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.

Books read July

Because I decided to go to Loncon as you may have noticed, this month my reading was dominated by Hugo related works, but I still managed to fit three more novels than last month in:

Hurricane Fever — Tobias Buckell
A fast moving near future thriller set in a Caribbean menaced by almost constant hurricanes. Read because Tobias Buckell was kind enough to provide a review copy.

The Lives of Tao — Wesley Chu
Wesley Chu is one of the candidates for the Campbell Best New Writer award this year and this provided as part of the voting package. A decent adventure read, but nothing special.

A Stranger in Olondria — Sofia Samatar
Another candidate for the Campbell, Sofia Samatar got my vote on the strength of this novel, a fantasy travelogue set in a world that’s not your average medievaloid setting.

Three Parts Dead — Max Gladstone
Another candidate, this was a great secondary world/urban fantasy story about a chartered accountant (more or less) investigating the death of a god.

Moon over Soho — Ben Aaronovitch
An urban fantasy murder mystery set in contemporary London; part of a series.

Six Gun Snow White — Catherynne M. Valente
My vote for the Best Novella Hugo, this retelling of the Snow White fairytale set in the Wild West, was published as a short novel. (And would’ve been a normal length novel forty years or so.)

Deep Wizardry — Diane Duane
Second in the Young Wizards series. This almost made me cry. Almost.

Banana creme

It’s when you scrablle in dark cupboards to find the hand mixer and then realise that it hasn’t been turned on since she died, that you miss your wife again. Every time I try a new or unfamiliar recipe again that calls for a bit of kitchen kit I’ve rarely or never used and find out that yes, of course Sandra had bought it long ago, I’m reminded of how good a cook she was. She could whip together a great meal with minimal effort and make it healthy too.

Me, not so much. Between being fundamentally lazy and only having to cook for myself and what’s the point of going to all that extra effort if you’re just cooking for one?

But sometimes I do find something that looks tasty and easy to make and I get that itch to make it, hence banana creme as blogged by Michel yesterday, seemed like the perfect dessert today on a hot summer day. Had to make some changes though; the local supermarket only had sweetened condensed milk and for some reason no lemons, so had to get lemon juice, but the recipe stayed the same:

A couple of leftover bananas, a can of condensed milk, blitz with the mixer, add a bit of lemon juice to sharpen it up a bit et viola:

bananana creme

Books read June

Oops. Should’ve done this earlier, but since I only read four books this month it sort of slipped my mind.

Lagoon — Nnedi Okorafor
A great novel, one of the candidates for next year’s Hugo if I have my way, but it took me a long time to get through it.

So You Want to Be a Wizard — Diane Duane
Diane Duane had a sale on her website of her ebooks, so I bought the complete Young Wizards series. I would’ve loved those had I come across them when I was twelve and still like them a lot as a nominal adult.

Martian Summer — Andrew Kessler
Andrew Kessler got to live a space geek’s dream and was embedded for ninety days with the Phoenix Mars Mission. Interesting look at how such a big space project works, if you can stand his sense of humour.

Throne of Jade — Naomi Novik
Second in the Temeraire series: the Napoleonic wars with dragons. Great entertainment as long as you can sort of overlook the setting making not much sense, which is harder to do in this book as Temeraire heads to China.

Books read May

A much better month: eleven books read in May.

De Jaren Pep — Ger Apeldoorn
A great looking coffee table book about one of the most important Dutch comics magazines ever published.

The Ship Who Sang — Anne McCaffrey
A reread of a childhood favourite. Not a success I’m afraid.

Fly by Wire — William Langewiesche
Recommended by Alex, this is the story of the airliner that landed on the Hudson back in 2009 and how it was able to do it.

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots — Seanan McGuire
This is basically superhero fanfiction as done by a professional writer. Available for free online.

Undertow — Elizabeth Bear
Hard science fiction adventure in which luck plays a large, quantum mechanical role.

Velveteen vs the Multiverse — Seanan McGuire
The second book in this series takes a darker turn, as McGuire works out the consequences of the world she has build.

The Dark Griffin — K. J. Taylor
Interesting fantasy novel from a writer who takes her inspiration from “George R. R. Martin and Finnish metal”. May actually be slightly subversive.

An English Affair — Richard Davenport-Hines
A very readable account of the Profumo affair by somebody not hesitant to judge the various participants in it and who is somewhat sympathetic to the alleged villains of the affair.

The Blue Place — Nicola Griffith
Goddamn I hate the ending. A hardboiled detective, first in a series, starring an American-Norwegian-Brit “rangy six footer” lesbian ex-detective, this was a brilliant novel but that ending…

London Falling — Paul Cornell
Fast paced, very readable London urban fantasy.

Peace Keeper — Laura E. Reeve
More military science fiction.

If the internet can’t even support Metafilter…

Goddammit this is not good news:

Today I need to share some unfortunate news: because of serious financial downturn, MetaFilter will be losing three of its moderators to layoffs at the end of this month. What that means for the site and the site’s future are described below.

While MetaFilter approaches 15 years of being alive and kicking, the overall website saw steady growth for the first 13 of those years. A year and a half ago, we woke up one day to see a 40% decrease in revenue and traffic to Ask MetaFilter, likely the result of ongoing Google index updates. We scoured the web and took advice of reducing ads in the hopes traffic would improve but it never really did, staying steady for several months and then periodically decreasing by smaller amounts over time.

The long-story-short is that the site’s revenue peaked in 2012, back when we hired additional moderators and brought our total staff up to eight people. Revenue has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, down to levels we last saw in 2007, back when there were only three staffers.

Basically, Metafilter depends on Google referalls for ad revenue, Google changed their algorithms and hence MeFi and many other small websites fell off the pagerankings. The upshot is that three of the moderators have to leave their jobs and people are worried about the future of the site, myself included. On the positive side, the news has released a flood of donations to MeFi, but the worries about the long term viability remain.

It’s depressing. Metafilter came into my life at the time Sandra was dying, a welcome distraction and in it I found a community of smart, sane, amazingly friendly people; to see it in peril hits me where I live, almost literally. But more than that, Metafilter is the best of what the internet was intended to be, more than just a place to buy stuff or click like on, where the users are a community, not just the assets in some venture capitalist’s portfolio. It needs to survive.