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:
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.
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.
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.
As I seem to be complaining each time I do these, I still read too little. This time it’s only been five books.
Blood Trail — Tanya Huff
The second Blood urban fantasy novel, where ex-policewoman Vicki Nelson is hired by a family of werewolves to find out who is killing them.
A Biography of No Place — Kate Brown
The 2oth century history of the historical borderlands between Poland and Russia, now in the heartlands of Ukraine and how they were shaped from multi-ethnic borderlands into largely Ukrainian lands.
Zero Sum Game — SL Huang
Debut novel of a blogger who kept saying sensible things on her blog, so I got this from Kobo Books; first ebook I’ve ever bought. This is a technothriller about a math savant whose math skills are so instinctive that they allow her to dodge bullets.
A Soldier’s Duty — Jean Johnson
Yes, I have a weakness for even dodgy mil-sf. I know literally nothing about this book or its author when I picked it up, but it looked interesting. A precog fifteen year old girl sees a future in which the entire galaxy is laid to waste and the only chance of humanity’s survival is if she becomes an interstellar marine.
Blood Lines — Tanya Huff
Third novel in the Blood series. After vampires and werewolves, what is more logical than to feature that other classic Universal monster, the Mummy?
From the first page Peter Bach’s story of dealing with his wife’s illness and death felt familiar. For a doctor he has a great turn of phrase: “we started to live less and fake it more”, yes, yes, exactly. That way that optimisim and the will to fight slowly drains away but you keep on keeping on, the point where that’s no longer possible and you just want to “just get on with the sorrow”. When he talks about his wife and how she “set about her business, as if taking fistfuls of pills and slathering on foot cream, intended to prevent a skin reaction from her chemotherapy, was just something anyone does in the normal course of their lives”. But it is.
That desire to shelter her from the worst realities of her cancer, that he talks about as lying, of “switching into doing mode” himself to keep some of that reality away himself, been there. I was lucky though; I didn’t have the same deep knowledge of what Sandra’s own illness meant as Bach, as a cancer doctor himself, had of his wife’s disease. I didn’t see the future.
It turns out that Hollywood has grief and loss all wrong. The waves and spikes don’t arrive predictably in time or severity. It’s not an anniversary that brings the loss to mind, or someone else’s reminiscences, nor being in a restaurant where you once were together. It’s in the grocery aisle passing the romaine lettuce and recalling how your spouse learned to make Caesar salad, with garlic-soaked croutons, because it was the only salad you’d agree to eat. Or when you glance at a rerun in an airport departure lounge and it’s one of the episodes that aired in the midst of a winter afternoon years earlier, an afternoon that you two had passed together. Or on the rise of a full moon, because your wife, from the day you met her, used to quote from The Sheltering Sky about how few you actually see in your entire life. It’s not sobbing, collapsing, moaning grief. It’s phantom-limb pain. It aches, it throbs, there’s nothing there, and yet you never want it to go away.
Tomorrow it will be exactly 21/2 years since Sandra died, so it’s no wonder she’s been on my mind the past weeks. It’s funny about grief, it stays away for days or weeks on end and then suddenly it stabs you in the heart again. in popular culture it’s supposed to be this massive, all overpowering emotion, something that hits youn in the guts and keeps you down for weeks, then mostly disappears apart from late nights spent with the whisky bottle and the handy portrait of your lover whenever it’s convenient for the plot.
Real life is different. What I remember emotionally from the weeks just before and immediately after her death was sadness, but also peace and even a bit of relief that it was all over. For three-four years we’d been living with her illness and the hope that finally her health would improve. When that hope turned out to be futile and Sandra choose to put an end to it, after denial came relief. An ending was better than more sleepless nights listening to her crying out in pain and anguish. The week after she died there still wasn’t that grief the movies had taught me would be there; instead I had to be relentlessly practical, set myself to tying off all the loose ends her death left behind.
It’s only in the months and years after that, when life had turned back to normal again that the emptiness hit. Four years fighting for Sandra’s health, always with that goal of getting her better in mind, not to mention over a decade of having been with her and suddenly it had all ended. Suddenly there wasn’t anybody I needed to take into account anymore, suddenly it was just me and the cats and being able to everything I want but nothing really to come back home for. I’ve never been as comfortable as i’m now, but what’s the point when you’re just living on your own, day in day out without purpose?
That’s how I feel whenever the reality of living without Sandra hits me again; late at night going to bed with just the cats, in the supermarket staring at the vegetables, every now and again seeing something she would’ve Had an Opinion About. That’s when the knife hits. It hits with the little things, remembering the small touches of living together, of having somebody other than cats to talk to.
(There isn’t much pop music that does well with grief, but Sinéad O’Connor comes close.)
I struggled with my reading this month, starting but not yet finishing several novels (The Creative Fire, Deathless), “Wasting” a lot of reading time. Two fantasy novels, one science fiction, two non-fiction books this week.
The Shadowed Sun — N. K. Jemisin
Second in a duology of Egyptian inspired fantasy set on a world orbiting a gas giant, this one deals with the consequences of the end of the last one.
Dark Eden — Chris Beckett
This won last year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award. It’s a decent enough sf heartland adventure story, but fell somewhat flat for me.
The European Colonial Empires 1815 – 1919 — H. L. Wesseling
An overview of the height of the European colonial system.
What Makes this Book So Great — Jo Walton
What makes this book so great is Jo Walton, who gets you passionate and interested in books you may never have considered otherwise.
Blood Price — Tanya Huff
First in an urban fantasy series. Not normally my cup of tea, but everything I’ve read of Huff I liked, so I bought more or less the entire series in one go.
So on a whim I decided to go to my favourite secondhand bookstore in Amsterdam, only to find they’d just gotten a shedload of science fiction/fantasy in as well as added a new comics section. This led me to getting slightly more books than I’d counted on.
But at least I got a lot of books I’d been looking for for donkeys. Tricia Sullivan’s Maul for one, as well as Dreaming in Smoke, sound Mind and Someone to Watch over Me. There’s Justina Robson’s Mappa Mundi and Robert Reed’s Down the Bright Way, as recommended by Jo Walton, several Bruce Sterling books (Crystal Express, Zeitgeist and A Good Old-Fashioned Future), the last in a John Meaney trilogy (Resolution) I needed, two Greg Egan books: Quarantine, Oceanic and one of K. W. Jeter’s steampunk novels (Infernal Devices).
I also got Tanya Huff’s complete Blood … series, a lot of Elizabeth Bear’s Promothean Age novels (as well as her science fiction novel Undertow) not to mention some more Gwyneth Jones books: Rainbow Bridge, White Queen and Divine Endurance as well as a Juanita Coulson novel, Star Sister to try out and perhaps review for SF Mistressworks.
Comics wise it was a mixed bag: two Pete Bagge collections of early, Neat Stuff work, an Marvel Essential Hulk collection, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, two volumes of Russell: the Saga of a Peaceful Man, A Smithonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, a thick slab of Strontium Dog, Oscar Zarate’s It’s Dark in London, a Samuel Delany adaptation, Bread and Wine and finally, Kyle Baker Cartoonist Volume 2.
And then I got home and the latest volume in Kevin O’Neill and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was waiting for me…
February was dominated by one book and one book only: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, which I started at the beginning of the month and only finished in the last week of February. Very unlike me, I couldn’t read anything else beside it, because this was a book that demanded and got my full attention. I needed to concentrate to read it and when not reading it, I had no desire left for other books.
Fortunately Dhalgren is a masterpiece, one of the greatest novels ever produced as science fiction, so I didn’t begrudge its monopoly claim on my reading.
However, I did manage to squeeze one other book into my reading at the end of the month, K. W. Jeter’s Morlock Night which, as both Jeter and afterword writer Adam Roberts take great pains to tell you, is one of the books that created the steampunk genre back in the late eighties. I’m not actually sure I agree with that: there were steampunk books published before it that actually have more in common with the genre as it exists now than this book does. It’s also not as good a book as it thinks it is, glorified pulp ultimately.