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I think someone else would like this better than me. I skimmed a lot of it because the voice of "Ralph Trilipush" didn't engage me. The core question's pretty easy to the reader, but that's not a problem, because the secondary questions are the point anyway. I think the right person would like it: even though it is not actually a thriller, I think thriller readers would be about right. I looked at his other book, called Prague though it is set in Budapest, and I was not taken with it, but again it looked like someone else might like it better.
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Reading The Global Pigeon by Colin Jerolmack. It's research for the girls who save the world from fascism through their magical connection to urban birds book. It was recommended to me by none other than Donna Haraway who I met through Katie King at FOGCon. It does not have in it what I intended to be looking for but it has all sorts of other things that I didn't know I needed. That last category is a mark of a felicitous reading choice, I think.

Other than that, I'm trucking along. I find it is better for me to work on a bit of this and that right now because I can't concentrate very well what with the sleep deprivation and the chronic intestinal issues. Oh yes and now I have a very mild neuropathy too, so that takes some of my focus away as I obsess over its progress--if it gets to a certain level we have to stop chemo to prevent its becoming permanent. As it is, my dose has been dropped. This phase of chemo is just to be sure anyways: there's reason to think that in many cases the first round withn the adriamycin/cytoxan is all a person needs. But survival rate is higher and recurrence is lower for people who've had both, so that's where we're going. But yesterday was 6 of 12 doses, so the light is at the end of the tunnel either way. The oncologist says most of her patients make it to dose 9 or 10, but some make it all the way to 12. I would like to get to 12 just to be sure (and also quite honestly so I can feel so very tough, but I don't admit to that often), but I'm fine with following her advice.

We've been repairing the outside of the house and clearing foliage because the painters are coming on Saturday. I probably shouldn't own a house because I'm not houseproud enough to do what needs to be done. Honestly when stuff gets broken or dirty I don't care enough at all. It's weird because I used to take pride in just doing what needs to be done and in mechanical competence. But I'm kind of broken a bit myself, I guess.

While at the library I also picked up a Tobias Buckell book because I keep bouncing off his writing and I want to like his work. And another book called Watermind by M.M. Buckner that was near it on the shelves because it looked interesgting and I've never heard of it or the author. I want to read more genre stuff that's more recent but it's hard at the library because most of the requests for material seem to be coming from the grognards.

Emma told me there's a magnificent petrified forest in Chemnitz and now I want to go there more than ever. My dream itinerary for next spring is: Eastercon, a couple weeks with Frank and Hana in Loughborough, some days in Paris with Andrea, and then on to Chemnitz, Prague, and maybe a bus tour of Poland and if my bro-and-sis-in-law are in Langaland, a few days in Denmark. I imagine it would be summer before I got back home.

I would also like to travel in the States some: to Portland to see my aunt and a friend or two, and maybe the Woodstock Memory Hole if anything is going on there right now: to LA to see my other aunt: to Houston to visit Nancy Zeitler, a friend who's been living there for years & I've never visited her there: to Silver Spring Maryland to visit Katie King, who I visited over a dozen years ago: to Chattanooga to visit Sharon Farber, who I visited 29 years ago: to Philadelphia, just to see it again after 50 years gone from it: to New York, to visit Phil Josselyn, who I've never visited & when he visits me I realize how much I miss him: and to Boston, to visit Mary Porter, who I visited 26 years ago but never in the house she lives in now.

That's a lot.
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My friend Glen Fitch decided I needed to read Master and Margarita so he ordered it for me and I regret that because it's a nice hardcover edition and it couldn't have been cheap but...I didn't last fifteen pages. I am allergic to stories where the Devil shows up to caper around and claim that whoever the author doesn't like is in cahoots with him. And I just didn't like it as a block of stuff to read. Not much of an Ambrose Bierce fan either, which it reminds me of. When it comes to satire, I kind of like stuff more on the line of The Good Soldier Schweik (or Švejk) or Iceland's Bell (as difficult as that can be to read: it's pretty grim).

What I bought myself is an immense tome, part cookbook and part social, ecological, and economic history: A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright. I love it. I'm on the second pass. The first pass I read the parts I thought would be most interesting first--it's really immense and I was a bit daunted--and when I had read all of the book in that piecemeal way I started again at the beginning. You can probably tell I love it. I got it at the used bookstore for $7.50! That's downright amazing. I already had what I think is a fix-up of notes he took while researching the book (though I don't know this for sure), Mediterranean Vegetables. That one is in encyclopedic form and it drives me crazy because it is so raw and unedited and full of errors I can catch (the pointless little errors that arise when you're doing a large work very fast) but it's also magnificent and lots of fun to reread and I do reread it frequently. The bad editing made me worry about A Mediterranean Feast but I've only found a couple of that kind of errors in it so it's more relaxing to read. His main premise is that historically the Mediterranean was anything but a feast, and it's the poverty of the land and people that drove history in such a way that it seems to be the center of a lush life now.

It's interesting how shallow the Mediterranean food tradition is. I've already wondered foir a long time what the food was like there before tomatoes--it seems it was completely, utterly different. I would have thought that tomatoes would have pushed out other fruits in traditional sauces and it seems like that is not the case. People weren't eating the same sauces with plums or something in the tomato position. And while durum wheat and dry pasta has been known in the Mediterranean for centuries, it wasn't such a popular thing in Italy and elsewhere until the nineteenth century.And so on.

He looks at the cooking history of Spain, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia, with peeks at other places--he picks these five because of the documentation that exists and their importance at various times in the history. He includes a little information about classical Greece and Rome, but there's not as much information that far bacl and the story really gets cooking in the thirteenth century an on. The sixteenth century is a big focus. The book is arranged according to topics, and each region is visited in each topic, and their interrelationships are heavily explored too.

I heartily recommend the book, and now I have a hunger for similar books about other places.  The food I've been most interested in these days is Central/Eastern European and Western/Central Asia, and I enjoyed reading Please to the Table, about Russian cooking, but it's not anything like as deep or scholarly as A Mediterranean Feast. Any suggestions? Mostly for things I can get from the library...

On another front: I bought my membership to FOGCon. There is a story behind this I'll tell later.

Still another front: Zluta Zluta Zluta all the time. If it was up to her, we'd be walking ten miles a day. She is almost a year old and has become markedly mellower but she's still excitable and high energy and she demands something every forty-five minutes to an hour and a half.

Oh, and I'm like a day or two away from having the semi-final draft of The Drummer Boy ready for beta readers. If you were thinking of being one of them, contact me. I'm actually finishing off another few of my bagatelles also, so that I have something to do when I have to stop and think about the main project.

I have more evidence that Affordable Care is an imperfect system and we really need single payer, but I'll give that its own post.
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The chapter I am working on is maybe the penultimate chapter of the book, depending on how many words it takes to write the things that are happening now, but it is more likely the chapter before the penultimate one. Oh, I'm sure it is, no matter how long this stuff goes, because certain things need to be in their own chapters.

oh how I do go on about writing insecurities )

I kind of read Octavia Butler's Fledgling this week too. I skipped ahead to the trials because I am a wuss. It made me wonder just how much of her work is about blending. I will have to read more and re-reading more and figure this out. Also I read Emma Bull's Finder, which was fun enough that I inhaled it but I was also annoyed by its callowness.

On another front, I'm cleaning up the yard to make it pleasant for Frank and Hana when they come later in the month and also so I can see just how much progress I've really made back there. Which is a lot. I have planted a line of coreopsis along one side of one section of the brick path from the garage to Zack's, and parsleyalong the rest of it (and it's still not quite enough parsley for all Zack's and my needs). The front yard is almost cleaned up. After my hand heals from the carpal tunnel release surgery I'm having on Monday, I'll plant the two different abutilons and the one salvia I have in the corner by the almond tree. I have a couple of California milkweeds to plant--they have mousy looking litttle white flowers but they haven't, unlike the other milkweeds, been sprayed with BT to fight light brown apple moth. It's the law, but it makes the milkweeds toxic to the Monarch caterpillars too. So if I had bought one of those pretty ones I would have had to put a net over them for some time--a few months? I forget--to keep from poisoning the animal we're planting it for...

and I also go on and on about my new knees )
On the Zluta front, even though I don't know what I'm doing, we're reaching a place with the backyard barking that is bearable, I'm able to let her go out there freely for many hours a day before she decides to try to provoke the killer dog next door. My current method of breaking that up is to almost silently head her off, distract her with thrown apples, and herd her or carry her inside. Less shouting--which ramps her up-- and no hose spray--which excites her and is actually a reward, However, when I water the yard, I let her play in the hose as much as she likes. Yes, it is still warm enough for her to get wet outside. Though I turned the heater on today. It's set in the low sixties: I think 66 for a period in the afternoon.

Speaking of communication, she is using the wiggle method of communicating her needs much more than the open-mouthed, toothy swarm method. I try to respond immediately but sometimes I'm in the middle of a thing and she has no patience. I've had to exile her only once every couple-few days this last two weeks (it was getting to be two and three times a day, which is too much). Of course, part of this is her general greater contentment now that I am driving again and getting her to the dog park five days out of six.

She has an unfortunately tender stomach, apparently, and apparently I guessed wrong about her food, so that's a work in progress.
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So downstairs I am still plodding through The Island of the Day Before: I have 148 pages left. The experience is mixed but it does reassure me about a couple of things. Like the idea that there is an appropriate time and place for huge great lumps of information. And the idea that a story doesn't have to live right under the skin of the main character, and that the narration and the point of view do not have to be one and the same. Or that there doesn't have to be just the one point of view in the narration.

So there's that.

Upstairs I am zooming through The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. This morning I suddenly realized what's going on. It's like--you're in a Zelazny type of world, but seeing it from the point of view of the populace who have to put up with the grandstanding bastards Zelazny writes about so entertainingly. This is the second book of a trilogy but you know how libraries are.

On another front: Zluta's been sleeping today, which probably bodes ill for later or for tomorrow, but I've been pretty good about getting work done in the meantime. I wrote the bit where Yanek reaps several fields of wheat in literally no time for reasons he doesn't understand, and now I'm about to write the part where he raises the dead. Well, I wrote the bridge to it once, and wiped it, because the first way I wrote it I thought he was going to look at where he's ended up and know why he was there, but once I saw that on the screen I decided it would be more consistent and more enjoyable to write if he is surprised.

Yesterday my writing was a bit interrupted by the sudden need to know at least something more than I do about using a sickle and binding wheat sheafs without a combine. I was unable to find very much but I'm hoping to find at some point a beta reader who does know about pre-in dustrial and early industrial agriculture. I almost had a combine in that field, but after I did some research and laid out the logistics I decided it was better not to. The analogous era in our world had a complete mishmash of automated and non-automated harvest techniques. Even the tools could be bought from modern factories or cobbled together by your uncle.
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I have a lot to say about a lot of things, but here I'll just  quickly say, between tossing things for Žluta, I have been slogging through The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco forever and forever and I'm about half way through. Why am I persisting? I've tried to read it before and failed. It was one of my father's favorite books I guess is why I am determined to read it now. Also I will feel free to get rid of it once I've read it.

I finally got back to the library yesterday and I got Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson, and Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, as well as two cookbooks (Pkease to the table, a Russian one: and The Paprikas Weiss Hungarian cookbook). I'll have to get them back before the 22nd so I can take out enough books to last me until I've recovered enough from the next surgery to get back to the library.

Right. I'm getting my new right knee on the 23rd. Also, I had the nerve conduction test yesterday (the 9th) and Dr. Brunelli said it was an elegant study, confirming carpal tunnel syndrome with a classical (and extreme) presentation. He said the median nerve was "trashed" in the tunnel, and fine in the forearm and across the elbow. Also the ulnar nerve was fine. Best: although the nerve response was dramatically slowed, the volume of the response was normal, which is a good indication for success in treatment, which is a simple surgery where they snip the ligament that holds the wrist bones tight. This makes the  palm a little flatter but it allows the inflammation to subside and relieves the nerve. When I had it done on my right hand 37 years ago my hand was weaker for a couple of years so I didn't do it to my left hand at the time and I didn't need it till now. The right hand recovered its full strength long ago and since I am right handed I frankly don't care that my left hand might possibly be a bit weaker for some purposes for a while.

I have a lot of other things I want to talk about but some of them are very difficult. Ad an easy one is I broke down and bought quinces again yesterday, and also I have frozen tomato puree and apple slices for pie, and I'm gathering windfall apples for apple butter. Also I have a raft of rose hips so maybe rose hip jam? I've made rose hips into a magic conduit in The Drummer Boy.
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So Tuesday at physical therapy I guess I kind of messed up. At the time it didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong, and on Wednesday when I started to pay for it I didn't realize at first what was wrong, but I put the pieces together yesterday and I'm pretty sure that's it.

There's a machine where you rest your ankle on a cylindrical cushion attached to a lever and bend your leg against it: the lever is coupled with a weight so that it resists your effort. It is supposed to exercise hamstrings and quads. This week I had both legs on it, which seemed like a great idea because the unoperated one (the right one) has been seeming kind of paltry and it seems like it would behoove me to beef it up a little before it gets operated on. I kind of egged on the physical therapist to put a bit more weight on them and I went at it with all my strength a wee bit longer than he said to. It felt fine. I was only feeling a bit challenged. I wasn't struggling or doing anything overtly stupid.

But since Wednesday I've barely been able to walk at all. My left leg is stiff and a wee bit achy, like you'd expect from overdoing it a tad, but the right leg had some sharp pains. Oh, and the left had a couple of sharp pangs near the knee at isolated times, which freaked me out, but they didn't persist or worsen so I'm willing to call them just a thing. But the right had sharp pains in the upper muscles and it was all I could do to walk the dog halfway around the block. Today we were able to go for a whole block walk in the morning, which was good for her, because she came home and slept like a dog ought to, but it's a good thing I have Keith to take her for an evening walk, because I don't have another walk in me. Especially since I will go to dancing. If I have to sit and tap my toes like the week before last, so be it.

Today was therefore almost a wash. I got the yard watered, the dog walked and exercised with windfall apples, and the laundry washed, hung, brought in, and put away, but otherwise I lay on my bed and snored.And I had hit a nice rhythm with the note-taking and preliminary editing the last few days, too. I'll see if I can do anything tonight before and after dancing. What I've been doing while snoring? collecting simspoints, sorry to say. If you click the little button and let the little ad run while you do other things, you get five points to spend on download content. The download content goes on sale regularly too, so I've been accumulating community lots for my sims to go to. Also lots of points which I will eventually spend on worlds for my sims to live in. I know. Ridiculous. But most people have some ridiculous hobby in which someone exploits them. I figure this is EA swindling the ad companies, because they must know that there's no way that the serious points miners are actually watching those ads over and over again. All that matters is the click, though. Oh probably the ad companies know what's going on, so it's mostly Northern California Honda, SpeeDee Oil Change, etc., that are being swindled.

for some reason I'm rereading Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, in a kind of idiotic translation, and finding that (1) I didn't remember much in it and (2) if I had I might not have started rereading it. And (3) Turgenev most certainly didn't do any math when he was writing this, because nobody's ages make sense whatever. He has also stacked the deck in every respect. I'm about to read a duel scene and I don't want to.
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I had a moment of either slight cowardice or wisdom and decided to get dropped off by car at the library instead of walking both ways to the farmer's market. Except I'm not sure I shaved any distance off: the farmer's market might in fact be midway between my house and the library. Walking back wasn't all that far, but I guess I'm not ready to carry a bunch of stuff yet. It was a bit unpoleasant for a while. I reminded myself I used to weigh more than all of my current weight, the books and the veggies combined, but it didn't cheer me up much. And now I've been home for an hour and a half, still wating for the tylenol to kick in and contemplating tramadol. But it's not bad. I did it, and even though it hurts, I didn't harm myself.

At the library I got a tree gjuide, and another Lisa Goldstein book (because she's always readable) and a Jay ake book and Oliver Sacks's Oaxaca Journal, about a fern huntuing foray he took with a group of enthusiasts. I love his endless interest in everything.

Brought in a meal of wax beans, so that's nice too.
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I reread LeGuin's The Dispossessed. This is a title that one cannot spell unless one is very lucky in grabbing Scrabble tiles, and also it is a word that it is hard to stop spelling: dissposssesssesssed. It's really fascinating to see what kind of ancient things she kept in -- slide rules, for example. But when she wrote it slide rules were the quick and easy thing for calculating and they were ubiquitous. My mother taught every kid in the neighborhood to use them.

The book is a product of its times in many ways. For a niggly little detail: it';s been a while since you could use the word "libertarian" interchangably with "anarchist."

I had forgotten a lot of the plot from just before Shevek slips his keepers, so in a way it was almost like reading it anew.  I had some quarrels with some parts, but generally I still adore it. Also I kept wondering how LeGuin keeps getting away with just plonking so much opinionated unblinking expository downright communism right there in the middle of her books. Because if she can do it...

Also, I just love Anarres. No, I don't mean I think it's the right way to run a society, I mean I love it as a setting and I appreciate its good points and I feel for the people affected by its bad points.

Also I tried reading Impostor by Valerie Freireich because it was on my shelves and I didn't remember reading it before and I thought I remembered enjoying something else of hers. I probably don't remember it because it's unreadable. The writing is fine and I'd be happy to look at something else of hers, but the story is gross, and the premise is appalling. Why is it that in all our fine imaginings of spacefaring peoples, every culture group gets to evolve and split and mutate into a jillion new things with new jargon and behaviors, but if we include a culture based on somebody's idea of what Islam is, nothing nothing nothing ever changes from the eighteenth-century stereotype of the royal harem structure? It's gotten to where if there's an Arabic name or word in the early pages of a book I am suffused with dread. If you have any suggestions for Islamic-world secular science fiction or fantasy not involving any goddamned royalty or harems let me know because boy I will need a palate cleanser even though I didn't read more than ten pages of this nonsense.

Two weeks!

Jul. 1st, 2015 08:44 am
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Two weeks ago at this very time (eight-thirty in the morning) I was having the time of my life in the operating room. Swirly colors, feeling no pain, an amusing anesthesiologist, and somehow not-creepy carpentry noises I knew were being directed to my very own bones--I tell you, conscious sedation with the happy cocktail is the way to go if you're going to get your bones milled.

Today I'm walking, mostly without a cane as long as I'm in the house, doing small exercises as often as I think of it (goal is two or three of them an hour), medicating but not heavily. A month or less and I'll return to driving. My biggest complaint is I get so tired so quickly and I'm taking several small naps a day, and not sleeping all that well at night.

I haven't gotten back to work writing yet but I'm doing the laundry and some other housework. Also working on the World's Ugliest Afghan. Seriously, I decided to make it when I saw that somehow I had become the owner of a large box of mismatched, odd colored, odd textured tiny balls of yarn. It will be ugly but also, I think cuddly. I am not the most skilled of crocheters, and the differences in texture mean differences in gauge as well, so the granny squares are coming out different sizes. I will compensate somehoiw when I attach them to each other. I've thought of some dodges. I am not worried. This is not meant to be a blue-ribbon afghan. I asked Emma for additional yarn scraps when I saw that I was coming to the end of the pile before getting to the end of the afghan and she sent me a bag of mainly tasteful neutrals and one skein of absolutely hot pink. I sent her the message "one of these colors is not like the others..." I have decided to arrange the squares with a band of four nine-patches down the middle, flanked by two bands of six four-patches, and bordered sufficiently deeply to make it comfy. And I am using the hot pink in just four squares, to be at the middle of the nine-patches. It will be marvellous.

It's Wednesday, so I should mention what I've been reading. I took an unpromising fantasy novel out of the library before surgery and returned it on Monday.I actually kept muttering Dorothy Heydt's Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care what happens to these people") and I realised I didn't have to finish it. Now I am reading Interface Masque by Shariann Lewitt and my problem is I don't believe in the setup enough to suspend disbelief, if you know what I mean. One problem I can identify with it is that it feels too homogenous and also too culture-essntialist. I took out two other books, and I'll tell you about them later.

II saw this dog at the county shelter website, and I sent an overture to the foster mom. I have to fill out an application for the shelter, but that entails carrying my computer upstairs to the printer, which is not that big a deal normally but I need both hands to go up and down stairs still, so later I'll have K take it there for me. The only thing wrong with the dog is I promised everybody I'd get an adult dog so we wouldn't have to live through puppyhood again...otherwise he's exactly the kind of dog I want. Including the ears, which I don't know if you call them tulip or button? anyway, half-upright. I don't really care too much about appearances though: it's the personality I want. It's just a bonus if the dog looks a bit like Truffle.
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Went to the library and I got Closely Watched Trains (the very very short book by Bohumil Hrabal, not the movie made from it--every Czech-language film and sound recording at the library has been checked out consistently every time I have been there since 2007 at least), which I haven't started yet, and Karel Čapek's weird collection of crime-themed short stories Tales from Two Pockets. I also got a terrible over-produced Greek Cookbook and The Best of Croatian Cooking, the second cookbook in that series I've read. And also a book I'm unlikely to like, but which I ga ve a chance because I have never heard of it or the author: The Usurper's Crown by Sarah Zettel. I say I'm unlikely to like it because it's just not my kind of thing, I think: a fantasy in which a normal person is really royal in another dimension? Maybe? But I'm feeling generous with my attention.

Karel Čapek puzzles the hell out of me. He distributes so oddly, you know? Like--he's generally considered to be kind of left-wing because of whose side he seems to take in RUR and The War of the Newts. So that interests me. I can see some rolling eyes, like it's not legitimate for me to seek out writers who are left-wing. The hell with that. If somebody can be more interested in writers because they have an engineering background, or a military background, or they used to be a cowboy, I can me more interested in writers with a more generally left-wing world view.

But see the interesting thing to me is that if I read writers who are "left-wing" in some different political, economic, cultural and ethnic contexts--all the things that history brings to bear on a person (and I have reasons for listing cultural and thnic contexts as separate items)--I'm not coming up with a mass of homogeneous Party Line.Čapek, for example. Okay, first of all, he doesn't map well on the sexist-feminist axis. That's interesting. Because he's got these places where he's saying women get a raw deal and maybe ought to have more power over themselves, and these other places wherre he's hardly noticing that women are human at all .Sometimes in the same thought.

But it's the crime stories themselves that are the most puzzling. I was going to complain here about how he constructs his stories so that there's never any question that the suspect is guilty, that he deserves the rough treatment he gets from the police, etc. etc. But then when I tried to retell any of the stories I've read so far, I kept wondering about the corrolary: because the corollary doesn't add up the way you're expecting it to.

The corollary of "the criminals are all guilty and the police are always correct about who is the relevant criminal this time" would be, in a modern story, either "the police are heroes looking out for the good of the community" or "the police are also guilty and corrupt." But that's not it here. The police are not corrupt in these stories, in that they're not on the take and they're not persecuting innocent people. They're not heroes either. In these stories they're correct about their guesses because it's they're job to be, they're unkind because they don't have any special reason to be kind, and every damned thing I try to come up with to talk about them just falls away to smoke as I try to say it.These police are completely unlike the police in modern-day US. They're prejudiced, but their prejudice is on class lines and along the lines of behavior norms. A government official has decided that the secret documents in his possession were stolen byt the Jewish businessman down the street, but the policeman ignores his anti-Semitic tirade and goes about tracking down the habitual housebreaker he's pagged for the method of entry. But he doesn't challenge the man's prejudice: it's none of his business.

Time and again the break in the case comes from a moment of kindness from the cop of anxillary detective to the fugitive. It just makes him break and confess.Another thing that Čapek emphasizes is understanding. One of the stories has a man with a long criminal history die and arrived in heaven to be judged. This is done by three departed judges: they call God to be the one witness, because he sees and knows everything. God says he knows too much to judge.  God relates the events of the fellow's life, and the judges sentence him to hell. Nope, you thought the story was going to be about how understanding leads to mercy and redemption, but no. God's just doing his job. That doesn't include reprieve.

These stories are almost a hundred years old and they follow a pattern of story telling that is qjuite different from modern stories. Some of them are set in Prague and I am anjoying recognizing names of places I have been to.
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I took three books out of the library: another of Paul Stametz's mushroom growing books, Tanith Lee's The Dark Lords, and Lisa Goldstein's Tourists.

I'm a bit disappointed in the mushroom book. I thought that since it was promoted as being more for the home grower than the other one, that it might therefore have more information about the kind of garden cultivation I am trying to do, but it doesn't. It has even less information about it than the other one, and quite frankly I am not planning on getting into large-scale cultivation.

I've been warned that it is "too soon" to be very detailed about being appalled at and not enjoying a book of Tanith Lee's, so I'll leave it at that. Well, I'll hint: sexual politics, race politics, class politics, esthetics, and story structure.

Lisa Gildstein's book would have been written a wee bit differently now, I think, but it stands up (publish date 1989, a momentous year). Americans in a fictional Middle-Eatern/Central Asian sort of country for the father's research become embroiled in a complex magical/national/political crisis, where "nothing is as it seems" in an interesting way. I like that while the teenaged girls' presence is catalytical for the history of the country, they aren't the story at all, in the long view. I mean they are not the American Saviors. Magical forces have simply slotted them into the patterns that are being worked out and fought over. Literally, patterns are key here. There are many things I love about this book. The girls have been engaged for years in developing an imaginary landscape with warring countries, including making up their own languages for them and producing stacks of notebooks with mythologies, histories and literature for them. The older girl has withdrawn from the "real world" to escape the pressures of gifted child adolescence, The younger girl has withdrawn from the imaginary world to take on the practical challenges of keeping her dysfunctional family together (a task which is less hers than she imagines it to be). All of this is extremely relevant. The mother, who gave up her career for marriage, drinks to deal with her disappointment and her difficulty dealing with things. The father wants to do nothing but his research and hides as much as he is able from the problems of his family.

I could go on for hours about how the different pieces of the story interlock and move about in different directions, but a lot of you people care about spoilers and I don't really understand well what constitutes a spoiler and what doesn't, so I'm going to leave this here and say it's a yummy book.

Also I finished it in the wee hours of the morning the night before last because I couldn't sleep for reasons that escape me. And then I started a strange duck of a little story which I am now having trouble finishing. Although the story doesn't have any of the same elements except that language does a thing in it, I think the story is inspired by the book.

Next I will go back to the library and find something else to read, I don't know what.


May. 29th, 2015 10:37 pm
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So Tanith Lee died and I was at the library so I got The Lords of Darkness.

Is it allowable that I think it's kind of appalling?

Not in the good way, alas.
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I'm feeling a bit more cheerful today because I have apparently found my brain again. I spent a bit of time discouraged, and then a bit of time on a deliberate writing vacation, and then I had no thoughts whatever in my brain and that was frightening: I was actually empty. It was so weird. Anyway, I just chose a project at random and now I'm back to producing, slower, but a few hundred words a day is okay. The project I ended up working on is the amorous haunted nightstand one. I'm feeling tentatively optimistic on it.

more about the last couple weeks than you want to know, probably )

Oh! It's Wednesday. I should talk about what I'm reading. Um, Growing Gournet and Medical Mushrooms by crazy man Paul Stamets. Today I'm picking up another of his books at the library. There's a lot of information in this tome, and it's superficially laid out in a sensible and accessible way, but in reality when you go to read it, the information is scattered around in all of the places you don't expect it and also there are a lot of frankly odd bits of hyperbole and strange claims. But I am figuring out some stuff from reading it, and the occasional blurry black and white photo of his cute kids holding mushrooms as big as themselves is amusing too.

All of my friends who never had dogs are getting them.
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Last week I read Lisa Goldstein's Summer King, Winter Fool and Noriko Ogiwara's Dragon Sword and Wind Child. I attempted to read Microcosm by Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse, supposedly a "portrait" of the Polish city Wrocław, and started Echoes in Time by Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith.

Both the books I finished were nice little amusements. They have stories in them that ought to seem biggish, involving the whims of gods and kings and queens, but because they were both sort of stylized and removed from actual life, they seemed small to me. Like pretty toys. I liked them both, though I got a little impatient partway through and wished they would drop the royalist crap. I mean I felt like they were wasting themselves on trivial gods-and-royals stories when all that beauty and passion could have been spoent on something I personally care about because doesn't the world revolve around my tastes and if not why not? But they were fun anyway. Goldstein's book is in a completely new world informed by late Eurpoean nedieval times, and Ogiwara's book is in a magic world not many steps removed from Japan.

Microcosm is unreadable. It's written like one of those breathless magazine survey articles of the sixties, jumbled up and oh god why don't they use any of the actual place names! What the hell! Some of the places names they translate into English and I don't mean those odd Anglicized place names, I mean stuff like "Giant Mountains" and "Snowy Head" and "Cats Hills." Also, "The River." Skipping ahead, I see that they eventually deign to use the names of at least cities and states but they've lost me already.

I was going to say that this was obviously a product of the postwar period because even though the book spans prehistory to modern times the first chapter is about World War Two and of course that would have made sense up to about 1989 because until Solidarnosc Americans thought history stopped in Eastern Europe in about 1950. But the book was first printed in 2002, so I don't understand why the book starts out like this. I recall nopeing out of another Polish history book by Davies too. Unfortunately Polish histories aren't very thick on the ground at my library. What there is--is almost exclusively this guy, and/or books about concentration camps. Which are necessary to tell Polish history but not sufficient. Maybe I'll try it again sometime when my disappointment has had a chance to settle down.

I don't have  much to say about the Norton/Smith yet, since I just started it.

I stalled out on the giant fantasy trilogy my brother-in-law lent me. I feel like I should keep trying because he was so enthusiastic about it. Also I haven't started the Kameron Hurley. But probably next is The Mystic Marriage by our own Heather Rose Jones, and anything that looks fun in the library, and another attempt at Eastern European history. I think I remember seeing some other city histories on the shelf.

cut for medical neepery, not gross but probably boring )
On still another front: I'm hungry and I think I am going to boil some cracked grains in milk. Yes, I get to do that. Because, that's why.
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I've been plowing through books, at least that's what it looks like from my end. I finished The Other Wind by Ursula LeGuin, a tiny bit disappointed because it's about the country of the dead and it's another Earthsea book: not that I mind Earthsea, but I was in the mood for something else. And the country of the dead is only passing interest for me even though I have written (yet another unpublished) book featuring a country of the dead as well.

I also finished both the Margaret Atwoods that I took out of the library (they were in one volume). I thought it was brilliant to package Life Before Man with Cat's-Eye: it's like Cat's -Eye is the more matuire consideration of the problems between women, and an explanation why a woman might find herself growing up trusting men more than women, and also a reconciliation with all the women in her life,. Kind of. Some reconciliations are not possible, so they happen only one-sidedly.

I also just finished Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death?. Man, this was hard to read. At the same time it was wonderful and beautiful to read. I admit I was imagining the Sahel/western Sahara through the whole book and then felt dumb when the Sudan is mentioned at the end because everything made so much more sense knowing it was Sudan and not Sahel. It actually scratched all my itches too -- sense of place, sense of wonder, sense of person, language, story, color, sensation, mystery. Not to mention politics, both simple and complex at once. I like that when she humanizes the villains, she does not excuse them. Also I love that the technology is both advanced and backward, that it's clearly a future setting with a darfk ages but they didn't lose everything, and I love love love that it's Africa itself, not Africa determined by the rest of the world.

I may not finish the Melanie Rawn I am reading. It's so unlike the Glass Thorns books or that immense Spanioid fantasy she co-wrote. It's unfortunately full of all the things I hate in romance books: the horrible cliche hypergendered descriptions of the hero and heroine, the Irish malarkey, the embarrassing stock descriptions of sex that just don't sound like any sex I've ever had (well, okay, so I guess I don't expect it to be much like what I've experienced, but it doesn't sound like sex at all, it sounds like a greeting card). I would not take this as an anti-recommendation of Melanie Rawn in general, though, just this book. The Glass Thorns books are excellent.

So I also had a moment reading The Other Wind. well, a few moments at different times. Where I recognized something she was doing as something I do too, and I was thinking, damnit, when I do this people tell me I'm screwing up and I should do something else. And I wonder if it is because I'm just so bad at it?
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Wednesday isn't sacred, right?

So I finally got back into the groove of going to the library on a regular basis, which is nice. I can catch up on old books.

I brought home a bunch of Margaret Atwood this time. I remember now why I got out of the habit of reading her, even though I admire her books and enjoy them a lot of the time. There is, however, a ration of grimness that I can't sustain. The one I just finished is Life Before Man, than which I can't recall having read much more glum except perhaps some fin de siecle century Norwegian stuff. The only glimmer of joy is Lesje's preoccupation with dinosaurs, and even that gets ground down to a pathetic misery by the end of the book. It's a feckless fellow and the three women who feel something sort of like love for him, though in none of those cases does it seem very much like affection. It's one of her realist novels. The inner lives of three of these people are on display, and those reach the sensory intensity of fantasy. It's really masterful: unlike many alternating-pov books, each shift solidly contributes to advancing the story, and the separate points of view are distinct and consequential. It's compelling even though I didn't really like anybody very much, and while at no time was I having any fun, I was really involved with the world, the story, the language. I guess I have to say that she made me care about people I kind of wanted to tell off and I am really glad I don't know.

Now I'm reading Cat's Eye and I think I read it before, though I never remember any of it till I come to it, so it's like reading a new book. I like it a lot better, though I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up hating everybody in it too.

I think I have to go read some Joyce Carol Oates now too, even though I decided a long time ago I didn't like her books and wasn't ever going to read one again. The reason I have to is that Atwood's writing in these two books reminds me a bit of Oates, especially in the ways that don't please me, and I have to figure out why I decided I like Atwood and I don't like Oates.

I am also reading a trilogy my brother-in-law leant me, something I'd never pick out for myself. It's the Powder Mage trilogy, a fat gory fantasy epic with everything I don't like to read. The author is Brian McClellan. The first book is Promise of Blood, an unpromising title for me, but I am paying attention. It's well-written enough that I'm not skimming all the incessant fight scenes. I now it's a bad habit, because sometimes information is in those scenes, but I usually find them boring and unproductive in terms of advancing the story. The one author I know that embeds enough information in fight scenes that they are worth reading every word is Jo Walton in the King's Peace books. What won me over to this trilogy besides my brother-in-law's recommendation (which has to be taken judiciously because we have almost opposite tastes in reading) is the cut line:"The age of kings is dead...and I have killed it." I am not sure whether the speaker of that line is going to turn out to be a villainous point of view after all--I would feel betrayed if he did, but there's indications that this story could go either way. It also has the problem of the characters all being kind of assholes, but they're sort of sympathetic assholes for now.

I have also been lent a Kameron Hurley and I have some other stuff in my library bag. Yes, I am reading lots of real books again, not just cookbooks and online fiction.

Also, I started a completely new story, a school story about Yanek's sister, who is a botanist with second sight which works best with respect to trees. Also she is a Zelnik, and I believe this story is how she finds out what that means and also begins to find a way to abandon her position in the aristocracy without losing her ties of affection to her family. I do not believe this story goes as far as her figuring out how to have a family of her own: that is in the future.
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I took 3 books out of the library. Changing Planes by Ursula LeGuin: The Sugar Festival by Paul Park: and Probability Moon by Nancy Kress.The second was gruesome (on purpose) and unreadable by me. The third I did not finish because the people annoyed me so much. The first was more or less a meringue: frothy and sweet.

That's all you get. Still using the disability keyboard and it's excruciating. So is voice recognition. And my spare keyboard died the death--it might be 20 years old.
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I finished Longbourn.I liked it a lot, though I was kind of dissatisfied with the ending. But I often am. I know some of you people care deeply about spoilers, so suffice it to say that the ending felt a wee bit rushed and forced to me. But the main thing is that here is a richly detailed working class romance where the resolution isn't "take the porotagonist out of the working class." Also, it's a great antidote for the whole (in my opinion) corrupt Regency Romance thing. I think I understand why so many people love that genre, but my response is usually "I hate these people and I want someone to expropriate everything they own and distribute it to the workers," Not exactly conducive to enjoying a lighthearted read. Longbourn is not, by the way, lighthearted.

I also read a chapbook of Karen Joy Fowler's (The Science of Herself)and now I want to call her up. She lives in my town! She actually went to school with the nice fellow, and sweetgly contacted me after he died--she didn't know he lived her until she saw his obituary.

Right this minute, I have no reading agenda, I am editing a thing for submission and I want it done byu next week, so I can do the next thing, etc. I want to get these old things cleaned upo and ready to send away, and then clear the decks so I can go back to not-Poland after surgery.

I finally got a cost estimate on the surgery and it's a relief: I do not have to cancel after all. This is of course a terrible crime against men of property and Congress would like to put a stop to it.

The other good medical news is I rode my bike to physical therapy and back: maybe three miles altogether? I'm not sure. And it was fine, though I expect to wake up tonight with the screamies. I did walk my bike up the one substantial hill, but the physicfal therapist says with my knees, I really, really should. She approved of the venture in general, though.

Yesterday I was thinking it looked like I am in a period where I can have more function or less pain, but not both, and that I seem to have chosen more function for now. Today it looks like I can have somewhat less pain if I persist in  going for more function. That's also reassuring. That's how it was until about a year ago. More exercise relieved pain as well as providing more function, bu just not right away.

Oh, and on another front: aside from the rain giving up on us and retreating, we do seem to have entered early spring, by the particular flowers blooming (quince) and the busy behavior of the birds. Also, I can tell there is more light, and both dog and I are more ambitious. She and I went for a long walk at the Yacht Harbor yesterday. She had some trouble coming back up the stairs, barely enough to call trouble.
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Do you have a list of elements that wll keep you from reading a book? I do. A strong enough recommendation from a person who knows my taste, or whose taste is aligned with mine, especially if they include a note about why they think the book is readable even with that element present, will sometimes cause me to try a book anyway. But usually, the minute I know the book contains one of these, it's off my to-read list with prejudice.

These are the things I can think of right now:

  1. mercenaries

  2. assassins

  3. serial killers

  4. an unexamined hero-worship of policemen or soldiers (I can certainly handle heroic policemen and soldiers, but the author has to have a nuanced view of the work environment and the complex political and moral universe surrounding these people)

  5. a storyline designed to "justify" slavery, aristocracy, capitalism, or the penal system (I understand how come there are people who do this with respect to capitalism, but the others?  how can they?)

  6. people who are better than other people because of qualities they inherited

  7. (to borrow a phrase from Patrick Nielsen Hayden) unreflective pastoralism (rural settings with an intelligent view of the relationship between urban and rural, class relationships, and material conditions and culture of the rural working class are more than welcome)

  8. people who are villains because they are born to be villains, particularly if they are from "the south" or "east" or they are "swarthy" or "sallow" and my dog how is this still a thing and why do I see it

  9. soulfuckingmates

  10. the word "abs" outside of dialog assigned to an idiot (edit: becauser it signifies the obtification of men's bodies and the fetishization of a particular type of hypermasculinizagtion)

  11. men who are supposed to be sexy because they are brutal, or because they are overly muscled, or because their profession is authoritaria

  12. (edit) the dead bodies of women as plot tokens (suggested by personhead[livejournal.com profile] pantryslut along with the corollary:

  13. the dead bodies of sex workers triply so

The problem with numbered lists--well, there are lots of them, but I can't figure out how to turn that 13 into a 12a. Thank you personhead[livejournal.com profile] pantryslut for 12 & 13, which should be 12  & 12a, and thank you personhead[livejournal.com profile] redbird for asking for clarity on 10.

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