30 December 2010

Anime rec: Princess Tutu

Long time, no update, and I come bringing a recommendation!

Princess Tutu is a magical girl show in which the battles are fought with ballet.

No, wait. Come back! I promise it's not like Minky Momo with toe shoes. Let me try again.

Princess Tutu is a deconstruction of fairy tales and tropes and a consideration of fate versus free will.

That makes it sound really boring. Have I mentioned that the magical girl is a duck?

Now that I (hopefully) have your attention, let's get more into the details of the story. There once was a man who died. He was a writer of fairy tales, and before he could finish his last piece, the story of the prince and the raven, he died, and the prince and the raven escaped from the story. The prince had to shatter his heart to seal away the raven.

Ahiru (Duck) is swimming on her pond, when she sees a beautiful boy with sad eyes dancing ballet. She wishes she could make him happy, and a creepy old man pops out of the air and asks her what she would give to make him happy. She answers, "My life." The creepy old man gives her a pendant that turns her into a girl. It also turns her into Princess Tutu. (Got that? A magical girl who's really a duck.)

The beautiful boy with sad eyes is the prince from the story, and it's Princess Tutu's job to return the shards of his heart. His name is Mytho, and he's best friends with Fakir, another student at Gold Crown Academy's ballet section. His girlfriend, Rue, is another ballet student. But, naturally, none of them is just a ballet student.

It's not that simple, of course, and every magical girl needs a nemesis. Tutu's comes in the form of Princess Kraehe, the raven's daughter. The tale of the prince and the raven is about to begin anew, and the principal actors in the tale rebel against their fate: the knight refuses to die, the puppet refuses to be on its strings, the princess who's fated to vanish upon confessing her love refuses to speak the words that will turn her into a speck of light.

Gold Crown Town is a place where stories become real and where nothing is quite normal. Ahiru's ballet teacher is a slightly anthropomorphic cat. There's another student who's a goat, along with meerkats, aardvarks, and cows. A traveling troupe comes to perform a show, and the troupe leader turns into an electric eel. (One of the dancers says, "He wasn't like that until we came here.")

It's an excellent deconstruction of both fairy tale tropes and magical girl tropes, and the characters are very realistic. There's no lack of stock characters -- the lovelorn widow, the show-off who's really awful -- but the handful of characters who matter are well drawn, and they're active, which you'd expect in a story that's all about challenging your fate. Speaking of well drawn, the character designs are perfect.

It's a magical girl show in the vein of Revolutionary Girl Utena, which is also (technically speaking) MG and about revolutionizing the world.

You can buy the complete collection.

03 December 2010

New achievement!

I think I just leveled up.

Longing for a change of scenery, I took my laptop to my favorite local coffee shop this afternoon so I could write and enjoy a steamed coffee-like beverage. (Since I'm still trying the 'no caffeine most days' thing, I went with a cinnamon-chocolate steamer, which was excellent.)

A man came in and started chatting to the people at the table beside him. I kept working and occasionally looked up. Then they left, and he started chatting with me. He asked if I like my Mac, so I talked about how much I like it, and about how much I like Scrivener, because I'm a writer.

Which led to him telling me about how he tried writing a novel once, and he couldn't finish it, and then he said, "I thought I'd just tell a writer my idea."

A complete stranger told me their idea for a novel with the implication I should write about it. That's never happened before. I kind of hope it never happens again...

Though I did meet and exchange cards with another local writer, who's working on a memoir, after she overheard us, so it wasn't a total wash. And I did get some editing done.

24 November 2010

Musing on music

There are a lot of writers out there who make writing soundtracks, character playlists, and that sort of thing. Some days it seems that everyone is doing it but me.

I like music. I like having tunes playing when I'm on a long drive or in the background during a party. Sometimes I get really excited about a new-to-me artist or CD and play it on endless repeat.

But never while I'm working. It's too much of a distraction. I can't focus on creating at the same time I'm consuming. Even back in high school when I was working on papers or any sort of homework that required intense focus (which wasn't a lot of it, really), I couldn't have the radio on.

So I don't really get the whole writing soundtrack and character playlist thing. I'm just not wired that way.

I will, however, fire up iTunes and AirTunes it in to my sewing room, as long as I'm in the putting things together stage, and not the part where I'm calculating how to shorten the pattern to fit my short self and laying it out and tracing it. And if I run into something that's confusing, I turn them off.

Hmm, I have a bunch of sewing I need to do. Pity my sewing room is a bit of a disaster, and the thought of going in and straightening it up makes me want to avoid it forever.

20 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1)

I've been a fan of Harry and his friends since about the time book 3 blew onto the scene. I saw Matthew Lewis (Neville) and the Phelps twins at Dragon*Con (the latter twice), and I spent Release Day reading the books. There were some parts of book 7 (the epilogue, especially) that bothered me, and some of the writing doesn't stand up to critical re-reading (dropped plot points, illogical plot points), but damned if Jo Rowling can't tell a story that makes you turn the pages.

The first two films, mostly light-hearted fare about Harry being introduced to the Wizarding World and Hogwarts, were directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone). The third, Prisoner of Azkaban, was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The beginnings of the menace come into play here, and as such, and with Cuarón's hand, the movie gets a little darker. I liked it a lot better than the first two, quite honestly. The fourth, Goblet of Fire, was directed by Mike Newell, and it continues the darkening trend, as the book did. In GoF, the first actual death occurs, and Harry seems to realize for the first time what the stakes are and that his and his friends' lives are actually in danger.

Since the fifth film, Order of the Phoenix, David Yates has been at the helm. This has improved the consistency in style between the films, which is a good thing. The darkness increases; bad and worse things start to happen, and movie six, Half-Blood Prince, ends with evil prevailing. (I believe a lot of important plot-related things were cut from the movie, most likely in service of time constraints. Occlumency, and Harry's being crap at it, is the main one.)

The Deathly Hallows continues the tendency toward darkness, and Harry knows the stakes. As in the book, he tries to leave without his friends, but they won't let him go by himself.

The crisis at the center of the story should be familiar to anyone who's heard about World War II. Lord Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic (through his minions, of course; he remains hidden) and institutes policies to purify the Wizarding World of "mudbloods" and "Muggle-borns." There are propaganda pamphlets about what to do when Muggles attack, done in a style that will ring bells in a lot of people's minds. I thought that was a very effective choice of design.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend the movie alone, out in the wilds of England, where they don't know if their friends and family are safe. We only see Neville once, and it's on the train to Hogwarts, when the Death Eaters search for Harry, and he stands up, far removed from the timid Neville of book 1, and says, "He's not here." We see Draco a couple of times; the Malfoys are long-standing members of the Death Eaters, though not at present in Voldemort's best graces.

The kids have grown up.

It ends, as you'd expect from a two-part film, on a cliffhanger, one which spells certain doom for our heroes. The second movie, opening in July, will see Harry and co going back to society and fighting in the battle for Hogwarts.

This is entirely selfish of me, I know, but I want to read about Neville Longbottom and his underground, anti-Ministry group at Hogwarts. Neville, who started the series as a dumpy, doughy, timid -- terrified -- kid, developed a lot more confidence over the series, and he became the centerpiece of the anti-Voldemort society. I want to read that. I want to read more about the implications of the police state and the 'blood trials.' Rowling only gives us flashes of those, through Harry's encounters with them. Fair enough that she does; it's her story, her world.

It's an idea I'd love to see explored, even only in fanfiction.

14 November 2010

Anime rec: Victorian Romance Emma

Victorian Romance Emma is an anime based on a manga by Kaoru MORI. Emma is a maid in London in 189X. Her employer is a widow who used to work as a governess for the Jones family. One day, William Jones, the eldest son, comes to visit Mrs. Stowner, and Emma opens the door on him (in a near-slapstick fashion, before he even knocks). They fall for each other, but his family strongly disapproves: they're gentry, she's a maid.

Complicating matters is William's father, who wants him to marry Miss Campbell, the daughter of Baron Campbell.

The anime adaptation follows the manga fairly closely in the first season, which covers two volumes, then makes some changes in the second season, which covers the remaining six volumes. The second season focuses on the obstacles placed in William and Emma's path by the mores of Victorian society, as well as members of that society.

The manga was meticulously researched, and MORI included everything from Mudie's library to the Crystal Palace, and she got the fashions spot on (after the first few chapters).

William has a friend from India, Prince Hakim, whom he met at school, and Hakim has a small troupe of girls who surround him all the time (and are silent). There may be a bit of stereotyping going on here; I'm not familiar enough with Indian culture during the colonial occupation to make that assessment.

Mori doesn't gloss over the rigid class hierarchy in England at the time, but she doesn't get Dickensian on it, either. When Mr. Jones says that he won't allow his son to marry a maid, it's in part because he's just ascended into the Society that includes balls and debutantes and nobility, and he doesn't want William to tarnish his reputation, but also because maids are lower class. But Baron Campbell scorns the Joneses as nouveau riche scum. He can't win, it seems.

The anime runs 26 episodes. Even for anime, this was a very niche title. Nozomi Entertainment licensed and released it in the US. Each season comes with a 100-page booklet on Victoriana and about the characters. The packaging is very nice, and if you look in the extras on disc 1 of season 2, you'll see my name listed as one of the people who supported the release of the second season.

The manga has 9 volumes and was published in the US by CMX. Older volumes are hard to come by on Amazon (they start at $25 for a $10 book). Right Stuf still lists most of the volumes.

08 November 2010

Caffeine free.

Neurologist's orders. Apparently, I have several types of migraine all mixed up together, and caffeine contributes to one of them. So I had to quit cold turkey. My neurologist hath a blog, and he wrote about the link between caffeine and headaches, if you're interested.

But, on the plus side, once I've detoxed completely and I no longer have the sinusy headaches, I can have all the caffeine I can drink two days a week. Good thing, because I have a ton of black and green teas in my cupboard that need to go.

I've been drinking herbal tea in the mornings of late, going through Christmas tea dated 2008 and 2009. Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice is AWESOME. Most likely I was hoarding it for future drinking, which explains why I drank maybe half the box. You can only buy it 3 months of the year! I have a box of Sugar Plum Spice (dated 2009) still in its shrink wrap in the cupboard, which will be the next to go. Maybe tomorrow I'll have some of that.

In related news, I crocheted a cozy for my teapot. I improvised, which means it took me 5 tries before finding a method that worked. My teapot is a non-standard size, not round, but more UFO-shaped (an older model of this one, I think), so the half dozen patterns I saw on Ravelry wouldn't quite work.

Pattern for a tea cozy:
ca 100 g worsted weight, size H hook

Ch 6, sl st to form ring.
DC 12 in ring. sl st to close. ch2
2dc in each dc (ch2 counts as 1dc) sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 2 2dc in next dc* around ring. sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 3 2dc in next dc* around ring. sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 4 2dc in next dc* around ring. sl st to join. ch 2.
*dc 5 2dc in next dc* around ring. DO NOT JOIN. This is the spout. ch 2.
*dc 6 2dc in next dc* to approximate midpoint (leave space for handle). ch 2, turn.
*dc 5 dc2tog* to split. ch 2, turn.
*dc 4 dc2tog* to handle space. ch 2, turn.
*dc 3 dc2tog* to split. ch 2, turn.
*dc 2 dc2tog* to handle. ch 2, turn.
*dc 1 dc2tog* to split. Fasten off.
Tie on at opposite side of split. *dc 6 2dc in next dc* to handle space. ch 2, turn.
*dc 5 dc2tog* to split. ch 10. (this will be the strap) ch2, turn.
dc 10 in chain. *dc 4 dc2tog* to handle. ch 2, turn.
*dc 3 dc2tog* to strap, dc 10. ch 2, turn.
dc 2, ch 1 skip next dc, dc 7 (to make buttonhole). *dc 2 dc2tog* to handle. ch 2, turn.
*dc 1 dc2tog* to strap (may dc first 2 stitches tog for aesthetics), dc to end. ch 1, turn.
sc in each dc. at handle, ch 2 (or number of stitches left open for the handle) continue around.
Crochet (or purchase) a button and fasten it in the appropriate position.
Wash, block dry on teapot.

It should look something like this (handle shot) when you're finished.

06 November 2010

Bull Spec: a spec-fic magazine based out of Durham

There's a vibrant little spec fic community here in the Triangle, and Sam Montgomery-Blinn, the founder and editor of Bull Spec is tapping into it. He's also making an effort to publicize spec-fic-related events here in the Triangle, to bring the community together.

I just got back from the launch party for issue 3, over at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, where David Drake read a excerpt from the book he just turned in (a sequel to The Legions of Fire), Melinda Thielbar read from her story in issue 3 (a clever piece looking at the hyperprevalence of technology and its effects), and a pair of comics guys did a Mad-Libs-improv comic book, in which a superhero named Dwight saved his librarian/Scrabble champion girl from the evil Coach K. (That's Coach Krzyzewski, of Duke b-ball, for those of you not immersed, voluntarily or not, in the local rivalry.)

Then there was a Q&A, and some time to interact with people. I had a chance to talk with David Drake a bit, and let him know that despite not being the target audience for his Hammers Slammers stories and his having warned me off them, I read them anyway and liked them. I was looking for more realistic military SF, and they're certainly that. Then he recommended me his space opera series, which I'll look into once either I have money again or my to read stack is less terrifying.

I had a chance to chat with other local writers, some of whom I met at Mark VanName's reading the other week, and we'll be seeing each other again at the NC writers' night next week. Many thanks to Sam for all his efforts in rounding up the events and publicizing them to everyone he knows about!

(I'm watching the second half of an anime that I want to write a rec post on soon. Spoilers: it's not science fiction. Shocking, I know.)

28 October 2010

Show homophobia the red card.

I'm a fan of association football, and I'm an advocate for LGBT rights. There's a brand new campaign to promote awareness of homophobia in football and to kick it out of the game: Red Card Homophobia.

It started out over in livejournal, but they also have tumblr, facebook, and twitter accounts, and a forum.

Anyway, all this to say that I wrote a piece over there on football culture and homophobia. Go have a read!

19 October 2010

Anime rec: Patlabor

Part two in a potentially-ongoing series.

Patlabor is a franchise about a misfit band of cops assigned to robot crimes. It's a giant robot show for people who hate giant robot shows.

In the vaguely near future (or recent past, as it's nominally set in 1998), giant robots (called "labors") are developed for use in construction. Naturally, people being people, criminals get the bright idea to use them to commit crimes. The Special Vehicles Units are born to fight these crimes, using patrol labors -- Patlabor.

Mamoru OSHII and Headgear have their fingerprints all over the series; if those names mean anything to you, you know they mean awesome.

There exist several series, from the original OVAs, to a TV show, to a second set of OVAs, and three movies. Sadly, they're mostly out of print in the US. (Right Stuf has the movies and TV series right now, but not OVA2.)

Of course the one I'm going to talk about is OVA2, aka The New Files. Wikipedia is utterly useless on this score (which goes to show just how underappreciated this series is), so this fan site will do. Warning, warning: there be episode summaries and, naturally, SPOILERS.

Our heroine, IZUMI Noa, is a new recruit to the SV2, who really digs giant robots. She nicknames her labor "Alphonse" and spends evenings polishing him. Her support driver, SHINOHARA Asuma, is a semi-outcast heir of a major labor manufacturing company.

There's also Captain GOTOH, whose dry, sardonic wit is unparalleled, OHTA, another labor driver, who prefers to shoot first and question witnesses later, Kanuka Clancy, on loan from the NYPD, and NAGUMO Shinobu, head of the SV1 and Gotoh's rival of sorts.

The SV2 is the red-headed stepchild of Tokyo PD, and brass think they're a waste of money.

Two episodes stand out in my mind: Episode 7, "Black Trinity," and 8, "Seven Days of Fire."

In "Black Trinity," our heroes have to find a yakuza (mobster) with three moles under his arm. Because of circumstances, they do this in a public bath, which happens to be frequented by yakuza. The scene in which they attempt to surreptitiously sneak peeks under yakuza armpits is comedy gold. Added bonuses for anime nerds include references to Golgo 13, Hokuto no Ken, and original Gundam.

In "Seven Days of Fire," we focus on the mechanics, who are stuck fixing the wrecked labors time and time again. Except they don't want so much with the fixing, because the chief mechanic found their porn stash and burned it, so they're on strike.

So why is this a mecha show for people who hate mecha shows? One of the things people hate about mecha shows is that they're basically ads for the robot model kits Bandai is putting out, with lots of flash and fighting and politicking, but not so much character development or interaction. [This applies to a lot of mecha shows, but more recent ones are better with the character thing. Thankfully.]

Patlabor isn't like that. There aren't epic space battles, double- or triple-crossing anti-heroes, or new robots introduced to sell more toys. It's about the people, the SV2, and how they interact. Yes, there are robot fight scenes; they're cops. They go hunting bad guys in their giant robots. But it's still, at root, about Noa and Asuma and Gotoh and Ohta and Clancy and how they deal with brass that wants to cut their entire unit.

It's a fun show, and one that too few people have seen on this side of the Pacific. Unfortunately, with it being out of print, I don't see that situation changing very soon.

10 October 2010

World Beer Festival 2010

This year I went in with a crazy new plan: not tasting any beer I already know I like. I have to save up, right? There's only so much beer a gal can drink.

brewery, name of beer, style, description from program book, rating, notes.

Abbaye de Leffe: Leffe Blonde, Belgian pale ale. "smooth and fruity with a spicy aftertaste of bitter orange." 5. Very smooth, refreshing, akin to a Belgian white.

Abita Brewing Co.: Andygator, helles doppelbock. "dry finish with a slightly sweet flavor and subtle fruit aroma." 3. It's doppelbocky, but somehow odd.

Atwater Block Brewery: Vanilla Java Porter, robust porter. "made with chocolate malt, blended with vanilla and Java coffee beans." 4. As advertised, there's vanilla and coffee flavor. Kind of like drinking espresso with a shot of vanilla.

Aviator Brewing Co. Didn't get to try the Devil's Tramping Ground tripel because they were out. The brewery's just over in Fuquay (pronounced few-kway), so I could go try it there.

B. Nektar Meadery: a) Vanilla cinnamon mead, "light clover honey, then aged on American oak with whole vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks." 4+. I love cinnamon, and I love vanilla. This is awesome.
b) Orange blossom mead, made with orange blossom honey. 3. Kind of like orange flower water.
c) Wildberry pyment. "made with shiraz grapes, clover honey, and natural strawberry, blueberry, and blackberry flavor." 2. The wine grapes are what did this in for me. Tasted like wine, yuck.

Brasserie Lefebvre: Blanche de Bruxelles, Witbier. 5. If you like Hoegaarden, you'll like this. Very refreshing and balanced.

Breckenridge Brewery: Agave Wheat, fruit beer. "American style unfiltered wheat ... [with] Salmana Agave." 4. The fruity flavor was a bit odd, but it was still drinkable. I think I like their Vanilla Porter better.

Deschutes Brewery: Black Butte Porter. "slight hop bitterness up front enhances the distinctive chocolate and roasted finish." 2. I think I'm figuring out what I don't like in some porters, and it seems to be ones that have more hops in them.

Foothills Brewing: People's Porter. English-style robust porter. "Firm unsweetened chocolate flavor with moderate notes of caramel and toffee, an herbal hop bitterness up front." 2. See above re hoppy porters. The label art is a socialist realism homage.

Heavy Seas Beer: Yule Tide 2009. Belgian Tripel. "slightly sweet with a complex malty flavor." 4. For a tripel, it wasn't too heavy.

Huske Hardware House Brewing Co.: Sledgehammer Stout. "An imperial oatcreme stout ... finished with lactose for extra body." 3. I think this was more like a porter than I prefer.

North Coast Brewing Co.: Brother Thelonius, Belgian dark strong ale. 3. I don't remember much about this one. It was heavy. The label art depicts Thelonius Monk.

Roth Brewing: a) FoeHammer, Barleywine. "well-hopped, heavily-bodied beer ... sports hints of toffee and apricot." 2. I'm not a fan of barleywine in general. The crew wore plastic Viking hats.
b) Forgotten Hollow, cinnamon porter. I didn't try this at the festival, but I had it at the Flying Saucer the other week. 4. It's got a huge cinnamon flavor. If that appeals to you, give it a try.

Samuel Smith: Taddy Porter. "very dark porter, fairly full in body." 4. This is most of the way to a stout.

St Martin: St Martin Brune, Belgian strong ale. "Sweet caramel flavor, some molasses and fruit with Belgian spice notes." 3. I had a sip of Ben's, but I don't remember much about it.

Starr Hill Brewery: Dark Starr Stout. Dry stout. "pours like velvet and drinks like a slice of grandma's pumpernickel bread." 2. Too bitter.

Thomas Creek Brewery: Dirty Monk. Belgian porter. Not listed in the program. 2. Too hoppy.

Top of the Hill: Old Well White. 4. It's not Hoegaarden, but it'll do. [For those not in the know, TOPO is in Chapel Hill, and their beers are all named for local/University landmarks and people.]

Triangle Brewing Co.: Belgian-style Golden Ale. "complex mouthfeel, strong malt flavors, spicy hop presence and soothing alcohol warmth." 3. I think I prefer their white ale.

Unibroue Brewery: Maudite. Belgian dark strong ale. "aroma of wild spices and floral hop notes. It is spicy vinous, and deliciously complex." 4-. This was an end of the evening try. I think it was OK.

Weeping Radish: Peachy Keen, Kölsch. This wasn't listed in the program book, but the brewer told me it was a Kölsch with peach essence. I don't like the Kölsch style, but this was OK: very fruity. 4. [I wanted to try Black Radish, but they didn't have it.]

Weyerbacher Brewing Co.: Merry Monks. Belgian tripel. 4.

I look forward to next year!

02 October 2010

An artist who's on my wavelength

One of the things I love about Berlin is its history. When I walk through the streets, it's almost like I can feel the people who came before, or imagine the buildings that were there a hundred years ago but aren't anymore.

Russian artist Sergey Larenkov takes recent photographs of cities (Moscow, Berlin, Kiev, among others) and matches them up with historical photographs (mainly from WW2), then puts them together, so you have modern-day Muscovites walking down the street past a gun emplacement or the Reichstag simultaneously whole and under attack.

It's like he read my mind.

28 September 2010

Cool Triangle spots: Big Boss taproom

As I may have mentioned, I'm a fan of craft beer. (That's what we're calling microbrews these days, because not all craft beers are technically microbrews.) I'm fortunate to live in an area where there are easily a dozen craft breweries within an hour or two's drive from my house.

Big Boss Brewing is located over in Raleigh, near 440 and Capital Blvd. Their beer selections include Hell's Belle (a Belgian blond), Angry Angel (a Kölsch), Bad Penny (a brown ale), and rotating seasonals like Harvest Time pumpkin ale and Aces and Ates coffee stout.

Ben's birthday was last week, and he wanted to go have a couple beers at the taproom with some friends. So we did.

Finding the brewery for the first time, in the dark, was not so easy. It's in a dark parking lot on a poorly-lit street in an industrial(ish) neighborhood. The sign isn't prominent at all, and Ben only found it by the neon "OPEN" sign in an upper window.

There is outdoor seating (for the smokers). Inside the door is the brewery off to the left, and the taproom is up a flight of stairs. It's not a huge place. There's half a dozen seats at the bar and several smaller rooms off the various hallways. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it used to be an office of some sort. One room has darts, another a pool table.

The wall decor has a WW2-era theme to it, with miniature fuselage, some with kill counts on them.

We occupied one of the smaller rooms. It had two couches facing each other with a low table in the middle. The overhead light was two fluorescent bulbs, one of which flickered, so we left it off and chatted by the light of the lamp on the table (and the neon sign, once we opened the blinds).

We got in pretty early, around 8 pm, and it wasn't busy at all. When we left close to midnight, it was hopping: people were playing darts, there were several pool games going on, and the outdoor seating had multiple people with pitchers. The music never felt too loud, though whether that was because we were in a side room, I don't know.

I plan to make it to one of their brewery tours (the second Saturday of the month). October is out because of the World Beer Festival, but maybe November.

In summary: Big Boss taproom is a nice, gemütlicher place to chat with friends while drinking beer brewed just downstairs.

21 September 2010

Anime rec: PLANETES

Over on twitter, an exchange with Don inspired me to start a potential series on anime recs. There's always a chance I'll lose interest, or get distracted, but here's a good start.

PLANETES is a near-future SF tale about garbage collectors in space. Stick with me if you think that sounds boring.

The anime was made in 2003, and it was based on a series of manga that came out several years beforehand. The seed idea is the Kessler syndrome: space debris colliding with each other can make a huge amount more of space debris. It's relevant now, even. Space junk could disrupt communications networks. Just a year and a half ago, a US comsat was destroyed in a collision with a Russian satellite. New Scientist published a piece on space junk potentially cutting us off from space.

The story opens in 2075, and there's a settlement on the moon. That means there's a lot of shuttle traffic between Earth and the moon. A tiny piece of space junk can rupture the hull of a spacecraft, and that's what our intrepid misfit heroes try to prevent.

Newcomer Ai Tanabe joins the crew of the Toy Box, where she meets Hachimaki, Fee Carmichael, and Yuri Mihailkov. The story follows her integration into the team, and her training in EVA manouevres. Hachimaki wants to join the mission to Jupiter, but debris collection isn't very prestigious, so he has to fight for it.

There's also politics, both terrorist plots and interpersonal/company politics. The wikipedia entry has full details, with spoilers in the "plot summary" section, and episode summaries.

Planetes has been compared to Patlabor (another great series I should write about), as a band of misfits trying to do their jobs while being low team on the ladder. It's full of humor and dramatic tension in good proportions. The budding romance between Hachimaki and Tanabe is done realistically and well.

One episode focuses on Fee's need to have a smoke. On the space habitats, there are designated smoking enclosures, with extra filters, etc, so the life support systems don't get gunked up. She goes from enclosure to enclosure, only to find that they're closed. The reason they're closed is the Space Defense Front's attacks. The thread of Fee's frustration is woven skillfully through the larger political issue.

It's a great show, and one that I don't think has gotten enough recognition in the US.

17 September 2010

Book review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. 2010.

I finished this book on Wednesday, but I've been trying to figure out what to say other than "OMG you guys, go buy this book right now!" (Which you should do, really.)

This is Kowal's debut novel, though it's not her first published work.

The idea behind the novel is this: What if Jane Austen had lived in a world where magic was real? What sort of novel would she have written? Then Kowal set out to do just that.

There's a main character, Miss Jane Ellsworth, aged 28, plain, and unwed. She has a younger sister, Melody, aged 18, who is beautiful. Jane has a great talent for glamour (the magical art, which is considered one of the arts a lady should learn, like painting, playing piano, and French), but Melody does not. Mr. Ellsworth is a delight - he loves his daughters, but he has no patience for nonsense (like fainting from nerves).

Their neighbor, Lady FitzCameron, hires an artist to make a glamural (a wall painting suffused with glamour). Jane sees it, while in progress, and she looks at the etheric folds that create it, and inadvertently offends the creator, Mr. Vincent.

Their other neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, receives his sister for a visit, and she and Jane become fast friends. Melody and Jane both find him attractive, and there is no lack of sibling rivalry there.

Of course, not all goes perfectly, and there's a bit of Drama, but all ends well. It's a romance, you see.

Her writing is consciously Austen-esque. Kowal said she would write a chapter, then read a chapter of Austen, to get a feel for it. I'm not a connoisseur of Austen's work, but I think she did a good job of it. (I can compare her style to Heyer's, and I find Kowal's more lovely, where Heyer's is somewhat over the top.) It also reminds me a bit of Swordspoint in the prose style.

In conclusion: if you like Jane Austen; if you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (or even if you thought it was a bit long and dragged a bit, but you like the idea of the Regency + magic); if you like Georgette Heyer, go out and buy Shades of Milk and Honey right now. You won't regret it.

14 September 2010

Book review: Children No More

Children No More, Mark L. VanName. 2010.

I bought a copy of this book at NASFIC, after hearing that Mark is donating all proceeds from this novel to Falling Whistles, an NGO working to rehabilitate child soldiers in Congo. (It turns out Mark lives somewhere around here, actually. There are a lot of writers in these parts.)

The story is about a freelance/retired mercenary named Jon and his ship, whose AI is named Lobo. They're contracted by a former coworker named Alissa Lim to help rescue a group of children who have been pressed into combat. Jon was himself a child soldier, and he takes the mission for personal reasons.

This book is not happy fun times. The opening chapters depict the rebel forces training the boys to be killers. There is a lot of unpleasantness, depicted unflinchingly. However: the ending, which I won't spoil, is worth every flinch, every gut punch. There are moments of levity (Lobo is sarcastic as hell) throughout, and it's not unrelentingly bleak. There's a strong thread of hope: Jon's hope for the boys, Jon's hope for himself.

The main thing that bothered me was that Lim was portrayed as losing her temper easily. She's the only major female character (there's another one, but she's fairly secondary and one of the counselors in the rehab camp; well, there's also Maggie, who's a love interest for Jon), so there's not really a counterpoint for "wimmin: they're so emotional, amirite?" Now, it's true that Jon isn't as in control over his emotions as he likes to think he is, at least regarding certain things, but here's the thing. When Jon loses his control, good things happen. When Lim loses her control, bad things happen. It seems minor, but when this is viewed alongside every other story with the same stereotyped characterizations, it's just another brick in the wall of oppositional sexism, dividing Men from Women as mutually exclusive groups.

(Note: I don't believe that Mark had sexist intentions when writing this book, or creating Lim's character. I'm also not calling him a sexist. I'm commenting on the existing sexist tropes in American culture, which surround us so much that we don't even know they're there.)

In the end, it's a tale of humanity. It's a tale of overcoming horrors and moving on with your life, even if the horrors come back to haunt you now and again.

Strongly recommended.

13 September 2010

(association) FOOTBALL!

As you may know, I'm a football (soccer) fan. Between June 12 and July 13, I watched close to 60 football matches, mostly in Spanish (on Univision, low-def). I own a jersey for the German national team (2006) and covet a 2010 away jersey in gorgeous black.

The Bundesliga's just starting up again, 3 match days into their 34-match season. I had to decide which team to follow. This was difficult. In years past, it's been more of a peripheral attention I've paid, because US news sites don't really cover German football, and it was hard to keep track. But now there are blogs and livejournal communities and twitterfeeds, and all sorts of things that are made possible with the internet.

Anyway. I don't live in Germany, much to my dismay. If I did, I'd live in Berlin, so picking a Berlin team is only natural, right? Hertha BSC was relegated to the 2nd league after a disastrous 2009/10 season, and who cares about the 2. BuLi, right? But Berlin is the home of my heart, so Hertha is the team of my heart. And they're in 3rd place in the 2nd league right now, having won all three of their games so far (ties in points are decided on goal differential, and they're 3rd on that.) So maybe they'll be back in the 1st league in 2011!

So I looked for a 1. BuLi team. There are some players from the national team whom I really like watching play, so I checked out their teams. Mesut Özil was bought by Real Madrid, so that took away my main reason for interest in Werder Bremen. As much as I like Müller, Klose, Schweinsteiger, et al, there's no way in hell I'm rooting for FC Bayern. It's like rooting for the Yankees (if you're not from New York or don't have a long-standing family tradition).

Then there's the lovely center-back Arne Friedrich, who used to play at Hertha, but moved to Wolfsburg after they were relegated. Then he slipped a disc in practice and had to get surgery, so he *still* hasn't played this season. :P

I don't like deciding on something without seeing how they play, so I watched a few Wolfsburg matches, and I tried watching a Werder match, but I couldn't get into it. And, despite the fact that the Wolves have lost all three of their matches so far (one of which went from a comfortable 3:1 at half time to 3:4 at the end), I still like them. When they actually work together, they look good. And we're doing better than Schalke (though only on goal differential...) The defense keeps falling down on the job, though. (Hopefully that'll change when Arne's deemed fit to play again.)

It's weird to sit down and consciously decide which team to support. It's not like anyone in my family has a favorite team in the German Football League; they're all American Football fans, if they follow sports at all.

I really need to time my next trip to Germany to include a live Bundesliga match. Tickets aren't too unreasonably priced.

12 September 2010

Dragon*Con

So, despite my mystery ailment rearing its head, I made it to Dragon*Con. Unfortunately, the antibiotic I was on at the time (Levaquin) made me really sick, so I spent a lot of time in my room, sleeping (and one morning in the ER and another in an urgent care clinic, where they took me off Levaquin).

The theory, which is a good one, is that I have a lingering sinus infection (possibly from the cold I got in Berlin) that flares up and gives me nasty post-nasal drip, which gets into my stomach and gives me GERD-like symptoms. While I was taking the z-pak (what I was switched to), I felt better, but in the last few days, my sinuses have felt worse, so I'm going to call my PCP (again) and ask if she thinks I should do another round of antibiotics, because the first one did OK but didn't eradicate the bastards. Persistent cusses.

Anyway, my dear Ben read my story for me in the RFR (because I was sleeping in my room). I made it to things on Sunday, including a great Q&A with James & Oliver Phelps (the Weasley twins), but I was too tired to do much else, and nothing after 10 pm.

I sure hope this whole mess is just from a sinus infection and that another round of antibiotics kills them dead and I never have to deal with this random nausea nonsense again.

31 August 2010

Accursed mystery ailment

Since the end of June, I've been dealing with periodic nausea. It resulted in leaving for ReaderCon later than planned and missing half of NASFiC because I was in the hospital.

Because the universe finds it amusing, I woke up with nausea this morning. This does not bode well for driving to Atlanta, but we'll see. We're not scheduled to leave until Thursday around 10 am. Today my anti-nausea drugs had kicked in by then, so with any luck they'll work tomorrow and the rest of the week. (With even more luck, I won't wake up sick again. That's a lot more luck than has been on my side lately. I was hoping that I'd have a 3-week respite again, like the one I had for most of July. No such luck.)

For the curious, I've been to my GP, a gastroenterologist, a GYN, and the ER/hospital. I've been tested for food allergies, celiac disease, pregnancy, gallstones, pelvic cysts, parasites, and bacteria. I've had ultrasounds of my gallbladder and pelvis, and an upper endoscopy. The only test that showed any abnormalities was the endo, wherein my GI doc found a polyp, which she sent off for biopsy. Results may be in tomorrow, or early next week, depending on how complicated it is.

If I have to skip D*C, I'll be sure to post here, on facebook, and anywhere else I can think of.

30 August 2010

Official site live!

My friend Tammy did all the hard work, and I'm grateful that she's got an eye for design (I don't!)

Point your browsers to CD Covington.com and have a look.

I'm not abandoning my blog, don't you worry :)

28 August 2010

I got a smartphone.

I got a Samsung Propel in February 2008. It's not a bad phone, really. I got a data plan on it, and Ben and I split unlimited text messaging. At the time, I was looking at a smartphone of some sort, Blackberries mostly, but the data plans for them were sort of insane, so I went with the 3G phone.

I got a bug about researching Android phones a couple weeks ago, and I looked into the ones from AT&T (since they're my carrier). The only Android phone that got good reviews was the newest one, a Samsung Captivate. (I wish mobile phones didn't have such ridiculous names.)

In the course of my errand-running yesterday, I stopped by the AT&T store to try one out, because all the reading on the internet isn't going to let you know what it feels like in your hands. So I asked at the counter when I was eligible to upgrade, expecting the answer to be December or January. I was already eligible. So I got one.

I like it well enough so far, and I've spent way too much time futzing around with it since yesterday afternoon. I've barely had the thing 24 hours and I've already installed 2 beer-related apps and one that has a live text feed of Bundesliga matches. (Plus facebook and twitter.) And rearranged the icons a bit and sorted things out.

Nifty things:
Haptic feedback (it vibrates) on keypresses, because it's a touchscreen and some people like that. I'll probably try it without the feedback and see how I feel. I kind of like the feedback right now.
Swype. You can drag your finger from key to key on the keyboard and it guesses the word, even if you bugger it up. If there are multiple options, you can select from a box. It guessed "endoscopy" correctly, even when I inverted several letters.
AMOLED display. It's a really fancy LED screen that's wicked bright. There's an option to set your brightness, or to let it sense the ambient light and optimize the display. (This is also a power-saving feature.)
Puzzle lock. If you get a text message (or miss a call), when you go to unlock your phone, there's a puzzle piece out of place, and you drag it over to the hole, and it takes you to the message. It's gimmicky, yes, but it's also nifty.
Seamless integration with google accounts. I have all my gmail contacts, my gcal, my picasaweb, and gchat on my phone. I would expect nothing less from a phone running an operating system written by google.
Built-in wifi. When I'm at home (or in a location with open wifi), I can use that instead of my data plan. This is one of the reasons I went with the 200 MB data plan rather than the 2GB.
The phone looks really nice. It's got a big 4" screen and doesn't weigh any more than my Propel. (A downside of this is that it's too big to fit in the cell phone purse I have; but it's the perfect size for my camera.)

Annoyances:
One of the reviews I read mentioned that the design feature of a curved top makes it hard to reach the mini-USB input (aka power cord slot). No shit on that one. I had trouble getting the power cord it came with to stay plugged in so it could charge overnight.
It made me realize how much information of mine Google has. (Annoyance? Kind of.)
A lot of the reviewers talked about the look of the GUI (user interface) and how they hated it; I kind of like it. The UI designers were obviously going for the iPhone look; whether this is a feature or a bug depends on the user in question.

All in all, so far, I like my phone. I'll be signing up for the Boingo Mobile soon, because they have a hotspot at the Marriott in Atlanta, where I'm staying for Dragon*Con. (The Marriott charges $12.95/day for internet access. The math is obvious.)

27 August 2010

Interview: Outer Alliance Spotlight

Retro Spec (specifically editor Karen Romanko, fellow contributor Leonard Richardson, and I) was featured in the Outer Alliance spotlight this week.

Have a read! (And thanks, Julia!)

26 August 2010

Reading at Dragon*Con

I'm participating in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, which will be on Saturday, September 4, at 11:30 am in one of the lit track rooms. I'll be reading from "U8: Alexanderplatz (1989)".

If you're at the con, stop by and have a listen!

18 August 2010

Retro Spec is available!

In my inbox this evening was a great little piece of news: Amazon and B&N have Retro Spec available for purchase!

You can get a copy at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Book review: A Woman's Liberation

A Woman's Liberation, eds Connie Willis and Sheila Williams, 2001.

This is a collection of short stories reprinted from Asimov's and Analog, where Williams was an editor (at the time; possibly still). All the authors are female, and the main characters are all female. It's a collection of stories of "futures by and about women," as the book's subtitle declares.

(Note to anyone who thinks it's so hard to make a TOC in an anthology not composed 100% of men: you're not looking hard enough.)

Willis' story "Even the Queen" is a hilarious look at the politics of menstruation. S.N. Dyer's "The July Ward" is a haunting tale of a doctor's day on a neuro ward (though it barely counts as speculative, IMO; it's still quite good). The piece that lent its title to and inspired the anthology, Ursula LeGuin's "A Woman's Liberation," is a story about freedom (literally; the POV character was born a slave).

There are stories of loss: "The Kidnapping of Baroness 5" by Katherine MacLean is about loss of collective memory (thanks to prions), and Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds" is about the loss of verbal communication. "The Ship who Mourned," by Anne McCaffrey, is also about loss.

The other stories are also good, but harder to summarize. "Fool's Errand" by Sarah Zettel is about saving the universe from rampant AIs; "Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy is about a chimpanzee imprinted with a human teen's personality; "Inertia" by Nancy Kress is about people isolated in camps because they had a communicable, non-fatal disease; "Of Mist, Grass, and Sand" by Vonda McIntyre is about a woman who heals people with snakes.

I highly recommend this anthology to everyone, especially anyone whose bookshelves are populated with mostly male names.

17 August 2010

Book review: Total Oblivion, more or less

Total Oblivion, More or Less, Alan DeNiro. 1st ed, 2010.

I picked this up at ReaderCon, while I was looking for Ellen Kushner's chapbook "The Man with the Knives." Alan was working at the Small Beer table, so we chatted briefly, and he signed my copy. He's a nice chap.

The story begins with a teenaged girl in Minnesota whose world changes completely overnight. Technology stops working, and armed barbarians (Scythians, for example) invade. She and her family travel down the Mississippi in search of a new life (or at least a safe place to live), and they encounter villains and ad execs and a strange plague that involves wasps.

The story is billed as humorous, though it's a very dark sort of humor in most of it. It keeps the story from being overwhelmingly bleak, through the sheer absurdity of things Macy and her family encounter.

I liked the way DeNiro told the story: it's mostly in first person (Macy's POV), but there are short mini-chapters between the regular chapters, which are things like pamphlets, news bulletins, and background info told in third person. To fill the reader in on things Macy has no reason to know and give hints of what's coming up.

I enjoyed the book. If you like the idea of an absurdist apocalypse, this book is for you.

08 August 2010

Crisis managed (for now)

I spent about 24 hours at UNC hospital, where I got 3.5 liters of IV fluids (thanks to not having eaten for most of a week and having, shall we say, digestive issues) and some drugs to treat the symptoms. They kicked me out yesterday evening, because there's no reason to keep me there, since I was rehydrated and they don't need to keep me there to wait for test results. Hospitals are loud and full of germs. But they still don't know the root cause, so I'm going to the GI specialist in 2 weeks. Hopefully she'll have an idea.

The fabulous Julia read my story for me in the RFR Friday night, while I was stuck in the ER with 2 bags of normal saline dripping into my arm. She said people liked it, and that makes me happy.

I went back to the con today, attended a panel, then hung out with Natania and Julia for a while, and Lee Martindale was outside for some fresh air, so she joined us. It was a nice chat, ranging from GLBT rights issues to feminism and writing and what books we'd read recently and writing and stuff.

But I'm home and fixed up, temporarily, at least. I'm starting to get my appetite back, even.

06 August 2010

NASFIC: Change of plans

I'm going to the hospital instead. I haven't eaten in a week, and a diet of clear liquids hasn't helped.

I hope they can figure out what's wrong with me. I'm tired of being sick. Hopefully this'll fix it in time for Dragon*Con.

29 July 2010

NASFiC/ReConStruction panels!

I'm going to be on several panels at NASFiC next week. Here's a tentative list:

Thursday 8/5
1:00 pm LIT108: Harry Potter retrospective. Now that it’s over, was it as good as we thought?

Friday 8/6
10:00 am LIT009: Fifty years ago today. A retrospective of SF/F in 1960. I may try to swap this one for something I actually know about.

4:00 pm LIT008: Rural settings in SF/F. Typically rural areas appear in Fantasy and cities in SF. What does this say about the two genres? Or is this generalization even true? I have no strong feelings on this subject. I will, however, gladly blather at length on it.

8:00 pm CON006: Broad Universe rapid fire reading. I'll be reading approximately the first half of "U8" and probably an excerpt from my in-progress short story, currently titled "Valkyrie One." (Other Broads will be reading as well.)

See you there?

24 July 2010

Book review: The White Road

The White Road by Lynn Flewelling, 1st ed 2010.

The White Road picks up where Shadows Return left off, so you'll be extremely lost if you didn't read SR. You know all those questions left dangling all tantalizingly at the end of SR (and alluded to throughout the first 3 Nightrunner books), like "what on earth is a rhekaro?" and "why did the Hazadrielfaie fuck off to the mountains of the north, anyway?"? They're answered very satisfyingly, yet there are enough threads left dangling for further sequels: Phoria is still at war, and still hates the wizards of the Oreska, and distrusts Nysander's Watchers.

Alec and Seregil are dealing with the fallout of the Plenimaran plot that got Alec captured and resulted in Sebrahn's existence. They retreat to Aurenen for a while, where Seregil's nemesis Ulan of Viresse plots against them. They decide to go back to Plenimar to retrieve the book that Yhakobin used to create Sebrahn, to attempt to destroy it, or at least get it out of enemy hands.

Meanwhile, the Hazadrielfaie set out to destroy Alec and Sebrahn, because they exist and they should not.

I admit, I got really bored of all of Alec's "mothering" instincts toward Sebrahn. That whole subplot did nothing for me, even if Sebrahn himself started to grow on me. Aside from that, I loved the book. A lot of the scenes in Aurenen were very poignant, especially the scenes with Seregil and his family. Then the action started, and I didn't want to put it down.

I recommend this book if you've ever read Flewelling's other works and enjoyed them (even if you didn't like SR very much because of Sebrahn). If you haven't read her other works (and you like fantasy), go pick them up!

19 July 2010

Ghost stations of Berlin

I am a child of the 1980s, and as such, the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union happened around the time I came into political awareness. It's only to be expected that something of that magnitude would have influenced me a lot.

I've been to Berlin 3 times now. Once for 3 days in 1997, once for a week at Christmas 2007, and most recently May 2010. At Christmas 2007, I learned about a consequence of the Berlin Wall that I'd never heard of before: Geisterbahnhöfe: ghost stations.

The public transit system in Berlin was started in the 1890s, and the rail system several decades before that. So when SED-president Walter Ulbricht built the wall (which he rather famously denied plans for), the two subway lines and one street-train line that crossed from West to East to West were closed down, and no one could get on or off at those stations. (With exceptions: at Friedrichstrasse there was a border station, where the West Germans could pay a fee and visit family in the East.)

Berlin wasn't divided in half on a north-south line. The Soviet sector encompassed a certain set of districts, and Mitte, where the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz are located, bulged out a bit into the west.

The Soviet/SED leadership called the wall an "anti-fascist protection wall," a fine bit of doublespeak: while they claimed to want to keep the "fascists" in the West out, they really wanted to keep the East Germans in. And, of course, someone could hop onto a train at, say, Alexanderplatz, and get out in the West and never look back. So, of course, they walled off the entrances and stationed border police inside, to prevent people from escaping through the rail tunnels.

Of course, people tried, and some were almost successful. People also built tunnels under the Wall, usually from a starting point in the west (in somebody's basement, frequently), but they were also discovered eventually.

Then in 1989 and 1990, these stations that had been abandoned for close to thirty years were in terrible disrepair, and it took years to reopen them all.

When I learned about the ghost stations, I knew I had to write a story about that. It took a while to find it, but I finally did. "U8: Alexanderplatz (1989)" is the result.

13 July 2010

Back from ReaderCon

Thanks to an offhand comment on Twitter, Jaym Gates and I decided a roadtrip from Raleigh-Durham up to Burlington, MA (northwest Boston) for ReaderCon would be a good idea. Having done it now, and spent about 30 hours in the car round-trip, I have to say it's nowhere near as good an idea as one would think. But it was a fun trip, mostly because of the company. Next year, though, I'm flying.

I attended a handful of panels, which were all interesting. I was sad to miss the Great War Geeks Unite! panel, because the World Cup third place match was on, and Germany was playing. (Stupid Spain.) Though in the 15 minutes I was there, I heard some great book recs and wrote them down. I'm not yet a full-fledged Great War geek, but I'm working on it. (I started reading Stone's World War One: a short history recently; while it's impossible to go into great depth in a 200-page book, it seems so far to be a good overview for anyone who wants to fill in the gaps their high school education left.)

The weird thing I think about it was that I went to the bar to hang with Jaym, and she was hanging with some people, one of whom I later found out is the editor of Realms of Fantasy. Um. (He's a pretty good nerdcore rapper, actually.) And I got a hug from the assistant editor of Lightspeed. It's apparently that sort of con. Which is awesome, in both senses of the word.

I read from "U8: Alexanderplatz (1989)" at the Broad Universe RFR, and I got a lot of compliments on it. I had my Germany jersey on (it was game day!), so I was pretty recognizable, and a couple people came up to me later in the day. I also had a report that someone went to the BU book table and asked specifically about the book I was in! (It isn't out yet, sadly.) So I'm sort of chuffed about that.

I volunteered 8 hours at the con, so I get a free 2011 membership. It's a pretty good way to spend time and meet people, especially if you have a lot of free time between panels you're interested in.

Then after the con, I went with Jaym to have dinner at Bart Leib's house. (Kay was out of town.) They're the co-editors of Crossed Genres. (And they have two adorable kitties!) I met some other fannish folks there, and we may meet up at either NASFIC or Dragon*Con.

All in all, it was a good con, and I look forward to going back next year. By airplane, thank you very much. Hopefully I'll have a different published story to read from!

01 July 2010

What am I doing?

- I'm writing a short story about women in the military. I'm hoping to have a first draft in the next week or so.

- The notes I've received on Iron and Rust are percolating in the back of my mind. I've only gotten one set back so far, and I'm waiting on two more. Once I get the others, there'll be more for my brain to gnaw on while I work on other things.

- I'm going to ReaderCon in Boston next week. I'm alternatingly terrified (the other attendees are way smarter and more well-read than I) and excited (a con! for book geekery!) I hope to meet some more Broads and learn some cool stuff from the panels.

- I'm also going to NASFiC. That's here in the Triangle, so I don't have to make extensive travel arrangements. I'll probably be sleeping on a pair of friends' couch, since they live much closer than I do. I have some more news on that, but it's not official yet, so.

- For my third con in three months, I'll be going to Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I don't have much to say about D*C, other than I can't wait, because I love D*C. I don't go for the guests or the panels, really, though sometimes they're pretty awesome. I go to be with geeks for four days.

- And, of course, it's World Cup season, so I'm watching a lot of football. In Spanish (on Univision) because I don't get ESPN. The Argentina vs Germany match is going to be interesting. I'm holding my thumbs for the Nationalelf.

24 June 2010

Book review: The Complete Hammer's Slammers (vol 1)

The Complete Hammer's Slammers (volume 1), David Drake. Baen, 2009. (Individual stories 1974-2005)

I enjoy reading space opera and books about people fighting in space. The stories I write are about people fighting in space. It's a good idea to read other books in your subgenre, to see what other people have done (so you don't repeat it, for one thing).

David Drake's Hammer's Slammers series was recommended to me by a friend, and a different friend gave this to me for my birthday. I went to a writers conference outside Charlotte in April, and Drake gave a seminar. Afterward, I asked him if he'd sign my copy, and he told me I shouldn't read it. I was perplexed: an author is telling me not to read his book. He elaborated: I would probably find it disturbing, because it's based on his actual experiences in Vietnam and depicts soldiers being soldiers in wartime.

That's what I was looking for in the book, actually, and that's what I got. I will admit that some of the imagery was unpleasant, if not outright disturbing (and, on one occasion, made me regret reading it while I was eating breakfast), but it wasn't shocking.

It's not pleasant. The men and women we meet in the Slammers are human, with everything that entails. They have flaws. They fuck up. They make bad decisions. They make good decisions. They love, they hate, they do their job.

Recommended for anyone who enjoys military science fiction or space opera.

Further reading: David Drake's official website

23 June 2010

Book review: Das Paradies am Rande der Stadt

Das Paradies am Rande der Stadt, Volker Strübing. yedermann, 2005. Paradies und Das, Zeitschock

In my quest for German-original science fiction, I managed to find one book, at least on a bookshelf and that didn't require ordering via amazon. I flipped through, found some humorous bits, read the flaps, and bought it.

In the not-so-distant future, a man invents a computer program that gives people ultimate joy. He calls it Eden. It's completely free, and anyone who wishes can cross the rainbow.

The German government (at least) has collapsed, and corporations have stepped in to fill the gap, while some free enclaves sprang up outside the corporate cities. Churches compete with each other for members. Soulcatchers take people to Eden for bounties (with a free-will loophole, of course.)

The Church of the True Name of God is a new denomination. God came to its founder one night, and told him his true name: Kein Schwein. It was originally founded as a protest and satire, but people came to it without the irony. (Kein Schwein means literally "no pig," but it's an idiom that means "not a soul" or "no one": As one of the founder's sermons states, if you don't believe in KEIN SCHWEIN, then KEIN SCHWEIN will punish you. Which, for the irony-impaired, means that if you don't believe in no one, then no one will punish you.)

Our heroes are a group opposed to Eden's existence, who wish to destroy it. They meet a woman who was in Eden but left (to rescue her Adam, who left) and get caught up in a war between the church, the corporate city, and a group of neo-Nazi thugs for hire.

If you think this sounds like The Matrix meets Snow Crash via Terry Pratchett, you'd be right. I recommend this for anyone who speaks German and likes their humor with a touch of sarcastic irony.

22 June 2010

Book review: Dear Shameless Death

Dear Shameless Death, Latife Tekin (trans Saliha Paker/Mel Kenne). 1st ed 1983, 1st translation 2001. Marion Boyars Publishers (UK).

Magical realism is not typically a genre I read. I wanted to find books about Turkey, written by Turkish people, that included folklore and traditional culture. This book has those in spades.

It's the story of a girl who was djinn-touched, almost cursed and unlucky, and her family, moving from a village to the big city, and how life in the city changed them. There were times when I wanted access to a handy google or wikipedia, to see what some of the untranslated Turkish words meant, or find out what a reference or concept meant, but I was on an airplane, so I couldn't. I don't feel it detracted from the story, though having more familiarity with it would have helped.

That's one tricky bit when translating a book for a different audience than the writer intended. The translator has to decide whether to translate, say, djinn as demon, when a djinn isn't exactly a demon in the Christian sense, nor is it a genie as seen in Aladdin. It's one of those things a translator learns to do, and it's often a call based on their professional judgement.

It took me a little while to get into the book. The style wasn't what I'm used to, and I couldn't understand the characters, but I put it down for a little while then picked it up again while I was traveling to Berlin, and I finished it on the way there. Once I adjusted to the style, it was hard to put down. The characters and their lives were engaging, while tragedy after tragedy struck, and they worked to deal with each new crisis.

Recommended.

(A review from The Guardian, 2001.)

16 June 2010

RetroSpec publication date & cover!

RetroSpec cover

While I was away, Karen Romanko, editor of the anthology my flash fiction piece will be appearing in, got the layout finished, and we now have a publication date! September 7, 2010.

I'll post links to where you can buy a copy when I know myself. :)

Been a long time.

Sorry for that. I was in Europe for 6 weeks, and I didn't have much interest in updating. I have 3 book reviews, a manga review, and some exciting news about RetroSpec to post in the next few days. For now, I'll just post a wrap-up of my trip.

May 2-28: Berlin, Germany. I took a class at the Goethe Institute. Even after many years of disuse, my German is good enough to land me in the highest-level class, where we spent most of the time talking about stuff and going over finer points of German grammar and learning new idioms and the like. There were about a dozen of us.

I still love Berlin, and if it were possible or practical at all to move there, I would. Even if the weather was terrible the whole month.

May 29-June 5: Vienna, Austria. I've always wanted to visit Vienna, and now I have. I took an overnight train from Berlin, and Ben met me there. It was the start of our 10th anniversary trip. The weather was pretty bad then, too. Coldish and rainy.

Vienna is more elegant than Berlin, and a lot more expensive. It's also a more "finished" city, I guess you could say. It's got all these grand buildings, and it's home to tons of culture and art and music and the like. We could have seen a different Mozart concert every night, if we'd had the money. (We saw a performance of the Requiem in the Karlskirche, by a group using instruments from Mozart's time and balance and seating charts from the time. It was really cool.)

We took a day trip out to Carnuntum, which is the site of a Roman border fortress-town. They've rebuilt two villas and are working on the baths. One they rebuilt using Roman-era techniques and replica tools, including firing the bricks in an earthen kiln. That was sweet.

June 5-7: Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava is pretty cheap, and there's not much else going for it. They've got a big monument on a hill with a bunch of Soviet graves, dedicated to the soldiers who kept the Nazis out of Western Slovakia in 1944 or 45, which has a great view of the city. Bratislava Castle is uninspiring, but Devin Castle, a 20-minute city bus ride away, is really awesome. The hill has been inhabited since about 950, by Romans, Moravians, Slovaks, and even (briefly) the Habsburgs. There's a good bit of archaeology there, too.

June 7-13: Budapest, Hungary. Budapest is so inexpensive! We could eat a modestly expensive meal for $35 total. It's also a very pretty city, but less finished. That's probably the remnants of communism. There was a lot of reconstruction going on.

Szechenyi Baths are amazing. So, Budapest has a bathing/spa culture, which may be a remnant of its 140-year Ottoman occupation. They've also got hot springs, so they've got a good location. Szechenyi Baths have both thermal spas and swimming pools, and your admission fee covers both. (All-day admission to this palace of bathing costs 3100 forint, or about $13.50 at today's exchange.) It's rather literally a palace, with frescoes, marble columns, and statuary. Bath temperatures range from 20C to 40C. I spent most of my time in the 36, 38, or 40C baths, then we went outside to the swimming pool for a bit, which was also amazing. (The gallery shows mostly swimming pool photos, and none of the spas.)

My favorite thing was watching the USA/ENG world cup match on a giant screen in Szabadsag Ter with a thousand or so people. I haven't been ble to watch any more games since then, because I don't get ESPN, and ESPN360 is blocked on my ISP. But a friend told me that Univision is streaming all the games online, so I'm going to go switch computers and watch me some futbol. This one can't handle it.

29 April 2010

Book review: Whipping Girl

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Julia Serano, 2007.

After I ranted about "girly" not being an insult, my friend Enne said I ought to read this book, and they brought it over for me to borrow, because they said I'd like it. They were so right.

Serano is a feminist, and she distinguishes between traditional sexism and oppositional sexism, which I think is pretty damn cool. (She has a glossary of terms on her website.)
traditional sexism
Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to (and only exist for the sexual benefit of) maleness and masculinity. It targets those who are female as well as those who are feminine (regardless of their sex).

oppositional sexism
Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive, “opposite” sexes, each possessing a unique and non-overlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. It targets those who do not conform to oppositional gender norms. A number of previously described categories of sexism (e.g., transphobia, homophobia and cissexism) fall under the umbrella of oppositional sexism.

This book is not an introductory feminist text, though there are aspects that make it a very good introduction to trans-spectrum issues. There are extensive discussions of gender theory and takedowns of academic gender theory. Serano goes into moderate detail about her transition, including the hormonal aspects of things, without being explicit (for those of you for whom that would be an issue.)

Her primary thesis is a rebuttal of the notion that gender is 100% societally constructed and 0% nature, though she spends a good amount of time on rebutting the idea that gender is 100% nature, because these two ideas aren't as opposite as they appear on the surface. That trans-spectrum people exist refutes both of these. People who feel dissonance between their physical sex and their gender aren't receiving the societal norming that would be required under the all-gender-is-learned model, and they aren't getting it from their biology, either. The reality must lie somewhere between, of course. There's inherent gender feelings, but there are also learned behaviors -- some of which are survival skills: conforming to societal standards for female behavior on the job, say.

The other main thesis is that "feminine" stuff isn't inherently less valuable than "masculine" stuff, and that these aren't inherently opposite categories. "Feminine" stuff includes everything from looking nice to wearing makeup to displaying emotions to being nurturing. Society has devalued these things so much that feminine and female and frivolous and irrational are all synonyms, while their opposites are masculine and male and logical. Because god forbid that a woman want to be an engineer or a man want to be a nurse.

This is something I've had to deal with for quite some time. Because society views, and those of us who live in society are taught to view, these as two distinct, discrete categories, the idea that you can take a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B is pretty damned radical. I'm an intelligent woman; I majored in chemistry and German in college, and I'm a doctor of pharmacy. I like reading non-fiction to learn more about things that interest me. At the same time, I like pretty jewelry (even if I hardly ever put it on) and frilly skirts, and have a serious shoe habit.

Reconciling these things with each other, let alone with being a feminist, is tough, if you've only heard of the 70s/80s feminism wherein more masculine and butch identities and expressions -- an outright rejection of femininity for reasons discussed two paragraphs above -- are privileged over femme expressions. I reject that dichotomy; I reject that hierarchy. Serano's book gives me (and others like me) the language and theory to explain why.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in feminism or gender theory, who became feminist in the second wave, or who rejected feminism in the second wave. I also recommend it to anyone who lives in society.

28 April 2010

Book review: The Persian Night

The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, Amir Taheri, 2009.

Taheri is an expat Iranian living in London and Paris. He's a journalist, and he edited a major newspaper in Iran until he left. He's also significantly more conservative in mindset than I am.

He begins with several chapters of the history of Iran and of Islam, as well as political philosophy in the Muslim world. Once, Iran was a welcoming nation composed of many different groups of people who lived in (relative) harmony. The regime of the Islamic Republic wants Iranians to forget that, to wipe out their thousand-year history.

There were several things I found incredibly interesting in this text, which I'd never learned before. The regime (the Khomeinists) oppose the existence of the state and advocate permanent revolution, along with the elimination of the Great Satan and the Jews, of course. The state exists on a precarious wire, trying to go about the business of running a government while the regime goes about trying to stop them.

The system is unstable, and it keeps teetering toward chaos, until someone with greater force steps in.

The 1979 revolution was made possible through the combined support of the Khomeinists, the Marxists, and people who just hated the Shah. They worked together, then the Khomeinists set about their true goal, which is pretty much what we see today. Because of this, the opposition is fractionated, splintered, and instigating regime change would require a lot of effort in filling the power vacuum.

Taheri actually advocates for regime change. He says the time is right, because the people are more disillusioned than ever with the regime which has lost its legitimacy. He does not, from what I can gather, advocate regime change a la Iraq, but more the sort where people with big guns aid the locals.

Above all, the United States should be resolutely on the side of the Iranian people.... More important and ultimately perhaps more effective is for th United States to use its enormous bully pulpit to publicize the Iranian people's struggle for freedom.

Taheri has written several other books on modern Iranian history, though his work is not without controversy.

20 April 2010

Dear Iceland Volcano:

Please stop erupting.

Dear EU air control: Please open airports and allow transatlantic flights.

I'm supposed to be flying to Germany in 11 days. There are very few flights leaving for Europe right now, and I have no idea if or when this is going to change. I'm stalking my airline's flight status page, and their separate page for volcano-related travel disruptions (which still only lists affected dates until this Friday), but everything is so unpredictable.

I should email the Institut and ask what happens to the $2100 I paid them if, due to this flight ban and thus circumstances out of my control, I can't make it to Europe at all. Because their refund policy (which I can't find in my email at all, annoyingly) has something to the effect of no refund if you cancel less than a week ahead of time.

Which, I have to say, if there weren't a VOLCANO spewing ash into European airspace, I sure as shit wouldn't cancel this trip I've been looking forward to for, oh, 9 months now. And the way things are shaping up, I may not even know if I can GET to Europe until the day I'm supposed to leave.

I don't deal well with changes that are out of my control.

27 March 2010

Crunch time

There are many things I want to blog about, but I don't have the time. It's frustrating.

I've only got a few more chapters to read in Whipping Girl, then I can write a review (spoiler alert: I love it!). I'm only a few chapters in to The Persian Night, about life in Khomeinist Iran, but I like it so far. It's easy to read. And I have a stack of Turkish fiction to read, in addition to the stack on my shelf, plus a friend gave me David Drake's The Complete Hammer's Slammers (volume 1) for my birthday.

So I'm kinda drowning in backlog of books, but I keep not finding time to read them. Which makes me a little sad.

You may recall my post on Yoshinaga Fumi's manga Ooku, which reimagines Tokugawa-era Japan with women filling the men's roles because the men died of smallpox. (Many of them, not all; they're more susceptible.) It recently won the Tiptree award for gender in fiction, which is awesome. I'm glad this manga is getting recognition on this side of the Pacific. (It's won prizes in Japan already.)

Why I haven't been able to read (or spare brain-cycles to blog) is because I'm trying to get the first draft of my novel (current working title Iron and Rust) finished before I leave for Berlin. On May 1. It's beginning to look grim, though not yet dire. The contract that was eating my life ended, so I have time again, but I'm at the point in the story where everything is crap and I hate it (because, honestly, that section kind of is poorly-thought-out crap, and I need to fix it a lot). So it's frustrating and I want to skip it and get to the part that doesn't suck. But I have to make this part no longer suck before I can move on.

If I get an hour or so of editing in today, that'll help.

Also, my Yoshino cherry is blossoming, my herb garden isn't dead, my rosemary bush is massive, and my chrysanthemum didn't die in the overly cold winter (for North Carolina.) The Japanese maple we transplanted last spring didn't die, either. (It was a concern...)

And a friend of mine is working on a website for me. I'll let y'all know when it's ready.

10 March 2010

Long time, etc etc.

So, I've been working 3 days a week, and with travel time and an hour lunch, I've been putting in 33 hours or so (to work 24.) That pretty much left me with just two days (plus weekends) to work on everything else. That contract is up, so I'm getting my life back.

I've edited 2 chapters in the novel so far (only 20 to go?), but some I'll need to finish the background reading to fix properly. Which means I need to spend some time reading the nonfiction in my giant to-read stack (mainly The Persian Night).

I only have 2 chapters left in the feminist manifesto a friend loaned me, and when I finish, I'll post about it. It's pretty amazing. Oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, the scapegoating of femininity... *swoon*

Today I need to edit some more, and make blondies for my birthday party Saturday. Friday a friend is coming over to help make a linzertorte, and at some point I need to make a spice cake. This may happen Saturday. (Yes, I'm making three cake-like things for my own party. I also have a bag of chips and a jar of salsa, several varieties of beer and sodas, and plan to make rosemary sweet tea, as is mandatory for parties at my house in spring or summer. My rosemary bush is threatening to take over the world. I must stop it by cutting it.)

And? A gal I met via livejournal who lives in Istanbul sent me a box of Turkish books (in English) and films (with subtitles). I was expecting a couple books, but I got like 6. My to-read stack is getting close to as tall as I am.

14 February 2010

Awesome art!

In January, over on livejournal, there was a fannish auction to help earthquake victims in Haiti. One of my friends, the fabulous Pluto, offered a commissioned piece of art, and I won it. Yay! (They've confirmed over $100,000 in donations as of a couple days ago. Never let it be said that fans never did anything good!)

I decided to ask for two of my POV characters, MSgt Atesh Metin and Maj Hikaru Yilmaz. I'm not a visual person in the least, so I don't have good images of them in my mind. I did, however, spend way too long on de.wikipedia looking at uniforms. So we emailed back and forth a bit, and this is what she came up with. (Atesh is on the left, Hikaru on the right.) Clicking will embiggen the image.

Atesh and Hikaru by Pluto

I love it so! She worked from my vague descriptors and some personality traits, and it's just so right! (Now I just need to finish, polish, and sell their story...)

31 January 2010

Books I love: CJ Cherryh's The Faded Sun

The Faded Sun was originally published in 1978-79, comprising three novels: Kesrith, Shon'jir, and Kutath. They were collected in an omnibus and reprinted in 2000, with a nice Michael Whelan cover. Unlike other books I love, I've only read this twice: years ago when I first heard of Cherryh and started getting my hands on all her books, and over the last few weeks.

The story is told in Cherryh's characteristic deep-third-person point of view. It's the parallel story of Niun, a mri warrior, Sten Duncan, a human special-ops soldier, and Melein, Niun's sister. We get occasional looks into other characters' minds: Stavros, Duncan's boss; various regul; other mri. But it's mainly Niun and Duncan's story.

For forty years, humans have been fighting against mri, who work for the regul. Mri are nomadic, and they do not build themselves. They contract warriors to another species, and they get goods in this fashion. Mri are vaguely humanoid, though desert-adapted, with nictitating membranes in their eyes, low body hair, and a coarse mane. The regul, however, are not humanoid at all; I imagine them as Jabba the Hutt. The regul have eidetic memories and think they're the pinnacle of life, the smartest beings in the universe.

Regul and humans have signed a peace treaty, and the regul have ceded Kesrith to the humans. There's one problem: the mri have Kesrith as their homeworld. Because the humans see the mri as enemies, as a warlike mercenary species, they don't want to have them as neighbors.

Duncan, assigned as aide to the governor of Kesrith (Stavros), goes out on a fact-finding mission when he begins to suspect the regul aren't being fully honest. Regul don't lie, you see, because it puts false memories into their history. But neither are they fully truthful: lies of omission are a time-honored regul tactic. While Duncan is out, he runs into Niun, who was sent to the mri ship that landed as an ambassador from his city. Together they witness a horrible betrayal, and Duncan begins to understand that what humans think they know about mri isn't anywhere near the truth. Duncan is sent on a mission, taking Niun and Melein with him. He learns, on the course of their voyage, to be mri.

Niun's story is one of growth and change, becoming the head of the warrior caste and fighting for Melein's right to govern. Melein become spiritual leader of the mri before she's ready, but through her confidence, she manages somehow.

This is the type of story that, on the surface, looks like it could be What These People Need is a Honky or Mighty Whitey (Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar (the blue people), etc.) However, Duncan isn't the White Savior of the mri. He doesn't magically become better at being mri than the mri are. He's limited by his human-ness: mri reflexes are quicker; they're adapted to the climate of Kesrith (and Kutath); they're stronger and have better senses. He doesn't become leader of the warrior caste, supplanting Niun. He doesn't even get to be in the higher ranks of the warrior caste! It's true that he has one asset that the mri don't have: access to humans, and understanding how human minds work. But Melein uses it to her advantage, and Duncan allows himself to be used, because explaining to the humans that the mri aren't just mercenary killers will benefit Melein and the mri.

There are also matters of prejudice to explore: the humans think the regul are ugly, smell weird, and other things, but they're the allies now, against the mri. The mri look human, so various humans want to sympathize with them, if it weren't for forty years of war. A key theme of the trilogy, especially evident in Kutath, is that you fear what you don't understand, and if you don't try to understand the other, you'll never move beyond fear. The regul have no desire to attempt to understand mri or humans, and their fear leads to catastrophic results. The humans, once they learn to ask the right questions, make the attempt to understand mri (and regul, in a way.)

So it ends with hope: that humans can understand the other and not live in fear of it. This is a message as relevant today as it was thirty-odd years ago, and will remain relevant into the future.

23 January 2010

Breaking silence

So, since 6 Jan, I've been working 30 hours a week at a place 45 minutes each way. It's cut into my writing time, and because I work 1-7, it's cut into my evening time as well. (Get home 7:45, eat dinner, get caught up on email, and hey it's 9:30.)

I'm currently re-reading CJ Cherryh's Faded Sun trilogy and am so close to the end I just want to sit down and plow through it. I get frustrated when I can only read a chapter or two at a time. (And I read fairly quickly, too -- 50-60+ pages an hour, depending on density. Harry Potter's more like 100.) I love this trilogy, and while I remembered mostly what happened in Kesrith and Shon'jir, as I read Kutath, much of it is like new. I don't know why. I read it quite some time ago, though. (Annoyingly, the omnibus reprint has a ton of typos.)

I've been trying to keep up my writing, and it's hard. By the time I've skimmed, scanned, or read my RSS feed and gotten my needful things done, it's 10:45, and I have less than an hour to write, before I have to eat lunch & drive 45 minutes. It's frustrating to, at 11:35, be hitting a groove, when I have to quit writing at 11:40 or 11:45. My current assignment ends the 29th, so I'll get my time back after that. (Unless they want me to stay on until they hire a full time person, though I'm torn on that. I really want my writing time back, but I like getting paid.)

04 January 2010

Cats can get diabetes, too.

Isis, my oldest cat, who I picked up off the street in September 1997 and the vet said was about 3-4 months old, was just diagnosed with diabetes. Today she's in the hospital at the NC State Vet School, being given IV fluids and insulin to get her out of ketosis. With any luck, she'll be home and surling at us again on Wednesday.

I go into more detail on my online journal, since I'm trying to keep this blog writing-related.