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Can I get away with referencing Neal Stephenson in an academic essay, on urbanism in Doha, Qatar? 

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I'd ragequit POI after Carter, but a friend lured me back today and I'm all caught up. I'm still mad about Carter, but the show's swerve into cyberpunk from the thrillery/police/mob thing just owns me. Root in a steamy Asian noodle shop straight out of Neuromancer is more than my little nerd heart can resist. Speaking of which, all that stuff, about human memory and machine memory and life and loss and stuff also put me muchly in mind of Gibson, so, yeah, i'm back. Stupid show.
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My sister and I tried to watch the BBC Sherlock and simply failed. We couldn't even make it to the end. Ended up having a really good discussion about fantasy casting a Temeraire movie while it played on in the background. (She favours Henry Cavill for Lawrence, because apparently he's actually read Temeraire? While I maintain Lawrence needs to be someone a little less generically very handsome and with really, really good comedic chops, as Lawrence's perennial straight-man to the whole universe is one of the things that really make the books for me.)

So, you know, a productive night.
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According to Goodreads, I've had my worst reading year since I started keeping track. (admittedly, that's only three years.)

I read 59 books, of which 4 went unfinished. (3 from boredom, one from disgust. I loathed Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana. Loathed.) Only one was in translation (from Icelandic) and all were read in English. Only 19 were by women, which is actually marginally better than I expected I though I was doing. 2 were re-reads

34 were fiction, which broke down as 11 science fiction, 14 fantasy (including urban and steampunk, three of which were probably mostly romances) 7 mysteries and historicals and 2 cases of what I can only peg as 'proper literature' (Umberto Eco's Prague Cemetery and Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day.) 25 were non-fiction, of which 17 were history of some kind.

A lot, especially in the second half of the year, were not that great. I can't point at a single fiction book I totally and unabashedly loved and will be one of those I treasure forever (save for the re-reads: Remains of the Day and Wintersmith.) Though a few were quite fun, particularly Meljean Brook's Riveted, which was a bit of a departure into reading romance for me.

There were a few very good non-fic though - Anna Reid's history of the Leningrad siege (Leningrad) was riveting and Lizzie Collingham's look at the various roles food played in WW2 (The Taste of War) absolutely fascinating.

Well, for a somewhat better year next year.
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...and school and work are cancelled for one more day. Uni sending out increasingly hedging emails last night was kind of amusing, I admit. Public transport here still somewhere between dodgy and nonexistant.

So, book meme, filched from [personal profile] schneefink:

List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don't take but a few minutes, and don't think too hard - they don't have to be the 'right' or 'great' works, just ones which have touched you.

I ended up cheating a little, because my mind drew a total blank after about four, so I scrolled through Goodreads and took whatever immediately jumped out with some emotional something-or-other...I also found that I remember when, and even where, I first read a lot of these, so that's part of it as well. I don't particularly measure life in books that way, but a lot of these kinda stick out.

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke - This was far (far, far) from the first SF book I read, but I think it was the first one that blew my mind a little? I also found it shamelessly emotional and still think it's beautifully written. It was given to me by my best friends dad, raiding who's bookcase had started me on the path to genre fannishness, after she had moved to the USA and I visited her and this was for the flight back. (I think I was 13. I remember this was just before 9/11 and thinking how absurdly easy all the airport stuff in the US had been.)

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro - I re-read this recently and found I love it even more now. It's just so precise and so restrained and devastating, and works on so many layers, over and over, that all interact with each other. The plot, the prose, the persona, the philosophizing. It just completely shook me out of myself when I read it. (In the army, on the Egyptian border, while doing 12/12's on this utterly idiotic checkpoint.)

A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin - Read in the boot (yes, boot) of a car while driving to Eilat with family, age 12 or so. I remember waiting desperately for the third book to come out. (Oh, the innocence.) I do love these books (never seen the show, i'm afraid) and i've been very fannish about them for a long time. I love the multiple readings they support, the deconstruction of fantasy tropes yet the unabashed fantasticality of them and how much it's possible to argue about them.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis - read in junior high, probably? I love farce, and it's hard to pull off in general and particularly hard in writing. I still re-read this once a year or so, because it always makes me feel better.

Jack of Shadows, Roger Zelazny - borrowed off of that same Dad-of-best-friend's bookshelf. This one always sticks with me because it's basically about geography. One of the first books I can remember reading that really hit that place I love of intersecting questions of genre with questions of landscape. This place is different from that place, and we are different in it. Let's talk about that.

A Peace to End all Peace, David Fromkin - I'd basically gone through everything I wanted to read in my (very small) junior high library, so I moved across the aisle to the non-fiction. I don't think this was the first history book I ever read for fun, but it was the first one that was fun, and opened up history as something weird and interesting and relevant.

A Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez - highschool. I remember a maths teacher taking it away from me in class, which hadn't happened in a while by that point. Just a really emotional, visceral, can't-stop-reading this reaction.

A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz - someone from my commune got me Charles Robert Wilson's Spin for my birthday (I suspect this was in the army. I was also more insight into who I was and what I liked than that person had ever shown otherwise in the six odd years of our extremely close...Acquaintance? Association? English doesn't have a good single word for the relationship you have with people who are members of the same anarchist-marxist-commune-group as you. Trust me, it often isn't 'friendship'.) Anyway, I had already read it, but when I went to exchange it, because it had been given to me in Hebrew and in the context of something very...Israeli, I felt I should get an Israeli book, of which I (alas) don't read that many.

So I got this and couldn't stop reading it. It's so personal and intimate. It's about books and politics and words, words, words, and Jerusalem and Russia, and the holocaust and the conflict, and running to and running from and being immigrants and trying to narrate your life so it makes sense, even though it doesn't.

Market Forces, Richard K. Morgan - read while walking on a beach, when commune-group decided to take a hike (literally) because it was felt things were going badly with our quest to battle the alienation of late-stage consumer-capitalism. Which one member of group reading a book rather than talking to anyone surely contributed to. But I thought it was about false consciousness and the deadening effects of late-stage consumer capitalism, so that was all fine. I was awful when I was 18, ok? (It's a good book though.)

The City and the City, China Mieville - this one is just dizzyingly fun (yet disconcerting) to read as a Jerusalemite. I found myself giggling and wincing at the same time at a lot of what the book does, and it's about geography again, and about genre. It deconstructs genre through the deconstruction of geography. That just gives me all the feels.
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A day late, but work took over yesterday...

So, Peter Grant. He's the main character and narrator of Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books, (Rivers of London and on, up to four now, I think.) I'm not sure if the prompt was to talk about the books or about Peter specifically, but I guess I'll talk about Peter, because he's awesome.

The most awesome thing about Peter is how utterly not-awesome he is. He has a lot of curiosity and a lot of dedication, and an extensive knowledge of London historical geography trivia, and that's about it. He works hard at learning magic, and gets better at a completely pedestrian, unexciting pace. He has absolutely, as far as I can tell, no secret family past, no dramatic angsty backstory, no hidden destiny that means it was him all along, no special powers or talents or savant talents or mind blowing charisma. He's just a normal guy, doing his job, pretty well, most of the time.

On the other hand, he's all that (or, rather, not all that) but is never boring to be around in the slightest. His voice - young, chatty, modern, multicultural and self-aware - ties the whole series together. Even when the plot is meandering or the pace is off, hanging out with Peter is never anything other than pleasant. I totally want to be his friend and watch Doctor Who with him and geek out about the history of London sewers.

Of course, he's also this great, disruptive presence in the magical world (particularly the ossified Folly, but also further afield,) who absolutely refuses to buy into the established mythology and ritual that world has built up for itself, and is totally going to keep testing magic and filling out the results in a spreadsheet and making snarky comments at minor gods. Not because he's such a rebel badass, but because that's who he is and that's how he knows to handle the world. His role model for being a hero is probably Buffy, and he's probably totally fine with that.
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Hanukkah is over! Glory be. I don't have anything against the holiday, per se, except that it's the only one my family makes even the slightest pretense of celebrating. We love to eat on Yom Kippur and have pork on passover. But for some reason, we go through with the candle lighting business, all eight days of it. It's not a bad tradition, but given that I don't believe in god and cannot, for the life of me, sing, trying to hum the prayer and light the thing for four nights (my sister gets the other four, mercifully) becomes increasingly awkward. It's always outworn it's welcome by the time it's done.

Yeah, yeah, I have no soul.

The only book I finished this week was JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling. I really enjoyed it but hardly have anything to say about it. It's not nearly as, well, mean as The Casual Vacancy. I really expected that sometimes savage eye Rowling has for character's weaknesses and pretensions to be at it's sharpest when writing about a world of rich starlets, rappers and fashion designers, but it's surprising restrained. (I admit i'm disappointed.) Cormoran Strike, our hero, is a fairly fun presence. Well, not fun, but neither tedious nor precious. He's very good at his job and has a decidedly cool backstory, but he's not fluffy or polished. He has his pretensions and his vanities, and enough going on in his life - a vastly complicated family, a bright-eyed new assistant, a dramatic ex-girlfriend - that will all surely reappear to good effect in any sequel. The mystery was pretty good too.

Actually, I also read The Princess and the Queen, by George RR Martin. It's a prequel novella thing to ASOIAF (not Dunk & Egg, even earlier,) and is written like a - very dramatic - history rather than prose. It's not terribly satisfying as a story, but it's as epic as anything I've ever read. It's probably not going to go into my canon of favorite GRRM stuff, but it's got this sweep, this brutal sense of glory and tragedy that GRRM sometimes deconstructs so well, and sometimes just goes all in with. I liked it despite myself, in short.
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But first - Person of Interest...we're done, I'm afraid.

Currently Reading

Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett. I kind of have a thing for trains, but a highly judgmental and specific one (I have an exceedingly complex relationship with the works of China Mieville.) I also quite like the other two Moist books. So I want to like this and it's pleasant enough, but it's not exactly great reading either. Everything seems tepid and bloodless. There's no tension, no surprises, no insights, not even a lot of humor. It's all settled into very comfortable grooves with everyone just acting nice and sensible and stuff. There are no relationships, you know?

Lud in the Mist, Hope Mirlees. Extremely charming but I haven't gotten very far yet. I'm curious to see where it goes, it seems like there's a hard, interesting streak there under the cuteness. I'll be disappointed if it's not explored, I suspect.

Recently Finished

Eighty Days, by Matthew Goodman, non-fiction about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Blisand's race around the world in 1889. Not very interesting and written in an annoyingly cliched, semi-novelized sort of style which is really annoying. Even the underlying events weren't particularly interesting, truth be told, since the whole thing basically went totally smoothly.


Nov. 13th, 2013 11:34 pm
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Reading Maphead, by Ken Jennings, (which as far as I can tell is a whole book about being into maps) and in two (short) chapters there has already been a correct but colloquially flexible use of the word "fandom" (wrt maps,) as well as "grok" and an Arrested Development and (probably) a Big Bang Theory reference. It's one of those moment that is slightly wistful but also cheerfully humbling and reminds me that my particular combination of eclectic geeky pursuits and obsessions isn't that unique, and lots of people who are into maps are also into science fiction are also into tea and so on and so forth. I'm not that special :-)
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I finally have books to talk about again! Yay!

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie was great. Not perfect - the ending is a touch clunky and abrupt - but really interesting and original, and proper military far future SF, but with a focus on women and characterization. Or, well, it's probably a focus on women. One of the minor conceits of the book is that the native language (and culture) of most of the characters isn't gendered, so everyone is almost always "she" and "her" by default, though some of them are explicitly mentioned to be men and with many it's just unknown.

A lot of the reviews over on Goodreads seem to really sallivate over this gender-angle as somehow mindblowing, which makes me disappointed for SF readers and the human race. Did Ursula K. LeGuin not happen, hello? It's a mildly interesting beat of worldbuilding, and it's fun to read and to puzzle through and think about the narrators perspective, and what she's missing and what she's picking up and why - the mix of language and culture and her own background (as an ancient, once vastly powerful, all-knowing ship's AI now trapped in a human body) but gender isn't really, actually a theme in the book, you know? That removed perspective is fascinating though - watching her watch several cultures, including her native one, and considering how true or how skewed the perspective we get is made the book for me. Also, there's a pretty good villain.

The Abominable, by Dan Simmons - I really enjoyed The Terror, which was also about doomed expeditions trapped in ice in great, great detail, but this one kind of sucked. Simmons is still a competent writer, even when he's going off the deep end, so it's readable, but the ending is absurd, possibly downright bizarre. The super-detailed mountain climbing stuff isn't nearly as interesting as the minituae of 19th c. arctic exploration logistics in the Terror and the characters are pretty boring, which is a shame. Just a waste of an awesome concept.

One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson. Bryson is just fun to read, as always, and he's got an eye for what's interesting and weird and speaks to what I would like to know, in terms of getting a sense of the spirit of a time or place. This is pretty flimsy as a history book, I suppose, but it's solidly entertaining and I learned a lot. It's also kind of a primer on several things I had heard of but did not actually ever have solidly in my head, like who Babe Ruth was. (Let's put it this way - It would have only guessed about fifty/fifty that he was a baseball player.)


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