Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

March 30th, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Spook Country by William Gibson

graphic building silhouettes against a cloudy sky

If Spook Country were a blog it would be Boing Boing. If you’re not aware of it, Boing Boing is subtitled “A directory of wonderful things”. It primarily covers topics that appeal to geeks. Gadgets, intellectual property, fringe art, pranks, institutional fuckups, all the ways real life has become stranger than the strangest science fiction.

So it’s no surprise that Gibson’s SF novel set in the present day reads like a week of Boing Boing. It’s full of the arcana of the collisions between the worlds of art, geolocation, pop culture, and espionage. The protagonist is Hollis Henry, one-time member of a pop punk band, now a freelance journalist. Her job for a new magazine turns out to be something more than she bargained for. Gibson is doing really good work with these last couple of novels that basically take a science fiction sensibility and apply it to a present-day thriller.

March 30th, 2008 at 2:28 pm

The Silver Ship and the Sea by Brenda Cooper

person riding giraffe watching space shipAnother Endeavour book. Set on a distant human colony planet. The book has a refreshing depth of backstory. The colony is recovering from a war with a second colonizing group. It turns out that the first group is sort of backwards in their denial of genetic progress in the human race. The second colony is made up of heavily modified people with abilities far beyond the unmodified humans. This setup would tend to imply that one side or other would be the clear good guys, but that’s not the case. The book opens well after the war has been won by the humans who have repelled the enhanced colonists. The book is told from the point of view of one of a handful of enhanced children who were left behind the retreat and have been raised by the humans.

The children start to come into their enhanced powers in the course of the book and the friction this causes with the human colonists opens all sorts of interesting questions about progress and heritage and tolerance. Pretty meaty stuff handled deftly.

March 30th, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley

Stylized green dragon against a sunset skyJake Mendoza is growing up in a national park/nature preserve/research institute. The park exists to preserve a large, rare, and dangerous species: dragons.

McKinley writes the book from Jake’s point of view as he looks back on the exciting events of the past year or so. It’s an intimate breezy style that bears a striking resemblance to that of McKinley’s blog on livejournal (though the book doesn’t have footnotes (or footnotes with footnotes)). I liked the book well enough, but it’s not one of her best.

March 30th, 2008 at 1:46 pm

How Not To Be Afraid of Your Own Life by Susan Piver

smiling blonde woman in simple yoga poseI saw this on the shelf at Village Books in Bellingham and was intrigued enough by the title that I jotted it down to check out from the library. The answer promised by the title is: Buddhist meditation.

I appreciated how short the book was. I read the whole thing in a couple of hours. The “afraid of your own life” in the title is a shorthand for all the fears that assail us, from fear of failure and fear of loss to fear of external disasters. The book proposes that the experience of fear in the face of these things is counter-productive to a happy life, and that by practicing meditation one can inoculate one’s mind against letting the emotion of fear take over. Piver is an adherent of the Shamatha school of meditation which means “peaceful abiding”. The practice she describes is keyed largely on dismissing active thought during meditation by recognizing when your mind wanders from the task of meditation and labeling the distraction as “thinking” to stop the digression and return to centered null focus.

There are a lot of other specific practices outlined in the book all aimed at performing a kind of mental judo taking negative patterns of thought and channeling that energy in a more positive direction. I haven’t taken on any of the practice in the book and that’s largely because Piver encourages a seven-day induction phase including a three-day full retreat. It’s going to take some effort to make that happen even though it sounds like a good idea in theory.

March 30th, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Not Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest

uninhabited clothing walking into waterI’m so far behind on book reviews I need to just fling some out there. I read this book for Endeavour as Priest recently relocated to the northwest. It’s set in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The main character is Eden Moore and like the boy in The Sixth Sense, she sees dead people. And talks to them.

The book is a creeping dread kind of horror thing where the victims of a past atrocity are coming back to get their revenge on the living. They are aided by a major flood.

There are prior books with the Eden Moore character, but I thought this one stood well enough alone. There was clearly a lot of backstory I was lacking, but Priest sketched in the necessary details well enough I didn’t ever feel lost. The characters are engaging and the mystery was intriguing and creepy enough to keep me turning the pages. But horror’s not really my thing so I probably won’t be picking up the earlier volumes.

March 28th, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Toe bouquet

Cat sleeping with feet all jumbled together

March 28th, 2008 at 12:47 pm

The poetry of Rod Peckman

My friend Rod Peckman has started getting some of his poems published in various online venues. I think they’re really good. I started a little page to keep track of them. Have a look at The poetry of Rod Peckman.

March 22nd, 2008 at 12:03 am

Wisdom from other bloggers

Julie Leung posted a lovely remembrance of Anita Rowland (that’s also a flaming rant against cancer). I started to leave a comment over there (actually I started it three weeks ago right after she posted), but I realized it was becoming more about me than it was about Anita or Julie, so here it is.

I started to write: Anita existed on the opposite end of the “talking to strangers” spectrum from me. And while that is true, it struck me that even by saying it that way I was highlighting the difference in mindset. I doubt Anita even recognized the concept of “strangers”. She was a master at connecting. Both connecting with people and connecting them with each other. I think that’s one of the most important things human beings are capable of. I’m thankful for the connections Anita made and for the example she set.

When I ran across the draft of this post (after putting up the Friday cat picture that has been the only content on Mad Times for a long while), I was reminded that bike blogger Kent Peterson (who happens to live three blocks from me) recently wrote a post including this gem: “I said I’m a guy who talks to strangers, I didn’t say I was any good at it.” Which comes to me as a minor epiphany. Of course you don’t have to be good at it. Of course it’s like everything else: you get better at it by being bad at it repeatedly.

I read a lot of blogs. It’s lessons like these and posts like the ones linked here that make it worth the effort.

March 21st, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Rolling in it

cat rolling in catnip

We gave this spot over to catnip distribution. And there was much rejoicing.

Fifth Friday cat picture in as many weeks that was taken by Becky.

March 15th, 2008 at 12:34 am

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