Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We now return you to your regularly scheduled life

Train Wreck Loco 201
Image from Cornell University Library's Flickr collection. I love this picture.
I was talking on the phone to my dad a few days ago, and he said: "So how's work going? I know you must be busy - you haven't updated your blog in eleven days!"

I don't even know if I've done laundry in eleven days. Have I? I must have, or the situation would be even more dire than it already is. (Here I pause in the writing, reminded that the laundry needs changed.)

Anyway, maternity leave is over, and last week was my first week back at work. (That is less than eleven days. I know. Shit happened.) It was a little bit of culture shock, but not in the way you might think. The work, that's nothing; going back to a library job is like - well, dude, like going to a library. Exactly like, but better.

The coffee is another story.

I spent six months getting my coffee for (approximately) free, out of my own coffeepot, my own kitchen. Sometimes, if I timed the breakfast attempt for just the right moment when the baby went into his morning milk coma, I got a big plate of scrambled eggs and toast alongside it. But this week, I pick up my coffee and a cookie from campus dining, and it's, like, half the price of a book. Two days of that, and O NOEZ, I COULD HAVE BOUGHT A BOOK WITH THAT MONEY!

I'm trying to console myself with the thought that I can't read a new book every two days anymore, anyway. I'm not sure that's actually helping. BUT - I work in a library, which is full of free books. And that does help.

So here's what's going on around here, bookwise. (Let me e'splain. ... no, there is too much. Let me sum up.)

  • I saw the movie for The Hunger Games, which is one of the books I'm filing under "science fiction for girls". The movie was a pretty faithful adaptation. I failed to be properly creeped out by President Snow, though. He looks too much like my dad to be scary. Plus, smell-o-vision has not yet been invented. I was creeped out by the Careers. Those kids sounded just like the cool kids at high school, just having a good time.
  • I'm picking away at writing a long post about Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate novels, a five-book series that starts with Soulless. The short version is: this series is mind-bogglingly full of win. I love it. Someday, I will tell you why. Honest.
  • I'm still reading through the Hugo nominations, and plan to post what I think about at least the fiction entries.
  • I got a migraine and, while lying down in a dark room with a pillow over my head, tried out the audio on my Kindle with some short story podcasts. I was a little disappointed. It seems like it doesn't keep track of where you left off, if you stop it in the middle of the file? That's kind of a deal-breaker for ever investing in audiobooks. (Although maybe they address this in files they sell you themselves, I don't know.) But I liked that I could turn on a feature to have the Kindle read the menus to me, so I could switch between stories blind.
  • I want John Scalzi's Redshirts. It's coming out soon. I'm pretty sure my library will get it automagically in a few weeks, without me having to interlibrary loan it or anything. If you somehow manage to check it out before me, I'm gonna recall it. Fair warning.
  • I also want N. K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun rather badly, but I am even less fond of the trade paperback format than I am of hardback prices. It's like the worst features of hardback and mass market, combined: more expensive than mass market, bigger and heavier and easier to fumble into the bathtub, without the benefit of a really solid cover to steady it. So, library again.
  • I don't know how I got so carried away buying books. I still have about a dozen lying around that I am excited to read, but haven't had time for yet, but OMG ANOTHER BOOK, MUST HAVE. I thought I was going to try to be more reasonable. I'm such a sucker.
  • OMG ANOTHER BOOK. I spied Julianna Baggott's Pure on the New & Noteworthy shelves at work, checked it out, and read it over the course of the week. It was pretty good. It's a funny thing, though - it used to be that when I read a book with a young boy as one of the main characters, I considered him representative of my brothers, maybe sometimes of me. But now, I see in him my sons. It makes the stories a lot more heartbreaking, at the same time as making me more proud of the young hero's accomplishments. It's a little weird.
  • Mira Grant's Blackout is part of the to-be-read pile. I mentioned in an earlier post that I thought that information in this book, clarifying the parts of Deadline that I had questions about, might affect my ranking of Deadline in the Hugo voting. When I wrote that, I thought it might move Deadline up. But now I read a review elsewhere that makes me worried it might move it down. I do not think I am going to like what this book has to say about "Good night, George."
  • I expect that I spent more money on books during this maternity leave than I ever have before, or ever will again, in a comparable amount of time. The baby and I spent a lot of time in the rocking chair and not so much even thinking about dragging our asses out of the house to any library. The internet was our friend, both for purchases and for library ebooks. I kept my digital receipts and library notifications; eventually I mean to have a look at how the reading habits broke down. But it won't be for, y'know, at least another eleven days.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012 Hugo voting: Best short story

None of my short story nominees made the Hugo shortlist. (I think that my very favorite was Corrine Duyvis's Eight, or possibly Seanan McGuire's The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells.)
I'm less certain about my ranking for the short stories than I was for novels; I feel less strongly about these ones. I wasn't really enamored with Mike Resnick's The Homecoming; E. Lily Yu's The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees was beautiful but I think I failed to Get the last line (and thus, probably, the point); Ken Liu's Paper Menagerie was a good story, but it revolves around a broken mother/son relationship. I'm still in the early years of motherhood, when you're terrified you're going to lose your kids to a peanut butter sandwich down the wrong pipe; I am not cool with having the concept put into my head that one could just walk away from me, all on his own. NOT COOL.

So that leaves:

#2: The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue, by John Scalzi

This was an April Fool's joke story: a fake excerpt from a book whose title is a mashup of the most common words in fantasy titles. I've read grumbles on the internet - or perhaps grumbles about grumbles, I can't remember anymore - that an April Fool's joke doesn't belong on an award ballot. Which seems silly for a genre that treasures The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and pretty much anything written by Terry Pratchett. I liked this story a lot; it cracked me up. I'm a little sad it isn't a real book.

#1: Movement, by Nancy Fulda

This story is about an autistic girl who has the chance to become "normal". It's told in first person, through her eyes, so the voice is very different. It was thoughtful and hopeful and sad, all at once. If you had the chance to get rid of your greatest weakness - or what the world sees as weakness, anyway - but it would simultaneously change everything that you are, would you do it?

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum

I had heard this one was amazing, but cursory research showed it to be second in a trilogy, so I didn't immediately pick it up. When I did, it was at the same time as its buddies, and I read them in order. But it turns out you really don't have to; the books are linked only in that they are big events that happen to Isyllt Iskaldur, the necromancer the trilogy follows. I hesitate to call her The Main Character, though, because each individual book gives equal weight to her and her Supporting Characters. I really felt that Savedra was the primary character of The Bone Palace, and Savedra rocks.

Savedra is the prince's mistress; her mother would like her to reach higher than that, and Savedra has to keep pointing out that it is physically impossible for her to become queen; she can't bear children. Savedra was born a man.

This is not part of the magic system. This happens all the time in real life.

I really, really liked that the book made me look at transsexual people from another angle. In real life, we tend to look at people from the outside-in; we see the body first, and the mind only through what the body reveals (through motion or speech). But in the book, you get to look at Savedra from the inside-out: you're in her head, and she's always she, in the exact same way any other female is. She has a penis like I have dislocating knees: this is just one of the ways our bodies screw us over. Her problem screws her over a lot more, though, because society cares quite a lot about what's between your legs, and tries to define your role in life based on it.

So I loved the book for showing me that perspective, and I loved that the love triangle - Savedra, her prince, and the prince's wife - could have a happily ever after for all three of them together. (Although I frown upon - (highlight to read this spoiler) - the method of Ashlin's seduction of Savedra. It felt rapey - it was in the old-skool-romance style, in which every word that comes out of the woman's mouth means no while her body is saying yes, and that's super cool with the aggressor; yes it is!)

But I was also interested in what a real trans woman thought of it, and apparently it is not so hot - it sounds like Savedra's set-up was fine, but then the follow-through is incredibly insulting. Here is Cheryl Morgan's review of The Bone Palace (includes spoilers); I recommend the book, but I also recommend reading Cheryl's review afterwards. It's very eye-opening.