Books read February

A slightly disappointing total of seven books read this month, down from eleven last month. Partially this is because I started a short SF marathon over at my booklog, which I hope to finish on Sunday. At least it’s up from last year, when I only finished two books.

A History of Future Cities — Daniel Brook
Looks at the development and history of four “artificial” cities and the role they played in the development of their respective countries: Saint Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.

The Myth of the Strong Leader — Archie Brown
A synthetic history book that takes aim at the desire for strong leaders, both in democracies and autocratic systems.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet — Becky Chambers
Self published, old school adventure science fiction about a crew of wormhole punchers who get involved in something way above their pay grade…

Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer
Brilliant first entry in a science fiction trilogy all published last year. It reminded me of Roadside Picnic though VanderMeer said to me he hadn’t read that before writing this.

The March North — Graydon Saunders
Graydon is an old acquaintance from rec.arts.sf.* known for his smart but sometimes slightly gnomic posts, this is his first published fantasy, somewhat less gnomic but still smart.

My Real Children — Jo Walton
An alternate history domestic novel that almost made it on my Hugo ballot.

Sarah Canary — Karen Joy Fowler
I asked Twitter to choose me a book to read and this is what it came up with, Karen Joy Fowler’s debut novel, science fiction in name only about a mysterious woman stumbling into a Chinese railway workers camp one day in 1873. If you put your SF hat on, it’s a First Contact novel, but it’s easy to read it as “just” a story about the mythology of the west, feminism and racism too.

Books read January

That’s the first month of 2015 done and dusted. Eleven books read, ten more reviewed over at the booklog. Which puts me on track for reading a hundred plus books this year, which would be nice. Four fantasy novels, three science fiction, two history books and one disappointing book on steampunk.

A Natural History of Dragons — Marie Brennan
The first in a series about a natural explorer obsessed by dragons in a mock-Georgian fantasy world. Excellently done.

Half Life — SL Huang
The sequel to Zero Sum Game, in which math savant Cas Russell learns how to fake friendship like a normal human being.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting — Vijay Prashad
Excellent overview of the history of intersectionality between the South Asian and Black experiences, largely in the context of US history.

A Wizard Abroad — Diane Duane
The YA wizards series goes to Ireland, the country its author also moved to. Coincidence? Luckily not at all as Oirish as you may expect from an American author dabbling in Celtic myths.

The Golem and the Djinni — Helene Wecker
At the American Book Center they compared this to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and I can see why. They share the same sensibility and willingness to let the story breathe.

The Rise of Cities in North-West Europe — Adriaan Verhulst
A bit of a misnomer as it only looks at roughly fifteen cities in the southern Netherlands between the Somme and the Meuse. Somewhat more worthy than I’d expected.

Steampunk — Paul Roland
A disappointing overview of the steampunk subculture.

Pandora’s Planet — Christopher Anvil
Light hearted semi-libertarian fun about humans outsmarting alien invaders — written from the point of view of the invaders.

The Lion Game — James H. Schmitz
Fifteen year old psionic wonderkind Telzey Amberdon outsmarts a hidden invasion of the Hub. Fun adventure science fiction.

Spies of the Balkans — Alan Furst
Another of Furst’s usually quite depressing spy thrillers set just before and during World War II, this one has what you might call a happy ending.

Wolfhound Century — Peter Higgins
Epic fantasy set in a sort of steampunk fantasy Soviet Russia.

No more junk!

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions normally, finding them a waste of time, but I do want to change some things this year. Basically, I want to free myself of junk. And I’m not just talking about junk food here, though gru knows I could stand cutting down a lot on it, but junk consumption in general. In these past few years I feel like I’ve wasted too much time on things that don’t matter, aren’t worth it, or even actively harmful. I’m talking about.

  • NO more junk tv. So much time wasted with crappy Discovery “documentaries” about awful people fighting over the scraps of other people’s failures, mildly amusing quiz shows and talking head football shows. Meanwhile my movie watching dropped almost to zero because I had “no time” for them, then spent twice as long watching crap on television. I need to stop that and watch something good instead.
  • NO more online junk. The internet is of course the ultimate quick junk fix and I need to stop falling for Upworthyesque shit or tvtropes rabbit trails. I need to let go a bit more and not hit up more sites when there’s nothing interesting to read or see. I certainly don’t need to keep watching 40 minute long videos of other people playing games when I could be playing myself. Which brings me to.
  • NO more junk gaming. For fuck’s sake, I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track of all the games I’ve already bought in the two years I’ve finally had a modern(ish) pc, yet I keep buying and not playing them? Meanwhile Football Manager shows ridic numbers of hours spent on it, in “just one more turn” type of button pushing pellot drop gaming. I like the game, but I need to let go of it a bit more when I’m just playing it to get the season done and over with.
  • NO more junk blogging. Less of the obsession to get posts out daily or regularly when I have nothing to say, more time spent on writing them. ‘Nuff said.
  • Finally, NO more junk reading. Not that I necessarily regret the books I read last year, but there have been times in the past two-three years where all I could stomach reading was Mass Effect fanfiction and shitty mil-sf. That needs to change.
  • Basically, I want to engage more rather than mindlessly consume what’s put in front of me.

Books read December

Ten books read in December brings the total for 2014 up to eightyeight in total, six up from 2013. I’d hoped to have more of an end spurt, but a short illness put paid to that. 2014 has been the most unbalanced reading year since I started keeping count in 2001: seventyfour fiction books, of which fortysix science fiction and twentysix fantasy, against only fourteen non-fiction.

There are a couple of reasons for this of course. Because I went to Worldcon this year I got to read the Hugo Voters Package, meaning July and August were spent reading through that, while I also got interested in Dutch language science fiction again, reading a lot more Dutch sf than I had in a long time. Nevertheless I want to read more non-fiction this year.

Genderwise I’m still trying to fix the balance in my reading, having calculated back in 2010 that less than ten percent of the books I read had been written by women. So of the fortysix science fiction books, thirtyone were by female writers as were eighteen of the twentysix fantasy books. Since the only crime novels I read were by Nicola Griffith, the total for my fiction reading was fiftyone books by female versus twentythree books by male writers. Non-fiction on the other hand was male dominated: four women versus ten men. Something to pay attention to this year.

Though to be honest I’m less bothered by this, then I am with keeping my science fiction and fantasy more balanced and diverse; those are the genres I like the best and read the most of. What I like to do in 2015 is to keep reading more books by women, but also start reading more stories by authors from outside the UK or US. There’s a wide world of fantasy and science fiction outside these two countries and I want to know more about it.

In any case the last books I read in 2014 were the following:

The Violent Century — Lavie Tidhard
What if, only a few years before WWII, one particular quantum physics experiment creates a probability wave that gives some people superpowers?

The Dark Colony — Richard Penn
A self published, hard science fiction police procedural set on an asteroid belt colony.

De Scrypturist — Paul Evanby
A great steampunkesque Dutch fantasy story by what I suspect is one of Holland’s best sf&f writers.

The Nemesis from Terra — Leigh Brackett
Another of Brackett’s tightly plotted Mars adventures.

Meeting the Sculptur — Floris M. Kleijne
A clever little time travel story.

The Martian — Andy Weir
One of the sleeper hits of the year, this hard science fiction novel of an astronaut stranded on Mars and how he’s saved through ingenuity, can do spirit and NASA led teamwork.

Falling Free — Lois McMaster Bujold
The last novel in Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga I hadn’t read yet, set 200 years before the main series and showing how the Quaddies got their freedom in a sort of eighties update of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

The Story of the Stone — Barry Hughart
The second in Hughart’s series of fantasies set in mystical China and the only one I hadn’t read yet.

High Wizardry — Diane Duane
The third in the Young Wizards series: great YA fantasy adventure.

Monument — Lloyd Biggle Jr
A classic anti-colonialist science fiction story.

2014 in review

I never really like this time of year. Everybody gets introspective and moody, brooding about their failure to do everything they set out to do the past year, or worse, gets smug about everything they did accomplish. It invites melancholy and that’s one of my weaknesses. I hate endings, hate saying goodbye. Nevertheless I would like to say some things about 2014, if only to end the blogging year properly.

It hasn’t been a bad year for me personally, state of the world be damned. Last year I spent a large chunk of the year underemployed, without assignment but still paid, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the perrenial anxiety that brings with it. Personally I’d love not having to go to work ever again but if I must I’d rather not worry about my employability. This year was better: I ended 2013 on assignment to one Big Dutch Bank only to have the project end in December and switched another Big Dutch Bank in January, which was a fun job but for the commute: Amsterdam to Utrecht to Zeist, by public transport. Fortunately or otherwise that assignment ended to in May, so I got to go to Yet Another Big Dutch Bank, the only one I hadn’t work for yet and am still there. This time it’s in Amsterdam and I literally look out on the offices of the bank I ended 2013 with…

My personal life is still in stasis so to speak. It’s now been over three years since Sandra died, yet I still miss her daily. I miss the companionship of being in a relation, of having somebody other than cats to come home to and share your life with. My family is wonderful, if annoying at times, but that’s not the same. Being home at Christmas underscored that, nice though it was.

But I’m not looking for a new relationship either. I don’t want somebody new; I want Sandra and since that’s impossible I’d rather live on my own. I just can’t fathom going through that whole process of learning to live with somebody all over again.

Not to ened on a downer, what was good this year was getting back further into fandom again. The Worldcon was great and for next year I’ve lined up a couple of cons to go to. Hopefully get a bit more sociable this year.

Books read November

Nine books read this month, which began strongly but petered out a bit as a couple of tough books slowed me down.

Schitterende Wereld — Mel Hartman
A disappointing collection of sf short stories based on an interesting concept: twelve stories based on the work of six world famous scientists.

Broken Homes — Ben Aaronovitch
Fourth in a series about a hapless London police officer being caught up in its magical underworld.

Styx — Bavo Dhooge
A bent cop in Oostende returns from the death as a zombie to bring a serial killer to justice

Ter Ziele — Esther Scherpenisse
Sometimes Death has pity for a dying person and brings them to its palace….

A History of the Vandals — Torsten Cumberland Jacobsen
A decent introduction to the history of the Vandals, one of the few such actually available in English.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance — Lois McMaster Bujold
The latest so far in the Vorkosigan saga, now starring Miles cousin, that idiot Ivan.

Furies: War in Europe 1450-1700 — Lauro Martines
A distressing look at warfare in Early Modern Europe.

Who Fears Death — Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor’s first adult novel, a harrowing coming of age tale & quest story.

Het Laatste Verhaal — Guido Eekhaut
In the near future republic of Flanders, two street outcasts team up with a Japanese woman from an alternate world who has a sword that can cut through time and space…

Retreat, postpone, avoid

Matt Zoller Seitz’s 2010 essay about the death of his wife and remembering her afterwards hit home on so many levels:

Sondheim. Kander and Ebb. “Feed the Kitty.” “Deadwood.” In the last few years, to greater or lesser degrees, these things and others have been off-limits.

A song, a poem, a scene from a film triggers memories. You’re startled, moved, shaken. And you’re faced with two options: 1) engage with the work and the memories it calls up, or 2) retreat, postpone, avoid.

Option 2 is very attractive. You’re buying Tums and hand soap at the drugstore and a song comes on, a song you associate with somebody you loved — a shared reference point, an in-joke, an anthem, a confession — and suddenly you’re a mess, a wreck, useless, so you leave the store without buying anything. You’re watching a movie in a multiplex or in somebody’s living room and here comes a character that reminds you of somebody you miss — a parent, a sibling, a lover, a friend — and you excuse yourself for a while and go into another room or take a walk around the block, and when you’ve regained control, you go back. (“Hey, where were you?” “Nowhere. Just taking a break.”)

Retreat, postpone, avoid.

Omnitopia Dawn is a novel I won’t reread anytime soon, because it was the novel I’d finished and reviewed the night Sandra died. I’d left her in the hospital on that Sunday night, three years ago, in the full confidence I’d see her again on Monday, had watched some telly and written an indifferent review, then gone to bed to be woken up at 2 AM with the news she’d passed away. Just rereading that review, paging back through the blog to it, is enough to trigger that response Seitz’s talking about.

I dreamt of Sandra again last Friday night, one of those dreams that started out as something else entirely and then I dreamt I was walking through the market near the flat we first lived together and I heard my name called and turned around and there she was. I’d been worrying sometimes about forgetting what she looked like but my subconscious rememembered. The shock of it woke me up. As such it was a gentler dream than the ones I’ve sometimes had where I was aware she was dead, but it had all been a huge mistake and she was still in hospital, alone…

October and November are always bad months for me now, because this is when the reality of Sandra’s death, her absence, is the strongest. Most of the rest of the year it’s easier to avoid it, live with it, remember the good times rather than the end, but as November 7th comes around, it becomes unavoidable. It’s what I need to become used to, but never quite can and hope I never quite will, strange as it sounds.

Books read October

October was a fruitful month for me, with twelve books read in total.

The Zero Stone — Andre Norton
A great, fast paced space opera adventure story made somewhat weird by the conspicuous lack of female characters.

Ordeal in Otherwhere — Andre Norton
This instead had an actual female protagonist and was a good coming of age/first contact story.

Exiles of the Stars — Andre Norton
Sequel to a novel I haven’t read, but readable enough on its own.

Between Giants — Prit Buttar
The story of the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) in World War II caught between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Not a happy story.

Storm over Warlock — Andre Norton
What turned out to be the novel I should’ve read before Ordeal in Otherwhere. When the Throg attack the survey camp on Warlock, the sole survivor, Shann Lantee, has to keep himself alive as well as find some way to take revenge…

Judgement on Janus — Andre Norton
A young man sells himself as indentured labourer on a forest world, then catches a mysterious illness that transforms him into one of the planet’s long died out natives. From there his troubles begin…

Victory on Janus — Andre Norton
Andre Norton goes Lovecraftian in the sequel

Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie
Highly anticipated sequel to Ancillary Justice which didn’t disappoint.

The Stone Boatmen — Sarah Tolmie
I think I found my number one pick for the Hugo Awards.

The Lost Steersman — Rosemary Kirstein
The third volume in the Steerswoman is as brilliant if not better than the first two novels.

Orlando — Virginia Woolf
Orlando starts out a young noble man at the time of Elizabeth I, becomes a young noble woman while an ambassador from Charless II in Constantinople and merrily lives through the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries as such.

A Night in the Lonesome October — Roger Zelazny
There’s an ancient tradition in sf fandom (where ancient tradition equals something done twice) to read A Night in the Lonesome October in October, one day at a time. So I did. Perhaps Zelazny’s last great novel.

Books read September

Guess what? I actually read some non-fiction this month, in the shape of a history of the 1953 Iranian coup. Apart from that, I’ve also dipped my toes in the troubled waters of Dutch science fiction and fantasy, thoroughly enjoyed Kameron Hurley’s new novel but was slightly dissappointed to still have only read six books in total this month. UPDATE: seven actually, as I completely forgot I’d read The Secret Feminist Cabal this month too.

Zwarte Sterren — Roelof Goudriaan (Ed.)
An anthology of Dutch science fiction I got from the library to find Dutch authors worth reading.

The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley
One of the biggest sf&f books of 2014 and it lived up to its hype.

Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis
A Dutch author writing in English, this is Duyvis’ first novel, a well written YA fantasy with one of the more original ideas I’ve seen in fantasy behind it.

The Secret Feminist Cabal — Helen Merrick
A cultural history of feminism in science fiction, science fiction fandom and academic research into science fiction. This is essential reading for anybody interested in the history of science fiction and women in science fiction.

All the Shah’s Men — Stephen Kinzer
An overview of the 1953 coup that ended democracy in Iran and the role the British and Americans played in it. Comes close to victim blaming at points.

The Outskirter’s Secret — Rosemary Kirstein
The second novel in the Steerswoman series of science fiction disguised as fantasy.

Roadside Picnic — Boris & Arkady Strugatsky
A classic of Russian science fiction and the inspiration for the 1979 movie Stalker as well as the more recent S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video horror games.

Fly along in my beautiful balloon

So a couple of weeks ago my brother and his family went on holiday to the Belgian Ardennes and took my mother with them for a long weekend, during which they went to a ballooning festival. That got my mum to talk about how she wanted to do that someday, which my sister in law (more or less; it’s complicated) remembered. So when she found somebody offering a ticket for such a balloon flight cheap online, she didn’t hesitate but talk that guy into giving the ticket to her for just a bouquet of flowers and some pictures from the flight. She’s awesome like that; her skill at social enginering would be scary if used for evil.

To cut a long story short, mum wanted somebody to go along with her, nobody else in the family wanted to or dared to, so I got to go along. Having to buy my own ticket even. But it was worth it and it was brilliant flying over the Dutch countryside on a perfect evening, live tweeting the whole thing.