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Oct. 1st, 2015

11:00 am - Books read, July, August, and September 2015

I was busy enough in early August that I completely forgot to make my book log post for July’s reading. Then in early September, I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. So you get a SUPER-SIZED THREE MONTH EDITION! . . . which is still approximately the size of some people’s one-month edition. Oh well.

Onward to the books!

Arabella of Mars, David Levine. Read for blurbing purposes, and the author is a friend. The book is a splendid YA adventure that marries Napoleonic nautical adventure to Edgar Rice Burroughs under the auspices of a girl protagonist, and I already want somebody to write crossover fic blending it with Chaz Brenchley’s “Old Mars” setting (which presently exists only in short stories, so far as I know, but I eagerly await the novel). A race to prevent a murder collides with an interspecies conflict as the native inhabitants of Mars rise up against their colonial overlords. Fun.

Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver. I picked this up for the “Age of Empire” part and wound up reading the whole brick, which tells you something. Takeaway: HOLY SHIT MOUNTAINEERS ARE CRAZY. Seriously. Do not read if you are bothered by people losing bits to frostbite or just saying “yeah, okay, so thirty people have already died trying to reach the top of this mountain but let’s give it another shot.” Or by the section where they talk about women mountaineers and the sheer, gobsmacking sexism of one Galen Rowell, who not only tried to hold the women who summited Annapurna to a standard none of the men were expected to meet — not only made slimy innuendo about their sexual behavior — but did so in a letter he signed with his girlfriend’s name because “it would carry more weight.” Ahem. Anyway, good book.

Another, Yukito Ayatsuji. I no longer have my copy, so I can’t note the translator’s name. Japanese YA horror novel. I came very near to putting it down and not coming back, because dear sweet baby Zeus it took its own sweet time getting to the point where you learned anything concrete about the weird stuff going on. I’m also not sure how much of what bugged me about the narration is the author’s style, how much is the translator’s style, and how much is just Japanese doing its thing. I suspect a lot of the elliptical sentences where the characters hem and haw around things without quite saying them is a reflection of Japanese, but the (first person) text also had a habit of stepping back oddly to report what it had just done: the protagonist would ask a question, and then the narration would say “That was the question I asked her.” Etc. Interesting to read, but not really my cuppa overall, especially since the entire plot hinges on a specific unreliability on the part of the narrator. Which is why I no longer have the book on my shelves.

Elfquest, the Final Quest, vol. 1, Wendy and Richard Pini. . . . look, I can’t review this, okay? Partly because single volumes of graphic novels are pretty slight things and don’t leave me with much to say, but mostly because it’s Elfquest and I’m not very objective. I’ll try to say things when the whole story is done, but that won’t be for a long time.

Two Serpents Rise, Max Gladstone. I agree with those who say it isn’t as strong as Three Parts Dead, largely due to the leading characters: I am very difficult to sell on “I just met this person and now I’m totally obsessed with them.” On the other hand, this one pretty much had me at Aztecs. The city of Dresediel Lex is heavily based on Mesoamerican societies, with little reflections of that squirreled away in every corner of the worldbuilding, and the protagonist is the son of a priest a generation after the war against the gods left his father without a job. But the morality isn’t black and white: instead of torturing and murdering humans to keep the world going, now they torture and murder gods. Is that better? How about the ways in which Dresediel Lex is wildly out of balance with its environment, sucking down water faster than it can be replaced, and the price of that gets passed along to society’s lower classes in ways that are less obvious than cutting out their hearts but maybe not much kinder? Is it really justifiable to refuse to allow even voluntary self-sacrifice? (And if not, how can you be sure it’s really voluntary?) I said about the previous book that I would call it grimdark based on content but not on tone; that continues to be true. Gladstone explores the thorny edges of morality without assuming that everybody’s a shitheel at heart. I will definitely go on reading.

Gemsigns, Stephanie Saulter. So, I finished this book and promptly went to my computer to email Saulter and ask whether she wanted to blurb Chains and Memory (which she did, yay). Because this is a book about the gifts and disabilities of a genetic minority, and the question of where the line is between appropriate regulation and unacceptable abridgement of their human rights. Which is more or less what C&M is about. Plus it’s really good; it does an excellent job of balancing the larger-scale issue (the legal emancipation and protection of “gems,” genetically engineered humans who used to be the property of the firms that made them) with the more intimate stories of the actual people involved. I saw the big reveal with a certain character coming a long way off, but that’s okay — it was still effective. I need to pick up the sequel.

The Martian, Andy Weir. I basically picked up this one on the strength of an XKCD comic, because that is me yes sign me up. I could criticize the writing in some respects; these days I am very alert to the challenges of writing the sort of first person narration where the protagonist is consciously telling their story to someone, and there were places where I think Weir could have done a better job shaping Mark Watney’s recordings to sound like the way a person would actually record their thoughts. (Also, there were some very jarring shifts in the third-person sections of the book, though I’m not sure how much of that was an issue of ebook formatting — there may be breaks in the print edition.) However, all of that should come with the salt of “and then I devoured it in a single sitting.” Take that for what you will. :-)

Not Our Kind, ed. Nayad Monroe. Anthology; I think I backed a Kickstarter? <lol> It’s difficult to remember which books came from what source. Short stories about alien perspectives. I’m bad at reviewing anthologies without going through them story by story; it pretty much always boils down to “I liked some of these and didn’t like others.”

The Confusion, Neal Stephenson. Lordy, I don’t even remember when I started reading this one. Possibly February of last year, which is when I finally finished Quicksilver, though I said then that I was going to take a break, so maybe not. I know that by the time I picked this up again on my vacation, I had utterly lost track of what was going on. Then I remembered that I had described the previous book as “a giant pile of words and characters and events and places and historical tidbits [which] wanders vaguely in the direction of several different things that might, in the hands of a different writer, be a plot.” And you know, if I wasn’t sure what was going on while it was fresh in my mind, it didn’t much matter if I didn’t know what was going on now. So I kept reading, and it kept being amusing, even though I really don’t know where the hell it’s going in a more macro sense. If you like Stephenson and historical fiction and don’t mind a whole lot of rambling, these are excellent. Otherwise, probably not for you.

The Check Your Luck Agency, KS Augusin (Cara d’Bastian). I bought the omnibus ebook on somebody’s recommendation; so far I have only finished the first volume. Not sure if I’ll keep reading. The concept sounded great: the protagonist Ursula Formosa works for a business in Singapore that “checks your luck,” i.e. investigates to find out whether your sudden good or bad fortune has a supernatural cause. Nineteen times out of twenty, it’s utterly mundane. The twentieth . . . unfortunately, the story is kind of shapeless, especially when you take each volume on its own. There’s a case, which turns out to be non-supernatural. Then Ursula gets recruited for a TV show, which has zero connection to the first half of the book. Oh, by the way, all that time she spent telling you she doesn’t believe in ghosts and the supernatural? Apparently she can see ghosts. And she admits they’re real. Which would be fine if she expressed disbelief to the other characters, but she expresses it in her own head, too, in ways that don’t actually read like her being in denial, and then she’s like “oh yeah ghosts are actually real and I can see them.” I like the setting detail; it’s pretty clear the author knows Singapore well, though she’s uncomfortably prone to broad generalizations about Asians en masse. But the story really isn’t hooking me, and the writing isn’t, either.

The Islands of Chaldea, Diana Wynne Jones (finished by Ursula Jones). I don’t know where DWJ’s sister picked up the manuscript to finish it, but I do know that I can feel the difference. The ending felt rushed, a few too many revelations coming up too rapidly, with not enough time for their implications to breathe. Still and all: I had to read it, and I’m glad I did.

Living in Japan: A Guide to Living, Working, and Traveling in Japan, Joy Norton and Tazuko Shibusawa. This is specifically a book about the arc of culture shock (and reverse culture shock when you go home), written by people with a counseling practice who deal with those issues a lot. Its major flaw is that it’s really, really short: I would have loved to see it fleshed out with example scenarios, rather than just mentioning “people may have trouble with X” and then moving on.

Turbulence, Samit Basu. I think Rachel Manija Brown recommended this one. A plane full of people on a flight from London to Delhi all get superpowers based on their dreams: this ranges from a supersoldier to a little girl who is a full-bore anime magical girl. It’s amusing, though it has a substantially higher body count than the tone led me to expect. I wish it had delved further into the ethical questions it raised; possibly the sequels will do so? One of the characters can basically control all kinds of digital stuff, and at one point he decides he’s tired of waiting around for the others to get their act together and do stuff to improve the world, so he goes and starts flinging money around online, bankrupting bad people and giving their money to good causes. Then he finds out this has backfired and made things worse and led to a lot of people dying. I wanted the story to keep going with that, but instead it dropped that aspect and went for a more conventional showdown — with the characters questioning the entire “conventional showdown” motif the whole way, but still, it kept going. And then it ended with some wildly unaddressed questions about the ethics of mind-control powers. So, entertaining but uneven. Also, the text is unfortunately riddled with comma splices, to the point where I had to keep reminding myself the book wasn’t self-published. The copyeditor must have been asleep at the wheel.

Writing Fight Scenes, Marie Brennan. I needed to fix an error in the ebook, and wound up finding several more as I went through.

Himalayan Circuit: A Journey in the Inner Himalayas, G.D. Khosla. A slim book from the ’50s, written by an Indian civil servant who participated in an expedition to some remote valleys for official purposes. If you want to write about that kind of terrain, he has excellent descriptions of the landscape, though he only touches on the inhabitants relatively briefly. It’s also surprisingly hilarious in places, like his extended description of what it’s like to ride a tiny Himalayan pony.

In the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan. Page proofs.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/740682.html. Comment here or there.

Sep. 30th, 2015

10:58 am - The Onyx Court is coming to the UK!

I’m delighted to announce that Titan Books, publishers of the Memoirs of Lady Trent in the UK, will also be bringing the Onyx Court to its homeland!

Long-time readers may recall that the first two books of the series were published there by Orbit UK back in the day, but the mid-series publisher shift meant the latter two never saw UK shelves. Titan have picked up the entire series and, as you can see from the above, are reissuing them with splendid new covers — not to mention UK spelling and date formatting, like God and the Queen intended. ;-) My understanding is that they’ll be coming out in rapid succession, on a three-month cycle, so by early 2017 you’ll have the whole set. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hold ’em in my hands!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/740370.html. Comment here or there.

Sep. 29th, 2015

09:56 am - My Convolution Schedule

I’ll be at Convolution this weekend, on the following items:

No idea yet what I’ll read. It’s a group reading, and I’ll only have about fifteen minutes to work with, so whatever I choose, it’ll have to be short.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Sep. 24th, 2015

06:16 pm - You're a handsome devil. What's your name?

This came up in the comments on Sovay’s LJ, and it turns out to be much too long to fit into the comment limits. Besides, I’ve told gaming stories here before and been assured that I can actually make them interesting, so why not share the story with all of you?

This is the tale of Hantei Seikiro Shosuro Arikoto the man currently known as Ensō, an NPC in my Legend of the Five Rings campaign. Also known as, my best effort to date at creating a Magnificent Bastard.

It"s a bit of a long story.Collapse )


*Here I should note that at the time, I forgot she had only seen X/1999. Where those two are undeniably messed up — but not half so badly as they are in Tokyo Babylon, which she had not read. She only knew the general outline of what happened there. I . . . might have gone overboard in inflicting angst on her, because I took Tokyo Babylon as my yardstick. Oops?

**All Scorpion wear masks. It’s their thing. Also how the Owl didn’t recognize him the moment they showed up to Winter Court.

***In a way which perfectly upheld their fundamental principles. But like the instance of Cassiel’s Choice in Kushiel’s Dart, the Scorpion could never acknowledge that; doing so would make it no longer perfect.

****ROT-13’d in case my players read this: Ur’f npghnyyl gur onfgneq fba bs n Fubfheb ybeq. Nf gur Y5E cynlref nzbat lbh unir cebonoyl nyernql thrffrq, uvf zbgure jnf n Lbtb — obea vagb n snzvyl jubfr zrzoref ner nyy phefrq gb orgenl jungrire gurl ybir gur zbfg. Frvxveb vaurevgrq gung phefr, naq gevttrerq vg jura ur ghearq ba Erv.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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08:33 am - I aten’t dead

I came home from my trip with a broken toe and then promptly went down with a cold, so things have not been very exciting around here. Also I have page proofs to deal with. Page proofing while one’s head is filled with glue is fun times, lemme tell ya.

I have this vague ambition to post about all the ports of call on my trip, maybe with pictures. We’ll see if it happens. There’s no way on god’s green earth I’m going to get all my pictures edited in time for that to happen (I averaged 308 per day of sightseeing, which after an initial cull drops to a mere 191. Of which more will get deleted, I’m sure. But still); on the other hand, I might be able to pick out a couple of representative pics to clean up and post. None of that is happening while my head remains filled with glue, though. I mostly just want to nap. And stare vacantly at the TV. It’s very nearly all I’m good for right now.

Exciting news is en route, though. The sort of exciting news where I don’t quite know what it’ll be when I announce it, because right now multiple possibilities are up in the air. It makes my life complicated, but it’s a good kind of complication to have.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 26th, 2015

02:35 pm - Absent With Leave

Normally I remember to mention this more than 24 hours before I depart, but: I’m going on vacation. :-D

My husband and I are going to Venice for a few days, followed by a cruise to Barcelona, stopping in Dubrovnik (home of many locations you might recognize from Game of Thrones — I’m looking forward to taking photos), Kotor, Corfu, Naples (saw Pompeii last time, so we’re gonna go to Herculaneum, eeeeee), Rome (bring on the Etruscan necropolis!), Florence, Monte Carlo, and St. Tropez. Three weeks door-to-door, and most of it the lovely laid-back relaxing kind of vacation you get when you’re on a cruise ship.

I will not have internet access for most of that time, so if you send me an email, don’t expect a very rapid reply. :-) When I get back, I hope to have some exciting publishing-related news to share with you all . . . .

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 24th, 2015

01:12 am - Puppy Post-Mortem

So the Hugo Awards have been handed out, and the result is: fandom as a whole said in almost every instance that it would rather see No Award than a Puppy candidate win. I’ve heard the factoid bandied about that No Award has been given five times in the previous history of the Hugos; this Worldcon added five more to that total, in Novella, Short Story, Related Work, and both Editor categories, all of which contained no candidates not from one or both slates.

I’m okay with this, and in fact I’m one of the people who voted No Award with a liberal hand. I did this primarily as a way of registering my opposition to slate tactics (regardless of who uses them); in most cases, though, it was also an accurate reflection of my feelings on the nominees. In the work categories (as opposed to the personal categories) in particular, the items on offer were just . . . not that good. The best of them was moderately entertaining, but not, in my opinion, Hugo-worthy. Did the fact that they came from slates incline me to look more critically than I might have otherwise? Perhaps. But I’ll note that I also voted No Award in a category that wasn’t all Puppies, because I honestly didn’t think there was anything on the ballot, Puppy or otherwise, that really deserved the rocket.

Of course some of the Puppies are declaring victory, because they set this up as a situation where any outcome could be spun as a win. Their candidates win? Victory! Proof that there’s a cabal that has been unfairly locking Their People out, and the voters really just want good old fashioned fun! Their candidates don’t win? Victory! Proof that there’s a cabal which is unfairly locking Their People out, just like the Puppies have claimed!

Quite apart from the risibility of the entire “cabal” notion in the first place, I think there are two key items which undercut that narrative. The first is the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, which (if you look at the raw numbers) almost certainly would have gotten on the ballot anyway without Puppy support, and which held a commanding lead over all of its competitors through all passes of voting. In other words: people are happy to vote for good old fashioned fun, when they think it’s good. The second is the success of The Three-Body Problem, which several Puppy standard-bearers said they would totally have put on the slate if they’d thought of it in time. Again: evidence that people are not a priori conspiring against the kind of books Puppies like, just because of politics. Good books will win out, where “good” is defined as “sufficiently pleasing to a sufficiently large percentage of Hugo voters, according to whatever complicated set of criteria each voter uses to judge whether they are pleased.”

I want to make special note of three people: Larry Correia, Marko Kloos, and Matthew David Surridge. All of them were on the slates; all of them withdrew from the ballot early enough that the next item up could be added in their place. Correia’s withdrawal added The Goblin Emperor, which ran a close second to The Three-Body Problem in the voting stages. Kloos’ withdrawal added The Three-Body Problem itself — the book that ultimately won. The same goes for Matthew David Surridge and Best Fan Writer, putting Mixon (the eventual victor) on the ballot. I think it says quite a bit about the effect of the slates on nominations that the works they initially crowded out did so well when it came time to actually vote, and I want to thank all three of those men for withdrawing.

Going forward? Well, I haven’t heard yet whether the “E Pluribus Hugo” proposal fared well during the business meeting; I hope it did. I have heard rumors that next year’s Official Puppy Organizer intends to approach it more as a recommended reading list than a slate; I hope that pans out as described. In the meanwhile, I’m trying to keep track of things (and read more widely) for nominations next time around. I will be paying particular attention to those individuals from the slates whose work struck me as worthy in its own right, and nominating them for 2016 if they keep it up. It’s my way of compensating for all my No Award rankings this year: a small thing, maybe, but better than nothing.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/739152.html. Comment here or there.


Aug. 20th, 2015

02:16 am - Writing Excuses Three-fer

If you’re a writer and you’re not familiar with the Writing Excuses podcast, you’re missing out. It’s a weekly show with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson, on a wide-ranging variety of topics related to the writing of fiction. And if you remember me complaining during my Hugo Packet binge about how looooooooong most of the podcasts were? The tag line for Writing Excuses is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” That last part is a lie (they are that smart), and the length is sometimes more like 15-20 minutes — but these are episodes you can listen to pretty easily, without having to set aside a cross-country trip or something to get through more than one.

They also have guests from time to time. So while Mary and I were in Salt Lake City during our tour, we got together with Howard and Dan (Brandon was absent) to record a few eps for later use. Three, to be precise, all of which have now gone live:

Recording those was a lot of fun. Like doing a panel, but more condensed. In and out before you run out of things to day — in many cases long before I ran out, but that’s a good thing, as it means I stayed energized and engaged the whole time. And if you like the general tenor of those episodes, you’ll like Writing Excuses: it’s like that all the time, except with Brandon Sanderson substituted in for me. :-) (And if you don’t like listening to podcasts, check out the comment thread; there’s a dedicated fellow who puts together transcripts a little while after each episode airs.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 17th, 2015

06:14 pm - The Fitbit Effect

[If you are the sort of person for whom reading a discussion of fitness and weight is going to be detrimental to your state of mind, you may want to skip this post.]

I’ve been seeing the “ten thousand steps” thing around lately — the idea that your health can be improved by the relatively simple tactic of getting off your butt and walking more. I doubt there’s anything magic in 10K specifically, of course; it’s just a nice round number that’s easy to remember. The underlying point seems reasonably valid, though, in that we have a growing body of evidence to show that sitting for large stretches of time is not very good for you, and our species evolved on the assumption that we’d be spending a lot of time in motion.

One of the places where I saw the 10K thing added the statistic that a particularly sedentary person may walk only 1-3K steps per day. This made me wonder: how many steps do I walk on an average day? After all, I have a desk job, and my office is about twenty feet down the hall from my bedroom, so I was guessing the number wouldn’t be particularly high — but I didn’t really know. I’ve had a pedometer app on my phone for quite some time, but since I carry my phone in my purse, it doesn’t count the steps I take around the house when my purse is on the floor. Furthermore, at one point I decided to test its accuracy by mentally counting my steps on the way home from the post office, and checking it against my phone’s count. I didn’t expect the app to be terribly accurate . . . but it was off by such an appallingly large margin (roughly 50%, if memory serves) that I decided to go ahead and get a Fitbit. (Charge HR, for anybody who’s curious.)

The Fitbit isn’t perfectly accurate, either. If I’m carrying something in my hands or moving especially slowly (ergo not swinging my arm), it may not register the step. Conversely, it’s been known to count the movements I make while brushing my teeth as “steps.” I figure those two things come out in the wash — and besides, as one review I looked at pointed out, the real function of a Fitbit is not as a pedometer, but as a motivator.

And in that regard? It works brilliantly.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 14th, 2015

01:01 am - Done.

I have finished my eighteenth (!) novel. Final tally, for those who have been following the dance of the yo-yo: 56,583 words, which means it ultimately fell about 3.5K short of goal. It will need some expansion during the revision stage, but that’s okay.

Yes, that wordcount is closer to the YA range than the adult range. More news on this front when I have any to report — but don’t hold your breath.

Now, I go to sleep.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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