8 hours ago
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
I had the worst dream last night -- first, I was teaching a math class, which is enough, frankly.
But then it was also final exam week and I had not made enough exams for the students in the class. I couldn't find my laptop so I could print more, and I couldn't find a blank copy of the exam to make copies.
All the students were in the classroom, exasperated and angry. Twenty-seven students without exams!
So I decided I would go upstairs to the 10th floor (no, our building does not have ten floors) to see if I had left my laptop in the office there (my office is on the first floor of our two-story building). But the elevators were filled with students leaving, because it was five o'clock on the last day of exams. I couldn't get into an elevator. When I did get into one, it wouldn't stop on the 10th floor.
Then when I finally reached my office, my office was gone. It had been replaced with an office for adjuncts. All my stuff was gone. No one in the office knew were it had gone.
I woke up from this dream twice, extremely agitated both time, though the second time I woke up enough to remember (a) I don't teach math and (2) the semester had been over for weeks. No one was waiting for their exam.
Anxiety dreams are the best.
Sunday, December 29, 2019
Caveat: This is a post about the books I liked best in 2019. So, not objective! Some of them may not have been written in 2019 either. These are just the books I read in 2019 that I liked a lot.
Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on CatNet
Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
Bernadine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other
Emily Guendelsberger, On the Clock
M. R. Carey, Someone Like Me
Kameron Hurley, Light Brigade
Liane Moriarty, What Alice Forgot
Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire
Also April 2019
Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh
J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country
Saturday, December 28, 2019
Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
I'm not a big fan of Atwood, on the whole; but since this one was a co-winner of the Booker prize, and was right there on the library shelf, I gave it a read. It's all right. Good writing, and I like what she did with Aunt Lydia -- an excellent picture of how one adapts and works within an evil system. I also like that we get a picture of the world outside Gilead, and the ways that world deals with the evil of the country.
As Atwood has noted, nothing in these books is really fiction -- everything she uses is something actually being done to (and often by) women in our very time. That's useful to keep in mind as you read them.
The ending is a bit of a stretch, and nothing is in this book that hasn't been written (better, in my opinion) in actual science fiction novels. But it's worth reading if you're an Atwood fan, or just want to see what happens with the characters from a different point of view.
Seanan McGuire, Middlegame
Seanan McGuire is probably the most prolific writer of YA SFF working right now. Her Wayward Children series is probably her most popular. It's a twist on portal stories, like C.S. Lewis's Narnia or Alice in Wonderland. Basically, McGuire writes about what happens when the children come back through the portal.
Middlegame is a different pile of fish entirely. Here, we have a secret cabal of alchemists, one of whom -- Reed, a Frankenstein-like creation -- is attempting to get the universe into his (magical) control. He and his Igor-character, another alchemist named Leigh, create a series of (cloned, I think?) twins. Through these twins they hope to take control of time and space, and thus the world.
The main twins are named Roger and Dodger. The previous sets of twins, all raised in the lab, have not worked out, so Reed and Leigh place this "run" (five sets of twins) out as foster children. Much of the book concerns Roger and Dodger, one of whom is being raised in California and the other in Boston. They are linked mentally, which is one of the signs, for Reed, that their magical nature is proving out. So far, so good.
On the other hand, since they're not being raised in the lab, under Reed and Leigh's warping influence, they're also developing into human children. When they begin to "manifest," to come into their power, this becomes a problem for Reed.
Lots of good stuff here, and very readable. Some gore and violence, too, though that's mostly off-stage.
Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here
This book I picked up from the library shelf and put down again three weeks in a row. The premise was just too ridiculous. A pair of twins that burst into fire when they're upset? Please. (Not a fan of magical realism, here, for the most part.)
But then I read the first few pages, and decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It does have the bizarre twins, but once you accept that as a metaphor (that's what I did, anyway), this is a very good book. The twins are not the main point, though the twins are also very engaging and well-done.
The focus of the book is the main character, Lillian Breaker, and her relationship with her erstwhile roommate, Madison Roberts. Their relationship is troubled, to say the least -- lovers in boarding school, and epistolary friends afterwards. Madison comes from the .01%, the billionaires who own and run the country. Lillian is the child of a junkie in Kentucky, who gets a scholarship to the boarding school and learns some hard home truths about the American meritocracy.
Most of the story takes places well after the boarding school section. Madison marries a senator, whose children from his previous marriage are these combustible twins. She begs Lillian to come be a governess for the twins, though really to keep them out of sight while the Senator is vetted for a powerful position on the current president's cabinet.
It's a fish-out-of-water story, but also a look at how the wealthy own and exploit the country. (Reed in Middlegame has nothing on these people.) Madison gets a redemption arc that I'm not sure I believe, but other than that, this is nice writing and very engaging. Wilson is on my read-more list.
Allen Eskers, Nothing More Dangerous
This was readable, but just barely. Eskers says, in the forward, that he wrote a draft of this book when he was younger, and wanted to write about racism. It reads like a first novel that should never have been revived, frankly. (Do we really need another novel whitesplaining racism to us?)
Basically, it's the story of a poor white kid who befriends a rich black kid in their racist town in the 1970s. The best part of the book is the relationship between the poor white kid and the owner of a local construction firm. This is a nice portrayal of how social structures in the small-town South function. The parts about how the local KKK (they have a different name) use and exploit these social structures is also good.
But the story itself is a little tedious. The good guys triumph, the racists are defeated, good white people are more powerful than racist white people -- comforting, I suppose, but not realistic.
Michael Francis Gilbert, The Country-House Burglar
I'm a big fan of British mystery novels written from about 1920 to 1940. This one is a little outside that range, being written in 1955, but I'd seen Gilbert recommended somewhere (Jo Walton's blog, maybe?) and this was one of the few Gilbert books my library has. So I gave it a look.
It's nice work, containing most of what I like in a British mystery from the 1930s (my sweet spot), which is to say details of British country life, well-done and fully developed characters, and a mystery that doesn't really intrude on my pleasure in those details. Since this is post-war England, there's also some good details about how soldiers from WWII were being re-integrated into village life.
Not Dorothy Sayers, but worth reading, if you're into this sort of thing.
Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Sunday, December 22, 2019
I probably ought to wait a week or so to write this, given that I'm not yet out of the dark woods. But I'm so much better than I was.
Kidney stones, as I said earlier, started all this.
I have two massive stones, and they jammed up in my urethra, which just for the record I do not recommend. Not only does this cause pain beyond comprehension, it also will cause urine to back up into the kidney, causing it to swell (and also hurt amazingly) and sooner or later begin to die.
This is why when you go to the ER with kidney stones, they get you in right away, organ death being nothing to fuck with. (The people at the ER were great, by the way, even the second time, when I went in on Saturday night, when they were swamped.)
The first time, they kept me two days, putting in a stent (bypassing the stones, as they thought) while also giving me IV morphine and fluids. I went home and was better for maybe three days, though still very sick.
Then very rapidly I deteriorated, with non-stop vomiting, more pain, and a general feeling I can't even describe to you. I've never felt that bad. As it turned out, this was because my kidneys were, in fact, shutting down. (Again, do not recommend.)
Back to the ER, where they admitted me once again. The urologist guy I'd seen while I was out came by at four a.m. (everything in hospitals happens at night) to tell me the CT and ultrasound showed the stones jammed up against the top of the stent, blocking it. They had to put a new stent in.
"I thought they did lithotripsy," I said. "I thought they broke up the stones."
"Not yet," he said grimly. Apparently the entire state of Arkansas has one lithotripsy machine and it won't be at this hospital until December 27th (when I'm scheduled to have it done). Good thing we don't have socialized medicine, huh? Some people might have to risk their lives waiting for proper care.
Anyway, they gave me more morphine and fluids, put in a new stent, threading it past the stones this time, and sent me home to wait until the machine is available. Since the stent isn't blocked by the stones now, my kidney function is improving, and I'm feeling much better.
On the other hand, I spent the past two weeks either vomiting or queasy, unable to eat anything at all (literally -- I tried to eat a cracker and couldn't manage), so I'm down 12 pounds and so weak I can barely walk out to the mailbox.
Looking back (1) I should have gone to the ER much sooner, except I was still hoping I would pass the stone on my own and (B) I should have gone back to the ER much, much sooner.
But given how much all this is going to cost (the hospital $$$ person has nicely set us up with a payment plan, as they will), yeah.
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
This is my town
This is a professor at my school (the kid used to love going to his lectures)
For your holiday giving
Good for you, buddy
Like all his other tax scams, Trump's child tax credit helps exactly who it's supposed to help -- the upper class
Nothing new here -- and that's the point
(I'm so sick y'all. More posts when I'm better, I hope.)
Monday, December 09, 2019
This is wonderful
As is this -- especially great if, like me, you are always running short of new books to read
A free quality university education is indeed possible -- we just have to decide to do it
What could it be
This is nice, but won't make much difference, since Conservatives believe whatever lies Fox News feeds them
If unemployment is so low, why is everyone so broke? (An explanation.)
I've got your erased history right here
Making American Great Again
The RESPECTABLE White Nationalist Propaganda
0/10, would not recommend.
This time I had two of them, both so large the ER guy admitted me to the hospital. The urologist guy came in and did the procedure special on Sunday, so that my kidney wouldn't die. It's a wossname thing, a lithotripsy, where the doctors break up the stones with sound waves.
They also put a stent in, so that the stones can get out more easily, though I am here to tell you that "more easily" is a relative term. I have to go in next week and get the stent removed. No, you do not want to know where the stent is. (I bet you can guess.)
Also, thanks to the opioid crisis, they have not given me nearly enough hydrocodone. (To be fair, how would you fit infinity hydrocodone in one of those tiny translucent orange prescription vials?)
While I was actually in the hospital, however, they kept me topped up on very nice pain medications, including some that gave me lovely and very weird hallucinations.
How much will all this cost? Yeah, all the fucking money, that's how much.
At least I have insurance.
Friday, December 06, 2019
There's a new chapter of Triple Junction up at my Patreon!
For as little as $3.00/month you can have immediate access to 45 chapters, plus a new chapter every Friday. Here's an excerpt from today's chapter:
“You’re not lying,” Dallas said. “That was all true, what you said.”
“Fuck’s sake, Dallas.” Martin kicked a clot of frozen snow from their path. “You ain’t think this will work. This Revolution shit?” He ducked under an ice-crusted bally tree and slid down the slope to the river. Snow swirled into water running black over rocks. He scowled, thinking the best way to cross.
Dallas landed beside him. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Forget it.” He stomped the nearest rock, making certain it was solid footing, stepped from it to the next. A third got him across. Dallas followed his path. They climbed the bank on the other side, and Martin looked about them. Dallas pointed north. “That way, I thought,” Martin said, nodding more northwest. “That outcrop there, is it?”
“If it’s a rock involved, I trust you,” Dallas said, and they went northwest. “You really don’t think we’ll win?”
He shrugged up the collar of his jacket – a contract labor work jacket, heavy canvas fabric, metal buttons, quilted lining, better gear than ninety percent of the cots on this planet ever saw, shit better than those miners had been wearing – and bit on his tongue to keep from arguing.
But then he argued anyway. “Dallas. You know how much just one of us costs? Just one contract laborer? My tag’s eighty-nine thousand. I bet yours is close to that. You really think these holders will free five million of us because we ask nice?”
“We’re not asking nice.”
“They’ll shoot every pissing one of us, you fuckwit, before they give us up.”
Monday, December 02, 2019
The Kid is doing a presentation for his anthropology seminar, which is on extinction events. His is on detritivores, as I believe I've mentioned, and how they handle extinction events.
This is a cartoon he drew for the presentation:
(The joke rests on knowing that mammals and plants do badly during extinction events, but detritivores do extremely well.)
Sunday, December 01, 2019
Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on Catnet
I'll be honest, I'll read anything Naomi Kritzer writes at this point. But this is a wonderful book. It's (sort of) the further adventures of the AI in her story "Cat Pictures, Please," which won the Hugo for the best short story in 2016.
Here, the AI is (among other things) running an online group called Catnet, where our main character, Stephania, hangs out with her friends. Steph and her mother are fleeing from -- have been fleeing from -- Steph's father for most of Steph's life, and most of the novel's plot concerns that.
But what's wonderful here is the characterization and the world-building. Kritzer captures perfectly what today's teens are like, and what their lives are like, living 80% online and only 20% in meatspace as they do. She captures too their ability to understand and to empathize and adapt, and how that is connected to their online lives -- to the fact that they know and experience reality beyond their small meatspace lives. This is good stuff.
The AI is also charming. I loved the AI in the short story, and the AI is wonderful here too.
Also the book is compulsively readable. I've read it twice now and both times I literally could not stop -- I read it straight through, even though it meant staying up far too late both times. I'll be very surprised if this one doesn't win a Hugo for Kritzer as well.
Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
This is a wonderful book. Ann Patchett is, at least for me, a hit-or-miss writer. I've liked some of her books (Bel Canto, The Patron Saint of Liars) very much, and others (Taft, Commonwealth) not at all. So I very nearly didn't even take this one down from the shelf at the library.
But it has a very pretty cover, and so I did. And the pages, which I read standing there by the New Fiction shelves, were very good. So I checked it out, and it was just a delight. Every page was delicious. It's one of those books I want to buy multiple copies of and force people to read.
Plot: a brother and his older sister, growing up in a wealthy but dysfunctional family, are ejected from their wonderful house and from that family by their father's second wife upon the death of their father. Their anger at this warps the next 30 years of their life.
But the plot is secondary. The rich eye for detail and characters, the wonderful grasp of the world of Philadelphia, New York, and their suburbs from 1940 through the 1990s, and the way families love and damage one another -- all wrapped up in this delight of a book. You must read it. No, really. You must.
Joe Hill, Full Throttle
Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. I haven't been impressed by his previous work, but this collection of short stories is not bad. A few duds -- I didn't much like the one about the haunted carousel, or the one about the tall grass that's been made into a movie (and also has an entirely unnecessary incest vibe, not to mention fetal cannibalism). But there's a wonderful story, "You are Released," in here, and a couple other very good ones.
I'd give it a B+.
W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
I really liked Maugham's Cakes and Ale, which I discussed in my last set of What I'm Reading Now. So I requested this from the library. It's a big fat novel, which is usually my jam. The first half was pretty good, though it bore a certain similarity to bits of Cakes and Ale -- the main character was an orphaned boy raised by his aunt and uncle, a Vicar, in Blackstable in Kent, who grows up to be a doctor. The second half, though, after Philip meets Mildred is both unbelievable and boring.
Why would Philip fall in love with this women who is boring, stupid, ugly, and annoying? Why would he become obsessed with such a woman, to the extent that he destroys his life and livelihood? I know we're supposed to believe that his human passion overrules his intellect, but please. What about her has aroused his passion? Nothing about her seems at all attractive, he's not even having sex with her -- unless I missed it, he doesn't ever have sex with her -- and yet we're supposed to believe that he's so overwhelmed with love and I guess lust that he can't help destroying his life because of his passion for this entirely crap woman.
(a) I don't and (2) it makes for a very boring second half of the novel because I'm just not interested in watching Philip do stupid things for a stupid reason for 400 pages.
Don't waste your time.