Mad Times

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

July 13th, 2009 at 2:48 am

Visible Light by C.J. Cherryh

I started digging through the boxes of paperbacks that have been sadly relegated to the back of our closet for a couple of years since there’s no space in the bookshelves. I’ve been sorting them into “keep”, “to read”, and “pass on” piles and this is the first one I’ve read all the way through from the “to read” pile.

Visible Light is a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories by Ms. Cherryh. They are surrounded by bits of a framing tale that has the author accompanying a reader on a routine commercial space flight whose long periods of boredom allow the two to discuss the stories in a sort of Platonic dialogue.

In “Cassandra”, afflicted by visions of destruction who thinks herself crazy finds to her dismay that she is not.

“The Threads of Time” explores what happens when time travel causes history to unravel.

“Companions” shows a mission to a planet rich in vegetation, but lacking any sort of motile or intelligent life. An unknown and mysterious plague takes the lives of all but one of the crew and he carries on with only the ship’s AI for company. Unless they were wrong about the lack of intelligent life.

“A Thief in Corianth” is a fairly standard swashbuckling fantasy only the thief is a woman, but one who operates mostly within the limitations of women in the standard pseudo-middle ages fantasy setting.

“The Last Tower” is a short short about the end of a war.

“The Brothers” is a Campbellian hero’s journey with some satisfying twists and appropriately tricksy fae.

The stories shared in my mind a distant and melancholy tone, but all of them have rich metaphorical grounds that echo off real life in interesting ways.

January 14th, 2009 at 12:25 pm

New lost glove site

For those lost glove fans who’ve stayed with me since I gave up the addiction, point your browser over to where a fellow is posting some lovely glove pictures along with little snippets of their stories written from the gloves’ point of view. Wonderful stuff. Go look.

January 5th, 2009 at 10:46 pm

A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

When preeminent SF/Fantasy publisher Tor Books was rolling out their dangerously addicting new community at, they offered a truly ridiculous number of free ebooks as enticements to come check it out. I dutifully ferreted them all away and loaded a stack of them onto my Palm LifeDrive. This is the first one I’ve read.

It’s the first book of the “Long Price Quartet” (nobody ever said the folks at Tor weren’t savvy). The first section is set in an orphanage/school for the unwanted younger sons of noble families. But the school’s workings are just odd enough to distinguish them from those of every other such setting in the history of fantasy literature. The school section turns out to be mostly a prologue as the second section leaps ahead by many years and initially follows an unexpected character from the opening.

While the setting of the later sections of the book is reminiscent of many other such fantasy worlds in its broad strokes (I kept being reminded of Delany’s Nevèrÿon in particular), again, the details distinguish it. And I am loath to be more specific because much of the pleasure of the book is in having your expectations repeatedly tweaked. I’ll just say that the overall story is one of court intrigue and coming of age all set in a world of ubiquitous and varied human (and inhuman) (and inhumane) bondage (and not the fun sexy kind).

While I enjoyed the book, I was a little frustrated with the plot and pacing. It felt like not quite enough events stretched across a little too much book. Still, the rotating point of view characters were all interesting enough to keep me paging along. I’ll probably give the second book a try next time there’s a gap in the queue.

January 4th, 2009 at 5:43 pm



I posted a batch of photos today that includes a bunch of different kitties, so hie thee to my Kitties set on Flickr for all the feline goodness.

January 1st, 2009 at 10:45 pm

2008 media review

In 2008 I read about 52 books which is pretty good compared to the last few years. There are a couple of reviews I haven’t posted yet. I’ll try to get those up soon.

We also watched a bunch of movies (about 80). Here’s a list of what we saw and what we thought of them.

The notes are about where we saw the movie and who saw it. “T” indicates we saw it in the theater (only 3 for me plus 1 more for Becky). Other letters indicate who attended. The default is Becky and me. If just “J” or “B” appear then only the one of us saw it.

rating Title Notes
**** Juno T
**** Young At Heart
***+ Away From Her
***+ Broadcast News
***+ Charlie Wilson’s War
***+ Enchanted
***+ Iron Man T
***+ Lars and the Real Girl
***+ Margo at the Wedding
***+ Me and You and Everyone We Know
***+ Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
***+ Nine Lives
***+ Women, The (Cukor) B
*** 10 Items Or Less
*** Appaloosa T B w/ Lorna
*** Atonement
*** Better Than Sex
*** Blades of Glory
*** Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
*** Bourne Ultimatum
*** Croupier, The
*** Dan in Real Life
*** Double Happiness repeat
*** Eagle vs. Shark
*** Grace Is Gone
*** How to Steal a Million B
*** Ira & Abby
*** Kamikaze Girls
*** Michael Clayton
*** Savages, The
*** Two Days In Paris
*** Visitor, The T w/ L&A
*** Wilby Wonderful
*** Yes
*** Zodiac
**+ Across the Universe
**+ Becoming Jane
**+ Blue State B
**+ Broken English
**+ Cake
**+ Control
**+ Darjeeling Limited
**+ Dying Gaul, The
**+ Gone Baby Gone
**+ Gotcha!
**+ How To Save A Marriage (and ruin your life) B
**+ I’m Not There
**+ Inside Man
**+ Jane Austen Book Club B
**+ Legend (dir cut) J
**+ Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The
**+ Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity
**+ Nancy Drew
**+ Ocean’s Thirteen
**+ Outing Reilly
**+ Recount
**+ Ruby in the Smoke, the bbc
**+ Somersault
**+ Strange Bedfellows B
**+ Transformers
**+ Tropic Thunder
**+ Trust the Man
**+ Who Killed the Electric Car
**+ Who Was That Lady? B
** Be Kind Rewind
** Bubble Boy
** Charlie Bartlett
** Cypher
** Happy Endings
** I Could Never Be Your Woman B
** I’m With Lucy B
** Italian Job, The
** Mr Magorium’s Magic Emporium
** My Blueberry Nights B: okay J: pretty good
** Sex and the City
** Sunshine
** Two Brothers and a Bride B
*+ Golden Compass, The
*+ Purple Violets
*+ Year of the Dog
* Jabberwocky J

That doesn’t include everything we watched that we’d seen before (a few repeats are included as noted). We don’t actually use stars when we rate movies, we use words. I’ve translated our “Don’t Miss” to ****, “Pretty Good” to ***, “Okay” to **, and “Don’t Bother” to * if that helps you make sense of this.

Seeing them sorted by rating like this always causes us to rethink some of our decisions, but what’s here is what we thought of them shortly after seeing them.

In other anal-retentive data mining, we returned 113 disks to Netflix this year. In July we bought a set-top box that lets us watch Netflix stuff on demand over the internet. Looks like we’ve used that for 160 items since then which seems like a lot until you know that it counts individual tv show episodes. Here’s a summary of the TV shows we watched (we still don’t do cable or anything, so these were all on dvd or on-demand):

  • That 70′s Show (season 5)
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
  • The Wire (still working on season 1)
  • Pushing Daisies (season 1) Love this show!
  • Criminal Minds (still working on season 1)
  • Heroes (season 2)
  • Coupling (season 1, 2, 3, & 4) LOVE this show!
  • 30 Rock (season 1 & 2)
December 24th, 2008 at 11:44 am


Very nicely written op-ed in today’s New York Times uses the famous photo of Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts to put our climate problems in perspective. (thanks to Alan Durning for pointing it out)

December 20th, 2008 at 12:08 am

Most wonderful time of the year

Cat in a box full of paper

This was just a random box we got in the mail. But there’s a box with Theo’s name on it waiting for Christmas morning. I expect the box will be his favorite part of whatever’s inside.

December 7th, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Toilet training your cat

Charles Mingus (yes, that Charles Mingus) tells you how. Hmm… (via Making Light)

November 30th, 2008 at 1:39 am

Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler

I was about to send this out to a bunch of people so I may as well post it here and save on the spam. I haven’t read it yet, but there’s an on-line collection of speculative fiction stories by Filipinos written in English called, oddly enough, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler. I just loaded the whole thing onto my Palm and will probably read it next.

November 23rd, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Catching up on books read

All right, I give up. I put so many requirements in the way of myself sometimes that it makes it hard to get anything done. Current case in point is my desire to post reviews of every book I read in the order I read them. I’ve been doing this since 1994. But right now I’m so far behind that it would take me quite a while to catch up and rather than keep delaying until I figure out how to squeeze 30 hours into each day or how to squeeze 24 hours of effort out of myself each day, neither of which seems very likely, I’m just going to list the titles and authors with a few words for each right here in this one epic post so I can reset the clock.

These are listed in the order I read them (after a brief mental debate about whether to list them in reverse order to match the blog’s top-posting bias toward reverse chronological. Yes, I need help.)

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Memoir of Martin’s early days as a comedian. Interesting in places, but surprisingly dull otherwise.
Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
Third book in Briggs’s series about Mercedes Thompson, a mechanic in Washington’s tri-cities who gets mixed up with Vampires, Werewolves, and other Fey (oh my). I haven’t read the Twilight series, but from what I’ve heard, these books are the polar opposite of those while still being in essentially the same sub-genre. Mercedes is a tough, smart, grown-up woman who kicks ass.
Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod
Macleod does a wonderful job of writing books which are deeply informed by his interest in politics, yet read as humane adventure yarns. I liked the mix of mystery, alien viewpoints, and human ingenuity in this and its sequels.
Dark Light by Ken Macleod
Middle book of the Cosmonaut Keep trilogy.
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Very fun teen-oriented vampire book that frames the mythos as a parasitic infection, supporting that interpretation with copious examples of other real cases of parasites causing exceedingly odd behavior in their hosts.
A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane
Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series is frequently offered up to kids who’ve worn out their copies of the Harry Potter books. It’s probably a good direction to go because these are sooo much better than Rowling’s. I read this one first when I found it in a library book sale while on vacation. As you’ll see farther down, I quickly burned through the surrounding books (Abroad is the fourth). I think my favorite thing about this series is that while the kids doing magic have a fair degree of autonomy, they are consistently rewarded when they ask for help. An important lesson that those other wizards never seemed to learn.
Touching Dark by Scott Westerfeld
Second in his “Midnighters” series where a select few people (those born right at the stroke of midnight) get an extra hour at the end of their day. Unfortunately they have to share it with some creepy scary critters. Fortunately the people who get the extra hour also have extra powers that help them survive. Fun if somewhat shallow world building and plausible teen character interactions.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Cory’s YA poke at the surveillance state we seem to be moving toward in the US and abroad. It’s fun to read if you’re already a computer geek. I’m not sure how much sense it will make to those less clued in. Even I had trouble sometimes distinguishing between currently-available tech and Cory’s wishful thinking tech. It’s a good cautionary tale, I just wish the plot had a few less glaring inconsistencies and implausibilities.
Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
Last of the Midnighters trilogy. Gets a bit strained towards the end, but still entertaining.
Shadow Unit, Season 1 by Bear, Bull, Downum,
Monette, and Shetterly
I should give this one its very own post, but since I’m here… Bull and Shetterly are two of my very favorite authors. Bear is heading that way. I hadn’t read Downum or Monette before. This has taken over a lot of my free time. It’s an online donation-supported fiction project whose conceit is that it presents episodes of a tv show about a fictional branch of the FBI, the Anomalous Crimes Task Force. The ACTF (casually known as the WTF) is called in when the creepy factor on a case goes to eleven. Of course the tv show doesn’t exist, but if it did it would be something like Criminal Minds or The X Files. What’s really fun about it (besides the uniformly excellent writing, and the cost (free)) is how the authors are playing with the fourth wall. Several of the characters have livejournals where the characters interact with readers (though the characters don’t know that they’re on a show or that we know what they do for a living) This is more than just a gimick, and has been used to good effect in the first season where the season finale episode was released over several days time and the livejournals added bits to the narrative. I should say that the episodes stand alone and you don’t have to dig up all the extra stuff (there are also hidden “easter egg” extra content pages in many episodes). The authors have also done a good job of building in support for the fan community by adding discussion boards and a wiki where the more obsessed (like me) can discuss and speculate and catalog to our geeky little hearts’ content. Several of the authors are active on the boards too so there are more interaction possibilities. If it sounds at all interesting, go catch up now because the second season should be starting sometime in early ’09 and it really is a lot of fun to read it as it comes out so you can share in the speculation and clue hunting.
Engine City by Ken Macleod
Conclusion of the Cosmonaut Keep trilogy.
So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane
First of the Young Wizards books.
Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane
Second Young Wizards book.
Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh
Dark creepy stories about family and friendship. McHugh is not for the easily depressed.
Deliverer by C.J. Cherryh
Unspectacular middle book of a series.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Young adult dystopic science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world where conflict is minimized by surgically modifying everyone’s appearance to fit a global norm of attractiveness. We listened to the audio book on a road trip, and the reader for this is excellent.
The Sharing Knife, Vol. 3: Passage by Lois
McMaster Bujold
Better than the second book, but these are feeling like not enough backstory spread across too many books.
Axis by Robert Charles Wilson
Sequel to his Hugo Award winning Spin. Doesn’t really make sense of the mysteries of that book, but that won’t be any surprise to anyone who’s read a couple of Wilson’s books. Interesting characters dealing with inexplicable events.
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Sequel to Uglies. Not as good, but still entertaining.
Jhegaala by Steven Brust
Latest Vlad Taltos book. Kind of a return to the more compact, self-contained style of the early books of the series though it fills in a few holes in the Taltos mythos.
Specials by Scott Westerfeld
Conclusion of the trilogy started with Uglies. Fun but needed a bit more plot or a few less pages.
High Wizardry by Diane Duane
Young Wizards book 3.
Extras by Scott Westerfeld
Promoted as a new sequel to Uglies, but it’s mostly standalone taking place a number of years after the events of the first three books. It also covers much different thematic territory. The trilogy is all about body image and self awareness. This one goes into questions of popularity.
The Wizard’s Dilemma by Diane Duane
Young Wizards book 5.
Melusine by Sarah Monette
Grabbed this off the shelf at the library after reading Monette’s work on Shadow Unit. In outline, this looks like any number of other fantasies, but Monette’s characters are so realistic that I forgave her the fairly generic fantasy trappings. First book of a series. I’ll probably try the next one to see if she can keep me interested for another book.
Buried Deep by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A Retrieval Artist novel. This one was okay, but it needed to be shorter. I can only take so much of aliens inexplicably hollering “outcast! unclean!”
A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane
Young Wizards book 6
New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
Loved this collection of gothic steampunk stories about a forensic sorcerer in an alternate early 20th century. Yes, gothic steampunk procedural. What’s not to love?
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by
Neil Gaiman
Short works by Gaiman with intros and whatnot. They’re very Gaiman even though they’re also pretty widely varied. I like him best at this length, I think.
The Wolves In The Walls by Neil Gaiman
Children’s book about wolves coming out of the walls of a house and chasing the owners away. Sounds scary. Looks gory. Isn’t really either. Is fun.
The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll by H. G.
Funny little story about a draper in 1890s London who goes on a bicycling holiday and finds adventure and love. Read the Project Gutenberg version on my Palm after Kent Peterson drew my attention to it.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Funny and touching coming of age tale about an Indian kid who defies tradition to go to a white public high school. Seems implausibly rosy even with the level of conflict it admits to, but who am I to judge this writer on such issues? Fun quick read.
Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
First book in a new series set in the same world (and with some shared characters) as the Mercy Thompson books. This one centers in the Werewolf community (as you might guess from the title.) Briggs is really good at this. I haven’t read a book by her yet that I didn’t enjoy thoroughly.
The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold
Fantasy novel in which you can see the ancestry of some of the ideas in Bujold’s current “Sharing Knife” series. Good and standalone.
Mother of Storms (reread) by John Barnes
I still really like this book. I’m blessed with the ability to almost completely forget the contents of books a while after I read them, so rereading is a fun process of rediscovery. In this book I remembered the climate-changing release of ancient methane trapped in the polar ice caps (something that is happening for real now if a recent article is to be believed) which led to enormous long-lived killer hurricanes but I’d largely forgotten all the various subplots about brain upload and transcendence, news reporting, coming of age, and politics. It’s a great book that’s slightly marred for some people by the presence of a small subplot featuring some disturbing sexual violence.
Spaceman Blues: a Love Song by Brian Francis
I loved this book. And I already wrote a quick review over on GoodReads but I can’t figure out how to link directly to it so I’ll just reproduce it here: The community gives away a free ebook to members every once in a while, and this one made it onto my Palm. I was hooked after the first couple of pages. Slattery has written a mad paean to love, humanity, and New York City. It’s part epic love story, part War of the Worlds, and part Howl. When his love, Manuel disappears, Wendell starts a search that takes him through the fringes of New York. The plot barrels along at a breakneck pace while the scenery streams by in crystal-clear flashes of startling detail. It’s a mind altering ride with an ending that with its abruptness sent ripples of understanding and transformation back through my memory of the journey. Wonderful
Eater by Gregory Benford
Benford’s science fiction is always fun to read because he’s that rare beast, a working scientist who writes. This is a first contact story that gives a somewhat plausible rationale for a dangerous alien visitor.

Whew. Sorry this was so long. I’ll try to get back to posting as I go.

output here