great reviews," and I clarified that yes, I write science fiction and – and this is important – fantasy. Fantasy. Fantasy. We're all clear on what this means to most people, right?

Magic.

Since the group did not exactly consist of science fiction/fantasy fans (it's safe to say I was the only one in the group) conversation meandered over to disability issues. My mother noted that when you're chronically ill, you tend to want to spend your good moments enjoying life, not focused on disabled advocacy. Nonetheless, the group agreed that I am nice and articulate and should spend my time doing disabled advocacy, even if I want to write about, say, magic instead.

Fortunately enough things started to explode outside, so to the balconies we headed.

I mentioned that you can see Universal Studios from the condo, right? This unfortunately means that you can also see Universal's Rip Ride Rockit, which from a distance at night looks like a little dragon – or, on July 4th, a little firework - climbing, climbing into the sky and then PLUNGING at a very nasty angle to its dragon death. (Ironically, the cars on Universal's Dragon Challenge ride, from a distance, don't resemble dragons at all.) It's kinda sickening, although I am assured by no less an expert than a ten year old that "Oh that ride is TOTALLY AWESOME BUT YOU HAVE TO RIDE IT AT LEAST FOUR TIMES BEFORE YOU THROW UP." So, um, now you know. You will not be getting my personal testimony on this subject.

But anyway. You can also see Hogwarts rising from the end of the park – and, as it turns out, blocking the main place where Universal Studios used to set off their fireworks, with the result that Universal gave us only a Small and Sad fireworks show, but whatever. This led to a discussion about various trips by grandchildren (I should have mentioned that I was by far the youngest person there) who were all Very Excited about Universal Studios. MF, who, as I may have mentioned, is a very nice woman who deserves better than to be tortured by thrill rides, made a few jokes about it; C revealed that he doesn't actually know the difference between Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (he'd seen bits of the movies but gotten bored, and never read any of the books). My mother and C complained about the rumors of lines (reportedly still two to four hours, which in Florida summer heat is no joke). I admitted that I loved Harry Potter and was planning on going once the temperatures, at least, got reasonable (I'm not holding out much hope for reasonable lines), and my mother explained that she would be dropping me off, but not bothering to enter herself, and B noted that her grandchildren wanted to see Harry Potter, but that she had read all about witchcraft and wizardry in the Bible, and she knew what the Bible had to say about wizardry and witchcraft.

Pause.

I should note, by the way, that this is not an attitude I tend to associate with the United Methodist Church. (Also, to stave off some potential comments – yes, I'm agnostic; no, I have no problems with churches or Christians.)

Conversation shifted, for awhile, to other things – church gossip, grandchildren gossip, fireworks excitement, general agreement that watching the Rip Ride Rockit and Magical Midway's Slingslot thingy was making everyone sick, and then another mention of Harry Potter, and B admitting that she'd seen the various lines of people heading to or already inside Universal, pretending to be witches.

"Seeing them in their costumes and those wands –" her breath caught a little –"it makes me sick."

Awkward pause.

It took me a few seconds to open my mouth to answer, but MF was there first. "Well, you have to give Harry Potter credit for at least one thing," she said. "It's got kids actually reading real books. That's something."

"That's true," said C hastily.

But I, the fantasy writer, said nothing. Perhaps I should have, but then again, I'd already noted that I was planning on handing over hard earned money to Universal Studios for the sake of Harry Potter, that I liked Harry Potter, and, more critically, that I actually write the sort of things she finds so evil and sickening. Perhaps, I thought, in her focus on the evil of wizards and witchcraft, she missed that the word "fantasy" encompasses both. And I did not want to start an argument in my mother's home with one of her guests - especially since arguing would not have done any good.

Before she left, B told me, again, that I really should become a disabled advocate. The phrase "God's plan" might have been mentioned.

I don't have a neat summary sentence to end this post. It's just a report, really.
Usually, when I finish a book, I know whether or not I liked it. I may not have made my final judgement on it – for some books that takes another couple of readings – but at least I know that much.

Not so with Skin Hunger, by Kathleen Duey.

Skin Hunger (2007) appears to be Duey's artistic response to the Harry Potter and assorted "wizard school/learning magic" novels, where the young wizards are trained in the wonders and dangers of magic. In those schools, magic has its dangers – think of Ged confronting his shadow and lying, broken, for days, or Harry et.al. finding a troll in a bathroom in their first year (not to mention later events) but also its wonders: the glowing illusions, the transformations, the occasional flying. And above all, the sense that the wizardly teachers are, for the most part, concerned for the welfare and success of their students – even those authority-flaunting ones like Harry.

In Skin Hunger, the young wizards in training are systematically tortured, starved, encouraged to betray each other, and subject to various psychological horrors – told, for instance, that their parents brought them to the school fully knowing that most would die, and that they would never see their children again. (This does not go over well.)

This part of the book is terribly, deadly convincing. (The other half of the book, about a young girl joining two wizards who are undergoing similar issues and obsessions, is less convincing for any number of reasons.) It makes a vicious sort of sense that magic should be painful and dangerous to learn; if power corrupts (a frequent theme in contemporary fantasy) it makes sense that these powerful, inherently corrupted wizards would, indeed, use pain and torture as part of the training process. And although I did find myself thinking that the young wizards might be learning faster if they were not so obviously suffering from severe calorie restriction and dehydration – Hogwarts' system of abundant food does have something to recommend it – these weakened students, focused on thoughts of food, are in no position to rebel against their well fed, fully alert teachers, or, for that matter, invade magical bureaucracies and wantonly destroy perfectly decent furniture, statues and fountains. Ahem. And I expect I'll be picking up the sequels, if only to see where Duey is going with all this.

But somehow, I still find myself wanting that wonder, that power, that – that magic – in my wizard stories. That, for the lack of a better word, joy. A story where magic has no wonder, no - magic - seems to me, in some ways, to be missing the entire point. Why escape – or create – a fantasy world that lacks that wonder?

Note: the presence of "wonder" does not necessarily exclude darkness and grimness – indeed, my favorite fantasy works tie and bind them together, though it's a very tricky thing to do.
7. Tuesday, my father decided to celebrate my birthday by having toilet paper thrown at me.

Seriously.

8. Told to rest and be good. Do not do as much of this as, in retrospect, I should have. Some small things Get Done. Notice feet swelling and decide to take wheelchair instead of scooter for the evening, which turned out, in retrospect, to be a surprisingly prescient move.

9. Take nap. Awoken by overly happy cat.

10. [profile] tgregoryt and I take off to my parents, where we transfer cars and drive behind Universal Studios, which right now is mildly awesome since Hogwarts – well, a little Hogwarts – has just been unscaffolded to the wondering eyes of the general public. Mildly amused to realize that from the lofty towards of Fake Hogwarts you can look directly down on the all too real institution of Dr. Philips High School.

11. Drive round and round the general Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure/City Walk area. Begin to wonder where we are going.

12. Where we are going is to a back drop off area, chosen mostly to keep me from squawking about the Universal Studios parking lot. (That failed. I am unable to be within visual distance of that parking lot without squawking about it.) Get into wheelchair. Notice feet swelling. Grr.

13. Off to my birthday surprise, which, as a few of you might have surmised from the toilet paper comment, turned out to be the Blue Man Group, with my parents, brother and [personal profile] fbhjr and [personal profile] malterre.

This was awesome. (Also, loud.) I'd wanted to go for a long while, but getting there on my own is difficult (see, complaints about Universal Studios' parking lot and taxicab and bus access). So, awesome. If you haven't seen them in their various outlets, go. (Also, earplugs.) Show claims that either my brother or father is an Olympics curling champion. We are beginning to wonder.

(Intriguingly enough, although I was fine with the strobe lights, the sound did start to make me dizzy which I must say probably added to the experience – it certainly made the part with the toilet paper considerably more disorienting.)

I want to go again :)

14. Get a Blue Man Group teddy bear (thanks [personal profile] fbhjr and [personal profile] malterre and chocolate.

This is why most of you have not heard much from me recently, and why, alas, I was unable to join [personal profile] fbhjr and [personal profile] malterre and my mother on their expedition to the bird sanctuary. (I feel terrible, since they drove all the way out to pick me up.) Blogging will probably continue to be light until sometime next week. Or possibly sometime in January, despite plans to do lots of Quality Resting in the upcoming days.
1. Alan Rickman rocks.

2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does not have enough Alan Rickman in it.

3. I so want to see what Alan Rickman will be doing in the 7th movie.

4. As always, the producers/directors/writers have done the movie a great injustice by underusing Alan Rickman.

5. We could, as scientists and film reviewers, make an actual case that human evolution has been designed and guided by one single goal: to create an Alan Rickman who was utterly born to play Severus Snape. And if I haven't mentioned it before –

6. Alan Rickman rocks.

Yes, I'm aware that this is pretty close to my initial review of the 5th film but that's because it's still true. It may even be the central guiding truth of all 6 films so far.

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