In past months…

Been reading:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is a YA generation ship story, the first in a series – I thought it explored a lot of interesting ideas, although I felt it suffered a bit from ‘stupid character’ syndrome (ie. the main characters taking ages to figure out something that the reader has realised long ago). I picked it up because I read great reviews of it on Tansy Rayner-Robert’s and Random Alex’s blogs.

Eon by Alison Goodman, is a wonderful high fantasy with a girl-disguised-as-boy protagonist (Eon), and a lot of very high political stakes. Eon can also be a bit dense at times as to what is going on around her – perhaps this is just an ‘adult reading YA’ problem.

Deadline by Mira Grant is the follow up to Feed which I bought and devoured as soon as it was published. I really enjoyed it, but it had its problems – repetitive, a narrator whom I found frustrating, and a few plot twists which left me undecided as to how I felt about them. Despite that, I’m really looking forward to the third book and seeing how Grant wraps up the series.

Solitaire is Kelley Eskridge’s only published novel, and it’s a fantastic piece of science fiction. I only wish she had written another novel – maybe I’ll have to find some of her short stories.

– I have loved all of Tana French’s novels – while they sometimes push your ability to suspend your sense of disbelief, French’s writing and plotting is just so enjoyable. Faithful Place was no exception to the trend – a really wonderful mystery novel.

And watching:

– I binge watched the first season of Game of Thrones, which I loved – I have never read the books and I don’t think I will. The TV series seems to condense them very nicely (and then I won’t have the trauma of starting to read an unfinished series).

– The fourth season of True Blood is its usual very enjoyable mess of too many plot threads (and vastly improves upon its source material, I think – we don’t have to listen to Sookie’s interminably dull inner monologue about her morning routine, which is what most of Charlaine Harris’ books spend a lot of time going over).

Torchwood: Miracle Day is a full season of Torchwood being shot in the US with Gwen (and family), Captain Jack and a whole lot of new American characters. It is suitably thrilling and disturbing, and I’m enjoying it enormously. In the first episode, there’s a scene where Gwen slips a pair of pink earmuffs on her baby daughter before sprinting down a corrider, holding the baby with one arm and shooting at a helicopter with the other. I love Gwen.

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Remembering

I remember travelling in Bali when I was 13 and reading The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones. I absolutely loved her quartet of Dalemark books, and named a wooden puppet that I bought after one of the characters. I think they remain some of my favourites of her novels (they are much creased and bent from re-reading), although I also love the Chrestomanci series, which were some of the first books of hers I ever read.

Over the years I have read almost everything Diane Wynne Jones ever wrote. When I read about her death this morning, I went and looked at my bookshelves, and counted 15 of her books there – one of my biggest author collections, rivalled only by Terry Pratchett.

Diana wrote about some of my favourite romantic relationships – Howl and Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle spring to mind, of course – and she wrote wonderful magical fantasy with such wit and humour. A particularly British type of fantasy.

Last year Tansy Rayner-Roberts wrote a lovely letter to Diana Wynne Jones after she heard that she was discontinuing treatment for her cancer, and I love reading about her favourite books – I think every one of Diana’s fans will have their own vivid mental image of Chrestomanci in his glorious dressing gowns. Robin McKinley describes Diana’s stories as frisky and exuberant, and that’s exactly right – her stories are so joyous and funny.

Although I haven’t loved her later books as much as her earlier ones (probably partly because I am reading them for the first time as an adult), I am still terribly sad that she won’t be writing any more. And after pulling all her books out of the bookshelves this morning I have an urge to do some re-reading – it’s been years since I read the Dalemark books. And The Magicians of Caprona. And Time City. Perhaps I just need to re-read them all.

Solutions

– After listening to this interview with Alain de Botton, I am definitely going to check out a copy of his book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I have avoided his books in the past because I have always thought they looked like too much hard work, so I think I’m going to seek it out in audio book form – I’m much better at reading ‘difficult’ books in audio form, because I can’t skim.

– The husband is taking a serious approach to planning our trip to New Zealand in August, and is creating the most elaborate Excel spreadsheet known to man. I am contributing things like, “I must go to Dunedin and visit this bookstore.” Because visiting bookstores is a sensible thing to do on an overseas trip.

– I was also listening to the Marketplace of Ideas interview with Mark Frauenfelder about, among other things, the value of making things yourself (value in the sense of personal satisfaction, I mean). Which is a sentiment I understand and agree with; I was listening to the interview while tying together chickenwire in the gradual process of constructing Chickendome, which I am finding a very satisfying project. The slow process of putting the chickenwire together is quite meditative. I do tend to romanticise professions that involve the creation of something – for example, I feel at heart that my brother’s carpentry is of much greater value than my own job (although this feeling doesn’t go to the extent of longing to get out and on the tools myself). But really, the idea that we need to handmake things in order to find meaning in life is such a privileged Western preoccupation that it makes me wince a little. I’m fairly certain that those who must make things by hand because there is no alternative would not agree that it enriches their lives.

Me, referring suddenly to an email received several days ago: “But what did you mean when you wrote ‘donk’? Was that a typo?”
The husband, incredulously: “What?”
Me: “You said ‘donk’. What does that mean? Did you make it up? Who uses that word?”
H: “It means an engine.”
Me: “Is that a common term? If I googled it would something come up? And why would you use it to refer to a computer? It’s very confusing.”
H: “You are turning into your father.”

– I have been gritting my teeth with frustration trying to figure out the erratic problems we’ve been having with our broadband, reading with irritation on online forums that my particular modem is not known for dealing well with crappy connections. Today I have updated its firmware, reset it to its default factory settings, played it some relaxing Mozart symphonies and given it a gentle shoulder massage. And thus far it has rewarded me with fairly steady access the entire day. Writing this down ensures that within the next 5 minutes it will all go to hell, but I don’t care – it is always so pleasing when you go painfully slowly through a trouble shooting process and it actually produces some sort of result.

Bits & pieces

  • Someone has written a sequel to A Little Princess – one of my favourite childhood books.  All about what happens to Ermengarde!  I am going to get my hands on that the moment it’s published.
  • I got a shout out from Galactic Suburbia in their latest episode (because I stalked them at AussieCon.  In a totally non-creepy way.)

  • I’ve never made a fresh tomato sauce – now I want to make this one from Smitten Kitchen.
  • New favourite tea – green tea with jasmine and pear.

Tunes

I spent part of this weekend making a website for the husband’s “band”.  I use the term loosely, because said band really consists of himself and a mate drinking beer and recording mostly improvised instrumental tunes.  Perhaps “duo” would be better, and that’s what I’ve used on the website.  But really, as I think it’s pretty much impossible for them to play any of this stuff live (there’s far too many instruments, plus with the whole alcohol and improvised thing it would be a little difficult to replicate), they probably need to be called some other term like “studio duo”.

Anyway, the site is over here – if you want to listen to some free instrumental music recorded in a shed, go and check it out.  I recommend downloading The Babking, and having a listen.  I think it’s gorgeous.  Oh, and I also love Folka Dot Tie.  Only partly because I have a writing credit on it.  I think it’s because I suggested a chord.  They’re generous with the writing credits.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing a fair bit of reading, watching trashy TV and being generally unproductive, thanks to the husband’s absence from the house.  I revert to extreme laziness when left alone.  I am partway through Gail Carriger’s Changeless, and managed to read my way through the entirety of Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts over the past two days.  It really wasn’t what I expected from the cover – which is a bit delicate and pretty – and it was hearing Tansy read from it at Aussiecon that convinced me to buy it.  Power and Majesty is a seriously intense book, almost ridiculously exciting, with very detailed and unique worldbuilding. While there’s not a cliffhanger ending, there’s so much more of this story to be told – I can’t wait for the sequel.

AussieCon 4 – round up

Last weekend I was in Melbourne, staying in my aunt’s apartment in the city, and catching the tram every day to go out to the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (or, because it’s the fourth one held in Australia, AussieCon 4).

Highlights:

  • seeing Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire on a panel “in conversation” – they’re both so funny, and it was great to see them chat in person.
  • Ellen Kushner’s performance/reading of Thomas the Rhymer, with several British folk songs.
  • Watching panels with Cory Doctorow, China Mieville, Robert Silverberg & Charles Stross.
  • Seeing Seanan McGuire win the Campbell award at the Hugos and squeak incoherently into the mic when she first got up on stage.
  • Seeing Gail Carriger around the place each day in a different fabulous outfit, and hearing her read from Blameless.
  • Catching the end of the Boxcutters panel on Dr Who, and getting to see Josh Kinal and John Richards (podcast superstars!).
  • Seeing Galactic Suburbia, three fabulous women, recording their live podcast episode.
  • The Hugo Awards in its entirety, with Garth Nix doing a fantastic job as host. And Peter Watts accepting his award in his “Welcome Squid Overlords” t-shirt.
  • Following and contributing to the aus4 hashtag on Twitter.
  • Being around people who felt like my tribe – or one of my tribes, at least. People talking books and sci-fi and generally getting their geek on.
  • Seeing my gorgeous cousins and their son, and have breakfast at The European.
  • Books bought:

  • Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson
  • Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
  • Sprawl anthology from Twelfth Planet Press
  • Changeless by Gail Carriger
  • Shadow Bound by Deborah Kalin
  • Bleed by Peter M Ball
  • The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
  • Reading the Hugo Packet – Part 2

    Part 1 is here.

    This week, I’ve almost finished one of the novels – Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, which is about a fantastically disturbing future Thailand, bleak and compelling.

    I’ve also finished all the short stories except for Kij Johnson’s Spar, and none have particularly grabbed me. I want to move on to the related works next, especially The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms by Helen Merrick, as I’ve heard lots of good things about it on Galactic Suburbia.

    I’m partway through Seanan McGuire’s Rosemary and Rue, and unexpectedly enjoying it – I must admit I was really put off by the main character’s name, but it’s well worth overcoming the initial cringe.

    Distracting me from these in-progress books is the latest Charlaine Harris book, a series which is unfortunately getting a little too terrible to even enjoy as a trashy indulgence. But now I’ve started, I have to finish it (it’s something to do while waiting for the third season of True Blood).

    Reading the Hugo Packet – Part 1

    (The eagle-eyed will spot that this photo has nothing to do with the Hugo Awards. But I think it’s pretty. It’s the sort of photograph that causes my husband to sigh and say, “Oh, another arty one.” He doesn’t like small points of focus. I think they’re fabulous.)

    I made up my mind to go to AussieCon4 this year, bought my membership, bought my flights to Melbourne, and then gleefully downloaded the electronic Hugo packet – copies of most of the works nominated for the Hugo Awards this year. The awards are presented at AussieCon and members are eligible to vote, so the idea of the packet is that you have access to all the works so you can make an informed vote. I am frantically reading through lots of glorious stories so I’m ready to vote by the end of July – I already know there’s going to be a lot of tough decisions in each category.

    I had already read some of the short stories/novelettes (I listened to Eugie Foster’s Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast on Escape Pod, which was fantastic), and one of the novels (Robert Sawyer’s Wake), so I have a bit of a head start.

    I’ve read all of the novelettes now, and I really enjoyed quite a few of them, including Nicola Griffith’s It Takes Two and Eugie Foster’s story. I’ve also read one of the novellas, The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker, which I did like but didn’t feel there was much to it (in a way that I can’t really articulate better than that).

    I’m listening to The City & The City by China Mieville at the moment, and am halfway through reading Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald. Next I think I want to try a few of the graphic novels, but haven’t figured out a comfortable way of reading PDFs. Perhaps there’s any easy way to put them on my iPod.

    Read & Watched in March

    This March:

    – I watched one and a half seasons of The Tudors for the first time, and am enjoying its lush and lavish scenery.  The frequent nudity is amusing –  I’m sure Cardinal Woolsey often enjoyed nude massages by his mistress.  Henry is now getting a wee bit tired of Anne, and Jane Seymour has just hove to on the horizon.  I expect a tragic beheading by the end of Season 2.

    – Connie Willis’ Blackout, which I was awaiting with much anticipation, was rather disappointing simply because it is one book that appears to have been just chopped in half by the publishers.  The last page helpfully tells me to keep an eye out for All Clear which will be published later this year.  Yes, thanks ever so much for that – it would have been nice to know prior to plunging my way through Blackout and being brought up short at the ending.  I will read All Clear, of course, because I think Connie Willis is marvellous, but Blackout is not really a book in itself, nor is it part of a series – it’s a poor half-book, stuck in a pair of covers all by itself.

    – I have discovered, rather belatedly, the world of podcasts, specifically those to do with sci-fi and fantasy.  Galactic Suburbia, which I am impatiently waiting for a fourth episode of, is an Australian podcast by three women discussing all aspects of sci-fi and fantasy (or speculative fiction, which is a nice categorisation for all sorts of things that I love), and particularly feminist aspects of speculative fiction.  Great stuff.  And their most recent episode, with a couple of snippets about SwanCon, has made me wonder about the attraction of conventions, which I’ve always figured are more for the… I don’t know, costume-wearing fans, rather than myself.  But perhaps this deserves re-thinking, particularly with AussieCon4 in Melbourne this year.

    Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is another cool podcast, featuring interviews each week with a bunch of different authors.  I like the wide variety of its topics, from Tolkien to robots used by the military.

    – I also watched the fourth season of Weeds, which was an interesting transition from a show in which Nancy is a sympathetic character, dealing weed to keep in her kids in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed (and somewhat clumsily navigating the various drug cartels along the way) to the Nancy of the fourth season, who is employed by drug traffickers, and whose children are involved (however peripherally) in the drug trade.  With her determined blindness to certain aspects of the organisation she’s involved with, she is a much less sympathetic character, and the whole show spirals into a darker place, in which the humour that fitted so well in the earlier seasons seem a little misplaced.

    In April, I’m looking forward to some more Tudors, a new Robin Hobb book, and a couple of novellas by Australian authors about outer space and unicorns.

    Book Round-Up for 2009

    I read 135 books in 2009, much less than the previous two years (183 and 173 respectively). I’m not sure why the numbers have dropped so much – I definitely read less in the second half of 2009 than I have in previous years, and I was less careful in keeping track of what I was reading, so perhaps that accounts for a few books.

    Best Faux-Nostalgic Books

    For some reason, I never read the Anne of Green Gables series when I was younger. I made up for that during my winter holiday this year, when I found Anne of Green Gables at a friend’s place in Darwin, and then followed that up with the rest of the series gathered from second-hand bookstores in Tasmania. I loved Anne & Gilbert, but became less interested in the series as they became adults and the stories focused more on their children.

    Best Newly Discovered Classic

    I have loved Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies since I read it as a teenager, and I listened to Decline & Fall for the first time this year (which is an earlier novel, and vaguely related). Decline & Fall is hilarious, in the same dark way as Vile Bodies. I feel that I should read Brideshead Revisited now, but I think it’s a very different style to these two books.

    Most Trashy Books of Which I Read Far Too Many

    A tie between the equally addictive Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (source material for the True Blood tv series), and JD Robb’s In Death futuristic-detective series.

    Best Non-Fiction

    I don’t read that much non-fiction, so there’s not a lot to choose from – a tie between Ingrid Cummings’ The Vigorous Mind, about the benefits of life-long generalised learning, and Mary Roach’s hysterical Spook, over which I shook with silent laughter on public transport.

    Best Book About Antarctica

    Possibly the only book about Antarctica I read in 2009, but definitely the best – Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness, a truly terrifying and creepy YA novel, which inspired me to read more about Lawrence Oates, of the “I am just going outside…” quote.

    Best Dystopia

    While it’s not a really believable dystopia (which all the really terrifying ones are), Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was as fantastic and compelling as everyone was saying, and I enjoyed the sequel, Catching Fire, as well. However, hands-down-best dystopia of the year was Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey – a fantastic fable-like story about boxing and what it means to be human.

    Best How Have I Not Read This Author Before?

    I can’t believe I had never picked up a John Green novel before – king of quirky teenage characters. (I know quirky is really overused as a descriptive word, and I think I’ve used it twice already here, but I mean it as a compliment. I like quirky.) I read Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and my favourite, Looking for Alaska, which I loved and wept over.

    And my final two Honourable Mentions to books that I loved but can’t think of a particular category for – Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, for all of us who read and loved the Narnia books as children, and wished that one day we could step through, and AS Byatt’s Possession, for everyone who loves.