2. Our production of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Operatic Society production of The Mikado went pretty well. There were bits I would have liked to have done better (there always are), and I didn't really feel I was giving the performance I'd been aiming for until a couple of performances before we closed (I never do), but everybody on stage and in the audience had fun, and that's the important thing.
3. There is another attempt afoot to get a regular-ish improv event going here, with the first workshop being held this week. I'm not going to prognosticate about its chances, because I said the last one looked like it might survive and then it immediately collapsed. I'll just enjoy it while it lasts, however long that turns out to be.
4. At the gaming group last week, I got invited to play a game of X-Wing Miniatures, using pre-made teams based on the more recent Force Awakens ships and characters: I had Rey and Finn in the Millennium Falcon and Poe and R2-D2 in an X-Wing, while the guy who owned the set had Hux's flagship and Kylo Ren's shuttle. The encounter was a victory for the Resistance, which I attribute more to the inherent strength of the team I was given than to my own rather fumbling efforts. (In particular, I kept forgetting the movement order, with the result that nearly every turn the Falcon rear-ended some other ship because I'd incorrectly assumed it would have moved out of the way before the Falcon got there.)
5. I tried watching Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight again recently, and found it a lot less entertaining now that I know what's coming. I mean that two different ways: First, it's a movie that depends a lot on surprising twists, and is at a disadvantage when the viewer knows all the twists in advance. Second, the events of the sequel cast a shadow back over this movie, not always to its benefit. Also, for a Batman movie, there really isn't all that much Batman in it.
2. Our production of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Operatic Society production of The Mikado opens this week. I was worried about it for a while (Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse / Three weeks, and it couldn't be worse), but it's been really coming together over the last few rehearsals, so I think we'll survive.
3. I didn't mention that while our production was in rehearsals, the club also put on its annual season of one-act plays. There were two this year, titled "Harry's Bounty" and "Kayak", which were both excellent. (Though I did think that "Harry's Bounty" was one scene too long; the final scene doesn't say anything new, just repeat explicitly things that had been strongly implied already, and loses the strong ending the play would have had if it had finished on what is currently the second-last scene.) Both plays were built around relationships of parents and children, and the director of "Harry's Bounty" is the mother of the director of "Kayak"; they were planning at one point to advertise the season under the title "Mother and Son", but they got a lot of feedback that people were getting confused and thinking that meant there would be a stage version of the popular sitcom.
4. This year's big production by the local high school that does a big annual production was Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The actor playing Belle was also the lead in last year's Hairspray; she and the actor playing the Beast were also the duo who took top honours at the drama eisteddfod last year. They both did very well in the roles, although I felt that the actor playing the Beast did better at bringing out the Beast's hidden humanity than at portraying his surface beastliness. In this he was not being given much assistance by his costume, which tended toward the minimal for logistical reasons. The actors playing Gaston and Lefou were also very good. Seeing how the stage version was adapted from the animated film was interesting; I liked how the animated furniture was handled. The songs added for the stage version are a mixed bunch; "Home" is excellent, others are good, and I cordially detest "A Change in Me": it has a nice enough tune but rubbish lyrics that lean too heavily on vague generalities and when it does get specific they're the wrong specifics. (Wikipedia informs me that it was added to the show late and in a hurry, which perhaps explains it.)
5. I'm finally filling a gap in my fannish experience and reading The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, the final collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. It's not as easy to come by as the earlier books, because it's still covered by copyright so there isn't the same plenitude of cheap editions, and its reputation suggested that it wasn't particularly worth much effort in seeking out, so up until recently I'd only read a few of the stories that were reprinted in anthologies. (In fact I think "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", which was in a horror-themed anthology I read as a child, may have been the first actual Holmes story I ever read.) The stories aren't ACD's best work, and some of them give a distinct air of having been dashed off without much effort, but there are some good moments in there. (And some terrible ones: "The Adventure of the Creeping Man", which has a solution based on what I presume was cutting-edge scientific theory at the time, really hasn't aged well.) Of the ones I've got through so far, I think my favourite is "The Problem of Thor Bridge", which has some proper detectoring, some nice character work (including a character who is of a familiar type but turns out to be more complicated than he might have been in an earlier ACD story), and a solution I didn't already know and didn't find too easy to guess.
One memorable event was a discussion about gender-swapping -- examples of it being done such as the recent Ghostbusters movie, thoughts about the opportunities and pitfalls, and so on -- where there was an artist in the room who took suggestions for a series of sketches of characters people would like to see gender-swapped, with a camera set up so we could all watch the sketch taking shape while the discussion went on. The people whose suggestions were accepted got to keep the resulting sketch at the end if they wanted. I suggested "female Asian Iron Fist", which sprang to mind because the shortcomings of the Iron Fist TV series had been something of a recurring conversation topic at the convention, and without intially intending to keep the sketch. (For one thing, they were on quite large pieces of paper that looked like they'd be trouble to get home in my luggage unwrinkled.) I changed my mind when I saw the finished sketch, though; this is a character I would definitely read or watch a series about. I managed to get the sketch home mostly unscathed, too; now I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with it.
Games I played included Original Flavour Fluxx, Pandemic, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt Skullfyrez (which I enjoyed the mechanics of but found the theme/story off-putting), Joking Hazard, Tsuro of the Seas, Hamsterolle, and King of Tokyo. And also, on the same trip but not actually at the convention, Fury of Dracula; I played Dracula, partly because I figured that would reduce the amount of explanations required to the novice players but mostly because it was my copy of the game so I could be Dracula if I wanted.
2. The British Museum's contribution to International Tabletop Day is a video in which Dr Irving Finkel, the museum's curator of cuneiform artifacts, demonstrates one of the oldest board games in recorded history, the rules for which he reconstructed from one of the tablets in his collection. His opponent is Youtube-based science communicator Tom Scott.
3. As part of my preparation for the Star Wars Rolling Remix, of which I have previously written, I rewatched the original Star Wars trilogy all the way through for the first time in years. I was struck by how young the characters are in the first one, compared to my memory of them (which is mostly of how they end up in Return of the Jedi). Han, and Luke -- not so much Leia, though I think that's down to her not being allowed to grow up as much as the men, so she ended up much closer to her beginning -- but the one that really surprised me was Darth Vader. I had a fixed mental image of him as being a sort of looming menace with a lot of ponderous gravitas, but that's really something he grows into over the trilogy; in the first movie, he has a lot more extraneous movement, and talks more rapidly too. (And I think I owe whoever played Vader in Rogue One an apology for thinking his body language was wrong; it was a lot closer to Vader-at-that-age than I'd remembered.)
4. A while back I read A Shilling for Candles, the first mystery novel to be published under the byline of Josephine Tey. I started it mainly out of a sense of historical curiosity -- it inspired a film by Alfred Hitchcock, and Tey went on to write a couple of novels that I rather liked (although less so on re-reading them and becoming more aware of the author's prejudices) -- but it turned out to have an unexpected point of interest. The action takes place mainly in Devon, in and around the (I'm guessing fictional) town of Westover -- which is also the setting of Brat Farrar, my favourite of Tey's later novels.
5. I finally got around to reading The Collected Kagan, Baen's ebook edition of Janet Kagan's short stories. The quality is somewhat variable, as it's a collection aiming for comprehensiveness, rather than a best-of, but there are some great stories in there. (Eventually; for some reason, the compiler decided to lead off with some of the weaker stories, and I worry that, should anyone who isn't already a Kagan fan happen to give the book a try, they'll give up before getting to the good stuff.) For fans of her science fiction novels, I particularly recommend "Christmas Wingding", "Winging It", "Fighting Words", and "The Nutcracker Coup", which are in a similar mode to the novels. (Not to mention "How First Woman Stole Language from tuli-tuli the Beast", which is actual backstory for one of the novels.) I also highly recommend "Naked Wish-Fulfillment", which is a contemporary fantasy story and great in a completely different way.
Another example is the campaign I've just finished listening to, The Wizard of Oz. It follows the movie fairly faithfully up until the protagonists meet the Wizard (though a bit more smoothly in some places, as the players get some good dice rolls in when facing the obstacles the Wicked Witch puts in their path) -- and then the players have to decide how best to tackle the job of stealing the Wicked Witch's broom for the Wizard, at which point the plot jumps dramatically off the rails, and the campaign ends up turning into a four-episode, eight-hour epic fantasy quest with cut-throat politics and dragons. Bits of it are amazingly poetic and surprisingly moving, and it's the one so far where I really felt at the end like I had been immersed in a story and not just been listening to a group of friends joking around. (Not that there's anything wrong with listening to a group of friends joking around; that describes most of the podcasts I listen to regularly.)
2. Our run of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has ended, as usual just when I felt I was really beginning to get the hang of it. (If I ever get to the end of a show and think, that's okay, there wasn't anything left to do here, that's when I'll really be sad.)
Next up is another production with a very long title, The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Operatic Society production of The Mikado. It's this year's big production by the director who's done Oliver! and Chicago and suchlike in previous years, and I was actually quite looking forward to having nothing to do with it for a change, but then I was invited to come on board as assistant director and gets some hands-on experience in the running of a big production, and I didn't feel I could say no.
3. I got to go to exactly one meeting of the gaming group between the end of rehearsals for Spelling Bee and the beginning of rehearsals for Mikado, but I got to do the things I'd wanted to do, so that was good. As I mentioned last time, I had two games I wanted to play, and I got to play both.
Ingenious is an abstract pattern-based competitive game with a tricky scoring mechanic where each player is scored on several different criteria and only the lowest score counts, so if you get too focussed on building up on one score and neglect the others you can easily find yourself in real trouble. I started playing the app version last year and was sufficiently impressed by it to buy the physical game in the hope of finding people to play it with me. As it happened I found two, which made things interesting because the app version only does two-player games and so I'd never played a three-player game before. It turns out that, like many other games, it's rather more complicated and more difficult to get on top of with two opponents than with only one. I ended up not coming last, and considered myself well satisfied with my performance. The other two players seemed to enjoy themselves too, so I expect I'll take it along again another time.
Forbidden Island, which my brother gave me for Christmas, is a collaborative game in which the players are exploring an island for centuries-old lost treasures while dealing with the inconvenient fact that the island is rapidly sinking. (If memory serves, the manual claims that this is the result of an ancient booby trap set by the owners of the lost treasures, who apparently really didn't want them to be found again.) Mechanically, it's kind of like a more family friendly (less complicated, less worldwide catastrophe depicting) version of the collaborative game Pandemic, which is not a coincidence as they're both designed by Matt Leacock.
4. Recently the emergency jump start box in the car ran low on juice, which it announced by beeping loudly and regularly and loudly, which inspired me to drive directly home and look for the charge cable instead of stopping on the way to do the shopping as I'd intended. This prompted three observations:
First, that it was probably designed deliberately to make a loud and irritating noise clearly audible throughout the car specifically to make it impossible for its owner to contemplate putting off the job of recharging it, because it's not a good idea to put off charging a piece equipment you might need in an emergency. In which case, congratulations to the designer, it worked.
Secondly, while driving home I had cause to ponder the subjective nature of time, because the beeps didn't always seem regularly spaced; sometimes they seemed closer together, and other times further apart. The most convincing mechanism I've seen proposed for the subjective experience of time changing speed is that it's a function of memory; the same amount of information is coming in at the same rate all the time, but when nothing much is happening we don't bother to remember most of it, and then it seems like time has gone by really quickly, but when things get exciting more detail gets stored and then it seems in retrospect that the experience was stretched out more.
Thirdly, if I hadn't been able to find the charge cable when I got home, I'd have been stuck with a loudly beeping box that I had no way to shut up, and that would not have been fun. Here's where I benefited from some of the work I've been doing sorting my clutter into boxes. It took a few attempts to guess which box I would have sorted the charge cable into (gadgets and accessories? extension cords? stuff I'm going to put away as soon as I figure where it goes?) but it was still probably faster and less stressful than if I'd had nothing more to go on than "it's in this huge pile of clutter somewhere, probably".
5. We had the state election last weekend. Overall, it was a landslide victory for the Labor Party, which has been in opposition for the last eight years, and a crushing defeat for the Liberal-National coalition government. (Obligatory Aus politics footnote: The Liberal Party's name refers to their economic stance; they're conservative on social issues.) In my local electorate, the contest was much closer, to the point that we still, a week later, don't know exactly who the winner is. Normally by this point in a vote count it's clear who won and the rest of the ballot counting is just to find out by how much, but in this case it's split almost evenly between the three major party candidates, which never happens. In this case, the Labor candidate has the lift that his entire party's getting but is a newcomer to politics running against two well-known local identities with long track records in public service. The Libs' candidate may even have got a boost from his own party's misbehaviour, or rather from his response to it; a couple of times during the election campaign he got caught wrongfooted when his party announced policies that would have a signficant local effect without warning him first, and he wasn't shy about saying what he thought about that.
(In other news, the populist party that was expected to be a protest vote magnet did much worse in the election than expected, possibly because they were frankly and very visibly incompetent, with several of their candidates being kicked out of the party during the election campaign for doing things that a proper recruitment process ought to have caught ahead of time. It's all very well going "vote for us because you can't trust those professional politicians and we're not professionals", but being so utterly unprofessional inevitably invites people to wonder how you can be trusted to the run the place if you can't even hold the party together long enough to get over the finish line.)
1. I have been to the cinema to see a movie for the first time since, according to my notes, July. The movie was Arrival, and it was worth going to see. I will probably go and see some more movies this month, because we have Rogue One arriving this week and then Moana in the post-Christmas summer season.
2. I finally got around to reading The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards, which has been lurking in my to-read pile for years. The author is the wife of the film director Blake Edwards, aka the actor and singer Julie Andrews, and I'm pleased to be able to say I enjoyed it, although probably not as much as I would have when I was the target age and less capable of spotting the bits that are designed to impart important life lessons. Other things that stuck out to now-me that wouldn't have to child-me were the puns (especially having recently read the bit in Summer in Orcus where the child protagonist is scornful of the kind of puns adult fantasy writers put in children's fantasy), and the wise token adult's attitude to the designated adversary's concerns, which I felt should have had a hashtag on them saying "#notallhumans". I was very pleased that the designated adversary turned out to be not evil, just doing his best in very trying circumstances, and that the token wise adult was shown to be a human being with his own flaws and blind spots (and that he started listening to his former adversary more by the end), but I felt it could have done with an explicit call out that even though the designated adversary turned out to be wrong about this specific group of humans he had perfectly valid reasons to be distrustful of humans in general.
(PS. I probably would have identified with one of the children when I was a child, but as an adult the designated antagonist is definitely my favourite character.)
3. Another thing that's been sitting on the shelf that I finally got around to is the Big Finish audio drama Storm Warning, the first of their series featuring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor. It was okay, I guess? I mean, I enjoyed it, but I'm not in a big hurry to find out what happens next. (Although part of that's obviously because I'm starting the series fifteen years late, so I already know from fandom osmosis quite a bit about what happens next.) And, to be fair, I've never been all that good at audio dramas; I don't tend to find them engaging enough to sit still through.
4. The Rep Club Christmas Show has been and gone. I was involved only as an audience member, which I think may have been the right call. On top of the reasons for making that decision in the first place, I'm now in a position to tell that I enjoyed watching it once but it would probably have worn a bit thin through a month of rehearsals and performances. (It would also have been a crimp on my social life that I'd have regretted, in terms of things I've been able to go to on what would have been show nights.)
The next Rep Club production is, as I've mentioned, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I've been cast as the socially awkward science nerd, which as you can imagine is going to be a stretch.
5. Fanfic rec: Third Wheel, in which Bruce Wayne makes his first official visit to Metropolis, and Lois Lane is assigned a celebrity profile that turns out to be more interesting than she expected, while Clark Kent investigates sightings of a mysterious bat-man.
"I've always wanted to learn how to fly," Clark said, sounding impressed.
"You should," Bruce said. "It's fun."
"It always seemed like it would be."
At the end of the evening, everybody happened to finish up early except the role-playing group, who were in the middle of battling a kraken that was trying to sink their ship. I hung around to see how that turned out; how it turned out was that the kraken destroyed the ship, but the adventuring party did manage to rescue most of the people on board by stuffing them inside some kind of hammerspace pocket their wizard conjured up. On the one hand: Lots of survivors, yay! On the other hand: Lots of survivors stuck in a hammerspace pocket hovering in midair over open ocean with no chance of anybody happening along to rescue them... The wizard explained that he had a theoretically sound plan for getting everyone back to dry land in one piece, but the venue was closing up so we didn't get to find out yet how well that was going to go in practice.
2. The local music school runs a small choral group for adults that I've been vaguely aware for a while, but hadn't got around to checking out due to having other things on and general shyness about putting myself into new situations. Recently I've had some more free time due to not being in any shows at present, which happened to coincide with the beginning of a new school term, so it seemed like a good time to check it out. I am enjoying it so far.
3. In a rare burst of decluttering enthusiasm, I've done something about the pile of Things I Put Down For a Moment Intending to Deal With Them Later that was gradually engulfing my study. It's now sorted into three boxes: things to be put away when I figure out where they go, likewise but with a good chance I'll be wanting them again before then, and things that actually need dealing with. Next step: dealing with the things in the third box.
In a bit of carry-over, I also did a thing with the box that's been sitting in the kitchen since I moved in, which nominally contained things that needed to be unpacked in the kitchen. It's now been separated into a small box of things that really do need to be unpacked, and a larger box of things I never actually used in the old kitchen and don't see myself using in this one either. Next step: Figure out how to usefully get rid of the second and larger box.
4. The new online community platform Imzy recently moved from closed to open beta, in case anyone's interested in checking it out. (Can't have communities without people in, after all...) My impression is that so far the more broadly-drawn communities, like Fantasy, are making more of a go of it than the communities based on more specific topics, but that may change as more people get involved.
5. Fanfic rec: Working Backwards by Starlightify. In which Clark Kent wakes up in Lois Lane's bed and has to figure out how he got there, and also who Lois thought he was at the time. Normally I find stories with this kind of premise acutely embarrassing, but this is written with a great deal of warmth and empathy and I enjoyed it unreservedly.
2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde opens in a week. It's coming together pretty well.
3. I have been to the gaming group only once recently, as there have tended to be Jekyll & Hyde rehearsals scheduled against it. One of the X-Wing players, whose usual opponents hadn't made it, saw me wandering around at a loose end and recognised me as someone who occasionally watches them play, so he invited me to have a go. I had control of a small Rebel fleet, versus his swarm of Imperial TIE Fighters. There was an exciting moment during the battle where one of my ships was on a collision course with an asteroid, but I managed the dice rolls that converted it from "ship collides with asteroid, takes damage" to "ship hides on asteroid for a turn, takes no damage". It came down to one Rebel and one TIE fighter, but the TIE fighter won in the end. I enjoyed it okay once I started getting the hang of it, but I don't think I see myself becoming an X-Wing player who owns his own set; way too many little fiddly bits to obtain and keep track of.
4. I have finished playing through the storyline in Lego Jurassic World, and am now exploring the bits of the game that are unlocked as the storyline is completed. It's definitely more fun once the dinosaurs show up. The triceratops is still one of my favourite dinosaurs to play, probably followed by the brontosaurus. Playing as the brontosaurus is strangely relaxing, as it's so large that the camera pulls waaay out to fit it in, and the parts of the game that usually seem so important are reduced to tiny distant things going on down by the dinosaur's feet. The baby velociraptor is also surprisingly good value as a player character. (Then you get into the possibilities afforded by genetic manipulation, such as a tiny compsognathus with a headbutt as powerful as a triceratops or a t-rex's shattering roar.)
One thing that's still bothering me about it involves the distribution of character traits: there's a very large overlap between the sets "character is female", "character has a glass-shattering shriek", and "character is Agile" (can jump high and squeeze through small gaps), in a way that makes Agile often look like a consolation prize for female characters who can't really do much else. To some extent, I suppose this is a result of the game being constrained by the roles given to female characters in the original movies. One thing that can't be blamed on the movies, though, is the way that the game seems to be rubbing it in by using hot pink as the colour code for obstacles that only Agile characters can get past.
5. Fanfic rec: Shadow-Self, a retelling of the False Guinevere legend. In the usual version, King Arthur's wife is secretly replaced partway through his reign by an impostor of identical aspect, her low-born half-sister, who causes a number of problems before the switch is discovered. In this retelling, that's not quite how it goes.
Next up is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
2. My facial hair has gone through some variations this year. I grew out a full beard for Fagin, pruned it back to a moustache for the short play season, and am now going clean-shaven for Jekyll & Hyde. As an intermediate stage between the full beard and the moustache, just for the fun of it, I spent a week going about with Edwardian-style friendly muttonchops. I got a notable number of complimentary remarks about the look suiting me, so I may have to revisit it in future.
3. A few weeks ago, I went to the city to catch the touring professional production of Little Shop of Horrors. I found it somewhat disappointing, although I'm saying this as someone with multiple other productions to compare it to. The set design was amazing, and the whole thing was very impressive on the technical side, but a lot of the time I wasn't really feeling it on the emotional level. I think the size of the theatre was working against it; every other time I've seen Little Shop live has been in the kind of little shoebox theatre where even the back row isn't all that far from the stage. I'm also inclined to think most of the actors were struggling under the weight of the accents, which tended toward being so far over the top several of the characters were basically accents with people attached. The actor playing Seymour somehow got away with a reasonably-sized accent, and his performance did a great deal toward salvaging the whole thing.
4. I apparently didn't mention that after catching up with Now You See Me on home video, I went to see Now You See Me 2 in the cinema. It's probably not an objectively good movie, but I found it entertaining enough, even if I didn't quite believe it when the plot forced the protagonists to create in a matter of days the kind of stunt it took them months to set up in the first movie. Interestingly, it at least made some attempt to address some of the things that didn't quite make sense in the first movie regarding character motivations and such, which I appreciated even if some of the answers were also among the parts of the movie I didn't quite believe. One of the comments I made about the first movie has become quite amusing in retrospect, for reasons I can't really describe without massive spoilers.
5. This week we had the drama section of the annual performing arts festival. As usual, it was mostly students, but this year there was an actual adult entrant. (From Toastmasters -- he did a poetry recital and a monologue -- not from either of the theatre groups. Although we did hear from an adult Rep Club member who hadn't seen any promotional material until after the entry deadline had already passed. We really need to work on our outreach to the theatre groups.) The student entries included a collection of short group pieces the students had created themselves as part of their coursework, which tended to be dealing with Issues like self-esteem and coping with loss and so on. One of the highlights of the evening was a transgender coming-of-age story where the protagonist was represented by two performers, one playing his image of himself and the other playing his parents' image of him. Which sounds a bit weird, but the execution was really impressive. One of the actors involved, who also did a stand-out monologue, took out the top prize at the end of the evening.
Despite the logistical complications (and having to share the green room with a crowd of small noisy people), I'm glad we were in our theatre instead of the big one. The trouble with the big one, which I think I've mentioned before, is that it's impossible to book it for more than a few days at a time, so we'd have only been able to do one weekend and would have had to stop just as we were all getting settled into the thing. As it was, we had the first weekend to get settled and then two more weekends to enjoy doing it properly.
The director says that between seeing me in action as Fagin, and hearing the violin player who got recruited for the pit orchestra, she's seriously considering doing Fiddler on the Roof as her next big show. That won't be for a year or two, though. What's coming up now is our annual season of one-act plays, then The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
2. I've been to the gaming group a couple of times since I last mentioned it.
The first time, we played The Resistance and Cards Against Humanity, and I was reminded why I don't like playing The Resistance or Cards Against Humanity. (The Resistance is one of those games that's all about watching people's body language to figure out who's the traitor, and I'm frankly terrible at it. Cards Against Humanity is kind of a joke game, and it's basically the same joke over and over again, which gets boring very quickly if you're not in the mood for that kind of joke, and I'm usually not.)
The second time went better. We played Formula D, a game where you roll dice to move a car around a board shaped like a race track, which is a lot more fun than it sounds. You get to roll different shaped dice depending on what gear you're in, and you have to be careful not to go around corners too fast, or bump into other cars, or several other things that can damage your car and put you out of the race. I drew pole position at the beginning, and had a lot of fun hogging the track by placing my car where it would be more difficult for the others to get past. Later in the race, I fell behind a bit due to some conservative cornering, and in the end I came in third.
3. For SF Writer Appreciation Day this year, I showed appreciation for Tim Powers by putting money down for his latest novel. And the one from a couple of years back, because I somehow hadn't got around to that one yet.
4. This week's fanfic rec is a sequel to the Batman & Catwoman one from last time: Give and Take
5. My current favourite podcast, and the one I'm most consistently keeping up with, is Robot or Not? with John Siracusa and Jason Snell. Episodes drop once a week, and are all under ten minutes long; many are under five minutes, and the shortest to date is 48 seconds including the opening and closing music. The format is very simple: Jason nominates a topic, and John explains why it is or is not a robot. Topics include robots, cyborgs, and AIs from fiction, mechanisms from real life, and occasional left-field balls such as "the dance called The Robot". John's answers are based on intuition rather than a pre-determined set of rules, although as the series progresses an empirical set of guidelines is beginning to take shape, and sometimes don't fall how you might expect. (Assembly-line robot arms? Not robots, for reasons that actually make sense when John explains them.)
The junior contingent of the cast is doing pretty well on the stage, but is getting on a lot of nerves backstage. The last time we did Oliver!, about fifteen years ago, it was in a big modern theatre with a soundproofed backstage area and a separate room for the kids and their minders. For this production, we're back in our home theatre, which is older, smaller, and more rickety, so we're all sharing one green room and spending a lot of time trying out new variations on "Hey, pipe down, the audience will be able to hear you" in the hope that one of them will stick.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that there was one scene that kept going wrong because somebody was getting their lines out in the wrong places, and when we dug the script out to check it turned out to be me. Whoops. Still, I'm pretty confident we've got that straightened out now.
2. At the gaming group this week, we played Talisman, subtitled "The Magical Quest Game". Well, we started playing; the designers took the "epic quest" brief very seriously, so it's not a quick play. Three and half hours later it was nearly time to pack up and nobody was close to winning, so when the first player died we decided that would have to do as an outcome and ended it there.
Each player picks a character out of a deck of about a dozen, each of which has varying strengths and weaknesses. (I was playing the Minstrel, who has high intelligence/magical ability, low physical strength, and a special ability that means that if he is attacked by a wild animal, instead of having to fight it he can try to charm it with his music, and if he succeeds it will follow him around and help him fight things he can't charm.) If you're not playing with a time limit, the rule is apparently that when your character is killed you get to pick another one and start again from the beginning (otherwise you'd be sitting around for ages waiting for someone else to win, which would be no fun).
The board is laid out in three concentric rectangles. The outermost area is the settled world, with towns and fields and forests, and the best places to stock up on weapons and armour and other equipment before setting out on the quest properly. Across a river is the middle area, which has more adventurous climates, like deserts and mountains, as well as the royal palace and the high temple, and a big sinister portal that leads into the mountain fastness that is the object of the quest. The innermost area has encounters with vampires, werewolves, Death itself, and another door that can only be opened with the eponymous talisman, and leads to the treasure everyone seeks.
3. I finally got around to seeing the caper film Now You See Me, which was very entertaining but I suspect is going to make less sense the more I think about it. (It's certainly a lot better constructed than The Illusionist, the last trick-ending movie featuring stage magicians I saw, but that's really not a high bar to clear.) I wish I'd gotten around to it before someone told me which character was the Fifth Horseman, because that's the kind of thing I enjoy trying to figure out for myself. I think I might have managed it; I'm pretty sure that even without knowing the answer in advance I would have ruled out three of the suspects by the time the endgame started, which would have narrowed the field considerably. (One of them gets ruled out for you at the end of the second act, another I think would have pinged my red herring detector from being pushed a bit too hard as Suspicious, and a third either can't be or must be the Fifth Horseman, depending on how much I-know-you-know one applies to the hints about the Fifth Horseman's motives, and I think I would have come down on the correct side.) But it would have been nice to find out.
4. It's not been a good month for my childhood, with the deaths of author Nicholas Fisk (Grinny, Monster Maker, et al.) and actor Alan Young (the definitive Scrooge McDuck, among many notable roles in a varied career).
5. This week's Batman fanfic rec: Unpaid Internship, in which there's less than an hour until a quarter of the earth's population meets explosive doom and Batman is carrying something that he's adamant isn't a baby.
1. Can you remember the first book you read?
I find this question utterly bemusing. Apart from people who had deprived childhoods and didn't become literate until they were grown up, can anybody remember the first book they read?
2. What was the last book (electronic or otherwise) you read?
Hellspark by Janet Kagan, for the umptieth time, to celebrate it being released as an ebook. (Complete with a few exciting new typographical errors, as seems to be inevitable with ebooks.) It's still just as good.
3. Do you read for enjoyment, work or both?
4. What is your favorite genre of book to read?
My fiction reading is almost entirely science fiction, fantasy, and detective novels. Occasionally historical novels, possibly because there's a similar sense of visiting a strange and different world. You'll have gathered that I'm not much interested by fiction set in an unmodified version of the real world; I'm not sure why -- possibly on Marvin's principle that reality is bad enough without people inventing more of it.
My non-fiction reading tends toward popular history and biography, with occasional diversions into things that look like they might expand my understanding of acting and/or directing. (It probably says something that I'll read for self-improvement when it comes to my hobby, but not when it comes to the work that actually earns my living. Not sure what, though.) I recently finished Jung Chang's biography of Empress Dowager Cixi (which was amazing, and I'd be telling everybody they should read it if I were the kind of person who told people things like that), and currently I'm reading Adrian Goldsworthy's biography of Caesar Augustus.
5. If you could visit your younger self, what book would you tell yourself to steer clear of?
There aren't many books that I'm prepared to state without qualification that I'd have been better off not having read; usually I get something out of even really bad books.
But there is one, and it's in Piers Anthony's "Space Tyrant" series. Really, best just to skip the whole series, to be on the safe side.
2. Three weeks until Oliver! opens, which puts us into the traditional period for worrying about whether the whole thing will come together in time. We still haven't had any rehearsals with the pit orchestra yet, for one thing. I suspect the big test might be in about a week, when we start doing the head-to-tail run-throughs, and we find out how much the children still remember of Act One.
3. My current favorite author of DC superhero fanfic strikes again. The title of this one is Arm Candy, and the summary is: Where Bruce Wayne goes, models follow. It's almost a joke, the way he wears them like watches, girls too young for him hanging off his arms. It's a wonder he can even tell them apart. Both are ironic.
4. I did a piece of adulting recently that I was quite proud of. The venetian blinds on one of my windows weren't staying up, and I figured out that some of the brackets that held them in place had been twisted out of shape. I found a shop that sold replacement brackets, installed them, and re-hung the blinds all by myself. I even dealt calmly and collectedly with the part where I learned why the original installer had drilled two holes for one of the brackets, which I did by inadvertantly screwing the bracket into the wrong hole first and discovering, as the original installer presumably had, that when it was placed there it got in the way of the mechanism for raising and lowering the blinds.
5. The local high school's big production of the year was the musical Hairspray. I went along, and it was one of the most entertaining nights out I've had in a while.
(One thing I was a bit worried about going in was how they were going to handle the fact that a significant subset of the characters are African-American, a group that isn't represented in large numbers in these parts. Apparently, this is not an uncommon problem; there was actually a message in the show programme from the authors of the show saying that they encouraged high school productions to find creative solutions to it -- ie., absolutely not blackface -- and asked the audience to get into the spirit of the thing. In the event, what this production did was have all the white characters played by white actors and all characters who are people of colour played by actors who are people of colour, if not necessarily the colour originally intended. That seemed like a reasonable compromise.)
2. Since I'm already recommending out-of-season Christmas fanfic, I don't think I've recced back in anno domini here; it's a crossover in which Susan Pevensie goes to stay with a friend in Tatchester and ends up befriending Kay Harker. It's really beautiful, but it hasn't got a lot of attention possibly because there aren't a lot of people on AO3 who know who Kay Harker is. (I mean, I suspect it would still be a beautiful story even if you have no idea, but I can see why people might be cautious.) (And of course I could be wrong, since I've known Kay nearly as long as I've known Susan.)
3. Rehearsals for Oliver! continue. I'm beginning to really get a feel for Fagin's physicality: how he holds his shoulders, how he moves his hands, how he walks. Not so much, alas! for how he speaks - I'm shifting unreliably between several different accents, and it seems like the more I attention I pay to how I'm speaking the less likely I am to get the result I'm after.
The children of the cast seem to have largely accepted me, in (will-I or nill-I) the role of the fun adult who'll often play along with a joke but needn't be paid any attention to if he tries to get one to settle down. Fortunately, there are other adults in the cast who can achieve more success if settling down is what's needed, including our Nancy, who's a teacher in real life.
4. I've been to see Captain America: Civil War. I have previously had occasion to comment that the MCU doesn't have a track record of sticking the distance with moral dilemmas or good-vs-good conflicts; the side that the heroes aren't on tends to see the light, or do something that allows their viewpoint to be swept under the carpet, like die or turn evil (or turn evil and then die). I didn't expect this movie to be any different, and it wasn't. Doubtless there will be bloggers who will examine the details in more depth, but that's not really my thing.
I like the new version of Spider-Man.
5. At the gaming group this week I played Hoax, Council of Verona, and Goblins, Inc..
Hoax is one of those bluffing games where you have to figure out what cards your opponents have while being free to lie as much as you like about your own. I've generally been pretty terrible at bluffing games because I have no poker face when I get a good card, but between Batman Love Letter last week and Hoax this week I've been working on a strategy where I attempt to mask my reaction to good news maintaining a cheerful demeanor all the time regardless. I was getting pretty good at it by the time we moved on to the next thing.
Council of Verona involves a meeting to settle the feud between the Montagues and Capulets, and cards representing various characters from Romeo and Juliet, each of which either has a goal for the outcome of the meeting or an action that will affect the outcome. (For example, Lord Montague's goal is to end the game with more Montagues at the meeting than Capulets, and there's a lesser Montague whose action can be used to have one of the Capulets kicked out of the meeting. Another character, I forget which, has the goal of ending the game with more people kicked out of the meeting than still in. Romeo, meanwhile, doesn't care what happens at the meeting, or whether he's in or out, only whether Juliet is there with him.) Where it gets complicated is that players score by betting on which characters will achieve their goals, and using the action characters to influence the outcome - and some of the characters' actions, instead of directly affecting other characters, can be used to mess with the other players' bets. I still don't think I've quite got my head around it.
Goblins, Inc. is about designing giant fighting machines and then playing them off against one another. It's an interesting mix of co-operation and competition. It's played with two teams of two, but halfway through the game the pairs are split and rearranged so that you end up allied with a former opponent. At various points in the game, each player is required to make important decisions without consulting their ally. Players are scored individually, and each player earns a different number of points from a victorious round depending on their secret agenda. (For instance, one player might earn points for each of their opponent's weapons that's destroyed, while another might earn points for each bit of armor; and similarly when it comes to the bits of their own machine remaining intact at the end of the fight.) In theory, the secret agenda might also influence a player to make a decision during the round that helps them but harms their ally. In practice, I found that I paid a lot of attention to my intactness agenda during the design phase (points for every intact weapon at the end of the fight? okay, we need to start with lots of weapons) but during the fight phase I would just forget about the destruction agenda and concentrate on the best outcome for the team. That seemed to work well for me, since I won the game.
1) What was the first Shakespeare play you read or seen performed?
First live performance would have been a local amateur production of Twelfth Night. I can't remember whether that was before or after we did Romeo and Juliet in school, so the first in any format might have been Zeffirelli's R&J that we watched then. Either way, I think R&J was the first one I read.
2) What is your favorite Shakespeare play?
At the moment, As You Like It is my favourite for pure enjoyment, but that's because it's the one I most recently saw a good production of; it'll change again next time I see a good production of one of the others.
Hamlet is the one I find most fascinating, and keep coming back to, partly because I've never seen a version of it I've found entirely satisfactory. Every new production I watch, I see something new that I'd never thought of before, and always, always, I learn a lot from the things that I look at and go, "No, that's obviously wrong." It's the one I most often tell myself I'm going to direct one day, since that's the only way I'll ever see it done Properly. (And presumably, if that day ever comes, somebody will come out of my production muttering about the things I got Obviously Wrong, and so the cycle will continue.)
3) What is your least favorite Shakespeare play?
I'm not fond of his comedies, on the whole; I don't share his opinions on some of the things he finds funny and particularly on some of the things he considers to constitute a happy ending. That said, the amount I actually enjoy any given comedy depends a lot on what the production at hand is doing with it: the first production I saw of As You Like It made it one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays, and then the second made it one of my most favourite. So I'm not going to name a single least favourite play, because it's not necessarily worse than the others, it's just the one where I haven't yet seen that one really good production.
4) Who do you think wrote Shakespeare; are you a Stratfordian or Oxfordian?
Stratfordian, like all right-thinking people, though I admit to a brief flirtation with Oxfordianism when I was a teenager and the idea that Shakespeare might not have been Shakespeare seemed new and interesting.
5) Which Shakespeare plays have you read or seen or seen performed?
I have definitely seen As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Twelfth Night on stage or screen or both.
I can't at the moment recall whether I've actually seen The Tempest or Othello all the way through. (Forbidden Planet presumably doesn't count.)
I own a copy of the Complete Works, but somewhere along the line I picked up an aversion to reading plays on my own time if I haven't seen them first, so if it's not listed above I haven't read it either.
In December I'm going to visit Germany, and also Austria and the Czech Republic, with a group of friends, to see this "White Christmas" thing everybody's written so many songs about.
This is a bit exciting, because the closest I've been to overseas before now is Rottnest Island.
2. Rehearsals for the Christmas show continue. Sometimes I think it's going really well, other times I'm horrified at how much there is left to do. Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse...
3. What with one thing and another - specifically, the two things mentioned above - I haven't signed up for Yuletide this year and it doesn't seem likely I'll end up contributing. My creative wossnames are currently all tied up in the Christmas show, and I'll be travelling, with uncertain internet prospects, during the all-important Eleventh Hour Crunch. Best wishes to everyone on my friendslist who is taking part this year.
4. Went to see Justin Kurzel's new film version of Macbeth, which has been getting impressive reviews, and now I'm horribly tempted to describe it using the phrase "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing", which wouldn't really be fair. For one thing, one of the problems I had with it was that there are several points where I think a bit of sound and fury was just what we needed and didn't get. For another, it's full of things that are clearly Significant - it's saturated with Significance, to the point that the whole experience ended up feeling rather smothered - I just don't think that in the end they added up to anything coherent.
(Also, on a more nitpicky note, there were several places that hit one of my directorial peeves, where the dialogue says one thing and the action shows something else. This was particularly annoying since it's a production that's not afraid to prune big chunks of dialogue out, or even occasionally to change a line, with no good effect on the rhyme or the scansion. If you're going that far, then either do something about the line that contradicts your vision, or if the line is too important to be done away with, consider that that might mean your vision might need adjusting...)
5. Every time I get my hair cut, I seem to end up with more forehead than I had before.
( Read more... )
So, in some respects, I want to be charitable toward MacDonald. And I might well have liked these books if I'd come to them as a child. After all, I loved Narnia. And I loved other things that turned out, when I revisited them as an adult, to have terribly patronising narration. (MacDonald's narration really is astonishingly patronising.) But I don't like them now.
(Also, I was amused that, although they left out the running gag about the aliens giving themselves inappropriate human-type names, so we don't get J.Lo the Boov, they gave it a tip of the hat by casting J.Lo the human as the heroine's mom.)
2. As if I didn't have enough TV to catch up on (which reminds me: must catch up on Agents of SHIELD), the premiere of Thunderbirds Are Go was on at a time I could actually watch it, so now I'm following that as well. They've done a slightly odd thing where instead of going the usual reboot route and starting from the beginning again, they've actually advanced a few years from the point where the original series ended, so it's kind of like a sequel as well as a reboot, but because they've tweaked the setting and most of the characters it's a sequel to a version of the original series that never actually existed. I'm not sure what I think of it yet. I'm also not sure what to make of the fact that I get a swell of nostalgia every time the theme music plays, considering I never actually watched the original series.
3. I've been having ups and downs with HabitRPG lately. I got my first Perfect Day (completed all the habits on the daily recurring habits list) on the day before Swancon, though admittedly only because I'd disabled the habits I couldn't do while I was away from home, and those included most of the ones I really struggle with. (I then proceeded to blow the "Go to bed at a sensible time" habit every day of Swancon, so no more Perfect Days for me.) On the other hand, being away for a week threw me off my stride and I died twice in my first week back, after having managed to avoid dying at all up until then. Fortunately, dying in HabitRPG isn't too terribly painful - they don't want you to stop using HabitRPG, after all.
4. I have not yet given up on writing a proper post about what I did at Swancon. (I tried writing them as I went this year, but about halfway through the first full day I got too busy enjoying myself to waste time writing about it.)
5. I have not yet given up on writing a proper post about games I played at Swancon and on International Tabletop Day.