Recent books

2017-Sep-20, Wednesday 18:20
mindstalk: (Default)
Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky. Pretty engaging tome on the history of salt's use and extraction, and its legal or military entanglements. Trying to fund a government off of salt tax or monopoly has been common, and commonly hated, from Legalist China to British abuses in India. The US Civil War can partially be told as a history of fights over saltworks. The Chinese were drilling for brine and using by-product natural gas by 100 AD, and doing percussion drilling around 1100 AD, down below 3000 feet by 1835.

Eye of Cat, Roger Zelazny. Time-dilated alien-hunter Navajo, teleport booths, assassins, psi, Navajo shamanism... a weird book, I don't anticipate re-reading.

The Sharing Knife: [Beguilement and Legacy], Lois Bujold. I'd read this series in 2009, and am enjoying it again. Lakewalker powers and their fight against malices gives me RPG ideas, interacting with inspiration from Martin and Hobb and what I think of as "Wraiths and Rangers". Like much of Bujold, has many laugh-out-loud moments in an otherwise serious story.

Penric's Demon & Penric and the Shaman, Lois Bujold. Novellas set in her Five Gods universe, which I finally got paper copies of from the library. (Released as DRM ebooks, which I refuse to support.) Good, and funny, and I'd happily read more.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia McKillip. My first McKillip after all these years. Enjoyable, with a fairy-tale quality to the story and and writing.


2016-Nov-18, Friday 21:02
mindstalk: (lizqueen)
I grew up on Greco-Roman mythology... mostly not so much translated as retold. Bullfinch and all. I did read a translation of the Metamorphoses, though of course a lot of that was a retelling already.

Recently I've started reading the Argonautica, which I'm not sure I knew was a thing. It's, guess what, the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, seeking for the Golden Fleece. I've certainly read "the story", but not this work.

And I can kind of see why. As with the Iliad, or the second part of the Aeneid, a lot of it is not of timeless interest. Homer has the Catalogue of Ships, this has a catalogue of heroes and where they were born. And the places they pass, most of little meaning to me. And the shrines to one god or another than they raise along the way. And the thighbones wrapped in fat they keep offering.

OTOH something about the writing carries me along. There's a plethora of Homeric simile, for good or for ill, and I've learned that smoking beehives out for their honey is at least as old as the Hellenistic period.

As with Homer, the descriptions feel surprisingly visceral, like I can easily imagine a mental movie of what's going on. Which I could pass on when it comes to the gory fight scenes.

The Argo seems to have traveled at least twice by night, which I don't think was a common thing in the Mediterranean.

I mostly read of Rhea in cosmogony, as mother of the big six Olympians, but this work includes an altar being built to her, and her being pleased thus magically bringing forth harvest. So, active worship, then.

The heroes have diverse powers. Being really strong, of course. Flying (sons of Boreas.) Walking on water. Prophecy.

Everyone's almost half-worshipping Heracles already. "Let's make him the leader." "I refuse, Jason should be the leader." "Sir yes sir! Jason is our leader, sir!" They lose him early on, though, he's got to go back to his labors at Argos. Theseus is stuck somewhere, probably on his underworld raid. Atalanta wanted to come but Jason was afraid having one woman on board would cause too much strife.

At some point the Mysians are twirling sticks to make fire. No flint-and-steel, or bringing coals from existing fires?

I tried looking up maps of the voyage. They seem insane.

Three of the Amazons were daughters of Ares. Hippolyte, Antiope, Melanippe. No idea who the mother was... in Wikipedia, but this says the nymph Harmonia. Makes me think of Xena.

Music: Pirates of the Caribbean


I'm reading a questionably scanned version of R. C. Seaton's translation.

Hmm, I seem to not have good tags for this already. Did I not talk here about Homer? Distinct lack of fitting userpics, too. I'll go with Queen of the Pirates Liz.
mindstalk: (Default)
I've been biking since 1998. Despite this, I've learned very little about bike maintenance. I haven't had to. I recall one flat tire ever, from a nail in SF, a few blocks from my bike shop. My chain popped off once but I got it back on somehow. I fill the tires with borrowed pumps, and I've generally taken the bike in once a year for tune-up. Generally I'd hear "wow, it's in great condition!" I'm a light utility biker who usually kept it indoors, so yeah. Pedals were making grinding sounds at one point, I got them replaced.

The past couple years I've been leaving it outside more, though, since bringing it in is a pain, and I've heard "you should bringing it in more often" as the rust builds up. And very recently I was hearing alarming grinding sounds as I pedaled. So I took it in, and got told my bottom bracket is "out" and loose. That's apparently not a big problem, though; the real one was my chain being dry, and looking fairly rusty. So I was persuaded to buy some oil and apply it myself. I got spray, thinking it'd be more convenient, then at home got alarmed by the warning label. Oh well. I did apply it, and woo! Huge difference today, no grinding sound.

So yeah, after 18 years, I've oiled my bike chain. Or, after 18 years, I've finally needed to.

Oil's weird. My one bit of self-guided maintenance was oiling the hinges on my folding shopping baskets when they got stiff. I'd apply some vegetable -- usually olive -- oil by finger to the hinges. Somehow it wicks in and everything becomes so much looser.


The local market had Cajun seasoned pork on sale. Pork what? It didn't say. I figured I'd take a chance. Put it in a frying pan, covered it, had it on decently high heat for 15-20 minutes. No additional oil, just what was in the cast iron already, so sort of baking it. Worked pretty well. On flipping I realized it was pork ribs; the hardest bit was cutting them apart so I could eat them.


I've known vaguely of Roald Dahl's Matilda for a long time; over Christmas I was exposed to the soundtrack of the musical, I guess. I finally checked it out today and read it. Mildly enjoyable, I guess. I was stuck by the long list of books Matilda had read by age 5, I wonder if Dahl was hoping to inspire some kids to go try Dickens and Austen themselves. I was surprised by the big twist.


Spam I just got: "Jesus's Lost Words Stun Christians (Not in the Bible)", from the "Laissez Faire Club". What.

_First Contact_

2016-Jul-10, Sunday 14:41
mindstalk: (Earth)
1987 book I just finished, by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson. It's about the contact between white Australians and highland New Guinea in the 1930s, mostly done by Australian gold prospector Michael Leahy, with Leahy's 1930s photographs (and some 1980s ones, by the book's authors.) It's main sources are Leahy's diaries and 1980s interviews of both surviving Australians and highlanders. So we get views from both sides, though most of the surviving highlanders were teens or kids at the time, naturally.

First half or so of the book is a step-by-step following of the initial expeditions, but it later pans out to further developments and reactions, closing with independence for Papua New Guinea in 1975.


* The highlanders seem to have been extremely isolated from the coast. They can't have been entirely so, because shells filtered up as highly valuable prestige/trade/moka items, but OTOH they hadn't heard of the white men who'd been on the coast for 50 years, and on first viewing thought the whites were relatives returned from the dead. The highlanders themselves say that.

* Pretty isolated from each other, it seems, or more accurately a person's radius of experience was pretty short, hemmed in by hostiles tribes.

* Volatile mix of racism, paternalism, and humanity among the whites. Michael could readily go for a lethal show of force to "kill before we're killed" while objecting to the bloodfeud killing of the natives or gratuitous killing by his own coastal native 'gunbois'. One brother went half native, taking two native wives and never leaving; a friend from the Administration went full native, being accepted by the highlanders he lived among; Michael turned into an Angry Old White Man, disappointed at not getting wealthy and ranting to his grave against the independence movement.

* Both major Out Of Context problems and rapid adaptation by the highlanders. Took them a while to figure out if the whites were human and not spirit, but quickly taking advantage of the wealth they offered and assessing the physical danger they posed.

* Highlanders somewhat balking at independence, as they had less negative experience of colonialism than the coastal New Guineans, and feared being dominated by the coastals. A Liberian UN commissioner was really surprised at the feelings he ran into. "Development, then independence." Of course, most of the Australians had no intention of developing NG into economic independence, that's not what colonies are for.

* Examples of both benign and imperial introductions of money and trade. The early prospectors weren't that violently rapacious, though killing a fair number of people to establish "don't mess with our stuff"; they brought in lots of wealth of shells, axes, and other goods to buy food and labor with, but the workers weren't losing their own land, and had a real choice to work. Administration and the coastal colonists didn't like independent labor though, and instituted poll taxes that had to be paid in Australian money.

(The prospectors might have been worse had they ever found major gold prospects to dredge. Happily they didn't, and coffee plantations ended up the main means of wealth extraction.)

* WWII was a push toward independence. No mention of attitudes wearing off from the Japanese or the fact of their pushing out Australia, but the returning US and Australian soldiers are claimed to have been relatively egalitarian, a shocking contrast with the pre-war colonists.

* Colonialism probably really did bring down the violent death rate, here.
mindstalk: (rathorn)
_How not to be wrong: the power of mathematical thinking_, Jordan Ellenberg -- already reviewed. Also the only one of these I read on paper. The rest were ePubs on phone or laptop.

(re) means "re-read" in my private book list.
Uh, so I guess minor spoilers below.

_A Thousand Leagues of Wind, the Sky at Dawn_, Ono Fuyumi (Eugene Woodbury translator) (re) -- fan translation of the second Youko novel of the Twelve Kingdoms series. Still good overall, though the ePub I was reading had a lot of text-level errors. I used to send him corrections back when I followed his translations chapter by chapter... oh well. Still funny in several places.

_The Coin_, Muphrid (re) -- A Haruhi Suzumiya fanfic. At 100,000+ words it definitely qualifies as a novel. It captures the feel and tone of the original novels very well, even while making up a voice for Haruhi herself, who is not a POV character in the novels. So doubly impressive. And it's addressing "Haruhi learns she has powers", so triply so.

_A Study in Scarlet_, Arthur Conan Doyle -- The title is familiar, but the content was at best ambiguously so. Not sure if I never read it, or read some massively abridged version as a kid, or just forgot it that thoroughly. To my surprise, it's the first Holmes story, just over novel length (43K); I'd have thought it started as short stories. Serialization, I guess... Notes:
* Holmes wants to go listen to some woman violinist, Norman Neruda
* A ring is found and handed over to the first caller, no "can you describe it" check
* Villainous Mormons! Based on real rumors. Doyle apparently later said "oops" about that.
* Written 1887, set... estimates vary between 1881 and 1884. Putting Holmes stories on a timeline is a sanity-destroying project, apparently.
* I think it's noteworthy how Holmes and the police separately telegraph Cleveland, Ohio, in a rather casual way, to ask about their victim/suspects.

_Dragon Ship_, Lee and Miller. One of the later Liaden novels. I've now read all other than Trade Secret. As usual, a fun read; I think of these books as candy. I dimly recall, possibly erroneously, some fans griping that while the books are steeped in egalitarian romance, it was heteronormantive. No more! There was male-male in _Dragon in Exile_ or _Necessity's Child_, and female-female in this one. Probably in an earlier one I don't remember, given how Theo and Kara fall on each other. That said, I don't recall any same-sex lifemating, or marriage, vs. FWB.

Though if anyone in this series ends up with a harem, Theo seems a good candiate: Kara, Win Ton, and her ship. I guess her dad has posthumous bigamy in his future, too.

Yes, posthumous.

Hmm, I don't have an icon that's specifically bookish. Have a Hodgell instead.


Edit to add: f/t ratio!
Nonfiction: 0%

Fiction: a bit complicated
* female author, male translator. Fuyumi wrote the story, Eugene wrote all the words I read. Author hopefully dominates in influence, but.
* fanfic author of unhinted gender. Demographics of fanfic authors and people who hide their gender suggest female.
* Doyle is not complicated
* Neither is a married couple, really

Roughly even?

The POVs aren't:
* 3 girls
* 1 girl
* Watson
* Mostly Theo, but also Kamele and Miri (F), Bechimo, Win Ton, Clarence and Uncle (M).
f/t ~= 3/4 by book, or 5/6 by major character.
mindstalk: (bujold)
Michael Moorcock on writing 60K novels in three days. Granted, part of the secret is prep work.

Relatedly, Stross on why modern SF novels are longer: Old constraint of magazine serialization, new one of US hardcover binding and non-linear response to pricing. We also learn that the UK uses glue (misleadingly called 'perfect') binding for everything, while the US still mostly sews its hardcovers.

A comment there leads to a Kipling poem, something of a shaggy dog pun poem.


Unrelated humor:

Retweeted William Germano (@WmGermano):
She decided to teach postcolonial theory instead of seventeenth-century poetry.
Because, well, you know, easier Said than Donne.
mindstalk: (YoukoRaku1)
That's a common saying by writers and publishers, that boys won't read books with girl leads, but girls will read boy or girl leads.  This always struck me as weird, personally -- I'm not doubting the claim, it just has no resonance to me.  These days I might read more female lead fiction than not.  But hey, I'm an adult, what was my boyhood like?

The most correct answer is "I can barely date exactly when I read anything".  But I have no memory of rejecting anything because it had a girl.  As to stuff I did read before college:

The Secret Garden
the Alice books
A Wrinkle in Time (and both sequels, though Charles Wallace shares the spotlight in the third.)
Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, also Moreta's Story and Nerilka's Song.
The Narnia books, two of which have Lucy prominently and one has Jillian.
The Blue Sword, though I forgot reading it, twice.  (In college I had deja vu about having deja vu about reading it.)

And then there's Star Trek:
My Enemy, My Ally, which I've re-read a lot, and splits POV between Ael and Kirk.
Uhura's Song
Tears of the Singers -- I don't remember these all that well, but Wikipedia says both are Uhura-centric[1].
Dwellers in the Crucible.
Dreadnought! and Battlestations! aka the Piper (a woman) books.  They're also first-person perspective.

I think there was also a bit of dabbling in Ramona and Beverly Clearly or Nancy Drew, but by the time I found those I'd pretty much outgrown them.

All that (21 books, not counting the real kiddie ones0 doesn't seem like a lot for 10 years of reading (age 7-17), but then I doubt I could make a list that would feel plausibly complete for the time period.

[1] At some point -- I no longer think second grade, because none of the books were published yet -- I was given a box set of four Star Trek novels: the three mentioned before the footnote, and The Wounded Sky, which was mostly Kirk POV though did have a lot of extra and non-sexualized female characters.  All four were by women authors, too, two of them by Diane Duane.  Not that I paid much attention to authors before college.  In retrospect, this is an interesting box set for Pocket Books to put out.  Not like the books are consecutive or directly related.
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)
So, I finally finished the Lets Play of the Fate/stay night visual novel. That sentence probably made no sense to most of my readers, so let me expand:

Visual novel (VN): a Japanese thing I'm not that knowledgeable about. It could be as simple as a novel with graphics, simple animations, and sound (music and dialog). In practice, they usually have you make choices, so it's like a multimedia Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) novel. They're also thought of as a game -- and usually H (for hentai) or ero games, with some sexual content -- albeit ones with far more reading than playing. They also make use of running on a computer: as they're usually about relationships (as it were), you can accumulate relationship points with different characters, which affects branches later on, so it's a bit more complex than a CYOA book.

Fate/stay night: one particular VN by Kinoko Nasu. No one knows what the title means, if anything. The English translation has been described as 800,000 to a million words, twice as long as the Lord of the Rings. It has spawned an anime of the same name, which I'm told is not that good (though popular); a manga, about which I've heard nothing; a prequel light novel series called Fate/zero by Gen Urobuchi (basically canonized fanfic) which spawned an anime of its own; and most recently an anime Fate/Unlimited Blade Works based on the second 'route' of the VN, which I'll explain later. I've seen Fate/UBW (strong start, pacing lags later) and Fate/zero (just plain strong, though dark.)

I imagine that there might be some way to run the VN/game in a Windows environment on my Linux box, with the fan-made English translation files. But, that's a lot of work, and after playing the American-made Black Closet, I'm not sure "playing" this sort of game is really my thing. Happily, some heroic servant of the people made a walkthrough, aka a Lets Play, of the (fan-English) game, including all the bad endings and extras, but excluding the (allegedly bad) sex scenes. I started reading it over a month ago, on October 11th. Last night, I finished.

In addition to being long, the player had snarky comments about Nasu's "words word words", long (not that long) philosophical ramblings at times that didn't make tons of sense. So my ideas for snarky titles were Unlimited Verbiage (as above) or Unlimited Nasu Words, for a closer play on titles.


In addition to being longer than LotR, Fate/stay night could also be thought of as a trilogy, but in a different way. It's basically three different stories (also called 'routes') about the same characters and general events. Not three different perspectives on the same sequence of events (which could be interesting, and there is a bit of that in the prologue), but three different main sequences, branching based on early choices by the player. (I guess? I'm actually not sure if it branches solely on that; there seem to be aspects of three different related worlds, with differences that wouldn't depend on your choices. But, not sure, don't care enough to hunt it down.) Two of the routes also have two different good-ish endings each, and across all three routes there are 40 Dead Ends (you die) or Bad Ends (you otherwise fail). It's actually pretty channeled: you have to play the Fate route first, then the UBW route, then the Heaven's Feel route. Another reason I figured I might as well just read it.

So, was it good? It was engaging, at the very least: I didn't take a month to finish because I was slacking off in boredom. It does have flaws and confusing bits; never know what to attribute to the original author vs. the translator, I'd guess some of both. By the end of the UBW anime I was joking that the Holy Grail could punch holes in the plot, not just space.

It has more female roles than LotR, and strong ones. You play as Emiya Shirou (Japanese name order), a teenage boy, but interact heavily -- and not just sexually -- with various girls or women. Tohsaka Rin has been called the deuteragonist, as she plays a major role in all three routes, is the heroine (or love interest) of the second, and even gets to be the narrator in the prologue and one of the endings. (She's also an iconic character of tsundere, twintails, and zettai ryouki fashion... one of my early reactions to the UBW anime was "she's obviously tsundere, but I don't mind, because she's tsundere to *everything* and life in general, not just as a love interest.") And there's various other women, strong in combat, magic, and/or surviving a lot of crap. (And some of them do get a lot of crap to survive.)

It does pass the Bechdel test. I'm not sure it passes it often -- if two women are talking there's a good chance it'll be about Shirou, though "what an idiot" is more likely than "what a hunK" -- but it does.

Shirou's infamously sexist in some ways, like "girls shouldn't fight" despite the girls being able to fight on a completely different level than him, though someone on TV Tropes argues it's deeper than that: that he didn't want Saber fighting because she was *injured*, but (a) couldn't say that well (see: idiot) and (b) thought his life wasn't worth protecting. After barreling through the whole thing, I'm agnostic on the question, aka "I don't want to go back and re-read the first route to have an informed opinion."

The nature of the story allows it to plunder myth and legend at will. Sometimes brutally ("X was never like that!" people say, though I'm "eh, I can see it") but sometimes with research ("Y actually was described as a pretty boy").

It's inspirational: I imagine a lot of fanfic from it (though checking, not as much as I thought; it does rank higher in crossovers than on its own, which makes some sense), and have had some RPG inspirations of my own already. And I can see plundering some of the characters for future PCs. It definitely has memorable characters, of both sexes.

One cool thing for me is that at least three characters are basically Lawful Good (Saber is *officially* LG, she has a stat sheet in-universe!), with very different personalities, and none Lawful Stupid. (Shirou can be dumb but it's more your standard Shounen Stupid). I have an interest these days in how characters can be morally straight-and-narrow yet different people. (Nanoha is also good for that, and to a lesser degree Order of the Stick. Possibly superhero media in general, but that's less my thing.)

Basically, I had fun, and am glad I read it. Should you read it? I don't know if it's *that* good, objectively speaking. Would it be of interest if you hadn't seen related anime, as I had? I can't say.

I know I haven't described what it's *about*; there's a zillion other sources for that, though, so I was going for some underexploited angles, as well as "this was to my taste, if you like my taste you might too."

(Edit: one thing it's about is heroism and the sacrifices made for it. I'm not sure if it says anything deep or useful about it - -I've been more reading than thinking -- but that's definitely A Theme. Maybe even The Theme.)

The new icon is, of course, Rin, apparently giving one of her "now listen up, idiot" lectures.


2015-Nov-09, Monday 09:54
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)
"They dried off the sweat on their tunics / standing to face the breeze from the seashore"

Reading the Iliad is almost like watching a movie. Hyperdetailed a lot of the time. If he described them taking a dump it wouldn't be out of place. "Then did wily Odysseus take a long-handled shovel and -- like a rabbit, which digs a ditch, then covers it, so that its excrement does not attract predators -- create a hole, in which he relieved himself of that which remained after his god-formed clay was done with his food, then fill it again, so that an ill-judged step would not sully his leather sandals."

Recent reading: Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin edition; Ancillary Sword.
Current reading: The Iliad, Peter Green trans; Fate/stay night visual novel. I'm not sure which is longer.

(Answer: Fate. About 800,000 words to 155,000. Lord of the Rings is under 500,000.
Between Fate and Iliad, not sure which is gorier. Iliad probably has more rape but Fate makes it realer. Relatedly it also has more female role and agency. And more moral characters. Rin is the Grumpiest Paladin.)

Also re-reading the Wizard of Earthsea, inspired by this paean. Though I'm finding that a rich diet of female-centric anime and modern SF/F can leave older stuff (Earthsea and Iliad included) feeling... off. And the Iliad is supposed to be full of sexist assholes; "as wicked as women's magic" is another matter.


2015-Aug-20, Thursday 22:00
mindstalk: (Default)
So I've recently re-read two more childhood books: A Wrinkle in Time, and A Wind In The Door. Swiftly Tilting Planet is on my shelf. The printing of Wrinkle I read had forewords and afterwords about the author, especially one by a granddaughter, talking about Madeleine's enthusiasm for science. Which, sure, you can tell in the books.

Judging by the second book, though, she had less enthusiasm for getting it RIGHT.

* Madeleine says a galactic rotation is 200 billion years, off by 1000x.
* I don't have further specific examples, but billions of years or billenniums got thrown around pretty casually.
* Calvin says the number of cells in the brain and in the universe are exactly equal. More like, brains and stars in the galaxy are approximately equal.
* Someone, I think the farandola Sporos, uses parsec as a measure of time.
* Detection of screams in space... via sonic instruments, not radio ones. Also sonic instruments to find farandolae, which are unto mitochondria as mitochondria are to us. I'm not complaining about the fantastic premise of psychic farandolae, I'm just saying I don't 'sound' is really the process at work at that scale. But definitely not space...

Granted, this is the 1970s (urban crime fears!) and you'd have had to go to an encyclopedia or such to look stuff up, and it's easy to misremember billion and million. But still.

As for the books... I dunno. I think the first was stronger. Both have more buildup than climax or denouement, as it were.
mindstalk: (beardless)
I'm re-reading, or have just re-read, a couple of books from my youth.

One is The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. It's a first-person narrative of a growing boy who's grandson to a king, secret son to a king (not that he knows that at first) and son to a princess with the Power, later a nun; I forget if she was a priestess as such. He's small but clever, using his brains to raise big stones. He himself is touched and guided by the god. People say his father is a devil. He helps his real father recover his kingdom, but dad doesn't last long.

The other is The King Must Die by Mary Renault. It's a first person narrative of a growing boy who's grandson to a king, secret son to a king (not that he knows that at first) and son to a princess who is definitely a priestess. He's small but clever, inventing better forms of wrestling (though the Egyptians already know them), and uses his brains to raise a big stone. He himself is touched and guided by the gods. People say his father is Poseidon. He helps his real father get a more solid grip on his kingdom, but dad doesn't last long.

It's kind of spooky, reading these back to back.

There are differences. Merlin is never a king himself, and is a virgin dedicated to (or claimed by) the god; Theseus becomes king of Eleusis and Athens, and has been mating or raping since he was 12 or 13. Merlin's called a wizard, Theseus isn't. I think I'm finding Renault an easier writer, though her story is also more disquieting to read, what with the (non-graphic) claiming and rape of slaves, and the conversion of a city from mild matriarchy to Greek patriarchy; I don't think Merlin does anything a modern Westerner couldn't approve of, at least in the first book. Myriad other details.

But... still. Amusing similarity, for two books I decided to read on impulse. Also might be why I told my niece that the same author had written both books. Plus the Mary firstname collision.
mindstalk: (Nanoha)
I could talk about some of these in more detail at some point, but figured I'd dump for now. Also, this my first table of text and images, because I thought I'd try more images and wrapping text in HTML seems hard. Images are mostly HTML-scaled (to 150 pixels high) and larger if you 'view' them in your browser.
(Edit: I discovered the Livejournal version of this looks like shit in chromium. If you're reading this there in that, might try Firefox or the Dreamwidth link.)
Table of text and images )
If you want a blind recommendation out of all this, I'd go with RSG, because it's good and pretty short so what do you have to lose? and FMA:B, because it's awesome. Or the original FMA manga, also awesome. I have no opinion on the first FMA anime, I just know the story diverges massively. Oh, and the opening/ending of Mahou Shojoutai, because it's only 4 minutes total, and so pretty and weird. I wish I had someone to share the rest of the series with, but I can't make it a high priority cold recommendation.
mindstalk: (robot)
Good series, though hard to describe interestingly without spoiling part of the key fun. If you trust my taste, take my word that it's a well-deserved cult following, albeit out of paper print. Available as ebooks at the usual sources, or as DRM-free epub or PDF via
I just found the above link and bought the series.

If you're in the Boston area, both BPL and Minuteman seem to have access to every book except the first one, which is only $2.99 as an ebook, vs. $5.99 for the rest.

Non-spoiler hooks: female author, female protagonist, other female lead characters, people being smart, people applying the scientific method in a fantasy, interesting fantasy and non-human life.

Drawback: series has been dangling for a while. It is hoped she'll be able to finish with more sales and less cancer, and I think the books contain interesting stories as it is, but if you don't want to wait for the mysteries to be explained then this isn't for you. has the author blurbs. has free first chapters (online or download), as does Smashwords.

James Nicoll reviews the series, albeit with some spoilers.
mindstalk: (Default)
Inspired by this I thought to look at the gender balance of books I've read. As I have digital records back to 2004, and paper ones back to 1997, this is in principle doable; as my records consist of "name, author" it's not easy. But I counted the past few years by hand.

2011 books:
54 by male authors, 26 female
2012 books:
79 male, 20 female
2013 books:
75 male, 47 female
2014 books so far:
52 male, 19 female.

Conclusion: I didn't read as many books in 2011 (so what was I doing? well, I didn't even move into an apartment until April), while this could be a blow out year.

Female author percentage ranges from 20-40%. Fiction and non-fiction lumped together. Graphic novel or manga volumes generally counted individually. Some books left out because I didn't know the author, especially RPG books.

The 2014 imbalance is due in large part to binging on all the Fables related books, so that's nearly 30 graphic novels by Bill Willingham right there.

Books in queue: Sufaces and Essences (M), Morgaine cycle (4xF), My Side of the Mountain trilogy (3xF), Steles of the Sky (F), a bunch of Spanish language books of mixed or unknown (Robin) gender.
mindstalk: (12KMap)
I just re-read A Wizard of Earthsea

* The map is so evocative! And I like how you get zoomed in versions, and all the maps have, gasp, a scale. I'd estimate the maps as about 2000 miles each way. Islands aren't longer than 300 miles, but several are so long; not as long and as wide, though Havnor works on it. No one knows how big the frozen land on the north edge is.

* Not much ironwork. We meet bronze-smiths, starting with Ged's dad. OTOH they have compass needles, and iron that seeks magnets.

* "The shadow would not follow him into the jaws of a dragon." Hi, I'm a nameless doppel spirit from the lands of the dead, but dragons scare me.

* Law and order ain't all that. Ged's scared of Hort Town, a rough area; Pendor used to be a pirate kingdom before Yevaud came; the inland of Hosk is lawless; slaves row Osskil ships.

* Holy crap yeah, the women... Tehanu may be controversial execution (and I have little memory of it) but I can see why UKLG looked back at the original books and went "urk!" "Weak as women's magic, wicked as women's magic." Magical women are mostly witches, the weakest and most ignorant; sorcerers might lean male, though the Lady of Re Albi is an "enchantress"; wizards of course are only male. And the women... Ged's mother just dies, his aunt tries to magically enslave him, the Lord's daughter tempts him -- maybe innocently but almost disastrously -- on behalf of her mother, who's at odds with Ogion; said daughter shows up later as Serret to tempt him again, for the Terrenon, and betraying her (much older and cold) husband. The Lady of O is harmless but childish.

OTOH Pechvarry's wife and the barely seen witch there are okay, and Vetch's sister Yarrow is nearly Ged's Magical Pixie Dream Girl. Pretty and curious if "much less clever than me" (Vetch's words), help invigorate and inspire Ged. There's got to be Ged/Yarrow fanfic (checks: yep, at least one, though non-sexual. Do Earthsea wizards *have* kids, if they're not locked up on Roke? I can't remember.), even if she's only 14. And she has a tiny dragon as a pet!

Dragons, too: the Dragon of Pendor is male, and all his children are sons. Some she-dragon came out to mate, lay eggs, and go west again. Kudos to Yevaud for being a single father, I guess, but it's also more female erasure...

* Kargish aren't the only pale people; Osskil people are too. White skin = evil, or at least antagonistic.

Tombs of Atuan next. In which an ignorant woman oversees a dark void (thank you Dave Sim) that swallows up men, until it is penetrated by the light and learning and staff of a man.
mindstalk: (atheist)
Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, Josiah Ober, 2008.

Classical Athens is famous for being a democracy, or 'democracy' given the status of slaves, women, and metics (resident non-citizens.) It's also been infamous throughout history for its grand mistakes, like trying Socrates, purging its generals, a disastrous attack on Syracuse, various atrocities, with these used to discredit democracy and 'mob rule' as if alternative forms of government never ever made mistakes.

Ober's book, 5th or so in a series of sort, argues that in fact Athens was supremely successful (militarily and economically) in a highly competitive environment for 200 years, a nigh superpower (my word) among city-states (polis in the singular, poleis plural), adapting to and recovering from multiple setbacks (conquest, loss of empire, imposition of oligarchy, plague killing 1/3 of the people, invading Syracuse) until finally squished by the Macedonian juggernaut that conquered Persia, Egypt, and everything up to the Indus. (And then by the Roman juggernaut that conquered that and everything else around. Point is, Athens didn't fail in particular, it was overwhelmed.)

And, he argues, it was so successful because of its democracy, not despite it. The costs were high: the putative cost of not having a central and expert command-and-control system, instead running things by groups of amateurs, and the explicit cost of running the democracy, as citizens were paid in the thousands for attending the Assembly, serving on juries, or acting as magistrates, along with the costs of public buildings and running a prototype welfare state. To be so pre-eminent despite such costs the benefits must have been even higher, particularly the benefits of marshaling public resources for the public good, generating and gathering knowledge for learning and innovation, legitimacy and incentives to align people to act in the public interest, and maintaining security and social stability.

(Addendum: one thing I forgot I think is worth adding: Athens ran a navy. Not just a militia of all the citizens showing up to be armed, but a standing navy with all the complexity that implies. The best navy around, imperial quality. As a strong democracy...)

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mindstalk: (Homura)
Title is a bit misleading.

I grew up with several Twain novels and one essay that I remember: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Connecticut Yankee, Puddinghead Wilson, and "The Awful German Language". All good stuff, plus the wacky new science of fingerprinting in Wilson. Recently I checked out the Complete Essays of Mark Twain. They're... weird. Some are the biting satire I'd expect of him, as one piece about the treatment of the Chinese in San Francisco, via defending a boy who'd been punished for stoning a Chinese man, on the grounds that he was simply following every cue society gave him. But his piece on Hawaii (The Sandwich Islands) reads a lot like great white condescension, which was surprising given what I've heard he wrote about the Philippines. Eventually I came to suspect more satire, but it wasn't working well for me. Then there's weirder pieces on learning to ride a bicycle, and memory advice for children. I guess the novels are polished Great Works, while the essays range from spot on to the ramblings of a whimsical or possibly drunk man.

There's also a long piece I probably won't read about who really wrote the plays of Shakespeare. I suspect he was serious but I'll try to check enough to see if there's buried satire.


Totally un-relatedly, I've re-read (or am doing so) some Diane Duane Star Trek novels: Spock's World, My Enemy My Ally, The Romulan Way; the latter two are the first two of her much recommended "Rihannsu" books. They're still good... but I've never seen anyone ever comment on how massively she retconned her own alt-canon.

In MEMA, the first book, the ancestral Romulans left Vulcan 5000 (I'm pretty sure) years ago, via generation ship. They settled ch'Rihan ("Romulus") without having ever encountered another intelligent species. They lack Vulcan telepathy because the latent mind powers were only discovered and cultivated on Vulcan after they left, in the peace and contemplation of the philosophies of Surak.

In The Romulan Way, the sequel, massive changes. Surak lived around 22 B.C. Mind-powers were already abundant, including telekinetic ones like unravelling metal, or long range coercive powers against invading alien pilots. The Romulans left via ships that got 'jumped' to near lightspeed by suiciding jump-adept psychics, and they only became generation ships of sorts due to not finding a good world for decades. Vulcan is home to two other intelligent species, sehlats(!) and mysterious under-sand dwellers I'll call sandworms; also in Surak's time proto-Orion pirates came in the guise of friendship before attacking, helping to unify Vulcan by providing a common enemy. Then the proto-Romulans ran into at least one other intelligent species on the way, a planet of intellivores.

In Spock's World, there's no mention of sehlat intelligence, but the sandworms feature again as utterly mysterious silicon-based lifeforms. One of them teaches language to a proto-Vulcan 194,000 years ago, a few decades before the sun flares and boils off most of Vulcan's volatiles; another one appears to and inspires Surak before he starts preaching peace and logic. Vulcans are definitely telepathic from prehistoric (pre-linguistic!) times... including a sense of the existence of God that we're casually told all Vulcans have. (This is hinted at in tRW.) 'God' doesn't speak to them so this sense doesn't really solve much, but they have it.

Me, I like to think it's actually awareness of the sandworms (telepathic with huge vital signs) slithering beneath their feet.

So, yeah. Good books, but they're not just an officially alternate universe from canon (which went with much less cool Romulans), they've got a major reality break within themselves, that no one else I can find ever talks about. What the hell.

I've wondered if the later novels incorporate some updated canon from movies/novels/novelizations, but I don't know. [ETA Someone says the 'sense of god' comes from Roddenberry's Motion Picture novelization. Didn't Roddenberry give us the atheistic TNG? WTH. Duane has a vaguely theistic or sentient universe in The Wounded Sky, also referred to by K's't'lk in Spock's World, so it fits for her.]

BTW, John Ford's The Final Reflection is a pretty cool take on the Klingons, though the ending is confusing.


When Iron Bloggers ask me what I blog about, I never know what to say.

_History Lessons_

2013-Sep-11, Wednesday 08:29
mindstalk: (Default)
Just started looking at this book I picked up randomly, and it's due back today, but it looks interesting. It's the history of the US as told by non-US textbooks around the world, in various snippets. Just the introduction was interesting: non-US textbook processes being a lot more centralized than the US, and different styles of textbooks: e.g. US texts tend to be organized by political history, presidents and eras and such, while the French have more social and economic history and history of ideas. Anglophone books tend to go for long narrative, French for short summaries and lots of primary sources.

A Cuban book notes details like the sailor of Columbus who saw land being Andalucian. "Caribbean" (various small islands share a text) spend more attention on Columbus's activity in their region, including the genocide and slavery of the Indians.

Some facts I hadn't known: In the mid 1700s France supposedly had 20 million people, Britain just 6 million, the British colonies 1.5 million (so 1/4 that of Britain!), New France just 100,000. I didn't know the colonies were so big relative to the UK. Differences between British and French colonies: partly the availability of fertile land, but largely immigration policies, the French only wanted pious Catholics while the British were less committed to mercantilism (so more colonial industry and trade) and took in more people from all over Europe.

Recent books

2013-Aug-06, Tuesday 12:11
mindstalk: (Default)
_Runaways: Dead End Kids_, Whedon (re) -- still good
_Avatar the Search 1-2_ -- okay
_Lies my teacher told me_, James Loewen -- really good. Reviewed
_Mexico: What everyone needs to know_, Roderick Ai Camp
_Anne of Green Gables_, L. M. Montgomery -- The Canadian classic. Didn't really grab me.
_A Brief History of Mexico_, Lynn Foster
_Mexico Facts and Figures, Ellyn Sanna_ -- kid's book. Mostly outlined one state after another. Claimed the Purepecha of Michoacan have an unusual language and terraces suggesting migration from Peru.
_Eyewitness Books: Axtec, Inca and Maya_ -- Eyewitness books are great in one area: lots and lots of photographs. It's like a museum in your hands.
_Alice in Puzzleland_, Raymond Smullyan -- I solved everything! In my head! Of course it does seem like the kiddie version of _What is the Name of This Book?_
_Before Columbus_, Charles Mann -- kid's version of 1491.
_Lifeways: Apache_, Raymond Bial
_The Roman Republic_, Don Nardo
_The Roman Empire_, Don Nardo -- Despite my own childhood knowledge of Roman history, I learned things. More later.

Reading or stacked up:
Hofstadter's Surfaces and Essences. Dennett's Intuition Pumps. Graeber's Debt. Stross's Neptune's Brood. Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. Blindspot. History Lessons. Cartoon Guides to Calculus and Statistics. Women of Ancient Rome. Something on the Narragansett. Some book on Cortes's conquest.

I may triage some of those. Hofstadter has priority now, partly for being on two week loan.
mindstalk: (Earth)
Taking a break from my other non-fiction books; this is mostly about nice history, not racism and sexism.

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