dolorosa_12: (the humans are dead)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 23: Made to read at school

I have always hated this framing, as if being required to read books for class was somehow way more unreasonable than being required to, for example, learn quadratic equations for maths class, or learn organic chemistry for science. Sure, some parts of compulsory education were boring, or poorly taught — including some of my English classes — but that didn't mean they were a grave injustice.

That little rant aside, I'm going to talk about The Beast of Heaven by Victor Kelleher for this day of the meme. We read this in Year 8 advanced English class (so when I was thirteen), and it was one of my favourite and most formative things read for school. Kelleher is mostly known as a YA author (one of his YA dystopian novels, Taronga, was commonly taught in secondary school in the '90s when I was a school student, and indeed we studied it as well), but The Beast of Heaven is dystopian fiction aimed at an adult readership. It is at once incredibly '80s, and incredibly Australian — a pair of sentient computers wake up, and continue an argument they've been programmed to have, about whether humanity deserves to continue to exist, with one computer programmed to argue in favour of humanity's ongoing survival and the other that it would be the best thing for all concerned if the massive nuclear weapons it controls would be set off and wipe humanity off the map. Against the backdrop of this argument is a group of what we think are the last human survivors on Earth, eking out an impoverished existence in a blasted, post-apocalypic desert landscape. The twist, if you've read a lot of dystopian SF, is probably fairly obvious, although it absolutely blew my thirteen-year-old mind, and the book as a whole made me think in a more structured way about Australian dystopian literature as a subgenre distinct from its literary cousins in other countries. It wasn't the first book by Kelleher that I read, but it was the one that really made me sit up and take notice of him as an author, and I think his body of work is incredible. I've always felt a sense of regret that he's not really known outside of Australia.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (quidam)
Thirty Day Book Meme, Day 3: One with a blue cover.

I love that this is a prompt. My librarian heart is laughing and laughing.

Over the years I've no doubt read many books with blue covers, but I went with The Bone Season, the first in Samantha Shannon's wonderful dystopian series, because it's one of my favourites, and because its cover, inspired by the sundial in Seven Dials in London, is gorgeous. I reviewed the book some time ago, so rather than rehashing it again, I'll link to that review. The one-sentence summary is that it's a dystopian novel, whose heroine is captured from London (where she leads a double life as a government official's daughter by day and a member of a criminal clairvoyant syndicate by night) and taken to a prison camp in Oxford, where she learns about the terrifying supernatural powers really running things behind the scenes. I love the book for its setting — particularly the bits that take place in my favourite parts of London — its wonderful heroine (who is, I feel, realistically terrified by the situations in which she finds herself, and makes more morally grey compromises than I feel most dystopian YA heroines normally do), and the central romance (although your mileage may vary on this, as it's very Stockholm Syndrome-y with a massive power imbalance, but what can I say? the id wants what it wants).

The other days )

By a strange coincidence, I posted a review of another Samantha Shannon book today, her standalone epic fantasy The Priory of the Orange Tree. This is a very different beast to the Bone Season series — it's a sweeping epic fantasy, inspired by Elizabethan England and Tokugawa Japan, about the uses and misuses of history, with dragons. You can read my review here.

Other books I've finished or started this weekend are Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (a dizzying blend of various African myths and histories, a straightforward quest story about people with supernatural powers hunting for a lost child, but very tough going due to the meandering, nested style of labyrinthine stories within stories, suddenly starts to have a plot about fifty per cent of the way in, and extraordinarily bleak in its worldview), My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigerian noir novel about an older sister who finds herself repeatedly responsible for cleaning up the bodies of men killed by her younger sister; it's also about the double edged sword that beauty can become — at once a weapon, and something that can be wielded against you), and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (another foray into his alternate, steampunk Cairo where djinn and other supernatural beings roam the streets).

It's been a pretty miserable, cold weekend, which I guess is what explains all the media consumption — as well as all the books, I watched BlacKkKlansman with Matthias (which I think was robbed in terms of the number of Oscars it ultimately won — it was excellent), along with various episodes of TV shows. It's been raining on and off, and, to be honest, leaving the house was not a particularly attractive prospect!
dolorosa_12: (Default)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 2: Best bargain.

This was a tricky one, as I've not only bought lots of books at discounted prices over the years, but also spent a decade working as a book reviewer, which meant that I was both given books for free, and paid money to talk about them. So obviously all the books I reviewed during that time were, in some sense, a bargain. For this reason, I've chosen to interpret this question as asking not just which book I got for the cheapest price, but how much it gave back to me in terms of meaning, rereads, and enjoyment.

When interpreted in this way, the answer can be no other than Romanitas by [twitter.com profile] McDougallSophia. My editor was in the habit of going through the haul of books sent to the newspaper by various publishers, allocating some to the reviewers who covered that particular genre, and leaving out the rest in the staff tearoom for anyone to take. Romanitas fell in that latter category — my editor didn't think it looked good enough to review, so it was left out for anyone to claim for free. I read the book cover summary — a dystopian setting where the Roman Empire never fell, but rather spread to encompass most of the world — and read the first chapter (the funeral of the Emperor's brother and sister-in-law from the perspective of their grieving teenage son, awkward at the media circus surrounding his life and lonely against the weight of his own imperial inheritance), and then the second (a furious escaped slave fights for her life and that of her condemned prisoner brother), and realised I was hopelessly hooked. (It was also the first time I really understood shipping, because my first reaction, upon being introduced to the two point-of-view characters in those opening chapters, was 'I adore you both. Now kiss.')

I ended up devouring the book, and went on to review both its follow ups (thus acquiring them for free from the publisher as well), writing most of the fanfic on Ao3 that exists for this series (I think the other stuff was written for me as a Yuletide gift), and even ending up as something of a friend of the author, on the strength of being basically the only person who ever talked about these books online. ([wordpress.com profile] longvision is my long-defunct Romanitas trilogy fanblog, which I set up shortly after reading the first book.)

Noviana Una, the escaped slave character, ended up being my second favourite fictional character of all time — she's the person in my default icon, and I rather daggily had a T shirt printed with the words that are the title of this blog post, so as you can see I'm a hopeless obsessive about this series, and about this character in particular.

In other words, in terms of what this book — and series — has given me over the past twelve years, it was far and away the best bargain I've ever acquired!

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I came across this book meme a while ago, and had been waiting until I had a clear month or so to complete it. It looks like it will be a lot of fun, so feel free to steal it and do the meme yourself if you'd like.

Day one is a tough one: favourite book from childhood.

Now, depending on how old I was when you asked me this question, the answer would change quite a bit. I am a fairly loyal reader, and even in childhood I tended to have long stretches of time where a particular book was my favourite — and these can roughly be set out as follows:

Books behind the cut )

As I said before, I can talk about favourite childhood books forever, and would love to hear about yours, or discuss any of my favourites, in the comments.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I often talk about needing more hours in the day, and on the one day of the year where that is possible, I certainly made the most of it. I've been able to get a lot done, in addition to the usual bits of grocery shopping, cleaning and so on that I always do on the weekend.

Saturday poured with rain, and it was freezing to the point of almost being sleet, so I stuck close to home, apart from a quick trip into town to the market. Matthias spent most of the day writing an assignment for the cataloguing module of his librarianship degree, so I elected to spend Saturday writing as well. It was lovely and companionable to sit there, typing away at our respective assignments. In my case, this was Yuletide. I always aim to write multiple treats, and this year the sheer volume of fandoms I love in the tagset makes me even more enthusiastic about this. It will be hard to narrow it down!

So far I've written one (completed, but not uploaded) treat, about a third of my main assignment (along with an outline for its remainder), and done a lot of very weird research for another treat. I normally finish assignments before working on any treats, so I will not be touching the second treat beyond this preliminary research until the assignment is finished.

I also did one of my periodic sweeps of Ao3, where I check if any new fic in my main fandoms (all of which are tiny, inactive book fandoms, most of whose fic, if it exists at all, has been written by me). Normally this is an entirely futile exercise, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had written Warden/Paige fic for the Bone Season series. I've been requesting fic for this pairing in exchanges for several years without success, so it was a wonderful treat to find this there unexpectedly. I don't think there are any Bone Season fans here among my Dreamwidth circle (the only people I know who like it are people on Tumblr, and a handful of my real-life friends), but I link to it here in any case.

J'attendrai (2459 words) by LaReinadeEspadas
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Paige Mahoney/Warden | Arcturus Mesarthim
Characters: Paige Mahoney, Warden | Arcturus Mesarthim
Summary:

I looked for any other signs that he knew the significance of the day, but unsurprisingly found none in my Rephaite cohabiter. It’s not like immortal beings had any reason to celebrate birthdays.



Reading the fic reminded me how much I love the series, so I've spent most of Sunday morning curled up on the couch in the sunshine, rereading The Song Rising. I'm not sure the story of a brave, doomed revolution brought down by the inability of disparate groups of oppressed, dispossessed people to make common cause was a wise choice, given the state of the world, but it seemed to be what my brain wanted.

Now Matthias and I have just come back from running, and I'm sitting here with a cup of tea, catching up with Dreamwidth and trying to decide between doing a bit of yoga (probably not), or getting started on the chicken and dumplings (this Smitten Kitchen recipe) I'm planning to make for dinner.

*


I can't talk about what's going on in the world. In the country of my birth, the country in which I grew up, the country which is now my home, anywhere, everywhere. I just can't. Words recoil from it. I return, as always, to Calexico, who, as always, have the words to give voice to this horror. Everywhere you look you only see red, indeed.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
I have a lot of stuff to post about, including a great trip to Italy I made nearly two weeks ago to celebrate the wedding of two friends, but it will have to wait, because there is other, more pressing news. Namely, I was lucky enough to get to see Janelle Monáe live at a concert last night in the Camden Roundhouse in London!

Rather fortuitously, the concert was on the same day as a day conference on open access monograph publishing, which Matthias went to and was thus able to not take leave to go to the concert (as I had to do), and had the cost of his train ticket covered, making the whole day slightly cheaper than it would otherwise have been. While he was at the conference, I caught up with [twitter.com profile] lowercasename at a cute little basement coffee place in Bloomsbury. Inevitably, as it always is when two migrants in the UK meet up, we fell to venting about the Home Office, fretting about visas, and planning his next visa application with the level of tactical detail normally reserved for some sort of military campaign. Inevitably, also, his PhD supervisor was giving a keynote address at the conference Matthias was attending. It really is a very small world.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around London. I visited the free exhibition at the British Library on the Windrush generation, stopped in at Seven Dials, and walked along Regent's Canal from Kings Cross to Camden Lock, where I met Matthias at a great Caribbean restaurant over the road from the Roundhouse before heading in to the concert.

I'd definitely put it in my top five concerts of all time (so far). I've only ever been at one other concert where the singer was so generous and open and almost giving away pieces of themselves in the way Monáe did last night. She played most of the songs from her newest album, as well as some older numbers, and had a fabulous set of dancers and a great backing band, and bounced and strutted around the stage with sheer dynamic energy. And her voice! At one point she brought up several audience members onto the stage to dance with her, and the first person was so overwhelmed with emotion that she was almost crying - and then she danced her heart out.

I was up in the seating area (I can't do crowds), and by the end of the concert, almost everyone in my little corner of the gallery was out of their seat and dancing - me included, of course!

I had a wonderful time, although unfortunately I was completely unable to sleep when I got home, meaning I now have been awake since 5.30am yesterday, so today's day at work is going to be ... interesting.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
The [community profile] fic_corner collection went live on Sunday.

I received an absolutely gorgeous Galax Arena fic: dark, and quietly devastating, and exactly the way I like the Presh/Allyman relationship to be written. I'm absolutely blown away by it.

Missing the Moon (1275 words) by Morbane
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Galax-Arena Series - Gillian Rubinstein
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Characters: Allyman | Allan Manne, Presh
Additional Tags: Missing Scene
Summary:

Allan's view of the last act of Galax-Arena.



I wrote a Six of Crows fic. It's Matthias Helvar/Nina Zenik, post-series and canon-divergent.

A Road Made of Stars (5647 words) by Dolorosa
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Six of Crows Series - Leigh Bardugo
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Matthias Helvar/Nina Zenik
Characters: Nina Zenik, Matthias Helvar
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, Post-Canon
Summary:

Having survived Ketterdam, Kaz Brekker's various schemes, and the assassination attempts of powerful people from at least four different nations, Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar have embarked on their most dangerous mission yet: to bring about peace between Ravka and Fjerda. While they knew this wouldn't be easy, they were at least expecting their journey to be uneventful.

They were wrong.

Post-Crooked Kingdom.

dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Summer is well and truly in its final days for the year here in Cambridge. The air has a distinctly autumnal feeling, blackberries are appearing in the hedgerows, and, best of all, it has started to rain again. The next two weekends are going to be very packed for me: next weekend I'll be in Italy for the wedding of two of my friends, and the following weekend my mother will be visiting (for those of you keeping count, that is indeed two trips she's made to Europe in the one northern summer. Oh, to be a wealthy baby boomer with loads of long service leave!). Luckily, this weekend lasts for three days due to the public holiday on Monday, and it's been nice to just nest at home and get lots done. This can probably be broken into three main categories:

Housework

  • I cleaned all the internal and external windows. (By internal windows I mean the ridiculous glass panels that are above every doorframe inside our house.)

  • I did two loads of laundry, which, given it rained on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday is something of an achievement.

  • I cleaned the fridge.

  • I cooked a massive vegetable soup to eat throughout the week, as well as all the weekend meals.

  • I planted garlic in the garden.


  • Stuff outside the house

  • Our friend B was visiting from Thursday to Saturday. He lives in Poland, but had come to Cambridge to use the university library to finish up his PhD corrections, so we didn't see him all that much. However, on the Friday night, he, Matthias and I went out to Thirsty, one of my favourite wine/beer sellers/bar, for drinks and food truck dinner.

  • I've just come back from a walk out to Grantchester. It's overcast, but not too cold, and all of Cambridge seems to have had the same idea. Matthias is working on an assignment for his librarianship MA, so I thought it best to get out of his hair for a bit.


  • Reading/Netflixing

  • I finished off a nonfiction book, Thunder At Twilight by Frederic Morton, which is about the history, politics and culture of Vienna in the year between the summer of 1913 and the outbreak of World War I. This is obviously a really fascinating time period, but I found the book somewhat frustrating due to the author's stylistic choices — namely, to use an almost novelistic tone and style, imagining what the historical figures were eating, drinking, saying or feeling at moments when he couldn't possibly have known that. If I'm reading historical fiction, I obviously have no problem with authors filling in the blanks in this manner, but I found it jarring in a work of nonfiction.

  • I read two novellas: 'The Black God's Drums' by P. Djèlí Clark, and 'Coral Bones' by Foz Meadows. Both were excellent, although I felt the former suffered from the constraints of its short length: the actual plot was slight, and it would have been fantastic as a novel, because its excellent setting (a steampunk nineteenth-century New Orleans in an alternative North America in which New Orleans was the site of a successful slave rebellion, the US Civil War ended in a truce, meaning the Confederacy still exists, and the Haitian slave rebellion was a success) and characters would really have benefited from being fleshed out into something novel-length. Hopefully Clark will write more in this setting. 'Coral Bones' — which imagines what happened to Miranda after the events of The Tempest (the answer: fairies, journeys, and an exploration of gender) is actually the first piece of fiction by Meadows that really works for me, and I highly recommend it.

  • Matthias and I also binge-watched most of the Netflix adaptation of Altered Carbon. Neither of us have read the books from which it was adapted, so I have no idea how faithful an adaptation it is, but as a television series in its own right it's pretty good. It explores pretty standard cyberpunk themes of immortality, cloning, humanity, bodies, how these interact and intersect, and how inequality affects all these things, in a pretty standard Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk setting (rain, smog, grimy neon night markets, flying cars, and super rich people living elevated lives in skyscrapers above the clouds), but since I like all these things, and enjoy the cast (honestly, it should be watched for Dichen Lachman alone), I don't mind the rather derivative themes and setting. It does have the sadly standard sexualised violence of a lot of Western cyberpunk, so do bear that in mind if you're making the decision to watch this based on my recommendation.


  • I'm now sitting here fretting about the [community profile] fic_corner exchange. I finished up my assignment in good time, and I had thought this might be a rare exchange where my own request actually matched to an offer, but having checked Ao3, I can see that that's not the case, and I seem doomed to continue my exchange experience as one of life's perennial pinch-hit recipients. I suppose it can't be helped, given the fandoms-of-one I tend to request.
    dolorosa_12: (sokka)
    Night on Fic Mountain is one of my favourite exchanges, and this year's iteration was definitely pretty great. I always wait until after author reveals to post my gift and link to my own assignment, as I like to be able to credit authors by name so that people can look up their other work more easily.

    My gift this year was in the 'Seasons of Glass and Iron' fandom. I'm glad that I seem with my own fic in this fandom last Yuletide to have started something of a trend in this microfandom: stories where Tabitha and Amira find themselves operating halfway houses for the girls and women fleeing the brutality and misogyny of the fairytales in which they find themselves trapped. The gift for me took a similar approach, but in new and interesting directions, and I'm going to have to look up some of the fairytales alluded to:

    A Home Built on Stillness (A Home Built on Movement) (1571 words) by ChocoChipBiscuit
    Chapters: 1/1
    Fandom: Seasons of Glass and Iron - Amal El-Mohtar
    Rating: General Audiences
    Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
    Relationships: Amira/Tabitha (Seasons of Glass and Iron)
    Characters: Amira (Seasons of Glass and Iron), Tabitha (Seasons of Glass and Iron)
    Additional Tags: Found Family, Fairy Tale Retellings
    Summary:

    They walk miles and roads in patterns of ones and threes and sevens, east of the sun and west of the moon, through lands unseen and stories untold, until they find a cottage in the woods.



    I was assigned to write for [personal profile] shopfront, and matched on the Obernewtyn Chronicles, an absolutely formative childhood/YA series (an opinion shared by many Australians, particularly Australian women, of my generation), and I thouroughly enjoyed writing my assignment.

    Mirrored Flame (2192 words) by Dolorosa
    Chapters: 1/1
    Fandom: Obernewtyn Chronicles - Isobelle Carmody
    Rating: General Audiences
    Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
    Characters: Elspeth Gordie, Dragon (Obernewtyn Chronicles)
    Additional Tags: Post-Canon
    Summary:

    Three years after the events of The Red Queen, Elspeth Gordie returns to Redport.



    I unfortunately don't know many of the other fandoms in this year's Night on Fic Mountain, but please feel free to rec anything from the collection if it stood out to you!
    dolorosa_12: (sokka)
    I had a couple of days of leave left to carry over from the last calendar year, and they had to be used up by the end of January, so I took one today. This was mostly so I could spend my time waiting around for a delivery from IKEA -- two armchairs to replace the ageing, super uncomfortable sofabed that Matthias and I had been using as a living room couch for the past five years (and which we inherited when we took over the lease of our current house; in other words, it was already old when we got it). I was very impressed with how the delivery was handled -- rather than just being given a whole day as a timeslot, IKEA texted me in advance to say that it would be delivered between 8am and 12pm, then texted me again on the morning to send me tracking details (so I could see where the delivery driver was), as well as phoning me to tell me the chairs would be arriving in the hour. I was so astonished at this level of service, as although I had cleared the whole day for the delivery, this level of specificity meant I could plan around when I expected them to arrive.

    Matthias and I don't have a car (I don't know how to drive, and we need to drive so rarely that it's never been worth it), but fortunately our friends [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband do have a car, and are generally happy to drive us when necessary, so they were roped in to collecting the old sofabed and driving it to the tip. This kind of exchange really makes me happy: as a migrant, I don't have family I can call on to help, and it's always meant a lot to me that my friends and I help each other out in these concrete ways (Matthias and I helped [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband move into their current house, Matthias has translated German articles for them for their research, [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse drove me to every wedding dress fitting last year, and so on).

    I was very dubious of my ability to put the chairs together (I am NOT technically minded), but I managed it, and this was the result! A vast improvement, as I'm sure everyone who's visited my house would agree.

    Once the chairs were constructed, I spent the rest of the day powering through Malka Older's Null States, the follow up to Infomocracy. These books take place in a world where most citizens practice 'microdemocracy', voting in 100,000-person 'centenals' every ten years. Governments are not bound by physical geography, and different governments might be formed of centenals in Geneva, Jakarta, and Djibouti, for example -- and these locations might change hands to another government in the next electoral cycle (at which point inhabitants who preferred the old government may move to another of its centenals). For this reason, people feel almost no ties to geography, ethnicity or heritage, but rather to ideas, values, and beliefs about how society should be governed. Of course, not all people in Older's imagined future are happy about this state of affairs, and her series is full of tense political shenanigans, told at breakneck speed. It's a highly readable thriller that makes you want to keep turning the pages and read each book in one sitting, although if I had one quibble it would be that the prose is servicable, rather than beautiful or particularly memorable; the books discuss complicated and interesting ideas, but in the language of an airport novel. In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying it so far, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes their science fiction packed with political wonkery.

    Now I'm just hanging around at home waiting for Matthias to finish work. It's been wonderful to have a day off where I can just hang around at home. If only four-day working weeks were the norm!
    dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
    I don't usually do Reading Wednesday, but while flailing at [personal profile] naye on Twitter about The Will to Battle, the third in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, I realised I had thoughts about the book, and wanted to discuss them with others in a more permanent, longform location.

    So, anyway, scattered, spoilery thoughts ahead! Don't expect a coherent review or plot summary - these are just a few bullet points of things that really stood out to me.

    Into the light at the end of the world )

    Anyway, feel free to jump into the comments and discuss anything you want about this book. [personal profile] naye and [personal profile] merit, I know you've both read it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!
    dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
    I went straight back to work on Tuesday, and was thrown straight into it: a lot of teaching, a lot of students back and studying, and a period of downtime as we switch from one library management system to another. This latter meant that we had access to neither the old system nor the new, but were still expected to issue, return and renew books, and register new users -- quite hard to do when you can't access the required program, but we found workarounds.

    This weekend has been slightly busier than I would have liked, given the work week I had (and given how busy January is shaping up to be), but I still found time to snatch a bit of reading. I'm just over one hundred pages into The Will to Battle, the third in Ada Palmer's extraordinary Terra Ignota series, and I'm as awed by this third book as I was by the first and second. My husband sent me a link to great article by Palmer about her use of social science (as opposed to 'hard' sciences) in her science fiction, and it's reminded me all over again how intricate and clever her books are. [personal profile] naye, you might be interested in reading the article; it's here if anyone wants to read it.

    Two of my four sisters (Kitty and Nell, sisters #2 and #3) are about midway through a trip around Europe with their grandparents (for new readers of my Dreamwidth, the reason I say their and not our grandparents is that my three youngest sisters only share a father, not a mother, with me and my other younger sister -- and thus only one set of grandparents; these are their maternal grandparents). This past week they were in London, and I organised for the four of them to take the train up to Cambridge and visit me and Matthias. I hadn't seen these sisters since 2015, and although we stay vaguely in touch via social media, they are quite young (Kitty is fifteen, and Nell ten), and it's been harder to stay a part of their lives than it has been with relatives and friends who are adults. In any case, I showed them and their grandparents around Cambridge, and we all had lunch together, and it was easy to pick up where I left off. I was struck once again by what wonderful people the two girls are: so thoughtful and clever and kind. Obviously I'm a bit biased -- I think all my sisters are amazing -- but my heart sang to see what good people they were.

    Other than reading and hanging out with my family, it's mostly been a weekend of cooking and chores. I've got this slow-cooked pork recipe roasting away in the oven, and it's filling the whole house with the smell of apple, redcurrant and rosemary.

    How have everyone else's first weekends of 2018 been?
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    This is just a quick note to say I've written a review of Aliette de Bodard's The House of Binding Thorns, over on my Wordpress blog.

    I focus in the review mainly on the female characters in the book, but that's not to say that I didn't enjoy all other aspects!

    Anyone who's read, or plans to read the novel is free to discuss it with me, either here, or in the comments of the Wordpress blog post.
    dolorosa_12: (le guin)
    This is just a brief post to mention that I have (finally) dusted off my Wordpress blog to write a review of a few books that I've enjoyed recently. The review covers The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh, Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow, and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon. It's spoiler-free, but given that two of the books reviewed are not the first in their respective series, it does touch on events in earlier books. The review can be found here, and I'm happy to respond to comments either on the original post, or here on LJ/Dreamwidth.

    I'm gearing up to nominate some fandoms and characters for Night on Fic Mountain, one of my favourite multi-fandom fic exchanges. It's an exchange for small fandoms (similar to Yuletide, although normally on a slightly smaller scale), and I thoroughly enjoyed it last year when I participated for the first time. I highly recommend it to those of you who participate in fic exchanges. Nominations are currently open, and will be until 31st March. There are more details about the schedule for the exchange here.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    Today's topic is from [personal profile] geckoholic: talk about my favourite author or authors. For a bookworm like me, this is an impossible topic to narrow down - I have so many favourite authors, most of whom I like for a wide variety of reasons. I've limited myself here to just a handful.

    If you asked me to name just one author as my favourite, I probably automatically say Philip Pullman. This isn't necessarily because I think he is the best author in the world, but because he is the author who (unintentionally) has written the books that have given me the most. Oh, I have always loved his turns of phrase, the page-turning intensity of his plots, and his vivid characters, and the themes of his books have spoken to me for close to two decades now, but my love for him goes beyond that. When I read Northern Lights for the first time, it was like a resounding thunderclap, as if I had been given words to explain something I'd never been able to articulate, as if my (twelve-year-old's) worldview had been condensed and distilled into a single novel. And, as the years went by, Philip Pullman's writing gave me a career as a reviewer, my first introduction to online fannish communities, and a vast, international gang of friends who have been there for me through some of the best and some of the worst times of my life.

    I adore the writing of Kate Elliott because she writes epic fantasy with an eye, not to 'historical accuracy', but rather to how her imagined worlds function at every level - from the highest branches of the aristocracy to the artisans, farmers and merchants who keep things running. She is one of the rare epic fantasy writers who thinks both on a broad scale (the sweep of politics and history, the repercussions of a small event over a large period of time) and on a smaller, intimate level (the ripples of trauma and repeated mistakes within communities, families, couples). Her worlds feel lived-in in a way that I often feel is missing in more well-known, popular epic fantasy. She's the sort of writer who thinks about how characters pay for their possessions, what sorts of trade sustain large empires and small communities within them, what sort of family structures are common to particular societies - and how much scope is there for her individual characters to push back against various societal constraints. She's also responsible for one of my favourite characters of all time, Mai.

    Mai is slightly edged out as my favourite fictional character by two other authors' creations. The first is Noviana Una, from Sophia McDougall's Romanitas trilogy. McDougall is another of my favourite writers, not just because of Una, but because she writes about revolutions in a way that makes my heart sing. Her stories resonate with me, because, at their heart, they are about the dispossessed: escaped slaves, abused women, people marginalised by ethnicity or sexuality finding common cause, realising that they outnumber their oppressors, and, quietly, carefully, on their own terms, making revolution. That the revolution is run out of a never-destroyed Library of Alexandria by Una, an escaped-slave-turned-library-assistant is just the icing on the cake.

    Given we're on the topic of dystopias (the world Romanitas is most definitely a dystopia, even if the series is marketed as alternate history), I'll also mention two of my other favourite writers of dystopias: Victor Kelleher and Gillian Rubinstein. These two are Australian writers whose dystopian works were popular during my childhood in the '90s. I've been singing the praises of this genre for a really long time, and it's hard to describe why I think it's so excellent in just a few words. I think I keep returning to these works because they reward rereads (and I have definitely reread them at least a hundred times - not an exaggeration), and they speak to a particularly Australian understanding of postapocalyptic living, to a readership who already has an uneasy relationship with a hostile land and is carrying very specific colonial baggage.

    A couple of authors who I appreciate specifically for their beautiful use of language: Ursula Le Guin and Emily St. John Mandel. It's not that these writers aren't telling incredible stories and exploring really complicated ideas: they are. It's just that their words resonate, but in a quiet way, like a stone dropped in still water. I love Le Guin's Earthsea books, particularly the later ones, which I feel helped me understand myself as a woman. I really love what they have to say about the power and magic of ordinary, everyday work - the kind of work that is endless, unacknowledged and unappreciated, but absolutely essential (Monica Furlong is another author who has a lot to say about this particular topic). Neither Le Guin nor St. John Mandel is a comforting writer, but I find myself returning to their books again and again to give myself a sense of hope.

    I would be remiss to leave this post without at least mentioning Catherine Jinks, who showed me that you could write powerful, meaningful, thoughtful work that is aimed at teenage readers, upends conventional, popular understanding of historical events, and is utterly hilarious. Jinks also gave me Pagan Kidrouk, my favourite fictional character of all time, someone whose stories I've been reading for more than twenty years, and which are the first books I reach for as comfort reading.

    I could go on and on and on here, but I'll stop at this point before things get ridiculous. I think it's fairly clear that I like different authors for different reasons, but it's hard for something to be my favourite unless it provokes a great intensity of emotion - and sustains this intensity of emotion over repeated rereads, over a period of many years. While I can appreciate the craft of writing in an abstract way, I need to be made to feel things, intensely, and think things, intensely, for the writing to make any kind of impression beyond the time spent reading it.

    I'm still taking requests for this meme. You can do so here on Dreamwidth or here on Livejournal.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    Not much to report this week, just two novels read - Runemarks and Runelight by Joanne Harris. These were solidly written, with nothing obviously wrong with them, and yet both failed to grab me, and I read the second more out of a sense of duty than interest.

    I think I'm going to have to say that Harris' interpretations of Norse myth simply don't work for me. I read her Gospel of Loki last year, and it, like these two books (which imagine a Europe shaped primarily by Norse, not Roman influence, in which Ragnarök has already happened), failed to resonate. I think part of the problem is that in books about gods (whatever the mythology), I'm wanting something very specific which most authors either fail to deliver, or aren't interested in writing. I touch on it in this review of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which does what I want in terms of supernatural-human interactions. Basically, what I want is a reflection on humanity, intense, complicated relationships between humans and deities, and, if possible, some kind of tense readjustment of human characters' moral landscapes once the beings they worship as fairly distant, abstract ideas become part of their world as physical realities. (If this happens in reverse - if gods and supernatural beings are forced to adjust their understanding of human beings once they spend time in close proximity to humans - then so much the better.)

    I realise this a very specific requirement, and that I'm basically taking Harris to task for failing write the story I wanted to read, so if post-apocalyptic retellings of Norse myth are your thing, I advise you to read other reviews rather than taking my word as an accurate evaluation of the qualities of these books. For me personally, however, they were a disappointment.
    dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
    This post is going to be a bit Isobelle Carmody-heavy. The final Obernewtyn book came out, and I am not okay.

    Monica Tan interviews Carmody in The Guardian:

    Elspeth’s question is how to exist in the world, to be what she is and to find people who would allow her to be what she is. I think it’s everybody’s question to find a place in the world and to find your tribe, but the world itself has to find a way to let groups of people exist with one another.

    Fran Kelly interviewed Carmody on Radio National:

    [Readers write to me saying] they feel they survived childhood because of those books.

    I appreciated this post by Jill S, 'Dragons and poison chalices':

    I’m gathering my community of support. We are small but mighty. And this community reminds me daily that there are people in the world who can support my dreams and don’t feel threatened by them. So when you find someone who cheers you on, wholeheartedly, without fear that you are going to diminish them, cling tight.

    I highly recommend 'A Cup of Salt Tears', a new-to-me short story by Isabel Yap.

    I appreciate the work that Natalie Luhrs does in keeping records, bearing witness, and holding people to account. This report on the recent World Fantasy Convention was excellent:

    In my experience, when many con-runners talk about best practices, what they mean is the way it’s always been done–and the way they’re most comfortable doing it.

    Mari Ness' post about problems with accessibility at the con (namely, that it was abysmal) is also an important read:

    Because, unfortunately, this is not the first disability/accessibility problem I have had with conventions, or the first time a convention has asked/agreed to have me on programming and then failed to have a ramp that allows me to access the stage. At least in this case it wasn’t a Disability in Science Fiction panel that, incredibly enough, lacked a ramp, but against that, in this case, the conrunners were aware I was coming, were aware that I use a wheelchair, had spoken to me prior to the convention and had assured me that the convention would be fully accessible, and put me on panels with stages but no ramp.

    Aliette de Bodard offers her thoughts on the (long overdue) decision to replace the WFA trophies with something other than Lovecraft's head:

    It’s not that I think Lovecraft should be forever cast beyond the pale of acceptable. I mean, come on, genre has had plenty of people who were, er, not shining examples of mankind, and I personally feel like the binary of “this person was a genius and can do no wrong/this person is a racist and can therefore do nothing of worth” doesn’t really make for constructive discussion. (but see above for the “we should give everything a fair chance” fallacy. I’m personally not particularly inclined to give reading time or space to a man who thought I was an abomination, and I will side-eye you quite a bit if you insist I should). It’s more that… these are the World Fantasy Awards. They’re not the H.P. Lovecraft Awards, so there’s no particular reason for him to be associated with them: doing so just creates extra awkwardness.

    And on a much lighter note, this story is just the most Australian thing ever: paramedics in Queensland have stopped asking patients the name of the prime minister, because nobody can keep track.

    “We would ask patients that question because it gave us an idea of their conscious level and ability to recall events,” Mr Abood said. “But the country’s prime ministers are changing so often, it’s no longer a good indication of their mental status.”

    Mr Abood once asked a patient to name the prime minister, only to be told: “I haven’t watched the news today.”


    I had a good laugh at that.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    I read a lot of fabulous books this (northern) summer, and I've written reviews of three, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine.

    You can read them over at Wordpress.
    dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
    The links this week are a bit of a mixed bag, partly because I've been somewhat distracted, and as a result this post is a bit shorter than usual.

    Tade Thompson made some important points about literature and diversity, storified by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. I see Tade's thoughts as another part in the conversation I linked to last week.

    Rochita Loenen-Ruiz had some further thoughts on the matter.

    Zen Cho posted 'Ten Things I Believe About Writing'. There's also a great interview with her up at Kitaab:

    I write stories as a way of answering questions.

    Another post by Rochita talks about language, identity, and the process behind writing her latest published story, ' Bagi: Ada ti Istorya':

    While thinking of language recovery, I found myself thinking too about what lies buried in language. What narratives had I chosen to erase when I chose to leave behind that language? What narratives could be pulled out of a text or a few lines or a word? What memory–what emotion would rise up from the use of a language that has lain dormant for so long.

    More on language and storytelling: Samantha Shannon interviewed her Dutch translator, Janet Limonard.

    I loved this new, bilingual Ghostwords post.

    Kate Elliott had lots of thoughts about Mad Max: Fury Road, and Charles Tan storified them.

    This review of Mad Max: Fury Road by Julianne Ross really resonated with me:

    But where Fury Road really surprises is in its genuine respect for the five women Furiosa is trying to save. They are beautiful, generous and kind — deliberately feminine traits that have allowed them to survive as long as they have, and which the movie refuses to treat as a burden or incidental.

    This Mad Max fanvid by [tumblr.com profile] jocarthage is simply breathtaking.

    Happy Friday, everyone!
    dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
    This week's post goes from the sublime to the ridiculous (but mainly focuses on the sublime).

    To start off, an absolutely fabulous roundtable on diversity. The participants are Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, M Sereno, Bogi Takács and JY Yang, moderated by Charles Tan.

    Over at Ladybusiness, Renay has created a fabulous summer (or winter) reading recommendation list.

    On a sadder note, Tanith Lee has died. Athena Andreadis has written a lovely tribute. Sophia McDougall shared an old anecdote about meeting Lee.

    There are a lot of new updates at Where Ghostwords Dwell.

    Sophia McDougall has posted an excerpt of Space Hostages, which will be published really soon.

    You can enter a giveaway to win an ARC of House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard here.

    I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this week and absolutely adored it. (If I had endless money and more time on my hands, I would have seen it at least five more times since Tuesday.) This essay by Tansy Rayner Roberts goes a long way towards explaining why.

    I found this post by Kaye Wierzbicki over at The Toast very moving. (Content note: discussion of abortion.)

    This is the last week of A Softer World and I am really not okay. This and this are probably my favourite recent comics of theirs.

    Natalie Luhrs is reading what looks to be a terrible book for a good cause. I encourage everyone who has the ability to donate. I will be donating to an equivalent UK-based charity.

    This post's title comes from my favourite Eurovision song this year, which didn't win. This did not bother me in the slightest.

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