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.

Books read April

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?

Grief again

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.

Where Bach really nails it is grief, as tried to explain yesterday and how it pops up when you least expect it:

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.

This.

Grief comes in spurts



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.)