Inadequate notes on recent reading

Am I ready to read The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley? Do I want a severe mindfuck experience? YES ABSOLUTELY.

*** hours later ***

Holy shit! This is a really good book. Very intense! Makes me think of Delany. Yes, and all the other logical things to think of like The Forever War. (And that Mary Gentle series too…) It’s so tight and beautifully structured & dense. I felt a little tempted to chart it out (maybe on a re-read!) Hurley just gets better & better as a writer.

Next book: Finder by Suzanne Palmer – Super fun space opera! If you like the Expanse I bet you will enjoy this interstellar repo man & his comrades.

The Book of Flora by Meg Elison – Another freaking awesome book, last in the trilogy started off by Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I nommed it for the Tiptree immediately on finishing it. Read the whole trilogy together – Book 1 stands on its own but the second and third books are better if you read them together (so that you don’t forget all the stuff that happened in the Book of Etta, which is important for Book of Flora). It is sort of a gorgeous gulliver’s travels of post apocalypse societies and how people of various genders and queernesses adapt to those different cultures & their rules (and keep leaving to try and found something new). Must add how much I loved the Librarians, and also Cheyenne – I would definitely visit though not join either!

Next book. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. It’s ok, nicely written, but left me a little flat. It’s a little too easy for the protagonist to be forgiven and forgive herself for her actions and the whole book was so heteronormative that it didn’t grab me. I have another thing to say but it’s a little spoilery that I’ll put it in the first comment to this post.

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach – Good, so good, but so unquestioningly and unnecessarily sexist. Why must people. So disappointing. (Like Gene Wolfe – such claims to all compassing profundity while having this absolutely ludicrous blind spot for gender.) When you hit the ending bit with the tall blond young woman and the archivist you will scream and mentally throw your book across the room. If you bracket all that and just kind of pretend everything is like some surreal leave it to beaver universe then it’s a nifty book.

A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age

I’m enjoying Henrietta Dugdale‘s utopian SF, A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age. Millions of years in the future, we and the disembodied narrator follow along as highly evolved humans discourse on education and the history of the Christian Blood Age. Australia sank into the sea and a new continent, Alethia, rose, though Melbourne is rising again and has this giant museum/school exhibit hall built on it with what sound like fancy study carrels next to elaborate dioramas of “torture instruments” ie corsets, low necked dresses, and high heels; or just like, men being sexist while drinking the Demon Alcohol and denying women a right to education whilst cheering on their various wars and not doing any of the housework.

The evolved teenagers (2 per family) gratifyingly listen to the smiling lectures of their evolved moms, then we weirdly follow one of them, Veritée, to her private study where she divests herself of our rational dress outer garments (loose trousers with a tunic and a short jacket, none of which are constraining in any way) to reveal her silk undergarments (similar to the top ones), does calisthenics, studies next to her giant pet tiger-dog, has some vegetarian food (delivered by the one family servant who is educated, evolved, and only works till noon after which she goes off for recreation and philosophizing, and who emerges bearing the trays of fruit and bread from a weird mirrored pillar with a spiral staircase). Veritée then has a bath (slightly creepily we see her beauteous form in the bath – better than any Blood Era statue of beauty since unconstrained by Torture Instruments and well calisthenicked.)

Some of the teenagers then fly off in an aircar (run by some sort of power plus kept safe by the Repelling Engine) to the beaches of the West Coast at 80 miles per hour. They frolic, have a picnic, and probably discuss Evolution some more. In one interlude we are treated to a description of the inventresses of the Repelling Engine (inspired by the corpses which used to rain down from aircar crashes!) They go on a test flight and then are welcomed by parades, honors, costly gifts, job offers (which they refuse unless they both get the job together) as the cheering crowds celebrate the new age of safer air travel.

Space travel is mentioned as a possible future but not really given much thought.

Henrietta does not seem to like church or the organized religion of her time, or the “myth-men” who run it, much.

I have returned to our earth. Oh, what cruel disorder here reigns! Truth crashed and persecuted! “Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone,” flaunting in every myth temple! howling in every community! checking progress at every avenue.

Fools and rogues! You who profess so much love and reverence for your skeletons. I tell you it is all useless that you noisily rattle their offensive bones before my vision. That bright light of truth from the far-off age shines to me through your blackest screens! Go, hug your loathsome relics of a loathsome era in privacy—if you can—and say not again to my ears what you dare not utter to the Infinite in your solitude.

Ha! I see I “obey” and do the “work” that was commanded, for the light shines more brightly!

A dream? What is dreaming? Some explain most learnedly how it is caused by certain conditions of the body. May not some dreams cause those certain conditions?

Dream, or what else it has been, I see always the beautiful light bright with truth and hope. No one can extinguish it!

Not really a review but I loved Captain Marvel!

Definitely see it if you love watching women be all super badass and determined and blow stuff up and also if you love cats. It was adorable! It was fun! Stuff blew up! There were more than 2 women who talked to each other about, well, about blowing stuff up I guess but also how amazingly they love each other and how they’re like family. Starry eyed children – a perfect set up for that future Captain Marvel.

I did find it very satisfying when the one dude was negging her (near the end) and she’s just like…. Nuh-uh. (Ka-POW!)

I liked the Supreme Intelligence scenes – the montages of Carol falling over and grimly getting up again as a child and young woman – and all the 90s nostalgia stuff was very well done & more fun than I realized it would be.

Of course, I especially enjoyed the scene on public transit.

The computer scene! OMG! “It’s loading.” Entire theater busted out laughing.

It just felt so good to get this kind of superhero movie and this level of superhero, well done & with fairly minimal bullshit. I cried during some of the final battle scenes when she was blowing even more shit up even more competently. Did I mention that I really like explosions…. Well…. I just do.

If you’d like a little background before watching the movie I recommend reading up on Captain Marvel’s history and various incarnations and plotlines in Wikipedia. Here’s an actual review, too.

Early astronomer commitment schemes

Today I learned that early astronomers were hella clever. I was looking up good colony sites or just interesting topographic features for each planet or other solar body that I think would make a good future BART stop in Transitory and came across this:

Early astronomers used anagrams as a form of commitment scheme to lay claim to new discoveries before their results were ready for publication. Galileo used smaismrmilmepoetaleumibunenugttauiras for Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi (“I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form”) for discovering the rings of Saturn.

Working on this game is an endless delight!

Huygens did it too.

Huygens observed Saturn and in 1656, like Galileo, had published an anagram saying “aaaaaaacccccdeeeeeghiiiiiiillllmmnnnnnnnnnooooppqrrstttttuuuuu”. Upon confirming his observations, three years later he revealed it to mean “Annuto cingitur, tenui, plano, nusquam coherente, ad eclipticam inclinato”; that is, “It [Saturn] is surrounded by a thin, flat, ring, nowhere touching, inclined to the ecliptic”

The Terraforming Wiki is very useful for my descriptions of the Solar Line stations.

Meanwhile, have a look at this cool delta-v subway map of the solar system!

I also direct your attention to the fabulous Interplanetary Transport Network wikipedia page.

Heading over to CripTech

Heading over to the CripTech symposium now. Its full title is: CripTech: Disability and Technology in Japan and the United States – an International Symposium. I spent the morning yesterday with some of the conference speakers as we toured SF Lighthouse.

Technology has the potential to greatly improve access and the full social participation of disabled individuals in Japan and the United States. Both countries have invested considerable sums in these directions, but often this research is being conducted separately from the key stakeholders. This symposium brings together technologists, anthropologists, educators, and other researchers who are working on the nexus of technology, access, and design in Japan together with scholars, engineers, researchers, and activists in the United States for a four-day symposium and workshop in Berkeley, California, the home of the independent living movement. The majority of the participants identify as disabled people.

I’ll be speaking Saturday morning after the showing of Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, on a panel with Ian Smith and Gregor Wolbring, moderated by Franchesca Spektor.


Excerpt from A House by the Sea

Reading Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and loving it. Some great stories and essays – I have more to say in detail but for now a quick note and an excerpt from P.H. Lee’s “A House by the Sea”, which describes the life of the former residents of a certain basement in Omelas.

Do you believe it now? Can this really be how they live out their lives, so close to the City that they can hear the bells clamoring and the processions proceeding? Can they really live together, in a house by the sea? No? Let me tell you this, then. There used to be a doctor—a nice man with a real white doctor’s coat, who still lives in the City—who came out to their house every Wednesday to check up on them, but that didn’t work out, because he kept feeling uncomfortable and trying to euthanize them. So now, whenever one of them gets sick, a woman comes in on the train from Vallcoris. She doesn’t have a doctor’s coat. She just has a sweater. She doesn’t know about the basement, she doesn’t know about anything, not really. She just takes their pulse and asks them to cough, and leaves them with prescriptions, and no one tries to euthanize anyone.

Putting this in a sort of mood-file in my imagination, along with the title story of The Open Cage by Anzia Yezierska.

By Degrees and Dilatory Time by S.L. Huang, and Nisi Shawl’s The Things I Miss the Most also struck me as amazing – exploring the complexities of feelings about our bodyminds over time.

Warcross is awesome!!!

Warcross continues to deliver the goods! I love this book. The gamer/hacker heroine in her ripped up jeans and flannel shirt has now gone through the first draft for the Great Games or whatever they are called, and was picked first to be on the Phoenix Riders team even though she is a lowly level 28. The captain of her team, Asher Wing, is a wheelchair user, which made me instantly happy. I was trying to figure out from the description what kind of chair he had and I am thinking powerchair since his headrest was mentioned. Another named character on an opposing team was a former Paralympian.

Scenes of clever hacking… loving descriptions of leaping around and fighting in the Game . . . And she has moved from her first swanky hotel room to some sort of team training mansion where she has a suite with a rooftop patio with her own private infinity pool.

They have also been to a great party at a disco which was seamlessly wheelchair accessible with great augmented reality. There are so many adorable details like that there is a (female) character named Hamilton.

I also dig that we see more of Emika’s motivation and backstory for the high school hack that got her arrested.

This is like the perfect antidote for the boring sexist barfbag that was Ready Player One. It’s assuaging my soul!

Sub-ether message

Quote of the day, because it’s silly and perfect! Give it a dramatic reading if you dare.

The photophonic visiscreen before Ranger brightened with the image of a stocky reptilian creature that looked vaguely humanoid. Its facial scales flushed violet with pleasure as it said: “Captain Farstar! Greetings from Newtonia. How pleased I am to see you again.” The being spoke good Unilingo that was only faintly slurred by a vague hissing.
“Greetings, Dr. Clay. My blood temperature is increased by your warmth,” Ranger said, using the semi-formal greeting ritual of Cretacia, the director’s native planet. “Did you receive my sub-ether message?”

This is from the opening chapter of The Treasure of Wonderwhat. I note that their ship is named “The Gayheart”.

Book roundup: Bitterblue, Simoqin, Three Felonies a Day

Quick notes on some books I’ve read recently. I have laryngitis (still!!!) and it seems to be worsening rather than getting better. So I will write rather than talk.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, which I picked up from a tip in SF writer Claire Light’s blog. Third in an excellent fantasy trilogy (Graceling, Fire), this is the heaviest and most awesome of the lot. Bitterblue dove into murky waters as its young queen realizes all the ways she (and the kingdom as a whole) are being gaslighted as they try to heal from the former and very abusive, tyrannical king. She becomes obsessed with history, stories, and truth.

I am thinking of this book in conjunction with others that address how we as a society (and individually) face history. How much of the past do we want or need to know? What is worth teaching? What culture are we constructing? I think of epics like Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and Dune in opposition to Bitterblue and many other feminist sf/f works. In Wolfe and Herbert, individual enlightenment is attainable by Knowing Everything, by becoming/eating/consuming the past. Once you have it, you become ruler and god. There can be only one. I saw Lois McMaster Bujold take a fairly complicated stance on this in Hallowed Hunt and there are tons of other examples of the rejection of “know everything, truth absolute, be god” model of culture. The Marq’ssan Trilogy addresses this beautifully of course. Bitterblue fits right into that feminist sf political picture for me. I also found it resonated well with my ethical and political framework of acknowledging atrocities and calling out abuses of power in personal life.

Cashore really packed a punch and I admired how her earlier works in the trilogy hinted at this, reaching for it while coming off as much more light or escapist fantasy reading. She matured as a writer and thinker maybe but also lured readers in. A big old “Trigger Warning” on this book if you are an abuse survivor. I would also say that a pre-teen or younger teenager might be okay with the first book, maybe less so with the 2nd, and boy howdy the 3rd may not be for the younger ones. Depending of course.

I will be reading all of Cashore’s books forever more!

The Gameworld Trilogy – The Simoqin Prophecies, The Manticore’s Secret, The Unwaba Revelations by Samit Basu. These are just great. I am not sure I can do them justice but they’re a fantasy trilogy set in a world that is India-centric in its mythological background, its geographical perspective, and in its rambly structure that explores hero-tales and philosophy, life and death, free will and religion.

As a huge fan of the Mahabharata and Ramayana I especially loved this series and all its hilarious jokes and references. But I don’t think you need background knowledge culturally or from reading to love these books. In any case you will likely at least get the Tolkien and Harry Potter jokes. I love the city of Kol and its vroomsticks, its spellcaster university, the fabulous bar, the Chief Civilian, Spikes, the unwaba, and the underground tunnels… The Dark Lord, the very silly magic movie industry, and the angsty, loose-woven romantic drama of the huge cast of primary characters. While I do not really like Terry Pratchett (I *know*… just move along … there is no convincing me… I am allergic… I am not judging you) I think that people who do like Pratchett would probably adore The Gameworld books.

I am going to mark down all of Basu’s books for future reading – there is a new one out called Turbulence that I have my eye on. WTF that I have never read these before! And that the U.S. entries don’t have any reviews yet. When U.S. fantasy readers get wise to Basu he will be a huge hit.

Basu reminds me a bit of Minister Faust, the depth of exploring tropes with charming wit & detail – basically this is for fantasy what From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain is for superhero comics. Okay, not exactly, but the playful humor was similar.


I read Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes by Rebecca Burgess, on the recommendation of my friend Rose White who is a textile and yarn and spinning expert. We were talking about Burgess’s Fibershed project and I expressed the desire to learn to spin. Burgess’s book reminds me of one of my favorite nature-lover books, Margit Roos-Collins The Flavors of Home. I want to run out and harvest wild plants and make giant pots of steaming dye and feel like an earth mama eco- mad scientist. I would bond with the land! Yay! This will not happen, because I don’t really have the time or energy, and my hands hurt too much to screw around with giant pots and wet things. But it was nice to think about and maybe I will recognize some new weeds or pick a pocketful of toyon berries and half-assed-ly try to dye something someday.

I also plowed through Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey silverglate. This was an impulse buy based on some random internet person’s recommendation (Like much of my reading) in a discussion of Aaron’s federal prosecution. The title sounded promising. But I don’t recommend this book at all unless you feel that hedge fund managers and the heads of Enron are inherently very innocent people who suffer unfair persecution. Things started out kind of okay and then I realized I was reading a book by a crazed-ass libertarian. Then I had the equivalent of political anaphylactic shock somewhere in the middle of the Enron chapter. There were interesting bits and I especially liked the stories of Governor White’s case and how federal prosecutors try to “ladder up”.

There was a particular sentence that crystallized the whole book’s loathsomeness for me. While I like to think that even filthy rich criminals deserve a fair trial Silverglate went a million miles over the line in the bit where he was bemoaning how some dude’s bazillion dollars of assets got seized because someone made a federal case of whatever it was he allegedly did. And so…. and so…. that was super bad because… “he couldn’t get a fair trial”. Sums up right wing libertarians doesn’t it? A fair trial is one that you can use all of your gajillionty dollars to buy. without all those millions a fair trial is just impossssssible. (But we don’t bother to mention all the people who dno’t have the millions in the first place; it’s just normal I guess that we expect them not to get a fair trial? Or maybe “fair” means something different to Silverglate.)

I would like to read a book that lives up to the “Three Felonies a Day” title, or the premise that we are all committing crimes that we could be federally prosecuted for, daily. This is not that book. It was very annoying.

Reality Sandwiches by Allen Ginsberg. Every so often I take out the books that are on the tiny shelf in the bathroom and put in a new batch of very small books that fit there and seem suitable for reading on the can or while in the bath. I remembered that I don’t love the poems in this book except for most of The Green Automobile.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Never read it before. I have not read much Scalzi other than his blog when he says something that jibes with my politics that I get linked to a bunch by my friends. I was initially annoyed that he could write about things that the rest of us regularly write about and be hailed as a motherfucking genius for summing up oppression like racism or sexism or whatever in the context of science fiction books or gaming in a way that is palatable to the vaguely liberal nerdy white dude masses. Then he did it again. Then so many times that I began to appreciate and like him as an excellent ally. Then I read some book of his that starred a teenage girl in a space colony and I gave him kudos for writing a teenage girl character that didn’t make me want to slap him. I know, my bar is set low. Anyway, Old Man’s War. It was okay space opera and I got what it was doing and referencing but it didn’t light me up in flames. I wanted to know what happened. I will probably read more of his books especially if someone recs me a good one. Thumbs up Scalzi!

The First Shift and The Second Shift by Hugh Howey. Holy shit! Now these books floated my boat much more. Awesome density and moving things along. Sabroso! I loved Wool very much and have been telling everyone to read it! In fact I also went heads down and read every other thing by Howey I could find. I recommend them all. This short blog post has gotten long so maybe I will talk about Howey, Wool, the Silo books, zombies and 9/11, Hurricane and coming of age books, and so on, later…

Read Wool! And the Silo books too!

Must also go into Jan Morris’ Hav books, Mieville, Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side (amazing! read it if you like Au Rebors and things Gothick) Sherwood Smith “A Posse of Princesses” and various other poetry books.