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truly a tragedy

No more ataulfo mangoes. Season is over. I am sad. I should have bought more earlier this summer. Oh summer is over now, no matter what the weather is like :(

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/184664.html.


(and I'd like to say that I have my computer screen half-and-half with this Create Entries on the right, and an Excel spreadsheet of this year's reading on the left, for reference).

*I think I talked about Mary Beard's SPQR and...uh...I just went back. No, I did not talk about that.

Mary Beard - SPQR
- I really liked this. I only have a glancing, overview knowledge of classical antiquity, so this was extremely helpful. It's a very high level overview, starting all the way from the mythical beginnings of Rome.

- One of the things I really appreciated about SPQR is how clear Beard was about presenting the evidence (this is the observations we have from archaeology) and then presenting her interpretation, as well as other scholars'. I can turn off my brain for fiction, mostly, but it's hard to do in non-fiction that wants to teach, so I appreciate how she really laid out the evidence. Not to mention it's interesting to me to see what kind of evidence exists, how we use it, etc.

Robin Lafevers - Dark Triumph
-This is a YA about young women in a convent dedicated to Mortain, the god of death. They are trained as assassins, and play silent roles in the medieval Brittany in which they live. This is basically so many things I love all bundled up.

- Alas that it is YA. I don't know what it is, but it's some combination of this writing style that seems to be so uniform across the genre, and shallow treatment of everything. I've spilled enough e-ink on how I don't think grittier = realer, but I feel like maybe the length isn't enough, or there just isn't enough treatment, because everything feels superficial. I've mostly given up on YA at this point.

- Also. SPOILERS as this is the third bookCollapse )

- However. Obviously, considering that I read all three books....Can we make these medieval assassination convents a trope themselves? I would read so many...

Seth Dickinson - The Traitor Baru Cormorant
- One of the best fantasy novels I've read this year. Baru Cormorant sees the invaders come to her island as a little girl, sees her mother and two fathers torn apart, goes to the colonists' boardingschool at her island. And she scores exceptionally, and is granted a post as Imperial Accountant at distant Aurdwynn. Aurdwynn is full of rebellion, and she intends to forment it, and use her position to destroy the Empire of Masks.

- It's hard to describe all the things I loved about this novel, not least because there are a lot of twists, and it would ruin the novel if I talked about them in my enticement.

- I thought it was a very clear, unflinching look at imperialism and its expansion. Baru herself is clear-eyed too, and pretty much prepares herself to be just as hard. Such a good character - it's from her perspective, but you don't get that softening as you see the internal thoughts the way you do with a lot of "from the perspective of villain" stories. Which isn't to say Baru is a villain. It's complicated.

- It's also quietly beautiful in prose. It was written in a way that induces rapid page turning because OMG WHAT JUST HAPPENED i can't turn pages fast enough, but there was an understated, unshowy gorgeous prose.

- That ending was hard to read. It hurt.

- I'm a huge nerd and enjoyed that monetary policy got a look in. Though...if your economy isn't very developed (as Aurdwynn's is, because it's still mostly agrarian without a ton of loans, the loans are to the nobility mostly), I'm not sure how much of a lever monetary policy is. But I digress. The one part I totally call BS on is Baru reconciling the accounts of a country in one day. I'm sorry HAHAHAHAHA NO. oh my god especially since they're all on paper do you know how long those columns of numbers to add up are?

- But really. I loved the politicking, the characters, the plot, the writing, solid 10/10 would recommend.

Elizabeth Wein - The Winter Prince
- About Medraut, and his relationship basically to Arthur's son.

- Somehow my copy had these illustrations at the heading of every chapter, and they were distracting; they were black and white pen drawings, and they looked amateur. The net result on me was that I would go from emotionally quite engaging and fraught scenes, to un-skippable drawings that reminded me of angsty teenagers, which meant I got taken out of the novel every chapter.

- There's more incest than I expected. And it being Arthurian lit, I expected incest.

- I don't know. I don't feel very motivated to read more Elizabeth Wein, to be honest. I know people rave about Code Name Verity, but meh.

Chris Hadfield - An Astrounaut's Guide to Life on Earth
- Chris Hadfield - Canadian astronaut, commander of the ISS - wrote an autobiography.

- Mostly what I've come away with is that I would love to meet Chris, he really does come across as an incredibly good and humble and persevering person. I also enjoyed learning about what kind of training the astronauts get, mentally and physically, in the real world. I like space opera! It's neat to see what actually happens outside stories. It's as much a story about what happens before anyone can go to space as it is about the fun quirks of what life in space is like. Staggering amounts of work.

Dorothy Dunnett - Niccolo Rising
- Historical novel about Nicholas de Fleury, a dyer's apprentice, set in 15th century Bruges to start. It's part of an eight-novel series that follows him - mind like a whip, full of schemes and ambitions, but irrepressibly cheerful despite the beatings.

- One reviewer described it as "pungently historical" (paraphrase) which I agree with. It's obvious Dunnett did her research. There are also real life figures that appear as minor characters - I saw one of them's portraits in the Met on Saturday! That was like an unexpected Easter egg in real life.

- I also found this to be a slog initially. Until about 40%. You're left to draw your own conclusions a great deal, and there are a lot of names and places and relationships to keep track of, and if you read it piecemeal like at lunch in 5 min snatches between getting distracted, it's kind of hard to enjoy. But then the plot picked up and it flew. Some very good twists, especially with Katalina.

- On the other hand, the next seven books are daunting. I'm not sure I want to start one any time soon...

- These also tie into her more famous Lymond series. Niccolo is an ancestor, I believe.

Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None
- Murder mystery, where ten guests are summoned to an island, each by a different person they'd answer a summons for, to attend a party. The host just doesn't show up and the whole party is marooned on the island - deliberately, apparently. And then one by one, they all begin to die...

- I am a wimp and it totally gave me the creeps. It's very much the locked room mystery - one of those characters is a murderer!!!

- If you read too many Christie mysteries (actually, golden age mysteries in general) you notice a lot of character archetypes that crop up frequently. Young society miss, red-faced colonel who rather wishes he was still in the war, the misfit only American there, etc. I offer this observation not as an insult or accusation, but just as an observation.

all of Prospero's War, Dirty Magic to Volatile Bonds by Jaye Wells
- Think police procedural except in novel form, and instead of the war on drugs, potions and magic have taken the place of cocaine and heroin. Kate Prospero is a beat cop that patrols the magic side of the city, but her position is somewhat precarious and unusual; she grew up as the niece of Abraxas Prospero, who was gang leader of one of the three strongest covens that operated in the city. Abraxas is in prison now, she refuses to touch potion cooking, and is raising her younger brother. But her strong desire to do right by the city draws her into conflicts about all this.

- I actually really like Kate as a character. She's complicated and has a lot of conflicting loyalties. She's very against using magic - she attends an AA style magic-rejecting group (people get addicted to potions) - she was a very talented potion cooker as a girl - the police force use 'clean' magic to operate more effectively - 'clean' magic is just what mainstream drug companies use, 'dirty' is street, there's regulation but really it's magic anyway. And her little brother wants to cook potions...

- The internal police politicking sounds quite realistic. And exhausting.

- But let's be real. I am desperately awaiting the next book because I am so interested in Volos/Kate becoming a thing. It's the emotional core of all this, and it's a hell of a magnet.

Nate Silver - The Signal and the Noise
- Non-fiction, about statistical modelling. Nate Silver runs FiveThirtyEight, which rose to fame during the 2008 American presidential elections run-up; his modelling of the electoral college was both very accurate and fairly precise.

- It is a book written to appeal to a broad base of people, so there really was not much math in it. Some graphs, which was nice, but I wanted more statistical treatment (ugh go read a textbook.) He focuses heavily on Bayesian statistics, which, to prosify and simplify hard, means you should make a prediction initially based on your knowledge, then incorporate further evidence and weigh it more heavily depending on how confident you were in your initial prediction and how un-like your initial prediction was.

- Some of the cases, like epidemiology and economics, I found much more interesting than the poker and baseball bits. I just don't care that much about poker and baseball...but Silver does, and sabermetrics is how he got interested in statistics in the first place.

- Silver also references some very random things, and will allude at intervals to isolated historical facts or incidents or pop culture, and I don't really think it adds much to the credibility of the book. It doesn't discredit but I've always hated the way that introductions to subjects - like accounting - must always dive into a poorly researched and not terribly interesting historical diversion to pull as an example 15th c Italian double-bookkeeping as The First Accounting, or worse, pull even more loose examples like shopping lists etched on stone tablets... Stick to your own damn expertise, I am not interested in Your Thoughts On Something You Do Not Study.

Michael Scott Rohan - The Hammer of the Sun
- The third book of the original trilogy, it's a high fantasy set in an interglacial period. The protagonist is Elof Valantor, a smith, and other than the interglacial setting, it's otherwise quite standard high fantasy in technology levels, magic presence, fantastical species, etc. It picks up seven years after the previous Forge in the Forest - I do love the evocativeness of the titles - and Elof tries to chain his love to him. Oh, he has his justifications, he fears the influence of an evil Louhi over his wife, but that's what he tries to do, and it backfires on him spectacularly. She shapeshifts into a bird and flies away, and he takes a boat and pursues...

- This is the third book that I read, so obviously it was not intolerable. But I read this book in a fit of apathy. By which I mean, I would open up Moonreader on my phone, and The Hammer of the Sun would be already loaded and open to the last page, and I wasn't feeling like reading it but also without enough emotional energy to start something new...so I kept reading.

- Seriously, the part where he tries to chain Kara bothered me so much. Obviously the narrative doesn't agree with his decision, since she kind of just flees, but...he also just goes and pursues her, which was eyeroll-inducing.

- The most interesting thing about these books is actually the glaciers and their inexorable advance. It's weird to read it today, because climate change seems to be happening also inexorably, in the other direction, and it's been hot, and in temperatures like this I feel like packing up and moving to Nunavut.

- I do not like Elof. He has never interested me in the slightest. I wish there was a more personable and interesting character to center the books around. I can't believe I read three books' worth of mediocre fantasy for glaciers...

- The prose, bless it, tried so hard. It used big words and grown-up constructions, but it never actually clicked properly. There's an incredibly satisfying feeling you get when you read someone like Diana Wynn Jones' writing, for example - it's a little tongue in cheek, but not arch, and the words and descriptions fit so perfectly, and so unerringly describe sensations and sights that it's a pleasure to just take in the words. Or authors who can give their work a sweeping depth that transports you. This was none of this, and the subtly not quite there constructions were distracting instead.

- It's so trying after Tolkien it's just embarrassing instead. After I finished the book, I went onto Goodreads. I didn't mean to - I just googled first. There's a reason I'm not on Goodreads, and I speedily remembered why. There are many people that I would sincerely like to take a look out their eyes sometime, because I don't understand. So many white men writing glowing praises of the prose and how it's like Tolkien and I think we have read different copies. Oh yes, it's like Tolkien, in that it's a heavily watered down attempt.

- Oh my god it was so slowwwww, the first half, the sea-journey. I just did not care for Elof. I did not care for his journey. I thought his companion Roc was a fool for coming with him. I thought Elof's total fear for the Ice vaguely ridiculous.

OK, I've done a bunch. Gotta sleep. Still a few more to go, including DOROTHY SAYERS ♥

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/184430.html.
I'll get about two sentences (that is - if I'm actually sitting at my computer, and not either gallivanting outside probably playing ingress, or lying in bed reading something stupid on my phone again). But one of the thoughts that keeps intruding is my increasing uneasiness at posting so much online - even privately. I actually use lj/dw - lj especially - as a combo public journal and private one. I still post a fair percentage as public/flocked, but a lot of journalling became online. Trying to write as much as I usually do gives my hand cramps because I feel that archivist urge so much. It's fun to look back at what I was thinking and seeing!

But I worry about what I'm putting online. I'm pseudonymous, of course, and if it were to all become public it's only minorly embarrassing, and it's minorly embarrassing only because I like privacy. It's mostly just information that's not really relevant to anyone, I went here, I went there, oh digression digression digression, it's not a burn book or much detail. There are linkages to my wallet name, of course. But even that doesn't worry me that much. Instead, I'm increasingly unhappy with the way that companies harvest my data online and use it to sell things to me. Yes - sell things to me. It's not particularly sinister, yet, but I resent that data science (which I am myself interested in....) is being used to make these predictions. And if my activity on various sites like instagram and youtube and google are useful, how much more fruitful is my own writing in my voice about what I see and like and want and go out and do? Ten years ago natural language processing wasn't really something to be used commercially. Now it is.

But the way social media works, with services free and providers looking for a way to monetize - I don't think there's a way to avoid this problem. And I like social media. I produce content on pretty much all the platforms I'm on; I'll comment, write, contribute photos, etc, because I like engaging. But looking through the archives that Google can pull about the stuff they've compiled about me is unsettling.

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/184315.html.

I reread A Wizard of Earthsea

I was sorting through my calibre library the other day* and kinda fell into A Wizard of Earthsea. It's one of those childhood books that made a huge impact on me (my computer is still called sparrowhawk) but I never re-read, and so I actually remembered very little of the plot. Still don't really remember what happens in Tombs of Atuan and subsequent books - except of course Ged expending all his magic to maintain the equilibrium, that made too big an impact to forget. Falling into Le Guin's writing is the most natural thing, but her books really take me away into another world, in a way that a lot of books, books which I love, do not. And it is not a long book. There aren't any tricks to it. Maybe it's the prose, which makes the book almost feel like a written-down version of an oral work. It's a rare feeling and I love it, that wholesale transportation into another world.

At the end of the copy I have, Le Guin writes about the story she wanted to tell, and how she wanted to write something that was unlike the usual triumphant hero, who uses his - it's always a man, when she wrote it and even now - fists and strength to win. She writes about how while she still stuck to writing about a man's story, she quietly made him not a white man - this was subtle enough I missed it as a child, though I see it so clearly now, and it's so cheering - and more than that, she pushed back against the endless militarism and the stories that create conflict and excitement by throwing the protagonist against enemies. Faceless and featureless ones too, so there's no moral difficulty about showing off the protagonist's strength when he slaughters them. I read all this and then a day later I went to see Avengers: Infinity War.

Don't get me wrong, I like superhero movies. I've certainly seen a lot of them - all of the Marvel ones, except Spider-Man, more from other stories. But maybe my patience is wearing thin. I like the characters very much, some of the films are interesting visually, but I find them to be so samey in philosophy and theme sometimes. I don't like it when I can see the bones of the story poking through, because it's been repeated so many times, just in different upholstery. And some of the visuals are so repetitive - there's a certain style of science-fiction backgrounds that seems to pervade the whole genre (which is really sad), there's so much explosions and running away from same, etc. There's only so many ways you can play these kinds of fights. Instead of punching with a human fist, let's upgrade and punch with a bigger metal fist! But it has to be fist-shaped, otherwise how will our audience have any emotional connection? The science fiction feels so empty and imagination-less. Forget innovative biology, we can't even get different social constructs in totally alien planets.

Infinity War spoilersCollapse )

* It's a tragic tale. I was on vacation and had packed an ereader that day into my backpack, intending first to do touristy things, and then to find a green spot and lie out in the sun and read. It was absolutely beautiful weather, and I sat down in a garden, and I took out my trusty kobo, and it simply died and factory-reset on me. Just straight up reset. I was 5,000km away from my computer and its hard drive with my 400 ebooks. AAAAARGHHH. https://xkcd.com/466/ kicks in, except replace wifi with books in this instance, and I discovered that my absurd data plan (30gb for someone who plays hard on her at-home plan of 3gb was just...mind exploding) would tether, so I tethered my kobo to my phone's wifi, got into my kobo after guessing my password a few times (I think it's been literally 4-5 years since I logged in), and...started reading The Phantom of the Opera, which was not what I wanted to read. I was in the middle of A Civil Contract! I think at one point I'd logged about 1k hours on my kobo, so it's not like I could blame it for prematurely dying, but my god, the timing. I had so many side-loaded books and I could not access any of them!

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/183836.html.

Elemental Blessings - Sharon Shinn

I just finished Royal Airs, the second book in Sharon Shinn's Elemental Blessings series. One of the central conceits is that everyone is one of five types (torz, coru, hunti, sweela, or elay), which have associated elemental and personality traits. There are about fifty blessings also. They are associated with one of the five elements. When you're born, your parents ask strangers to draw blessings for you - the temples all have a big container which are filled with coins stamped with each blessing. People seeking guidance might draw a coin for the day.

The blessings are basically horoscopes, but they are wrapped by the story (characterization, plot points) and I am so into this worldbuilding and I don't even know why! I kinda want to make an art project to create them. I don't have the materials to do metalworking, or the skills, or the patience lol. I don't think clay would look very good in my inexperienced hands. Maybe cards are the closest I can get, though it doesn't seem as neat.

omg I've just googled and discovered that someone's made coins for sale. The whole set for $20. But alas I do not like the design. I'm very picky...I wish that this series were wildly popular, like HP, and I could pick and choose from many artists' work (though admittedly, I've never bought any HP merch.) I'll keep thinking about how I could make them.

And if it wasn't obvious - I really like these novels! They also have a lot of twists and politicking. I really enjoyed them and could nooot put down Royal Airs on Saturday - the second half of the book kept dropping huge twists.

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/182973.html.

fountain pens

I bought myself Pilot's Metropolitan fountain pen, and I really like it. It's a starter fountain pen at a very affordable price (I got it on jetpens, where it was $18) and very unfussy. It's got a rounded nib, not an italic nib, unlike my other fountain pen, so you can write like you would normally. And it can take a cartridge and comes with a converter, which basically sucks up ink from a bottle of ink, instead of a disposable cartridge. I have a lot of dip pens, which are great because they're super flexible in effects and inks, but tends to be really fussy to work with - I have to clear off my table to accommodate everything, need water to wash nibs with, etc. And whenever I have to work with ink like that, I always get it all over my fingers. I like that with this pen it writes like a nice gel pen might, with a thin tip too, and is as easy to use as a ball point.

(I also bought like four 0.38 mm gel pens at the same time. I REALLY like the fine points. 0.5 is terrible and 0.7 is unspeakable.)

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/182547.html.


specifically, yes I'm on instagram, and there's this whole...aesthetic that is not specific to that, but I see it most highly concentrated there, where the reigning design choice seems to be extremely textured, tons of "whitespace", an empty ~inspirational~ quote that is as connected to anything concrete as an escaped party balloon in the wild blue yonder.

Layers and layers of paper and worse, thicker materials, separated by those little styrofoam or rubber dots to give it "volume" and "pop" it even further out so every page is 3 inches thick - it's a book, it's not going to lay flat, even very sturdy 120lb paper will buckle unpleasantly eventually, even when stored upright. Ugly fringes, relying on someone else's produced scrapbooking paper to fill the page, using those premade stickers that are cute but they're so generic. Colour just flung on the page - how much pastel explosion is enough? And the only text on the page being stupid quotes. Oh my god having just vented all that I think I've realized what the core problem is - scrapbooking takes a long time and it's supposed to be a way to record moments you want to remember. So instead of using your own words and your own designs and your own colours and your own thoughts let's just slap on stuff bought from stores! I know I'm very text focused but that and your own photos probably are the strongest captures of memory and by just putting stupid things like ~live love laugh~ and its equivalent all over your expensive book all you've just done is stuff your personal moments into someone else's constructed little cage. With an average of 5 words per page, those photos better be pretty good at representation of that memory.

And FINALLY I'm starting to get frankly fed up with the ultra hyper feminine designs - everything, actually. I like polka dot, pastels, stripes, bows, lace, glitter, pretty much the whole nine yards, but trying to look at instagram and bloggers is like being slapped in the face with an extremely narrow - I don't know how to describe it, but idealized 1950's proscribed lifestyle/culture/everything. It's full of that pastel/flowery aesthetic and it's all lifestyle bloggers about their two perfect children and stay-at-home life and there's nothing inherently wrong with that but WHY IS IT EVERY SINGLE BLOG?

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/181856.html.


Ancillary Justice: Anne Leckie

Help help these books omg.

It's space opera with the main character a space ship's AI, a cog in the machine for a massive, ever-expanding galactic empire, except this is now the last annexation. The AIs use humans that have been harvested for use as ancillaries, bodies to carry out tasks. It is probably the best SF novel I've read all year, and it plays with a lot of interesting concepts.

(NOTE: I read them all the way back in August, wrote most of this in September, and have posted it now. I think there are things I didn't get around to writing about, but this covers a lot of it. And I'm still catching up on book reviewing, eek.)

spoilers all the way up to Ancillary MercyCollapse )

I really, really liked these novels. I thought they were a finished trilogy too, but I hear rumours they aren't? Certainly they're not wrapped up.

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/181542.html.

Thor: Ragnorak!

Last book read for bookclub wasn't that great either. I feel like all I do is froth at the mouth about bad books, but I HAVE read good ones this year - I still have this massive thing half-written-up for Ancillary Justice, and I'm currently reading SPQR which I really like! Though I have to say, I never have done much reading into Classics so what I really also need is a very broad, very basic chronology with years in BCE to help. And a index of names and what they are most known for.

I also saw Thor: Ragnorak today! I really enjoyed it - more than I expected. I like the MCU generally, and of all the strands of MCU I like Thor the best. I like all of them, except Spider-Man which I've never seen, but I like Thor the best.

Spoilers!Collapse )

More to come but basically if I'm not posting them a few days after I start writing, posts don't get posted. D:

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/181437.html.

Walden/On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

I considered writing a review of Walden and On The Duty of Civil Disobedience by Thoreau, but I've decided I'm just going to link this: Pond Scum, by Katheryn Schulz, who says it far more eloquently than I do.

But I struggled (and snarled) through it, so I'll say it as succinctly as I can: what a hypocritical, narcissistic, uncharitable and self-righteous worm. How dare you preach from above what you don't even adhere to (hungry, so walk to your mother's place half mile down the road?) How could you even dredge up the self-importance to say humanity's life is meaningless and worthless when you refuse to even live among people, to learn anything about humanity and civilization? How self-absorbed can you be to think living without a doormat makes you more "pure"? Did you lose your empathy, to say "I have tried [Doing-good] fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution", and feel proud of putting those words down?

You idolize subsistence farming because you never had to live it; you don't put manure down because you only expect to plant and harvest once. You look down on young people who have to go off to make their fortunes before they can "go up to the garret to write their poetry", because you're so myopic you can't understand not only poverty, but not even the whole class of people who have to make a living. You draw out sums that feed a single man in good health in good weather who owns his own property, but since everyone else is deaf and blind to all the truths you see, surely this is enough for all other lives and families. And there isn't even internal consistency! Is having an editor also impure, Thoreau?

P.S. a hundred Romantic poets, novelists, and essayists did nature writing better.

Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/181170.html.



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