Book review: Olympos by Dan Simmons

Olympos (Ilium, #2)Olympos by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

MARS: Paris is dead. Hockenberry and Helen are lovers. Achilles and Hector have joined forces against the gods while the gods fight amongst themselves. Mahnmut and Orphu discover the quantum energy they’ve been tracking emanates from Earth rather than Mars, and it’s about to destroy both worlds.

EARTH: Meanwhile, Odysseus travels with Harman and Ada, seeking an end to Setebos. Daeman travels alone, seeking the same end. And the voynix drop their pretense of servitude; humanity’s continued existence is precarious.

Dan Simmons juggles many plates in the concluding volume of this epic duology. I admit to being a little lost at times, and occasionally needing to trudge my way through chapter 2017SFFReadingChallengeafter chapter in dogged determination. Yeah, the story bogs down now and then. So many moving parts! But stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded in the end.

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Read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge. Click that badge over there to see more reviews. And once there, consider joining us!

Book review: Ilium by Dan Simmons

Ilium (Ilium, #1)Ilium by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Allosaurs, Greek gods, and space-going Shakespeare enthusiasts? Dan Simmons must have read my Christmas wish list.

Troy is at war. The Greeks, led by Agamemnon and Achilles, and the Trojans, led by Priam and Paris, wage pitched and pitiless battles, aided by the gods and observed by humans. These humans — the scholics — were once experts on Greek poetry and ancient history. They were reconstructed by the gods from their DNA, and then brought back to make sure the path of the war follows the path of the Iliad as laid out by Homer. Thomas Hockenberry is one such scholic, tramping around the battlefield in the guise of various soldiers, making notes and reporting back to the Muse. One day, after nine years of such a life, he is summoned by Aphrodite and told he is to alter the course of things. He is to kill Pallas Athena.

On Earth, humans live in an idyllic setting, pursuing a sybaritic lifestyle. The world is a constant round of dinner parties, picnics, long walks through the woods, and casual sex. No work, no worries, no schooling, no commitments, their every need is seen to by the voynix, mechanical servants who cook, clean, and care for them in their Eden. Daeman, who, like most others of society, is spectacularly incurious about the whys and wherefores of his world, and who collects butterflies and bed partners with equal vigor, arrives at the estate of his cousin, Ada, for a birthday party. He is shocked to discover that the party is not in celebration of someone’s 20th — after which they will be whisked away to the Rings and then returned after rejuvenation — but of Harman’s 99th. In essence, it’s Harman’s going-away party, for he has only one more year of life. But a chance encounter with an allosaurus changes everything.

On Europa, the Five Moon Consortium, a conclave of biomechanical beings, gathers to discuss the 600-year lack of contact from the post-humans and the more recent (in the last 200 years) apparent terraforming of Mars. The consortium is especially concerned with unusually massive amounts of quantum-shift activity centered on Mons Olympus, and decides to send an expedition to investigate. Mahnmut, a Europan moravec, is excited to be included in this expedition with his friend Orphu, an Ionian moravec, and looks forward to continuing their discussions of Shakespeare and Proust and literature in general.  The expedition sets off well enough but soon suffers a severe setback, leaving Mahnmut and Orphu to make the best of what may be a fatal error.

Simmons adopted three different voices to tell these stories. The Trojan saga echoes Homeric prose, to the point of opening the novel with a paraphrase of the opening lines of the Iliad itself; and it is in this opening paragraph that we first begin to understand the sorrow and tragedy of the scholic Hockenberry and the rest of the cast of characters Simmons introduces. The story of Daeman, Ada, and Harman is told in simple descriptive language akin to the childlike outlook of the humans themselves; while the conversations of Mahnmut, Orphu, and the rest of the moravecs are full of technobabble and high literary analysis. This narrative trick is effective, if occasionally jarring when 2017SFFReadingChallengemoving from artless human idyll to high Homeric tragedy.

Three settings. Three stories. Three disparate and wandering paths that lead to the same destination? We’ll find out when I read the sequel.

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Read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see more reviews. And once there, consider joining us!

Sci Fi Summer Read-athon starts tomorrow!

Seasons of Reading is hosting their annual Sci-Fi Summer Read-athon beginning tomorrow and running through June 7.

Some folks are really ambitious with their plans, posting that they plan to read three or four or more books.  In a week.  I don’t have that kind of time, but more power to ’em!

Of course, I could be wrong, and those are the books they intend to read throughout the summer.

Me, I just hope to get halfway through Olympos by Dan Simmons during this week.  It’s the sequel to Ilium, which I finished last week and plan to review in the near future.  Like Ilium, it’s a doorstop of a novel (upwards of 800 pages).  I’m currently on page 127.

What are you reading right now?

50+ lbs down!

Yesterday morning, I weighed in at 165.6 lbs.  That’s a total loss so far of 51.4 lbs.

Measurements in inches:

March 18, 2017 May 7, 2017
Bust 43 42
Waist 40 39
Hip 45 43
Thigh 25 24
Calf 17 16.5
Upper arm 14 13
Neck 14.5 14.25

I had to buy new bras last week.  Because my bra size will continue to change, I bought several inexpensive ones at Target.  They’re comfy, but I don’t expect them to last more than the few months I’ll need to wear them.  Today I went through my closet and tried on every piece of clothing hanging there. About half went into the donate pile, including nearly all my pants and jeans. Of the remaining half, I expect most of it will be too big by the end of May.  I have enough dress clothes to wear to work and just enough casual clothes for everything else.  But it’s time to start thinking about digging through the racks at the thrift store.

Next weekend I’ll go through the dresser and try on all the T-shirts and leggings and other casual comfies stored there.

As far as food goes, I’ve involuntarily become nearly vegetarian.  I’m unable to tolerate most meats except fish or shellfish, so my protein comes mainly in the form of shakes and bars.  My nutritionist said the intolerance will probably resolve itself within the next several months, and it’s okay to use the protein shakes, etc., in the meantime.  She also suggested that I try eating dark meat chicken instead of white meat because the white meat tends to be too dry.  And she liked that I eat fruits and vegetables for snacks.  Much better than my pre-surgery snacks of chips or chocolate or donuts (although I did confess to the occasional small bag of Fritos or a single Rolo).

Book review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Fifth Season, we were introduced to Essun after the loss of her family. In The Obelisk Gate, we find out what happened to her daughter Nassun after her father killed her little brother and took off for parts unknown.

Essun works diligently to fit in and provide aid and stability to the underground community that has taken her and her traveling companions in. But politics and infighting, within the community and between the Stone Eaters who show up in unexpected places, make her situation precarious. Her Orogene abilities grow ever more powerful; meanwhile, Alabaster is dying, inch by inch.

Nassun travels across the ravaged countryside with her increasingly unstable father, until they reach their destination, a school that supposedly can cure Nassun of her Orogene nature. She, too, shows an increase in her power, much to her father’s dismay, leading to discord and treachery.

Environmental conditions worsen, vicious gangs roam the land; and the Obelisks approach.  And both Nessun and Essun are asked to consider the possibility of the prior existence of something called “the Moon.”

2017SFFReadingChallengeLike the first, illuminating excerpts from this culture’s foundational texts are sprinkled throughout the novel.  I love this method of providing back story and cultural context.

A worthy follow-up to the first volume. I can hardly wait for the third!

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/F Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see what others have been reading.  And once there, consider joining us.

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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2017 Spring into Horror Read-A-Thon

I almost forgot to join in this annual event! And since horror/thriller/spooky stuff is one of my favorite genres, that would be a shame indeed.

I’m currently about halfway through a re-read of Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods in anticipation of the Starz series (with IAN FUCKING McSHANE as MR. WEDNESDAY!!!!! *swoon*) set to begin on April 30. I’ll probably finish it in the next few days.  Then, who knows what evil lurks in the heart of my bookshelf?

FO: My Own Best Friend Socks

My Own Best Friend 3In keeping with the idea of using all that sock yarn I own on actual socks, the sock-making binge continues.

Pattern:  Friendship Socks by Amy Palmer, from Interweave Holiday Gifts 2011

Yarn: Chelsea Sock by Nooch Fibers, colorway Arizona (caveat: that colorway name is a best guess based on the colorways that were available at the time; when I bought this yarn, the tag did not name the colorway; and, incidentally, it’s no longer available on the website, so we may never know)

Needles: Knitter’s Pride Karbonz, US 1 1/2 DPNs.  I bought these DPNs sometime last year, and they languished unused until I started knitting socks again.  Now I won’t use anything else.

My Own Best Friend 4Satisfaction with end product:  They’re gorgeous, they’re soft, and they fit.  I’m a little concerned that the cashmere content in the yarn may make them not quite durable enough for regular wear, but I can always use them as house socks.  I’m wearing them as I type this blog entry, and love how they feel on my feet.

The pattern itself was easy as pie; the lace pattern at the cuff is charted and easy to follow.  After that, it’s just straight stockinette all the way down, so this would make a good first sock pattern for a newbie.  The flap for the heel featured a somewhat different slip stitch pattern that I like much better than any other flap I’ve made — it looks kind of like a honeycomb, and that makes me smile.  I’ll be adapting future flap-and-gusset sock patterns to use this flap.

84df2-knit-your-library_2016This project is part of the Knit Your Library Challenge, although Snapdragon Crafts seems to have gone dark and hasn’t provided a link up recently.  Regardless, you can click that badge over there for more details.

Book review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often I run across a novel that I almost literally cannot put down.

The Fifth Season is such a novel. I resented the time I had to spend away from it.

On a planet that might be Earth, a giant rift opened in the ground near the capital city Yemenes, creating volcanic eruptions and violent earthquakes that ripple across the land. In some areas of the planet’s single land mass, these eruptions and earthquakes have been mitigated by Orogenes, people with a special ability to quell the land and harness its power. Orogenes are despised and feared, even persecuted and murdered, by the ordinary folk, unless they wear the uniform of the Fulcrum — the school where Orogenes are trained to use their power in a constructive and controlled fashion.

But no Orogene can prevent the destructive atmospheric fallout from the Rift. The eruption has instigated a Season — ash coats the world, sunlight is obscured, plants and animals die off, and human life becomes increasingly precarious.

The story follows three women:

  • Essun, a middle-aged mother who hid her Orogene abilities from her fellow villagers, including her husband, but passed them along to her children
  • Damaya, a young trainee at the Fulcrum
  • Seyenite, a graduate of the Fulcrum, on her first big mission

These women live their lives, follow their orders, and try their best to stay safe. But their lives have an unexpected convergence; what one does in her youth severely impacts the life of another some ten years later.

Scattered throughout the novel are hints of the underpinnings and history of the cultural socioeconomics and societal structure. Pieces of lost technology (or “deadciv” artifacts) turn up now and then; some are benign, some are deadly. And just what are those large crystalline structures occasionally seen floating through the air?

2017SFFReadingChallengeFabulous world-building. Intriguing characters. Fascinating plot. Within 10 minutes of finishing this book, I bought the second of the series and pre-ordered the third. Yes, it’s that good. Yes, you should read it.

Why are you still here? Go get it now.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

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Weight Loss Progress

And it just keeps coming off.  As of the time of this writing (several days before the blog entry will be published), I’m down 44 lbs.

These two pictures were taken quite some time apart, as you can tell by the length of my hair.  The blue photo was taken at the beginning of my last major attempt at weight loss, in November 2014, so about two years before surgery.  The pink photo was taken March 31, 2017.  (Yes, I should have done photos right before surgery, but I didn’t.  We’ll have to make do with these and whatever candid or yarn-project-modeling photos I can find that were taken shortly before surgery.)


Front view.  I can see the beginnings of a waist again.  That makes me happy.  I still have the shirt and cropped pants I’m wearing in the blue photos.  I’ll do my best to wear them the next time we take a set of progress photos.

In clothing news, all but one of the items that had been banished to the upstairs closet because they didn’t fit have been retrieved.  Because now they fit.  The one item that doesn’t fit is a velvet dress suitable for holiday parties and dress-up occasions.  It’s still too tight.  Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that it will fit at the time the holiday parties and dress-up occasions roll around again, but at that time, it will be too loose.  Maybe I’ll ask my husband to take me out to a fancy dinner when it fits again, just to wear it one last time.  I’ve started weeding out the clothes that are now too large and too much trouble to have altered; they’re being sorted into piles to go to Goodwill, to bariatric support group clothing swaps, and to the business-appropriate clothing drive for women in shelters.