Posted in Books, Year in review

2016 in Review: Books

As the end of January approaches, it’s time to get on the ball with the wrap-up for the previous year.  Normally, I write these entries in the first week or so of January.  I plead that late December surgery as my excuse for the delay.

So.  Books.

I managed to finish 49 books this year, three short of my goal, but acceptable nonetheless.  Of those 49, three were re-reads, so 46 new-to-me books completed. Two were non-fiction, one was a collection of essays, and the rest was fiction from a variety of genres.  Like last year, the majority of the books I read came from the library or were books already in my personal collection.

Of those 46 new books, a few were standouts, and a couple that I expected to be standouts were disappointments.

25143155My chief disappointment was Gregory Maguire’s After Alice.  Maguire’s prose is clever, but the story itself was uninspired and plodding.  Click the link to read the full review on WordPress or click the book cover to go to the Goodreads site.

29440984Another disappointment — the fault for which I lay at my own feet rather than the author’s — was Neil Gaiman’s A View from the Cheap Seats.  This was the book that finally convinced me to avoid essay collections, because they just don’t work for me, and it doesn’t matter who wrote them.  Sorry, Neil.

22522808Happily, one of the standouts this year was another Neil Gaiman collection, this one of short stories.  Trigger Warning was fabulous.  Go read it.

22125258Another collection of short stories I read this year was also stellar.  Kelly Link’s Get In Trouble is filled with the kind of short stories I love: weird and off-kilter and a teensy bit disturbing.  Plus they’re exquisitely written.  I’ll be looking for more Kelly Link in the future.

21403302David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks  cemented this author’s position on my “favorites” list.  What an amazing, far-flung, rambling, glorious story of youthful passion, mistakes, and greed.

A few other books worth mentioning:  Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank is a wake-up call for the progressive movement that’s especially relevant considering the unqualified narcissist this country somehow elected in November 2016 and who is being sworn in as POTUS as I type this blog entry.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is an intimate look at a marriage wherein neither individual is exactly who they appear.

And finally, I Am No One by Patrick Flanery is as much a love story to the city of New York as it is the story of a man who reaches middle age and wonders how he got there.

Looking ahead to 2017, I set the same goal of 52 books, but I may reduce that number due to lifestyle changes and a few other priorities.  Or not.  We’ll see.

Happy reading!

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7)The Dark Tower by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh boy, how to review this without spoilers.

*thinks*

Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower drives him forward relentlessly and, as in the previous installments, people fall victim along the way. You’ll need a tissue. Maybe even a box of tissues.

Still, with the tears, we get grand resolutions, climactic confrontations, a few  gag-inducing gross-out moments, and an intriguing explanation for the presence of Character King (as opposed to Author King) within the narrative.

In the end, ka is truly a wheel.

My main quibble isn’t the presence of Character King, as seems to stick in the craw of other readers. Once that was explained, it made sense in context and I accepted it for what it was. No, my chief gripe was Mordred, as Susannah’s baby was named. As a concept, he was excellent: a child conceived from the line of Arthur for the purpose of destroying his father. As a character, he was pointless: simply a bootless boogieman, the promised confrontation with whom turned out to be…well, less than satisfying.

Said quibble aside, I enjoyed the time spent here, traveling with Roland and ka-tet, as we reached the Tower together, at last.

Safe travels, Roland. I’ll visit you again someday.

(NOTE: I read the Scribner first edition trade paperback published in 2005. This review links to the hardcover so it shows the correct cover art.)

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rob Broadhead is in therapy, even though he is resistant to everything his therapist suggests. But he keeps coming back, week after week, session after session, until finally, a breakthrough is achieved.

The story that underlies that eventual breakthrough is the story of Rob’s experience at Gateway, a space station that houses the mysterious spacecraft of a vanished race known as the Heechee. Rob was a prospector, a person who takes a chance and joins an expedition to one (or more) of the unknown destinations pre-programmed into the Heechee ships in the hopes of finding something spectacular and making a fortune.

Rob made a fortune. And it broke him.

Frederik Pohl constructed his tale in bi-fold manner: Rob’s therapy sessions with his AI psychiatrist; and his time at Gateway, learning about Heechee navigation and preparing for his trip into the unknown. It’s an effective tool, revealing Rob’s psychosis and its triggering event a little at a time. And the information revealed about the mysterious and long-gone Heechee is intriguing enough for me to seek out the rest of the series. Well done, Mr. Pohl.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

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Book review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s 1962. Having lost World War II, the United States is now under the control of The Third Reich in the East and Imperial Japan in the West, with a no-man’s land/neutral territory — the Rocky Mountain States, governance unspecified — in between. Naturally, the Germans continue their extermination of Jews and other undesirables in their own territory and, due to the treaty between Japan and Germany, those found within Japanese territory, as well.

In San Francisco, Mr. Childan, a dealer in American antiquities, vintage handicrafts, and Hollywood memorabilia, is mortified to discover he has a forgery in his inventory, putting at risk his reputation and his entire livelihood of catering to the Japanese obsession with Americana. He consults the I Ching to enable him to choose a correct selection for his client, Mr. Tagomi.

High in his office in the Nippon Tower, Mr. Tagomi despairs he will find an appropriate gift for a client flying in from the Reich. He consults the I Ching to determine if Mr. Childan will provide any useful items from which to choose.

Elsewhere in the City, Frank Frink and his partner Ed set themselves up as creators of handcrafted metal jewelry, hoping against hope to find a market within a dominant culture with no interest in contemporary American work, only in the leavings of the past. Frank consults the I Ching for guidance in this new endeavor.

In the Rocky Mountain States, Juliana Frink — Frank’s ex-wife — takes up with a truck driver named Joe, an Italian who fought on the Axis side of the war. She consults the I Ching about everything.

And in both the Japanese Territory and the Rocky Mountain States, an underground novel titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy makes the rounds of society. Said book, banned in the Reich, describes an alternate history: one in which Germany and Japan were defeated and the United States became the most powerful nation on the planet.

This novel appears in each our characters’ daily routines, eventually becoming an obsession with Juliana, who determines she must seek out its author. And when she does, his answers to her curiosity will make the reader question everything previously read.

One of the gifts of a great writer is the ability to leach in backstory and build a world without grand expository passages. Philip K. Dick is a great writer. He assumes the reader already knows this information and drops in nuggets of world-building data as ordinary bits of thought or conversation. We glean an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the Japanese-German controlled world in this way: Japan controls all of the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand; the African continent is a wasteland due to Nazi policies; black slavery is commonplace; the American South is a hellhole…in fact, anywhere the Nazis are in control is a hellhole by contemporary standards, although if one is of Aryan heritage and/or appearance, life can be fairly pleasant. By comparison, life in Japanese territory, while rigidly governed by protocol, honor, and maintaining “face”, is nearly halcyon and idyllic. The Japanese will punish lawbreakers harshly, of course, but they’re not interested in punishing people for their heritage or ethnicity on their own inclination, only as part of their agreements with the Reich.

The Man in the High Castle is a marvelous story, simply written in elegant prose, full of depth and meaning and questions without answers. First published in 1962, it’s a subtle piece of metafiction from before the word was even coined.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy, #1)Neuromancer by William Gibson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, maybe cyberpunk is not my thing.

More specifically, maybe the inventor of cyberpunk, Mr. William Gibson himself, is not my thing. This is the second Gibson under my belt. I realized belatedly that the first, Count Zero, read nearly 10 years ago, was the sequel to this novel. I enjoyed it more than Neuromancer, but not enough to keep it or consider reading it again. And, even though the title fascinates me, I’m fairly certain I’ll pass on the third entry in this series, Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Okay, the review part:

Case, a hacker, down on his luck and scrounging for ways to feed his addiction, receives an offer to repair the neurological damage caused by his last employer and the physical damage caused by his addiction in exchange for diving back into the Matrix (a “Deep Web”-type virtual space where the hacker’s disembodied consciousness runs free amidst corporate and personal data in search of booty to pirate) and stealing some very particular data for a very particular client. Desperate, he agrees, even though the repair job is temporary unless he successfully completes his assignment. Much world-hopping, bed-hopping, and cyberspace-hopping ensue.

This 1984 novel is notable for its prescience and coinage of words now in common use — Gibson foresaw the coming ubiquity of the internet, and gave us the term “cyberspace”. For that reason alone, it’s worth reading. And I won’t argue that it well deserves its Hugo and Nebula awards: at the time of its publication, Neuromancer was a uniquely fresh take on the whole SF genre, while at the same time creating a whole new subgenre.

What I will argue is that for readers who are not technically-minded (yours truly as case in point), it’s easy to get lost in the complexities of Gibson’s vision. While I ended my trip through the Matrix with a general feeling of resolution (in the sense that I understood the basics of the story and its ending), I was also rather confused — perhaps dizzied is a better word — at several points during the story. For example, I’m not entirely clear on what happened to Linda or why she kept showing up in odd places. The whole bit with why the Marcus Garvey was integral to the scheme to steal the data escaped me. And with so many characters and their inter-relationships to keep track of, I felt like I needed a flow chart.

Part of this confusion may stem from the fact that I read this book on my daily commute train, so perhaps my concentration wasn’t fully focused. Regardless, I am not a novice SF reader. I understand SF, especially good SF, can be complex and dizzying and character-heavy. (Witness my thorough enjoyment of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson and Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.) My conclusion, therefore, is that stated at the top of this review: cyberpunk is one sub-genre that doesn’t suit the way my brain operates. Too bad.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

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Posted in Life in general

Notes from the hospital

A quickie catch-up: surgery was on Tuesday morning. Both spouse and mom in attendance. Mom went home as soon as I was awake enough to talk to her.

To paraphrase Paul Simon, I have enough wristbands to get me through the door.

Yesterday was spent dosing myself with morphine. Once the upper GI showed no leaks, they switched me to liquid Norco. 

I’m sore and cranky and can’t wait to get home so I can take a shower. They’ve told me I can go; now I’m just waiting for the paperwork.

Posted in Finished object, FO Fridays, Knitting

FO Friday: Oh, look, a new cowl!

Lots of book reading going on here lately.  And some knitting, too.  I finished this cowl at the end of September.  A three-month delay in blogging any finished project seems normal these days…

two-color-lace-cowl-3Pattern: Um, mine. Right now I’m calling it Lacy Moebius Cowl.  The name will probably change.  It’s yet to be written down in any sort of publishable form, but that may be coming soon. I hope to get a lot of “housekeeping” stuff done while I’m off work after surgery.

Yarn:  The luscious Cashmere Aran by Lotus, in Ecru and Dark Teal.  100% cashmere, 100% indulgence.  1 skein each, 200 yards total.

Needles:  Size 9 Addi Turbos.  I didn’t need to use circular needles because this is knitted flat across the short way, but I’ve gotten to where I hate using straights.

Satisfaction with end product:  It’s soft and warm and beautiful, and will keep my neck and ears toasty warm on those occasions the Atlanta winter day dips below 45F.  I’m having some second thoughts about the moebius twist that exposes the back side of the lace pattern.  It’s interesting visually, and makes for a nice texture contrast, but I worry that it may be too much because of the yarn color contrast.

Here are a few more pictures.  Let me know what you think.  (Click the pic to make it bigger.)

 

 

Posted in Life in general

Turn and face the strange

Me in Harlem
Me at 54 — April 2016

I’ve been debating with myself about making this public.  Not that this blog gets a lot of traffic, but entries are open to everyone, including folks who wander this way from Facebook and know me IRL, and I never know who might be stopping by based on a Google search.  But I finally decided that since it’s such a major thing, and will affect everything I do from this point forward, it’s best to just put it out there so future blog entries have context.

I am scheduled to have bariatric surgery on December 27.

There.  Said it.  Whew.

People are always surprised if I tell them how much I actually weigh:  for good or bad, I don’t really look like I weigh more than 200 lbs.  But I do.  And I’m only 5 feet tall.

I’ve struggled with my weight for years: decades, really; and over time the pounds just kept creeping up and adding on, no matter what I did.  Several years ago, I had to go on high blood pressure medication, and blood tests over the last two or three years show my blood sugar levels are increasing to the point that I am now considered “pre-diabetic”.  Here’s the thing:  I can lose weight.  I’ve done it many times.  I’ve read all the books, tried all the diets, and lost weight on all of them.  But I can’t keep it off.  No sooner than I stop the regimented food plan and go back to my admittedly not terrific but not entirely unhealthy normal way of eating, the weight jumps back on.  I can’t keep it off without stringent adherence to a severely rigid food regimen.  And that’s no way to live.

age19
Me at 19 — 1981ish

I had been considering weight loss surgery for a couple of years, but hesitated.  I even went to a seminar offered by a respected local surgeon late last year; when the seminar was over, they asked me when I wanted to schedule an appointment.  I said I wanted to think about it a little longer.  It’s a major surgery that rearranges your insides forever.  That’s frightening.

And surely the next diet would be the one that worked.

Six months later, having lost 10 lbs and regained 15, I read this article in the New York Times.  Go read it; then come back.

Okay, yeah,  it’s long, so for the TL:DR crowd, the gist of the article is if you are heavy and have been heavy for a while, your brain has reset your “normal”, and any diet and exercise attempt to lose weight and fall below that “normal” is doomed to failure.  Neuroscience, not willpower, baby.

That did it.  I called the surgeon the next day and scheduled an appointment.

In the doctor’s office, while talking about why I was there, I started sobbing.  She looked at me and asked, “Why are you so sad?”

Oh god.

“Because I’ve tried so hard, and failed so many times. I’m tired of living like this; I’m afraid of getting diabetes; I hate the way I feel; and I just don’t have anywhere else to turn.”

“It’s not your fault,” she said.  But it was.  It’s always been my fault.  That’s what my head tells me.  That’s what society tells me.  That’s what all the articles in all the women’s magazines tell me.  That’s what the sideways glances and rolled eyes from strangers tell me.

Excuse me, I need a tissue.

~~~~

Okay. So.  I leave the surgeon’s office with a plan.  Lots of pre-op clearances to secure: cardiologist; nutritionist; pulmonologist; psychologist; support group attendance; sign-off from my GP; blood work; upper GI — I’ve had more doctors’ appointments in this past six months than I think I’ve had in the past six years.  And there were delays.  Starting the process in May as I did, I expected to have everything taken care of by August or September and have surgery by late autumn.  But noooo.  First, I had to have more nutritional consultations than they told me the first time around.  Then the pulmonologist wanted to do a sleep study.  Turns out I have sleep apnea and they wanted me on a CPAP machine for several weeks before they would issue the clearance.

When I finally got all of the appointments out of the way and every provider said they had issued my clearances, I called the surgeon’s office.  The patient coordinator said she didn’t have the note from my GP.  I called the GP’s office.  They faxed it over.  A few days later, I called again.  This time they didn’t have the pulmonary clearance or the clearance from my GP.  I called the pulmonary clinic and my GP again.  They faxed the clearances.  A week or so later, I called once more.  “We don’t have the clearance from your GP.”  “For crying out loud, woman, my GP has sent that to you three times!  Do I have to hand carry it in?”  I called my GP one more time; they faxed it while I was on the phone; I called the patient coordinator and said,”It’s sitting on  your fax machine right now. Go get it.”

That was the middle of November.  They called me the first Friday of December and said surgery was scheduled for December 27.  *HUGE sigh of relief*  I was afraid it wouldn’t be scheduled until January and I’ve have to meet my deductibles all over again.

Last week I told my supervisor and boss, who were aware this was an upcoming thing, that we had a definite surgery date and we began the process of getting approval for me to take a month off work for recovery.  I bought all the vitamins and protein drinks I’m going to need for the initial week or so of the recovery process, and started planning out the very particular eating regime I must follow for the first several weeks.

Today I had a pre-op appointment with my surgeon to go over some paperwork and pre-op instructions; and a meeting with the anesthesiologist to go over some more paperwork and more pre-op instructions.  It’s really happening.  It’s really happening.

It’s really happening.

I’ve spent the last six months convincing myself to believe that my weight isn’t my fault.  That’s hard to say, much less take to heart, when I’ve spent the last 20 years telling myself it is.  And while I don’t expect to get back the figure I had at 19, I do expect to lose enough to see my collarbones again.  Eventually.

This is how I will do it.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Book review: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, #6)Song of Susannah by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2016 Re-read

The sixth volume in The Dark Tower series begins moments after the events that end the fifth volume. Our heroes and the townfolk of Calla Bryn Sturgis are weary, shell-shocked, and uncertain of their future. Susannah has disappeared, Eddie is frantic, Jake is grieving, and Roland is desperate to discern their next steps.

Roland, Eddie, and Jake eventually figure out they must separate: with the aid of the Manni, Roland and Eddie will go through the door in the Cave of Voices to 1977 Maine, contact Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, and make arrangements to protect The Rose; Jake and Father Callahan (and Oy) will use the same door to journey to 1999 New York in search of Susannah.

In New York, Susannah and Mia struggle for control of their shared body while Mia’s pregnancy advances at an accelerated pace.

Also in New York, Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan are hot on the trail of the combined Susannah-Mio, hoping to find them before the baby is born.

In Maine, Roland and Eddie encounter good guys, bad guys, bullets, and Stephen King.

Even though its subject matter may be more suited for a melancholy folk ballad, Song of Susannah is a techno dancetrack that unfolds at a breakneck hellbent-for-leather pace. In the end, new life and more than one death follow our heroes into the final volume.

Again, I’m glad to have re-read this, because once more I had forgotten not only the details but the main events of this novel, including the extended metafictional encounter with Stephen King. For reasons that spoilers prohibit me from revealing, King wrote himself into his own novel, not as a measure of vanity but as a unique plot twist that won’t make sense until much much later. (EDITORIAL NOTE: This review was written after finishing Book VII. So trust me on this.)

Author King views Character King with the dispassion of distance, and does not shy away from a frank discussion of his younger self’s shortcomings. In truth, I found this section of the book weirdly therapeutic. How many of us now in late middle age would NOT jump at the opportunity to speak to our younger selves with the benefit of experience and 20/20 hindsight? Metafictional therapy aside, Character King’s presence serves rather than detracts from the plot and sets up critical events for the final volume.

2016SFFChallengeNicely done, Author King.

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This review was written for the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between. Click the badge to learn more about this challenge, and maybe even join in! There’s still plenty of time left to read some award winners of your own.

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Book review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

wolves-of-the-calla2016 Re-Read
2016 is the year I decided I was actually going to finish reading the Dark Tower series. Since I hadn’t read this book in at least five years, a re-read was deemed necessary. And that was a good thing, because I had completely forgotten ALL of the events of this story, including the insertion of ‘Salem’s Lot character Father Callahan, who somehow managed to fall into Mid-World after his humiliation by the Vampire Barlow.

Immediately after encountering “Oz” in Topeka, Roland and his fellow travelers Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy continue on the Path of the Beam, eventually realizing they’ve left a plague-ridden Kansas behind and re-entered Mid-World.  Soon afterward, they are approached by the citizens of the farming community Calla Bryn Sturgis, who ask for their help in defeating marauders known as the Wolves.  Said Wolves raid their community once a generation and kidnap roughly half of the children, returning them severely brain-damaged several weeks later.  The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis want to put an end to the raids, and view the gunslingers as their only hope.

The gunslinger code to which our heroes have ascribed means not turning down such requests for assistance; thus they are honor-bound to take on this task, provided the majority of the town supports the endeavor and is willing to help themselves.  The townspeople do, and the ka-tet begins its preparation for battle, while simultaneously hatching a plan to return to Jake’s New York and protect the Rose.

RIP 9 Peril the Second

During all this, Roland and Eddie keep a weather eye on Susannah, who exhibits signs that she is not entirely herself.  Susannah, while vaguely uneasy and at times on edge, is generally unaware that anything may be wrong.  It is, however, and greatly.  The demon she distracted with sex [edited to add:  I had forgotten the circumstances of this “distraction”; in actuality, the demon raped Susannah, violently, brutally, and repeatedly] while her men “drew” Jake into this world (see The Waste Lands for that story) left Susannah pregnant; Susannah’s subconscious mind created another personality, Mia, to deal with the unwanted pregnancy.  Mia is dangerous and unpredictable and fiercely protective of her “chap”, as she refers to her baby.  Roland and Eddie fear she may disrupt, even ruin, their delicately-timed operation against the Wolves.  And Mia’s is not the only betrayal they fear.

As Dark Tower installments go, this one initially seems like a distraction, a step off the Path of the Beam that in no way furthers the overall story or the quest for the Tower. On its surface, it’s a re-telling of nearly every Western ever written: the ordinary law-abiding folk just want to farm their land and live in peace, but the bad guys are intent on shooting up the town at every opportunity; let’s recruit the Lone Ranger to get rid of the bad guys and earn our eternal gratitude.  (King acknowledges his debt to the Western in an afterword, so he is fully cognizant of his influences.)

But.  But.  This superficial interpretation does the story a disservice.  There’s far more than a simple Little Town on the Prairie tale to discover here.  With this novel, King appears to be setting up his end-game, with the introduction of the Wolves (who are far more and at the same time much less than we think); the repeated appearances of North Central Positronics technology; the side-trip describing Father Callahan’s journey to Mid-World, not to mention the mere existence of Callahan himself in Roland’s homeland; and the tension between Susannah, Mia, and the rest of the ka-tet.

2016SFFChallengeIf I have a quibble, it’s the same quibble I’ve had ever since Susannah was first introduced, and that is calling her a “schizophrenic”.  Susannah does not have schizophrenia; she has a dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).  Back in the mid- to late-80s, when King originally wrote the character of Odetta/Detta Holmes, who became Susannah when her personalities merged, it’s possible he didn’t know the difference.  The idea that schizophrenia means “split personality” is common, albeit incorrect.  And since King started out with that interpretation, I guess he must follow it through in subsequent novels, if only for consistency’s sake.  Still irks me.

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This review was written for two reading challenges:  Readers Imbibing Peril (affectionately known as R.I.P.) XI, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings; and the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between.  Click their respective badges to learn more about each.

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