Saturday, 21 September 2013

Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

In which I subjectively and irresponsibly review books that probably deserve more serious consideration than I'm giving them. 

The novel: Soulless, first in the Parasol Protectorate series

The Author: Gail Carriger

The Cover:

The length: 357 pages

The genre: Steampunky Supernatural Romance with a very Mystery/ Detective vibe. Could also double as a Beginner's Guide to Supernatural Victorian Etiquette handbook.

The Story:

Alexia Tarabotti is a 26-year old spinster living in an alternate Victorian London where werewolves and vampires are integrated members of society. The novel starts with Alexia being attacked by a vampire at a party. Oh, no! Surely this is where the dashing Mr. Darcy-type swoops in and saves the damsel. After all, she is a helpless, unaccompanied Victorian lady, encumbered by bustles and good manners.

Uhm, nope.

Actually, she kills the vampire by herself. With her parasol. 

 Okay, technically grrrl power can't get all the credit here (but it does get a lot of it). Alexia had a secret weapon. She was born preternatural - without a soul - which means that her touch automatically neutralizes any supernatural being. So yeah, she lays a hand on the vamp and his fangs go bye-bye.

Convenient much? Hell, yeah. But although Alexia is an oddity, thankfully the novel never makes a big fuss over how "special" and "unique" she is (I'm lookin' at you, paranormal YA). Preternaturals used to hunt and kill supernaturals, so there's not much love coming her way. 

So within the first ten pages, we have our heroine in a room with a dead vampire. Enter the Romantic Interest, Lord Conall Maccon, gentleman Alpha Werewolf and the fourth Earl of Woolsey, who is of Scottish descent and who, throughout the novel, seems to teeter on the brink of messy, manly barbarism. He's a beast, y'all. Literally.

Alexia and the Earl have an antagonistic history that started, I gather, with her putting a hedgehog on a chair and him proceeding to sit on it.

Lord Maccon works for the BUR (the Bureau of Unnatural Registry), and he arrives with his second in tow, Professor Lyall, who I think is kind of a werewolf Jeeves in that he sorts the Earl's shit out and quietly understands that his boss is in love with Alexia before anyone else does. Unlike Jeeves, though, he's not very entertaining, but I'll get to that later.

There's a complicated Supernatural hierarchy in the novel, and of course lots of supernatural/ human tension, and that's pretty much what drives most of the plot. None of the vampire Hives will take responsibility for the vamp that attacked Alexia, and she gets caught up in a whole mess of unregistered vampires and disappearances and such.

I don't like using this word much, but it's basically a good ol' romp through an etiquette-ruled steampunk world. It's fun, is what I'm saying.

Favorite bits: 

  • Lord Akeldema. Think,

but with more

He's everything you could wish for in a vampire gay best friend with a harem of human lovers (or drones, as they're called in the Carrigerverse.)

  • Alexia and Lord Maccon

Can we ship it? YES WE CAN.

  • The Steampunk
It's there, but it's not too there, ya know? It's not too involved or technical. This was my first steampunk try, and I chose it specifically 'cause I read somewhere that it's a decent intro to the genre. There are dirigibles!

  • The Science
Again: dirigibles! And carriages with cranks and levers that you can make tea in.

  • The dry, etiquette-driven humor
Her characters play it straight, but Carriger doesn't:

"Mrs. Loontwill did what any well-prepared mother would do upon finding her unmarried daughter in the arms of a gentleman werewolf: she had very decorous, and extremely loud, hysterics."

  • Ivy Hisselpenny
Her only personality trait is hats. And if there's one thing I like more than character development, it's flamboyant headwear.

Least favorite bits

  • Professor Lyall narratives

Very occasionally the narrative veers off to Werewolf Jeeves for plot purposes. I understand that it's necessary, but I could not bring myself to give two shits about Lyall. You can't give us Alexia and then expect Furry-Jeeves-Sans-The-Personality to keep us entertained.

  • The Automaton
I get the feeling that he's supposed to be this hectically scary, chilling thing. Every time Alexia sees him she's terrified and repulsed. We're supposed to believe that the chick who killed a vampire with a parasol and still had time to regret that her treacle tart had been ruined balks at the prospect of an experiment that can be defeated in the end in the stupidest possible way?

  • Alexia's family
Her mother is a meaner Mrs. Bennet, her stepfather's a pussy, and her sisters are stoopid. Alexia, being the Strong And Intelligent Proto-Feminist Heroine, reads a whole lot of scientific journals and shit, and her sisters couldn't be more disparaging.

Like this, only worse, because stupid pretty girls are always portrayed less endearingly than stupid pretty boys.

The Verdict:

7 out of 10 awfully fabulous hats.

*Today's verdict is sponsored by Audrey Hepburn and the costume designers of yesteryear.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Song of the Week: "Gold on the Ceiling" by The Black Keys

I defy you not to dance crazily until your hair gets in your mouth and you stumble and hit your head against the cupboard door you left open when the song started playing because you had to dance.

"Gold on the Ceiling" by The Black Keys, from the album El Camino.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Noted badass: Tom Lehrer

Sometimes you discover something so incredibly awesome that you're surprised you've survived so far without knowing about it. So you rant about it, spend hours on the internet learning more about it, and shout at people until they realize how awesome it is.

And eventually you have to move on with your life, because that kind of excitement is hard to sustain. It doesn't mean you love the thing any less. It just means that life happens, and you have to create space in your mind to appreciate even more awesome things.

In the spirit of spreading the epicness, I've decided to start sharing some of the things I have loved fiercely (and still do love, just with less active intensity).

So please, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce the undervalued genius of Tom Lehrer:

"All the world seems in tune, on a fine afternoon, when we're poisoning pigeons in the park."

The thing about Tom is that he's so fucking great, I don't even know where to start. And the biggest tragedy is that almost nobody knows who he is.

So, who is he? 


Tom was born in 1928 and received his Masters in mathematics from Harvard in 1947. I'll point out that he was just about nineteen years old at the time. Nineteen fucking years old, guys.

Then again, by the time I was nineteen I had memorized the entirety of the dialogue, music and choreography of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think it's clear who the winner is here. (It's me.)

From then on Tom taught classes at, among others, Harvard, MIT, and Wellesley.

He also somehow found time to invent the jello shot.*

But while he might have been a respected Harvard Professor by day, he was a brilliant nightclub satirist by night.

How it went down:


Tom wrote songs for fun while he was teaching at Harvard. He performed them a few times and received such a positive reaction that he paid $15 to record an album. He printed 400 copies and sold them informally, mostly to students.

Word of mouth did him a spectacular turn, though, and after a few months he was getting mail orders from all over the country. Then Princess Margaret in the UK mentioned that she liked him, and suddenly the world was aware of his existence.

He became massively popular for a while and toured a bit, but he quit after 109 live shows because he felt like it. You gotta give props to the man for not being a fame-whore.  I mean, at one point, he faced the question: I'm kinda tired. Do I keep on performing for adoring masses who laud my genius? Or do I go back to lecturing at Harvard?

And he chose Harvard.

The goods:


Tom Lehrer wrote satirical, black-humor songs about the world and times he lived in (America in, mainly, the fifties). Despite this, his most well-known song today is this one, which kids in classrooms are still given extra credit for memorizing:

 While it's a cool song, in a science-geek kind of way (which is the coolest cool there is, yo,) it's not at all representative of the bulk of his work.

His songs were about sexually transmitted diseases, nuclear bombs, pornography, commercialism, killing your family, and pretty much all things dark or scandalous.  It's impossible to describe them. So, in an attempt to sell you on his awesomeness, I'll give you a few excerpts instead. The bits in bold are the spoken introductions from the live album An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer.

{Bear in mind that he wrote and performed these songs during the fifties, a decade basically famous for conformity and repression.** I want everybody to just consider the caliber of brass balls that required.}

Here are a few bits from 'Smut':

"I do have a cause, though; it is obscenity... I'm for it. Thank you. [...] Anyway, since people seem to be marching for their causes these days, I have here a march for mine. It's called:

Give me smut and nothing but!

Stories of tortures
used by debauchers,
lurid, licentious, and vile,
...make me smile.
Novels that pander
to my taste for candor
give me a pleasure sublime.
(Let's face it, I love slime.)

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
the mind of the beholder.
When correctly viewed,
everything is lewd.
(I could tell you things about Peter Pan,
And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!)"

A few stanzas from The Masochism Tango (which has a trope named after it.): 

"I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
You can raise welts
like nobody else,
As we dance to the masochism tango.

Say our love be a flame, not an ember,
Say it's me that you want to dismember.
Blacken my eye,
Set fire to my tie,
As we dance to the masochism tango."

Fifty Shades of Grey ain't got nothin' on this Harvard professor.

A little bit from The Vatican Rag (in which Tom attempts to help the Vatican 'sell their product' by re-doing their music in popular song forms.):

"First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And: genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original.
If it is, try playin' it safer -
Drink the wine and chew the wafer
Two, four, six, eight-
Time to transubstantiate!"

{There would have been a picture here, but for some reason there are no GIFs of the Pope dancing anywhere on the internet. I'm disappointed.}

I'm sold! He sounds awesome. What do I do now?


I'm glad you asked. You can get his music. ALL of it.

Get An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer first, though. It's a live recording from 1959, and it's the best thing ever because of the little anecdotes he has in between songs. They're just as genius as the songs themselves.
Here's his iTunes page.
 This page has some great quotes by and about him, plus some amazon links to his best albums.

For more information on the man himself:
 His Wikipedia Page is good.
Here's an interview with him from 2000.
This page has pretty much all his lyrics, as well as transcriptions of the anecdotes on An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer. 
Here's an informative article about his current whereabouts. (He's still alive, y'all!)

I'll leave you with some words from the man himself:
"If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while."

 Thank you.
Go forth and spread the Lehrer word.

P.S. Tom: In case you're the kind of person that Googles themselves, and you've found this article, I really only have one thing to say to you:

Oh, and I hope you don't mind that I called you "Tom". In my mind, we're on a first-name basis.


* The invention of the jello shot is a contentious subject. The fact is, many people 'invented' it independently of each other.

Because, you know, humans have jello, and we have vodka, and it's only natural that it would occur to more than one person to mix the two.
Tom's story is particularly badass: 
He was in the Army for two years. Once they were having a 'Christmas office party'. However, they weren't allowed to have any booze because army rules stated that "alcoholic beverages" weren't allowed on base. So Tom and a friend came up with the idea of the jello shot, since jello, technically, isn't a beverage. They rocked up at the party with alcoholic jello.
And it worked.

**  A few years after Tom quit Lenny Bruce was arrested (and eventually literally prosecuted to death) just for swearing on stage.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Asshole Saga: A Story In Screencaps

The internet is a wonderful place, kids. But, just like in real life, sometimes there are a few assholes who spoil things for the rest of us. This is the story of one such asshole. (You know the drill- click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Once upon a time, there was a Wattpad writer who awoke on a fine Thursday morning to find some preposterous allegations on a story she had written*:

She considered sarcasm: It's true, guys. I stole that girl's story. I stole her story, I camouflaged it with jokes and grammar and plotlines, and to really throw people off, I wrote it before she did.

She considered righteous indignation: Excuse me? I have never stolen anything in my life! How dare you?!

She considered being really defensive: Here: Look at all my proof! Look at all these progress drafts I have saved! Look at all the places I collected quotes and slipped in references to my personal life and all my fandoms! Here's the friend who I tell every chapter to before I write it!

She considered being really mean: Fuck you you motherfucking motherfucker! Why don't you go back to your home on whore island?
She considered dressing in drag and doing the hula:

In short, she wasn't quite sure how to react.

She settled on what she hoped was a no-nonsense, Southern-grandmother-with-a-wooden-spoon-who-won't-take-no-shit approach:

The Wattpad writer wondered what the lying girl was hoping to achieve with all this. Did she want credit for an unfinished story? And what then? Was she going to try and finish it herself? Surely she realized that people would notice she wasn't the same author from the first part?

But no. Apparently when the Common Sense Train was boarding, this kid was standing on the tracks being hit six ways to Sunday by the Stupid Express, because she just wasn't letting it drop:

The Wattpad writer had just spent a month writing vicious exams, and had just, mere hours previously, had all her wisdom teeth ripped out by a lunatic claiming to be a dentist. She was not in a good mood. So instead of just deleting the hateful comments like she usually would have, she huffily sent out a call-to-arms:

Then she turned off her laptop and decided never to open it up again. She ate half a thing of ice-cream and a quarter jar of Nutella, and she sincerely believed that all the calories she consumed during this period would find their way to the butt of the lying girl and would stay there. For life.

The Wattpad writer was experiencing the same emotions felt by many others in the same situation. She was realizing how hard it is to prove ownership of anything on the internet, and how easy it is for some random stranger to drop into your virtual life and fuck things up for you. Suddenly you have to defend yourself against something that came so far out of left field that you have no idea how to respond.

It was unfair. It felt like a violation. The Wattpad writer spent some time smothering the sense of injustice with cookies and old musicals.

She wallowed a bit.

Then she turned on the laptop again.

And found that her readers had released a shitstorm**:

As the messages of support came flooding in, the Wattpad writer started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The internet was turning into a wonderful place again, and rainbows and unicorns were slowly peeking through the pixels.

Then she received a private message from the girl who had supported the false claims:

If anybody feels the need to point out that it's a private message so I technically have no way of proving that she actually sent it to me, I will eat you.

Meanwhile, the readers kept fighting the good fight and kicking ass:

Even Tumblr showed its loyalty: 

The girl claiming she wrote Faking It continually deactivated and reactivated her profile. But everybody knew that if she ever came back, they would know how to deal with her. And so eventually, everybody ran out of fucks to give.

The Wattpad writer learned three magical lessons that day.

First, she realized that people are not idiots, and that for every asshole there are fifty , or maybe even a hundred, potential asshole avengers out there. She realized that her readers knew her voice and wouldn't be fooled by imposters, and that they had her back. And those readers were scary as fuck.

Secondly, she arrived at the realization that every person eventually reaches in their life:

Thank you, Bronn.

But the most important lesson of the day came as she read over all the comments and messages again, and marveled at how quickly and efficiently her legion of asshole avengers had assembled. And she got that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with the knowledge that you have brought together a group of people who can possibly take over the world someday.

And that, she believes, is the true meaning of happiness: the legitimate hope of future world domination.

The End (For Now).

I wrote this post for two reasons. Firstly, to clear up exactly what happened to those of you who missed it, and to point out that if anybody ever tries something like this again, we'll be prepared.

Secondly, I wanted to thank all my fans for being as awesome as they are. And for once, words pretty much fail me. So I figured that I should just put this post together and confront y'all with the evidence of your own awesomeness.

You guys handled the shit out of this situation.

This is a victory, guys.

Well fucking done.

I know what you're thinking now: "Gee, Misha. Banding together like that to crush the evil forces of the internet was fun. So what're we gonna do tomorrow night?"

I feel that this is a reasonable response to most of life's more important questions.

*For those few readers who don't know me from Wattpad: I publish stories in serial installments on several websites. Of all those websites, I've been most successful on one called Wattpad, and on Wattpad, my best known story is called Faking It.

**I've blacked out the names of my fans because I wanted to respect any privacy issues they may or may not have.

P.S. Since this is a Wattpad-themed post, I'll throw this in here. @Twila_B on twitter (BerkleyDrive on Wattpad) puts together outfits to go with stories - sometimes written by her, and sometimes by other people. She put together this outfit for the prologue to Faking It, and I'm pretty much loving it. Check out her tumblog for more.

Disclaimer: I'd like to just clear up that my dentist is actually the nicest guy in the world and I felt almost no pain after he took out my wisdom teeth. However, I was confused because I had a Lord of the Rings-themed cartoon dream while I was knocked out, and I was grumpy because I can't smoke or eat bacon for the next two weeks.