Read Ann Leckie's Provenance (in ARC. It's coming out on the 26th of September.) Spider mech, spider mech, does whatever a spider mech does. (Disconcert people, mainly.) This is in the same universe as the Radch trilogy, but in a different region and with different characters, voice, and tone. I have some friends who couldn't get into Ancillary Justice, wanted to like it but found it too hard going, and I would be curious if this one worked better as an entry point for them.
Leckie's repeatedly cited Cherryh as an influence, and if you think of the universe the Ancillary books are set in as like Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe, a big canvas covering a lot of territory in time as well as space, then this book in relation to its universe is a bit like a railway junction. It opens some new routes, introduces some new important players, but the most important universe-scale historical events (as opposed to system-scale or planet-scale or individuals) are offstage.
To say more about voice and tone: the Radch books are in first person, and that person is Breq, who is... Breq. Over two thousand years old, and even if you consider the destruction of Justice of Toren as a kind of rebirth, by the point we meet her she's a hypercompetent badass who's been surviving on her own in her single body for nineteen years. Also she's not a human, so there's that.
Ingray isn't Breq. She's very much human (and has an entirely reasonable terror of AIs,) a lot younger (I don't think her exact age is stated, but early twenties would be my guess,) and infinitely less sure of herself. She's also spent her entire life to date having her head messed with by her shitty family. My first two impressions, right from the first three chapters of this book, were: one, you can really tell the author was spending a lot of time in airports when she wrote this; and two, Ingray has the sort of family life where the closer your geographic proximity to your relatives, the more difficulty you have with being a decent person. The rest of this book bore this out (I mean the family, although there were definitely more airport-equivalent scenes too.)
If you're one of the people who disliked Breq because she was "too perfect" (I disagree with you about her being perfect, but) you might find Ingray and her smaller scale problems (compared to entire empires and species) more relatable.
If the Radch trilogy is about personhood and the fight to be recognised as a person when you don't fit a society's definition of who counts as a person, then Provenance about growing into oneself not as a person (that was never in question for Ingray) but as an adult (a coming of age that, by contrast, Breq never had the luxury of needing.) And if the Radch trilogy is about resisting societal/systemic forces, Provenance is about resisting social, personal pressures (family and peers.)
Finished Aliette de Bodard's The House of Binding Thorns. And after this and Provenance I'd like a short break from books about difficult family situations, please! I liked this better than The House of Shattered Wings, but the tone was still bleaker than I usually go for. Characters I particularly liked: Madeleine, back from the previous book; Thuan the dragon prince, and Berith and Francoise the Fallen/human couple trying to manage outside the Houses. Grandmother Olympe, the elder of the community where Berith and Francoise live, was also pretty great. And I warmed more to Asmodeus than I did in the first book.
Unfortunately, I think I'm the wrong audience for this. The things The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns do well (decayed elegance, gothicism, Paris, fallen angels), they do really well, but they're not things I particularly love (I don't dislike them, they're just not my catnip.) So, like, I can't actually rave about these books, but I do want to wave them really hard at people who do love those things.
Some zines I ordered from Rooster Tails's Etsy store showed up, and he kind of threw in a bunch of queer fanart glossy note cards (maybe to make up for a delay, idk, I'm not complaining!) and they're so beautiful and I didn't know I needed a picture of Daria holding Jane's hand and saying "I hate you the least," or adorably cartoony Finn smooching Poe, or cartoony Gabrielle climbing Xena like a tree, but I definitely did need those things. Now I'm trying to decide whether to keep or send to people.
The zines are #my gender is..., three tiny A6 cardbound volumes made in response to answers people gave the author when he asked people to fill in the blank.
Mainlined 17776, which is web based multimedia rather than comics, but I'm putting it in this category because what everyone's comparing it to is Homestuck. It's about satellites watching football in an unimaginably future, but also post-scarcity/post-singularity anxiety and Millennialism (as in epochs, as well as as in snake people) and play as the ultimate point of human existance, and it's funny and elegiac and cool and reminds me of David Foster Wallace in some ways.
That said, it is worth talking about who's at the centre of this narrative. No, not robots. No, not humans. Americans. White, suburban, minivan-driving, 80s-and-90s-born Americans. So conflated with the essential nature of humanity that they don't even notice they're doing it. Even the probes are two American probes and one European (but not Russian) one. I mean, Mangalyan does exist, you know? And so does Chang'e 2 and Kirari. And Libertad I and Fajr and... I mean, not all of those are still in space, or left Earth's orbit, but they could. Not to mention that it's science fiction and at the present date JUICE is still in development, why not a future Ghanaian or Iranian satellite mission? Which is not even my point, my point is that the regressive fantasy that the humans fall back into when faced with the crushing boredom of their eternal lives is... the 1960s and 1970s but without the race riots or Stonewall or Watergate.
It's still a good story/multimedia work/thing, and I still enjoyed it. I just... that particular nostalgic fantasy makes me very tired sometimes. And no, not tired in a way that makes me want to give up on the weary work of human endeavour/struggle/progress to take refuge in looking back down at the things that are really important to us/humanity, i.e. a sport which people in my country don't play.
TV and Movies
Watched the first episode of Black Sails. Was unimpressed. I hear it gets better, though. Flint's fury at the stolen log page reminded me of this.
Gave my sister the Hamilton soundtrack for Christmas last year or her birthday this year (I forget which -- my gift-giving punctuality standards are seriously slipping at the moment.) Success: she's hooked. Very hooked.
Third week of hexarchate_rpg. So far haven't panicked and run away yet (me, not my character) so that's good.
Still playing Binding of Isaac. In one especially good run, I met Isaac's mother for the first time, and defeated her! Which meant that, next time I got to that level, defeating her led to having to climb into her womb and fight more monsters there. Which... is definitely a narrative choice a person could make.
Started playing Hexcells, a puzzle game; not to be confused with Hexels, a different puzzle game. The latter is like 2048 but in three directions not two; the former is kind of like a griddler/nonogram, but in three directions and its own specific language of clues. Played all the way through Hexcells, then started Hexcells Plus. Got the Perfectionist achievement for the original Hexcells. Then Hexcells Plus. Then started Hexcells Infinite, and am at 90% of that.
The problem with me and Hexcells is not the logic. I'm not super great at the logic, but with time and effort and occasional appeals to online walkthroughs I can succeed (usually by speaking the chain of logic out loud over and over because I can't hold the branches in my head long enough otherwise.) The problem is that that one of the achievements is to do all the games with zero (or only one) mistakes, and the way my brain works (or the way my working memory doesn't work) it's very easy for me to make one stupid error too many and ruin an hour of work. Which is really frustrating and upsetting. At least Hexcells Infinite lets you save your progress. The first two games didn't, so if you need a break before finishing the level, you have to leave the app open.
The compost bin is full. That took about three months to fill a 220L bin. I had to look up what one does once the bin's full. Leave it to cure for a month or so while starting a new bin, apparently. Or alternatively, lift the bin off the compost (it doesn't have a bottom) and set it down next to the compost, shovel whatever still looks like vegetable peelings and cat litter back into the bin, and use whatever just looks like soil to grow things. (But not herbs and vegetables, because this is cat litter compost, so it's contaminated with toxoplasmosis. This compost can nourish pretty flowers and Native Plants To Encourage Local Species.)
Baked scones. Also tried out a couple of recipes from my long backlog of bookmarked Recipes To Try Someday:
- Jack Monroe's Queen of Hearts jam tarts recipe. Not too bad given how seldom I make pastry. If you have fifty grams of butter and a scant cup of plain flour and some jam, this is an okay thing to do with those ingredients, but the scones were better.
- AoM Bratwurst Sandwich. This contains one thing I eat normally (mustard), one thing I've had decades ago but haven't cooked with (bratwurst), and two things I hadn't had before (sauerkraut, pumpernickel.) The bratwurst and mustard and sauerkraut were good. The pumpernickel... yeah, no, next time I make this I'll just use a dark rye.
I could have adapted to the flavour, but its lack of structural integrity meant that according to the Earl of Sandwich litmus test this is not even a sandwich. (i.e. "I pretend I am the original Earl of Sandwich. I have asked for non-bread foods to be brought to me inside bread, that I might more easily consume them one-handed while gambling. This does not enable my wretched regency habits. This is not what I asked for. I do not deign to grace it with the name of my house.")
This would fall apart in his hand, scattering boiled rye grains all over his elaborate necktie and playing cards.
Admittedly, the degree of difficulty was higher for me since I had to eat it one-handed while fending off a very interested black and white cat with the other hand.
Broke my daily meditation streak at 219 days. Very pissed off about it, in a not zen at all way. The last time this happened it was at 149 days. Forming habits is hard for me. (This is not a request for reassurance or advice. Especially not advice.) Took four days off meditating out of pique.
Have been fighting a lot these last few days. At first I thought Beatrice was the main instigator, but last night while she was aggressively licking Dorian, I saw him nip her.
He hasn't learned to lift the toilet lid yet, but it's hard for me to remember to leave it down since my already established habit was to close the door but leave the lid up.
Though I expect to be thoroughly exhausted tonight.
Also, it's payroll day. (sigh)
Yesterday I did not have to go to the Board meeting. I'm not sure why, but the boss decided I should attend the one in September which is at ACORN. I am find with that.
It was a busy day, but we got everything ready for the board. That's all I needed to do.
Pat is going cycling this morning, but we got up at 6, which is only 15 minutes earlier than my regular time. So I'm far less grumpy about it.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a weird book. I liked it, some parts of it quite a bit, but it's a weird book. I think I started out with the wrong expectations; I'd just read a YA book, and the cover of this one looks like a YA novel. It's also told from the perspective of someone who believes her plastic dragons can talk to her, so initially I thought I was going to be reading a YA fantasy novel.
Pretty quickly, though, the book veers into adult territory; the protagonist Sarah is actually in her thirties, and there's a fair amount of sexual content, including mentions of child prostitution, although none of it is graphic or detailed, just alluded to.
This is set in some sort of possibly dystopic future, but we don't get a lot of details about the world because everything comes from Sarah's very limited POV. That's actually one of my favorite parts about the book--the way the author lets little details about the world slip through (everybody uses some kind of credit system, hovercars are a thing, etc) without really explaining anything.
Another part I really like is that Sarah can speak to inanimate objects. At the beginning of the story, the reader thinks she's hallucinating and then gradually comes to realize that she truly can hear her plastic dragons and other objects speak. I also like that Sarah falls in with a group of marginalized people who have banded together to protect each other and live together in what sounds to me like an abandoned chemical plant. Their society is based on the Jungle Book, and is very cool if also very disturbing in many ways.
So, pros: very cool world building, very interesting protagonist, very interesting plot.
Cons: mentions of child rape and child prostitution, consent issues, really bizarre (dated?) understanding of autism (the story begins with Sarah in an institution, and she's believed to be autistic because she was mute as a child and now can only communicate in quotations from stories that she's memorized)
Recommend with reservations.
View all my reviews
Signal-boosting much appreciated!
This one is a good book.
Julie Rehmeyer, a mathematician and science writer, chronicles how chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME) crept up on her until her entire life had vanished and she was frequently completely paralyzed. While she desperately tried to find a treatment, she instead encountered an array of quacks, snake oil salesmen, nice but useless therapists, nice but useless doctors, a patients’ community full of apparent crackpots, and medical literature claiming that it was a mental illness caused by, essentially, being lazy and whiny.
In desperation, Rehmeyer finally starts listening to some of the apparent crackpots… and when she applies her scientific training to their ideas, she finds that stripped of the bizarre terminology and excessive exclamation points, they sound surprisingly plausible. With her entire life at a dead end and nothing left to lose, she reluctantly decides to try a treatment which is both radical and distinctly woo-woo sounding.
And it works.
But unlike every other “How I cured/treated my illness by some weird method” memoir, the story doesn’t end there. Instead, she not only researches and theorizes about how and why it might have worked, she interviews scientists and doctors, and even arranges to do a double-blind experiment on herself to see if it’s a real cause of her symptoms or the placebo effect. I cannot applaud this too much. (I was unsurprised to find that every article I read on her book had a comment section claiming that her results were due to the placebo effect.)
Lots of people have suggested that I write about my own horrendous illness, crowd-sourced treatment, and jaw-dropping parade of asshole doctors who told me I was lying, a hypochondriac, or crazy. While you’re waiting… read this book instead. Though it’s not the same disease and she was treated WAY better by doctors, a lot of her experience with being beaten over the head with bad science and diagnoses based purely on sexism was very similar. As is much of her righteous rage. I am way more ragey and less accepting than she is. But still. It’s similar.
Overall, this is a well-written and honest memoir that shines a welcome light on a poorly-understood illness. Rehmeyer's perspective as a science writer provides for clarity, justifiable anger, and humor as she takes apart the morass of bad science, victim-blaming, and snake oil that surrounds chronic fatigue syndrome. It's informative without being dry, easy to read and hard to put down.
Through the Shadowlands: A Science Writer's Odyssey into an Illness Science Doesn't Understand
And then to work on a specific to do list. I’m using a single piece of A4 paper for the work week, and only allowing myself as many tasks in a day as can be fit in a column. So, today’s list included the above pharmacy run, making a skin check appointment, and a bunch of paperwork. By 10:30am, I'd done half the columne (yes, the easy to get done stuff, but not necessarily the *fast* stuff).
By dinnertime,I'd done most of the rest. Some of it required more computer time than I had during the day, but I’m pretty happy with what I got done. The idea of not trying to fit more in to the week than I can fit on an A4 piece of paper — has potential (although I have to remember to make each thing doable in a small time, or a specific part of a larger task).
and I'm writing this at not quite 9:30pm, and I have a book or two picked out to read some more of. Last night I managed to finish up two near finished ones, so feeling pretty happy about that...
In other news, I began, again, working on the rewrite of the mystery novel. It's slow going, but it's going.
Pat and I wanted to watch the coverage of the final stage of the Tour de France, but a NASCAR race ran overtime. It was accident, clear the track, restart, accident, clear the track, restart, endlessly. And they kept postponing the Tour coverage. Finally they said it would start around 11 pm. So we just turned off the tv and said fuck it.
Stupid fucking car races.
Today I have a full day of work and then I have to go to the board meeting tonight. It's going to be a long fucking day.
Tomorrow is payroll.
Boo-hiss on long fucking days.
So Albion (davidn) just put out a demo release of their new album “Buried Souls”! It's a power metal tribute to Undertale. (I know they've described it as “power metal trapped in an Amiga” before, but I think there's been some stylistic evolution since then… I wouldn't mind being corrected on this? Is there a new official way to word this?)
They've done some neat music before. We haven't gotten a chance to listen to the demo ourselves yet, because everything's been too jammed, but if you like that sort of thing, go give it a listen. The full album is supposed to be coming out in early 2018. ^..^
Yesterday was tiring, but for a much more pleasant reason. I took Nicholas to see My First Ballet: Cinderella at the Peacock Theatre, and for icecream at Ruby Violet afterward. We walked to Ruby Violet through pouring rain with bright new umbrellas, and had the whole shop to ourselves. By the time we'd finished eating it was bright and sunny for the return walk to Kings Cross. This morning I was thankfully free of hangover symptoms, but did (need to) spend the morning in bed again. (Reading fanfic and re-reading All Systems Red; there are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning.)
The shiny new phone runs Pokemon Go and on Friday I let Charles talk me into installing it and going for a daily walk with him. The first evening, we passed the charity shop and saw the biggest Angry Bird toy I have ever seen. Charles bought it at opening time the next morning. Today our walk took us past the noticeboard in the park - where someone had hung my lost keys! About five minutes later, we met one of the people who'd put them there, who said they'd found them about 5 minutes after I'd gone home last week from grumpily trawling the park! I thanked them profusely and asked them to pass it on.
Nicholas says he wants to be called Nick rather than Nico, and I'm slipping up far too often, but at least making sure other adults taking care of him are made aware, and giving him some standard reminder phrases to use on me and others. (It's really not my preferred version of his name, but it's his name not mine, so I need to get over that.)
School has finished for the summer, and in less than two weeks we will be in Helsinki! I have so much to do between now and then ...
Like Europe in Autumn, Europe at Midnight is basically a Le Carre-esque spy thriller which replaces the Cold War with the complicated politics of a fragmented near-future Europe. Its events take place on the same timeline as those of Europe in Autumn, with limited points of intersection. It's clever and plotty and interesting and I enjoyed it a great deal. I did, however, have one reservation, which was that I counted no fewer than three separate incidents where female characters who were important to the two male protagonists died violently in order to advance the men's plots (and a fourth where a woman was only seriously injured). It's true that the novel belongs to the gritty spy thriller genre and that comes with a lot of violence, death and general unpleasantness, and it gets points for having a reasonably wide range of female characters who are as likely to be dishing out the violence and general unpleasantness as on the receiving end of it, but by the third death I couldn't help feeling that this was starting to feel a bit like a pattern, especially as none of the deaths of men had the same emotional resonance for the two protagonists.
Rivers of London: Black Mould is the third Rivers of London graphic novel. I pre-ordered this in February when the release date was, I think, May; it was eventually released this week. Like the first two, it's a short standalone casefic which doesn't add to the wider arc of the series; fairly slight, but it was nice to see more of DC Guleed in particular, and it was entertaining enough.