Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Today was a bad day.

Not a demanding day.  Not even a 'the climate control's fucked and we have a long cull' day.  No, today, I remembered that I kill living creatures.  

It probably sounds crazy, but I make myself forget that.  I create a distance, hold up a great big shield called 'I help make drugs that save lives!'.  Usually, that's enough.  

But today I dropped the shield, and lost the distance.  I know how it happened.  I did the most stupid thing you can do in my job: I tried to save a mouse.

I'm not going to pretend my reasons were entirely selfless.  We'd already lost one from that treatment group.  So when I found this little guy hunched in the corner of the cage, I didn't want to lose another.  I tried to rehydrate him.  I badgered my co-worker for updates on his condition.  And at some point, I got emotionally invested.  I hoped I could make him better.

We lost him.  We held off, hoping he'd recover, but by mid-afternoon, he was only getting worse.  We're not allowed to let them suffer.  I won't let them suffer.  Even with my usual distance, that rule helps me live with myself.  So we euthanised him, did a pseudo-autopsy, and discovered he had the same fucking thing that killed the last mouse.  The lowest point of my day was sucking pus out of this mouse's corpse with a syringe, so we could test it, find out just what the holy hell has happened to these animals.

This has happened before.  Rarely, but it's not unheard of.  Sure, we've never had this particular problem, but there's been other times when something goes wrong, and the study is put in jeopardy.  A hard decision is made, to continue, and risk inaccurate results, or to just give up on the whole thing.  It sucks, but that's the nature of this work.

But this is the first time I've gone home and cried.  I'm a selfish, heartless, sociopathic bitch, because right now, I don't give a shit about that mouse.  All I want is my detachment back.    I want to forget that, just for a few minutes today, I thought I could save this animal.  I want to remember that my job is to kill, and be able to accept that again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CBR II: Book 18 - The mysterious affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Yes, back to Christie. I'm going to stop denying the truth: I'm getting a huge girl-crush.  I've decided she's my literary palate cleanser. When I've blown my brain on too much fangy chick lit, I can turn to the wonderful Ms Christie.  

Still, 'her little grey cells' must be like those angels in 'Blink' from Doctor Who.  All calm and devoted, but don't blink or BANG! They'll be in your face with those twenty-inch canines, and you'll scream and climb the back of the couch and your fiance will laugh at you because he'd already watched the episode and he knew that was coming, the bastard.

Or maybe that's just my interpretation.  You know, I can blame Doctor Who, in part, for getting me onto Christie.  I'd always planned to read one of her books, but it was that episode with her in it (being Awesome, I might add), that punted her up the list.  

Ahem.  I appear to have caught Digression Disease.  

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is, according to the cover, Poirot's first case.  A wealthy woman is poisoned.  She's well-loved (although, as in all the Christie books I've read, not as much as first thought), with a gold-digging husband and a pair of step-sons.  

Hastings is a very different man in this book, compared to the later ones I've read.  He's full of himself.  I guess repeated bouts with Poirot knocks the majority of that out of him by the later books.  He's also almost creepily obsessed with finding a wife.  I don't know if this is normal or not, given that 'a wife' was the about the only way a man who considered himself respectable could regularly have sex in that time (score one for modern acceptance of masturbation and internet porn!).  But although I can understand Hastings falling at first sight for another man's wife, it lost the impact when he also turned his attention to Cynthia Murdock.  Given that neither of them returned that attention, I'm going to assume Christie shared my opinion.  (Girl crush increasing!)

I didn't guess the killer.  Actually, about a third of the way through, when I realised that there were an absolute abundance of legitimate suspects, I made the conscious decision to not even bother.  Just enjoy the ride.  Then I went back and reread all the clues I missed.  Especially all the ones I missed when I was still consciously trying to guess the killer.   

She really is a genius.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

CBRII Book 17: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

I actually read this book before I learned that it had been chosen for the Pajiba book club (I'd added it to my 'to read' pile based on the review by of one Admin's precocious rugbats). Because so many people will be reading this book, I'm wondering if I even need to outline the plot.

Ah, fuck it. It's The Jungle Book, set in a graveyard. Like the title says.

The ITGeek is a gamer. Actually, he's a gamer in the same way that many people are breathers. Gamers generally come in two breeds - the computer, and the console. When we first met, he was a computer gamer. This required a 'rig' (there's a lingo, people) that, I shit you not, looked like something a 1970's Stanley Kubrick had imagined a computer would look in the year 2000. The side was clear perspex, so you could see all the glowing green tubes that ran from one component to the other. I soon discovered this was the water cooling system and they were lit by UV. That's right, he had a fucking ultraviolet computer system. And the games he played on that thing were works of art.  But within two years, his overclocked monstrosity was obsolete, its chugging memory sapping the life from the characters, turning the work of art into a flicker book. Eventually he swapped the computer for a PlayStation 3.

I've decided that the machine has a huge effect on the game itself.   That's not to say that one system is more likely to produce an amazing game than the other (despite what the different camps claim.  Loudly.  Constantly.  Never read over a gamer's shoulder when they're surfing a gaming forum, it'll make your head hurt).  Just that when it's done right, it's always due to the creators, their self-control (in the case of the rigs) or their ability to recognise the limitations and their ingenuity in overcoming them (in the case of the consoles).

Why am I babbling about games when I'm supposed to be reviewing a book? Because I think authors and game creators have a lot in common. There are console authors and computer authors. I've decided that Neil Gaiman is an example of an excellent console author, and The Graveyard Book is a brilliant console book.

I don't think he would be offended by me saying this (at least, I really hope not). I think he touched on this himself, in one of the Sandman comics, only he wasn't nearly as clumsy as I have been. It's been a long time since I've read it, but instead of consoles and computers, Gaiman's analogy was Rome and China, how the Romans spread too far and fell, while the Chinese created the Great Wall and prospered within. Regardless, give this man boundaries, and he'll broaden your horizons.

Gaiman's console, in this case, is another authors work. The writing is simple, it is a children's book, after all. So simple that you don't notice just how dark and twisted it really is. It's like a nursery rhyme that sounds sweet, until you realise it's actually about the Queen of England torturing and executing people. You also don't notice just how much research he must have done. The characters were born hundreds, even thousands of years ago, meaning this book is set in the past as much as the modern day, filled with throw-away lines like Silas correcting Bod with 'it's aren't, not amn't'.

It's a book about shades. The Shades of the graveyard and the shades between Black and White, Good and Evil. The Jacks wear a disguise of benevolence ('Three kidney machines!'). The Honour Guard are creatures from our nightmares. Bod himself is muted, even before he learns the tricks of ghosts, wearing just a grey sheet for the first half of the book. He regards the living world with the same distance as his dead guardians, even when he forgoes the safety of invisibility to defend them. He's remote, an echo of Silas, who inhabits both the worlds of both living and dead, but belongs to neither.

Yes, it's a children's book, but one their parents could happily read to them.  I'm at the age when my friends are all dropping crotch fruit, so I need to know about books like this one.    I'm also interested in what other people think of this book.  

Saturday, April 3, 2010

CBRII: More Dead books.

Onward! And I'm giving up on the first and second thoughts because they're starting to blend. My third thoughts are no longer demanding booze because it's Easter Sunday and that means chocolate.

Definitely Dead

The plot: Turns out that Sookie's junkie (hmmm...) cousin Hadley was, in fact, the bed-buddy of the Vampire Queen of Louisiana. Oh, and a vampire. But now she's actually dead, and Sookie has inherited everything. In this case, 'everything' means 'a massive vampire politics mess involving the aforementioned queen and her husband, the king of another region'. Also, Bill is an arsehole of epic proportions. Has the True Blood series gotten to The Betrayal yet? Or rather, the revelation of The Betrayal? Yes, the Capitals are necessary.

Oh, and Sookie's part fairy. Because, of course she is. At least it explains the telepathy.

All Together Dead

The plot: Sookie's hooked up with Quinn, and, despite the misgivings of, oh gee, EVERYBODY, she's decided to help out the Queen of Louisiana at some Vampire convention. See, Sophie-Anne's in a lot of trouble, what with murdering her husband and all, and she needs Sookie to use her telepathic powers to figure out how fucked she is. Then the Fellowship of the Sun blows the place up. I don't think that could be considered a spoiler, since it's mentioned in the blurb of the next book, which is:

From Dead to Worse

The vampires of Louisiana are somewhat screwed. Aside from the explosions and the hurricane, they're dealing with an extremely hostile takeover. Although by vampire standards, the slaughter of the Queen and most of her sheriffs is probably just be 'standard operating procedures'. Quinn, who Sookie hasn't seen since the hospital in Rhodes, is involved. At the same time, the Were's are having a crisis of their own. Lots of killing, and threatening, and backstabbing, and then there's a big brawl and Sam turns into a lion, bless his magical naked arse.

Oh, and Sookie is actually the great-granddaughter of the prince of the fairies, and gets to have a fascinating reunion with her great-grandfather, Niall, who's somewhat endearing in his attempts to connect with his very-human and confused descendant.

Plotwise, I found Definitely Dead one of the more interesting books. No offense to Harris, but I think she works best with a simple storyline. It's difficult to explain, especially without sounding like I'm bitching the woman out. I admire her work, I really do, but I think she works best within a narrow field.

Put it this way - she's got a pretty good handle on Sookie's life within a small town. She carries off the werepanthers in Hotshot, even the role of vampires in a very specific chunk of society (tourists and fangbangers). It's when she gets to the interaction of Supernaturals with society that she falters. Sometimes, she's wonderfully astute, but she also tends to miss things that seem blatantly obvious. She created the Fellowship of the Sun, but glossed over what would be a much greater threat - politicans, talkback radio hosts and newspaper columnists.

For that matter, she's divided the characters into two distinct groups, those who like vampires, and those who do not. The people who don't are universally judgmental or misguided or flat out evil. But we're not talking about, I don't know, a different skin colour or sexuality. Simply to survive, vampires had to become serial killers. Finding that a concern is not stupid, cruel or evil. Frankly, it's a survival trait. I find it absolutely mind-boggling that nobody has ever said, 'Hang on, they're hundreds, even thousands of years old, and this synthetic blood has only been around for a tiny fraction of that. What did they drink before then? Oh. Hey, that might be a problem.'

Part of the problem is that Sookie is an unreliable narrator. Like I said in the previous post, she's a junkie, so anybody who doesn't share her addiction is automatically suspect to her. What I couldn't mention until now is, of course, The Betrayal. Yes, it explains a lot about her relationship with Bill, from his point of view. But it also demonstrates just how deep Sookie's problem goes. By now, she knows how little she knows when it comes to the supernaturals. There's a couple of pages of her thinking about it while she's traveling to New Orleans, when she acknowledges how naiive she's been.

But even when it's personal, when the life the vampires have played with is her own, she keeps coming back for more. She's either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid, and I honestly can't tell which one Harris is trying to tell us it is. I know Sookie is not an idiot, but to not even consider staying the fuck away from them? When she claims, over and over again, that she just wants a nice, quiet life? It bugs me that somebody who appears to be so concerned about her own survival has such an enormous blind spot.

The perfect example of this is in All Together Dead, when she refuses to tell the human search and rescue people her name. I don't object to her reasons, but they don't add up in the context of her role amongst the vampires. So it's a problem if the humans might want you to save their lives, but perfectly okay to be hired by the Vampire Queen? Uh, right. How does that work, exactly? Because you're not going to be any less forced by the Vampire who's been playing you from the get go, sweetheart. That's been made abundantly clear, what with the whole 'forcing you to share blood with one of my vampires' thing.

All Together Dead pisses me off for another reason. It's a small thing, but fuck me if it doesn't make me see red.

That fucking weather witch. We're supposed to believe that some piece of walking shit saw how bad Hurricane Katrina was going to be and didn't say a word for the sake of some vampires?? And that is what worries Sookie? So she doesn't give a ripe shit about the deaths that could have been avoided, no, the weather witch's silence is a problem because pretty little Sophie-Anne lost her powerbase right when she needed it most. And isn't Sookie smug when she finds the guy? Apparently, that's the way you should feel when you realise somebody chose vampire politics over the lives of hundreds of people. No, wait, of course, you should feel pleased that you've been useful to your vampire overlords. Remember those 'willing donors' at the buffet? You shouldn't have shuddered, Sookie, you should have just grabbed a tag and joined them.

At this point, I wondered if Harris was actually a genius, brilliantly documenting the slow descent of an intelligent and independent woman into a hopeless fang-banger. I wondered if it was a vicious satire of Vampire/chick lit conventions. Or if I should just stop fucking analyzing everything and just go back to enjoying the hot sex.

So, to sum up, if you can treat the series as an analogy of a person's descent into substance abuse, or, alternatively, just ignore those niggling concerns and focus on the hard-bodied warriors with the centuries of experience, these are a great set of books.

Actually, regardless of the niggling concerns, just buy and read these books in support of vampires that don't sparkle.

CBRII: Four Dead book Reviews in One!

I bought the box set.  Yes, all seven of the Sookie Stackhouse series (and, I'm sorry, but that poor girl has been cursed with a hell of a name.  I say that as somebody whose first and second names literally (and obviously) translate to Loving Little Flower.  My parents were doing the weird name shit long before celebrities made it fashionable).

I justified it as a) I'm going to read all the damn things anyway and b) so $55 for eight books is a good price, especially since I can replace the pristine first book with my own slightly battered copy and use it as a present.

I then made the mistake of reading all the fuckers in about a week.  This broke my brain.  I've been reading, but avoiding the reviewing portion of this cannoball read, overwhelmed by the prospect of reviewing this series.   So I've procrastinated, and certain people *coughgpcough* have been reviewing like mad, and keep telling me to 'suck it' via their facebook status.  I'm not sure what 'it' is, exactly, although the suggestions in the comments have been wonderfully educational.

The main reason for my reticence, I think, is that I'm so damn conflicted about the series.  I should like it.  It ticks more than enough of my boxes.  But for some reason, it's left me a little... flat.  I found myself skimming portions then going back and forcing myself to read them properly.

I don't know why.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the books to friends.  They're well-written, and the only characters I want to spork are the ones who deserve to be severely sporked.  The plots are reasonably well-crafted, and I appreciate that Harris included the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the later books, instead of taking the easy and understandable option of the 'alternative world' excuse.

Although, on second thought, some of the ways she handled it kinda pissed me off.  See, here's my problem.  My first thoughts are positive, my second thoughts are negatives, and my thought thoughts are wondering why I'm not drinking more of the alcoholic banana milkshake the ITGeek just provided for me.  

So here's the deal: I'll work my way through the books and let my first and second thoughts argue it out, and also work my way through this drink, to keep my third thoughts happy.

Living Dead in Dallas

The plot: Sookie's coworker LaFayette is found murdered in the boot of the sherriff's car.  A Maenad has camped in the woods and literally tears strips off Sookie to send a message to Eric's vampires.  As a result, Sookie heads to the titular Dallas to help out another clan of vampires find one of their own and has a run-in with the Fellowship of the Sun.  That's about the basics.  

First thoughts: I have a whole new respect for Sam, okay?  Callisto is one hell of a fuck-buddy.  The conversation Sookie had with Eric when she asked for his help finding LaFayette's killer cracked me up, especially when she countered his invitation with her own, far more bizarre one.

Second thoughts: I can't say much without spoilering, but the Fellowship of the Sun 'investigation' even pissed off the first thoughts.  Seriously?  These guys know you well enough to kidnap one of your own, and you just send your human sidekicks into their centre of operations wihtout any sort of back-up plan?  Stan must have learnt how to avoid destruction from a fucking Bond villian.  

Third thoughts: Yum.  More drink, please.  

Club Dead

The plot: Bill's lost interest.  Bill gets lost.  Well, Bill goes to Mississippi and ends up being kidnapped for the sake of some computer program.  Sookie takes herself after him, only to discover he's been busy fucking somebody else, the same somebody else who kidnapped him.  She also spends time with a Werewolf.

First thoughts: Knew Bill wouldn't last.  Wait, is that a second thought? I don't know.  Okay, I liked Alcide, and the part with the body in the closet.

Second thoughts: A vampire directory?  That's a big deal?  Why?  Obviously, I've missed something.  Like why a particularly enterprising human couldn't have done it already.   There are message boards discussing (and possibly reviewing?) prostitutes, no way in hell there wouldn't be a vampire equivalent amongst the fang-bangers.   Seriously, the internet would have produced Google Vampire ten days after they'd Revealed themselves.  

Third thoughts: Need another drink.  It appears that there's still some milkshake left over.  Woot!

Dead to the World

The plot: Eric turns up minus his memory, thanks to some crazy werewolf witches.  Jason goes missing, and is changed forever as a result. Sookie looks after Eric and it turns out that, sans memory, she wants him bad.  There's some epic battles.

First thoughts: Can't think.  Too much hot sex.  

Second thoughts: I think I've worked out one of my problems with Sookie.

She's a junkie.  She knows she's addicted to vampires, she knows they're not good for her.  For fuck's sake, her new year's resolution was to not get the holy fuck beat out of her!  But, like every junkie, she keeps going back for her hit.  Even though she knows its going to screw her up - break her heart, or her bones, or possibly her mind.  They're not human.  They hunted humans for centuries, that's not something that can be stopped with a bit of synthetic blood and acceptance by society.  After all, that's the society they fed off.  Sookie knows this, and despises how they act, but she needs her hit.  

That's why her relationship with Eric made her so happy.  She was getting her vampire fix, without having to deal with any of the icky moral issues or potential risks.  All that hot sex is just a rich, dark chocolate icing on a cake that's actually quite off-putting.  Like it's gone stale, or been laced with rat turds.

And about this point, I started getting a Supernatural overload.  Vampires, Shifters, Maenads, Werewolves and now, witches.  

Third thoughts: How did I end up with so little milkshake?

Dead as a Doornail.

The plot: Somebody's going around killing werewolves and shifters, and Jason is suspect number One.  

First thoughts: Tara broke my heart.  Alcide did too.  Quinn intrigues me.  Claudine is as cute as a button.  The sub-plot involving Charles was well-crafted, as well as the main mystery.  Okay, I admit it - I didn't guess either of them.  

Second thoughts: Nothing major.  Although I sighed over the addition of faries to this dictionary of the supernatural.

Third thoughts: No more milkshake.  Do I stop now, or break out a different booze?

First thoughts: No more booze.

Second thoughts: We're in perfect agreement on that one.  

I'll review the remaining three books tomorrow.