- IBM’s Watson Memorized the Entire ‘Urban Dictionary,’ Then His Overlords Had to Delete It I especially like the part where it answered “Bullshit” to a researcher’s question. Tell it like it is, Watson! Don’t let the man keep you down!
- Big-Tittied Chainmail Lady (NSFW) This would be the cover of the new issue of the SFWA Bulletin. Which also apparently features an article about lady writers that, in addition for evaluating them based on their skills as writers also evaluates them on their hotness.
- Thank You for Being a Friend and Ego, Thy Name is Librarianship Two fantastic pieces about librarianship and how the people who are more traditional librarians–and who are overwhelmingly female–don’t get the support and appreciation that newer–and more often male–librarians do.
- Too Many Rules, Too Little Romance Really interesting opinion piece on the role of formula in romance.
- Submission and Consent in Erotic Romance Wonderful takedown of a supposedly feminist DS-themed erotic romance which is anything but.
- Carrie Fisher Makes Peace with Princess Leia
- The Escape Artist Interesting write-up of a new Georgette Heyer biography.
- How a ‘Madwoman’ Upended a Literary Boys’ Club
- A Calm Place to Think: On Reading the Classics Thought-provoking essay on active reading versus passive consumption.
What if we responded to sexual assault by limiting men’s freedom like we do women’s? Poor dears, they can’t help it.
- 10 Literary Board Games for Book Nerds I think I need the Dune game. Need it like Muad’Dib needs spice.
- Words That I Need for My Dissertation That Don’t Exist I will love this link forever because it mentions the completely weird relationship between Dorothy Wordsworth and her brother. I still remember my reaction to The Grasmere Journals and how 1) I was astonished by how much work she did (no wonder she spent years in bed) and 2) her creepy obsession with her darling William; there is one particularly odd passage where she saves a half-eaten apple after William goes off on a walking tour.
- Emily Dickinson’s Scraps of Paper If these were anyone’s scraps of paper but Emily Dickinson’s, would anyone care? I mean, I scribble all sorts of stuff down on buts of paper as do lots of other people I know.
So here’s the thing: I happily confess that I am a technological Luddite. I don’t like change. I don’t have a smartphone—well, I do, kind of (it’s sort of an average intelligence phone, really) but aside from texting now and then and using it for what a phone was actually invented for—talking to other people—it mostly sits silently somewhere near me. I never use it to access the internet, although it’s capable of that if I want to pay for it, but I don’t. I have a computer for that. I don’t own an iPod (to be fair, I’d likely break that). I am also perfectly content to function well behind the times–no streaming Netflix for me, or downloading apps. I’m telling you all of this to offer some sort of explanation for why it’s taken me this long to acquire an e-reader.
I should also explain up front that I still wouldn’t have one if my co-blogger here hadn’t offered to sell me her old Kindle for a reasonable price. I am also, I admit, thrifty. What some people view as necessities I view as luxuries. I really can’t help it, and I’m sure there’s some pathological reason for it. But mostly it’s that for years now I couldn’t bring myself to spend that much money on something I wasn’t sure I’d even like. And that I was, honestly, kind of afraid of because things like that are so alien to me, really. Plus there’s the idea of spending a lot of money on something I realistically might not be able to figure out how to use (laugh if you will, but to me, technology is like magic. I have no idea how my computer works, for example. I push a button every morning and confidently expect it to turn on. If it doesn’t, I panic. I also have no idea how electricity works, and I suspect I’m happier not knowing these things). I am also a bit of a klutz, so there was the distinct possiblity that I’d break something I paid a lot of money for and be unhappy in several different ways. Natalie has assured me for years, however, that I would be able to cope with a Kindle and encouraged me. So I finally relented.
Yes. I have lost my Kindle Virginity.
When it arrived, I took it out of the packaging and eyeballed it like a rattlesnake. I figured out how to wake it up fairly quickly, and paged through the user’s guide, mainly to figure out what all the buttons were for and how to set it up with my Amazon account. Then I put it to sleep, put it in its case, and picked up the paperback I was rereading. I’d dipped my toe into the lake, but I wasn’t up to wading into it just yet.
Later, my husband convinced me to buy a book. “Go ahead, just one,” he encouraged. So I figured out how to do that and pre-ordered the new Peter Robinson mystery (review forthcoming!). The next morning, it was magically there. Natalie gifted me with the Courtney Milan trilogy she’s been raving about here, and I clicked the link and watched them magically appear.
And I have to admit that it was cool. And easy. I can see it being a problem, though. Because it was too easy to just buy a book and watch it appear magically on my Kindle. I know me. “Oh, I want to read this” and Poof! Magic. And a ginormous credit card bill. Books are like crack to me, and my willpower when I have access to them and to a credit card is going to take a pretty severe beating, I suspect. It’s one of the reasons why I’m glad the nearest bookstore to me is half an hour away. Amazon, on the other hand, is not–and it has a lot to answer for in terms of my monthly bills.
Anyway. For three days I kept looking at it now and then. I’d wake it up, look at the Robinson book sitting there, begging to be read, and put it back to sleep in its case. Yes. I was afraid of it–and afraid that I’d hate it and I spent money on this thing and this book and I’m going to hate it so much and I’ll have to go buy another copy of the book and I wasted all this money and OMG I am SO frigging neurotic. In my mind, if I never used it, I’d never know I hated it, if I did hate it. And so forth. My husband kept saying “have you started yet?” and I’d just sadly shake my head, but I knew eventually I was going to have deal with my stupid nuttiness, so late last week I finally got over myself, woke up the Kindle, and started to actually read on it.
And miraculously, I did not hate it. I actually knew I probably wouldn’t hate it, but my mind works in ways I can’t explain and, like electricity, I really think I’m better off not understanding how it works. Ignorance is bliss and all that. So I did like it. I found navigating things easier than I expected. I figured out how to make collections on it. How to bookmark, highlight, all that stuff–really, it was made for a techno-idiot like me. I have no idea what the hell I was so afraid of. I feel stupid.
For me, there are plusses and minuses. On the plus side, I can adjust the font to a size that suits me. My eyesight is not good and is getting worse as time goes on. Between the ability to adjust the font and the good quality of the contrast on the screen, I found actually reading from the screen to be much easier than from a book, and I appreciated for the first time just how much I was struggling with the smaller print in paperbacks. I managed to finish a 400+ page book much faster than I have been able to recently, which I attribute to being able to read it more easily. Another plus is that I will no longer have to wait until a.) I can get to a bookstore, b.) I can get to the library (and hope they have it), and c.) for Amazon to mail it. Magic. Plus, my library does have an e-book borrowing program that I intend to investigate just as soon as I have some free time and which I fully intend to take advantage of.
I have mixed feelings about other things, though. For one thing, the book I read did not come with page numbers, and I was surprised at how disconcerting I found that. And I’m a little OCD about things, and so my brain kept looking at that bar that graphs the percentage of the book you’ve read and trying to do the math to turn it into a page number. Tragically, math is not one of my strengths. I can barely add and subtract. I suppose I could look at this as an opportunity to improve my calculating skills, but honestly I’d rather have the page numbers. Because not only do I have to figure out that if I’m 25% of the way through a 412 page book that that equals 103 pages, I then have to subtract 103 from 412 to figure out how many more pages I have left to enjoy, approximately. I say approximately because I am unlikely to actually get that number right because–bad at math. I can live with a ballpark figure, but frankly, that’s more math than I really want to be doing in my head. It takes time away from actually reading the book. Seriously, I am told that not all books lack page numbers in the Kindle editions, and it’s hardly a deal breaker, but for me, it was annoying. I’m also accepting of the fact that not everyone is as neurotic about these things as I am and is therefore not likely to be so bothered by something like that.
I also found it a little awkward to hold, initially. I suppose it really depends on one’s Usual Book Grasp for reading. My personal grasp involves resting the book against the back of my hand with my thumb across the center along the bottom of the pages to hold them open. My Kindle has a keyboard, and I kept accidentally sticking my thumb on the “home” button or the space bar. It took me a while to find a comfortable Kindle Hold (I’d tell you how long it took in page numbers, but I’d have to do more math, sorry), and even then I kept shifting it around. Somewhere around 80% in (83 pages left to enjoy!) I finally stopped fidgeting with it. But I was always aware that while I was reading a book, I was not actually holding a book, but a book delivery system. Which is fine. I’m not that neurotic. Maybe.
I’d also tell you what I think of putting an electronic device to sleep (I felt like I should tuck it up with a warm blankey and a soft toy) and waking it up (“Kindle, Kiiiiindle, wake up Kindle…”) but again, you really don’t need to know just how neurotic I am. I’ve already given you a good idea of that.
I will say this: I’m probably always going to prefer physical books to the Kindle. There is an irreplaceable tactile experience involved with a well-worn and well-loved paperback, and to me, there is little more exciting than the smell of a brand new book. I know it’s just me, really. And I will use this, a lot, honestly. It’s convenient, easy to operate, and easy to read. But as an exclusive method for reading, for me, it’s just not going to work, because it’s really not the same experience for me.
That’s not to say it’s a bad one. It’s just a different experience. And likely it will be good for me too. I mean, I can’t stay la-la-ing away in 1985 forever, no matter how much I’d like to.
The first part of John Scalzi’s serial novel, The Human Division came out yesterday. It’s called “The B-Team” and comes in at about 22,000 words–a short novella. There are a total of thirteen parts and they’ll be out every week between now and mid-April. It’s an interesting experiment and one, I think, that is well-suited to Scalzi’s strengths as a writer (specifically his ability to tell fast paced and episodic stories in a way that’s engaging and entertaining). The episodes are priced at 99-cents each and will be compiled into one digital volume (and paper volume) in mid-May for what I assume will be the usual price for Tor hardbacks–so buying the episodes individually will probably cost about the same as the ebook.
Normally I write up my own summaries, but the day job has been a bit stressful and I’ve been sick so I’m totally going to steal this week’s from the publisher because it really says everything that I would in a way that’s about a million times more concise than I’d manage. Or something.
Colonial Union Ambassador Ode Abumwe and her team are used to life on the lower end of the diplomatic ladder. But when a high-profile diplomat goes missing, Abumwe and her team are last minute replacements on a mission critical to the Colonial Union’s future. As the team works to pull off their task, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson discovers there’s more to the story of the missing diplomats than anyone expected…a secret that could spell war for humanity.
So anyhow. This is a lot of fun–it is definitely self-contained, but it’s also doing two other things: setting up the other 12 episodes as well as inclue-ing readers into what exactly is going on here. It’s been several years since I’ve read anything set in the Old Man’s War universe and while I enjoyed them tremendously I have generally had other things to reread when I’ve been in the mood for re-reading. So the amount of exposition was just about perfect–got me back up to speed on what had happened in The Last Colony and helped lay the land (space) for what happens next.
Well, practically first up is an extended bodily excretion joke because it wouldn’t be a book by John Scalzi without at least one of those, but after that the smart-assery is mostly limited to Harry Wilson, the Scalzilogue in this particular story (each Scalzi book seems to have it’s own Scalzi stand-in–a Scalzilogue! you heard it here first!). I feel it’s important to mention this because it’s a stylistic quirk that either works for the reader or doesn’t.
Then we get into the nitty-gritty of the story and it is delightfully twisty-turny in a way that I suspect long-time fans of space opera will see coming a mile away but which goes a long way to setting up the conflict in this serial and which will, I think provide lots of plot for Scalzi to mine. There’s quite a bit of handwavium around faster-than-light travel as well as materials engineering of the future, but it more or less holds together and I didn’t find it very distracting, even though a big chunk of the plot totally hinges on futuristic materials engineering. And a completely insane spacewalk.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes, both in terms of the episodic structure as well as the overall structure of the story. This was a lot of fun to read and, I expect, it was a lot of fun to write as well.
Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck’s first English-language collection of short fiction, Jagannath, is getting a great deal of buzz in speculative fiction circles, and with good reason. This is one of the most beautiful and most provocative collections I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the weirdest, and honestly? I’m not sure I can do the stories or the writing justice here, but I’m going to give it a go.
There are lots of words that come to mind that I might use to describe these stories—fantastical fairy tales comes closest to what they’re like, but even that’s not quite right. Let me put it this way: sometimes there are primal creatures that live on the edge of our world. Sometimes the humans are the primal creatures. Sometimes there are fantasy creatures whose contact with humans leaves them confused or worse. Sometimes the humans live in worlds adjacent to ours, and sometimes creatures live in worlds adjacent to ours, and sometimes they live in our world, but we either don’t know of them or dismiss them as myths. Time is upside down sometimes, or doesn’t run at all. And once in a while, all of those things happen and just sort of bleed together, like a watercolor left out in the rain.
Or I could just quote from “Aunts”, a story that is so very, very disturbing, and yet somehow organically beautiful in the horror:
“In some places, time is a weak and occasional phenomenon. Unless someone claims time to pass, it might not, or does so only partly; events curl in on themselves to form spirals and circles.”
Tidbeck’s focus is on love and longing, but only sometimes of a romantic sort. There is love, and longing for love, and love for a friend, love for a child, longing for a child, a child’s longing to find her place in the world, or in a family, or a family looking for that missing child; there is a longing for death, for life, for answers. That may seem really mundane, but in Tidbeck’s weird worlds, it’s anything but. In the steampunk-influenced “Beatrice”, for example, a man’s longing for love leads to him romancing an airship—a romance that turns dark and ugly. Or there is “Cloudberry Jam”, in which a woman grows a carrot into something vaguely resembling the human child she wants so much. Stories like this speak volumes about the human experience—how flawed we are, how our emotions shape our every behavior. Both of those stories’ concepts are weird, you have to admit. They are also both delightful, especially “Cloudberry Jam”, whose ending should be sad, but instead is somehow uplifting. That’s the great thing about this collection. Up is down and round is square.
Or time doesn’t move. In “Augustus Primus”, the title character lives in a baroque world where time not only never moves forward (or backward, or at all), it has no definition—the characters are completely unaware of time, or even the possibility of it. They do not age. They do not change at all, really. Their externals only differ in terms of who gets injured in the ongoing croquet games (which remind me of Alice, except there are no flamingoes) that take place all the time, games where the object is to injure the spectators and other players. Imagine not having time. You just—are. Mechanical objects do not work in this world—they cannot work, in fact—so when Augustus finds a strange object in a dead man’s pocket, she cannot identify it for what it is: a pocket watch. And once she becomes aware that time is something that can be measured, she naturally wants to know more. But if knowledge is power, it is also, in this case, an element of change. “Augustus Primus” and “Aunts”, a companion story set in the same world, really mess around with the concept of time in a thought-provoking way. To me, they were the two most interesting pieces in what is a very strong collection of stories.
Tidbeck looks at loss from a variety of angles. In “Some Letters for Ove Lindstrom”, the title character’s daughter returns to the remote location where her mother disappeared many years previously, the same location where her recently deceased father met her mother when she appeared out of nowhere—and to which he returned annually hoping she would appear again. The daughter, Viveka, returns in an attempt to understand her father’s loss and place it in the context of her own, only to gain an understanding of his hope instead. In “Arvid Pekon”, a bureaucrat loses his sense of himself—literally by the end. And in “Rebecka”, set in the time after the Second Coming, a young woman, raped and tortured by her husband, has lost all hope for herself and all hope in God.
Each of these stories peels back layers and layers of basic emotions to reveal just how complex even the most simple of them can be. The best example of this is “Herr Cederberg”, a deceptively simple piece of writing about a middle-aged man, short and rather rotound, whose appearance resembles a bumblebee, and his interest in kite-building. A simple statement by two young girls he overhears while eating his lunch on a park bench one day propels him to attempt what we think is impossible—he attempts to turn himself into a bumblebee. In four pages, Tidbeck captures his feelings as he moves forward with his plan—his lack of self-worth, his determination to put his skills to the test, his need to be more than Herr Cederberg, the man who merely resembles a bumblebee. It’s “The Metamorphosis”, but turned a quarter turn to make what should be a sad story of a pathetic man into one where hope and dreams elevate even the most commonplace person into something grand and glorious—a marvel of nature.
All of the stories are like this—no matter how disturbing, how monstrous, how pitiable the characters and their situations or behaviors are, there is a layer of something positive shimmering just below the surface of each—if the reader is willing to both look for it and adjust their preconceived notions of what constitutes “positive”. Tidbeck’s weirdly beautiful worlds and characters certainly challenge the conventional in nearly every way. I really recommend these stories. I flat out loved them.
A copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher for review purposes.
This book was awesome and I have a feeling that I’m going to be buying everything else Mayberry’s written now. My credit card is crying.
Mackenzie and Oliver are neighbors who get off to a rocky start–Mackenzie’s recovering from a serious car accident that nearly killed her and Oliver’s getting some space from his failed marriage by cleaning out his deceased aunt’s home. There’s a rickety fence between the properties, which isn’t enough to keep Mackenzie’s intrepid dachshund, Mr. Smith, away from Oliver’s schnauzer, Strudel.
Mackenzie’s not really interested in making small talk with Oliver either time he brings Mr. Smith back home–she’s physically exhausted from her rehab and she’d just rather not deal. So it takes a while for them to make that connection, which I really liked–there’s a torrential rainstorm and Oliver comes and helps Mackenzie prevent her home from getting flooded and from there, they each unbend enough to reach out. The relationship comes upon them slowly and I really liked that–they’re friends before they’re partners.
And they have a lot to work through before they can be that–Mackenzie is more financially settled than Oliver is, even though both their careers are behind the scenes (Oliver is a sound engineer, Mackenzie is a television producer). Mackenzie’s also very focused on getting her career back while Oliver is more focused on getting his personal life together.
Both Oliver and Mackenzie felt like real people to me. And it was so nice to read a romance about characters who are my age–I’m in my late 30’s and I’m at the point where some of my friends are getting divorced or making other major changes in their lives, so it’s lovely to see that reflected in a category romance. It’s also nice to see a character with a disability take center stage–while Mackenzie doesn’t look disabled, her injuries have left her with a limited range of motion in her shoulder and hip as well as chronic pain and reduced energy. I found the depiction of her disability to be really true to life and I liked the way both she was able to communicate her physical limitations in a matter of fact way.
So to sum up: I really liked this book. A lot. And now I need to acquire more books by Sarah Mayberry.