zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
2012-01-02 08:05 am

Books read August - December 2011

I had a dramatic downturn in my reading in the second half of the year, I think because I started getting some energy back and being able to think about creating again (fanfic, fanvids, pottering at original fiction, etc). So might as well glom these months together:

15 books read in 5 months )

Stats for 2011 as a whole:
Total books read - 89, of which
71 by women;
35 by people of colour;
3 by LGBT authors (! okay, I need to do more reading here)
17 by New Zealand authors
22 science fiction
12 fantasy
8 "unfantasy" which is a tag I use when I don't think/don't know that the author would call it fantasy (eg it portrays spirituality or cultural beliefs) but I think fantasy readers would enjoy it for the same reasons that they enjoy fantasy. Or something like that. It's a very subjective thing.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
2011-06-29 06:01 pm
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In which she goes clothes shopping

I needed some jerseys and some thermal underwear and whatever else I could find, so I made a date with my sister to go clothes shopping. In due course I came home with one jersey, one pair of woollen tights, and six books.

(Borders was having a "Fill a bag for $10 sale". I could have fit a lot more books in if I'd been thinking with my Bookcrossing hat on instead of my "Would I conceivably read this?" hat. At least I did go back and grab a copy of Ko Maui Raua Ko Te Atua O Te Ahi even though I'm going to need to read it with my dictionary next to me.)

I did figure out why none of the shops anywhere anywhere sell bottle-green jerseys. It's because bottle-green jerseys are part of some school uniforms, so it'd look totally dorky. (I was briefly tempted to buy one of the school jerseys anyway, but... it really really looks like part of a school uniform.) Hypothesis: this may also be why it's impossible to find non-transparent white blouses. I don't understand the point of transparent white blouses, but presumably someone buys them.

I used to have a bottle-green jersey which didn't look like part of a school uniform, and it was awesome, so I spilled things on it and then wore it anyway until the cuffs started to fray. Same thing happened with the nearly-eggyolk yellow jersey I had. I miss those jerseys fiercely. However, my new purple jersey is very nice too.

I retain an abiding interest in woollen tights of colours beyond Columbine's range of blue, black, grey, or another-grey, but I think for this I shall have to resort to online shopping and shipping.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
2011-06-18 10:18 pm
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In which she is pennywise

Fictionwise is having a 55%-off sale this weekend (with coupon code - if you're a member you probably got an email, otherwise ask me). It turns out this is exactly enough to make the 49cent book in my wishlist equal the 22cents I had left of store credit. Score! It'd been a while since I last really visited Fictionwise, and it's getting all Barnes-and-Nobl-ified, which is a major problem when it comes to geographical restrictions.

I also earned myself another few dollars on Amazon's Mechanical Turk today. I've mentioned before how exploitative it is. But every now and then I go, run a search for tasks that pay at least $1 (at least $2 if I'm picky, or 50cents if I'm bored) and skim through for the short surveys and the transcriptions. (YMMV on the transcriptions - it's not worth the time if you don't have a reasonable typing speed, and is only worth bored time even then.) I avoid *all* the writing exercises, firstly because they're terrible rates but mostly because they're obviously for spammers and I don't help spammers.

In other passtimes, I've been doing occasional bits of revision; am recataloguing my books with the aid of a barcode reader borrowed from work (this would be easier if publishers hadn't gone through a phase of using barcodes of UPCs instead of ISBNs. At least they also went through a phase of printing the ISBN on the spine, which helps when the colour hasn't since faded), and lots on Distributed Proofreaders.

I feel like I'm repeating myself about some of this. I feel like I'm repeating myself about some of this.

Also I'm currently reading Twilight. It's really not terrible. It's got some deeply skeezy moments, but it's also got some cool ones. Even at its worst so far, I've read a heck of a lot worse. Anyway, I'll do a proper review once I'm done.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
2011-06-02 07:07 am
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Books read May 2011

8 books read in May, 7 of which on the ereader which is wondiferous )

Also began a new Around the world in 203 books project, hence Sandro of Chegem. Should get onto the next country now, if only my ereader weren't highlighting how annoying it is to lug a paper book around everywhere...
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
2011-05-27 07:40 pm
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In which a one-hour seminar takes up the entire work-day

I did admittedly have couple of hours of my ordinary tasks first thing in the morning -- part of which involved communicating with some Internal Relationships (to use position description jargon) about whether or not they could attend the seminar. Then my manager instant messaged me to ask if I could a) make posters and b) do the physical set-up for it, so I made the posters and checked about extension cords and such.

Usually it's quarter of an hour to walk between campuses, but I had to go via another branch to pick up the dataprojector, so it turned out half an hour. Half an hour to set up. One hour for the seminar. Half an hour for lunch (which I spent with the speaker) and then a 40 minute meeting with her and an Internal Relationship who hadn't been able to make the seminar.

Then back to the other branch to return the dataprojector and discovered that the office it resides in was occupied. Now, this colleague -- just as, if you go between campuses you have to spend quarter of an hour walking, so if you meet this colleague you have to spend an hour and a half talking. Law of nature. I don't understand everything he says or how on earth he segues so smoothly between so many disparate subjects, but it's always fascinating.

Then I walked back to my current home-branch. I'd planned to check my email for emergencies before I left, but (partly due to a blister -- I may eventually give up on these boots :-( ) I only got there in time to pack up, phone the pharmacy, and grab the bus.

Attempted to return an interloan to the (temporary) public library except, even leaving earlier than I would on days when I have a 1-hour lunch plus proper tea breaks, it was closed by the time my bus got me there. On the way though I got attacked by a sudden fit of melancholy at seeing a glimpse of its proper (but inaccessible) location and walking over a hump in the sidewalk(*), and haven't figured out what I'll spend the evening doing to combat this yet.

(*) Have I mentioned humps in the sidewalk? And in the road, of course, but many/most of those are more or less levelled by now. I must have. But they're so fascinating. The asphalt has actually stretched over the sand volcano that's erupted beneath it. Stretchy concrete! So cool!

Oh, also I'll recommend the charity anthology Tales for Canterbury. 34 stories, extremely competitively priced DRM-free ebook (print version coming soon), proceeds to Red Cross. I reviewed it on Goodreads.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2011-05-07 05:13 pm
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Books read April 2011

11 books read in April (including 8 print, 3 ebook) )

Of the month, my favourites were Lud-in-the-Mist and Cereus Blooms At Night.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
2011-04-02 11:02 pm
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Books read March 2011

7 books read in March )

I don't think there were any I tried to read but gave up on. It took forever to get through Pride and Prejudice, but that was due to quake brain, and Aliénor d'Aquitaine, but that was due to it being in French and less skimmable and work starting up again.
zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
2011-03-26 11:29 pm
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In which she chills with her hi-tech potty

Found just enough space in the toilet-room to put it while letting the door still open and close. Reread all the instructions, pulled everything apart and put it back together, and finally felt confident enough to pour the chemicals in the waste tank and the water in the water tank. Spilled splashes of both. Hopefully this isn't an omen for when it comes time to empty the tank.

Have now used it a couple of times. It's kinda cute: one sits as normal, then once you're done you close the lid and pull out a lever on the front, which opens the bottom of the bowl and lets gravity do its thing. For extra cleaning power, you can pump a pump which squirts more water into the bowl. Then you push the lever back in (thus closing the bottom of the bowl) and pump the pump, which puts water into the bowl just like a regular Western-style toilet.

When the waste tank is full (or not yet too heavy to carry and it's a convenient time of day so you're not too worried about people staring - I'm still pondering this; dawn might be okay if that's before kids start leaving for school, but I haven't kept up with the sun's peregrinations recently) you unclip the seat/water-tank combo from the waste tank. (It's automatically closed because the lever's pushed in.) It's got a handle for carrying and another opening for pouring into the waste emptying silos on every other street. Then you clip it back together, add more chemicals to the waste tank and water to the water tank and you're good to go.

In the night, the city council sends tankers along to empty the silos. It's terribly ingenious and depressingly older-than-medieval.

In other news:
  • washed hair and clothes and dishes and put a bowl of soapy boiled water in the sink outside the toilet and filled more bottles with boiled water and bleach. So much water! Water's terribly useful, when you come to think of it.
  • sunburn has graduated from yesterday's lizard-skin to itchy itchy itchy! Continuing to moisturise
  • dropped another bunch of books at the busstop around lunch, all gone by evening
  • sister gave me a romance novel called "Capturing Annie" and I read the start of it. It's so terrible it's hilarious. We've agreed it's especially fun if I only read it while she's in the room so she can enjoy the noises I make when the captain's muscles contract at Annie-disguised-as-Jem's bold gaze. (Important note: I know not all romance novels are terrible, even the mass production ones. But this is one of those which is. I have a couple of others on my shelf - well, on the floor - though I have a special fondness of the science-fiction one where occasionally the author remembers that this is a science-fiction novel so you can't have just a mirror, it's got to be a bit of technology called a reflector, and then in due course our Hero and Heroine heal a world with the power of their love. I mean, literally, they heal everyone on an entire planet with this power generated by their love. It's awesome.)
  • got unduly distressed at a headline reading "Anzac Day in park". I thought, "What, have I lost track of time so much I missed Anzac Day? But no, that can't be right, we'd have got the day off work. I distinctly remember not getting the day off work." And then I read the article in which they were talking about plans to celebrate Anzac Day next month in the park (rather than at the war memorial next to the Cathedral).
  • brought home 4 of the jars of peaches Mum and I bottled before the quake. I see peaches in my future!
  • aftershocks continued through the afternoon, a bit more than most days. Wobble. Wobble bang. Bang. Wibble. That kind of thing. They're mostly background noise, which some people don't even notice, some notice but don't care (mostly this is me), and some have their stress levels ramped up by it.
  • So apparently Earth Hour was this evening? They didn't really advertise in Christchurch but Twitter was full of comments about how we've turned off the lights enough to last us until 2018, etc. My favourite tweet was a suggestion to celebrate Earth Hour by going outside and spitting on the ground.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2011-03-25 09:41 am
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In which she bans a book from a library

The local library being closed ("repairs required plus some issues with the neighbouring mall") I got around to grabbing some to-be-bookcrossed books from the mess on my living room floor and bookcrossed them to the busstop opposite said mall (with a sign to say "take/enjoy/pass on" and a note about which real libraries are open).

As I was putting the books in the bag, though, I noticed that one of them was "Under the Mountain" by Maurice Gee. "Under the Mountain" is a New Zealand classic and has been filmed a time or two, so you might wonder what could possibly be objectionable about it. Well, let me tell you, behind a spoiler tag: (skip) On the last page, after the kids have defeated the Threat To The World, it emerges that because the boy slacked off a bit in his world-saving efforts, things exploded and now they have to walk back to an Auckland suffering from the aftereffects of major volcanic eruption.

...I mean, this is a bit of an inexplicable downer at the best of times, which I only keep forgetting because it feels so pasted on, but right now I'm not inflicting that on unknown kids without warning, so the book's still sitting on my bedroom floor while the rest of the books are sitting at the busstop (or hopefully by now in a bunch of people's hands). If anyone wants to read it anyway, let me know and we can arrange something.

To balance this terrible display of censorship on my part, a fellow bookcrosser noticed my releases and has offered a box of spare books she's got, for continuing restocking efforts; I should be able to pick these up on Monday or so, and then I'll just put out a little bunch at a time. So that's very awesome.

I think there's also some more books on my living room floor that I wanted to bookcross, so that's more incentive to finish tidying them up. The big question of course remains: To put them back on the shelves or not to put them back on the shelves?
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
2011-03-20 05:29 pm
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In which she remembers that February ended

I suddenly recalled today not only that I'd been planning to post my "books read" each month, but also that February ended a wee while ago. (I may have mentioned a few times that time is weird at the moment. The other day I was on the bus and heard people talking about the end of daylight saving coming up sometime. I blinked several times. It was like the conversation implied that time was actually moving on in an orderly fashion, unaffected by trivialities like geology.)

Anyway, so here they are:

8 books read in February )

And one book I didn't finish (in fact barely started):

My attempt to introduce myself to manga by picking the first one I see at the library that says "volume 1" was probably doomed to failure even before 95% of the libraries in town were forcibly closed. I think I'll find it easier to get used to the manga format if I first identify a story that wouldn't annoy me no matter what format it was in. I managed a couple dozen pages, I think, before deciding that not only did I have very little idea what was happening, I was pretty sure that if/when I did figure out what was going on I'd only hate all the characters.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2011-01-31 09:53 pm
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In which she reviews January's reading

Since I've had to restrict my computer use this month to take care of my poor wrists, I've been reading a lot instead. Specifically, I no longer take my laptop on the bus to work, just a book and a notebook, and since I have to be careful even writing by hand, bus time and break time and lunchtime add up to almost 3 hours of reading a day (more if I can't stop reading when I get home). This turns out to get me through quite a substantial number of books.

I've been posting my book reviews as I go to Goodreads, which feeds to Twitter (though I may tweak the manner whereby it does that) but thought I'd gather the month's worth all in one place too.

17 books read in January )

I think my favourite this month were Fudoki and The Speed of Dark.

And a bonus feature! Books I didn't even manage to finish

At home and abroad: or, Memoirs of Emily de Cardonnell by Charlotte Eaton
This began as conventional old-fashioned romance, with a worthy young lady admired by a dashing foreign count; add in a misunderstanding and suspicions of her honesty, then a couple of less likeable characters to stir up the plot – and here it all fell apart, because the author devoted so many chapters to having the supposedly admirable characters teasing and mocking and laughing at whatever misfortune befell the less(?) likeable characters that I fell out of sympathy entirely with anyone and everyone involved.

Vincalis the Agitator by Holly Lisle
I was browsing the library shelves, trying hard not to get book 2 of a trilogy, and ended up with a prequel instead. This would have been fine, and I was reading along happily until we got the bully, and the millennium-long government conspiracy to power the Empire with the flesh of its prisoners, and the bad guy with the harem of underage abductees. And the whole adulthood festival, where you get to do anything you like without ramification, which apparently means sex, and it emerges that yes, this does mean you can molest unwilling participants at will, and in millennia it's never occurred to anyone that this kind of sucks. I'd kind of like to know what happens next, but not enough to keep wading through this.

Random other notes:

  • I'm debating whether or not to buy an e-reader. I could just keep using my laptop of course, so it seems hard to justify spending the extra money. But if I'm not allowed to use the advanced features on my laptop, such as the keyboard, it's a nuisance having to lug the whole thing around. (Actually, the really annoying thing is having to unplug the microphone headset, because when I plug it in again I have to relaunch the whole speech recognition application and it's slow.)

  • I found some books in the bargain bin at a book store the other day, and they couldn't find one on the computer system, so gave it to me for free, so I ended up with three books for five dollars. New Zealand dollars.

  • I forget what else I was going to say. Oh! Except that, when people make hyperlinks or cut links, it's really handy if they're not called “click here" or “read more" or something, because with my software I can speak the words being linked and then tell the computer to open it, but this doesn't work so well when there are 10 links all the same and the computer doesn't know which one to choose. So the best links for me include a combination of words that isn't anywhere else on the page, which (given combinatorics) is pretty easy as long as it says something other than “read more". Anyway, however, my hands are okay to click the occasional link if I need to, and I have other workarounds too, so it's not like I'm going to unfriend anyone based on this, or even much notice, just I thought I'd say in case it's the kind of thing anyone likes to think about.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-11-19 11:44 am
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In which she reads some New Zealand fantasies

Ripples on the Lake by Dawn Rotarangi (Pākehā, though she's married to a Māori guy)
Older-young adult fantasy (marketed as "paranormal adventure").

The point of view characters are Pākehā (white New Zealanders): Saffron, eldest of five siblings, who's drawn into events by trying to protect her youngest brother from the results of stealing some tapu (sort of sacred/taboo - anyway, dangerous) coins; and Nick, a press photographer with a penchant for taking photos of anything that's bleeding. With her whole family at risk, Saffron has to put things right with some help from local Māori and eventually Nick.

(The story subverts the "Magical Negro" trope in that the Māori helping her aren't so much taking a backseat to the white heroine because she's the heroine, but rather because they're way too smart to mess with these things if they don't have to. In some cases they're explicitly using her so they can keep a distance.)

I like the British superstition as a backdrop to what the Pākehā characters scorn as Māori 'superstition'. It's part of what gets Saffron involved (her father inculcated all his kids with a strong sense that it's a good idea to avoid cracks in the pavement, the number 13, black cats, etc, just in case, so she plays along with the whole tapu thing long enough to find out that yeah, this stuff's real) and thematically it makes a nice compare-and-contrast.

Trigger warnings: (skip) Refers to suicide of Saffron's father. Contains graphic descriptions of two of her siblings' deaths and of a massacre of women and babies.

Cut for my irritable judgement of some of the male characters, involving MANY spoilers )

Beak of the Moon by Philip Temple
Young adult; Watership Down with kea; myxomatosis is replaced with fire and sheep.

I read it mostly because I'm researching kea, in aid of hopefully writing a short story about them. It was okay I guess. Makes an interesting compare-and-contrast with Sil: A Novel by Jill Harris which is the same thing but with tui and a different plot - Sil is about a singing contest and the threat of magpies rather than the whole "Must leave dictatorial home to establish a new utopian colony. Oh noes, we forgot the females!" thing. In fact both Sil and Beak of the Moon have scenes where Our Heroes attempt to fly over a large body of water (Sil is trying to flee to an island in his grief at losing the singing contest; Strongbeak of Beak of the Moon hasn't quite figured out that Australia is more than 16km away from New Zealand) with disastrous results.

In terms of anthropomorphisation, Watership Down does the least and Beak of the Moon is pretty close to that (particularly because if you know anything about kea you'll be ready to believe pretty much anything about them); Sil has more and I particularly go squinty-eyed at the tui plot to imitate magpies in order to annoy the humans enough that the humans will shoot all the magpies. But as books for that age groups go, it was a book for that age group.

The compare and contrast of Beak of the Moon with Watership Down is a bit more interesting but also makes its failings the more obvious. The first two thirds of the novel follow the Watership Down plot pretty closely, though it's slower to get started, there's more infighting among our intrepid adventurers, and in the last third they come back home and deal with the problems there; and then they establish their colony in the last chapter. I did like that it was more rooted in the home and that the book considered it important to solve the problems there, but... Strongbeak's wavering between determination-bordering-on-recklessness and Hamlet-like indecision made it all drag a bit.

Kea mythology isn't quite as fun-filled as rabbit mythology, though it's competent and plausible.

But what really irritated me were:
  1. In chapter one, Our Heroes meet humans for the first time. Humans who wear different coloured hats, and ride horses, and leave out bread for them to eat (and later in the book start fires and bring sheep and shoot the kea with guns). And kea have never before even heard of humans. Apparently Māori don't exist in this New Zealand. I... I guess that could be why the kea meet moa on their journeys? In short: Oh Philip Temple no.
  2. He's clearly done some research on kea, but has equally clearly failed to do research on their history. Part of the reason I read the book was that I am doing research on their history. I didn't find it too hard at all to discover that the early history of kea/human relations goes like this:
    • Māori and kea know about each other. Māori know that kea come further down the mountains in colder winters. There's a reference to some Māori training them as pets.
    • Pākehā naturalists arrive, observe and describe kea. (1856 at the latest.) There's more interaction over the next few years. A topographer knocks them down with stones for food.
    • Pākehā drive sheep into the areas where kea are spending cold winters. Kea investigate the shepherds' huts and discover the joys of pecking at sheep skins and other remains of humans butchering sheep. Some get captured (most promptly escape).
    • Kea discover they can get awesome tasty food from sheep killed in accidents.
    • Kea discover that you don't even need to wait for the sheep to be dead.
    • Pākehā think for months (if not years; I'm not sure if I've seen an exact chronology of the early years) that the resultant wounds are some new kind of sheep disease, until one shepherd in 1871 notices what's actually going on (almost half-way down the page).
    • At some point kea start outright killing the sheep (rather than nomming on them alive and the sheep sometimes dying later of their wounds) but this mightn't be until the 1880s.
    • From 1878 on, Pākehā work out new and increasingly exciting ways of slaughtering the kea to protect their sheep. (I concede there was probably some of this going on from 1871 on smaller scales.) By 1883 beaks are taken as trophies as the government pays a few shillings a beak.
    Temple's history, by contrast, appears to be:
    • There are no Māori.
    • There are no naturalists.
    • In the space of a single year, Pākehā meet kea for the first time ever, set fire to the mountain, and bring sheep (which the kea call "pinkfaces"! Philip Temple, have you ever seen a sheep? if there's any pink quality it's not exactly the first impression a kea would have) to feed on the new growth; in the same year the rest of the book takes place and then, in desperation, a kea discovers a nommy sheep carcass and within a week some more kea learn to kill them; next day the humans shoot at and kill several of the kea, after which the story would have us believe all the kea swear off meat forever.
So that was kind of irritating for me.

(Buller wrote a decent overview of what Pākehā knew about kea by the late 19th century. I can give references to anything not mentioned there.)
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-11-17 06:48 pm
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In which she gets books and reads

5 of the 7 books I ordered from the Huia booksale arrived. I'm going to wait a couple of days before enquiring about the other 2.

I haven't read any of these yet. Instead I finished reading The Mysteries of Udolpho on my iPod, which let me remind you, o my friends, is not an iPod touch or anything so fancy, but an iPod Nano. Which is okay for reading when you're waiting for a couple of minutes at the busstop, but not actually ideal to reading a whole novel in an armchair, nor terribly good at remembering that you're up to page 365 and not page 14. There was a period where it'd remember the page number that I began at last session, but I worked out how to cure it of that, and that's when page 14 began turning up. I've no idea where it got page 14 from.

Anyway, Udolpho can fairly be summarised thusly (for which purposes I'll leave out the epic gay love affair buried in the subtext in the first few chapters. It was epic, okay? Even if technically it was all a figment of how social conventions required a heroine to be way less enthusiastic about her admirer than her father is. <sigh>) --

So. Our Heroine falls in love, admires pretty scenery, gets orphaned, admires pretty scenery, is dragged around by evil relations, admires pretty scenery, is terrorised by terrible terrors and also the whole world wants to marry her. She sustains her fortitude by admiring pretty scenery, then escapes to safety, admires pretty scenery, discovers her boyfriend has turned to <gasp> gambling and so tearfully jilts him, admires pretty scenery, discovers that the Awful Truth about her birth isn't actually that awful and also she's now a super-rich heiress, admires pretty scenery, discovers that her boyfriend's misdemeanours weren't as terrible as she'd heard so marries him, and admires pretty scenery.

Also, every second time she admired the pretty scenery, she either recollected or wrote some poetry about it, which the author saw fit to inflict on the reader in full. I swear they were called things like "Meditation on a bat".

Normally I'm not one for abridged versions of books, but I think Udolpho wouldn't be much harmed by a little pruning.

However, it was great fun to get some idea of what Northanger Abbey was all reacting to. And a tad ironic that there was that, "Seriously, girl, life's way more prosaic than your gothic horror stories" theme going in Northanger since actually Udolpho had the whole, "Yeah, there's a mundane explanation for all those ghost stories, I promise" thing going too. If Lost in Austen had been based on Northanger instead of P&P, that would have just been gloriously meta.

I also read a book I got at the library sale, The Tiger by the River by Ravi Shankar Etteth, in which Swati returns with his wife's ashes to his childhood home, where (though British colonialism has made the title more or less meaningless) he and his ancestors were kings. There he learns of the existence of a cousin he never knew about, and more.

The book mingles his journey and memories and the mythology and history of the kingdom in a way that reminds me a little of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits (though chronology isn't quite so... liquid here as in that book). Part 2 dragged a bit for me (partly the point of view change, partly that I wasn't interested in that setting) but it all came together in part 3.

(Warnings for possible triggers: skip) Contains descriptions of violence, including description of sexual violence.)
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-11-03 11:25 pm
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In which she buys books

Huia Publishers are having a warehouse-clearing sale at the moment. Including a pile of NZ$1 books. (For comparison, the library's weeding sale of last weekend charges $3 for most books.) Postage is additional, but when I bought 7 books the domestic postage got calculated at $8.50.

So I got:
  • a YA fantasy by a Māori author I've been meaning to get hold of;
  • two scifi books by a Samoan/Celtic/Anglosaxon New Zealander someone recommended when I was hunting for Māori sf;
  • a kid's/YA fantasy by a Fijian/Tongan New Zealander that I hadn't heard of;
  • two books on indigenous sexuality/erotica;
  • one book as a gift.
From the library's weeding sale last week I also got four books, including the other YA fantasy by a Māori author I'd been meaning to get hold of.

I've been working on a bibliography. It's... quite small at the moment. I know of one other short story but can't find the title; an email to the publisher got no response so I'll have to track down the editor or the author or maybe by the time I fail at all those the library will have the anthology. I need to work my way through a pile of other anthologies and ultimately literary journals, though that will be dull and increasingly needle-in-a-haystack work.

I've been thinking of working it up to a proper paper for a proper journal. If I called it "Māori and Pacific Islanders in Speculative Fiction" then I could have a section on sf by Pākehā (maybe mention the ambiguous Lord and Lady Taiepa of Vogel's AD2000 and the "Uh uh, I'm totally not talking about New Zealand so this is totally not a Māori" native guide of Erewhon) and some of the Issues with Pākehā dominating sf about Māori etc(1), and moreover I could include Chris Baker and Tulia Thompson.

(1) It seems to me that there are also Issues with a Pākehā writing a bibliography of Māori sf. (For one, a bibliographer has to somehow draw a line between fantasy, magical realism, and non-fantasy with elements of spirituality.) But it also seems to me that it could be a useful thing to exist. So... as always, research and thought required.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-10-25 10:23 pm
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Review: Erewhon

Erewhon, or, Over the Range (1872) by Samuel Butler

Butler wrote part of the premise of Erewhon in 1863 as a letter to the editor of the Press, "Darwin Among the Machines".

Erewhon itself isn't much more plotful. It's the traditional storyline: "Man travels to Strange Lands; man infodumps for a couple of dozen chapters about Strange Lands, incidentally meeting a girl; man escapes with girl in hot air balloon."

As Anno Domini 2000 had three basic premises, so had Erewhon three topics for satire, except Butler was less helpful than Vogel so I've had to extrude them myself. Near as I can tell, they are:
  1. disease vs bad behaviour: in Erewhon disease is punishable by law and bad behaviour treated and cured -- and the system actually seems almost as workable as our own
  2. religion: Butler actually satirises this from a number of directions. One is treating it like a banking system which everyone claims to value while in practice only truly valuing the money from a supposedly inferior banking system. Another was describing their beliefs in pre-existence as a satire on the afterlife and (in its consequences) on baptism. Thirdly was setting up a pantheon of virtues (justice, hope, etc) and principles (two things can't be in the same place at once; thus the gods get angry if a stone and a head try to inhabit the same space at the same time, and may even strike dead the head in question) and then fourthly he added another religion, Ydgrunism, with a goddess who is what people really believe in, but to be honest at this point I totally lost track of what the hell he was on about.
  3. the possibility of machines developing consciousness (including paragraphs copied from his 1963 letter to the editor). I'm not sure if he had a point here other than being clever (not that I object to being clever), because he's written somewhere that he wasn't attempting to satirise Darwinism. But at the same time he doesn't seem to have any real fear of machines beyond the thought experiment. He also proposes, briefly, an alternative view that machines are an evolution of humanity - we're developing limbs that we can pick up and put down at will, so to speak - but then he moves on quickly to describe the Erewhonians' decision to make away with all machines entirely.
There's also some miscellaneous thoughts on vegetarianism (which he reducts ad absurdum) and education (including classical languages, which I'm getting the idea were unpopular among forward-thinking men of the late 19th century) and other bits and pieces; these are less well integrated into the story, such as it is.

It's probable that the narrator-protag's constant desire to convert the Erewhonians to C of E is a satire itself, especially as it culminates in the final pages; only the difference of 140 years makes me unsure of the precise rhetorical context he was operating in.

May appeal to those who thought Gulliver's Travels had too much adventure and not enough infodumping.

(HTML and ePub versions available at NZETC.)
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-10-24 10:45 pm
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Review: Anno Domini 2000

Anno Domini 2000; or, Women's Destiny (1889) by Sir Julius Vogel

Vogel bases this utopia on three principles, which he helpfully lays out in the epilogue:
  1. there's no reason women can't do everything men can [except for a telling blind spot he has regarding participation in and leading of the armed forces];
  2. there's no reason the various British colonies shouldn't form a British empire;
  3. there's no reason we shouldn't eliminate poverty [on the grounds that a) it's easy enough to give everyone basic sustenance and lodging, and b) this won't eliminate ambition but rather stoke it because ambition increases the higher up the foodchain you get, and the poorest people are actually too poor to have energy for ambition].
Having fixed all these things, the various colonies force Britain to give Ireland the same self-determination they have, people stop learning Latin and Greek and with the time no longer thus wasted advance the sciences instead, and the House of Lords becomes ashamed of holding their position due only to their birth so dissolves itself.

The plot hinges on the remaining inequality of sexes - that is, the fact that the emperor's heir defaults to his male before his female progeny. Two reasons oppose any change to this: a) it would mean changing the Constitution, and this seems a dangerous precedent; and b) the heir has to be ready to lead the armed forces so obviously it can't be a woman. [You see what I mean about this being a blind spot. It never once occurs to Vogel that a woman could actually lead the armed forces.]

Our Heroine has purple eyes, is beautiful and intelligent and an up-and-coming 23-year-old politician, and everybody loves her. Unfortunately "everybody" includes "Nice Guy" Reginald who's sure she'll eventually love him back if he stalks, slanders, commits treason, and kidnaps her enough. Spoilers: (skip) She thwarts the treason, inherits a stunningly successful gold-mining operation, becomes universally adored, and (after being made a countess and then the Duchess of New Zealand) marries into the position of Empress. Because she's just that awesome.

Oh, and there's artificial magnetism, self-acting elevators, silent telegraphs, sustainable energy, and a potted history of the development of the aircruiser. When Vogel writes, "Strange to say, the inventor or discoverer [of the final stage of the aircruiser] was a young Jewish woman not yet thirty years of age", the "strange" part is almost certainly her youth; most of the awesome scientists mentioned in the book are female, and the awesomest guy is Jewish.

While pro-Irish and pro-Jewish (ah! just found he was Jewish himself), he's pretty silent on non-white folk. The Jewish guy was possibly partly "Asiatic" or possibly that was just a synonym for Jewish; the description was confusing. A Lord and Lady Taieri are mentioned, but I'm not sure whether they're Māori or just named for the gorge (cf a "Lady Cairo") as they get no description at all. And the inhabitants of Antarctica are, alas, described as "docile, peaceful, intelligent" and "unsophisticated" "Antarctic Esquimaux", related to the Māori and assimilated to the climate with "a thick growth of short curly hair" covering both faces and bodies.

But we must not forget Antarctica itself! "A large island, easily accessible, which received the name of Antarctica, was discovered within ten degrees of the Pole, stretching towards it, so that its southern point was not more than ten miles from the southern apex of the world. From causes satisfactorily explained by scientists, the temperature within a hundred-mile circle of the Pole was comparatively mild. There was no wind; and although the cold was severe, it was bearable, and in comparison with the near northern latitudes it was pleasant." Also, they dig up bountiful supplies of ivory there.

Read more on Sir Julius (contains spoilers, not all of which are accurate) and the novel itself. (ETA: Wrong link; try this one instead - on the right nav bar it lists various formats.)

Update the dialogue (keep the Victorian costumes) and I reckon this would make an awesome movie.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-10-21 10:14 pm
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Reviews: Song For Night, Huia Short Stories, Ruahine

Song For Night by Chris Abani
About a boy soldier (trained to defuse mines) separated from his platoon after an explosion. A short and easy read (in style if not in content matter. Trigger warnings re the content: skip) the book includes graphic descriptions of violence and of the protagonist being forced to rape a woman.) told in a beautiful prose style. It explores the sign language his platoon uses, his memories of the war, boot camp, the outbreak of violence between Igbo and Fulani, and his childhood.

Huia Short Stories 6
Huia Publishers put out an anthology each year of contemporary Māori fiction. I'm... ultimately not a fan of contemporary fiction, I think. Melanie Drewery's "Weight of the World" stood out for me among the rest, being more humorous in tone. In the author bios at the end, Eru J. Hart, said he "asks that other Māori writers think beyond stories of 'Nanny in the kūmara patch'" -- his own was really interesting stylistically/structurally but in content it wasn't so very distant from what I'm tempted to call 'Sister in the big city' which many stories in this volume shared (and which I recall studying in high school in the form of Witi Ihimaera's "Big Brother Little Sister" (1974)). This isn't a criticism really; it's just that it's not my kind of story so while reading one is fine, reading a dozen in a row is a bit much for me. :-) But if it's the kind of thing you like, then you'll like it.

(The other cool thing about this collection is it includes four stories written in Te Reo, one of which is written in the Kai Tahu dialect. Far beyond my current ability to read, alas, especially as I think I'd have liked to read "Ko Māui me ngā Kūmara a Wiwīwawā".)

Ruahine: mythic women by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku
This anthology, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. For each story, the author gives a brief summary of the original folktale/history, then tells her own interpretation of it. All the stories are about strong women; several include female/female relationships and one a male/male relationship. And of course the reason [livejournal.com profile] kitsuchi recommended it to me in the first place was because one of the stories was science fiction and full of awesomeness.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
2010-07-15 08:30 pm
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In which she offers BookDepository discount vouchers

BookDepository.com emails me thusly:
You can enter the email addresses of up to ten friends and we will send our love (in the form of a 10% off voucher) to each of them. If your friends use their voucher then you'll get a 10% off voucher too - one for each person that makes a purchase.

Don't worry, once we have sent your friends their vouchers, the email addresses will be discarded. We won't contact them again unless they desire it.

I do trust them in this, but nevertheless don't like to give people's email addresses away without permission. OTOH book discount vouchers! So drop me a comment here or email me with your email address if you'd like a 10% off voucher from BookDepository.