starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
I went to see this 90-minute stinker when I was in London last month--it was a world premiere, it was at the Royal Opera House, tickets were cheap, the dude who wrote it had gotten high praise before, what could go wrong? 

Well, the first 30 minutes of the opera contained no singing. It was literally some old dude--who never recurred in the production--blathering on about boring shit alone onstage for the first 30 minutes. The cast did eventually start singing, in German which made it somewhat better, but it was still so boring. The old guy turns out to have been the father of the main character, who in the interim has become an old guy who's died but doesn't realize it. The Sixth Sense this was not, let me tell you, and I really wish I'd had the courage to walk out after an hour as a few other people did. The singing was competent, and I recognize this is one of the pitfalls of new music, but this was by far the worst opera I've ever seen.

starlady: A can of gravity from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (in emergency break seal)
Einstein on the Beach. Robert Wilson and Philip Glass. Performed by Pomegranate Arts.

I didn't used to like Philip Glass. I distinctly remember watching Koyaanisqaatsi for a high school class (yes, that basically sums up my high school right there) and hating the music. But, like many Glass devotees, I had a conversion experience - specifically, I saw Dennis Russell Davies conduct the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in the American premier of the "Tirol Concerto" for piano and orchestra in my senior year of high school and I very clearly remember nearly being brought to tears by the music. Which, for all that I love music, and consciously use it to deal with and express my own inner life and emotions, is not actually something that happens to me very much. And I have loved Glass ever since (although I am sympathetic to the argument that some of his output, particularly as his career has gone on and his influences have gone past him, can get shtick-y).

All of which is to say that I jumped at the chance to see Glass' monumental opera when I heard that it was coming to Berkeley, and I was not disappointed.

I'm still not sure what to say to the question, "What is it about?" I saw the opera. I sat there for all but III.3b, when I went out to the lobby and ate my quiche for dinner and watched via the CCTV, and despite all this I'm still not sure what the opera's actually about. I read the Wikipedia article and it made sense after what I saw, I can say that much.

People call this opera "monumental," and I agree that it's probably something that just has to be experienced, like a wave rolling over you. It was exhilarating, thrilling, magical in some respects - particularly when, around the end of the second act, I started to realize the structure of the opera and how it fit together and suddenly was getting 100% more out of it. It's minimalism, and in particular Philip Glass minimalism, so in retrospect it seems completely natural that the opera lasts four and a half hours: it couldn't last less, because everything proceeds by incremental variation over time. So you'll be sitting there, paying attention, but then suddenly you'll realize that something has started to change, and it's nothing short of…astonishing.

The performances were stellar, particularly the lighting and the singing and the violinist in the Einstein wig. (I guess she was supposed to be Einstein? It makes sense.) Fantastic.

Anyway. I saw it with someone who'd seen it two nights in a row, which is a bit too intense an experience than I would want to have, but I'm so glad I did go see it. Fantastic. Amazing. Mind-blowing.

Attila

Aug. 6th, 2012 11:29
starlady: "I can hear the sound of empires falling." (burning empires)
Attila. Music by Giuseppe Verdi. Dir. Gabriele Lavia

I got a bunch of opera tickets from my friend C in advance of her leaving the Bay Area, and this was one of the performances that I wouldn't have otherwise seen. Like any fan of opera I love Verdi, but I haven't seen a ton of his operas, and I was surprised at how much I liked this one. It's remarkable in that the most sympathetic character in the opera is its antihero, who is beset by perfidious Romans left, right, and center, although I also really liked the fearless Odabella, who decides to avenge herself on Attila for the sake of her vanquished city, and won't take no from any man for an answer on that respect.

This production was distinguished by being, evidently, much less Orientalist than the last time the SFO did this opera, in 1991. Hooray for less exoticism in opera! I also really loved the positive decision this production made, which was to stagger the historical setting in each of the three acts: the first takes place in a recognizably late antique, end-of-the-Roman-empire setting, while the second takes place in a ruined theater of the mid-19thC (viva Verdi! Vive l'empereur!), and the third shifts the scene to a movie theater of the fascist era, with clips of classic Hollywood movies featuring Attila on loop in the background. This is the kind of stuff that I eat up with a spoon, and like I said, I absolutely loved it. I have to admit, though, that I was totally tickled, eavesdropping on my fellow operagoers on our way back to the BART, to hear them saying that they loathed it and in particular were distracted by the movie montage. If you can't pay attention to Verdi's music because of a movie montage, I question whether you should be attending a Verdi opera.

Oddly enough, I thought the opera did a fairly credible job of conveying the chaos and scrambled loyalties that the end of the Roman empire in western Europe involved and engendered. And Odabella, though I find her kind of morally questionable, is a BAMF.
starlady: roy in the sunset at graveside (no rest for the wicked)
Nixon in China. Opera by John Adams, libretto by Alice Goodman. Dir. Michael Cavanagh.

I went with my friend L, who does modern Chinese history, to see this at San Francisco Opera last Friday night. I really, really liked it; in some ways I think it is one of my favorite operas of all.

The plot, such as it is, concerns Nixon's epochal February 1972 visit to China, and along with Nixon the other main characters are Zhou Enlai, Nixon's wife Pat, Mao Zedong himself, his wife Jiang Qing, and that modern byword for pragmatism and power politics, Nixon's avowed right hand man, Henry Kissinger. The opera and the arias within it move generally from mock-heroic grandstanding to the more personal, ambiguous inner worlds of the characters, and I basically loved it from start to finish.

There's an old Vulcan proverb: only Richard Nixon could go to China. )

Bonus unpopular opera opinion: I don't like Jun Kaneko productions. I just don't. They always look like cheap Mondrian knockoffs and I never find that that particular aesthetic adds anything to the opera I'm seeing. If I want Mondrian I will go to the freaking MOMA, not to the opera house.
starlady: Hei poised to strike at sunset (sunset before the fall)
Giacomo Puccini. Turandot. 1926. (Last duet and finale by Franco Alfano.) Dir. Garnett Bruce, production & design by David Hockney.

I had a last-minute chance to see this opera with [personal profile] via_ostiense recently, and it's the best $21 (oh, the vertiginous cheap seats of the War Memorial Opera House) I've spent in a while. Puccini is of course one of the opera greats, but I'd neither seen nor played this opera, and neither the music nor the production disappoint. The music in particular is spectacular, and so were the performances.

The opera is ostensibly set in China, where the eponymous Princess Turandot, remembering the rape of her ancestress, has declared that to win her hand suitors must answer three riddles correctly; to answer wrongly merits instantaneous execution. The opera opens with the execution of the Prince of Persia for his failure, mirrored by the decision of the overthrown prince of the Tartars, Calaf, to succeed where many others have failed.

So, yeah, obviously, there's a lot of scope for Orientalist fail in this opera, but this production largely managed to avoid it, I think--there were a few random dudes in Speedos standing around at points, but apparently the production designer has a penchant for random naked or nearly-naked guys in his productions, so. Also, it's the first time I've ever seen a production of an opera understand that only the emperor gets to wear yellow.

The thing is, this opera isn't actually about China at all. It's based on an 18thC French fairy tale (if you thought to yourself that the plot has shades of The Merchant of Venice, you're not wrong) and it's refracted through the shattering experience of World War I, with the result that "China" is a multi-layered commentary on Europe, and what Europe has lost (everything), more than anything else. The music reflects this; from the very beginning it's grand, harsh, strident, despairing, damned, and the libretto knows it. There are shades of beauty and humor--the character of Liù, the young slave of Calaf's father Timur, who stays by Timur out of love for Calaf; the trio of Ping, Pang, and Pong, whose costuming in this production aptly reflected their genealogy of commedia dell'arte by way of Peking opera; the soaring glory of Calaf's aria "Nessun dorma" at the beginning of the third act--but the core of the plot is a story about a world that has already suffered an apocalypse, and in which people are simply trying to pick up the pieces. It's no coincidence that the libretto directly equates the beautiful, implacable Turandot with Death at multiple points, or that the dead speak directly to Calaf at times. He doesn't hear them, because he's wandered in from some other century, some other, happier story, and is willfully oblivious.

Puccini died before he could finish the opera; one suspects that there was no way he could resolve his own sentimental desire for a happy ending and the fact that he knew better, viz. the inevitable plot he had already laid down, which culminates in Liù's suicide to save Calaf (handily exposing Calaf not as a noble man in love but as an arrogant ass blinded by his lust for power, and for Turandot). The tacked-on Franco Alfano ending brings the plot to a conclusion only by some unseen deus ex machina, in which Turandot suffers, implausibly, a complete change of heart. One suspects, however, that given how the people of Peking were willing to torture innocent people to save their own skins from Turandot's edicts, that nothing will ever be quite right again, farcical resolution notwithstanding. The tension is irreconcilable, the two parts incommensurable. There's no way to make right what came before, and the future's anything but assured.
starlady: headphones on top of colorful buttons (music (makes the people))
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Don Giovanni. Dir. Gabriele Lavia, produced by the San Francisco Opera.

Thanks to [personal profile] troisroyaumes, my roommate N and I got to see this production of Don Giovanni at the SFO recently, and all in all we enjoyed it quite a lot. Thanks, Tari!

My one prior exposure to DG was through my college "Great Conversation" program ("the Great Con," we called it, meaning the pun), in which we watched a recording of a La Scala performance, and I have to admit, my experience of that production definitely structured my expectations for this show, with the SFO production coming off not quite as well. To word, in my mind Don Giovanni the man is a ruthless, titanic, Byronic figure (we've all read Byron's "Manfred," yes?), and Lucas Meacham in the title role just didn't bring that outsized grandiosity to the role. He was good, don't get me wrong, but particularly in the final scene, I was expecting, and didn't get, far more passion and…grandeur? Sublimity, in its purest Romantic sense?

Anyway, there's more to DG than Giovanni the man, and I was pleased to see that my two favorite characters, Donna Elvira (Serena Farnocchia) and Leporello (Marco Vinco), were more than well done by: both of them, but particularly Leporello, more or less stole the show, which is only fitting as without Leporello the opera would be more or less unendurable, given that it's a constant parade of dub- and non-con situations. On that note, the peasant couple of Zerlina and Masetto were excellently played as well, and the aristocratic non-entities Donna Anna and Don Ottavio were also well-served.

N had never been to the opera before, and all in all I think DG is a pretty good introductory opera, in that it straddles the line between comedy and tragedy but, unlike just about every other tragic opera I can think of, doesn't have a woman in the "character who dies" role: Donna Anna's father and Giovanni himself, in other words. SFO always has interesting production design, and this show didn't disappoint in that respect, though I have to confess that I found the main theme ("reflection") rather obscure in terms of its connections to the plot. From the director's note:

Man, in order to tell the story of his origin--his "essence"--uses myth. Myth tells the story of man's existence. Don Giovanni is a myth in which, as in a hall of mirrors, the essence of man is reflected: his desperate thirst for knowledge, freedom, and absolute solitude. This idea of reflection was the inspiration for our scenic design.

Yeah, whatever dude; whatever you thought, it didn't really work. The masculinist language in there obviously isn't a coincidence, either, though it says something that both N and I walked out of the opera house convinced that the opera's OTP is in fact Giovanni/Leporello. If it were a Yuletide fandom, that's what we'd request.
starlady: Irene Adler, winking, partially inked out (irene)
Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata.

As I've said before, I'm not innately a passionate devotee of most of the opera canon, but that doesn't mean I didn't leap at going to see the new (to the Met) production of this opera at the Met in New York when I was there in January. $24.50 rush tickets for the standing stalls in the back, hooray!

The opera concerns a Parisian courtesan who is dying of tuberculosis and the son of a wealthy bourgeois who loves her, and the conflict between true emotion and bourgeois morality that their love invokes. Quite frankly, all of this is interesting to me because it's based on the play La dame aux Camélias by Dumas fils, which was based on the novel he wrote about his experiences with the real-life courtesan Marie Duplessis, whose death broke his heart and who is now immortalized, in the second degree, in this opera. The less said about the bourgeois morality of everyone but Violetta, the better. 

What really enthralled me here, though, was the production, which is new and contemporary and done by Willy Decker and mostly stunning and beautiful (though I questioned the choice to have the props and the singers wearing the same floral chintz pattern in the second act, but I get that it is Symbolic), and Maria Poplavskaya, who sings Violetta and is--in some ways I would call Violetta the forerunner of Emilia in The Makropulos Case--thoroughly brilliant in the role. Violetta is a compelling character with great strength of will who makes her own choices, constrained though they are, and she's hugely sympathetic. I also liked the obvious but effective choice of having the Doctor on stage for the entire opera (the stage itself is angled and curved in a way I fail at describing, but is brilliant and used brilliantly), so that he becomes a personification of Death.
starlady: Irene Adler, winking, partially inked out (irene)
Vec Makropulos | The Makropulos Case. Opera by Leos Janácek, performed by the San Francisco Opera.

I really like opera, as an art form, but for various reasons my tastes in performance tend to run towards the 20thC, the contemporary, and things I haven't seen/have never played, which tends to bias me against most of the staple repertoire. Though I've played some Janácek, I'd never seen any of his operas, and I jumped at the chance to see this with two of my friends who are both big bel canto fans. It was nice seeing an opera with people who know more about its current scene than I do.

The other thing that I was bowled over by was how much I actually liked this opera. Normally I go and I enjoy the experience because I like opera, not because I love that opera in particular (the exception here being Tosca; I love Tosca, but even that I came by more intellectually than passionately). This opera, on the other hand, I was swept away by, even from the cheap seats way up in the rafters (the War Memorial Opera House lives up to its name; it feels like a mausoleum inside, but even the cheap seats have decent, if vertiginous, views).

It's no mystery to me why I liked it so much, either; the music is great, of course, but it's the story, and how the female character lives and dies (i.e. with agency), that really hit me. To wit, the opera takes place in Prague in the Roaring Twenties; on the day that the final judgment in a generations-old inheritance suit is about to be handed down, the famous opera singer Emilia Marty turns up in the lawyer Kolenaty's office, claiming both to have and to need crucial information in the case. It transpires that Emilia is the daughter of the court physician to Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, and that she gave the recipe for the philosopher's stone to her lover Baron Prus nearly a century ago; she needs to get the document back from Prus's heir, who is embroiled in a suit with Albert Gregor, the descendant of Emilia's illegitimate son by Prus. Particularly as played by Karita Mattila, Emilia is a titanic, entrancing figure who steamrolls over and enthralls everyone she meets, but the twentieth century and modernity (brilliantly symbolized by the giant illuminated clock keeping real time in the set) are wearing her out, and at the end she decides of her own volition not to take the stone again, but to die, and gives the recipe for the stone to the chorus singer Kristina, whose fiancé has killed himself for love of Emilia--and Kristina, of her own choice, burns it.

Or at least, she burns it in the libretto, but in this production, Kristina's father snatches it out of her hands and the men gathered around Emilia's deathbed light it on fire themselves, which for me was the one wrong note in this production (the sets and the performances are great). My friends L and W and I had a discussion about it on the way back to the BART, and L proposed it as a directorial fillip commenting on the fact that in the 1920s women's social agency was nowhere as great as it was thought to be, especially compared to now--in the program it specifically mentions Kristina burning the recipe, which suggests that Olivier Tambosi, the director, added it after the program went to press. Rationally I suppose I can buy that, but I don't find it emotionally satisfying at all. Regardless, this was a fantastic opera with a stellar production.
starlady: headphones on top of colorful buttons (music (makes the people))
On Thursday I went to see Willibald Cristoph Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice at the Perelman Hall of the Kimmel Center, performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Apparently the version presented was actually Hector Berlioz's mid-19thC recension of Gluck's original Italian and later French versions of the opera into one four-act piece. I really liked the production and the three main performers (all women, though only one role is female in the libretto) were all excellent. I can see why the opera itself is seldom performed, however.

Orpheus in the underworld, Eurydice in Elysium )
starlady: the philosopher's garden (obligatory china icon)
So I went with [livejournal.com profile] kwviola to see the Opera Company of Philadelphia put on Tan Dun's Tea: A Mirror of Soul at the Academy of Music on Sunday. It was…hmm. On one level, I really liked it. On another, it was unlike any other opera I've seen in ways both great and strange. K talked about it (including the story of the percussionists trying out their drums--clay pots--in Home Depot during the snowstorm) here at her journal.

Tea was commissioned for the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, where it premiered in 2002. It tells the story of Prince Seikyo of Japan, who asks for the hand of Princess Lan of China and who must journey with her in search of the 茶經/茶经/Chajing/Book of Tea in order to prove the prince her brother's claim to possess the book a lie.

As one can hopefully guess from even this brief summary, the plot is a rich melange of Chinese and Japanese history, actual cultural artifacts (the Chajing really was written by a monk named Lu Yu in the eighth century CE), opera tropes, and literary quotations, principally from The Journey to the West. Needless to say I enjoyed very much that Seikyo narrates the story from a temple in Kyoto, and for the most part I was able to let the willful anachronism of mixing high Tang in China with the rise of the culture of tea and of Zen in Japan, which didn't really take off until the medieval period (sidenote: most of what's commonly called "traditional" Japanese culture is medieval in origin; the Heian period is doubly distant from the contemporary era), slide. (Needless to say, [livejournal.com profile] kwviola and I kept up a running string of Saiyuki jokes during the pre-performance opera talk.)

After this tea, home.  )

Afterward we had sushi at Raw and gelato at Capogiro. I can't recommend Capogiro highly enough. And I really want to see Chinese opera--particularly Peking opera, though there are many other regional styles.

If anyone has an extra ticket for the OCP/Curtis production of Barber's Antony and Cleopatra this month, talk to me.
starlady: (Rick Roll'd!)
My friend S and I went to see the Metropolitan Opera put on Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" in the movie theatre last week, as part of the Met's cinecast series. I'm not sure when the production was from--I think this past season--but it was very good. The cameras are situated right near the stage, so that it's quite easy to see the expressions of the singers; I think it's partly that visibility that made the opera so funny--I tend to prefer tragic or dramatic operas, but this one really was laugh-out-loud funny at times, despite the vaguely skeevy plotline. Also, as S commented, the Met performers are just good: they're stellar at singing (and particularly the people playing Figaro and Count Almaviva stood out in that respect) but they're also really good at acting. I wouldn't say it's the case that other operas I've seen have lacked acting chops on the part of the cast, but unsurprisingly everyone in the Met company seemed good at both. Like a U2 concert, the Met stage loops out into the audience, around the orchestra, which adds another wrinkle of dramatic possibility. My one relatively minor complaint is that the camera angles don't always allow one to choose where one looks--there were a few times when I would have liked to be able to watch Figaro, since he was hilarious, the real spirit of the play, as opposed to whomever the cameras were following, but again, a minor complaint. The crowd in the theater was fairly lively and into it too, which is always nice. I'm definitely going to keep this series in mind as a good way to expand my opera experience.

On Saturday my sister and I went to a pool party concert in the round with Dan Deacon, No Age, and Deerhunter at the Flying W in Medford--it's a private club and airstrip with its own airplane-shaped pool, and the draught beer was only $4 (there are advantages to being out in the boonies beyond the natural setting). All in all it was pretty damn amazing: we laid around on the grass and went swimming in the pool and ate veggie burgers and funnel cake and spiked water ice until the evening, when the bands set up and started playing--I told Dan Deacon that I liked his sparkly hat, and my sister got a picture with the lead singer of Deerhunter. Dan Deacon ensconced himself in the wooden playset (there were people swinging on the swings while he played, and people climbing halfway up the playset to crowdsurf), No Age set up poolside, and Deerhunter took over a portion of the wooden patio. I literally stood for almost the whole set (which was three hours long) two feet behind Deerhunter's drummer. There were small planes taking off and landing on the airstrip the whole time. All in all it was pretty damn amazing, and a lot of fun. My sister has played Dan Deacon (he of the corn-burning bus, which sadly was not in evidence) for me before, but it wasn't until I heard him live that I really got the appeal of his music (and he can get a crowd of jamming semi-drunk people to do his bidding, which is pretty cool). Deerhunter were pretty damn awesome too (though the singer is way too thin. apparently he's a vegan who doesn't eat tofu, which explains his near-skeletal appearance), definitely my favorite of the six bands (three opening acts) that played. The whole "round robin" concert concept is pretty cool; I'd definitely go see others like that.

All this was only $12, mind you, + a $2.50 surcharge, which leads me into this consideration of concert ticket prices, and what's wrong with them, in this week's New Yorker--or rather to the author talking about it on Fresh Air, since the article itself is subscriber-only.
starlady: (utena myth)
I point everyone who feels so inclined/capable to [livejournal.com profile] adoptingcat. Personally, I await with great interest [livejournal.com profile] yuki_onna's new YA book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Craft of Her Own Making, which debuts on Monday, and for which I do plan to contribute some $$, since I am (for the time being, DV) employed.

I went with my friend [livejournal.com profile] kwviola to see The Rape of Lucretia last night. The production was excellent, the cast likewise, and Benjamin Britten's music is beautiful. The libretto, though, makes a few false steps (particularly night's "oatmeal slippers." No, I'm not making that up. Oatmeal slippers. WTF), and, aside from its relentless heteronormativity (which I suppose is not really a fair complaint to make about opera. But, come on, I'm sorry, someone somewhere has got to be writing a great melodramatic gay opera. Wouldn't that be interesting, too, Y/Y?), I found the whole "frame-chorus" device to be really odd--the Chorus are a Christian man and woman who are literally between the audience and the actors, both in time and spatially. This production actually had a weird psychosexual dynamic going on between Tarquinius and the male Chorus, though I think that's at least partly in the libretto, since the Chorus eggs Tarquinius on, or is the Chorus merely voicing Tarquinius' thoughts? It's impossible to say for sure; both options remain valid. But after Lucretia is raped the Chorus sings about Christ's pain, and I sat there thinking, "Um, it's Lucretia's pain that really bothers me! Jesus can take care of himself!" And then of course she kills herself.

Yeah, it's a disturbing opera to say the least, and not even because the librettist clearly had no qualms about mixing up historical facts to fit whatever sounded good. Junius, Tarquinius and Collatinus set up Lucretia as a paragon of Roman womanhood in the first scene, and then Tarquinius, the Etruscan Prince of Rome, desires to assert his own power over the Romans by seducing Lucretia, and then after Tarquinius rapes her, Junius uses her rape as a springboard to anti-Etrsucan revolution and his own political gain. Politics is performed on women's bodies regardless of their consent, and even Collatinus tells Lucretia that what she "has given can be forgiven" when she didn't give anything. Ugh.
starlady: (plenipotentiary)
Spike and I were putting the recyclables out Thursday night and said to each other, "Is something burning?" It smelled like it, and the entire neighborhood was smoky too. The next morning it was still smoky, and foggy, and we turned on KYW to find out why--it's from the forest fire down Route 206. I can still smell it intermittently on the breeze.

We went to see "Fidelio" at the Academy of Music last night, with dinner at The Continental first. Spike had the crab pad thai, which tasted far too much of peppers, so we wound up splitting our entrees, but dessert of cotton candy for her and raspberry truffle brownie for me made it all better. The beer of the month was excellent, too--an oktobrfest. As for "Fidelio," I can see why it isn't performed very often, despite being Beethoven's only opera. The music is grand, but the plot is pretty thin, even for opera, and there's just not much drama in it. Despite that, it's still possible to see a lot of the cultural and theological tendencies in early 19th century German cultural products that led straight into Wagner and Nietschze. In some ways my favorite character was Rocco, the gaoler--if nothing else, I think he's the one closest to the audience in terms of sympathies. Everyone else is sort of one-dimensional. This production was co-designed by the artist Jun Kaneko, and while it was quite interesting (people wearing assymetrical, Mondrian-ish clothing, the set divided into two black and white grid-halves), I don't think it was quite as fascinating as it's been played up to be. Still, much love for the OCP, and at only $10 a ticket, it was well worth it. I'm looking forward to "Turandot" in Februrary.

I've been on a mini-David Weber kick this week. I was originally thinking about possibly selling my Honor books, since I probably have most of them essentially memorized (this is true of many books I own. I do essentially have a photographic memory), but then I started re-reading them and decided that on balance they are too good to sell, particularly since I have first editions of all of them and I hate the new covers for the older books. Today I went out and bought At All Costs and The Shadow of Saganami at the book trader in Old City. I admit it bothers me that there don't seem to be any gay people in the forty-second century, and of course standard English will be quite different in the future too, and it's funny to think that from one perspective the books essentially endorse polygamous marriages, albeit with reservations, but all in all they're rollicking good stories. I'm looking forward to Storm from the Shadows and Mission of Honor. Those who like space opera, or Horatio Hornblower, or the Napoleonic Wars, would do well to check them out.

Bonus: Fivethirtyeight.com's analysis of New Jersey! As a native New Jerseyan, and a resident of this state for all but one of my trips around the sun, I have to disagree with some of the points in the piece (particularly the description of New Jersey as "maverick-y." I'm telling you, it all makes sense if you live here), and I think the writer underballed our willingness to be assholes to another (if this state had a state pasttime, it would be tailgaiting people on the highway). All in all, though, I was surprised at how Republican the writer characterized the state. There are Republicans here; they tend to fall in to two groups: those who drive pickups and have rifles and Confederate flags and live in the Pine Barrens, colloquially known as Pineys, and those (like those who live in my town) who are rich and white and suburban and scared and drive Hummers and SUVs. But both these groups tend to concentrate in South Jersey, while the north of the state is essentially blue, which of course is why the south gets screwed for state spending. But in the end, New Jersey is full of liberals (particularly liberals who identify as independents, as my parents and I did until this election), which is not a point I felt the writer made particularly strongly.

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