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Highly relevant to my tiny fandom interests, exhibits one and two. We’re officially ready to start writing the actual Alliance Rising book, and along with it, we’re going to put Finity’s End into Closed-Circle. That’s a hundred or so years on…some of the same bunch. It's a little fuzzy which end of canon the new novel is set in, and I don't care, I'd cheerfully read anything Alliance-Union. Can it be publication time now?
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Jhegaala (Steven Brust) (2007): Vlad Taltos visits his homeland while on the run from the Organization. This wasn't the book I expected (road trip with personal development and witty Jhereg). If it developed the "transformation" theme associated with the title, it was the transformation of the village Vlad visits, which I wasn't as invested in. The window dressing was very nice - reasonably interesting secondary characters, plot that didn't completely implode when prodded with a logic-stick - but I built up some anticipation based on the time-line skip between Phoenix and Athyra which wasn't fulfilled here.

A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge) (1992): Reread. Space opera. The only countermeasure to a threat engulfing all high FTL civilizations is carried with a handful of sapients on one ship, the Out of Band II, and two children at the bottom of the FTL zone.

As usual, memory plays tricks. The "Net of a Thousand Lies" so strongly conjures usenet, my memory recalls more of it than is actually present ("hexapodia as key insight"), overlaying my subscriptions circa 199. I also forgot the horrific deaths of the Straumer children, what a brat Johanna was (in those circumstances? It was understandable brattiness), what a prick Pham Nuwen was, and how all of this came together in a riveting space opera. The "fun space opera" bit stuck. I think I had more thoughts on this, but they have been subsumed into...

The Children of the Sky (Vernor Vinge) (2011): Sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep; Tines' World after the Straumers and Out of Band II.

This book wins on raw entertainment. It's coherently written in clear prose about a fairly black and white moral dilemma. People are good or villains or misguided, and the misguided are redeemed. This is not a subtle novel. (One could argue that Nevil's wickedness is influenced by Recent Events, but that's not particularly subtle.)

Spoiler-cut. )

Amdijefri was my favorite part of Fire; Joanna and Ravna got to be rock stars in Children. This is more about personal taste than writing quality, I think. I am not a fan of traveling circus troupes, but I'm a sucker for tough girls and politics.

A Deepness in the Sky (Vernor Vinge) (1999): Reread; Pham Nuwen's Adventures in the Slowness. The first time I read this I missed the setup for the translators' revolt, so this time I tried to read closely for those clues.

Spoilers. )

At first, I hadn't planned to reread this, since I was pretty sure the library didn't have a paperback edition, and I had no plans to stuff a 700-page hardcover into my commute bag. (The commute bag is a Timbuk2 Classic Messenger, size small, awesome as long as the train reading is trade or mass market paperback.) So I was pleased to discover that Deepness benefited from being at the end of the alphabet during the last bookcase cull, and was on my shelf in paperback.

That was November. In December I started two nonfiction books, but didn't finish them; flipped through several Union-Alliance novels, and reread Heavy Time (1991) and Hellburner (1992) cover to cover. Heavy Time, about independent asteroid miners versus a large, corrupt, and bureaucratic corporation, has a resolution that is even more out of left field than most of Cherryh's novels, which is I guess what happens when your protagonists high cards are a salvaged miner-ship and Ben Pollard, part-time hacker and full-time pain in the neck. Hellburner is comfort reading for me. The rest of my December reading time was taken up with professional journals.

Numbers game: 6 total finished. 2 new, 4 reread; 6 fiction.
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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich): Strong entry-level feminism primer. If I were trying to do a women's history or women's studies 101 , I'd love to stick this on the book list and cherry-pick case studies. The author coined the title phrase in a graduate paper on colonial women; in the prologue, she reflects on its separation from its original source.

Liked. )

I'd like this even more if there was more focus on the activism of the late 20th C, but that's out of Ulrich's academic focus. Instead I get many examples outside of my usual historical range, and read about women's history I would not have found on my own.

The Gate of Ivrel (C. J. Cherryh): The themes you don't notice when you're 17 are the most telling when you're 27. Vanye kills his brother, refuses to commit honorable suicide, is exiled and symbolically shorn of his honor, and after two years dodging avenging clan-kin, refuses three offers to be welcomed into a family/social unit (Liell at Irien, Roh and the Chya, Erij on the road to Ivrel), and goes pelting after the woman he cursed for binding him at the beginning of the novel. What I didn't notice were the callbacks to really pulp-ish sword and sorcery; the two-sons-plus-one family dynamics (seriously, what was Vanye's dad thinking? I sense Author's Hand); how much of the novel various characters spend wounded; the body count. I was an innocent young woman.

The first time I read The Gate of Ivrel was around the same time I found The Best of C. L. Moore, so I was ready to draw Morgaine and Jirel comparisons; I wonder if I shouldn't have made a detour through Fritz Lieber or other fantasy novelists first. The setup reads now to me more like a young writer asking, "what if I took these pulp tropes, only I made the mighty leader a woman?" than a reaction to or conversation with Moore's stories.

White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (Carl Elliott): I cannot for the life of me remember why I put a hold on this. It's an op-ed. Elliott attacks big pharma with the passion of the disenchanted (MD-PhD now teaching bioethics; someone who's smart and organized) to the degree I find myself looking for elided facts, appeals to irreverent authority, appeals to the common man (aka the Jeff Winger Student President Debate speech), and other emotional tricks that obscure the fact I'm probably on Elliott's side. Stop trying to sway me with emotion and give me statistics, and highlight the potholes that are getting skipped to get the book finished. If, quoting Elliott quoting a Carnegie-Mellon study, "coming clean means playing dirty" (p94), what are his motives for writing this book? I finished this thin book with the reflection I wanted to read the original research, or better research on Elliott's examples, not re-written column pieces stitched into hardcover format.

The Midnight Mayor (The Inauguration of Matthew Swift) (Kate Griffin): Sequel to A Madness of Angels; urban fantasy with a high body count and not a phouka or unseelie court in the worldbuilding. Usually I don't find much entertainment in urban fantasy; there's too much love of the fantasy elements and not enough city love. This is not a problem in The Midnight Mayor: London is a character in its own right. Isn't there a lowbrow sci-fi novel where books come to life, embodied as the main character? And Dune is represented by, well, desert and sandworms? When Griffin's writing, London feels a bit like that: alive and sense-of-wonder in its own right. Since that's how I feel about San Francisco, I think this is the best thing ever.

Spoilers, book 2 and 3. This isn't a perfect novel, but I was entertained. )

"A Room of One's Own" (Virginia Woolf): Nonfiction. An essay which has been on my "to read" list for years. Woolf calls for the elevation of women in writing in a way that makes me think of a later woman's writing, and a progressive / reform political party formed of "the people that matter". If one were teaching Feminism and the Written Word 101, I'd have students read this, then read Audre Lorde's "Master's House" back to back, because Woolf's attiude is exactly what Lorde attacks. If all upper class women of the 1920's were this elitist and focused on their semi-bohemian artsy lives, I'm relieved to be long removed from that time and place.

And yet - without the Virginia Woolf, do you get Lois Bujold? Or many of the post-Woolf authors I like, female and male? Acknowledging both the contributions to a tradition and personal weaknesses in the same person is something I struggle with.

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book By Patton Oswalt: Nonfiction / essay / memoir of a high school D&D / sci-fi geek turned standup comedian, the sort of person who knows people who know that zombies can live underwater, they just don't like it (p98 HC). Oswalt grew up in Sterling, VA, part of the greater DC exurb tedium which I know from intimate personal experience. Title from essay of the same name, which is written in the language of my people: "Darth Vader is, essentially, a Zombie, born in a Wasteland, who works on a Spaceship." (p99) "The Matrix films are about a hero, Neo, who doesn't realize he is a Zombie, and also doesn't realize he's living in a Wasteland, until he's woken by Morpheus, who de-zombifies Neo by bringing him aboard a Spaceship." (p101) "Hey - why do heroes always "wander" the wasteland?" (p103). Light and funny, and sometimes sort of awful, as good comedy so often is.

Among Others (Jo Walton): Fiction: 15 year old Welsh girl at English boarding school, with a limp, a diary, a grievous family situation, and a yen for libraries. Plus or minus the fairies, this was my 1996. It's hard to say if I like Among Others over the feedback squeal; I had to keep reading or I wasn't sure I'd finish it. Some reviewers dislike the mish-mash of genres - boarding school, fantasy, semiautobiographgical mimetic, etc - which I'd say is part of the fun. The only genre stance the novel takes is falling on the fantasy side: in the book world, magic is real (and not very nice).

After skimming half of Paladin of Souls, I reread Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt. The pacing is terrifically uneven, the first half wending along asking "is this my plot? What about this?" and finally turning on Horseriver and the Wounded Woods. One gets the impression Ingrey would very much like this story to be about someone else, please, while he and Ijada neck in the back of the theater; fortunately for me, Ingrey is not the driving - writing - hand.

Numbers game: 8 total finished. 6 new, 2 reread; 4 fiction, 4 nonfiction.
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My brain is fried; instead of studying, book log.

Bone Dance (Emma Bull / [ profile] coffeeem): Sparrow, vodoun and the City. This came to my attention in a "gender in SF/F" context, an element which was played for characterization rather than questions of gender; or maybe for Sparrow's community identity rather than self identity. Eventually, I realized the vodoun elements weren't metaphorical; the metaphysical is real. It significantly changed how I was parsing the novel.

Bull's novels are well regarded by people whose reading tastes I broadly share, but I didn't love War for the Oaks, I've started Freedom and Necessity twice without making it past the first 30 pages, and I wasn't particularly taken with Bone Dance. Partly it was the mid-novel realization I was reading a story that wasn't in the book, but I may just not find much appeal in the writing strengths on display. I might reread Bone Dance again at some point, but I'm in no hurry.

Hestia (C. J. Cherryh): Sam Merritt, Earthborn engineer, builds a dam on colonial Hestia.

IIRC, this was a trunk novel, and it shows. ("Trunk novel": written and shoved in a trunk to be forgotten, usually for good reason.) Cherryh got much better at infusing depth into her writing and her fictional cultures, but in this novel the human-alien interactions are wincingly bad. Man meets exotic yet attractive cat-like alien woman and forges a cultural bridge. This reads like every Campbell-era short story ever - Merritt's an engineer! No one, not even the author, uses his first name, except the alien woman! - with a few surprises. Sam doesn't press forward with Campellian confidence, and the colonists win a place on Hestia by losing their civil engineering project. Adaptability, not aggression or applied technology, carries the day.

This is far weaker than most of Cherryh's novels, but prefigures a lot of the themes and characterization tools seen in later stories. The Jim-Sam-Meg relationship prefigures the "brother of chance"-protagonist-romantic love character-sets elsewhere, particularly the Rafe-Paul-Jillian triangle in Voyager in Night. Also, Jase-Bren-Jago, and Tristen-Cefwyn-Ninevrise, and I am deliberately skipping looser variations on the idea (cough Grant-Justin-Ari cough). The theme of single humans (especially men) as the bridge, and become more like the Other, crops up everywhere: Sten Duncan and the Mri; Elizabeth McGee and tower culture in 40,000 in Gehenna; the entire Foreigner series; Thorn in Cuckoo's Egg; to some degree Tully and the hani. I enjoyed playing the trope game, but I'd never hand it to someone without significant screening and warnings.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Isabel Wilkerson): One of the "NPR reads", books that get good press and 200 person waitlists for library copies. It's justified: The Warmth of Other Suns raises the profile of the movement of African-Americans from the rural South to Northern cities. It also frames the migration in terms of extra-American immigrants, asking about the psychology of the urban newcomers, as well as the different challenges, especially racism, faced by black American nationals. Engaging, easy read; Wilkerson sometimes repeats information, which I found irritating, but it's useful for re-orienting as she swaps between the three primary stories she follows. It's been overhyped a bit, but Wilkerson's writing is solid and worth reading. Seek out and enjoy.

Exile's Gate (C. J. Cherryh): The fourth book about Nhi Vanye i Chya, swordsman, and Morgaine the traveller and gate-closer. Reread.

It's interesting to reflect on changes of genre between the first book (published 1976) and Exile's Gate (published 1988), but I'm rereading Gate of Ivrel and want to finish it before digging into that topic. I would briefly like to note it's 400 pages to the earlier novels' 200 - 250 pages, and reads very obviously as an addition to a closed trilogy. Minor spoilers for all four books. )

Cherryh's bibliography suggests she's always been a prolific author, but her novels of the late '80s and early '90s are prolific and diverse: Exile's Gate has one foot on each side of the fantasy/epic and science fiction sides of the divide; Cyteen (science fiction) and The Paladin (historical fiction) were published the same year as Exile's Gate.

The irony of bookending the month with novels that include evil body-snatching Those Other Folks and The Scary Woman On Humanity's Side (Bull: Frances; Cherryh; Morgaine) is not lost on me.

Numbers game: 4 total finished. 3 new, 1 reread; 3 fiction, 1 nonfiction.
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My hours sleep / caffeinated drinks ratio is edging towards one. I feel fantastic, whenever my eyes uncross, but I dimly sense there's been some intellectual impact.

A Daughter of the Samurai (Etsu Sugimoto): Charming memoir of a Japanese immigrant to America. Picked this up after Lois Bujold mentioned it on the LMB mailing list. My first reflection was, "this delights in the way Hitty: Her First Hundred Years charms," which is less of a surprise when one considers they were both published in the 1920's. Sugimoto's memoir is written in a light-hearted storytelling style, recalling details of her experiences growing up on the western side of Japan, in what's now part of the Niigata Prefecture, as well as her stories of attending a missionary school in Tokyo, living in America as a wife and mother, and her temporary return to Japan after her husband's death.

The gentle tone glides past shadows of other stories: how did her husband die? How did Sugimoto support herself as a widow when she returned to America? After her husband's untimely death, it was expected she would return to Japan, but what moved her to move back to America? Sugimoto gracefully speaks of both sorrow and joy in her life, opening a window to another time and place.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin): Heiress to a minor kingdom is summoned by her grandfather and named one of the three candidates to be heir to his authority over all the kingdoms. Yeine has her wits and her mother's training to defend her against family politics and fettered gods with a plan to end their slavery.

Long, thematic but no explicit spoilers. )

I wasn't overwhelmed by the story or characters, but I was intrigued by the worldbuilding. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first in a trilogy; my lukewarm reaction to the first novel means I'll be waiting to see what other people think of the second and third novels before picking up anything else in the series, but if you're in the mood for "god of light and order is not equal to god of right" fiction, you'd probably like this.

The Privilege of the Sword (Ellen Kushner): Sequel to Swordspoint; briefly discussed previously. Duke Alec summons his sister's daughter from a country estate to settle a family break and have his niece trained as a swordsman. Niece Katherine expects a different sort of Season on the Hill in the wake of her uncle the Mad Duke. (I just love that phrase.)

Kushner is a charming stylist, but her plots are not nearly as intriguing. I liked Katherine, and I wanted to like the story, but I was disappointed that events didn't unroll to illuminate character or story very efficiently. For example, I can certainly make up a story about why Alec and Richard simply cannot be together despite their love, but I was sort of expecting the writer to explain how the characters got from Point A at the end of Swordspoint to Point B in Privilege of the Sword. I also hoped for some clever thoughts on Katherine taking up a role that was both traditionally male and beneath her class, but these didn't materialize. I can make inferences from her atraditional romance with Marcus, and her relationship with Artemisia, mediated through their mutual love for the "The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death", a novel-in-a-novel, but I was hoping for more explicit authorial intent and less Choose Your Own Adventure.

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits (Linda Gordon): Picked off the library shelves on a whim. Dorothea Lange went down in history for photographing the iconic "Migrant Mother" picture of the Depression era, but also made significant contributions to national documentary photography and the San Francisco arts scene. Okay bio with significant weaknesses. )

Perhaps I'm judging on tone; perhaps I'm holding a female biographer to a double standard. However, this sort of writer construction from bare-bones accounts happens more than once: Lange and the FSA photographers, her thorny relationship with her mother, how her childhood polio might have progressed. It pushes the bounds of creative nonfiction right out of biography and into storytelling, a disappointing development. I'm not inclined to recommend this, unless you're looking for a generalist bio and can remain aware of its flaws.

A Madness of Angels (Kate Griffin): Matthew Swift comes back to life. Inspired by the American cover, I described this as "Castiel in London" for [personal profile] norabombay. The book is in that vein: high on concept and worldbuilding, a little low on characterization. Spoilers. )

I backslid and reread the back half of Cherryh's Regenesis. I stand by my earlier assertions there's a smashing good 300 page novel threading through some serious bloat.

Numbers game: 5 total finished. 5 new, 0.5 reread; 3.5 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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I would nominate this month for a special "moving hurts, I need comfort fiction" award, but I may need to save that for April. Also, my definition of comforting reading is pretty nonstandard.

Downbelow Station (C. J. Cherryh): You know how some books smack you in the back-brain and you probably shouldn't talk about them in public? Hi, DbS! I missed you. I missed the way I think of '80s hair and the Cold War whenever I read you. I missed the way I'd not pay attention and then have my expectations handed to me, in pieces, on a platter. I missed the way every single narrator in this story is morally compromised, except Satin and the Konstantins and Elene. Everyone. Vassily, Signy, Vittorio, Jon - oh Jon, be careful when people ask you what do you want - Ayres, Josh (BTW, Reseune? DIAF.), Mazian - have I forgotten anyone? Traitors, the downtrodden turned to evil convenience, cowards, the other side, outright villains. People.

For a long time, I liked the way the scariest Fleet captains are the minorities: the chick and the black guy. I thought this was a deliberate narrative choice for a long time, but now I'm not so sure. I missed trying to remember if the novel I read was the one written (answer: not really?) and how much I love the shades of gray. I really do love the closing structure, when Damon challenges Mallory and says, "we believed in you", and somehow, that's what finally shakes her conscience loose. With some help from booze and bad memories, but still. The entire novel is betrayal piled on lies, so that one moment warmed my heart to an inordinate degree. I have been okay with DbS's compromised morality in ways that would probably fascinate psychologists since I hallucinated a cut scene liberated from Barrayar. (Seriously: Cordelia and Bothari in the graveyard slid right into Damon and Josh at the gym. I don't know why, I was 17 and discovering situational ethics.)

In a lot of ways, Cherryh and Bujold frame a spectrum of fictional morality for me, light grays to charcoals, so it makes sense that I'd try to mash them together. Bujold explicitly frames the question of people verus principles at one point. Cherryh's characters get very angstful about following principles, but default to "if you don't know where you're going next, well, go there with your friends / crew / liege lady / people" in a crunch. And when they don't, there's a lot of angst and death and hurt feelings. And death.

Would I recommend this to anyone on the street? Oh my gosh no. But I think if you're keen on certain types of science fiction you'd like it.

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (Richard Bach): Narrator meets Messiah and learns (relearns?) eternal wisdom. This is part of an unintentional accidental March-April trilogy about knowing thyself and the power of belief which I think makes for interesting metaphor, but which I take less seriously when applied to my life. So I coexist with this sort of mindset uneasily. Bach was apparently a major figure on the '70s scene, but other than wiki, I don't have much context for this one.

Nebula Awards 23 (Ed. Michael Bishop): I picked this up because it had a Kim Stanley Robinson story I'd never read, "The Blind Geometer". In retrospect, this slightly prefigures the espionage subplot in KSR's "Science in the Capitol" trilogy. Connie Willis's "Schwartzchild Radius" assumes I care about the characters; it's a clever idea wrapped in the wrong packaging to catch my interest. "Forever Yours, Anna" is an example of clever packaging (time travel puzzle) wrapped around an idea that didn't work for me (romantic shenanigans). Walter Jon William's "Witness" is about McCarthyism breaking people, now with superheroes. I am disappointed to say that "The Glassblower's Dragon" (Lucius Shepard), a story about rekindling a sense of wonder out of ennui, did not speak deeply to me. I've read Pat Murphy's "Rachel in Love" previously and skipped it this time. I liked Pat Cadigan's "Angel" for all the wrong "questionable relationships with aliens" reasons. I may have skipped some stories, or they failed to make an impression (good or otherwise) on me.

The Alienist (Caleb Carr): Thriller uncovering a serial murderer in 1896. This is excellent plane reading, playing on modern takes of then-emerging (?) forensics. I'd guess there's a bunch of anachronisms - the women who wants to be the first female police, the pre-Freudian psych - but I was having such a good time I didn't really care.

Star Wars: Allegiance (Timothy Zahn): Let me explain my mindset by sharing the text message I sent a long-suffering third party when I bought this:
I bring this up to indicate the 10-year-old kid maturity that Zahn's novels bring out in me. Also, I believe I have blown my monthly capslock allowance on this review.

Mara Jade may or may not be Zahn's most favorite original character ever, but she's one of mine. Let's see: beautiful Force-sensitive assassin with a tragic past and badass ninja skills. So I am totally okay with a novel about Mara, stormtroopers questioning the letter vs the spirit of Imperial law, Leia Organa and Han Solo: The Early Years, and Luke the Baby Jedi, d'awww. Zahn set my expectations for what a SW novel should look like, so it's no surprise I am generally delighted when I get a new dose. Bonus points if you get Vader and Mara sniping at each other. Cough. The one drawback was a deja vu moment about two-thirds through; I must have read a preview somewhere.

Numbers games: 5 total. 4 new, 1 reread; 5 fiction (1 short story collection).
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I am having a death to mornings morning, so here is my happy depth-free book list from February.

The Riddle-Master of Hed (Patricia McKillip): As previously discussed in this journal, not really my thing. I like the very end, where Morgon's shout cracks the doors with the force of his despair, and I liked the vestas, but that's about all that really resonated. I think I may be approaching this wrong, without the appropriate storytelling background to appreciate what McKillip is trying to do, but I can't care enough to try to find that angle. There are images I liked, and themes I should have liked, but I didn't find the book resonating strongly.

Regenesis (the good bits version) (C. J. Cherryh): Once upon a time there was an azi designated Grant ALX Warrick and he was pretty freaking awesome. He was the sort of awesome where you suspect that somewhere, someone is drawing hearts and stars around his name, because Grant is a calming influence on crazy people. By which I mean pretty much everyone in Reseune.

I always want Cherryh to make up more worldbuilding at the levels of philosophy and fake science, so I am not as happy with Regenesis as with Cyteen or even Hellburner, because there's less arguing about how people think and interact. I'm also not fond of the superpowered 17-year-olds. Yes, there's a recurring theme that younger people are underutilized in a universe with awesome life-extension drugs; no, Maddy Strassen would not be running a fashion store at 17.

Merchanter's Luck (C. J. Cherryh): I didn't mean to reread this, it just sort of happened. I remember the places I have been while reading ML better than I remember the book - it's slight in word count and in impact.

The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner): YA fantasy novel about an imprisoned thief challenged to steal a long-lost object with religious and political significance. This was merely okay until the twist near the end of the novel, and the twist made me think the sequel would be worth reading.

Julie & Julia (Julie Powell): The only part of this book that spoke to me was on page 262.

It seemed that someone had alerted Mr. Kline about the heretical content of my blog. . . "Are you unhappy here?" he asked. "No! No, sir. I just - well, I am a secretary, Mr. Kline. Sometimes it's frustrating."
"You're an asset to the organization, Julie. You just need to try to find a way to channel that negative energy." that negative energy?

And I cackled, there at SFO, tired and a little hysterical, thirteen hours before opening my work inbox and finding a "you have DNA extractions!" email. Not, you know, "welcome back, you have..." just, you know, a stack of work. That really hit me in bad ways. I had a good job: I like most of my coworkers most of the time, and I like most of the work most of the time, and the times that I don't, well, some of the people who get on your last nerve are the people who cover holes you can't even see, and there is no way to get around pain in the typing joints SOX-compliant paperwork. But at a certain point, it is time to run away from home. Julie had a lousy job, and I have a lousy hometown complex, and I've been at my job for two years. It was the only moment when I was in full sympathy, and really realized that Julie was halfway coping with her life by cooking in the way I halfway cope by having speculative fiction-inspired IM conversations that devolve into desultory arguments about who can fight Ari Emory. (Well, anyone can try to fight Ari, but most people get cold-cocked in the first round. There's a possibility Benton Frasier would make it to a second round on a crazy luck roll. Kanye West does not. Every Mercedes Lackey character ever gets pwnd, execept maybe Savil, because I like her best. Miles Vorkosigan versus Ari Emory is a psych-out for the ages. Possibly it ends in some azified Vorish DNA and a project for Justin and Grant. Aaaaaand downhill slides like that are why I am quitting my job and moving.)

Other than that, well: I hate New York City, and I hate people who don't do research before starting a project like driving to DC to deliver unto the Smithsonian and Julia Child's kitchen a pound of butter. So I made the Eyebrows of Native Scorn when Powell and her husband tried to find parking on the Mall on a Saturday, then tried to find a grocery store within walking distance of the Mall. I suspect I would've liked Powell's blog much better than her post-blog book deal. I like cooking, but I have very limited tolerance for people who can't be bothered to use Metro.

On a related note, I was recently at the American History museum, and there was an empty one-pound butter box at the Julia Child exhibit. I may have had a moment of cognitive dissonance.

Gods and Pawns (Kage Baker): Collection of short stories set in Baker's Company universe. "To the Land Beyond the Sunset" is Lewis and Mendoza in South America, with typically Mendoza results. "The Catch" deals with one of the Company's immortal failures. "The Angel in the Darkness" is about one of Porfirio's relatives in LA, in a bad spot, and the long thin shadow of immortal machinations. "Standing in His Light" is about art manipulation. "A Night on the Barbary Coast" is Joseph and Mendoza in their most dad-and-daughter style, a lichen, San Francisco in the gold rush, and a Company mandate. "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" prefigures Project Adonai. "Hellfire at Twilight" is Lewis and intoxication. The humor and random combinations of historical trivia and stock character types that I like in Baker's writing are present in all of these, but no one story stood out above the others. Kage Baker recently passed away, so it's kind of nice to reread her stories and know something of her continues to impact the world.

Hellburner (C. J. Cherryh): It's The Right Stuff but in space. It's my favorite sort of popcorn book. Hellburner was published around the same time as Chanur's Legacy: both novels are fairly minor books in the Union-Alliance timeline, but they're both very tightly plotted and can be handed to innocent bystanders without warning for psychological damage. Sometimes they're even funny. ("Don't kill me, Ben, but... what time is it?" This is hilarious in context, I promise.) But Hellburner just makes me happy: it starts in tragedy and ends in victory, and in between there's the right amounts of emotional angst and made-up engineering. In the long run everyone's in trouble, but in the short term most of the protagonists get what they want. It's practically a warm and fuzzy Cherryh novel, if you ignore the sabotage subplot and some of the political gamesmanship.

Numbers games: 7 total. 4 reread, 3 new; 6 fiction (1 short story collection), 1 nonfiction.
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Snowfall stopped around 4 PM Saturday, and the sun popped out for a short while, favoring photographers with amazing vistas: highways reduced to one mostly-plowed lane, trees bent and broken under thirty inches of snow, silly people floundering through snow nearly hip deep. Despite a lot of NOAA noise about blowing snow, there didn't seem to be really high winds or vicious drifting; the sheer quantity of frozen white stuff made up for that.

I'm about the only person having a really great weekend: I haven't lost power; I made snowpocalypse Superbowl friends with neighbors; I'm getting a relaxing long break, with lots of cooking, baking and reading time. Tomorrow I'm going to launch an expedition to the grocery store, then make and freeze a bunch of chili, and maybe have an experiment with lentil soup. If I am good I will review my class notes from last week. Incidentally, neonatal testing is fascinating, and I want a tandem mass spec of my own to cuddle and love. I am almost too happy to read Regenesis, especially since I haven't marked the Good Bits version. Somewhere in the 600 pages of the hardback lurks a really solid 300 page novel.

Tangentially, Jordan Warrick breaks my heart in Regenesis. Maman isn't part of my family vocabulary, but every time Justin calls out to his dad, and Jordan is a crazy ass, it hits close to home and breaks my heart. But why shouldn't Jordan be a bit nuts? Twenty years under suspicion for a murder he didn't commit, stewing under close confinement? A blowout and bad attitude is not surprising, however disappointing. On a completely different note, there is the 1989/2010 technology gap.

Today I made it out to the grocery store, which showed the depredations of citizens bracing for snowpocalypse wave two. I am in ferocious denial of the next wave, and am counting down to clear skies and San Francisco (five days), and by "denial" I mean "restocking the freezer and considering the purchase of a hand-crank radio, should there be one left in the greater DC area." It seems arrogant to assume that, since we avoided an outage last time, we're probably safe this time. On the contrary, I expect stressed systems to go down even harder this time, and my number may be up.

Two snowpocalypse Saturday evening shots. )
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War, short stories, craziness, more craziness, different war. Fiction, nonfiction. No particular theme this month, except maybe stress.

The Paladin (C. J. Cherryh): Cherryh does a martial arts movie. )

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (ed. Sheree R. Thomas): Mostly short stories, some excerpts from longer novels, a handful of essays at the end. Side notes on expanding reading; or, why I'm falling out of contemporary SF/F. )

I don't remember much about the actual stories, about a month later: I'm not a short fiction reader by native inclination, so the novel excerpts were often my favorite pieces. And after the recent brouhaha, I have no desire to go back and comment, because hey, crossfire. So I will say: look! Stuff people written by people not my color! And some of it I liked, and some of it was in loathsome phonetic dialect, and some of it was really forgettable, and the editor was way too proud of her "dark matter" pun. Also, I am not the target audience; this seems to have been an exercise in saying, "hey, there are more of us out here" and on that front likely succeeded.

Cyteen (C. J. Cherryh): The death and resurrection of Ari Emory.

There are two novels in this world which I have read, and reread, and consistently skip rereading large chunks of the novel: Bujold's Mirror Dance and Cyteen. In both cases, I skip the first, hideously stressful third and move right on to the major characters' deaths.

Also, Darth Vader is Luke's father, and Tyler Durden is the narrator's alternate personality. Anything else I can spoil for you? )

Cyteen holds a special place in my heart. You can only be 17, doing a bad job of bridging the gap between middle-class teenage privilege and adult responsibility, and realizing your primary caretaker is failing to take care of her responsibilities, and lying to herself and everyone around her, while reading Cherryh, once. Possibly I identified with Justin more than is healthy. So I was all kinds of thrilled when I heard that Regenesis was getting published.

Regenesis (C. J. Cherryh): FINALLY. FINALLY, YAY. So I maybe approached this from a slightly less than objective perspective. And by "not objective" I mean capslock and emoticons. And Robbie Williams on the tribute mp3 mix. The fact I'm thinking in terms of mixes should tell you something about my wilingness to love this book. And I did! Except when I wanted to smack it! )

Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and The New Face of American War (Evan Wright): First of all, the subtitle is misleading. This isn't about the "new face", it's one guy in a Humvee with a Marine unit in Iraq. This is "about" highly trained, very aggressive Americans going to war. It's absolutely fascinating: there's no way in a million years I'd ever do anything like what Wright and Bravo Platoon are doing (plus, that whole "no women in combat" thing), but Wright brings out a lot of the emotion and reasons men might want to do that. It's brutal and not comfortable, and at certain points you stop, do the math, and realize no one's had a shower in more than a week (ew), in sweltering temperatures and poorly designed chemical warfare protective suits, but you're still reading. Because Wright makes you understand a little bit about why people are doing this, and the balance of protecting your people versus protecting civilians in a war zone, and the stupid things that happen because war is chaos squared, on a slow day.

It's also interesting to read the recent trade paperback edition, which has an additional "where are people and what have I been up to" afterword from Wright. The HBO actors' reactions to their living counterparts (you mean, when he's not hopped up on every upper known to man and Marine, Person doesn't constantly trash-talk Justin Timberlake?) are kind of hysterical.

So yeah, definite recommendation.

Numbers games: 5 total. 2 reread, 3 new; 4 fiction (1 short stories/essays), 1 nonfiction.
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This week at work: evaluations, announcement of bonuses (actual numbers to be revealed next week), discovery that the interface on the Canon PS SX110 IS is way more intuitive than the last Canon I touched, student sort-of-intern originally hailing from Canada. Is talking really fast a particularly Canadian trait?

Dear internet, I have finished all 585 pages of Regenesis. There is so much I want to say about this book, but briefly: I still think Victoria Strassen was on to something. And this is an atevi novel with Ari as Bren. Since I don't like the atevi series, this is not a strong recommendation. Unless you like the atevi series, in which case, skip Cyteen and read about the household staff.

There's another cultural appropriation fight going on (iteration umpteen; I count it as a standing drama since WisCon 30, in 2006) and I have nothing particularly politic to say about it. I'd much rather pick apart Union's power structures, which will go in the Epic Regenesis Post of Epic.

Someday today I have to 1.) beat my laptop into submission, and 2.) call my grandmother, and 3.) figure what I'm eating next week.
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Ha ha ha, guess what? Computer people say I broke the baby laptop's software but good! As in, won't get to the command prompt or autoboot from the CD drive good. I foresee time and money spent to fix this.

Note to self: no, no one wants you to chapter-by-chapter blog Regenesis. It would not be entertaining. Half of your comments would be, "Jesus God, Ari. You are not now and never will be the Holy Ghost!" and an \o/ + /o\ tally for Justin and Jordan fights. The other half would be canon-tracking against the rest of the canon and bad ideas in the margins.

I am not a happy music camper. The last playlist I made had issues: one, it was backwards. After I flipped the order, it sucked only a little. I'm fixing it. Two, I need more music in the vein of Are You Out There and The Mountain. Any recs?

Today I made french toast, and wow, was it ever soggy. Here's what I did:

Recipe for the curious )

I think I've got the heat too low, but I'm not ruling out other options.
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Dear Mr. Bush, I hope health care providers refuse to treat you on moral grounds. If you don't believe in treating patients, don't go into medicine. Super headdesk FAIL!

This is probably a really harsh judgment, but it's the head-on collision of two people's rights to hold a moral position. Someone has to give; I'm inclined to force the doctor to make way, especially in regions or health care programs where there isn't a choice to see someone else. Who should enforce "morality"? What is morality? I'm inclined to sacrifice codes of should and should-not to compassion for the currently living.

I don't care what the pedants say, it's winter. Cold, dark winter. The day starts late with gray clouds. Sometimes they don't completely cover the sky. By lunch, they've thinned enough that the sun is only masked by gauzy clouds. After midday, the sun falls back into clouds; the difference between indoors and outdoors is temperature (sometimes) and how high the "ceiling" is. Tuesday night I hitched a ride home with two of my coworkers; we saw two accidents on the road, and then the drizzle tapping on the roof shifted to ice.

Took today and tomorrow off work to kill use-or-lose. Finished 90% of my holiday shopping last night. Today I have spoken less than five sentences to other people all day, finished The Fellowship of the Ring, and made dents in two other books. Fabulous, fabulous introvert paradise.

Monday I got to participate in cool bonus offsite training, and ultimately put in a ten hour day plus dinner after work. Call it twelve hours of coworker interaction. It was good, but a lot of face time. So I am super glad I'm not at work for the the rest of the week. Besides all that holiday stuff to do.

This will be my holiday present to me. There is a strong possibility I will scream like a little girl and take a day off work when Regenesis ships to me. I got bored and made a playlist for this book! Okay, so it's getting redone now that I have Dresden Dolls and Coin-Operated Boy in my life (and by the way, is it just me, or is the Dresden Dolls discography tend to the really creepy?). But the point is, I have inappropriate love for Cherryh's novels. If I finish the other books I'm in the middle of, I'm going to reread Cyteen before Regenesis. I haven't been this excited about a book in a while.


Aug. 5th, 2008 11:21 pm
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This week I am house-sitting for fans off to Worldcon. You know what this means: car! It also means playing dodge-truck at I-95 speeds during rush hour, but that's what you get when you volunteer to drive people to BWI. Today's other awesome moments were the accidental Home Depot trip (my much-abused mint is finally properly potted, yay) and realizing - 12 hours after my airport adventures - that I had the car keys but not the house-key.

When I am not courting death on the interstates, I'm reading Naomi Novik's latest novel. My first reaction is that I want The Adventures of Perscitia and Iskierka: A Scientific Treatise, because you know what would happen? They would set things on fire. A lot. And this would be awesome. [ profile] wmslawhorn fake-spoiled me for nuclear bombs, and I almost fell for it. Because it's that sort of crack. I am possibly a little giddy with how many of my buttons are lighting up, ding! ding! ding! as I burn through the book. This is serious emotional manipulation, and I am all for it. Rock on, Novik!

Also, the part of Laurence's scruffy mid-to-late book stubble will be played by Viggo Mortenson's scruffy stubble.

Holy surprise, aCyteen sequel for Christmas! We were wrong! The thing is, I'm not sure I want a second Cyteen novel. The first was pretty much Cherryh's SF masterwork, her Big Statement: how do you top that? I'm not sure anything could live up to that sort of anticipation, not to mention one's uncritical 17-year-old reactions.

The rest of this week: pick-up soccer after work tomorrow, happy hour downtown Thursday (odds of my lateness are sadly high), day trip to Baltimore sometime this weekend. [ profile] norabombay and I took 1h40m of off-peak time to decide we absolutely must go to Wiscon next year, which memberships I shall be buying August 15th, aka payday. (This may or may not trash any possibility of making Worldcon in Montreal, and that'll be an update for a different day.) Tonight I sleep; I put a baseball cap on my head at 9 for no logical reason and it's still there. The clarion call for sanity-restoring rest is making itself felt.
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Month of dystopia, apocalypse, war, and the occasional terraforming near-miss. This ain't a scene, it's the Kanye West remix of an arms race.

Fortress of Ice (C. J. Cherryh): Elfwyn gets the band back together. I remain bitterly disappointed by the lack of Cefwyn/Ninvevrise/Tristen interaction, because I keep trying to read this as Cherryh's not-Arthurian epic, and I am not sure that's actually where the multi-novel arc is going. The idea of joining the two kingdoms in a pax Tristen, then razing them with a side of brother-against-illegitimate-brother angst, amuses me a great deal, but I don't know that Cherryh's intention is to follow that model. Civil war yes, civil war crashing civilization no.

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury): overrated. Book of its time. Bradbury is a loon now, but people latched onto his story and saw their future reflected in it. Consider Montag's cross-city flight in view of Big Brother and other reality TV shows. In fact, consider the entire novel in light of contemporary America. However, remember that old classics were once new potboilers (Moby-Dick, Dickens novels, I am looking at you).

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): Needs context. Once I got to the color-coding, I had it.

"...all wear green," said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, "and Delta Children [sic] wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."
-BNW p27, Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2006 edition.

Now that you have your _Cyteen_ referents locked in, have fun. )

The Golden Acquarians (Monica Hughes): Walter Elliot is plucked from his comfortable home in Lethbridge, Alberta, when his father decides he needs a man's example to be a real man. Walt's new life on Aqua, his father's latest terraforming project, is abruptly changed by a discovery that could derail the planet's transformation from swamp to economic goldmine.

If I'd read this when I was 12, when I read Invitation to the Game and Keeper of the Isis Light, I might have fallen in love. Walt is a nature-loving boy who writes poetry! And has massive dad angst! And a plucky girl sidekick! I am older now, and find the environmental issues and contrasting of Colonel Dad's "men must be real men!" attitude with Walt's liberal arts-ish-ness blatant. Elliot's changing understanding of his dad is still rewarding, though the final resolution is a pat little deus ex machina vindicating the environmental hippies at the expense of a nuanced viewpoint. A lighthearted take on disaster and father-son relationships, bridging Huxley and McCarthy's deadly seriousness.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy): Boy and father travel on foot after the end of the world. I had to turn on "A Sorta Fairytale" after this (the five minute version, with the nice bridge transition) in a desperate attempt to cheer up. Notice how I turned on Tori Amos to cheer up. Reaction shot: bring your own story. )

This was violent, riveting, brutal, and as finely drawn as razor wire stretched across an abandoned trench. I may never read another novel by Cormac McCarthy ever again, but I've been acutely aware of the profligate greens and stunning blues and sweet yellows of the world this month.

Keeper of the Isis Light (Monica Hughes): Olwen's tenth Isis birthday brings news of an impending colonial transport that will change her understanding of herself and the planet she calls home.

That is the worst summary ever, but I loved this book so much when I was in middle school! It prefigures a lot of the things I love now, with vague spoilers. )

The Isis Pedlar (Monica Hughes): Moira Flynn cleans up after her father Mike's latest caper. And yes, that is how the title is spelled.

I was completely unimpressed with the Irish stereotypes from page one. The alcoholism, the blarney, the appeals to a Catholic God, all on the first page: this made reading the book somewhat problematic. I have no idea if I would have tolerated or hated that if I had read this when I was the target audience. This would be 90% forgettable if it weren't the third book in the Isis series/trilogy, and if I hadn't gotten to play the "fill in the book two blanks" game. However, I will forever love Moira and David N'Kumo's courtship for the scene where... oh, drat. Spoilers for one late-novel bit. )

July preview: there are high odds that I'll be reading the new Bujold and the new Harry Potter. Also, Vegas, so there's four hours of uninterrupted reading time right there. Watch this space for stabs at nonfiction.
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A Brother's Price (Wen Spencer): Regency romance set in a world where women outnumber men about ten to one. This is a really cool idea; my favorite thing in the world is wacky worldbuilding ideas, which is why I love the sf/f field so much. So why not take a wacky idea, and explore it in the context of a standard plot. Is there any more paint-by-numbers cliche than a regency? However, regencies are implausible and silly, and this is no exception. The plucky grandchild of thieves and army spies marries royalty for Twu Wuv? Um, no. So it's my profound problem: there's this one great worldbuilding thought, and one really clever concept for integrating a novel idea with a cliche plot, but I dislike the Cinderella romance of the plucky country gentry and the dashing, swashbuckling royalty. Also, the secondary effects are incompletely considered. This is one of the books which is lots of fun to talk about, I think, because it's got one really cool idea embedded in workday prose and slightly cracked worldbuilding.

Shiva's Fire (Suzanne Fisher Staples): Children's/YA. Parvati is born on the first day of the life-giving monsoon, the day a tornado wrecks her village. She grows up in the shadow of this tragedy, surrounded by unlikely miracles and her love of dance.

Staples seems to have written the bharata natyam equivalent of a "go to ballet boarding school" book, and manages a nice fusion of "go to dance school" with South Indian culture. Miraculous events are presented as Things That Happen, which are often two-edged. I've been reading Staples since Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind provided a vivid demonstration that first person present tense can be used to really suck readers in, so I may be a bit biased toward her writing. With that in mind, I think she approached the material in an interesting fashion: Parvati's surprising episodes with dance and music are presented in a matter-of-fact way that reminds me of magical realism. I don't think that's the genre Staples is trying to write; I'd say she's going for a child's novel infused with the feel of Hindu religious epics. She scores fairly well on that front. The late-novel romance is resolved in a way that works very well on the story level, but that annoys me slightly in a larger context.

Spoilers. I prove I should never have been allowed to take that Intro to Women's Studies class. )

The Ghost Sister (Liz Williams): First contact with a long-lost Earth colony, complicated by the crippling disability one of the natives is burdened with. There is a heavy-handed subplot about inflexible religious conservatives which drags down the worldbuilding, which isn't bad. The plot with the older woman as open-minded adventurer is a gentle departure from the sf/f norm. This is the sort of book that's okay for an afternoon, but that would be greatly enhanced by tipsy 2 AM IM chats about feminist motifs and fake sci-fi illnesses.

I finally finished The Short Fiction of C. J. Cherryh, which is about what you'd expect from Cherryh: trust no one; keep your family close; outlive the bastards. Your perception is wrong, always, but if you are bold and desperate, you may bring your enemies to ruin.

I also reread Green Mars and Blue Mars, the back two-thirds of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, and The Martians, which reads as if someone had pulled out the "work in progress - does this fit?" drawer and dumped it into book form. I will never stop quibbling with the educational system as presented: how do your offspring of back-to-nature hunter-gatherers compete with the pampered urban youth? And what about the descendants of those asteroid exiles? How much of your history do you get to shed when your parents are Martian exiles? KSR presents a glowing vision of the unified Martian culture, but the writing doesn't entirely bear out authorial intent. Possibly I am missing something, but from my perspective, Blue Mars fails to carry the second-order worldbuilding effects to a logical conclusion. This drives me nuts because the first two books are awesome, and the third comes out a little cute in comparison. (I am looking at Sax and Ann as I say this. Yes, high "awwwww, sweet!" factor, but a little convenient.) There is a book I like a lot more hiding in the BM worldbuiling.

The Martians includes the novella "Green Mars" (not to be confused with the novel of the same name), which somehow makes mountain climbing the most awesome thing that I am too chicken to do, and "A Martian Romance", which is not elegiac.

I love Green Mars with all of my heart. The revolution sequence is awesome. Definite desert island book.
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The Tapir's Morning Bath (Elizabeth Royce): Nonfiction. Journalist spends a year in and out of Barro Colorado Island, studying the scientists. Subtitled, "Mysteries of the Tropical Rainforest and the Scientists Who Are Trying to Solve Them", which is the most ponderous part of the book, right there, so the rest of the narrative can leave that behind and be charming and light and interesting. Somehow, Royce manages to write about the bugs, the spiders, the experiments, and and the weather, and still make this an interesting read. Good for Nonfiction Lite reading, when you're not feeling up to heavy contemplation.

I reread Downbelow Station (C. J. Cherryh) for the first time in years. Intentionally or otherwise, Cherryh created a universe peopled by people that feel more damaged, bitter, and uncontrollable than my relatives at their worst, then wrote stories about how these characters shook worlds and brought economic empires to their knees. And this is getting a separate post, because I'm three disorganized paragraphs in, and haven't really said what I want to. So I'll toss out this thought instead: Lois Bujold talks about doing the Worst Possible Thing to her characters; discussion on the LMB mailing list suggested this might be modified to, "the Worst Possible Thing the character(s) can learn from." Cherryh pushes her characters just a little... bit... farther. Oops. Since I was introduced to the two authors' works within a year and a half of each other, they've sort of formed a continuum of good intentions and bad consequences. Downbelow Station was one of the first three Cherryh novels I read, the other two being Cloud's Rider and 40,000 in Gehenna (Yes, I read the Rider books out of sequence), and so made the greatest impression on me. I was fascinated by the Mazianni's unapologetic evilness, and the continual falling to new lows: just when the characters thought things had settled, someone sprang new and unpleasant events on them, until climatic spoiler moment ). And after the battle's lost and won, and there's a nice little dinner party/celebratory feast, the book just stops, which left me going, "but wait! Whiplash!" and I was well and truly hooked. I didn't so much "get" Downbelow Station as it got me.

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens): Probably not a proper novel, but rather a novella, by today's standards, but what the heck. Dripping with a sensibility that wavers between witty side-notes and obnoxious sentimentalism, A Christmas Carol is exactly the sort of story we're all glad was made into a Disney movie many years ago. All the story plus Scrooge McDuck. If this seems flippant, well, remember that I thought the most interesting characters in A Tale of Two Cities were Sidney Carton (until he got all noble) and Madame Defarge.

Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman): "Fat" Charlie Nancy's father dies. Fat Charlie's brother (the one he didn't know about) arrives at his flat one crimson dawn. British slapstick ensues. Cut for length and low taste in exemplar quotes. No real spoilers. )
Nonetheless. While liking the novel less than the vocal fangirls, I still liked it. A little predictable, once you set your mind to Monty Python, but worth picking up at the library.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): Girls meet boys. Mother of girls goes into flutters. P&P gets a lot of good press among the bibliophiles I know, but I'm not much for regencies or romances. I must confess that I still am missing the innate attractiveness of Mr. Darcy. Favorite character: the deadpan Mr. Bennett. I enjoyed Austen's dry wit, but the book is more fun, in a mannered sort of way, than deep, and so suffers easily from overblown expectations.

One final book of note: I am not done with Alan Lightman's The Discoveries, but I've stalled on it, and I can't let it go back to the library without comment. When the author's intent is to present what he thinks are the 25 most important papers of the 20th century, with some background about the author, the paper's context, and lay interpretations of the more technical bits, it seems to me that it flies in the face of the author's stated purpose to cut parts of the papers because he believes them to be irrelevant to the paper's scientific import. It doesn't work that way: you have to do the tedious, niggling, absolutely nit-picking work to prove that your hypothesis both explains the available data and that no other theory you are aware of explains that data as well. So cutting the "yes, it's not [list of alternatives] because [experimental data]" saves you space and lay boredom, but it misses the point in ways that - self-evidently - drives me up a wall. Not counting in my '05 stats because I may get take another stab, but I feel like this is aimed at the Book World audience who wants to feel educated and cultured, without doing the dirty work of deciding on their own what parts to skim.

Year-End Stats: Counting anthologies as "one book", 55 total, 34 fiction (including 10 rereads and 2 graphic novels), 21 nonfiction. Since last year's not-resolution was "less! And more nonfiction!" (or see version 1.0, bottom of post, with 2004 stats), I think I can consider 2005 a literary success.

2006 ambition: Peg reading increases to nonfiction increases, and maybe diverify a bit, get some non-science history and such in there. Balance with academics.
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Instead of reading books I read the paper and did logic puzzles. I am hopeless at Sudoku, so my reading list lost a lot of ground to the numbers 1-9.

Garlic and Sapphires (Ruth Reichl): LA Times restaurant reviewer switches coasts to become the NY Times restaurant reviewer. If books could be foods, this might be a meringue. ) Recommended for light reading.

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin): Reread. But this time, I got it. )

Califia's Daughters (Leigh Richards/Laurie R. King): I didn't like it. )

In related news, King is working on a Kate Martinelli/Sherlock Holmes novel. I'm desperately trying to reserve judgment until I've actually read the book.

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (Ursula K. Le Guin). Reread. I vaguely recalled some short stories about FTL in the Hainish universe, eventually remembered which volume I'd read them in, and finally got a copy via ILL. It's a short, small collection, so rereading the entire thing wasn't too time-consuming. Le Guin was herself; "The Rock that Changed Things" is a nice, rock-ish parable. "Newton's Sleep" fails to move me. It's the triumph of the Message over logic, plot, and simple coherence. "The Shobies' Story" and "Dancing to Ganam" need to be remixed for increased perception screwiness and didactism effacement. "Another Story"/"A Fisherman of the Inland Sea" is fairly minor, but pleasant. The remaining stories failed to move me to more than passing irritation or fleeting amusement.

And, like, wow. Cyteen sequel in the works. Original announcement on Cherryh's journal/ progress report,
August 25 '05. Given the decade of rumors preceding this, I'll believe it when I am holding the hardcover. (And yet. Posting about it - you really can't kill hope.)
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Two series rereads, one short essays-make-good-chapers nonfiction.

The Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, Chanur's Homecoming (C. J. Cherryh): Reread. A human staggers into an alien Compact and nearly blows it to pieces. Twice. The Chanur series never clicked with me the way some of Cherryh's other novels have. I always felt the Venture/Kif/Homecoming trilogy was an expansion of the original Pride plot, and didn't do much except make everyone crazy stressed for all of The Kif Strike Back (which always disappoints me when no one's frozen in carbonite). It's a bad sign when you find yourself skimming the part where the protagonist digs information out of people, waiting for her to package it for the benefit of other characters. Lazy and all. I like the mahendo'sat much more than they probably deserve. Note that I said "like", not "trust"; it's Cherryh, there is a difference.

To balance the list of complaints - there's something very intellectually fun about the inversions in the Chanur series. A lone human in a sea of aliens, dominant females, the PoV underdog conservative species in a powerful Compact. There's probably more poking of the tropes than I've noticed, but those are the most obvious to me. It seems to me that the great fun in the Chanur series is noticing stuff like that and discussing it, making it a stronger "ideas" or "plot" book than "character" novel.

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science (Atul Gawande): Nonfiction; loan from one of my school friends. Medicine as seen by a surgical resident. Mishaps, inexplicables, and surprises. Medicine is always improving, but remains a chancy field. The book uses an ice cube/hurricane metaphor: is patient assessment more like diagnosing ice cubes in a fire, or hurricane landfalls? The book rests on this awareness of uncertainty. Where do medical mistakes come from? How do we deal with the surprises patient bodies throw at doctors? And how can patients work through the uncertainties of treatment in an era when ethics places the burden of decision on them? Gawande uses anecdotes and statistics pulled from the medical journals to try to illuminate what's going on in the hospital's collective brain. And what colorful anecdotes. I think the necrotizing fasciitis is going to hold a special place in my memory. Unless the hyperemesis, um, sticks. Though there's always the nasty death-on-a-ventilator... anyway. Very accessible style, and a fast read, but I was squirming a bit imagining the surgical bits.

Further inappropriately lighthearted notes - medical jargon seems to be more hyperspecialized than cell bio jargon. I can generally figure out what article titles in cell bio journals mean at this point, but the medical article cited at one point was entirely past my parsing. Science fiction fans might find themselves in sympathy with "Nine Thousand Surgeons", a chapter on the annual American College of Surgeons convention.

I reread the first two books in Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series - The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret - pieces of The Lost Steersman, and most of The Language of Power. If you're playing the "pick more information out of the series" game, it's more effective to just do a search on the series in the usenet archives, but the novels stand up to rereading fairly well. Full series spoilers. )

I think the interplay of what the readers know, but the protagonists don't, and what neither readers nor protags know, is one of the niftiest things about the Steerswoman series. My two cents.

Posted and backdated August 4th, 2005
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You may all mock me, because the first thing I finished in June was the Revenge of the Sith novelization (Matthew Stover). No real comments, other than noting extended universe nods (and I actually noticed. Paraphrasing other people's words, I have hit the rock bottom of embarrassment and am drilling for humiliation oil) and admitting I was still desperately trying to force a convergence on the movie in my head and Lucas' script and failing miserably.

The novelization is slightly kinder Padme's character than the movie, because Padme gets to do a little - a very little - backstage political maneuvering, and sort of encourage the nascent Rebellion. But she's still a fool for love whenever Anakin's around. Also, the opening battle takes even longer than it does in the movie. At least, it feels that way.

(Do you know what's kind of ironic? The natural pool of rebel talent is - the Separatists. Who many of those high-level someday-Rebel leaders just spent two or three years fighting. That this isn't noted at all in the movie or novelization is an interesting oversight.)

To expiate my trashy novelistic sins, I plunged back into Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (Richard Dawkins), Dawkins' attempt to explain the beauty of science. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy totally got that point across to me when I was young and feckless - okay, younger and feckless - so the book sort of undershot me*. Rainbow still a rainbow after Newton, gotcha. I'm still likely to remember this book fondly for Dawkins' candor about statistical analysis and errors: the common type 1 and type 2 and Dawkins' type 3 error, "in which your mind goes totally blank whenever you try to remember which [kind of error] is of type 1 and type 2." (Chapter 7, "Unweaving the Uncanny", p171 HC). So been there.

*KSR has a talent for describing things in ways that mesh with how I make the text visualize. Red Mars made me desperately want to see sunset on the red planet. "The Scientist as Hero" in Green Mars just makes me happy. Science = things making sense.

"However many ways there may be of being alive, there are almost infinitely more ways of being dead." (Chapter 8, "Cloudy Symbols of a High Romance", p206 HC)

I was pretty bored by the end, because I know this stuff, but if you were any sort of geek other than a science or science ficton nerd this might be a more enlightening and entertaining book.

Then the library called to say Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi) was on hold for me, and would I like to pick it up sometime in the next seven days? I went to a talk Nafisi gave last October, and decided I sort of had to read her book. I really liked it. Nafisi is an English professor at Hopkins, and loves the field so passionately even I begin to appreciate its merits. The narrative's discussion of what it's actually like to live under a crushing totalitarian regime is also enlightening.

Continuing my penance for my earlier novelistic sins, I jumped into Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (Brenda Maddox). Franklin gets a fairly bum rap in The Double Helix, James Watson's account of the heady DNA days, and Maddox tries to redress things. Many tangential and subjective comments on on Wilkes, working women and the process of science. )

Thus ends the science rant. Back to the bio.

Maddox convincingly draws a picture of Franklin as a tough, complex woman - a meticulous scientist, a loving daughter and sister, a fierce opponent. I think some of her evocations of other personalities are a little weaker (at least, I occasionally forgot who someone was), but she does a great job of fleshing out a scientist who seems to have been at her most unhappy during the DNA years. I'd recommend the bio in a flash.

Work Clothes: Casual Dress for Serious Work (Kim Johnson Gross, Jeff Stone, text J. Scott Omelianuk, photos Robert Tardio): Useless fluff. I wanted a book on how to keep ironed shirts unwrinkled and what a basic work wardrobe should include, and I got fashion advice circa 1996. Pretty clothing pictures, but not a good resource.

City of Diamond (Jane Emerson/Doris Egan/[ profile] tightropegirl): reread. Not quite as clever as I recall, but still good stuff. If you haven't read it, CoD is a fun little 500-odd page novel of political intrigue and romance as two religious city-state starships search for a McGuffin that will give the owner major points with the general population. This lets the good guys prove their goodness, the bad guys torture people and be self-serving, and the reader enjoy the ride. Stands alone well, for the first of a never-completed trilogy.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke): Clarke revels in novel-expanding tangents and embedded stories. Somewhere within JS&MN's 782 pages, a really excellent 500 page novel is struggling to get out. There are fantastic moments, but the book entire needs someone to edit it with a machete. Possibly I missed some subtle, clever play on Regency novel conventions, but the first quarter of the book dragged. I was spoilers. )

Once Strange is onstage, things move much more nicely. Norrell and Strange are foils, so this is as it should be. It's a shame it took Clarke 250 pages to even introduce the guy. And after that the magic system is clever in vague ways, the visual moments of magic at work are startlingly clear, and I like the novel much more.

But I still miss that editorial machete.

Finally, I skimmed large parts of Cyteen (C. J. Cherryh) after getting some paperwork from my mother. Cyteen has held a special place in my heart since the events preceeding the 2000 Chicago Worldcon, when I got to a stopping point, put the book down, and thought, "I'm not letting my mother screw up my Worldcon plans." And since then, it's been my dealing-with-craziness book. It's dense, distracting and speaks to my Inner Bitch. Other than that, almost everything that can be said about Cyteen has been said elsewhere: anyone who thinks it's a murder mystery isn't paying attention (and that said, we'd still like to know who the murderer was), intelligence vs. happiness, wow those are some screwed up interpersonal relationships (why don't more characters try to run away to Novgorod and get away from their parents?), character studies of Amy Carnath might be interesting. Nevertheless, comments encouraged, because I missed most of the rec.arts.sf.* discussions. Darnit.
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Finally done catching up on what all you people were up to this weekend, which means I can start typing the Very Long Entry about my Independence Day celebrations. To keep everyone convivially distracted, I'm posting the annotated list of the ten and a half books I read in June.

Ten and a half. I desperately need to get a life.

Start With a Digital Camera: The Indespensible Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Digital Camera (2nd Edition) (John Odam): The basics for using a digital, with a fairly heavy emphasis photomanipulation, using software like Photoshop. Somewhat dry, and occasionally cramped by use of too-small pictures; to show details like depth of field, a 1" square just isn't large enough.

Sun in Glory, and Other Tales of Valdemar (Mercedes Lackey, Editor): If a line were drawn between the fiction section of the library and the checkout desk, it would pass about two feet from the "new paperbacks" display. This is my only excuse for picking up this collection, which proudly announces in the introductory blurb to the first story that the author is twelve. (And she writes like it. In ten years, if she has the determination the blurb suggests, she'll be a really strong writer. Right now she's writing about the wizard's apprentice who saves the day.) This is an OC fic collection, along the lines of the Darkover and "Honor Harrington" anthologies. The author who created the universe contributes one or more stories about a main character; a number of other authors chime in with stories set in the "background" of the universe. In this case, Mercedes Lackey wrote a "Alberich, Talia and Dirk are asked to Karse by Solaris" story, and everyone else wrote stories about Heralds or the impact of Heralds on people's lives.

The collection struck me as very fan-centric. It's authors dabbling in the shallow end of the universe. Which means they have to be really, really clever to send out a wave that stirs the deeps of canon. None of these stories did. The one that came closest was Michelle West's chancy "Winter Death", which, with one more scene - five sentences in the right place! - could be used to handwave the lack of Heralds with an empathic Gift in Talia's time. Clever backstory retcons (as opposed to the more familiar really dumb and pointless retcons) are something I adore in fiction. The lack of follow-through on that in "Winter Death" drives me mad.

The stories that know they're light and fluffy are a lot less frustrating, but still remain very minor. Points for stories like "Icebreaker" which try to show why the Valdemaran Everyman might enjoy not being a Herald. And "The Cat Who Came to Dinner" is cute in a relatively not-annoying way, even if I guessed the plot twist long before the protagonist did. But overall, the anthology's skippable if you're not a Lackey die-hard. Check it out of the library for "Sun in Glory" but save your money for stronger fiction.

Rider at the Gate and Cloud's Rider (C. J. Cherryh): Reread. Because it was there. Because it's such a summer pleasure to read one novel that starts on the edge of winter and the sequel that kicks off with an ice storm. Exactly as I remember them, and why do I always get to the creepy parts at one in the morning?

Learning to See Creatively: How to Compose Great Photographs (Bryan Peterson): Nifty book that does what it says. Focuses on applying the basics of design (line, shape, form, texture, pattern, color) to photographic composition. Since it's focused on the use of film cameras (not surprising, in a book published in 1988), some of the suggestions for changing film speeds, f-stops and lenses was wasted, but the extensive use of large photographs with clear explanatory captions was very useful.

The Art of Seeing (The KODAK Workshop Series): Introduction to film photography. It's a fairly short overview, with lots of hints about which Kodak products would be useful in different environments (some of which probably aren't in existence anymore; the book was published in 1984) in case we weren't sure who the publishers were or where they hoped to make substantial money. It's not bad, but the same material's covered elsewhere in more contemporary books that include sections on things that weren't available in the '80s, like use of home computers in image editing.

Last Herald-Mage Trilogy [Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, Magic's Price] (Mercedes Lackey): I had a few minutes before I had to check out and hop the bus home, and I was a little annoyed by earlier reading in the month, so I started skimming Magic's Pawn to see if Lackey was attacked by the Author Emeritus bug or if my mid-teen memories inflated her novels' worth.

To my shock - no. And yes.

This writeup grew to be as long as everything else up together, so it's getting its own entry. Pruning side commentary about personal hot buttons and how well or poorly the Valdemar series integrates its worldbuilding leaves out all the interesting chatter.

Deep Secret (Diana Wynne Jones): Reread. Magic and SF cons and a Byzantine empire looking for the emperor's heirs, oh my. The novel's very workmanlike. Reads smoothly and includes some fun with the Babylon children's rhyme. I mentioned once to [ profile] samthereaderman that I wasn't a huge DWJ fan and got a nice double take out of him. I think the reason I'm not a fan is that DWJ began writing long before many of the current crop of "magic hidden in our world" authors, and (I suspect) broke a lot of ground for them. So where he sees her doing something fairly unusual, I see a retread of familiar themes. I suspect that this is like whining that The Lord of the Rings is exactly like Terry Brook's novels: a case of reading the newer stuff first. Sam, correct me if I'm wrong.

*Defender (CJ Cherryh): I came, I saw, I nabbed. I read a hundred pages before realizing I inhaled it one afternoon in December 2002. I don't see Cherryh taking the Foreigner series anywhere she hasn't already been, which has bumped it way down my reading priority list. The library's lack of the next (and currently last) Foreigner novel, Explorer, hasn't helped.

*Abandoned midbook, poor thing.


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