All posts by SF Bluestocking

Let’s Read! Gormenghast: Titus Groan, Chapters 17-21

[Once again, I find myself having to revise my planned reading because I came to the end of a chapter that felt like such a natural finishing point for the section that I didn’t want to move on without writing about it. This section, instead of covering Chapters 17 through 23 as I originally intended to, will only cover material through Chapter 21.]

“It seemed to him that all his life he’d been climbing.”

I think I mentioned it already, but I’m giving up on this book ever developing any particular plot. After finally having some forward progress, at least temporally, Chapter 17, “Means of Escape,” resets the clock again, taking us fourteen days back to find out how Steerpike escaped from the room in which Mr. Flay had imprisoned him. Steerpike and his whereabouts are, along with Flay’s rivalry with Swelter, Mr. Flay’s primary anxieties, though both of these can be summed up together as an overall anxiety regarding anything Flay considers to be a rebellion against the established order of things in Gormenghast. Flay fears Swelter’s desire for personal revenge, but he seems to worry more over the missing Steerpike, who is, to Flay’s mind, a force of chaos, a dangerous entropy that must be found and controlled before something bad happens. At the same time, Flay’s fears about Steerpike are so amorphous as to be absurd; Flay isn’t an imaginative man, and he struggles to articulate (or perhaps Mervyn Peake struggled to articulate from Flay’s point of view) exactly what he finds so unsettling about the stray kitchen boy.

Most of this section, however, is about Steerpike himself, starting with some deft characterization immediately after Flay has left the prison room: “Most people would have tried the handle of the door. The instinct, however irrational, would have been too strong—the first impulse of one who wishes to escape. Steerpike looked at the knob of the door for a moment. He had heard the key turn. He did not disobey the simple logic of his mind. He turned from the only door in the room and, leaning out of the window, glanced at the drop below.” It’s the most complete idea of Steerpike so far, and it’s a smart illustration of the type of boy he is: logical, creative and quick-thinking, but also circumspect enough to be thinking about the costs of failure. What follows, over the next several chapters, is a symbolic, obviously foreshadowing journey in turns dreamlike and nightmarish as Steerpike ascends the rooftops of Gormenghast and must find a way back into the castle.

Chapter 18, “A Field of Flagstones,” begins with Steerpike consciously choosing to not think about the risks that gave him pause as he first looked out the window and contemplated the drop, and we quickly find that he’s a character skilled at purposeful, next steps thinking. We’re also reminded of Steerpike’s youth; Peake writes about Steerpike’s “young smile” in a way that can’t help but feel pointed in contrast to how Peake has described everything and everyone else we’ve met so far in terms to exaggerate great age, especially the way that characters, in particular, are described as having aged prematurely. It’s possible that Steerpike is still just young enough to have not been subject to the early aging that affects, but it seems more likely that this is an intentional choice to highlight Steerpike’s outsider status within the world of Gormenghast, which is a running theme in these chapters.

Once atop the roof of the castle, Steerpike finds that everything is bigger than he expected, and things quickly take a frightening turn for him as it gets dark and he must find his way around through intuition and touch. The skies clear shortly before dawn, offering some greater visibility, which lets him pick a window to start working towards. It’s a somewhat arbitrary goal, but as we’re reminded in Chapter 21, “he had been searching for one thing and one thing only—a means of entering the castle.” This singlemindedness in pursuit of a modest goal works for Steerpike in these chapters, but we’re reminded over and over again about the precariousness of his position, the danger posed by the risks he takes, and of his own ignorance—he’s only a kitchen boy, after all, and Gormenghast is extremely large and very mysterious. Chapter 20, “Near and Far,” may liken Steerpike to a predator (picking up the bird motif again) and meditate on the question of whether a predator thinks in terms of a big picture or only focuses on its prey, but Steerpike is just orienting himself so far as he wanders around taking in the sights and sounds of Gormenghast over a full day, which must teach him something about the place.

Taken together, Chapters 17 through 21 encapsulate an ambitious trajectory writ small as Steerpike scrambles across the rooftops, and they end with him finally penetrating the castle, almost by accident, when he falls into Fuchsia’s secret attic. It remains to be seen if the map of Steerpike’s non-metaphorical trajectory will match this one.

Miscellany:

  • I think the unnamed poet in Chapter 20 is Sepulchrave. Certainly, the melancholy poem he recites sounds like him.
  • Cora and Clarice creeping around is oddness of exactly the sort that I’ve now come to expect from this book. It’s also interesting to note that they’re wearing their purple dresses already, even though the events in these chapters are nearly two weeks before the christening. That said, this is the sort of thing that could mean nothing except that Peake intended for the reader to understand the two distantly seen ladies as the twins, without intending any other, deeper importance.
  • There’s a pool with a white horse and foal swimming in it, and I’m not sure if these are literally white horses—as no one in Gormenghast has been described as a rider, and all the characters so far are various types of shut-ins—or if they only look like horses from Steerpike’s high vantage point. If it is a white horse, is it a symbol (white horses figure largely in various mythologies and horses are common symbols) or is it just a horse?
  • I’m now over 150 pages into Titus Groan, and it’s still difficult-to-impossible to identify which characters are protagonists and which are antagonists. Peake seems to be taking the humanist route of examining his characters as people rather than roles, and the shifting perspectives prevent any character from emerging as definitively pro- or antagonistic. Some of this is because there’s still not much of an actual plot going on, but some of this feeling is because of the deliberately humanist care with which Peake writes about his characters. They may be absurd, bizarrely so at times, but they’re never less than fully formed.
  • Peake uses specific numerical descriptions often in this section, and I’ll definitely be watching to see if this precision of language and thought is characteristic of just Steerpike’s point of view of if it’s more broadly characteristic of the author. I seem to remember it being a thing in earlier chapters as well, but nowhere near as prominently notable as it was in these chapters.
  • I have read a little bit about Gormenghast and the idea of place as a character, and these chapters do as much to bring Gormenghast to life as any of the ones before. Mr. Flay may act in an antagonistic way towards Steerpike, but it’s Gormenghast that presents the real challenge to the ambitious outsider. There are a couple of instances of straight up anthropomorphic language being used to describe the castle—most memorably the description of Gormenghast’s towers and buildings as “a stationary gathering of stone personalities”—and I’m looking forward to paying close attention to this sort of thing going forward.

iZombie: The first half of Looking for Mr. Goodbrain is all about unfortunate implications

It’s not a great time to be a tertiary/guest character on iZombie in the first half of the season three finale. The title reference for “Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 1” is to a 1977 film about a young woman’s self-destruction via sex and drugs, and this episode sadly has some of that movie’s worst tendencies, specifically a penchant for inflicting unreasonable punishments upon its female characters. It’s not that this is a bad episode of iZombie: it’s a good set up for next week’s finale, they made a smart choice by skipping any Blaine/Don E. stuff this week, and it ends with a genuinely surprising and upsetting turn of events. It’s just that it’s also an episode with some unfortunate implications that suck a good deal of the fun out of the room if you think much about them.

**Spoilers ahead.**

Once again, the show eschews the case of the week format in favor of having Liv eat a brain that is more intimately involved with the overarching storyline of the season. This time, the brain du jour belongs to Ravi’s old boss from the CDC, Katty Kupps, and there’s much to be infuriated about regarding this development. It’s irritating that Katty is a character who seems to have been introduced for just this purpose; she doesn’t get much backstory of her own, she hasn’t been treated with much respect in her interactions with the show’s main cast, and she’s disposed of here so brutally and with so little ceremony it feels positively indecent. When we find out, two thirds of the way through the episode, that Katty had been picking up men nightly in the hotel bar and going to bed with them, it’s hard not to put that together with the title allusion and conclude that Katty’s murder was a culmination of her own self-destructive tendencies as much as anything else. In a show that is otherwise largely sex-positive and mostly non-judgmental, this might be easy to overlook if Katty was the only woman who seemed to be being narratively punished for her sex life this week, but she’s not.

Liv, under the influence of Katty’s brain (but also having her own ambivalent feelings about her fledgling relationship with Justin) spends much of the episode following Katty’s patterns, though she does stop short of having sex with any the human men she picks up. It’s only late in the episode that Liv is tempted enough to go through with the infidelity she’s been flirting with this whole time. After finally clarifying her relationship status with Justin (they’re officially exclusive), Liv still finds herself drawn to the hotel bar, and this time she runs into Chase Graves. This hook-up has been teased most of the season, and as handsome and sweet as Justin is, Liv has definitely had a bit more straight-up chemistry with Chase (who… oh, my god, is that body for real?). Considering Liv’s poor track record with men so far, it was even easy to root for Liv and Chase, if only to protect Justin from her, but not like this. While picking up men in a hotel bar isn’t exactly Liv at her best, she and Chase have a seemingly genuine connection before going up to his room to bang on his desk, and it’s kind of heartbreaking for Liv to end the episode with a strong and well-founded suspicion that Chase might be involved in Katty’s murder, especially when it’s framed in a way that almost suggests that Liv is stupid and should have known better.

The woman who comes out the worst this week, however, and by a long shot, is Major’s friend Natalie, who took the cure he gave her and has since moved to Italy. She’s back in Seattle for a few days, however, to wrap up her affairs there and move her stuff into storage before returning to her new home, and she takes the time to visit Major and thank him for everything he’s done for her. Major is recently unemployed, having been fired from Fillmore Graves when Chase found out he was human, and he offers to help Natalie move things. After a long day of lugging boxes around, they get back to Major’s place, things get romantic, and next thing you know Natalie’s asking him to come to Italy with her and Major is saying yes. He just has to go to his Fillmore Graves going away party first, and he takes Natalie with him—and she’s promptly killed in the blast when Harley Johns shows up and suicide bombs the place. Natalie has always been something of a plot device for Major’s storyline rather than a character in her own right, but this is a pretty obvious case of fridging that is both wholly unnecessary and wildly frustrating, as it’s not at all clear based on the show’s previous treatment of Natalie whether or not Major will be deeply affected by her death. Either way, it was always bad enough that the show played the Hooker with a Heart of Gold trope so blandly straight with Natalie, and is disappointing that they so casually have killed her off right as she was about to get a happy ending. That it directly followed her having sex, in an episode where she isn’t the only woman to have bad things happen to her after having some sex, only solidifies the connection: sex leads to bad things happening to you.

While Major is caught up with his romance with Natalie and Liv is in the midst of some kind of existential crisis, it’s Clive and Peyton who make the most of somewhat minimal screen time. New Mayor Baracus asks Peyton to be his chief of staff, which would be a significant promotion and great opportunity for an ambitious woman under thirty, but she’s still suspicious that he’s involved in the Weckler murder. Though Peyton can’t completely clear Baracus of the crime, she does test him by bringing up the case, only to find that he doesn’t show any obvious signs of guilt. Liv advises Peyton to take the job, and it seems likely that she will. Meanwhile, Clive is doing most of the heavy lifting in the actual investigation of Katty Kupps’ murder, and it leads him right back to the house where Weckler’s daughter is staying, which we find out is also the home of Carey Gold from Fillmore Graves. Between this connection and Liv finding the napkin in Chase’s room with Katty’s name and room number on it, it’s starting to look like Fillmore Graves may be up to their collective ears in whatever is going on this season.

Miscellany:

  • Ravi breaks the news to Liv about the front-page zombie story that he’s the source of, but Liv doesn’t seem to actually care that much about the source of the story and it’s somewhat glossed over in general.
  • I don’t really understand the bioterrorism red herring. I mean, it’s a red herring, obviously, and by the end of the episode it seems much more likely that Katty was investigating the zombie outbreak after all, but the bioterrorism angle never gets explored enough for it to properly do its job as a red herring.
  • I hated the trailer scenes of Liv having visions of Katty having sex with Ravi, but they weren’t terrible in context.
  • “Wake up sheeple!” surprised a cackle out of me.
  • Ravi and Liv interrogating the racist lady and then segueing to the adorable Sikh dad was perfectly done and extremely funny.
  • Harley Johns’ suicide bombing was genuinely unexpected, but it also makes so much sense for a character who has lost everyone he loved and has been turned against his will into something he hates.
  • I always miss Blaine when he’s gone, but it was a smart choice to skip him this week.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: June 18, 2017

As always, this week I didn’t manage to be nearly as productive as I’d like, though I’m proud of what I did accomplish: two Gormenghast posts and a review of the most recent episode of iZombie.

This week, the big hold-up on productivity was just getting totally bogged down in Gormenghast. I’m loving Titus Groan, but it’s a rich text with many layers to analyze, and trying to stick to a strict three-to-four-posts-per-week schedule with it is, frankly, leaving me completely overwhelmed and unable to concentrate on much else (or, unfortunately and paradoxically, on Gormenghast, because that’s just the sort of garbage anxiety issues I have). I have other book reviews I’d like to write, and we’re coming up on Game of Thrones season seven, so I can’t be spending all my productive time on the Gormenghast project. From here on out, I’ll be continuing to post a tentative plan for Gormenghast posts each Sunday in the State of the Blog post, but (just for my own sanity, really) posts will be up when they’re up. Two 1000+ word Gormenghast posts a week seems to be doable so far, so I’m thinking that will be the baseline, with extra posts as time/energy/interest permits.  This coming week, I’ll be covering two to four of the following:

  • Titus Groan, Chapters 17-23
  • Titus Groan, Chapters 24-26
  • Titus Groan, Chapters 27-31
  • Titus Groan, Chapters 32-36

Aside from my continued disappointment with my own lack of productivity, it’s been a pretty good week. The last round of repairs to my car seem to have held; I’m half-obsessed with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812; and Tuesday was perhaps the single best day for new book releases so far this year, so I’ve had plenty to read this week. I’m still savoring Nicky Drayden’s incredible debut novel, The Prey of Gods, which is probably the book I was most excited about this week, but other notable releases included Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha LeeMars Girls by Mary TurzilloThe Changeling by Victor LaValleDown Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, and The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente (which was actually out last Tuesday, but was shipped this week with my pre-orders of The Prey of Gods and Raven Strategem). I also got my bookmarks from the Kickstarter for Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol. 2, which are lovely.

You can read Nicky Drayden’s Big Idea at John Scalzi’s blog.

Apex Publications has still been aggressively promoting Mars Girls:

It was a good week for short fiction as well.

Last week, the second half of Uncanny Magazine #16 was posted and is now free to read online.

Sunny Moraine’s “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” was posted at Tor.com.

And you have got to check out “Beauty, Glory, Thrift” by Alison Tam at the Book Smugglers. Then don’t forget to read more about her inspirations and influences.

The fourth and (apparently) last Book Smugglers Quarterly Almanac is now available.

Tor.com scored the cover reveal for Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Bearly a Lady, which will be available July 18 and sounds like everything I want in a novella.

Invisible 3, edited by Jim C. Hines and Mary Anne Mohanraj, is out on June 27, with any profits from sales of the collection going to Con or Bust. For a sneak peek, check out Fran Wilde’s essay: “Notes from the Meat Cage.”

File 770 posted a nice Hugo Finalist Review Roundup if you’re still undecided on how to vote.

Joe Sherry at nerds of a feather covered Novelettes and Fancasts this week.

At Black Gate, John O’Neill makes a great case for buying bulk back issues of Asimov’s and Analog. I was convinced enough to order $30 worth, myself, and I’ll report back when they arrive and let you know if it’s worth it (I’m thinking yes).

Aidan Moher’s series on the art of SFF continues with a look at the work of Galen Dara.

Mari Ness writes about Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Let’s Read! Gormenghast: Titus Groan, Chapters 14-16

[Note: I had originally planned for this section to include through Chapter 17, but there’s a natural stopping point at the end of Chapter 16, “Titus is Christened,” and it turns out that Chapter 17 fits in better with the chapters following it than those that precede it. Apologies for any confusion this might cause to anyone who is reading along and making plans based on the schedule I shared in the most recent State of the Blog post. I will continue to alert readers to similar changes in the future with a note at the top of any impacted posts.]

Today’s chapters concern events that occur on the day of Titus Groan’s christening, which is fascinating, as worldbuilding and as character study, but doesn’t mark the kind of plot development that I was hoping to see after the end of Chapter 13 had such a feeling of significance. In fact, these chapters introduce even more characters—the gardener Pentecost as well as Sepulchrave’s twin sisters, Cora and Clarice—and continue to expand upon the setting. They also elaborate on thematic threads from earlier chapters and expound upon the connections and conflicts between various characters.

The first part of Chapter 14, “First Blood,” introduces the head gardener, Pentecost, and describes the room in which the christening will take place. While descriptions of Gormenghast and its environs have, until this point, held that the whole place is hot, humid and stinking to various degrees, the Christening Room is also called the Cool Room. Unlike the rest of the castle, this one room is a place of peace and quiet, frequented only by the gardener, who refreshes the flowers every day. No one else in the castle goes there, though Fuchsia sometimes observes Pentecost from her hideaways under the roofs and Lord Sepulchrave (very) occasionally stops in for a quiet moment. For Titus’s christening, the room is decorated mostly with lavender, which is purple (a color symbolizing nobility as well as matching Titus’s purple eyes) and has a scent associated with peace and calmness, and with golden orchids (exotic flowers that could represent a new beginning).

Perhaps what’s most notable about this room, however, is that it’s not a church or chapel of any kind, despite the peacefulness of it in comparison to the rest of Gormenghast. It’s a space not cared for by a priest or chaplain, but by a gardener, and even on the day of the christening, the preparations are overseen by Mr. Flay, a manservant. The actual christening ceremony is performed by the Librarian, Sourdust, and while there is a baptism with water, no Christian words are said throughout the event. While the term “christening” is used for this ceremony, it’s a profoundly atheist event, lacking even any identifiably pagan overtones. Titus isn’t being dedicated to God, and though water is used, it lacks the usual symbolism of rebirth or cleansing associated with either religious baptism or pagan rites. Instead, Titus is dedicated to Gormenghast itself in a ritual that foreshadows madness (the “ancient word of the Twelfth Lord” in particular speaks of the lord of the castle hearing voices “when his ear is tuned to Gormenghast”) and suicide (“until he dies across the Groan’s death turret”) while exhorting the infant to hold nothing sacred except Gormenghast and its traditions.

Early on while reading Titus Groan, I pointed out that there’s a sense of the profane about Gormenghast, and these chapters feel like a culmination of that. The Cool Room is the only place of peace and quiet and beauty in Gormenghast, a refuge from the heat and dankness and chaos to be found elsewhere in the castle. Pentecost, whose name is the only explicit nod to Christianity in these chapters, is the closest thing Gormenghast has to a holy man (of the hermit type), and he notably comes from the mud huts outside the castle. Pentecost’s artistic soul and his deep connection to the earth are a stark contrast with the Groans’ worship of their own nobility and the rituals that uphold their position as Lords of Gormenghast. Pentecost has the heart of a Bright Carver, and his connection to the earth is deep and spiritual, a reverence for where he came from; the Groans’ connection to their land is facile and centered in connecting with things, like the stones of the castle or the very book in which their endless schedule of rituals is recorded.

A major theme throughout these chapters is power: who in Gormenghast has it, who doesn’t, how it’s structured, and, perhaps, how to get it. The introduction of Cora and Clarice brings this theme to the forefront. Sepulchrave’s sisters, these two older women (their ages aren’t given, but they do have grey hair) have been nursing a grievance for some years against their sister-in-law, Gertrude. “Gertrude has all the power,” the twins intone, a sentiment repeated several times. They want it, and they insist that Gertrude has it, even though it’s Sephulchrave who inherited it, just as Titus will inherit over his sister Fuchsia. It’s hard to say just yet why Peake chose to pit female characters against each other like this. English inheritance law and its effects on women has been a fraught issue in the British fictional landscape for centuries, so it can’t be that there isn’t a wealth of material to draw from in crafting the twins’ discontent with their lot. The words with which their grievance is introduced—“Gertrude has what we ought to have”—could be read as a suggestion of incestuous interest in their brother, but they never interact directly with him. Instead, all of their disappointment and resentment is projected onto Gertrude and, to a lesser extent, Fuchsia (presumably for being Gertrude’s daughter).

The thing is, it’s not entirely clearly what power Gertrude actually has. She lives as something of a recluse, lavishing any tender feelings she possesses on her birds and cats. While Gertrude must have had sex with Sepulchrave at least twice in the last couple of decades, they haven’t directly interacted in 130 pages of novel. The order in which guests for the christening enter the Cool Room is said to signify their importance in the castle (with the least important entering first), and Gertrude is the last to enter, just after her husband, but it’s a decidedly odd way for the power system in the castle to be organized. Any power Gertrude has comes from her husband, and we’ve already seen that it’s Sepulchrave whose responsibility it is to maintain the traditions and rituals of Gormenghast. If Gertrude was an active manager of the household, it would make more sense for her to be considered the “real” power in Gormenghast, but she isn’t; indeed, she seems totally indifferent to everything but her birds and cats, is an indifferent mother (at best), and the only household servant she’s interacted directly with is Nannie Slagg, who (not incidentally, I suspect) enters even later than Gertrude, suggesting (by the explicitly stated rules of this fantasy world) that Nannie Slagg’s position as the primary caregiver of the future Lord may in fact be the greatest position of power in the castle.

Gormenghast is a place, I would argue, where even the concept of what power means is nebulously defined. Sepulchrave, as Lord of Gormenghast, has the title of Earl, which is only a mid-ranking noble title in the real world and, so far, is rendered meaningless in the novel by the extreme isolation of the castle and its people. There’s no mention whatsoever of the outside world, and while Gertrude is perceived as an interloper by her sisters-in-law, there’s no information given about where she came from, and Gertrude feels so much a part of Gormenghast and fits in so well to its eccentric culture that she seems quite native to the place. As Sepulchrave’s wife and a countess, Gertrude ought to have some power, but there’s no textual evidence so far that she does so except to arrange for her own comfort—namely, to be left alone with her animals. Cora and Clarice define power as being able to “tell people what to do,” and both Sepulchrave and Gertrude can do that, but, again, neither Lord nor Lady Groan seem to have much interest in active ruling.

As in previous chapters, this all feels like setting up the kind of conflict that generates a plot, but I’m, frankly, done guessing when that might develop. It also continues to be unclear what message, if any, Mervyn Peake wants to communicate about his subject matter. Titus Groan might be a biting satire of the antiquated rituals of an inbred upper class, but Peake turns an equally critical eye upon those of the servant class in Gormenghast, who are, on the whole, just as disagreeable as their masters. At the same time, all of Gormenghast’s characters are crafted with a sort of gleeful affection that inspires the reader to love even the most despicable of them, or at the very least care what happens to them and avoid harshly judging their actions. The overall effect is one of what I’m currently thinking of as gloomily cheerful nihilism. It’s weird, but I like it.

Miscellany:

  • Flay and Swelter’s enmity for each other comes to a head before the christening, with Swelter’s subversive insolence provoking Flay to strike Swelter across the face with a chain—the “First Blood” of Chapter 14. I was somewhat disappointed that that chapter title didn’t have a more multilayered meaning.
  • I keep thinking that I’m going to have to write about the way Peake uses disability and disfigurement as a tool for characterization, but I’m still forming an opinion on the way he does it.
  • Word and phrase repetition are extremely important in Titus Groan. I’m making lists of key words and phrases that I expect to write more about at a later date. Similarly, words and phrases with double (or even triple) meanings are important to note; some of those are also repeated throughout the text.
  • Titus tearing a page as he falls out of the book is only “his first recorded act of blasphemy.”
  • Fuchsia’s fierce love and protectiveness of Nannie Slagg at the end of Chapter 16 is my favorite scene so far in the book. “You’ve made her cry, you beasts!” is a powerful ending note to the christening drama.

iZombie: In “Conspiracy Weary” about half the season’s chickens come home to roost

After expanding the story and cast by quite a bit in the last few weeks, “Conspiracy Weary” sees that trend reversing in preparation for the season’s two-part finale. Not all of it works, at least not entirely and not all in this episode, but it seems almost certain that some of the show’s more questionable storytelling decisions—like everything to do with Shawna—are going to turn out to be important in the next couple of weeks. Personally, I’m still not entirely sold on the necessity of these story threads, but we’ll see, starting next week, if the payoff is going to be worth the sometimes tiresome buildup.

**Spoilers ahead.**

We start at the shooting range, where shit gets very real very fast once Liv and Blaine show up. Ravi is hurt (only a little, fortunately) and Rachel flees into the night about the time that a group of Fillmore Graves soldiers shows up. Liv and Blaine take down one Bo Johns while two of the other zombie truthers are shot by the Fillmore Graves crew when they try to engage in a shootout instead of surrendering. Meanwhile, Harley Johns manages to give everyone the slip. It’s a taut, exciting action sequence, overall, and a great way to open the episode, fully delivering on the promise of last week’s cliffhanger. The zombie truther body count is even slightly surprising, since the show tends to avoid having its protagonists straight up murder people, even when they are kind of asking for it. The highlight of these early scenes, however, isn’t the action. Instead, it’s Blaine, Liv and Don. E. companionably sharing the brain of Bo Johns.

Once again, the show eschews the case of the week format in favor of advancing its bigger storylines, and Liv on conspiracy theorist brain is smartly done, with some of the funniest brain-eating-antics-related moments of the season. Liv and Peyton working to unravel the actual conspiracy surrounding Weckler’s murder and the connection to zombies is a great opportunity for their friendship to get some much-appreciated screen time, and some real strides are made in that investigation as Peyton gets the memory card Weckler was killed over and deduces that Weckler’s daughter, Tatum, is a zombie. Unfortunately, none of this is discovered before Baracus wins the mayoral election.

Liv also works with Blaine and Don E. to try and figure out where the Johns brothers’ secret property is. The guns recovered from Harley’s truck at the start of the episode turn out to be the same weapons that were used to kill Wally and Anna, which has Clive very invested in finding Harley Johns. When they finally track Harley down, however, Liv has a last-minute vision (right as Clive shoots Harey) that proves that Harley didn’t kill Wally and Anna. Fortunately/unfortunately, Harley isn’t dead; he’s a zombie, a revelation that will likely be dealt with early in next week’s episode. It seems obvious, especially in hindsight, that the Johns brothers weren’t going to turn out to be Wally’s killers, and by the end of “Conspiracy Weary” it seems likely that their deaths are tied in some unknown (and not obvious) fashion to the broader zombies vs. humans plot, the Weckler case, Baracus, and Fillmore Graves.

Bafflingly, we get some more of the Major and Shawna thing that started last week. She seems nice, and she encourages Major to start going out again, even convincing him to go dancing with her, but a short bit of sleuthing on Liv’s part (possibly influenced by the paranoia caused by Liv eating conspiracy theorist brains, but possibly just jealousy, though Liv denies this) turns up that Shawna has been sharing photos and videos of herself with Major since the beginning of their relationship. Here’s the thing, though. Why is Major so shocked and upset by this? He knew that she was taking pictures. He posed for them. He knew that she was active on social media, and he was aware of her Tumblr. It’s normal for people to post photos of themselves on social media, and none of what Shawna shared was particularly embarrassing. Sure, she should have been clearer in explicitly asking Major’s permission to share his image, especially considering his history as the Chaos Killer, and it makes sense that he would be upset about that, but at the same time, what did he think she was doing with all these pictures?

The show frames Shawna’s social media use as weird and suggests that she’s somehow trying to exploit Major, even though it’s not clear what she could gain here other than some notoriety (and then only if she was publicizing Major’s history). Really, though, the stuff Shawna posted is pretty run-of-the-mill honeymoon phase relationship pictures, and while she wasn’t explicit with Major about what she was doing, she also wasn’t hiding it; Liv was able to literally just google Shawna to find her totally public Tumblr. The episode takes pains to portray Shawna as “crazy,” but nothing she does actually is crazy. Even when Major unceremoniously dumps her—she very reasonably apologized and offered to take down the photos immediately when he confronted her about it—Shawna is upset but not unhinged in anyway. We’re meant to think that the shirts being sold at the end of the episode with Major’s photos on them are Shawna’s doing, but it, frankly, seems out of character for her, and it seems at least somewhat likely that this is a coincidence and that Shawna is going to turn out to have some other importance to the story. We must hope so, anyway. Otherwise, this whole Shawna subplot—introducing her just for the sex fort gag and to give Major a “crazy ex-girlfriend”—feels like a huge waste of time.

Finally, it’s not just Major who’s having girl trouble this week. Ravi’s friend and seemingly potential new love interest, Rachel, turns out to be a journalist, and she manages to get Ravi to tell her everything about zombies, which she promptly turns into a fear-mongering frontpage piece in a local newspaper. The episode ends with this, which, after the revelations of Baracus’s election win and Harley Johns being a zombie, leaves things very well set up for an exciting two-parter starting next week.

Miscellany:

  • It’s not just me, right? Chase Graves is obviously super into Liv.
  • Peyton and Clive both have the best reaction to Liv’s brain-influenced behaviors, but nothing beats the faces Clive makes when he’s just silently judging.
  • I could listen to Liv, Don E. and Blaine talk about conspiracy theories forever.
  • It seems very unethical for Peyton to pressure a child to comply with her off-the-books investigation like that. Isn’t this girl just fifteen or so?
  • How did Liv know to text Major about Harley? I mean, thank goodness she did, because I was about 95% certain poor Justin was about to die tragically like all the rest of Liv’s boyfriends, but this scenario was extremely contrived.
  • How is it possible that there aren’t officially licensed “Killer Abs” shirts already available to buy?

Let’s Read! Gormenghast: Titus Groan, Chapters 10-13

I’m always happy when I somehow, fortuitously, manage to arrange my section breaks in these projects in just the right way to have interesting things to talk about. These four chapters do something neat; Chapter 10, “Prunesquallor’s Kneecap,” essential presses a restart button on the day through which we’ve already followed several characters and, together with Chapters 11 through 13, tells the story of Titus Groan’s day of birth from a new set of character perspectives, particularly Fuschia’s and Mrs. Slagg’s, but also introducing something of the points of view of Doctor Prunesquallor and Keda, a woman from the Outer Walls who is to become Titus Groan’s wet nurse.

The book’s 1946 publication date puts it far too early to have been influenced by Upstairs, Downstairs (1971) and its novel blending of the stories of the upper class and their servants, but there’s definitely something akin to that beginning to emerge in this novel. The sharp divisions between characters and groups of different social status within and without Gormenghast continue to figure largely in the narrative, and by the end of these chapters it feels as if we’re intended to have a distinct idea of the organization of Gormenghast as well as of the relationships and dynamics between the various characters. At the same time, it’s not at all clear what, if anything, Titus Groan has to say about the class distinctions it’s highlighted so far. The palpable distinction between the nobility and servants within the castle and between the castle servants and the people of the Outer Walls, along with their respective disconnection from each other, feels significant, but nearly a hundred pages into the book we’re still quite without a definitive plot. Things happen, but these chapters continue to feel introductory to the actual story. That said, by the end of Chapter 13, “Keda,” it finally feels as if all the pieces are in place, motivations are established, and a plot is about to emerge.

After her introduction, I rather expected Mrs. Slagg to be more of a cardboard character, but starting in “Prunesquallor’s Kneecap,” she emerges as perhaps the closest thing to a clear protagonist to appear so far in the book. While Mrs. Slagg is introduced as a somewhat doddering and much put-upon elderly caregiver, which is a fairly standard stock character, when the story shifts to her point of view, we find a character with a rich and complex, if deeply eccentric, inner life. Her love for Fuchsia, her distrust of Doctor Prunesquallor, and her reinvigoration at the prospect of a new baby to care for suggest a depth of feeling that wasn’t obvious at our first sight of her from a more removed point of view. When, in Chapter 12, “Mrs. Slagg by Moonlight,” we learn even more about her—her vanity, her slyness, her disdain for those she considers below herself—she becomes (by rather a lot) the most developed character in the book so far. Indeed, it’s Mrs. Slagg’s moment of awareness—rather, alarm—when she realizes that she didn’t choose Keda as Titus’s wet nurse that suggests perhaps the most interesting potential conflict of the book so far, and it’s the comparison and contrast between Mrs. Slagg and Keda in Chapter 13 that seems to confirm the conflict between these two women who will be raising Titus Groan together for his first few years of life.

We also get more insight into Fuchsia in these chapters, which detail a general routine of hers as she awakes, is an affection tyrant to Mrs. Slagg, and then goes about her business only to slowly work out that something is different in the castle today than on previous days. The creepily sexual language used to describe Fuchsia continues to be off-putting, especially as so much of her material in this section highlights just how much of a child she is. We begin with a description of her bedroom and attic (which we later learn is a series of multiple attics that Fuchsia has turned into playrooms and hideaways for herself) before segueing into her brief interaction with Mrs. Slagg. Fuchsia is artistic and sensitive and has been left, apparently, to run quite wild for much of her childhood, with only Mrs. Slagg as company. The fierceness of Fuchsia’s affection for Mrs. Slagg is matched only by Fuchsia’s love for Gormenghast itself; she is intimately familiar with the castle, its inhabitants and its routines, and she’s built a richly imaginative play world of her own in spaces that leave her above and separate from the rest of Gormenghast’s inhabitants, where she watches and loves them from afar. It’s tempting to try and read Fuchsia’s rage at the news of her brother’s birth as the frustration and protest of a girl just realizing that the home she loves will never truly belong to her because of antiquated inheritance laws, but the text seems determined to miss that opportunity in favor of Fuchsia’s upset being more a case of childish jealousy—informed by an eccentricity that borders on madness—than anything else.

In the final two chapters of today’s selection, we get a decent picture of the wet nurse, Keda, who by the end of Chapter 13 seems poised to become an influential character in the life of Titus Groan. However, much of what we learn of Keda is about her people, with much time spent on describing the inhabitants of the Outer Walls as prematurely aged. Peake positively dwells upon these descriptions; everyone is old-looking and ugly except the children, who possess “an unnatural brightness” as if being burned up from the inside out. This brightness only remains deep inside the adults of the Outer Dwellings, and perhaps not in all of them, as “the hotness of creative restlessness” that is expressed through the Bright Carvings from Chapter 1. Among these people, Keda isn’t extraordinary. She’s young, about twenty, her beauty already fading, and she’s recently lost her own child. What is notable about Keda, at least so far, is the way in which she takes immediately takes charge of Mrs. Slagg, steering the older woman back to the castle before Mrs. Slagg can object to Keda’s self-appointment as Titus’s wet nurse. This multi-layered conflict between Mrs. Slagg and Keda is a conflict of personalities, but it’s also a conflict between old and young, castle and town, hidebound tradition and new ideas.

Mrs. Slagg is unsettled by Keda’s assertiveness and agency in a way that makes Keda’s simple actions feel subversive, a threat to the way of life within Gormenghast in much the same way that Steerpike’s ambition is portrayed as threatening. So far, the narrative hasn’t taken any particular position on the rightness or wrongness of the established order of things in Gormenghast, however, which makes it impossible to guess what, ultimately, the message of the book is going to be. Instead, these first ninety-nine pages are a fantasized portrait of English gentry and their servants and tenants that casts a satirical eye on nearly all its subjects. It will be interesting to see how things play out now that a game finally seems to be afoot.

Miscellany:

  • There’s a nonsense poem, “The Frivolous Cake,” in Chapter 11 that is nicely reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and similar, but I’m so far resisting the urge to try and analyze it. I may return to it later if something occurs to suggest that it’s more important than it appears at this time.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: June 11, 2017

Sometimes I feel like I’m never going to catch a break. After being moderately productive last week, I was all prepared to churn out some work this week, especially since I started a new blogging project (Let’s Read! Gormenghast) that I’ve been excited to dig into for months.

Reader, I’m already a post behind where I’d planned to be. And the thing is, it’s not even depression or poor time management, which would be disappointing, but also classic me. Nope. This time it’s just plain old seasonal allergies, which got randomly worse for me last weekend and have only let up in the last 36 or so hours. I’ve always had a little bit of sniffling, like in April when every flower in my town blooms at once and I have the windows open for fresh air, but usually it clears up by now. Not this year, though. This year, I just got a full week of sinus pain, stuffiness, runny eyes and constant headaches that were literally only helped by laying completely horizontal and essentially doing nothing. Which amounted to quite a lot of sleeping, as the headaches made it hard to even read a book, much less anything else even remotely productive.

Today is the first day in over a week that I’ve felt anything close to normal, and most of my waking hours have been spent at my nephew’s birthday party, which was nice, but the noise has undone most of the good that a couple days of pretty solid resting and quiet/early (for me) evenings have done. The good news is that I think the allergy situation is clearing up now that it’s hitting 90 degrees and I turned on the A/C. I have high hopes that this coming week will be a bit more normal.

All that said, this past week wasn’t the total worst, all things considered. I reviewed iZombie as normal, and I did get out two of the three posts I’d planned to do about Titus GroanPart 1 | Part 2–with another one likely to be ready tomorrow. If my energy level stays high and the rest of my body cooperates, I’m hoping to catch up this week by just making up this week’s missed post by Friday. Here’s what I’ve got planned next if you’re following along:

  • Monday: Titus Groan, Chapters 10-13
  • TBD: Titus Groan, Chapters 14-17
  • TBD: Titus Groan, Chapters 18-23
  • TBD: Titus Groan, Chapters 24-26

Energy level and health again permitting, I’ve got several book reviews in the works, and I’d love to get out sometime soon to catch Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Wonder Woman, which I expect to have thoughts on–unless I decide to just hold off on movie-going until The Little Hours and/or Atomic Blonde comes out. Because, really, raunchy nuns and Charlize Theron killing dudes and romancing Sofia Boutella will almost certainly be better than anything Marvel or DC is going to put out this year.

In sad news this week, original Batman star Adam West passed away at age 88.

If you’re planning your summer reading already and can’t wait around for my Summer Reading List near the end of June, the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog has a book for you each week in both science fiction and fantasy.

If you’re reading for the Hugo Awards, you should definitely be following along with Joe Sherry at Nerds of a Feather. He just did short stories.

Finalist lists were announced this week for this year’s Mythopoeic Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

The Wertzone’s Cities of Fantasy series continues with Waterdeep.

In her continuing fairy tale series at Tor.com, Mari Ness talks Hansel and Gretel.

As I gear up and prepare my liver for season seven of Game of Thrones, that show’s numerous failings have been much on my mind. Fortuitously, the good folks over at the Fandomentals have organized most of the reasons why Game of Thrones is bad in a handy 101 post.

Pornokitsch offers up a taxonomy of villains.

One of the books I’m hoping to finish a review of this week is Catherynne M. Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues, which is every bit as superbly excellent as you might expect anything by Valente to be. She was interviewed over at Vox this week; you can read her Big Idea post about the new book; and if you still aren’t convinced, you can read an excerpt at Paste.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem, out Tuesday (6/13), is the next major release I’m hotly anticipating, and he’s been making the rounds to promote it this week.

The other release I’m looking forward to this week is Mary Turzillo’s YA novella, Mars Girls, from Apex Publications, which I’ve had on pre-order for what feels like forever. There’s been a big blog tour going on this week ahead of publication (and stretching into next week), and all it’s done is whet my appetite for this book. I mean, look at that stunning cover and that book description. Can not wait.

While we’re still waiting on the next Book Smugglers novella, they did just reveal the cover and synopsis for the first book in their 2017 short story season, Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam. Reader, I instantly pre-ordered it. All the cool kids are doing it.

Finally, Book Smugglers is also where I found out about the Kickstarter for the Tansy Rayner Roberts-edited anthology, Mother of Invention. I’m starting to be slightly concerned about how much the Book Smugglers are influencing my spending decisions, but AUS $10 will net you a digital edition of the book when it comes out. It had me at “diverse, challenging stories about gender as it relates to the creation of artificial intelligence and robotics.”

Also, I know I negged superhero movies a bit earlier, but the first teaser for Black Panther looks promising: