Thursday, February 06, 2020

Storms

It has been a dark and stormy day today.  Seriously, the greater part of the day was spent under tornado warnings and watches, and flash flood watches.  It's still raining in a desultory way, sort of spitting and spotting.  Neither of the dogs have enjoyed it.  The little dog is convinced that heavy rain is a way to trick him into a bath.  Despite being a poodle, he is morally opposed to baths.  However, his morals must give way when he has to pee.  Big dog is fine with rain -- run out, do what needs doing, run back, shake off, nap.  He's got it down.  It pays to be 9 yrs old.

As for me, I'm getting little things done one after the other.  The kitchen is very nearly clean -- the bigger part of what needs doing will be done after I get back from the house hunting.  The prep for driving to Kansas is underway, including boxes of stuff The Husband wants but didn't pack before he left.  I have a few "I told you so's" that I'm not saying and am just packing what I can to take out.

Mostly I'm tired.  Watching storm warnings is tense, because I believe in tornadoes.  I always have.   I mean, I am fully of the school that a tornado may not have hit an area in 50 years, and maybe no one alive can remember one, but that doesn't mean it can't happen, and your time is short so pay attention.  I grew up in Florida, remember, and while it isn't famous for tornadoes, they happen, especially when there is a hurricane going on.  Of course, Florida also has frequent fabulous thunderstorms, so that rotating cloud thing can happen any old time.

Upstate South Carolina does NOT have thunderstorms on the regular.  In fact, I think I can recall maybe 7 or 8 in the 12 years we've lived hear.  So, when I hear thunder in the pre-dawn hours, it attracts my attention and I start listening.  Because we live hear trains and big trucks that go through at all hours, I have to listen carefully.  It could be a truck unloading or a train rumbling passed.  But, no, this morning it was the sky and it rumbled for minutes.

So, I'm tired and out of sorts.  I'm not in the mood to read.  I'm really thinking about taking a shower and going to bed like an old woman, but it's too damned early for that (8 pm, for fuck's sake).

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Can We Live Through February?



February by Dar Williams

So, February is the month of change.  The Husband is several states away starting his new job, living in a rental room, making lists of things he forgot that I should bring when I come next week.  I am here cleaning and packing and sorting, just a little at a time, doing my best to get things done without straining my damned weak back or getting my touchy joints excited.  But things are getting done, an inch at a time.

I started my February book -- Fahrenheit 451.  I've never read it, although it was on the reading list in junior high.  My classes were "special" -- I was exempted because I was in both band and choir, so I had an individual class and I spent a lot of time in reading lab with books that were not on the regular list.  So, this one went by.

I think it's a good thing, too.  Oh, I would have liked it, I think.  I certainly could have read it and done the book report.  But I also think I would not have noticed the beauty of the writing.  Now, with all my years of reading and study, I am submerged in Bradbury's writing.  I already know the message of the book.  I know its plot and themes and how it ends -- I mean, I've made a point of studying Science Fiction as a genre (on my own) so I have read about the book many times. 

There's a big Mid-Century Modern feel to the book, of course.  Fragmented sentences, stream of consciousness, and a certain abstract quality, but it still has strong, nearly poetic, images.  It's a book of more than just sight and sound, too.    I certainly don't know how one could describe a person as having skin like white bacon without engaging all the senses.  But in general, the book feels like spare curves and long lines, bright lime green and aqua.  It matches its time in a way I couldn't have expected,  instead of pulling forward a writing style of a previous era.

I've also started Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library as my Book about Books (the Boot Riot Challenge) and The Diamond Age as my second book for the month.  I haven't read much because my brain is moving too fast with lists and tasks and things to not forget to settle down for more than a few minutes at a time.  Bradbury is suitable for that sort of attention span.  I can read 10 pages and get something from it.  And, well, it is a short book.  There's a positive aspect to short books.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Book Review -- Jack Glass

Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer by Adam Roberts

Another of the books that has had a marker in it for...I don't know how long.  I bought the book new, probably not long after it was published, and I read the first of its three parts in one go back then.  And put in a marker.

Today I finished it.  Just a few minutes ago, actually, so it hasn't settled completely in my mind.  What is it about?  Impossible things, the end of humanity, locked room murder mysteries and FTL drives and what humans will do to one another.

Did I like it?  I think so.  There was a little part in the middle when we were spending far too much time in the mind of a very intelligent, very rich, and very spoiled 15 year old girl and that was tedious at times, but she grows up pretty quickly and by the end of the novel I had forgiven her pettiness and whining.  I'm still trying to make my mind accept certain things in the book -- as I said, it's full of impossible stuff.

I enjoyed most Roberts' way with words.  The book reads easily, although it has stubborn holes and trailing ends and all matter of messiness, yet it seems to be neat and tidy.  It makes me think of packaged ramen noodles, the dried kind that come in a block to be soaked for soup.  A neat, square, tidy sort of mess of curls and twists.  That's what this book was like.


Reading is getting easier to do, by the way.  It's like a muscle I haven't used properly in a long while.  The more I work with it, the more it can do.  I still have to take pauses and rest.  I don't read every day (as yet).  But other distractions aren't as tempting as they were, and I am contemplating the next book.  Because I finished two "marker" books, I can start a new book (my system, I make the rules).  I still have a huge stack of "marker" books, but it seems possible now that I will get through them.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Breaking Up with an Author

If you're a genre reader, you are probably a series reader.  Let me define terms here -- for me, a series is a sequential group of books following one character or group of characters through 4 or more volumes, building a world with long running story lines.  And I love 'em.  I love the depth that the author can dig, the wide spread of the world(s) they can create, and the detail that can be indulged without massive info-dumping.

So, it's really a shock when I realize a series has let me down, and I fall out of love with an author (because, really, I love those authors who keep me hooked for so many hours, who have me discussing details with others for long conversations, and who spend time rearranging my mental furniture).  It hasn't happened often.  Sometimes I cool on a series for a while, or get distracted from it, but rarely have I actually given up on a series I'm deeply into.  In fact, I cannot think of another author or series that I have loved so much and then been so disappointed in than The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

I got to meet Mr. Hearne, and get my books signed, some few years back.  He is a lovely person and I wish the best for him, but I cannot see myself buying and reading any more of his books.  And it's because I was so roundly and deeply disappointed in how the series ended -- so much so that I did not read the last book (I got the gist from The Husband and a friend).

You see, I really, really, REALLY enjoyed the first six books in the series.  I liked the seventh well enough, although I could feel a change.  The eighth just left me cold, because it felt exactly like Hearne was sick to death of his characters and his world, but had to finish what he'd started.  So, he rushed and crammed and shortcutted, inflicting as much damage to the characters as he could so he could get out of it.  Once he was sick of characters I was so invested in, I didn't want to read any further.

And I mean, I was invested.  I have both print and audio versions of all the books, and I had read the first 7 at least twice, aside from listening too many times to count.  I have most, if not all, of the novellas and short stories, which are also well read. The Husband and I spent many long car drives discussing various aspects, speculating, making jokes, and generally milking the books for all they were worth.  I understand how an author can feel locked into a series.  I suspect he didn't anticipate the series going on as it did, and perhaps that's why he let certain (to me critical) details fall to the side in his desire to get it all done and move on to something new.  So I don't blame Hearne (and his writing skills are obviously great in my opinion, because I was invested so deeply).

But I'm not going into another book by him.  I don't want to deal with getting that involved only to have the series  do a text break-up with me.  Characters stop growing, the comedy broadens and flattens, the levels and pulleys of the plot start to creak, and the boom mikes get into the shot.  The author has fallen out of love with his work, and if I still love them, I'm in the relationship alone.

Every book is a relationship, you know.   For better or worse, for a few hours or a lifetime, there's an agreement between the reader and the writer, and it creates a relationship where both are committed to certain things (Thomas C. Foster details this in How to Read Novels Like a Professor).  The first few chapters are a first date, maybe a meet up at the coffee shop, and the more of the book one reads, the longer and deeper the relationship gets.  That's why there are so many people who reread favorite books -- the relationship is strong and dependable there.  The author fulfills the expectations laid out in the beginning.  I can trust those authors not to ghost on me, not to change their minds and try to renegotiate. or not to flat out lie.

What I've realized is that I no longer want to reread even the early books of the series, the ones I have nearly memorized, because I know the end of the relationship (the end of the book series, which is like the end of a very long book) is bad.  There will be tears and shouting and slamming doors.  The desire to go back to those heady early days when everything was roses and little notes and late night chats is still there, but as much as I loved that, I know I'll be angry at how it ends.

So, I've broken up with an author. 

Now, this has no effect on Mr. Hearne.  Hell, he doesn't know, or have to know, or have to care.  He has his own life and interests, and he is doing his thing.  I hope he has much success.  I just won't be a part of that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Little Victories

I finished one of the stalled books I had stacked (no review).  Once I got into it, I didn't want to stop, and it wasn't precisely a challenging read, so it went down fast.  It's part of a series and I am tempted to start the next one, but I won't.  There are still too many books waiting with markers in them.

Still, that's three books this month and it's only the 21st.  I feel very satisfied.

Also still on countdown to definitive launch.  We've worked out some plans, but when things happen are all dependent.  Stress is beginning to show all around -- my chin is getting raw with scratching and picking at any little bump, Apollo is acting out, The Husband is short tempered.  I'm still having problems getting to sleep at night, although I am sleeping and not napping during the day. 

I'll celebrate my wins where I get them.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Moving

Events are now in the roll-down-the-hill stage.  After months (well, years, really) of walking in place waiting for "things" to happen, they are happening with rapidity.  The Husband has a new job and will be traveling to it by next week, leaving me behind for a while to supervise the packing and the critters.  Then we will house hunt, and, all things going right, I will be a resident of the Midwest before May. 

I've been too anxious to sleep or read.  If I allow things to be quiet, my brain starts churning up lists of tasks, questions, concerns, and all manner of disturbances.

I'm a Southerner, born and bred, even if I don't have a pronounced drawl.  I am neither spiritual or religious.  I'm not terribly social.  So I worry that I will become even more isolated than I currently am.

But there are positives.  Househunting, for instance.  I will, at last, get my library, and The Husband will get his workshop and exercise area.  We will have a yard for the dogs.  And Kansas City is much more metropolitan than Greenville.

So I'm trying to keep my mind on that.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Book Review - Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

The first book in my 12 books of 2020 is finished.  So far, so good, in resolution world.

This is the sort of book, like Snowcrash, that I wish I'd found when it came out, because it could have changed my reading (and writing) trajectory.  Just for the record, I haven't seen anything, even trailers, for the Netflix series.  The book came up on a "you should read" list I found online.

Aside from one short scene near the end that was triggering for me and that I skipped as much as I could (and that robbed me of most of my sleep last night, so that I resorted to pills), this was an electric read.  I went slowly through it, in part because I'm reading with a friend and we gave ourselves the whole month, and in part because I wanted it to last.  However, by the time I was nearing the end of the book, I was ready for some kind of ending.  This is a twisted book, twisted in many ways.  The plot, the characters, the events, even the structure, winds around and around until you might feel that on this road you are looking at your own ass.  Still, it's full of very clear scenes.  Places are sketched into being with a luxurious economy -- a contradiction, perhaps, but that's how I feel about it.  Morgan did most of the things I really, really like in a book -- building up the world in bits instead of an encyclopedic info dump; filtering things through a narrator who doesn't know everything and can be deceived (and be deceiving, even to himself); a rotating cast of secondary characters who are all painted in greys, complex and shifting.  I wish I could handle a cast like that, with the skill Morgan shows.

Under the crime noir science fiction frosting are some real questions about human life -- what it is, what's it's worth, who is a person, what makes a person?  It doesn't lecture on them (well, aside from a villain monologue, which is done so well that I didn't realize until now that it was, indeed, a villain monologue), instead considering them along with everything else that a person thinks.  Some of the questions remind me of Kiln People (David Brin), a book I read years back and am still unhappy has no sequel. This one, however, has two sequels, which are already on my wish/hunt list.

In personal news, I am packing up books for our eventual move (still an if bunny of huge proportions).  Part of that has been selecting some 50 books (or so) as potential reading material for the coming year.  I have reserved for myself one shelf  to retain until the final part of the move, since I may spend some weeks here waiting on The Husband to settle in a new job and locate a new home.  With so many animals, just finding a rental isn't an easy thing, so we will instead look to buy a new home when we can, and I will move then.  Other stuff will move up for storage in the mean time.  As I pack up books, I am reminded how much I have NOT read in the last 10 years (well, in the last 4, really), and it stiffens my resolve to read more.  I think that some of my mental distress comes from not reading.  Reading was central stuffing in my life from the time I was very young, and having lost that has taken vital organs from me.

So, books, then the folding shelves (we have lots of those), then knickknacks and pictures, then more essential things.  Something to do for the whole time I'm waiting.

Next month's "club read" is Fahrenheit 451.  In the meantime, I have Thin Air (Weatherwardens) and The God Delusion to finish, and if I still have empty time, I will start Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.  Ambitions, I have 'em.


Saturday, January 04, 2020

Book Review -- The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove

My first completed book of the year!   Here's to resolution keeping.

I once ran into Mr. Turtledove at DragonCon several years ago.  We were wearing matching T-shirts ("Careful or you'll end up in my novel") and we laughed about it.  Then I slowly began collecting his books, but I didn't really read any (just as I wasn't really reading anything).  So I picked up this one at the beginning of December because it looked fun.

It was fun. It was smart and almost (but not quite) painfully pun-ish and clipped along at a good pace.  It's an alternate Earth (the sliver of sf/f that Turtledove has practically cornered) where magic and theology are the sources of all technology.  Purely mechanical devices are not so common.  EPA (Environmental Perfection Agency) man David Fisher is an overworked government drone who gets involved in preventing a potential magical disaster.  He's not a hero, and he doesn't swing a blasting rod to clear his path.  Nevertheless, he addresses the problems and is successful enough to make the book an excellent read.

It isn't an insult to say it has a very Terry Pratchett Discworld vibe to it in the punny names and the explanations of How Things Work.  That isn't an easy thing to carry off without being annoying, but carry it off Turtledove does.  It isn't a "serious" work of literature, but it was a great way to spend time.  I will forever see the word "demon stration" when reading about protest marches.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Book Review: Hugh and Bess

 Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham


I enjoyed this book until the last third.  I'll get to it.  It wasn't really the author's fault.

I'm not huge on romance as a genre.  I read selectively and if it isn't something historical I can't easily get interested. I also prefer the trademark HEA -- happy endings, light drama, humor, because if I'm reading romance, I don't want to think too much. I picked this up on a whim and it sat for a while, but I cracked it a month or so ago and finally decided I was done today.

Set in the mid 14th century in England, this book is based on actual historical people and researched well, as far as I can tell, complete with the twistings of politics and the general harshness of life at that time.  13 year old Bess is to marry the 35 year old Hugh, who is trying to repair his family's reputation and fortune after his father's disastrous relationship with King Edward led to death, disgrace, and -- for Hugh -- imprisonment.  Bess wants nothing to do with the son of a traitor, and Hugh is in love with someone else anyway.

Pretty simple set up and of course you more or less know how it works out.  I quite enjoyed the interplay of characters, the historical glimpses, and the characters of Bess and Hugh.  Then, in the manner of historical drama, tragedy occurs and there is a lot of Unhappy when Hugh contracts the Black Death and thus dies.  The novel continues with Bess, still quite young, marrying again.  However, I was done with it at this point and skipped through most of the ending.  As I said, I don't appreciate unhappy/happy endings at this point in my life, and the loss of a character in whom I'd invested some interest and a lot of reading was more than I wanted.  For a more traditional romance reader, this would have been a crying moment, but as crying tends to hold me over an emotional black hole and right now that would be bad, I made the choice to read the afterword and call it "done".

The need to guard myself emotionally is, I think, the biggest hindrance to my reading (and watching TV shows and movies).  Writers want to affect a reader and affecting the reader emotionally is often a big part of a writer's goal, especially in the romance genre.  I've been affected by books in a lot of genres, but currently I tend to head for writers who will go lightly on the emotional buttons to either just have fun or to bring up intellectual questions to ponder.

Speaking of which, I have some new books to sprinkle in among next year's goal reading.  Neal Stephenson's _Diamond Age_, is the one I am looking at first (after Altered Carbon). 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Best intentions

Well, I sure as hell didn't keep up this blog in 2019.  I can't give a reason why.  I just did not.  In fact, I spent relatively little time on my computer this whole year.  And I didn't read much, but I thought I could tidy things up for the end of the year and move on.

I've considered more than once just pulling it all down, but I haven't so far.  I know I'm not talking to anyone (I doubt even my best online friends remember this thing exists).  This is just typing to myself, and most days I can't think of anything interesting to say to me, much less work up enough desire to see what that might be.  And if I don't give a fuck about what I have to say, I can't imagine anyone else working up one.

I've mostly been following the impeachment closely, listening and reading and waiting.  I know it isn't going to remove SCROTUS from office, although it's a nice daydream.  It might not even affect his election possibilities, although, again, I can dream of a blue wave and Elizabeth Warren being sworn in (and replacing Bill Barr with Kamela Harris).  Sometimes I wonder what has happened to the nation I thought I lived in, and I wonder if it has always been like this only I wasn't noticing.  I don't have a lot of political nostalgia -- I became aware that politics existed when Nixon was getting in trouble, so I sort of expect that the White House and Congress will be crazy, one way or another.  Still, I feel like the things I once expected to be normal and right and part of being a citizen are falling away, falling into a theocratic, xenophobic, head-in-the-sand nightmare. The temps and the oceans are rising, people are dying because they are just sources of money for other people, and there are far too many billionaires who are under the illusion they don't live in the same world as the people who create their wealth.

On the personal front, we are once more contemplating a great change as The Husband searches for a new job.  He's done with academia and now it's interviews and tests and hoping for an offer.  Currently, there are possibilities in Connecticut and Kansas.  I really don't want to live in Kansas, even in a liberal part of Kansas. So the if-bunnies loom.

Now, books.  I have so many books I'm not reading, but I'm managing to finish a few.  Finished the very important book Founding Myths by Andrew Seidel.  Finally finished reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and I wish I'd read it years ago when it was newer. It would have blown my mind a lot more than it did.  It's a good book, and should become a classic in SF.  A wild ride.

Also finished The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson.  It's set in 1898 San Fransisco, in Chinatown, and is filled with Chinese mythology as well as the difficulties of being female in that time and culture.  The sequel was published this year so it is on the list.

I have two other books in process which I will list when finished.  I also have ambitions for next year.  A friend of mine and I put together a list of 12 books we plan to read together.

Altered Carbon
Fahrenheit 451
Hyperion
King of Elfland's Daughter
Life of Pi
Lives of Tao
The Magicians
Old Man's War
On The Road
Red Mars
Smoke
A Universe from Nothing

Almost all are books I have had on my shelves awaiting my attention, and it seems like a fraught election year is the perfect one to distract myself. In fact, next year promises to be complicated in many ways, so that taking to this blog to talk to myself and maybe, possibly, other stray people, is a good idea.

Let's see if I can remember that in a week.