Random DoL Meta Scraps 5/5

January 2, 2009 at 11:54 pm (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

Let’s play a game: how many literary tropes is the Doctrine of Labyrinths series subverting at the same time? Spoilers for all three books, last bit of DoL meta spam yay!

1. Fiery-tempered redheads (‘cause god damn does Felix have a temper, and not in a cute, amusing way. More like a “beat a random guy bloody and abuse his position as a top” kind of way. Even Mildmay has a temper, and he’s probably just as violent as Felix, though he’s a hell of a lot better as keeping it under control.)

2. Long-lost siblings finding each other

3. Mystical bonds binding people together for life (As in Wheel of Time: think of the Aes Sedai Bonding Warders. The roles of the esclavin and obligataire in the obligation d’ame are also flipped from that of the Warder Bond. The Warder—the ordinary person bonded to the magic user—is the one who is supposed to protect; in the obligation d’ame, it’s the obligataire—the magic user doing the bonding—who is the protector.)

4. Use of a lover to blackmail someone into doing something (Mehitabel and her Hallam; the subversion is more from how that particular plotline plays out than the actual use of the trope. Mehitabel plays along and confesses all only when it’s that or watch Felix and Mildmay die; there are no daring rescues or dramatic breakings of ties and no protracted angst. Straightforward plots, I’m telling you.)

5. The heroic archetype period. Which, you know, is not anything new, but Felix definitely falls under the heading of anti-hero.

6. The story of the street kid done good. I’m sure Felix is not amused by this at all, but I am. :D

7. Using an actor as a spy! Go Mehitabel.

Probably more but these are just off the top of my head.


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Random DoL Meta Scraps 4/?

January 2, 2009 at 11:51 pm (Miscellaneous Meta) (, )

Two separate things here: a bit on Felix/Gideon and the age difference, and another bit that compares Felix to Rand al’Thor from the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Spoilers for all three books, natch.

Felix and Gideon were fifteen years apart too, but—I dunno, because Felix was so obviously the one in control despite being the younger one, it felt less creepy than Royston/Hal. Maybe because Felix didn’t really care and never really dwelt on it, so I as the reader never really put much thought to it either (though Gideon did, if his outburst in The Mirador is anything to go by.). Which is kind of creepy in of itself, now that I think on it, though when you consider how much older Malkar was while he was screwing Felix and the age differences between Felix during his time as a prostitute and his patrons…At least he and Gideon are both, you know, sane adults capable of giving informed consent as to whether or not to engage in sexual intercourse with each other. Fifteen year age differences probably didn’t mean very much to Felix once they’d cross that particular hurdle. This is part of my rationale why it’s not the incest part that squicks Felix about having the hots for Mildmay; what squicks him is the fact that he doesn’t care about the incest, and that he’s afraid that he’s an awful enough person to abuse the obligation d’ame to get what he wants.


Felix Harrowgate as the anti-Rand al’Thor:

1. Red hair, strange-colored eyes, and stature mark them as outsiders

2. His long lost mother was a slut, not a queen. She ran away to a far off place and joined a far off people to become a prostitute, while Rand’s mother joined the Aiel and was honored by becoming the chief’s wife.

3. His “father” made him who he was through abuse rather than fatherly concern and imparting of values and whatnot.

4. His position of power is cemented by mending a magical artifact in the middle of a citadel rather than breaking it. Rand’s version is the sword thingy in Tear with all of its wards that he rips apart. You can tell how long it’s been since I’ve touch the books. :D

5. Rand’s story is that of a hero and leader being forced to ever greater heights; Felix’s story is how he can’t catch a fucking break and keeps getting run out of the Mirador as a criminal when all he wants to do was stay

6. All of Rand’s mentor-type figures have at least semi-altruistic intentions. None of Felix’s mentor-types had anything even remotely close.

7. Felix is gay. Rand is straight. Both of them have problems with monogamy.

8. Felix’s practice of magic is largely orthodox and acceptable (…in his corner of the world, at least); Rand’s practice of magic is anathema everywhere (or at least, it was. Maybe still is, a little.).

(side note: the concept of the Khloidanikos is similar to the concept of the dream world in the Wheel of Time whose name I cannot remember. Tel’aran’rhiod?)

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Random DoL Meta Scraps 3/?

January 2, 2009 at 11:45 pm (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

A comparison of Felix and Mildmay’s tempers and how they deal with them that goes on to include some more analysis of Felix and a bit about his sexual predilections. Even when he’s not supposed to be the focus he steals the show. -____- Spoilers for the first three books.

Both Felix and Mildmay have bad tempers and violent tendencies. They deal with it in very different ways, though

Mildmay does seem more level-headed of the brothers but he does admit to having a temper, because Felix can get him angry. And he does admit to sometimes being so mad he wants to hurt Felix, to watch him bleed. However, he’s very good at controlling that temper, at knowing when he needs to cool off and knowing how to avoid situations that could lead to his temper flaring (ie. not letting Felix pick fights with him when Felix is in the fight pickin’ mood). And when he really does need to let off steam, he does it by sublimating the need to do violence entirely—case in point, The Virtu, after he’s pissed at Felix for sending him off to lead the thugs away from Arakhne. He’s angry and he wants Felix to hurt—so he goes out to find a whore, and he releases all his pent-up frustration and need to act against someone else by fucking her.

You might say that Felix does much the same—when his anger flares (or as he says, his black rages come upon him) he also sublimates the anger. However, unlike Mildmay, he doesn’t sublimate the urge, he merely substitutes the victim. When he gets angry, he goes off to the Arcane to beat and fuck a martyr. It’s very different from what Mildmay does, because Mildmay is aware of what his anger wants him to do and, because he is, he is safely able to let it off in a way that isn’t harmful to himself or those around him. Felix does not have that level of self-awareness and control. He is simply consumed by rage and doesn’t know what to do with it. Fucking martyrs isn’t the same thing as what Mildmay did with the whore in The Virtu because Felix is still giving in to the impulse to do violence. The sex and arousal is a byproduct of that.

(It’s unclear whether violence period is what gets Felix hard or whether it’s violence in the context of tarquins and martyrs that gets him hard. If the latter, his arousal may be a response engendered by his past as a prostitute in the Shining Tiger where he was forced to be the martyr, and his past with Malkar (Felix admits Malkar has informed all of his sexual responses, presumably including his sadism.). It’s not quite the same as being naturally aroused by the infliction of pain upon another; the latter suggests he’s been trained to/trained himself to respond to it, either as a coping mechanism or simply through constant exposure to the tarquin/martyr environment throughout his youth.)

You could say that Felix turning to tarquins and martyrs is a way for him to take what he doesn’t understand—his rages and occasional rage blackouts—and putting it into terms that he does, by framing his rage and desire to harm another in the sexual framework of tarquins and martyrs, which is something that Felix does understand, perhaps all too well. Even when Felix feels like he’s in control of himself (and let us be frank: The Virtu and The Mirador present the only two (three if you count the year he was mad) years out of his entire life that he’s been truly free of Malkar or someone else’s control, as opposed to just believing he was free the way he did before Melusine) he isn’t, not really. He doesn’t understand himself the way Mildmay does; furthermore, he keeps trying to distance himself from his past self in a way Mildmay doesn’t. Mildmay’s life is one of continuity; what happened to him and what he did under his Keeper is relevant to who he is and what he does now (as seen in his epiphanies about why he kills and the deeper reason behind him asking for the obligation d’ame). For Felix…that’s not how his life works, that’s not how his memory works. What happened then has no bearing on who he is now. He won’t let it matter to who he is now.

Because Felix refuses to acknowledge or dwell on his past he can’t resolve it. He’s fractured himself into a Then and Now and he refuses to reconcile the two or to even consider attempting to. He’s made a little headway—his admission to Mildmay about fearing Keeper more than the Sim, and his realization that he fears Keeper because it represents his own insecurity about being able to save himself from his own danger. But he’s not yet at the stage where Mildmay is, being able to reflect on the past to inform his present and guide his future (ie. Mildmay’s refuses to kill Isaac Garamond despite the obligation d’ame because it’s not right for him to kill people in order to earn the affection/praise/attention of others.).

Felix is only starting to come to terms with how his past has affected his present self. He’s not yet at the point where he can use what he knows about himself to guide how he acts in the future. Hence his constant betrayals of Mildmay, both major and minor, and his inability to stick to his resolution to make his relationship with Gideon work. He admits that he can’t change and he’ll always be arrogant and cruel and quarrelsome and argumentative. But is the reason he can’t change because he was always like that, or is it because he doesn’t yet know himself well enough to find the root of his cruelty and affect change in himself from there? It sounds kind of hokey, I know. Know thyself and all that crap. But maybe that is what he needs to do. Maybe Felix needs to resolve the rift between Felix-as-prostitute, Felix-as-apprentice and Felix-as-wizard. Because it’s not like he doesn’t want to change—he does. He wanted to make his relationship with Gideon work. He wants not to be cruel to Mildmay, he wants to be worthy of Mildmay’s trust and to feel worthy of his love. It’s just that Felix doesn’t think he can change. He’s stuck in a rut and doesn’t know how to get out.

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Random DoL Meta Scraps 2/?

January 2, 2009 at 1:31 am (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

Some speculations for the fourth book, Corambis. Spoilers for the previous three books.

1. I bet the plot’s going to be about that labyrinth-engine Gideon mentioned in…The Virtu, I think it was. Where he said in ancient days there was a labyrinth that could channel magic into an engine; Corambis is going to be about an ancient weapon, and labyrinths and death are a running theme, so you can see how the two might be connected.

2. Also it occurred to me that the road to Corambis might be the only time since the books have begun that Felix and Mildmay have been alone together. Oh, in Melusine they were on the way to the Gardens of Nephele but Felix was bonkers at the time so it doesn’t count. And on the way back in The Virtu they picked up Mehitabel, and then Gideon, Mavortian, and Bernard, so they never were really alone together, except for snatches here and there. And in The Mirador they were beset on all sides by Felix’s friends, duties as a Cabaline, and of course Gideon living in their suite, so you know. They’ve never really been alone, always had other people as a distraction or an excuse not to talk and work out their myriad problems. And I mean, on the way to Corambis they’ve got the Convocation’s judgment to worry about and then whatever plot Monette’s got in store for them but man, on the way there? They’re stuck on the road. Just the two of them. And I really hope it helps them.

3. Maybe it makes me a terrible person but I want to the incest thread to be picked up again. It was kind of a running theme throughout The Virtu, an extra layer of complications to their relationship. And in The Mirador…it was mentioned once, briefly, obtusely, but that was it. Nothing explicit or clear as to whether it was just hanging out there, or whether Felix had managed to sort of shove aside his desire for Mildmay in the face of his new duties, Gideon, Malkar’s rubies, and his worsening temper. It was there and gone, and it needs to be resolved. Hopefully not by them screwing each other but they really need to come to some kind of consensus other than Felix going “I won’t rape you” while knowing Mildmay doesn’t trust him. So I’d like to see that picked up and wrapped up, though I’m afraid that maybe it won’t be, it’ll just be left there to lie, and I don’t want that to happen.

4. And I hope they manage to find a place where they can both be happy. Because the places where Felix was happy—the Gardens of Nephele, the Mirador—are places where Mildmay isn’t, and the place where Mildmay might be happy—the Lower City—is a place where he can’t go anymore and where Felix isn’t happy, so. They need to come to a balance, in the end, they need to find some middle ground and reach it and if they both die fulfilling their destiny (to paraphrase Amazon) I will be seriously put out. They’ve gone through too much to be rewarded by dying for some grand plan neither of them know the first thing about until the last book in their series. They deserve something better, and that’s not how life works, but they are characters in a novel and I’d at least like for them to have something optimistic. The thought that dying together might be the only way to solve all their problems is one I refuse to contemplate at length. Let them be happy, and let them be happy in a way that doesn’t require them to be dead.

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Random DoL Meta Scraps 1/?

January 2, 2009 at 1:30 am (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

A bit of Felix and Mildmay comparison + a bit on their relationship (spoilers for all three books)

I’m re-reading The Virtu right now and will probably reread The Mirador, and I’ve realized that whenever Felix uses the word darling it’s when he’s deliberately trying to hurt or be catty or cruel, and it’s something he picked up from Malkar (who does the exact same thing to him all the time) and is the shadow of Malkar showing through in him. By the same token Mildmay thinks something that includes the nickname Milly-Fox it’s only when he’s putting himself down, and it’s a hold-over from when he was a kept-thief and his Keeper, Kolkhis, would use the nickname to do the same thing.

God, both Mildmay and Felix are free of the Keepers but they aren’t, not really. Felix is still afraid of the Sim and of the memories Malkar left him with, Mildmay puts himself down in his Keeper’s voice and he does it all the fucking time, even when he doesn’t explicitly state that he’s hearing the words in her voice. It kind of hurts to read, and it hurts even more to read Felix’s sections and see all the places where he thinks Mildmay’s really great and mentally compliments him and where he thinks about defending Mildmay or taking Mildmay’s side and then doesn’t do a damn thing. It’s like he has all these great ephiphanies about himself and their relationship and then utterly fails to follow through. It’s so frustrating.

At the same time, though, Mildmay never really says why he loves Felix and would rather stay by his side and suffer than leave and uh, also suffer, but at least without the obligation d’ame hanging over him. All he does is burst out with these random declarations of loyalty that completely confound Felix because he can’t see how Mildmay could possibly feel any of that for someone like him. I mean, it’s all well and good, but it’s reasonless, and all it does is confuse; it doesn’t tell Felix what about him is worth loving and putting up with him, just that he’s worth it. Which I think scares him more than anything because what if what Mildmay is seeing that makes being Felix’s slave worth it is something Felix is making up to prettify himself? The only time Mildmay ever brings out one of his myriad, accurate observations about Felix is when he’s angry and wants to throw Felix’s faults in his face. And Felix knows that Mildmay’s right but that just scares him more because if Mildmay can see the bad than he can see the good and what, exactly, does Felix have in him that is good and worth loving? Or maybe, you know, he’s just not good at being read and deciphered, at anyone being able to penetrate his defenses so accurately and cruelly.

They are both so bad at communicating; they both hate themselves even as they love each other, but their mutual self-loathing bleeds into their love and stains it, twists it; they’re tied to each other by force and by choice but it’s not easy for either of them, and they don’t make it easy on each other, either.

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Uncanny Valley

September 20, 2008 at 11:00 am (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

So I recently read Rene Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, which among other things (ie. mindblowing) asserts that violence occurs when things become the same and distinction is lost between individuals or concepts (or types of violence).

Is this the basis of the controversy surrounding things like the uncanny valley, cloning, etc.? As well all those sci-fi/fantasy conflicts about species or creatures that are almost, but not quite, human (ie. elves). Conflict arises over these things because things are becoming too similar to us, to human beings–but they’re not close enough. We’re sending mixed signals; we want to make things that imitate life, or more specifically imitate us, and we want that because we see it as the pinnacle of our scientific(/magical, for the fictional contexts) achievement. But when things start getting too similar, we panic, we feel that our identity as The Humans is being lost and the distinction between Us and Them is starting to erode. We want things to be different from us. Conflict arises because we’ve already designated to those other beings (or proponents of those other beings, as is the case with robots and computer characters) that being human-like is desirable, but now we’re saying don’t be too human. Conflict and violence breaks out. WE NEED SACRIFICE TO END IT!

Okay, maybe not that last bit. But still.

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Turtle Crash

September 10, 2008 at 8:40 am (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

The Mafia boss in Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash is named Enzo. Could Enzio be a corruption of Enzo?

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Before I Forget Theatre II

August 15, 2008 at 11:14 am (Don't Touch That Dial, Miscellaneous Meta) ()

I watched an episode of A Model Life a few days ago. Now, A Model Life is a reality show about six young models competing to earn a modeling contract with NEXT Modeling Agency. No one gets eliminated, it’s really more about the trials and tribulations of being a professional fashion model. Or something.

ANYWAY the ep I watched was the six girls getting a chance to be in a photoshoot with Gilles Bensimon (apparently a famous fashion photographer and also International Creative Director at Elle Magazine), the results of which are later discussed and critiqued by the people at NEXT. One model had a particularly good shoot and the people looking over her pictures said she could realistically model for Elle. Hooray for her?

She was 16 years old. Considering Elle is a magazine that focuses on women’s fashion and health and what not, this is pretty astounding. The ideal body to be seen gracing the pages of Elle is that of a teenager? That is the body all women should aspire to? Stick-thin puberty? Something is wrong there. I didn’t look like that when I was s16 and quite frankly I can’t think of anyone who did. It’s an unrealistic expectation of women to fit that one specific image. Not all women are white, not all women are or want to be that unhealthily thin, and no woman can turn back the clock. Skinny and bony teenagers should not be held up as the ideal for which 34.7* year old women should aspire.

In a similar vein, the International Creative Direction of Elle is a man. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but judging by the title an International Creative Director would be in charge of the creative vision and direction of Elle magazines across the globe, right? So every woman who reads Elle to see who’s wearing what, to see what’s hot and what’s not, is having their idea of beauty and body influenced by the vision of a man. Elle is supposed to be a women’s fashion and beauty and health and whathaveyou magazine. Why is a man in charge of telling women what they should aspire to look like?

* median age of Elle’s readers, according to Wikipedia. The entry’s section on weight issues in the show is arch and condescending and basically says something to the effect of modeling = bad health and if you don’t like it get out of the business. Ugh.

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Good Singing vs. Good Dancing

May 29, 2008 at 11:23 pm (Don't Touch That Dial, Miscellaneous Meta) (, )

Recently I checked out So You Think You Can Dance at the behest of this dude because yes, I am easily influenced by others to try new things over the internet. I started out with the US season 4 (since it just started) and it really is better than (what I remember of) American Idol. Watching it (and thinking on this) got me thinking about how identifying good singing vs. good dancing is different.

I think identifying a good singer (at least to the average joe in the audience) is tougher than identifying good dancing. Don’t get me wrong, the average viewer probably will not catch the nuances of say, personality and energy and clean lines and extensions and musicality and whatnot that a professional will keep an eye out for and make note of. But your average viewer could probably distinguish a bad dancer from the better half of the talent pool. Dance is in many ways considered a performance first and foremost, so the audience has that expectation of a dance–that upon watching it, they will be entertained. So something that doesn’t entertain is not a good dance. I think the average person could easily make these distinctions.

But with singing…singing is tougher to judge as good. Yes, you have the physical package–the face, the movement, etc. But vocal technique is tougher to grasp and it’s harder for someone who doesn’t know what to look for to find it. People can be considered good singers (good enough to publish records) but have terrible vocal technique. It’s harder for someone who doesn’t know what good vocal technique is to say what is and isn’t technically good singing. Yeah, somebody could pick up on singer X was entertaining/unentertaining, that they had personality and good facial expression–but they wouldn’t know whether singer X was, say, forming the vowels correctly (it makes a huge difference in tonal quality) or using appropriate phrasing (debatable; this might still be pick-upable even if you don’t know what a phrase is).

I’m not speaking entirely academically–I know two years of choir class is not exactly a high recommendation for my expertise in singing, but I will say that after two years of being taught vocal technique by teachers who know what they’re saying, I can listen to a song and like the song and enjoy the lyrics and the melody and what have you, and still know that the singer I am listening to has crap technique. But prior to those two years I could not make that differentiation, not until I heard the difference between good vs. bad technique, and not until I knew what good and bad vocal technique was.

So I guess what I am saying is that good dance technique is easier for the layperson to pick up on, whereas good vocal technique is much more subtler and therefore much less so–making it harder for people to tell whether or not they themselves are good or bad singers, which means the number of people who aren’t good singers but still think they’re good enough to audition is exponentially higher for a singing competition like American Idol than the number of people who aren’t good dancers but think they’re good enough to audition for a dance competition like So You Think You Can Dance.

Oof, it’s late and I’m tired; I don’t know if I’m making any sense here. But the shape of the idea is there in my head, and hopefully I’ve managed to write it down in at least semi-coherent form.

ADDED: Another difference–there’s a much wider range of what can be considered good singing. Re: what I said about now being able to identify good vs. bad technique, singing can still be “good” even if technically bad, because for singing good also entails personality, musicality, stage presence, engagement of the audience, facial expression, etc. If you have all of those (plus killer song writing) you can still be classified as a good singer even if your vocal technique is shit.

The same thing applies to dancing too, of course. But with dancing there’s a much smaller range of what is acceptable as good; you don’t have nearly as much leeway as you do with singing. If you want to have those other unquantifiable things that make a good dancer–stage presence, musicality, entertaining, etc.–then that must include at least some technique. Not necessarily professional training caliber technique, but you have to at least know what the hell you’re doing. Because watching someone who doesn’t flail around on stage is only entertaining if you’re into schadenfreude, and otherwise just plain painful. And you can’t be engaging and have stage presence and show your personality when people are too busy cringing to watch you.

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A Thought

May 26, 2008 at 8:44 pm (Miscellaneous Meta) ()

Generally female supervillains are depicted as wearing less than their superhero counterparts. Is this an attempt to denote evil with femininity? By wearing less, female supervillains are displaying more of their skin and figure, thus emphasizing their femininity and their sexuality; since they’re the evil ones, both things are associated with evil. Showing off one’s femininity and being openly more comfortable with your sexuality are thus both demonized when they are applied to women.

Am I way off base here? I’d have to do an indepth comparison of female superhero vs. supervillain outfits (even of characters who have been both; one thinks of Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, Polaris, Raven…) and see what I find out to give this idea any kind of backing but…well, I thought of it while I was watching Legion of Super Heroes and compared to the Legion ladies, Emerald Empress’ outfit is…lacking. Even if most of her chest and torso are covered in sheer black/grey fabric, the shape of her green swirlies really bring out her…assets.

I suspect that this concept could be applied to manga as well, but its harder to find prominent female characters whose appearance can be subjected to analysis of the same depth as comic book heroines. Manga characters tend not to have the same constant costume changes that superheroes do.

Something to keep in mind, at least.

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