Wednesday Videos: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back!

WednesdayVideoSeldom has a show made such a quick switch from meh to must see as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which returned last night.  This video was clearly made before most of the events of Season 2 took place.  Grant is not a superhero, y’all.  He’s a superdouche.  Not the same thing at all.  WE HATE HIM.  And hating him is a blast so no redeeming the superdouche, please!

Anyway, despite being overly kind to Grant, I love this song, I loved the way this video was edited, and I have to admit that when it cuts to Fitz on the line “He’s stronger than you know” I got a little teary because I heart Fitz in every possible way.  Enjoy.


So much news! Genius Loci and Dangerworks!

11021178_543931905735714_1290451378384142212_nMuch blog news today.  First up, I’ll be doing some panels at Professor Mondo’s Dangerworks Conclave in Sacramento, CA March 13 – 15.  Schedule TBA.  Your fee for Dangercon (steampunk convention) also gets you into ConQuest (gaming convention) so you can geek out to your heart’s content.  Here’s the Dangercon registration info:


The next piece of news is that the kickstarter for Genius Loci is live!  Genius Loci is an anthology of stories about spirit of place.  I got to have a sneak peek at the stories and the variety is amazing.  I contributed an introduction and some short nonfiction pieces.  Check out the kickstarter!





Guest Post by Cat Rambo: What Makes a Good Love Story?

PeacockHairedCatCat Rambo lives and writes beside an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appears in April from Wordfire Press. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. 

What makes a good love story? That’s the question that’s been obsessing me lately. Because while I’m preparing to launch Beasts of Tabat, my first novel, I’m also hard at work at the sequel, Hearts of Tabat.

Hearts doesn’t follow the same characters that Beasts does: a boy named Teo and a Gladiator named Bella Kanto. Instead, it focuses on Bella’s best friend and former lover, Adelina Nittlescent, and the two men wooing her: Sebastiano Silverpurse, a Merchant Mage and a river pilot named Eloquence Seaborn. It starts midway through the first book, and shows some of its events from other angles before it moves on to cover some of the events taking place after Beasts of Tabat. (The third book, Exiles of Tabat, will return to Bella and Teo.)

And so here I am, writing a love story. I am generally cynical about such narratives; when I reviewed for Publishers Weekly, that was the only kind of genre off the table, because I found them too predictable.

That’s because you do know one thing at the end of a love story: two people will get together. It’s the dance of how you get to that point that really matters, how skillfully the writer spins out that particular funhouse ride, from Point Single to Point Attached.

I’ve picked one of the classic ways to inject a little unpredictability: a love triangle. And I’ve tried to make it an interesting triangle, with a few class and religious differences, as well as some differing attitudes, thrown into the mix and not tipped my hand as to who Adelina will end up picking, because it’s always been clear in my head.

What makes a good love story? Not the formula, which is pretty simple. But the ways you embellish it and make it your own.

Going back to some of my favorite love stories has been helpful. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, E. H. Young’s Miss Mole, Lindsay Buroker’s The Emperor’s Edge series – looking at those has helped me think about the idea of the romance, the delayed gratification of getting down to the moment of vulnerability and completion where hearts are revealed, that is (I think) at the core of romance and its pleasure.

So I want my reader to waver between Sebastiano, who is a clever Mage, and Eloquence, who is simpler but a poet at heart. To wonder whether Adelina will factor in her mother’s wishes for her when deciding – and even whether or not she’ll decide. She does have a thriving publishing house to run, after all, and little time for anything else. And Bella Kanto sets a high bar for other lovers to match (as Bella would be quick to tell you.)

I’ve been living with these characters for seven or eight years now, as well as their world, in which I’ve placed at least a dozen stories. I’m hoping that readers will love them as much as I do, that they’ll gnaw their lip a little wondering what Adelina decides and that when it becomes apparent, they’ll feel the rightness of the decision down to their bones, because that’s another thing that makes a good love story, even when the heroine is opting for the guy you don’t want her to pick.

So I’m writing away on my love story, trying to make it wonderful and compelling and come to one of those revelatory moments that haunt you, that you go back to in your head, with lines of dialogue that echo deep down to the smallest chamber of your heart in the most satisfying of ways.

That’s what makes a good love story. We’ll see whether or not I can pull it off.


Cat Rambo lives and writes beside an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appears in April from Wordfire Press. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.


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For links to Cat’s short stories and more information about her work, visit her website at

Between the Lines Book Club: Film Adaptations of Emma

between the lines book club logoEmma is an outlier among Jane Austen novels. Other Jane Austen novels feature a genteel but impoverished heroine who must triumph in the face of one or more rich mean girls. In Emma, the main character is the rich mean girl, although she’s not mean so much as misguided and, let’s face it, snobby. Austen always points out the many foibles of her heroines, but none are as entertainingly, gloriously, persistently and spectacularly flawed as Emma. Also, as Richard Rodi points out in Bitch in a Bonnet Vol 2, Emma is remarkably short on tension. If the Bennett girls (from Pride and Prejudice) don’t marry, they could end up on the street. If Emma doesn’t marry – so what? Even Emma is cool with not marrying. The person playing a high stakes game is supporting character Jane Fairfax, and most of her story happens off the page.


Both in spite of these things and because of them, Emma is probably Austen’ most beloved novel aside from Pride and Prejudice. Who can resist watching Emma miss every clue that is lobbed at her head?   Who can fail to roll on the floor laughing when Austen drops anvils of foreshadowing (“I shall never fall in love” HAHAHA EMMA YOU ARE SO FUNNY)? We hate Emma enough to enjoy seeing her humbled and we love her enough that we love to see her triumph. Plus this book has some of Austen’s most roll-on-the-floor funny supporting characters.


As part of my latest Emma immersion project I watched the two most famous film adaptations of Emma. The 1996 film version of Emma is a more-or-less period faithful adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow, while Clueless, from 1995, gives us a loose version set in high school with Alicia Silverstone playing Cher (Emma). So who’s the winner? Let’s break it down, shall we?


Best Emma: Gwyneth. She actually glows – did they just follow her around with a backlight, or what? Her concern for Harriet is sincere and so is her pride, and sad Emma after the picnic is the saddest sad ever. Also, she tries to cheer Harriet up by showing her puppies, and when Harriet isn’t sufficiently cheered she all but throws the puppies at her head in a desperate attempt to perk her up. You have to love that.


I had a very satisfying epiphany when I realized that Gwyneth is basically playing herself. The reason people hate poor Gwyneth is that she comes across as having all of Emma’s worst qualities – no sense of her own privilege, a compulsive need to give everyone advice (most of which is incredibly unrealistic, see: privilege) and a definite sense of herself as All That. But I always have a soft spot for her because I suspect the presence of Emma’s best qualities – by all accounts from people who know her, she’s a good friend who just wants to make people happy. Also she’s a hell of an actress, and she sure brings her ‘A’ game to this movie.


Best Clothes: Emma version again. Behold:




Best Mr. Knightly: Jeremy Northam. Sweet Merciful Heavens that man is sexy. I’ll be in my bunk.




Best Supporting Cast: Emma. Juliet Stevenson as Mrs. Elton, y’all. You can’t compete with that. Plus we get Ewan McGregor unleashing lethal quantities of charm as Frank Churchill.


Best Ensemble Cast: Clueless. The cast of Emma is full of standout, A-list actors who show off. That’s fine, because the characters in the book spend a lot of time trying to out-grandstand each other, and it’s funny. But a more central theme in the book is of community. Emma involves a core group of people who know each other all too well. Even the characters that arrive from elsewhere and shake everything up have been thoroughly dissected by gossip before they arrive at the village. So it’s really important that the cast of Clueless works as an ensemble. The high school works so well as a metaphor for a small village in which everything is everyone else’s business, and I believe that these people know each other intimately in a way that I don’t believe in Emma.




Funniest Movie: Aside from Juliet Stevenson mangling the scenery and clearly having the time of her life, Clueless is much more funny than Emma. Maybe that’s because I like simple pleasures, and the humor in Clueless is more accessible than Emma. But I think that Emma focuses more on contemplating society and Clueless just rips society to shreds and throws popcorn all over the remains. I give you Brittany Murphy’s greatest burn (“You’re a virgin who can’t drive!”), Cher’s desperate efforts to improve herself (“I thought they declared peace in the Middle East.”), and the tumultuous relationship between Cher’s friends Dionne and Murray. The one-liners just keep coming, and even though they are relentlessly 1990’s they also tie in perfectly with the themes of the book.


Most Heartwarming: I’m gonna go with Clueless again. Take the scene in which Cher points out the best qualities of all her friends, or the scene in which her father reminds her that she takes care of everyone in the family. A lot of the heartwarming comes from the fact that while in general I think Gwyneth is a better actress than Alicia, Alica is wonderful at showing how badly Cher wants to be a good person, and how hard she tries.


Most Romantic: Emma. Did I mention Jeremy Northam. Here, have more Jeremy.





Wednesday Videos Miss Orphan Black

WednesdayVideoI miss Orphan Black so much, you guys.  It will be back on April 18 but that’s so far away *whines*.  Luckily I found this video to tide me over.  suddenly “Shake it Off” is my new favorite song – something I hadn’t thought possible (I love Taylor Swift absolutely and unironically, but until now I found that particular song to be annoying).  Here’s Sarah and her sestras soldiering on.

Kickass Women in History: Lady Dorothy Feilding-Moor

Time for me to link over to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books where this month’s Kickass Woman is Lady Dorothy Feilding-Moor, who was an ambulance driver in WWI.  I had so much fun researching this article – could’ve spent years reading about Lady Feilding and her compatriots.  Enjoy!



Book Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

5110avaFj9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_How on earth did Jo Walton manage to make a riveting page-turner out of a book which consists almost entirely of philosophical discussions?  I could not stop reading The Just City, which since I was in the middle of packing for a trip and meeting a ton of deadlines was very inconvenient.

In The Just City, Athena and Apollo decide to set up a real version of Plato’s Republic, tucked away in a timeless city that is destined to be destroyed by a volcano.  This city is founded by Athena, who forms the first generation out of people who pray to her to live in The Republic.  The second generation is made of children who are brought to the city our of their own timelines, in which the children are slaves.  The next is children who are born in the city during randomized fertility rites and raised communally.

Apollo chooses to experience the city as a mortal.  He is baffled, because he pursed a mortal, Daphne, for sex, and she choose to transform herself into a tree rather than sleep with him.  Apollo is not deliberately cruel, just totally obtuse.  How could Daphne not want to sleep with him?  Wasn’t she just playing?  Athena explains the concept of choice to him, and he decided to become mortal to learn about “Volition. Our equal significance”.

The Just City is at once a utopia and a dystopia, depending on the speaker’s point of view.  Two slave children are brought to the city together – one lives his life blaming the masters of the city for taking him away from his life, while the other sees the city as a refuge.  The realities of childcare, sex, birth, and work overwhelm the city’s founders.  There are cruelties and injustices, but most involve good intentions.  The cracks in the system are what give the book so much tension, and the tension is more interesting because there’s no one right or simplistic way to look at the city.

When Sokrates shows up, he shakes up everything, of course.  Above all, he questions Athena’s intentions.  Can a city be just if no one can leave?  Can a city be just if children were brought to the city against their will, even if they like it here?  As the book progresses, people experience conflict primarily over relationships.  No one is supposed to have a special attachment to one child or one lover, yet these attachments occur.  Everything is supposed to be fair, yet the city’s founders cheat in order to make things work.  It’s not as simple as a horrible dystopian nightmare.  Many people love the city and thrive there.  But others suffer because of the absence of volition and equal significance.

I’ve admired everything Jo Walton has written, but nothing has been as amazing to me as Among Others, a book that was so luminous I expected it to give off a physical glow.  The Just City was a different experience – it’s not designed to make you glow but to make you thing.  Among Others was a celebration of reading.  The Just City is a celebration of talking and thinking. Walton’s earlier books were celebrations of history and fantasy.  The common thread in her books is that our shared humanity is the most important thing – our volition, our equal significance.  This book is the first in a planned trilogy and it ends on a dramatic cliffhanger that has me ripping out my hair, so be warned.

Even if you don’t read the book, read this passage by Apollo, and just tell me if it doesn’t make you want to be “your best self”:

On my temple in Delphi there are two words written: Know Thyself.  It’s good advice.  Know yourself.  You are worth knowing.  Examine your life.  The unexamined life is not worth living.  Be aware that other people have equal significance.  Give them the space to make their own choices, and let their choices count as you want them to let your choices count.  Remember that excellence has no stopping point and keep on pursuing it.  Make art that can last and that says something nobody else can say.  Live the best life you can, and become the best self you can.  You cannot know which of your actions is the lever that will move worlds.  Not even Necessity knows all ends.  Know yourself.