Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eye of the World, chapter 37 and 38, in which Egwene is best at everything

Apologies for the delayed post; it was my country's birthday and I had a torrential rainstorm to get caught in.

The Eye of the World: p. 557--581
Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Long Chase

The long chase?  Really?  I've been struck by a prophetic vision that this chapter will include lots of running around to create the illusion of plot development.

I have also formed a hypothesis there's some kind of rule every chapter must start with four pages that don't do anything to advance the plot or reveal character in any way.  Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan continue on Perrin's magic trail (not that they know which farmboy they're after) and eventually find the Whitecloak camp where we left him and Egwene.  Nynaeve snarks at Lan for implicitly impugning her willingness to face peril to save a neighbour, or her knowledge of wolf behaviours, which is presumably supposed to be a reminder of what a capable and courageous Lady Heroine Woman she is.  Personally, I think it'd have played better if Lan had been all 'You're a village Wisdom despite your youth and you've stuck with us this far, so obviously you're a colossal badass, here's what I need you to do'.  In fact, why hasn't Lan internalised that yet?  He's bonded with Moiraine; he knows better than to underestimate someone just because they're a woman or small enough to fit in his backpack.  Do better, Lan.
"There are two guards on that side of the camp, beyond the picket-lines, but if you are half as good as I think you are, they'll never see you." 
She swallowed hard. Stalking rabbits was one thing; guards, though, with spears and swords... So he thinks I'm good, does he? "I'll do it."
There's something ironic that the one skill of hers he is willing to notice is her ability to not be noticed.  Also, hasn't Nynaeve been fighting trollocs?  A few unwary guards don't strike me as unusual threat for her these days.  But she still freaks out a bit as she creeps in, dodges patrols, and starts cutting the ropes to loose the horses for purposes of distraction.  She almost runs after she's cut four out of five, and thinks for a moment about how Lan wouldn't judge her for running away now (given that she's just a little mortal), but Nynaeve is struck by a vision that if she leaves any horses secure, some of Our Heroes will die in the escape, and so cuts them loose too.  (The possibility that she just got an actual prophecy further freaks her out, because Nynaeve was trained to use magic but she didn't think it was Capital Letters Magic, I guess?)  The final group includes faithful horse Bela and another friendly one, and Nynaeve flees into the night with them as Moiraine starts fulminating the camp with a rain of lightning (go Moiraine), and wolves join in the fight, confusion, running, et cetera.

Well, that chapter wasn't nearly as prolonged as I expected it to be.  It helps, of course, that on my first read I accidentally skipped about a third of it and didn't notice.  Which is a reasonable measure of the breakneck crawl we're proceeding at.  Let's savour this opportunity to talk about Nynaeve, because she's one of my favourite characters so far.

We're more than 550 pages into the book, and Nynaeve's motivations are starkly few.  She chased after Our Heroes because she had no patience to sit around and wait for a Manly Decision, and she's stuck with them because it's her job to protect her neighbours.  That takes a hell of a lot of dedication.  She's been told that she has incredible potential to wield earthshakingly powerful magic, but she doesn't appear at all tempted by the prospect.  Admittedly, she doesn't have great reasons not to trust Aes Sedai, but tell the average person 'By the way, I can teach you to perform miracles' and see if that doesn't shake their convictions even a little.  Nynaeve doesn't even know that she's plot-relevant; she's just here because she knows who she is (or who she wants to be) and that person won't let her neighbour brats run off to get murdered on their own.

And somehow the main gorram character of this book still isn't her, but the brat who thinks it's insufficiently heroic that he has to sleep in haystacks while everyone tells him how incredibly important he is (quarry of the Darkfriends, warper of the Pattern of reality, first-name-basis with the fricking devil who hangs out in his dreams).

Rand al'Thor might be (shpoilersh) the Dragon Reborn, but as far as I'm concerned he's a case study in mediocre men inexplicably drawing attention away from extraordinary women.  I'm sure he's going to get 'character development', but I'm not at all convinced that said development will consist of him actually gaining sympathetic qualities to compare with Nynaeve's fierce loyalty, courage, and conviction.

Anyway, let's get back to Nynaeve and Moiraine saving the day.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Rescue
Perrin shifted as best he could with his wrists bound behind him and finally gave up with a sigh.
Do y'all know why this book is precisely seven hundred million pages long?  Because Jordan thinks that it's quality storytelling to give us an unnecessarily long depiction of rescuers catching up with hostages, making plans, enacting plans to save the hostages, and then leaping backwards in time to show us yet more of what things were like for the hostages before they got rescued.  Surely we could just have Egwene recap for Moiraine what their captivity was like afterwards?  (If we get all this description and then a recap as well, I will burn down the sun.)

General advice: if you can timeskip something in a story and not leave the reader confused about how you got there, there's a good chance you should timeskip it.  More specific advice: if you can timeskip something in a story, for the love of gay shipping, please don't pretend to timeskip it and then go back to explain.  This is like episodes of TV shows that start with a Dramatic Scene, go to opening credits, and then come back with Three Days Earlier... which never fails to annoy me.  (Not least because it's used to set up shocking swerves like Why Are These Two Bros Pointing Guns At Each Other and then forty minutes later we discover they were both actually aiming at ambushers behind each other.)


BUT BACK TO PERRIN.  He's spent the last few days walking tied to a horse and getting regular updates from Byar about the inventive ways the Questioners will torture him into confessing when they get to Amador.  They're also in a rush to Caemlyn, though, and one day Byar shows up, tosses him a sharp rock, and says it'd be much more convenient if Perrin somehow managed to cut himself loose and vanish into the night.  Perrin rolls just well enough to realise that there's something fishy about this generosity, but not quite enough to realise that if he makes a getaway they'd have ample reason to just kill him on the spot and wrap matters up that way.  He gets a telepathic ping from Dapple that there's a rescue coming, and stalls long enough for Lan to arrive and karate the guards into submission.

Lan, Egwene, and Perrin meet up with Moiraine, who reports that she's lost track of Nynaeve, whom she fears has "done something foolish".  Hey, why hasn't Moiraine given the rest of the party those tracker coins like she did the boys?  Can she only maintain three of that charm at once?  It's not like they haven't had time for her to make more.  Anyway, Lan turns and almost charges back to find Nynaeve, but Moiraine tries to stop him:
"Some things are more important than others. You know that. [....] Remember your oaths, al'Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers! What of the oath of a Diademed Battle Lord of the Malkieri?" 
Perrin blinked. Lan was all of that?
Lan was all of those things that we don't understand and have no context for and therefore I don't care about?  ASTONISHING.  (Also, I see Jordan is one of those authors who thinks that bemusement is best identified by a character's blinking, which strikes me as particularly weird in this high-tension high-action scene where presumably they're running around a lot and blinking away sweat or dust from one's eyes might be expected rather a lot.  Suggestion: if a character's shock is so understated that it can best be expressed through blinking while they flee homicidal religious zealots, maybe you're not dealing with as dramatic a moment as you'd like to think.  Shout something gaspworthy, at least.)

Nynaeve returns with the horses and as she leaps off to embrace Egwene she gets intercepted by Lan who just grabs her arm for an intense second.  He wants to tap that, if we hadn't noticed yet.  He wants to tap that like he's sending a telegram.  Nynaeve has picked up on this, as highlighted by the way she gives "a low laugh" as she runs to hug Egwene, which Perrin figures doesn't have "anything to do with happiness at seeing them again".

Let us take a moment to contemplate the situation: our split party has just started to mend itself after eight thousand chapters of running around scattered, they're being hunted by religious zealots, and this is the moment that Jordan has decided to drop in a romantic subplot with all the grace and versimilitude of a new fanfic author.  We got none of this last chapter, when Lan was actually talking to Nynaeve about sending her into danger, but now they're reunited and there is Needful Tension.  Priorities, Jordan.  Lan is the male character I hate least, but that's such a low bar.  Try to remember you had a plot in here somewhere.

They make their getaway, and the wolves leave Perrin with a mental note that they are ordained to meet again someday.  The next day, Nynaeve tends their wounds, treating us to a scene in which she rubs ointments all over Perrin's bare chest--he's been gruesomely bruised, but his ribs were protected from breakage because he's so incredibly ripped.

If you unlock the secret ninth ab, you become fireproof.

Nynaeve's ointments basically heal his mangled torso instantaneously, which either means they have some really sweet herbs in this world or she should have realised she was a gorram sorcerer a long time ago.  Nynaeve notices Perrin's wolf eyes, but doesn't know what they are; Moiraine does, but doesn't say what it means; Nynaeve is upset that Moiraine won't 'heal' Perrin's eyes, but is weirdly uninterested in knowing what's actually going on.  Lan just hears the name Elyas MacWolferson and says he used to be a Warder until the Red Ajah came after him, and assures Perrin that communing with wolves isn't of itself satanic.  He does note how improbable it is that Perrin would have the ancient gift and meet someone who was capable of teaching him:
"The Pattern is forming a Great Web, what some call the Lace of Ages, and you lads are central to it. I don't think there is much chance left in your lives, now."
In fairness, if Jordan doesn't find a new word to capitalise every four pages, his keyboard will explode.  Lace of Ages?  Honestly, at this point I almost want to congratulate him on so thoroughly committing: he actually made it an emphatic plot point that incredibly convenient coincidences and contrivances swarm around our heroes.  That's so much more audacious than just trying to make the story feel plausible.

I also feel like this chapter highlights a certain weakness of prophecy: Lan claims that Perrin's life is basically already set in the world, but it's only thanks to Lan's intervention just now that Perrin's life wasn't a very brief sprint in the night or several long days of torturous dying at the hands of the inquisition.  So, Perrin has no choice in what happens to him next, but Lan apparently does, since he had the option of turning and running.  Or a lucky whitecloak could have murdered them all with a few quick sword strokes.  At what proximity to Our Heroes do people stop having choices?  If there are certain people who bend fate around themselves, shouldn't the Dark One's central plan be to stay the hell away from those people as much as possible and stick to working with the people who have no fates at all and therefore might be capable of anything?  Lan implies that the Dark One can manipulate events a little, but when he says the three boys are definitely super-prophesied for either good or evil, he doesn't make it clear whether he thinks that has been determined yet.

Basically, what I'm saying is that there are at least three kinds of prophecy and it matters a lot which kind we're dealing with.  There's contingent prophecy ("If/unless this happens, this other thing is guaranteed to happen"), total predestination (choice is an illusion and all future events are fixed), and fate in the ancient Greek style ("No matter what choices you make, sooner or later you're going to X").  Lan doesn't appear to believe in predestination, but his talk about the lack of chance in Perrin's life implies that fate is a thing, except that he obviously still thinks Rand and Mat can be and need to be saved from evil, which suggests that his non-predetermined actions still matter.

Jordan could have saved me a headache by dropping the vague prophecy talk and just saying "The universe has willed that the three of you are main characters, so please do better".

That's it for me; come back next Wednesday to see if I managed to convince Erika to watch Bring It On for her next post!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Erika vs Gilmore Girls: Showdown in the Conversationdrome

I used to watch Gilmore Girls with my mother when it first came out. I think we, like a lot of mothers and daughters watching this show, wished we could be like Lorelei and Rory (bestest friends and, to quote the show, "freakishly bonded" parent and kid), when we were more like Emily and Lorelei--two people who loved each other because they were family but had no idea how to communicate despite their most earnest efforts, and just kept fighting. Which sums up the show pretty well for those of you who have never seen it: it's a comedy about mother/daughter relationships. I just finished re-watching it on Netflix from start to finish, so you all now get to be subjected to my thoughts on the matter.

First things first, here's some of what it gets wrong: There is not one canonical not-straight character in the whole series (although I will fight you that the town weirdo Kirk is bi but I'll get into that in the comments if anyone wants). The cast is very very white, although there are a few notable exceptions. There are characters who are supposed to be impoverished or struggling, yet everyone enjoys an asston of privilege, have nice homes, eat out constantly, and generally are never really shown leading a life that isn't upper middle class. The show is mainly about relationships, and while it started off being about non-romantic relationships it does develop a focus on it.

Its approach on pregnancy needs some detailing too. Lorelei Gilmore, the protagonist of the show, had her daughter, Rory, when she was 16. She then ran away from home and raised her on her own and boot-strapped her way to middle class. (Yeaaah. I mentioned this show is kind of classist, right? It has no earthly idea what anything below upper-middle-class looks like.)  The possibility of abortion for her (or anyone) is mentioned once in seven seasons, and quashed quickly and with disgust. It is not mentioned to her, but to her mother. We can assume that Lorelei wanted to have the baby, but at no point do we ever see her being offered an alternative. This is framed as having been the right call because her daughter is objectively perfect and if she did it then she wouldn't have her perfect kid! And her life is awesome now! Which is kind of nice in a way--it's a show that says over and over again "Fuck up. For glory. You can still fix it and bounce back."

In the last two seasons we see two women who are not happy to be pregnant. One is Lane, a newly wed and struggling musician who comes from a very religious household (though she mostly rejects that for herself) who gets pregnant on her honeymoon. With twins. She says, clearly, when she finds out she's pregnant that she doesn't want to be a mother. Not yet. Down the road sure, but right now? And with twins? But never does she think about an abortion, and never does someone else suggest it. Rory just tries to encourage her because she's sure she'll be a great mom! And who's ever ready for anything? They're twenty but, you know, have these kids!

The second is Sookie, Lorelei's best friend, co-worker, chef, and co-owner of a very successful small country inn. She is married with two children. After she gives birth for the second time, a nurse appears to take her husband for a vasectomy because, nope, she is done. Spoilers: He did not get the vasectomy, and he didn't tell her. At first there's no issue, but after some confusion about whether she's still on the pill she gets pregnant. She does not want to be pregnant. We see her freaking out, and Lorelai has to try and remind her of all the wonderful things about new babies to get her on board with the idea (The line "Think of that new baby smell" is used. I have never sniffed a baby; can someone who has weigh in here? Is this like people talking about eating babies feet?  Is it a 'new car smell' joke?) and slowly wins her over with "awww cute babies". I was cringing so hard I pulled a muscle in my neck in this scene. We do see her upset at her husband as an ongoing story line, which is a small mercy that cute babies doesn't fix all and also children are a huge deal. They eventually talk and resolve it, and then they're good, but this was huge to her. She was pregnant. She already had two kids. She did not want a third. Never does anyone say "You don't have to keep it", which distresses me. We have three instances of women who are pregnant who do not want to be, for very different reasons. Even if the answer each time was "No, I think I should keep the kid" clearly each time, it would have made me feel better. As it is, it made me feel like pregnancy is just... something that happens, and is ultimately a good thing because aww look at the little baby's itty bitty fingers!*

That is the bad. What do I like about this show? It is a show that at its heart is about women, relationships, and the relationships between women. In the early seasons this is specifically about mother-daughter relationships, and it isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but it isn't all doom and gloom, either. People fight, they make up, some relationships are happy and healthy, some are not! Emily, the grandmother, is downright abusive and manipulative at times (this eases up to cast her less as an antagonist and more as a real person as the show goes on). As the series progresses more romantic relationships become a central theme, but even then, the women around Lorelei and Rory remain important.

So let's talk about how the show handles its three notable characters of color. Rory's best friend in the world is Lane Kim, who's mother is a Seventh-Day Adventist. I am not terribly versed in Korean stereotypes, but I suspect they're played with by how often Lane says things like "Koreans do things like X" and there is a lot of kimchi. Mrs. Kim, Lane's mother is incredibly strict, and in the early seasons when Lane is young and living with her Mother still (I believe she's widowed, but it's never made explicit) we see Lane living under a very strict regime. She can only date Korean boys from church (who her Mother approves of) and their dates will be escorted. No chocolate or carbonated drinks in the house. No make up. Only approved music and clothes. We see Lane hiding reams and reams of cds in her floor boards to listen to at Rory's, we see her having a second bedroom set up in her closet which is her "real" room. She secretly joins a band. Her Mother eventually finds all of her illicit stashes and throws her out of the house. They eventually make up.

Despite all this, the show never vilifies Mrs. Kim. She is an antagonist, she's kind of scary, but she has motives that make sense. She ultimately loves her daughter and consistently does what she believes is best. Later on we see her shift to more middle ground stances as Lane gets older and more independent. Most of her strictness, her coldness, her rigidness is based within her being a Seventh Day Adventist, not Korean.

The other character of color is Michel. He is the concierge at the inn Lorelai and Sookie run, and a snooty French man. His character leans heavily on a lot of the prissy French man stereotypes or gay man stereotypes (strict diet and exercise, loves fashion, very "metrosexual"), but he is straight (or bi and never shown to be interested in men) and played by a black man. His character is very one-note, but at least they didn't opt to use stereotypes based on his race?

The lack of racial and sexual diversity sucks, but there are women of different ages, different body types, walks of life... Sookie is played by Melissa McCarthy. We have two other regular, reoccurring characters who are larger. We have aggressive type A "I will stab you in the throat to get my way" women, we have sweet kindergarten teachers, we have women who are a bit or both or a whole lot of neither. I love the wealth of women in this show, I love that they are (for most of the series) friends who care about each other. I love that the show is clever and never makes fat jokes. I love that fat women are shown as worthy of love, sexual attraction, and get to be happy. I love that it has antagonistic but not villainous women**. It all just feels so... novel to me. This is what it takes to make me happy you guys. "Here are a bunch of reasonably well written women" and I will binge watch 7 seasons. I hunger, ok? I admit it.

If you are looking for a comedy/drama that has a lot of relationship drama but never stuff that has you screaming "OH MY GOD JUST TALK TO THEM YOU JERK FACE", I highly recommend it. If you have any other recommendations for shows like that, toss 'em to me, I need something new to watch now.

Sound off in the comments for things you want to see me write about (movies preferred, but I'm not ridged) or things you've been enjoying yourselves lately (or yelling at). Tune in next week for Will's suffering!

*Ok, I get the baby finger thing. They are absurdly tiny. Like, how do you even get fingers that tiny? Cheat codes, probably.
**Save for early Paris, but she stops like halfway through season 1 I think?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stories about terrible people doing terrible things

(Sorry for the lateness of this post--I have been busy and exhausted and there's only so much of The Wheel of Time that a man should be exposed to without protective gear and a powerful course of antibiotics.)

I've had a fair heap of free time this year, which means that, among other things, I watched the entirety of Breaking Bad a few months ago.  I was underwhelmed.  I'd heard that it was ultimately an indictment of the American healthcare system, but the show very quickly and immediately goes out of its way to give its protagonist other options (so he's not just forced into a life of crime to save his family) and frequently highlights that the real problem is that he's motivated entirely by pride and (intellectual white male) entitlement.  The show wasn't strictly badly written, but I never once had sympathy for Walter White, and I mostly watched to find out who would survive the shrapnel of his inevitable downfall.  It was a show about angry men doing violent things and daring anyone else to insult their power, grr, manly grr man guns I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS.

Breaking Bad was absurdly popular, in the same style as The Sopranos, in no small part because it was a power fantasy for men who never got to be terrifying manly villain-heroes in their own lives and feel like they somehow got short shrift.  Neal Stephenson spoke one of our world's great truths when he wrote:
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
Breaking Bad struck me as a show for people who were well past 25 and still had those fantasies, especially if they were science nerds.  Personally, I meet enough terrible people in my day-to-day existence and don't generally feel the need to hang around more of them.  Grim gritty stories about anti-heroes and murderer-protagonists really don't compel me.  And I have even less patience for 'he's a good guy, but he's flawed, so he's racist and misogynist and homophobic'--in these cases I really want people to reconsidered what their criteria for 'good guy' should be.

All of this brings me to a new show that my Science Mom introduced me to while visiting this week, called UnREAL, which you'll forgive me for just calling Unreal hereafter.  It's a story about people making a 'reality' television show in the style of The Bachelor, called 'Everlasting', with one dude and a dwindling phalanx of women trying to win his heart.  In order to ensure high viewership, of course, the producers are in charge of making something as close to an exploitation film as possible--manipulating and provoking the women into getting intoxicated, getting naked, getting into fights, and screaming heartfelt pleas and threats in front of the cameras.

Basically everyone is terrible.  Quinn, the executive producer, is really obviously terrible: on the first night of filming, the first contestant revealed on camera is a gorgeous black woman who approaches the dude while performing a violin solo, and Quinn's response behind the scenes is to demand who allowed a black woman to be first, insisting that 'the first one is always wife material--don't look at me like that; it's not my fault America is racist'.  Our Hero Rachel, a returning producer, is first introduced looking exhausted and wearing a grey "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" t-shirt, and seems like the most likely person to have a conscience, except that she also has a downright satanic gift for whispering exactly the right wrong words into someone's ear, and she does so again and again to keep her job.

Both of Unreal and Breaking Bad are shows about terrible people doing terrible things, but I found Breaking Bad pretentious and crude while I've found Unreal fascinating and legitimately entertaining.  Why the stark difference?

There are some obvious objective differences--the 'terrible things' on Breaking Bad tended to be 'selling drugs to recovering addicts' or 'literally murdering people', while the terrible things on Unreal are more personal and emotional betrayals.  One of these things is easier to get over than the other.  But the most important difference is that where Breaking Bad used its premise as a justification for us to just watch crimes happen, Unreal is dogged in continually dissecting and revealing as much as it can about the details of the vices at play.

Rachel's producer friend Jay (a gay black man) pulls aside the two black contestants early on to "be real" with them, stating that no black woman in the history of the show has ever gotten past the 'final four' and that there are certain archetypes they need to play into (the aggressive, loud, independent-but-jealous type) if they want to be popular enough to stay that long.  One of the women declares that all she cares about is getting some fame to boost the business she plans to start after the show, while the other calls him an Uncle Tom and refuses to pander to racist white audiences.  Far from being a throwaway 'racism exists' scene, their choices continue to be reflected in subsequent events, with an ultimate conclusion that no, you can't win at racism.  In another scene, Our Hero Rachel tries to incite a good shouting match during a ballroom dance lesson, only to have her intended puppet back off at the last minute and quietly declare "I just realised I was about to slut-shame a woman on national television, and I'm not about that." (I said before that everyone is terrible, but of course part of the point of the show is that the contestants mostly are not, and that is why they have to be manipulated into doing terrible things to make for 'better' TV.)

I'm only four episodes in to what will be a ten-episode season, so I have no idea if the show will remain good or crash and burn or what.  There are forms of representation it could improve on (our one confirmed gay character is a guy with no hint of partner, and the cast is as implied mostly white).  There's a distinct lack of supportive female friendships, but a distinct lack of friendships in general--most people are either rivals or allies of convenience, and no one is supposed to have anything as vulnerable as feelings.  But there are so many women.  It's a show filled with women, varied women, women with amazing skills and terrible flaws and complicated motivations.  (Needless to say it passes Bechdel several times per episode.)

The connection that I want to make here is ultimately that one of these shows is For Men and the other one is For Women (Breaking Bad was on AMC; Unreal is on Lifetime) and that means that when they created stories about terrible people, one was a story about a lone dude who decided he didn't have to play by the rules anymore, and the other is a story about a host of women who have been varyingly shaped to operate on the wrong sets of rules, and to one degree or another know that the system they live in is wrong but question the power they have to change it...

Well, now we're talking about something relateable.

(If you want to check Unreal out and you don't have Lifetime, I recommend you grab your pirate hat.  Putlocker has been serving me well for the first episodes.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Erika vs Dredd

I feel the need to defend this week's choice first. The idea behind "surprisingly feminist media" is to take the lowest scrape-the-barrel "Hey, this movie is only minimally harmful!" media and analyse its strengths and weaknesses.  Which brings me to said choice of the week: the 2012 Dredd.

Content notes: murder, police violence, threats of sexual violence.

Picture: The title character Dredd in a helmet that covers his eyes, frowning, with flames reflected in his visor.

He makes that face the entire movie and talks like Batman. (The one from the Dark Knight Trilogy, not the perennially wonderful Adam West.) I won't pretend I don't replace half his dialog in my head with "I'M BATMAN" in my head, and it doesn't really change anything. It's wonderful.

Dredd is a movie is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has built one giant mega-city (aptly named Mega-City One) and within this giant mega-city are giant apartment buildings (200+ floors). Because these cities are so huge and everything is corrupt and awful because there was some sort of apocalypse the new system of law enforcement is Judges, who are cops, but also juries and executioners. Sounds a bit like a wish fulfillment for some of the cops in the US, doesn't it? Our title character, the fascist Judge Dredd, is given a failed rookie to take with him to evaluate (she is a powerful psychic, which is why, even in a world of hard yes and no, they're testing her anyways). He will be the sole one to decide this, because this world is big on giving cops that sort of power. These two go to investigate a triple homicide in one of the mega blocks and then OH NO THEY'RE TRAPPED AND AN EVIL MOB BOSS HAS LOCKED THE PLACE DOWN AND SET EVERYONE IN THE BUILDING ON TRYING TO MURDER THEM!

If you are looking for an over the top DARK GRITTY ACTION MOVIE with super cheesy dialogue I will gesture emphatically at Dredd for you. (The Husbeast adores this movie, but is quick to point out that Dredd is supposed to be a fascist and they never address that at all. There are no overt politics, although as we're about to dive into, there are some disturbing implicit ones.)

So, the bad: Dredd is kind of racist. The movie, not the character. Maybe the character? He gets very little development so I legitimately can't say (I also know nothing about the comics, if someone else wants to chime in). The Rookie (Anderson) is cast as a pretty white woman:

Pictured: A pretty blond white woman wearing a fair bit of make up
She spends a fair portion of the movie fighting with a black villain in their custody, who (on three separate occasions) threatens her with sexualized violence. Yeah. Awk. In one super unnecessary scene occurring psychically in his head, he twists things to make her perform oral on him, but she quickly twists the 'dream' around on him and, long story short, he pisses himself and she walks away completely victorious. She also doesn't wear a helmet so we can keep seeing her pretty face, although I will give them points for justifying why she doesn't (it interferes with her psychic powers, if you were wondering). The movie is set in a mega-block which we're told has an unemployment rate of 96% and one of the highest crime rates in the area. It has some of the most diverse casting of background characters that I have ever seen, which would be great if this wasn't a building mostly full of criminals and the unemployed. (How can a 96% unemployment rate be sustained? Where do they get their food and other necessities?  They clearly can't be farming or ranching.  Do they steal from other blocks?  Does Mega-City One have a vast and abundant welfare program to go with its murderous ultra-cops?)

It would be nice seeing so many POC in the background if it didn't translate to Dredd and Anderson mowing through dozens of men of color without batting an eye. There are three times that we see hesitation from them: One is Anderson's first kill (a white man), another is a victim of violence (another white man, also Anderson being the one to hesitate), and the third is when Dredd tries to talk kids away and stuns them instead of shooting to kill (one is black, one is white). This is the only time we find out he has that capacity; it is never used again or mentioned, even when he is running dramatically low on ammunition.  There are a lot of ways in which feminist goals (the health, safety, and freedom of all women, not just the privileged white ones) aren't compatible with a fascist police state that routinely murders people on a whim, but for the sake of this post, we're working within its premise.

(The 'whim' nature of the judges is both highlighted and ignored--Dredd will enter a room with guns blazing and take out four suspected criminals to make a point, but then declare that he won't execute one of the captives on a mere 99% chance they are a murderous drug dealer.)

With all of that said, we get to the reasons that this movie qualified for SFM in the first place! (Did I mention the sweet action scenes and how all of Dredd's lines can be replaced with "I'M BATMAN"? Because I feel that's relevant.)

Also HOLY NONSEXUALIZED FEMALE CHARACTERS BATMAN! Am I making too many Batman jokes in this post? (Do I care?) Nah. There are two major female characters. Ma-Ma (Madeline Madrigal), the head of Ma-Ma Clan, who is a former sex worker who bit the dick off of her pimp and took over his holdings to become the top gang leader in the block. She's known not for being sexy or sultry, but for violence and cruelty. Her first scene is in the bath, and you see nothing. She's in opaque water up to her neck.  The point is instead to show us what the movie's narcotic Slo-Mo feels like to the user--everything is slow and sparkly, and sometimes the movie feels like Twilight if the vampires were perma-violent gun fanatics.  So, SFX porn, but not actual porn!

Then there's the rookie, Anderson. Her uniform is the same as Dredd's. They don't tighten it up or make it more fitted. They don't put her in awkward boobs and butt poses, she moves and behaves like someone who knows what they're doing. She is (and is treated as) competent. The only time we get anything remotely resembling "but ur a girl" is from villains. When Dredd doubts or questions her, it's because he's evaluating her, not because he doubts her for being a woman and (minor spoilers) by the end of the movie Dredd thoroughly relies on and trusts in her.

The movie on a few occasions actively subverts "sexy" tropes. Ma-Ma is a former sex worker but they never feel the need to show her acting "sexy". She isn't hanging out in heels and a cat suit ordering her minions around, we see her in loose shirt and in the war room. We see her taking action, and being the one to hold the knife to people herself. There's a set up for a GIRL FIGHT between Anderson and another woman, which the movie gleefully skips past by having Anderson psychically foresee the ambush and just shoot them down before carrying on her way. Later Anderson gets shot--it looked like a shoulder shot and when I first watched the movie I sighed. Great. Time for some awkward bloody cleavage. (Why bloody women in pain can be considered sexy yet people are so grossed out by periods baffles me.) But then: they don't do it. There are no weird bloody boobs. They unzip her uniform and she's not wearing a basically-see-through white tank top; she's wearing a dark t-shirt, and even though it looked like she got shot in the shoulder it's a gut wound.

Is Dredd groundbreaking in representation or writing? Absolutely not. It's awkward in how it handles it's POC characters (Dredd's boss is a black woman with two brief scenes, and that's about as good as it gets), and never tries to address the fact that it's about a fascist system of murder-cops. But it's a fun action flick that didn't leave me thinking "Why is it so hard to get action movies made with women as people?", which is depressingly rare.  Whatever credit Dredd could be granted doesn't come from displaying empowered women who are 'just as good as men', but by making characters who simply are women while being cops and criminals.  People who aren't written as if 'woman' is a personality trait, and who aren't just there to fuel sex fantasies.

(And yes, from all we've heard, Mad Max: Fury Road will definitely be the subject of an upcoming Surprisingly Feminist Media post.)

As always feedback and further suggestions for this feature are welcome. Tune in next week for more of Will suffering!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 34, 35, and 36, in which Rand is literally the centre of the universe


Quick explanation of the last two months: my antidepressants are letting me down, I am tired all the time and I feel lucky if I get six hours' sleep, and there was a three-week break between my first and second therapy sessions because I picked a bad time to start.  Thus, not so much with the energy and willpower to create blogposts, or write much of anything.  But I am by nature a writer and rambler and ranter, and it was long ago foretold that I would eventually be compelled to return.  Fortunately, the blogqueen also saw fit to establish a new posting regimen and nudge me as needed to get material ready in time.  Victory.

Let us now return to that rock of stability: the directionless meandering of Egwene And Her Amazing Pals towards an actual plot development.  Wait.  Dammit, Egwene isn't in this week's chapters.  Instead it's another Randathon as they finally reach Caemlyn without befalling any plot events that would actually engage me in this story.

The Eye of the World: p. 512--556
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Last Village

The eponymous village is Carysford, over the river Cary, and it looks normal enough to Our Weary Heroes, by which I mean it's got a bridge and no other discernible features.  They end up sleeping in haystacks again:
Heroes in the stories never had to sleep in haystacks, or under hedges.
I only have so much patience for characters in books thinking about how their lives aren't like books to begin with--it was probably clever the first time someone did it, back in the Triassic, but it's pure cliché now at the best of times.  At the worst times, like this, when people start thinking 'heroes in stories are never uncomfortable' I just start wondering what kind of unspeakably bland literary traditions this world has been saddled with*.

In the morning they join a slow parade of young men and token girls who are all apparently on their way to see the False Dragon in Caemlyn.  There's an encounter with an angry speeding merchant and a mounted guard that I don't fully understand, in which someone appears to call Rand 'Darkfriend' in a way that they intend to convey 'jackass'.  On the one hand, this makes some sense for people who haven't seen much in the way of apocalyptic cultists for many generations; on the other hand, it also seems linguistically uncreative, and this is a usage that we haven't seen in the previous 500 pages.

Sweet Eru Iluvatar, this is a slog.  I mean, I started this post half an hour ago thinking 'it's been forever; I am totally ready to dive back into the Generic Fantasy Adventures of WOT', but this is truly inedible word-paste.  (And let me add that I wrote this paragraph and then failed to get any further on this post for another two weeks.  Yesterday I climbed 26 flights of stairs for the hell of it, and I have an active World of Warcraft subscription, but Wheel of Time is a grind too far.)

Skim skim skim.  I don't know to what extent Robert Jordan popularised this method of characterisation, but as is my standard operating procedure, I hold him fully accountable for his contributions of human suffering: when Jordan wants to quickly make someone sympathetic and 'deep' even though we're never going to get to know them personally, he gives them a catchphrase and makes them ramble.  Rand and Mat overhear someone looking for them (big bounty on their heads) and then hop a ride with a guy who infodumps at us for a couple of pages, constantly repeating the phrase "I'm a good Queen's man" to shore up his credibility.  I threw the torrent of verbal meandering into the centrifuge and here's what came out:

  • This country strictly has ruling queens, but is not called a queendom, I guess because that's the sort of thing a crazy feminist would do?
  • Tradition states that the crown princess (or "Daughter-Heir" in WOT speak, because that's so much smoother) studies with the Aes Sedai and the eldest son studies with the Warders.
  • This got the last prince killed and the princess disappeared before her coronation, leading to civil war a few decades ago.
  • Queen Morgase also has an Aes Sedai grand vizier advisor whom many people suspect of Scheming.
  • Robert Jordan thought it was reasonable to write "a queen is twice a woman, wed to a man, wed to the land" and no one stopped him.

The quantity of rambling done by minor characters in this book is amazing, and it irritates me, because it doesn't make them seem more realistic--it makes them seem like information nodes where our heroes just Press A To Talk at worst, and naive, scatterbrained inferiors at best.  The protagonists are far too wise to prattle on like that, and when they talk, they say important things, while extra after extra keeps jabbering, to the vexation of smart listeners like Rand and Mat.  The only positive I can spot is that Jordan has white guys doing this, not just women and brown people, but that would also require him to have more women and brown people, and in case you didn't notice he already has three women in this book and a queen who is like two women so obviously we're pretty close to capacity already.

Chapter Thirty-Five: Caemlyn

Our Heroes have finally arrived at the vast gated community metropolis, a fortress-city protected by fifty-foot walls of white stone and silver, the beacon of civilisation in dangerous lands and dangerous times: GondorCAEMLYN I meant--I meant--to say Caemlyn.  It is very unfathomably big and crammed full of people. I note that amongst all the many things about the city and its crowds that startle Rand, he doesn't talk about varied dress or skin tone, which makes me wonder if Caemlyn is a great big homogeneous blob or if it actually allows foreign people inside.

To remind us who's the real protagonist, Mat despairs how they can ever hide with so many people around, and Rand has to point out that they'll be impossible to find among so many people.  I assume this is meant to be Mat's evil dagger making him grouchy and hopeless, but how are they still alive, and is there any good reason that we had the details of their convenient journey chronicled for us for so many pages rather than montaged?  Mat keeps despairing for a few pages, but Rand is determined to find an inn called The Queen's Blessing that the gleeman mentioned before he died to show that the situation was serious.  Seeing that the local fashion involves sword hilts and scabbards wrapped in cloth, Rand finally strikes upon the incredible genius move to cover up the herons on his signature weaponry, although of course this takes two full pages to occur rather than getting summarised in a sentence so we can move on to actual action.  They finally find the inn, where the innkeeper is friendly and cautious and refuses to believe Thom is dead but otherwise accepts their story.

They're warned not to talk too badly of Aes Sedai (lest they draw the attention of royal guards) nor too positively (lest they get mobbed by Whitecloaks) and not to mention Thom, who PLOT TWIST used to be the queen's personal bard and possibly lover right after she was widowed.  Then Thom got tangled up in undefined business and spoke rudely enough to the queen to get a warrant on his head, because "he said some words, all right [...] words you don't say to any woman with Morgase's spirit. [....] And the Queen never forgets anything. You ever know a woman who did?"

Would any lady readers like to comment on this constant stream of WOMEN AMIRITE as compared to Tolkien's unyielding manscape in terms of women in classic high fantasy?  This is an atrocious choice: don't exist, or exist as caricatures and showpieces that explore the variety and complexity of women with all the nuance of open mic night at Judd Apatow's comedy club.

Chapter Thirty-Six: Web of the Pattern

The innkeeper predictably supplies them with the minimum necessary food and shelter and mentions the plague of rats lately, which Rand ties to being the devil's spies.  The maid gives Rand level five giggly eyelash batting, but he is too shy to say anything and she can't talk because she's set dressing.  Oh, no, she does finally talk when Rand asks for a private dining room, and she directs him to the library, where he meets an Ogier for the first time, which looks almost exactly like a trolloc, apparently.  The ogier, Loial, is very polite and very old (but still immature by his standards) and I'm beginning to think they're the elves of the setting--if so, ten points to Jordan for making them 'ugly' by human standards?  He's been hiding in the inn for four days after people tried to mob him in the streets, and there's a lot of the type of hard-to-parse dialogue that comes up whenever Jordan is trying to worldbuild subtly, but by the sound of it Loial ran away from home because official processes to let him set out at the tender age of ninety were taking too long.  He just wanted to see the world, and the Great Trees and you must shape the vision to the land and not the land to the vision et cetera et cetera.

Ogiers apparently built most of the cities for humans after we broke the world.  Nice of them.  Not clear on why.  They can't leave their home steddings for long, also not clear on why, and thus they're content to leave the majority of the planet to humans. Which: this is very convenient for a writer who wants to have non-human characters but still wants basically everywhere to be Humanville, and it's also kind of uncomfortably similar to the way a lot of white people seem to think of people of colour: sure,they're fine, as long as they stick to their enclaves and don't show up too often in our gated communities walled cities.  And yes, clearly we're supposed to like Loial, but so far he's the model minority.  He fully agrees that it's good and right that ogiers are bound to their stedding, he is willing to stay out of sight rather than make people uncomfortable by walking around in the street as if he's normal, and he's just a little bit more 'human' than the other ogiers--he got all hasty and ran away rather than wait years to get permission.

I eagerly wait to see if any of my expectations here steer me wrong.

Rand and Loial bond, and Rand ends up spilling the whole truth to the dude, who sums it up by declaring that Rand is ta'veren.  Y'all, this is the best thing.  Check it:
"...sometimes the Wheel bends a life-thread, or several threads, in such a way that all the surrounding threads are forced to swirl around it, and those force other threads, and those still others, and on and on. That first bending to make the Web, that is ta'veren, and there is nothing you can do to change it [....] Artur Hawkwing was ta'veren. So was Lews Therin Kinslayer, for that matter, I suppose."
LOIAL HAS IDENTIFIED RAND AS PLOT-RELEVANT.  Rand is very literally and metaphysically a main character and everyone else really is a background character swept up in the course of his fate.  I had heard rumours about this but I did not realise how blatant it would be.

In true RPG fashion, Loial immediately declares that he wants to travel with Rand, but Rand refuses because Loial is ten feet tall and less than stealthy, but they agree to hang out as long as they're both in Caemlyn, and hope to meet up again in Tar Valon.

And that's as far as I can make it this week, but come back next Wednesday for the blogqueen's next post, and tune in again in two weeks to catch up at last with Nynaeve.


*There was some book I read around age 10 with kids going camping and getting into a competition with their girl-nemeses culminating in some kind of capture-the-flag battle, and the clearest thing I remember about it is near the end, when the protagonist and his buddies are drenched and muddy, in a standoff with their opponents, and he thinks to himself how silly it is to try to look like some grand champion in such a state.  Even as child-me read that, I thought Yes, that is how a champion looks: exhausted, battered, reaching for the pinnacle of the thing that is so difficult everyone would have thought it was impossible.  There's a quote from George Bernard Shaw:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap"
...Which isn't for everyone, obviously, but is something that's always resonated with me.  I learned this last week that my great-grandfather was Shaw's bartender.  Neat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Surprisingly Feminist Media

Erika here! Since Will and I have been spending a lot of time battling a malevolent being (which lives outside the realm of space and time just beyond our mortal understanding that wants to consume consciousness--you can understand why this is a difficult and time consuming task) we're going to try something a little different with the updating. 50 Shades was weakening me in the previously mentioned battle, but we're pretty sure that between the two of us we can get out a weekly post (still Wednesday) as well as save the world so long as I don't lock myself into only 50 Shades. So, without further ado, let me introduce a new feature to the blog:

Surprisingly Feminist Media!

I will take a piece of media that is not trying to be feminist or "empowering" and point out some that are unexpectedly kind of feminist. I've got a short list of things to work on for future posts, but suggestions on songs/books/movies (ideally things that are stand alone) would be wonderful.

And our first entry is...!

Boyz II Men - I'll Make Love to You

Content warning - Aggressively 90s croony boyband ballad, extensive use of soft focus, and a questionable amount of silk pajamas.

Lyrics can be found here.

And no, this isn't a joke. I wish it were. I had initially picked a different song, one that's actually good, but when I double checked the lyrics I realized the line that had initially gotten it qualified is in fact not what I thought it was, and it got disqualified. Also if this doesn't prompt you to send in suggestions, I don't know what will. I had to watch that music video before posting it. I also made Will watch it. Well, I tried to. He gave up halfway through and just giggled at my suffering because he's a good friend like that.

Why this song?

This song is about fucking. Going by the music video it's about courting someone when both parties are openly into it so you can get to slow tender candle- and fire-lit (this is actually just sounding like a fire hazard with all those rose petals scattered around) all-about-her genital mashing. Although it does just talk about being all-about-her sex, so, I mean, if she wanted to get to some pegging there may be no fire or flower petals, I guess that's a your mileage may vary scenario? The singer(s) don't seem to be expecting pegging, but I trust that when they say "anything she wants" they mean it. Meatloaf made it very clear, he would do anything, but he won't do that (I've always suspected that was anal, thoughts?) so who knows where their night took them. Let's be clear, there are a lot of songs about touching junk. So many. Like, at least seven. Maybe even eight or nine. So why this one? Two reasons:

Firstly, it is a song about female pleasure. A lot of songs about boning talk about female pleasure, but often through the lens of male pleasure. The singers are not in this for their bits, they are in this for their partners pleasure. If they, to reference the blog favorite 50 Shades, get to "shatter" as well, hey, awesome, but that's secondary.

Secondly, if you look at the lyrics (and I don't blame you if you don't want to) they often come back to consent and communication.

I'll do anything, girl you need only ask - Pegging or egg beaters? Readers, place your bets.

I'll make love to you
Like you want me to
- The singer is again coming back to communication.  This couple (by the song, not the video) presumably have been together awhile, so he knows what his partner is into, but again, there is an open invite of "tell me what you want".

I'll make love to you
When you want me to
- WHEN you want me to. He isn't just turning up all turgid claiming it's about her LETS GO. He's here, his rocket is ready for lift off, but this is about her, on her terms, and when she wants it. Just because he's ready to pressure wash the quiver bone doesn't mean he expects or demands to right now. If she doesn't want to and just wants to snuggle and instead of dominating him in the bedroom do so at Mario Kart? Hey, her night, her call.

There are depressing few love/banging songs that consider and concentrate on consent or communication. When I googled around many got counted simply because the actual proposition was in the song. I saw Lady Marmalade counted, and while I like that song, it's about trying to get a John, not making sure your partner is safe and comfortable. Also "I would do anything for love" which is kind of about trying to pressure this woman into agreeing to have sex with Meatloaf, so, awk. But they do exist! There is now another entry for that "Not Rapey sexy time" playlist I know you're all secretly working on. May I also suggest the Power Rangers' theme because it's hilarious?

So chime in on things you'd like to see featured here in the future, otherwise I might be forced to do "Do ya think I'm sexy?" by Rod Stewart, so please. Don't force us through that. Make some suggestions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 30, 31, 32, and 33, in which a montage could have done all this work in six pages

Sorry about the lack of post last week; I was apparently run ragged (I don't know how) and needed to pass out for many, many hours.  In an attempt to make up for it, I shall forge ahead through four chapters today.  Gods have mercy on our et cetera.

When last we left, I was doing my absolute damnedest to read Elyas' conversation with Perrin as "Dude, WTF" and "Yes, you are right manwolf, that was a very WTF thing for me to think", as opposed to the trainwreck I now believe it to be, in which Perrin is all "Wow, that was awful of me" and Elyas be like "Naw, dog, your plan was way better than getting eaten by ravens, don't worry that you didn't ask her if she wanted you to pre-emptively murder her".

This the first of like a fifteen-book series that is basically the icon of fantasy literature for the end of the millennium and everyone's just okay with that.  Send help.

(Content: violence, animal death, misogyny.)

The Eye of the World: p. 440--512

Perrin and Elyas are still arguing about who's got a right to kill whom when the wolves beam a warning into their heads and they rush back to obliterate their camp in a panic.  Elyas whisper-shouts for Egwene to douse the fire:
She rose to her feet, staring at him uncertainly, then stepped closer to the fire, but slowly, clearly not understanding what was happening.  Elyas pushed roughly past her and snatched up the tea kettle , cursing when it burned him.  Juggling the hot pot, he upended it over the fire just the same.
My first question: after weeks on the run and facing death that very afternoon, why are we to believe that Egwene--quick-witted, daring Egwene--would just not clue in that she needed to hurry when she spotted Perrin and Elyas sprinting toward her with hissed warnings to douse the fire?

My second question: how daft does Elyas have to be to not realise that pouring water all over a fire is going to create an enormous plume of steam towering over their campsite and marking it better than a properly-shielded flame ever could?

My answer to both these questions: Egwene understands the danger, you incompetent wannabe lycanthrope, but she knows that the safe way to kill the fire is to smother it and she's looking for the appropriate tools to do so, since you, Hairy Manly Survivalist, didn't think to prepare something in advance, no doubt because you were too busy unbending weeds behind yourself to exactly the most natural 82-degree angle?

I look back fondly on the days when I liked Elyas, but, as I might have guessed, Egwene the True Protagonist remains the only worthy person present.

With the fire doused and the girl chastised for her girly lack of initiative, Elyas immediately determines that there's no way of actually hiding their camp, and so they have to split up before the danger gets here, not that he's willing to spare a breath to say what the danger is, though he does say that it's not the ravens, which seems unnecessarily uninformative.  Finally, as they ride away, Perrin says that the wolves saw a great bunch of humans on horses, and "they smell wrong [...] the way a rabid dog smells wrong."

There's a lot wrong with that comparison, as we shall shortly see, but first they have to scamper away into the darkness where Perrin (who has already revealed he's mind-linked with the wolves) lies about his newfound night-vision to Egwene.  Egwene, literally and figuratively in the dark, proves to still be the best person by trying to reassure Perrin of their safety and get his mind off the danger (she asks if he'll dance with her if they're home by Sunday, which I take to mean the midsummer festival).  Perrin is treated to a four-camera telepathic slasher flick as the humans and horses hunt the wolves in the dark and get mauled over and over again.  Eventually, they're spotted hiding anyway, and we find out these people are Whitecloaks, though Perrin maintains there's something unusually evil about this batch.  Perrin's about to surrender at lancepoint when Hopper, the wolf who loved to jump and wished he could fly, leaps in to the rescue, begins slaughtering, dies in a heroic sacrifice, and Perrin goes into a berserker rage before blacking out.

We have now had two sympathetic characters die, Thom and Hopper, and they both got biographical retrospectives within a couple of pages of their deaths.  Is this going to be a thing?  Are we going to have a bunch of two-dimensional characters running around until it's time for them to die, at which point they abruptly get a poignant backstory stapled on?  It works much better here than it did for Thom, but that has everything to do with wolf telepathy and not with Jordan finding his groove on the whole death-by-backstory thing.

They waken, heavily bound, in a Whitecloak tent, where the inexplicably malicious Byar gives the gaunt Lord Captain their post-fight statistics, drastically overestimating the number of wolves they fought and inventing a bunch of Darkfriends as well.  The Lord Captain knows better, and introduces himself as Geofram Bornhald, which I think makes him an ancestor of the dude back in Baerlon?  There's much questioning and threatening (Perrin gets smacked with his own axe) and wild theorising by Byar before Perrin and Egwene put together a pretty solid half-true cover story, but they make the mistake of naming Shadar Logoth, which convinces the Lord Captain that they've still lied about something.  He insists no one is irredeemable, especially Egwene, but some punishment awaits Perrin, who axed a couple of whitecloaks before he passed out.  Conveniently, they're on their way to Caemlyn as well (they Must Not Be Late, though of course we're not told for what) so I'm not overly concerned that Perrin will get anywhere near his gibbet.

I realise that this point (as I should have long ago) that Egwene and Perrin have been split off from the main party to be our ripoffs of Merry and Pippin, minus the other heroes' desperate and sympathetic search for them.  Hoping against hope that Egwene is also our Gandalf the White and saves the day with sweet wizardry.

Chapter Thirty-One: Play for Your Supper

All good things come to an end, by which I mean it's a Rand chapter next.  The first several pages mostly assure us that nothing unpredictable has happened or will ever again happen: Rand and Mat are headed to Caemlyn, they hide in hedges and such whenever they see dust trails on the road ahead or behind, Mat is still ensorcelled by his evil dagger, and Thom is still dead.  Villages they pass make them homesick and there's an evil voice whispering demoralising things in Rand's head.  They can't sell their stuff for cash (no economy to take a heron sword or a ruby dagger), and they don't like thieving (mostly because of ever-present watchdogs).

Occasionally they do a few hours' work on a farm in exchange for room and board, but Rand gets nervous because this is time the Fades have to catch up with them.  One extended episode at the Grinwell farm concerns Rand's desperate efforts not to have sex with the eldest daughter.  Let me pause to note here that we're more than 460 pages in and I have no idea why Rand desperately wants to not have sex with this hot farmgirl.  He's not promised or devoted to Egwene; he's barely mentioned her in chapters, although he's had enough turned-on reactions to make me think he's not asexual.  Is he just generally nervous?  Afraid of the consequences if they get caught?  Is he a member of a religion with strict rules on sexual conduct?  (I did some googling just to check up on Jordan's religion, which he described as "High Church Episcopalian", which is a welcome change from the intense LDS theology and morality underlying so much of Orson Scott Card's works.  And Brandon Sanderson, for that matter, who finished WOT after Jordan's death.)

But my point is more that while this book's character exploration has at least been more show than tell, it still hasn't actually shown us much of anything.  I know nothing about what Rand wants in life that would explain to me why he'd do everything to subtly indicate to a farmlady that he wanted her to stop her hot daughter from getting in his pants.  I know more about the architecture of cities our characters have never been than I do about Our Hero's values.  What's up with that?  Is he meant to be a cipher, a blank slate onto which The Reader can project Himself?  IS RAND AL'THOR THE ORIGINAL BELLA SWAN?!

Anyway, Rand starts playing the flute and Mat starts juggling (as Thom taught them), and they are able to make much better time, earning rooms in inns and aboard merchants' carts:
If there was more than one inn in a village, the innkeepers would bid for them once they heard Rand's flute and saw Mat juggle. Together they still did not come close to a gleeman, but they were more than most villages saw in a year.
A year?  These poor bastards live in the worst of all possible worlds.  A few days' flute tutelage (or 'flutelage') makes Rand a better musician than anyone in the average town?  My god.  Let the Dark One win.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Four Kings in Shadow

Four Kings is mentioned at the end of chapter 31, ominously, and proves to be a small town that gets a full page of description to start with, which is more than we can say for Rand's identity.  It's dusty and barren and the women are getting catcalled so badly that "even Mat gave a start at some of them".  (I assume Mat didn't try to get naked with the farmgirl because he's in a devoted relationship with his cursed dagger, which is also a clearer explanation than we have for Rand.)  The misogyny continues with an innkeeper who slaps a barmaid for dissing the local musician, further driving home that these are terrible people, though Rand and Mat do zero to protest her treatment and 'these men hate women' does not feature on Rand's list of reasons he doesn't like the town.  The grime is much more important.  So here I guess we have another example of highlighting misogyny in order to make dudely readers feel better about themselves (they would never do such a thing) while also letting them glide past it instead of having to engage or, y'know, do anything at all ever.  (Rand does threaten the innkeeper with violence if he gives them less than the food and bedding they agree upon.  Priorities: sorted.)

There's some basic but serviceable foreshadowing with the occasional thunder and rising pressure as a storm rolls into town and finally bursts as they play.  Casual violence and sexual harassment of barmaids continues to be the order of the day.  (Rand is baffled that any of the women stay and put up with this treatment, and I'm just going to repeat what I said back in Speaker for the Dead: There are a lot of answers to that question, because people won't stop asking it, because they don't want any answer except the one they've already got, which is that if she stays, it's her own fault.)  Rand and Mat agree that the evil skinny innkeeper is definitely going to rob them, but they don't leave because they're still ravenous and they don't want to sleep in a rainstorm.  I'll spare y'all the prolonged pseudo-detective business that goes into working out that the one fancy dude who shows up at the inn and makes everyone uncomfortable is a rich merchant from Whitebridge who is definitely a Darkfriend.

The rest of the evening is unsurprising but serviceable Our Heroes Are Trapped tension-building, which I'd probably enjoy if I actually cared about anyone here.  The innkeeper and his bouncers are menacing, the inn is described in effective decrepit terms, and as Mat and Rand try to pry the bars off their room's window, they are engaged by the merchant, Howal Gode, who does not pretend even slightly to not be a nefarious villain.  The most interesting thing to get out of his monologuing is that he believes Rand and Mat are two of the new Dreadlords who will meet the devil when he awakens.  I say 'interesting' because for all the random fantasy bits thrown at us, we don't actually understand how pretty much anything is structured, and I'm inexplicably hoping that 'Dreadlord' is actually a title of some defined meaning which will shed further light on bad guy logistics if we ever get it defined.  I don't know why I think that's going to happen any time soon.  Maybe I'm just excited that the bad guys have prophecies too.

Our Heroes are saved by a bolt of lightning that happens to hit the inn at the exact moment that Rand silently wishes for "a way out", HINT HINT, and he and Mat make their getaway in the rain as Gode's lackeys smoulder on the ground.  Wow, saved at the last moment by improbability that precisely lined up with the simultaneous wishes of the character.  Again.  It's almost like there's magic in this world.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Dark Waits

We ALL wait, Dark.  You're not special.  You're waiting for the end of all things, I'm waiting for a plot development.  Want to take bets on which of us will get what we want first?  Come on, I'll give you odds.

We cut to Rand and Mat riding into another village on a farmer's wagon, where they see uniformed Queen's Guards on patrol, and in a startling development, some worldbuilding actually answers my questions: Rand's never seen Queen's Guards before, and he reflects that he's vaguely aware his hometown is part of the kingdom of Andor, but they never have problems so big that they can't be settled with a meeting among a few villages' councils.  (He specifically mentions Village Councils, which y'all will recall are entirely made up of men, while the Women's Circles apparently aren't involved.  So feminist, y'all.)

Oh, lord.  After they hop off the farmer's wagon and keep walking for Carysford, we then cut back to the end of the last chapter so Jordan can detail for us every single that happened after the lightning strike.  I was not feeling deprived.  This turns out to be yet another dream, in which he is somehow able to confirm that the evil Gode is dead because Rand meets Ba'alzamon wearing his charred corpse like a snuggie.  Rand wakes up when he gets a fireball to the face, and Mat wakes up at the same time screaming about having lost his eyes, leading to Rand cradling Mat tenderly in the dark. (For the record, as much as I dislike most of these characters most of the time, I'm still 100% in favour of them being gay, bi, trans, or really anything other than hetero cis dudes with gender roles instead of bone marrow.

It's practically a montage: more villages and nourishing stew and gifts from farmers who would do more but always include the two-word sentence "My family" as an explanation to why they can't get more involved, more random villagers turning out to be Darkfriends, more questions raised in my mind about how and when Ba'alzamon is capable of making telepathic contact with his minions.  In another inn, Rand suddenly falls ill with chills, then fever, then hallucinations, which go on for pages and tell us nothing about anything or anyone.  The woman who arrives to try to treat him also turns out to be a Darkfriend, who tries to murder Rand with a magic burning dagger, and Rand has to give the usual they-are-evil-but-we-are-not speech in order to keep Mat from killing her before they stagger away.

The chapter ends with them getting on the wagon that we saw them getting off in the first scene of this same chapter, which is basically a metaphor for this entire series and also the Sisyphean hell in which I have trapped myself.  It's not that this chapter was badly written at all, it had solid imagery and creepy stuff and I can legitimately feel the exhaustion that Our Heroes are forcing their way through.  The problem ain't that.  The problem is that we're on page 512 and this book is made of filler.

Next week: they make it to Caemlyn, but your guess is as good as mine whether anything actually happens there.