Pickup is not what YOU think it is, either

So I was stomping around the internet, inwardly fuming about gamer girls and sexism and the way lad’s mags constantly underestimate men, when I ran into this YouTube video which was advertized to me as “how to use a sex toy in public with no consequence” and “the boys from Simple Pickup do charity”. Okay, yeah; if you know me, you know that I abhor the mentality of PUA’s and the whole phenomenom in general – women are not goddamn puzzle games, guys! the cake is a lie – but their idea to donate the money to an organization that works to prevent female circumcision sounded good, so I decided to hold my horses for a bit and take a better look before raining fire on them on Facebook.

… Well. I should have remembered what my friends told me about putting unrealistic expectations on anything I find on the internet.

I’ll come back to that video later, but first I want to reply to the post one of the Simple Pickup guys wrote on their site in defense of their brand of pickup, Pickup is NOT what you think it is, and talk a little about the phenomenon in general.

For those of you who have spent the past couple of years on a retreat without internet and only recently rejoined the constantly connected corner of society, pickup artists (PUA’s) teach men how to pick up women because – and I wonder why nobody told me about this before letting me have my woman card – they have figured out The Surefire Techniques that will make women Just Crazy For You! In addition, their spiel usually includes encouraging stuff about how you’ll never get friendzoned again, how even the hottest girl is available to you if you know the right moves, and how you’ll learn how to be a Real Man who makes women weak at the knees instead of a Loser who’ll never get himself a girlfriend.

I know, I know.

Or actually, I don’t know, either. But let’s take a look at that post.

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Honor’s Lark by Rachel L. Hamm

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks to a friend, I got introduced to Choosy Bookworm (some of you might be familiar with a similar site, The Fussy Librarian) which provides subscribers with daily discount and even free ebook deals, the latter often in the form of a free copy in exchange for an honest review. Sure, I thought, I like ebooks (these days; I didn’t always) and discovering new authors via free copies for reviews benefits both the authors and me: the former get visibility and a review, the latter is forced to blog more often.

I signed up for a free copy of Rachel L. Hamm’s Honor’s Lark, the first book in The Lark Series, on Choosy’s site where the first twenty-five to request a copy get one – and what do you know, I did! The author gifted it to me via Amazon (introducing me to Kindle which makes highlighting and writing notes so easy, it’s a pleasure – so thanks for that!) and, upon discovering that the novel had come to life as a NaNoWriMo project, I really wanted to like it. Even though I’d run into the idea of soulmate marks in fanfiction, I wanted to see what an original story would do with it.

In a world where everyone is assigned a lifemate at birth by the Gods, thirty year-old Honor is still looking for hers. When her new boss, Sedric, points out that her mate probably died before they met, Honor embarks on a quest for closure. She needs to know who her mate was and what he was like so she can move on with her life.

Sedric is determined to help Honor, because he understands the emptiness she’s feeling. As they search for Honor’s lifemate and get to know each other, they start to wonder if the only kind of love is that which is fated and if there really is only one person for everyone.

If I had to sum up my review in one sentence, I’d say that Honor’s Lark is an alright book with an interesting premise and promising characters that needs more work in the writing and world-building departments. On a Goodreads scale, I’d give the book 2.5 stars: “it was okay” and a bit.

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Finncon 2013

Finncon is an annual Finnish SF&F convention in July that hosts a number of interesting discussion panels, SF&F related shows (this year there was heavy metal played on an electric kantele; we’re in Finland, alright). Finncon usually has several authors as Guests of Honour, as well as an artists’ alley, a second-hand book market and stands by SF&F publishers in the con bazaar. Admittance is free and all areas are accessible with a wheelchair. If you wish to support the con, you can do so by either volunteering as a gopher, or by buying con merchandise. More details on the official website.

Like I said to Wil, who attended with me and graciously tolerated my less-than-optimally-rested self, it felt so good to be among my own kind again! It’s been a few years since the last time Finncon was organised in Helsinki and I’ve missed the experience very, very much. We’ve got plans to attend next year’s con, too, which will be held in Jyväskylä. It’ll be my ten-year-anniversary with Finncon – and in the same city to boot!

After having read reports of women being harrassed at SF&F and gaming conventions in the States, I’m especially glad that Finncon always has a great atmosphere: relaxed and open to everyone regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. I was fourteen when I first attended, in a strange city and terribly nervous, but I felt welcome immediately upon entering the main area. Today it was more like… I don’t know, like coming home to people baking cookies shaped like the Star Trek emblem while they chat about writing fantasy fiction and the best video games this year.

Too Many Panels, Too Little Time

In a way, Finncon is like a music festival: you want to go see everything but many events overlap, so you need to decide whether you want to attend some panels for their entire duration or catch the beginning of one and the end of another (and a girl’s gotta eat, besides, but munching on an apple while someone else is talking is terribly impolite).

The official theme this year was ‘opposing forces’, which had been interpreted creatively but well! There were several panels on LGBT characters in fiction (such as mutantism in the X-Men comics being a metaphor for being homosexual), what e-books mean for the publishing industry, and how reading affects our minds and vice versa. I didn’t make it to as many panels as I wanted to – mainly because I’d masterfully organised my own house-warming party for Friday and slept very late on Saturday as a result – but the ones I did attend were fascinating and made me think, which is how I usually evaluate a panel discussion at a con.

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The Library Haul of November

Today was the first time in ages that I had the time and the energy to visit a library so, naturally, I dragged home two bags of books (though I admit that there was a box of chocolates taking up space in the other bag, so it’s not as bad as it sounds). Here is the curious library haul of 22 November, complete with brief first impressions!

Fiona Giles (ed.): Dick for a Day (Indigo, 1998)
A collection of short essays by female writers on the subject of What Would You Do If You Had A Dick For A Day, something we’ve all wondered at one point or another, surely. Personally, I’d probably be too busy demonstrating my grasp of Klatchian vocabulary to get much else done with the newly-discovered changes in the trouser department, but I’m curious about other people’s take on the situation. Includes authors such as Germaine Greer, Patricia Cornwell, Vicki Hendricks, Poppy Z. Brite and Isadora Alman.

Guy Delisle: A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013)
What can I say, I like books about how not to have children.1 Delisle’s style reminded me of both Hugleikur Dagsson’s comics and the ingenious Bunny Suicides books by Andy Riley, which is another reason I picked it. In fact, the cover features a dad reading his book while the kid in the background is reaching for a plugged-in clothes iron. What could go wrong?

A. S. Byatt: Ragnarok – The End of the Gods (Canongate, 2011)
It’s the end of the world as we know it! Or not, I’m not sure. For the main character, a little girl in the middle of World War 2, it sure seems like it; when someone gives her a copy of Norse mythology, she draws comfort from the stories of Ragnarök. Or that’s how I interpreted the story based on the covers. I’ve been interested in mythology since I was a kid, and WWII since I read I Will Bear Witness; a combination of the two should make for an interesting read.

Linda Castillo: Gone Missing (Macmillan, 2012)
The name rang a bell and lo! Castillo’s novel is… indeed… not on my to read-list on Goodreads. Oh well, I always enjoy a good thriller, never mind whether or not I’ve heard about it beforehand. Teenagers gone missing, female protagonist, hidden dark secrets, head-to-head with a dangerous serial killer, blah blah blah. It sounds a little too clichéd to me but the back cover convinced me to give it a try.

Kathryn Fox: Blood Born (Hodder, 2009)
Hodder’s thriller line has such distinct covers, I can guess the publisher 80% of the time. This one’s a “medical thriller” where a pair of killers – brothers, by the way – has murdered a teen and (accidentally, I’m guessing) left her younger sister alive, so it’s the forensic pathologist protagonist’s job to collect the evidence and get them behind bars. Except, you know. The brothers are less on board with that idea.

Patrick McGrath: Asylum (Penguin Books, 1997)
This one’s about a guy who becomes the deputy superintendent of a hospital for the criminally insane – that is Kay, hooked, for you – and then his wife goes and falls in love with a patient. I expect to be shouting at this book a lot because I’m more in it for the mental hospital than the drama, and a character who falls in love with a criminally insane guy… well.

Italo Calvino: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (Vintage, 1998)
There was a fanfic that I read and really liked that’s titled the same, which is why this one caught my attention – and then the back cover promised me some kind of a reader-fiction-reality meta extravaganza. “A reader goes into a bookshop to buy a book: not any book, but the latest Calvino, the book you are holding in your hands. Or is it? Are you the reader? Is this the book? Beware.” Sold!

The cover for Stalking SusanJulie Kramer: Stalking Susan (Piatkus, 2010)
An investigative reporter gets wind of a possible serial killer who targets women named Susan, killing one every year on the same day. I’m a little apprehensive about the fact that apparently the reporter’s TV career is somehow mixed up in all this, because that plotline can go messy faster than I run to the fridge during a commercial break. I like the cover of this book, though, it’s the kind of graphic design that I’m drawn to.

Jane Sanderson: Netherwood (Sphere, 2011)
A period novel in the vein of Downton Abbey, the story is about the snobby dipshits who live above stairs and the witty, resourceful staff that lives below stairs. There may be romance involved – not sure – but there’s definitely the help snarking back at the employers by way of pie, apparently. I recall Wil once mentioning that one of her pet peeves is a period novel that has no mention of when it’s supposed to take place. The layman I am when it comes to period fiction, I wouldn’t even know Netherwood was set in Britain if not for the Downton Abbey comparison.2

Jim Crace: Quarantine (Penguin Books, 1997)
I’m all for dystopias. I assumed that the word ‘quarantine’ meant ‘dystopia’ but in this case, it’s four guys wandering into the Judean desert to improve their souls by fasting, and they run into Satan who, according to the back cover blurb, is on his way to tempt this one Galilean guy who can allegedly work miracles and is observing his fast on the other side of the desert. Heck, I’ve lately been on a Judeo-Christian mythology splurge anyway; why not.

Dan Simmons: Flashback (Quercus, 2011)
The first (and so far only) novel by Dan Simmons that I’ve read is Song of Kali which seriously disturbed and horrified me, and of course I love it to bits. This time the setting is a future – America in the year 2036 – where the world is in ruins and people resort to a drug called flashback to relive happier moments in their past. The protagonist is an ex-cop and a flashback addict called Nick whose memories are bought by a Japanese magnate, and it turns out that Nick’s flashbacks may well be the key to solving the biggest case of his life (naturally) – only, that case was the murder of the magnate’s son. Shit, meet fan.

the cover for Aitoa peliäJustina Robson: Aitoa peliä [“Real Game”, orig. Keeping It Real] (Jalava, 2013)
Humans, demons, elves, elementals, oh my! A quantum explosion has changed Earth irrevocably, as nowadays you get special agents who are technologically enhanced, half-cyborg AIs, and elvish rockstars called Zal.3 Um. Not necessarily my cup of tea as the back cover advertises Aitoa peliä as a mix of science fiction, fantasy, agent novel and chick-lit. It’s the last one that concerns me most since I suspect that I may be a tad older than the intended audience of this book.

Muriel Barbery: Kulinaristin kuolema [“The Death of a Culinarist”, orig. Une gourmandise] (Gummerus, 2011)
I’ve mentioned that I love Tuomas Vimma’s Gourmet, right, the novel full of French cuisine and expensive food stuffs? Barbery’s book is about a French restaurant critic who, on his deathbed, thinks back to the more or less savoury experiences of his life. I have no idea if it’s actually the kind of book I’d like, but it’s relatively short so I’ll give it a try.

Jani Saxell: Unenpäästäjä Florian [“Florian the Dream Deliverer”] (Avain, 2010)
I mainly picked this one up because the name intrigued me. An old Finnish word for midwife is ‘lapsenpäästäjä’ and it can be literally translated as “the one who lets (out) [delivers] the child”. The book’s title connects dreams to the word ‘lapsenpäästäjä’, which piqued my curiosity. The author has crammed into one book 1) commentary on Finnish immigration politics, 2) commentary on the situation of the Romanian Roma people, and 3) a dystopian science fiction future where Europe is becoming void of dreams thanks to people called dream deliverers. It sounds ambitious in the way Jan Salminen’s Äidinmaa did, and that one ultimately disappointed me, so I’m not sure what to expect from Unenpäästäjä Florian.

Tuuli Hypén: Nanna 3 (Arktinen Banaani, 2012)
Nanna is comic about the titular character, an urban fox who lives in a shared flat with other girls, studies in the local university and hangs out with her human and more-or-less human friends. I love the humour of Nanna that focuses on the student life, living in Finland and the life of a young woman in the city.

1 Arguably, this could also mean that I find such riveting epochs as A Beginner’s Guide to Anal Sex and How To Blow His Mind interesting; I don’t.
2 A quick googling revealed that the novel is set in the early 20th century. Thank you for the context, dear Goodreads reviewer.
3 See what I did there?

28 Hours Later

Most zombie flicks I’ve seen are American, and most zombies I’ve seen are the result of a virus of some sort that’s more or less accidentally released amidst the general population. Usually the infection makes everyone ravenous for human flesh and gives them unnatural strength and the eyes of a serious caffeine junkie in withdrawal. Well, nothing wrong with that, I say! To each their own. Personally I prefer my zombies undead, merrily groaning and shambling head-first into the same stretch of the garden fence over and over again.1

WARNING: spoilers ahead.

28 Days Later & 28 Weeks Later

To be honest, I didn’t even remember that the 28 films are set in London before Jim (Cillian Murphy) stumbles out of a hospital and (metaphorically) runs smack-dab into a red telephone box. This is a recurring theme throughout both films, the camera focusing on iconic British landscapes and goods to make sure that the audience doesn’t forget where they are.

Once the largely unsurprising trek to discover Jim’s dead parents is over, Selene (Naomi Harris) exhibits common sense and apparent emotional coldness when she kills Mark (Noah Huntley; a brief role but well played) without hesitation after he gets bit. While badass in the beginning, the only female character in the film2 veers into the realm of stereotypes later when Selene tells Jim that he was right and the trek through the Infected world is better with company than alone, revealing that what do you know, she does care after all! Yawn.

In fact, as far as gender is concerned, the film doesn’t treat either female or male characters very well. The soldiers at the Manchester base all turn into mindless, rutting beasts when the cat is out of the bag after their chillingly pragmatic leader (Christopher Eccleston) confesses to Jim that he could only maintain the spirits of his men by promising them women. Soon after, there is a dire life-and-death situation going on as zombies storm the base, and all everyone can think of is catching a little nookie before they get eaten (and not the fun way, either). Never mind that their potential partners are A) not willing, B) a kid, C) all of the above, and that you’d expect soldiers to be able to prioritize.

Jim, Selene and Hannah escape once all the other characters have been brutally slaughtered – because family symbolism is important! – and at the end of 28 Days Later, they are staying in an abandoned house in what I can only assume passes as iconic country-side for the British. At the sound of a distant aircraf, they rush to spread out a giant HELLO-message, sewn together from clothes and sheets and what other fabrics they’ve managed to scrounge up, and presumably are rescued though we never hear from them again.3

What never, ever fails to crack me up is the very last line of the film, spoken by the pilot of the aircraft. Someone, for some reason, decided that the pilot should be Finnish and when he asks HQ to send some helicopters to pick up the survivors, he sounds so wonderfully blasé about it that I can’t help but laugh. (Plus that suddenly hearing “Lähetätkö helikopterit (could you send the choppers)?” is a bit of a shock to the system after all that Britishness because just, what.)

*

Whereas 28 Days Later was a beautifully shot and tragic depiction of a society that has collapsed during a catastrophe and has no real happy ending in sight, 28 Weeks Later is… stupid. The characters make irrational decisions for no good reason, act like they’ve been dropped to the middle of a filming set from the local coffee shop with the smell of caffe latte still lingering in their nostrils, and eventually refuse to die despite being worthy of an (undead, shambling) Darwin Award.

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