Category Archives: Books, Poetry & Language

Aliens and Spaceships and Bombs! Oh My!

The 5th book I have read this year is My Other Car Is a Spaceship by Mark Terence Chapman.* Present Day retired U.S. Air Force pilot Hal Nellis is kidnapped by aliens and offered the choice of either returning home to a peaceful retirement or training to pilot a starship and fighting pirates. No points for guessing which option he chooses. This book is full of action from beginning to end – lots of shooting and bombs and destruction but also an interesting plot with surprises and intrigue. Pure fun and escapism. I highly recommend it to any space opera fans out there.

* I read the Kindle edition.

Different and Interesting

I finished reading the Extinction Point trilogy by Paul Antony Jones. I’m having a hard time getting started on this “review”. It was definitely good, definitely interesting. I read it in what was, for me, record time. But the ending was a disappointment. So what can I say about the ending without it being a spoiler? Perhaps, nothing? It wasn’t terrible, I suppose. Perhaps someone else would think it is the perfect ending?

So, let’s start at the beginning. A mysterious red rain falls, destroying almost all life on Earth. Emily Baxter, a journalist for a NYC newspaper heads off on a cross-country trip to find other survivors. (And I have another small quibble. Emily is from Iowa. Is it just me or does it seem like young women who move to New York are always from Iowa? More bothersome is the fact that she does not know how to drive. If she was from Iowa and moved to New York City as an adult she would at least know how to drive. She might not own a car and might not have got a license in NY but she would know how to drive.)

Anyway… I don’t want to be too negative. Overall it was a very interesting story and I do recommend it to anyone who reads science fiction. The characters were well developed and interesting. The alien life was original – different from anything I’ve ever come across in other books or in movies. The story itself, the action, was compelling and made all three of the books unputdownable.

Mr. Jones says that there will be at least one more book in the series and there is a short story about one of the characters in the series and, yes, I will read those and likely other books by this author.

In a Reading Mood

Since I finished reading Railsea I have already finished another book and I’m more than halfway through another. Wow, must be the weather. At this rate I could read over 200 books this year but I can’t keep this up. I have to come back to the real world and do other things, like sewing. I haven’t really done any sewing since before Christmas and I really need to get back to it. The stash is feeling abandoned. I haven’t even so much as fondled it in weeks. Not to mention that all the online fabric retailers keep having sales. (Shhh. Go away; I don’t need you.)

The books I’m reading now are the Extinction Point series by Paul Antony Jones. I’ll have more to say about them later on. I probably won’t review every book I read but I have decided to try to keep track of the total number of books I read this year. I’ve been doing that on Google+ but I might start some kind of list here too. Feel free to add me to your Circles if you like and I will add you to one of mine. (unless you’re a spammer) I’m not trying to be as exclusive on Google+ as I am on Facebook.

Trains!

I got China Mieville’s Railsea for Christmas. It’s one of those books that I have been wanting for a while but never got around to buying. I started it a few days after Christmas and finished it Saturday night. (which is really fast for me) I don’t know how to review this book because about all I can think of to say is, “Wow!” Which is usually the first thing I have to say about any of Mieville’s novels.

Railsea isn’t as totally freak-out weird as Perdido Street Station or Iron Council but it’s weird enough. It is not set on the same world as those two novels. It has elements of Moby Dick but it would be unfair to call it “Moby Dick on rails” as I did when I first started it, as that aspect of it turns out not to be the most important part of the story. And there are surprises.

I used to say that if you’ve never read China Mieville start with Perdido Street Station but now I’m thinking Railsea might be the better one to start with. But it doesn’t matter all that much. If you like weird fantasy and science fiction you should definitely read both. PSS is fantasy; Railsea is science fiction. I think. With Mieville, sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Road Trip, 1919

I’m not especially fond of travelogues (except for those written by Bill Bryson) and I have no interest in reading about motorcycles, but when Number One Son (a.k.a. “Hippie”) recommended Across America by Motor-cycle by C. K. Shepherd I thought it might be interesting because this trip across America took place in the year 1919. It was definitely worth reading.

First of all, I must say this book will give you a new appreciation of paved roads, even poorly maintained ones. A great deal of the book consists of complaining about the state of the roads but there are also, motorcycle repairs, encounters with friendly and helpful small town people, and wonderful descriptions of scenery. My favorite part was the description of Arizona’s Petrified Forest. I’ve seen pictures of the place before but reading about it gave me even more of a feeling of what it’s like.

The most amusing part, to me, was the author’s confusion upon finding that the Arkansas River had no water in it. We in Tulsa and the surrounding area are quite familiar with the varying water levels of the Arkansas.

I downloaded the Kindle version with images. There are only a few small photos but I was glad for the chance to see them.

One of Those Silly Year-End Review Things

Everybody does it: a big Year-End Year In Review post. Well, I thought about going through each of my categories and picking one favorite post from each but then I thought, “That will take a long time.” So I settled on just two favorite topics: Books and Sewing Projects. Then I thought, maybe a few favorite quotes of the year. And then I thought maybe… but no, I’m getting into too much work. It’s a lazy time of year. So, anyway, here we go.

Favorite Books Read in 2014

When I think about all the books I have read this year I am a little disappointed that I did not manage to read more. I normally spend only about 15 to 30 minutes a day, before bedtime, reading so it takes me a couple of months or even longer to get through a book but in the last few months of the year I have been reading more, maybe an additional hour a day and I hope to continue that trend in the coming year. But, even though there have been relatively few books read, it is still hard to pick just a few favorites. They were all good. But there are a couple or three that stand out.

My favorite books that took me somewhere I was interested in but knew little about was This is Not That Dawn by Yashpal and Daughters of the River Huong by Uyen Nicole Duong.

Well now, if I started listing every book that I enjoyed this year I would soon have listed all of them but there’s one more I have to mention. I read less science fiction and more history and travel books this year than ever before but science fiction is still my favorite genre and of course the book I must mention is the one written by one of my cyberspace neighbors, the closest I’ve come to reading a book by someone I actually “know” – I’m talking, of course, about Stardancer by Kelly Sedinger. Was it my favorite of the year? That’s hard to say; I have a hard time picking favorites and I have read several very good books this year, but this one is definitely good and definitely one of my favorites.

Favorite Sewing Projects of 2014

Oh my! I have made some lovely clothes this year. I love them all. Well, maybe not all. There are a couple that I don’t love quite so much and a few that I really do love but for some reason have not worn very many times but we won’t talk about those right now. I’m here to list favorites. So, first of all, there was this paisley top. Love the colors, love paisley, love the rick rack. In May, I made the lovely roses and lace dress. Then in early June (or perhaps late May and I only got around to posting in June?) was the simple dandelion dress, one of my most often worn dresses of those made this year. In between those I made this adorable romper for my granddaughter. Honestly, I love this so much I have been tempted to make a blouse or something for myself with this fabric and eyelet trim. I bought it at a local store and I know it’s still available.

Oh, so many. You need to just go look at them all again. Okay, okay. Just two more. My true favorite dress to wear, this orange and teal batik dress and my most complimented garment of the year, the brown gingham shirt. (Darn, I wish hadn’t screwed up those buttonholes.)

And finally, Favorite Quotes of 2014

All is well, but nothing is complete. It goes on forever and I can only stand, watch and wonder. (link)

I personally have always considered committees as proof that human beings evolved from animals that had tails and liked to chase them. (link)

My theory with dresses and fashion is all about everyday is a celebration, everyday is worth dressing up for, everyday is awesome. (link)

…“if you cannot walk more than a block in your shoes, they are not shoes; they are pretty sculptures that you happen to have attached to your feet.” (link)

I thought I wanted a pair of trousers with a fly front, but turns out I don’t have man parts that necessitate a zipper in the front. (link)

Why do we want to celebrate our main events with foot sprains and blisters? (link)

If I had a dollar for every time a middle class, white, lesbian with a Women’s Studies degree tried to tell ME how to appropriately respect MY OWN CULTURE AND HERITAGE, I could probably buy a goddamn reservation and turn it into a theme park. (link)

I hope that it’s not just me who thinks that having speed bumps in front of a JoAnns is funny! (link)

Okay, this is getting to be more than just a “a few” and I’m only halfway through the year and I haven’t even had breakfast yet. You people – bloggers – write too much profound and quotable stuff.

Happy New Year everyone.

More Reading

I finished reading Stardancer yesterday morning. About two weeks to read it, I think. That’s actually pretty fast for me. It usually takes me at least a month to get through an average sized book. (Though I am getting better about that since I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books.) It’s sort of a weird experience for me to write about a book knowing that the author is going to read this, because he’s not some distant celebrity but someone I have known online for more than 10 years. But in this case it’s easy because this is a really great book. Seriously.

I read a wide variety of science fiction (as well as other genres, mostly classics and history) but this is the kind of story that got me hooked on science fiction in the first place – full of space ships and adventure. Stardancer is unique in a number of ways too. The main character is a teenage girl who, though she is a princess who discovers that she has a strange ability, is fairly typical of girls that age. There is also an ethnic minority character who is a minority of one on the planet they are visiting. Girls and minorities are two seriously neglected groups in science fiction. There is a hint of environmentalism – what happens when you rely on just one power source and that source starts running out – but the reader is not beat over the head with it. The story keeps moving, uninterrupted by either preaching or science lectures.

The story comes to a satisfying conclusion, not in any way a cliffhanger, but enough questions are left open to make me really impatient to read the next book.

Reading

I actually have two books that I want to talk about. I’m going to start with the one I finished two or three weeks ago (?) and never got around to saying anything about. The other book, the one I just finished, I want to think more about exactly what I want to say, and I have other things I need to do today, so I’ll probably (I hope) get around to that one later today or maybe tomorrow.

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard is an exciting account of the famous explorers’ adventures and ordeals in Africa. Stanley and Livingstone are two names I have heard most of my life, and of course I have heard the famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” many times, but I had only a very vague idea of who they were. Something about explorations in Africa.

Into Africa reads like an adventure novel but it is completely factual, based on the journals of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, which author Martin Dugard quotes frequently throughout the book. I think it is difficult for a person of our century to imagine the popularity of explorers during the 19th century. It is tempting to compare them to rock stars or, perhaps more appropriately, Neil Armstrong.

The “Holy Grail” of the day was finding the source of the Nile. Dr. Livingstone was one of a number of Europeans who set out to find the source. He failed to return from Africa when expected and was reported to have been killed by natives but many people believed that he was still alive and the public demanded that an expedition be sent to find him. Among others who went to Africa to search for the missing explorer was British-American journalist Henry M. Stanley who was sent by the New York Herald, hoping to “scoop” rival newspapers.

I wish I had more in detail to say about this book but, like I said, it was a few weeks ago that I finished it and my mind is not really on it anymore. I can say that I very much enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history and/or epic adventure.

related

Infinite Directions

A week or three ago there was a brief conversation on Facebook about fantasy and science fiction. Someone said something about not liking the direction that a lot of modern fantasy is going. I responded, saying that I don’t read a lot of fantasy but that the same was true of me and science fiction. But then, later, I thought, “Why did I say that? Is that really true?” I was thinking of some of the near future sci-fi and “hard” sci-fi (No FTL) that I’ve seen in recent years and which critics seem to be saying is “the future of science fiction,” the direction it’s going, and some of that is really good, but more often I’d rather just read some good old fashioned space opera. Damn the scientific plausibility and just entertain me!

If you ignore the critics and the hard “SF” nerds and really look at what’s out there, you see that there are books to take you in any direction you want to go. One of the first authors I thought of when I was rethinking my comment on Facebook was Neal Asher. Definitely original, what you could call “a new direction”, and yet, at their heart, his stories are good, old fashioned space opera, with strange planets, weird aliens, and FTL to get you there in less than one lifetime.

Independent and self published books are becoming more common. I have mentioned a few of these before: A Door to Truth by J.S. Johnson and The Last Revolution by R.T. Carpenter, to name just two. These authors have been inspired by the same books, movies and TV shows many of us have loved and they have their own original ideas so you get some really good stories (in spite of the fact that some of these authors really need to improve their proofreading skills) that might never have made it into print if they had been stuck trying to get past the traditional gatekeepers.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the book I just finished reading and one that I am eagerly anticipating. Let’s start with the one I just finished: Space Chronicles: The Last Human War by Dean Sault. The story begins some 300(?) years after Earth was completely destroyed in a war between several interstellar empires. The surviving few thousand humans are living in benevolent slavery on the planet Tanarac. The Heptari, a reptilian race, have apparently just discovered that there are still a few humans left alive and want to kill them all. Or at least they’re using that as an excuse to attack Tanarac. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot so I’ll just say, if you like space ships and especially epic battles between space ships you must read this book.

I have two more sci-fi novels and a non-fiction book (no wait… two of those also) in the queue, plus all those classics that I’m going to read someday, and I’m not sure what I will read next. But the big important one that I’m waiting on – and I have to wait until November for it – is Stardancer. I have been reading Kelly Sedinger’s blog, Byzantium’s Shores, since 2002, I think, and I have read some of the short stories he has posted there, and I think I know something of his taste in fiction, so I know this will be good. I’m going to try to time my reading to be done and ready for Stardancer when it comes out but if I’m in the middle of something at that time I will likely drop it to read Stardancer immediately. I don’t seem to be very good at reading two books at once. I usually end up dropping one even if I don’t intend to.

Maybe We Should All Be Reading Stone Tablets

The real books vs. e-books debate gets scientific. I have no doubt that if there had been psychologists back when bound books were replacing scrolls they would have have been presenting all kinds of scientifically valid evidence that scrolls were better, healthier and more natural. I am equally certain that when scrolls were first introduced there were people who criticized them for their impermanence compared to stone tablets. The new will always be bad and scary. At the same time, it’s true that, often, embracing the new means losing some useful or merely pleasant features of the old.

I like both paper books and my Kindle. What I miss most when reading a book on the Kindle is the ability to flip back to an earlier chapter to re-read something related to the latest thing I read. When I’m reading a paper book I often miss Kindle’s dictionary. I also like Kindle’s size and weight. The standard size paperback, which is the perfect size, seems to be disappearing. Many of the books I want to read are only available in hardback or the heavy, over-sized paperbacks. People say they like the way real books feel in their hands. Well, I like the way the Kindle feels in my hands. I didn’t at first. It felt awkward and there didn’t seem to be any good place to get a grip on it, but I got used to it and now I like it. Funny how that works.

Based on personal experience, I disagree with the article’s claim that e-book readers “inhibit reading comprehension” and even make it harder to remember what we read, but the article does present some interesting things to think about – about the way the brain works when reading. These are things future developers of e-book readers should take into consideration. I do think (or hope) real books are going to still be around for a long time. There is really no reason for debate. This is not like electing a president. We can have both.

Random Silly Thought

People often talk about being “overwhelmed” and occasionally people say they are “underwhelmed,” which doesn’t seem to mean exactly the opposite of “overwhelmed,” but no one ever mentions being simply “whelmed”. No one is ever perfectly whelmed or evenly whelmed; they’re always either over or under. Interestingly, Firefox spellchecker did not flag “whelmed” so it is a real word. I started this just with the intention of being a smart-aleck but I then I wondered…

So I did what everyone does when they wonder about something: I Googled it. It seems that “whelmed” kinda means the same thing as “overwhelmed,” not, as I thought, the state of being not overwhelmed. So I’m thinking people started saying “overwhelmed” as a superlative – “Whelmed just doesn’t quite say it; I am overwhelmed” – and that became the standard and the word “whelmed” was just forgotten.

The English language is endlessly entertaining, isn’t it?

Oooo! A New Book!

I have irrefutable evidence that my family is the coolest in the world. My son gave me the What If? book! How many sons would give their mom a cool, geeky gift like that?! How many moms are cool enough to appreciate it? Um… well… Enough bragging. This is getting embarrassing.

This is a great gift because I love XKCD and What If? but I often forget to read it for several weeks. (There’s just too much to love on the Internet.) The book has stuff that was on the website plus some extra stuff not on the website, like Weird and Worrying Questions, to which the author gives short, smart-aleck answers. The funny thing about that is that many of the questions to which he gives serious answers are equally weird and worrying.

I got the book this past weekend and I’ve been reading one or two questions and answers a day because that seems like a better way to enjoy this book than a marathon read. Besides, I’m also reading a novel, trying to catch up on several back issues of Smithsonian Magazine, and there’s the Internet. (And there are all those other things that can’t be done with a book or a keyboard.) Anyway, very cool and interesting book. You should get it.

From the Other Side

I enjoy reading Mind the Gap: A Brit’s Guide to Surviving America because, although it’s written specifically for British expats, it gives a pretty good sampling of how they see us. In some cases it’s hilariously obvious that the writer of an article really hasn’t seen much of America or had much contact with Americans but that’s fun too.

I was especially delighted by the latest article Which American Literary Classics Should Every Brit Read? It’s a short list. Of the six books listed I have only read one: Of Mice and Men. The author asks for more suggestions and the commenters add some good ones and, inevitably someone complains that the list is too highbrow and gender biased, even though the list includes three female authors. I was tempted to respond to that person with, “Highbrow is not a bad thing you lowbrow twit,” but I’d probably be banned for being a troll.

Reading

I do not know J.S. Johnson, author of A Door to Truth but there is what you could call an indirect family connection. Without that connection I probably never would have read the book simply because the title does not appeal to me at all. So perhaps I shouldn’t judge a book by its title? But if you can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a book by its title how does one choose which books to read? Anyway, I am glad that I read this one. It is an interesting story.

Because of the connection I mentioned, I feel hesitant to write very much about the book. It honestly is a very good story so that’s no problem. It’s just, you know… talking about a book written by someone I could very likely end up sitting next to at a family picnic someday. This situation really lights up the “what if I say something stupid?” node in my brain.

You can read a little bit about the book in the author’s Introduction. Here there is something that bothers me and, though I am very reluctant to say anything, at the same time I have to because trying to make people understand what science fiction is is sort of a cause for me. Johnson writes:

“A Door to Truth” can be loosely defined as a science-fiction story. I’ve struggled with categorizing it from the moment I knew what I wanted to write about. The story has to be called science fiction, because it requires some science and is certainly fiction.

[…]

But it is a story of “why” vice “how,” and this is where I struggle to justify it as science fiction.

I have been reading science fiction for well over three decades and I have read hundreds of books. Science fiction is very much about “why”, far more so than “how,” though “how” certainly plays a part. So many people have this mistaken idea that science fiction is all about space ships and blasters and cartoon-style heroes and that it’s full of techno-babble. Science fiction is as much about spaceships and blasters as mainstream best sellers are about houses and furniture. Science fiction explores human nature, culture, and the “why” of things by putting people in situations that could not happen (at least not yet) in the real world. It explores possible futures and speculates about the ways people might behave in those futures. Sometimes it questions what we are doing in the present and warns about where it might lead in the future. Science fiction is an extremely broad and inclusive genre. Sometimes it’s just for fun but it is often serious and often very political.

A Door to Truth is unquestionably classic near future science fiction. And it’s good. Read it.

Reading and Rambling

I have been a very lame blogger lately. I mean, seriously? I’m resorting to cat pictures as early as Tuesday? Anyway…

I finished reading Dandelion Wine about a week ago. Great book but I don’t have a lot to say about it. Even though I grew up in an entirely different time and place from the kids in the novel there was a lot that felt familiar. This is what my childhood was like only a lot more boring. No murders happened near us and there wasn’t even a scary ravine. And we had TV. And of course I was a girl which made things just a little bit different. But other than that, childhood was pretty much like in the book and I wish every kid would read this book so they would know what childhood used to be like before day care, computers, smartphones and before we thought every waking moment must be filled with some kind of organized activity.

I haven’t read enough Ray Bradbury. In fact, only two books (The other one was Fahrenheit 451.) and a few short stories. And of course, my favorite essay ever! I can’t say I love the two books I’ve read but I do like his way with metaphors and the way he could paint a picture with words. So, sooner or later I will get around to reading more of his stories.

Right now I am craving some good, weird modern science fiction but I still have a couple of books I got as Kindle monthly specials so I might as well read those. The one I just started is historical fiction. I’ll wait until I’ve finished it to say anything about it.

Have you ever considered “unliking” a Facebook page because it has too much interesting stuff? I already read the Brain Pickings blog occasionally but a few weeks ago I “liked” their Facebook page, so now I have all these really good articles coming up on my “news feed,” not just recent blog posts but a lot of older ones that I missed and I keep thinking, “Oh that looks so interesting; I’ll read that later.” Well, now I have quite a backlog of Brain Pickings articles that I’m “going to read later.” Also, they make me want to buy more books. Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? looks so great! And there are a few others that I think I’ve already mentioned.

Anyway, you know the lament… so much to read, so little time, and so many other things to do.

Two Unrelated Videos That YouTube Thought Were Related

I was going to embed this video, Worst Words in the English Language, but the embed code wouldn’t ever load. Then I noticed an even better video in the “related” column, If The Art World Had to Deal With YouTube Comments but the code for that one won’t load either. So it wasn’t just that one video.

Regarding the “worst words” video: My post title was going to be “Well, When You Say It Like That.” Most of those words never bothered me at all but the video makes them sound really “EEEWWWWWW”.

Regarding the art video: So true, but I kind of had to agree with the first two comments about Jackson Pollack.

The Future of Reading, from 1951

E.B. White, on reading, from a 1951 essay:

In schools and colleges, in these audio-visual days, doubt has been raised as to the future of reading — whether the printed word is on its last legs. One college president has remarked that in fifty years “only five per cent of the people will be reading.” For this, of course, one must be prepared. But how prepare? To us it would seem that even if only one person out of a hundred and fifty million should continue as a reader, he would be the one worth saving, the nucleus around which to found a university. We think this not impossible person, this Last Reader, might very well stand in the same relation to the community as the queen bee to the colony of bees, and that the others would quite properly dedicate themselves wholly to his welfare, serving special food and building special accommodations. From his nuptial, or intellectual, flight would come the new race of men, linked perfectly with the long past by the unbroken chain of the intellect, to carry on the community. But it is more likely that our modern hive of bees, substituting a coaxial cable for spinal fluid, will try to perpetuate the rave through audio-visual devices, which ask no discipline of the mind and which are already giving the room the languor of an opium parlor.

Heh… If only he could see us now. I kinda like his “queen bee” fantasy but, on the other hand, I think I like the reality better. Being highly regarded and catered to can have certain drawbacks. Such behavior could interfere with your reading time.

This ‘n’ That

A couple of weeks ago Number Two Son and I were watching one of those nature shows about wildlife in Alaska. At one point, talking about the approach of winter, the narrator said, in the usual This Is Seriously Dramatic voice, “The temperature can drop as much as 15 degrees in just a few weeks.” And yes, I’m sure we heard him right. He enunciated very well. He said 15, not 50. We were too stunned to laugh. Fifteen degrees in a few weeks? We do more than that in just one day. In fact, I’ve seen the temp drop 15 degrees in less than an hour. Perhaps he meant the high temperature or the low, or the average. If so he should have said that but still, even if that’s what he meant we can still top it here in Oklahoma. Take yesterday and today, for example. Yesterday’s high was somewhere around 70°F. This morning at 6:30 it was only 40°F. Today’s high is supposed to be 80°. I have no doubt it will get there. How about that Mr. Serious Drama Narrator?

I thought I was going to have another new dress to show off today (Wow! Two in one week!) but it’s not going to happen. The pattern is very simple and I was sure I would finish it in one or two days but I kept taking breaks after each little step and the breaks kept getting longer and so it’s not finished yet. I really have no reason to rush but I’ve been feeling like, “Hurry! Get this one done! Start the next one! Get it done! On to the next one!” and so on. I have a bunch of sewing projects that I want to get done so I can wear them but I don’t really need to rush. I should just slow down and I will have enough things to sew to last all summer. But still, I keep feeling like I need to get all this stuff done. Almost like it’s a job.

I also have some outdoor things to do. Especially weeding! Yikes! Too bad I don’t feel motivated to rush to do that. And soon, planting. We tend to hold off until nearly May because late freezes happen, even hard freezes sometimes. But it is nearly May. Time to start playing in the dirt.

I didn’t manage to collect any quotes for this week. Maybe later I will look around and find a few. No promises. Some weeks they just appear all over the place and other weeks I have to work to find them.

I saw this on Facebook. I’m going to watch it over and over again until I can remember these. Well, most of them. Okay, maybe some of them. (And I did already know a few of them. Two, I think.)