Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sarah Vowell: All Up in My Business

One thing I didn't mention about The Girl from Everywhere in my review is that I'm having this moment where all my media are coming together--oddly enough, via Sarah Vowell.  I own a copy of Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes, about the history of Christian missionaries in Hawaii, and The Girl from Everywhere makes me want to read that at last--mostly because of the way it touches on Hawaiian history, while failing to include any Hawaiian points of view.  There are Americans who want to annex it and whites who want to save it, and some Hawaiian folklore that's pivotal to the plot, but not much else.

But Unfamiliar Fishes is going to have to wait, because I've already started reading Lafayette in the (Somewhat) United States, and I imagine that you can guess what inspired that!  Listening to Hamilton (again and again) you're just reminded how many amazing characters, how much energy and intelligence was brought to bear on the issue of freedom and the Revolutionary War.  If there was a book about Hercules Mulligan (and his slave/assistant, the enigmatic Cato), I would read that, too.

It makes me think about what the drive and problem-solving that young entrepreneurs bring to their tech start-ups would do if it was applied to politics instead of capitalism.  There were amazing people living in amazing times, but I know a good number of amazing people who, if their goal was to start a new country instead of a company, would kick butt at it.  But in a different time and place, their passions (and politics) would of course be very different.

That's one interesting point that Vowell makes about the difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution that soon followed--Americans were already passionate about government.  They weren't just tearing down the abusive old ways; they had firm ideas about how things should be run and they knew what they wanted to build. Politics was the national pastime, and even though not everyone agreed (can you really call it freedom if it's not for everyone?), $#!* got done.

I wonder if Sarah Vowell has seen (duh) and written a review of Hamilton.  I would read the heck out of that.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Girl From Everywhere

Sometimes I do this thing where I hold off on reading the end of a book until I can write my blog post, because it's the only way I can capture my actual response.  In the case of Heidi Heilig's The Girl from Everywhere, I can tell that the last 10% is going to be closer to what I wanted than the 60% that came before.

This is one of the books that I read about ages before it was published and have been waiting for with excitement.  In a nutshell, though, my feelings about it are that there's half a good book here, and half filler.

The premise is wonderful.  Nix lives with her father and their crew on a ship that can travel anywhere.  Really, though, the skill is her father's; he can study any accurate, hand-drawn map and create magic that takes the ship to that time and place.  This is a marvelous premise, and the first part of the book, where we're being introduced to the characters and the world, is really wonderful.

But Nix's father has an obsession; her mother died when she was a baby, while he was away from their home on Hawaii.  Since he returned and found out, he's been looking for a map that will lead him back to that exact window of time, after he left and before she died.  Nix's life has been full of chasing down maps, schemes to make money to buy them, and failed attempts to go back to Hawaii in 1868.  And Nix's father rides out the highs with hope and the lows with opium.

So this is the premise, and we meet the characters and the crew as they seek the latest map. The beginning of this book is lovely, as they scheme to get to Hawaii, and then find themselves there in the wrong time.

But the middle of the book, almost half of it, is them killing time on Hawaii.  There's a plan falling into place, and a boy for Nix to meet, and her life for her to think about.  There's worrying, and walking around Hawaii, and what's probably supposed to pass for shenanigans, but the plan is practically a McGuffin--I didn't care much about the scheme some Suspicious Characters cooked up--and the Cute Boy is clearly an object, and I just didn't feel it.

Then, at the end, we snap back into action. Nix decides to move forward in the only way she possibly could have--the only way that makes any sense to me as a reader--and we get back to the plot, which gets kind of convoluted, but at least interesting again.

Basically, I showed up for a time travel book, but I got a love triangle book.  That's really what's supposed to drive this; Nix's relationship with her father and her sense of being "torn" between her dashing best friend Kashmir and the handsome lover of Hawaii, Blake.  But there's no contest, really, so it feels like a waste of time that she spends so much time agonizing about it. 

It's not really a terrible book, but I had very high hopes, and it turned out to be just...fine. Book Smugglers had a lot of the same criticisms in their review, though I think they gave it a little more love than I have. It's something to breeze through in a couple of hours; something with a cool premise and, if you like a good teen love triangle, you might be into it. 

I will say, though--if there's a sequel, I will probably read it.  It might be Joss's history, or Slate's, or even the continuing adventures of Nix--any of these would bring me back for more.  So I guess on that level, it succeeded admirably.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Favorite Thing About Hamilton This Week

Okay, I concede; I'm joining the chorus of people who can't stop talking about Hamilton.  I have listened to pretty much nothing else for weeks.  I have one of these songs or another in my head every day--yesterday it was "Satisfied," but today it's "Wait for It."  

My favorite song changes, my favorite character changes, my favorite thing about the story changes.  So let's start keeping track.  

This week, my favorite thing about Hamilton is the friendship between the four young men who fought the war together: Laurens, Lafayette, Mulligan, and Hamilton.  Lafayette is the brilliant general, of course, but Laurens the fierce abolitionist (who challenged Charles Lee after Hamilton was ordered not to), Mulligan the spy (who has one of my FAVORITE bits in the whole show; "Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction"). They sing "The Story of Tonight," and reprise it later at Hamilton's wedding; they split up and pursue their roles in the cause, they come together to crow about it at the end. 

Hercules Mulligan is amazing; I looked him up on Wikipedia.  He was a tailor who spied on his Loyalist clients; his slave, Cato (about whom little is known), did much of the actual transportation of information.  Mulligan was later a founding member of the New York Manumission Society, which makes me wonder more about Cato and their relationship.

But these four boys--kids, really--and how they back each other and cheer each other and do this amazing thing together--that's my favorite thing about Hamilton this week. 

Also, JENNY SAW THE SHOW and there better be a WHOLE POST ABOUT IT very soon! You don't get to bury that in the tags for a review of a book you read on the bus on the way to the theater!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My First Con: Smashing Success

It seems strange that I've never been to a fannish gathering before. I've never considered myself a con person; I actually tend to shy away from listening to the creative types behind my favorite works.  I mostly blame Hollywood and Orson Scott Card for that.

But then Mike sent me this link, and Ann Leckie was giving a keynote at some thing in Cambridge, and Jo Walton was going to be there, too, and oh yes just everyone else on my Kindle thank you very much. So I talked Lily and Christian into coming with me to listen to Ann Leckie speak.

Which was delightful.  The whole thing was delightful.  Ann Leckie was delightful--she claimed it was her first speech, which I have a hard time believing because is it possible to win a Hugo and a Nebula and a bunch of other things without giving a speech (even if you discount thank you speeches)?  Also it was a good speech, about our cultural fear of AI and how it's a fear of the Other and therefore dangerous to keep around unexamined.  I wanted very, very badly to grab her and make her talk to me extensively afterward.

Then, after Lily and Christian went home, I went Jo Walton's reading, from the next book in the Just City series, Necessity, which will be out this summer.  After that, since there was nothing else going on, the crowd (about half of whom seemed to know each other) coaxed her into reading some of her poetry.  I'd never read any of that, and it was really lovely (Prospero's monologue to his daughter came very close to making me cry), but it also (like so many other things) started me thinking about Hamilton and the how much I love the use of formal structures in language (and how much trouble I have connecting with free verse, which I suppose is why I think of myself as not caring for poetry.  Separate blog post, really).

And after that, I got into the elevator with Jo Walton, and when I mentioned that I was walking to the bookstore where she was doing a signing, she walked with me, since she didn't quite know the way from the building we were in.  And we had a lovely chat, about first cons and blog posts and domestic fantasy, and she is a great lady and I was only a little too fawning, if I do say so myself.  When we got to the bookstore I got a copy of Lifelode, which I read years ago, but isn't available as an ebook and hasn't been in print in a while.  Now I have one, and it's autographed, so there.

After lunch (Darwin's, for the record, where I haven't been in years but oh, that Mt. Auburn sandwich is still delightful; I ate only sandwiches this weekend), I went back to the con for a panel on metaphysics, where I developed a pretty intense crush on Ada Palmer, whose first novel, Too Like the Lightning, I have from Netgalley and can't wait to read now. At the point where someone can explain to me how Renaissance philosophers wrestled with Homer in their attempts to understand whether Dante was divinely inspired, I need to subscribe to their newsletter. Pamela Dean spoke on that panel, too, and Jo Walton convinced me to buy her reissued ebook The Dubious Hills (which I have); also John Chu, author of the Hugo-winning story "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere." 

At this point, as much as I was enjoying this, I had a raging headache, so I headed home.  This was my big solo weekend, when the menfolk were visiting my in-laws, so I ate another sandwich (torta from Tenoch, if you're keeping track) and started writing this post and called Lily to tell her that she left too early, and chatted online with my fanfic friends, and kept rereading The Goblin Emperor, which is such a lovely book.  And I put next year's Vericon in my calendar, because these are the conversations I want to have, just me and writers and thinkers whom I admire greatly and a handful of other fans. 

This is living.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Gena/Finn and ALL THE FEELS

This book GUTTED me.  This book caused me to cry in the shower--not hyperbole or exaggeration, I leaked tears from my eyes while washing my hair, no lie.  And I am not a fiction crier (real life crier, absolutely; mood swings galore).  I squealed, I tingled, I flapped my hands, I cried out "No!" and I--literally--wept.

Gena/Finn is the story of two fangirls who find each other--and that amazingly perfect friendship--online.  The story is by Hannah Moskowitz (whose History of Glitter and Blood I've been eager to read) and Kat Helgeson, and it's told through blog posts, chat logs, text messages, and some journal entries.  It's about intense friendship, and finding the person who just fits you, and about fandom, and how people relate to the stories that move them.

Gena (pronounced Jenna, for Genevieve, and I'm telling you that because I'm still pronouncing it wrong in my head) is a superachieving high school senior who is a popular fandom blogger and fic author.  Finn (for Stephanie) just graduated from college, is living with her boyfriend and trying to find a job and just kind of stumbling along in the real world.  They're both enormous fans of a cop show called Up Below, which sounds kind of like if Supernatural were a crime drama more like Castle.  Jake and Tyler, the detectives, have a close friendship, and our protagonists are "JakeGirls."

So here's the part where I point out that I'm in a fandom--and if the phrase "in a fandom" comes to you awkwardly, that's okay.  If it doesn't--if it's something you'd use to describe yourself--then this book will sing to your soul.  If that's not you, then what you're going to find here is an amazing, human, anthropologically fascinating rendition of the culture.  I have written these exact comments and read these exact reviews.  I have sent fannish chats to people whose online work I like and then written with them more and become kinda long distance friends (honestly, this is going on right now; it's both thrilling and  kind of meta for me). 

And I have absolutely made some of my best friends online, both vicariously (through a message board my husband belonged to and met up with--hi, Brenda!) and personally (I miss you, Sarah!). That tentative moment when you reach out to someone who you've only known silently, and the thrill when they reach back.  That feeling when you meet someone and realize before you even know them well that hey, I think I want this person to be my best friend ever. And then it gets better and better when you're right.  These experiences are some of the most emotionally important ones in my life, and they're here, with all the adrenaline of the real thing.

There are other important experiences that are here, both ones I've had and ones I've been spared--unemployment, mental illness, and being too young to be as independent as you are. This is not a light and fluffy story, and it's not just a friendship story either.  It's a bit of a love story, and very much a growing up story, and very much about communities and our relationship with television.

And there are no villains, really, though there are jerks, and people who fail.  And there are people who are trying so hard, and others who aren't trying hard enough.

Augh, this book.  The feelings.  I read it straight through, and I laughed out loud, and I cried, and I was so scared with the characters when everything was up in the air.  I want to watch Up Below and read EvenIf's blog and be catty about TylerGirl93.  It makes me love my fandom, and my friends, and it makes me think back onto things that happened when I was 19 and 20 and 21 and wonder what I would do differently and what I would do the same.

This gorgeous, marvelous book.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Assassins

So, this book that I got from Netgalley appears to actually be two novellas in one: Pieces of Hate and Dead Man's Hand, both by Tim Lebbon, which are part of a series called The Assassins. I was on a roll with fun-looking novellas (waving to KJ Parker, hi, sweetie!), and these looks kind of swashbuckly. 

Sadly, they weren't what I was hoping.  First, I don't think they fit together very well--especially not with Dead Man's Hand coming first in the version I got.  It's a better introduction to the characters, but it's chronologically the second story, meaning there's a bit of a spoiler for the fact that our protagonist is not going to successfully kill his target in the next (earlier) story.

Anyway, in each one, you have our protagonist, Gabriel, who has been chasing his enemy, Temple, across the globe.  When he gets close, his wounds start to ache; after each encounter, he has more scars and injuries.  But he doesn't die--he's been chasing Temple for centuries, ever since Temple slaughtered his family 600 years ago.

In Dead Man's Hand, our narrator is a shopkeeper in Deadwood when Gabriel rolls into town seeking Temple, who is, when the whim strikes him, an assassin for hire.  Temple is creepy--a lot of time is spent during the moments before the narrator opens a door or lights a lamp in a scary room--and the mystery of the hunt Gabriel is on kind of teases it.  It's a short story, so the fact that it's not deeper or richer is maybe okay; the tension comes from not knowing.

Pieces of Hate takes place earlier, and it's told from Gabriel's point of view.  We get the moment when he finds his family dead and then something mystical happens and he's magically connected to Temple, maybe?  But the main story takes place in Port Royal, among pirates.  Gabriel encounters Temple's slaughter, tries to track him, enlists allies, tracks him.  Again, we know he won't win, because we've already read Dead Man's Hand, which takes place later.

The most annoying part is that they're virtually the same story.  I mean, you're an immortal chasing an immortal, you've hunted him down with your guns and your knives before and shot him and stabbed him, etc.  It doesn't work.  So maybe you need another plan.  Maybe, if every time you try to shoot him, he doesn't die, continuing to try and shoot him is just dumb.

I think this might be the point of the story.  If not, it's even more annoying; if it is, then it's just...not very moving.  Like, he's still passionate about revenge for people who died 600 years ago, whose faces and voices he can't remember.  Like, he's caused his own horrible carnage trying to track this guy down.  Like, his whole plan is to try the same thing again and see if it works this time.  He's clearly addicted to the chase.  But those facts all just sit there--they don't come alive with any observations about the nature of addiction, or of revenge, or of time and the role of forgetting.

He's not trying to save innocent people, or end his own torment.  The task is truly Sisyphean, but without the incredibly important moment at the top, watching the rock roll down the hill, where you contemplate what is inevitable and what is a choice, and what a life is worth.

So, for anyone who's wondering if I give fair reviews...blah.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Kindle Crisis!

Guys, my Kindle is acting veeeeery hinkey.  Some of the touchscreen functions aren't working.  Like, I can't use the GoTo feature at all--not for chapters, not for places.  It's just not clickable.  I also can't switch it from Portrait to Landscape mode--which is weird, because I'd been reading on Portrait mode for a few months until just the other day.  After I started having problems, I tried a bunch of different functions, and it let me switch from Landscape to Portrait, but not back.

The top row of the keyboard doesn't work, which means I can't search for a book on the Kindle, which is insanely annoying.  The lighting selector doesn't work between 6 and 15, so I can either have it very dim or very bright, but not in between. 

And the weird part is, I don't think it's a hardware problem; the touchscreen seems fine.  If I pull down the dropdown menu, I get no response from certain selections, but if I remove the menu, I can easily turn the page by tapping that exact same part of the touchscreen.  The problem is definitely software.

Mike suggests a reboot to factory settings.  Which is all well and good except for the carefully curated collection of over 600 books that is sitting on there, and which I would then have to resend one by one from my account.  On one hand, this sounds like an insanely onerous task.  On the other, it sounds like a really, really fun way to kill a few hours. 

Eek, I can't decide.  As I notice more missing functions, though, it's getting tougher.  The keyboard might be what puts me over the edge; if I can't search for a specific book on the Kindle, it's kind of pointless to have 600 at my fingertips.  It's like having hundreds of books in my basement in boxes, but only six books in each box, and I have to open every box to find what I'm looking for. 

I am helpless without my Kindle.  Pray for me.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

K.J. Parker: And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

I'm setting out to see how many K.J. Parker novellas I can read in the shortest time possible--or at least it feels that way.  But they're so good! And there are a bunch of new ones coming out! And Netgalley gave me some, and I haven't even STARTED his big ongoing serial yet!

Today's feature is another Netgalley ARC, and this one is exciting because it's about Saloninus, who was the protagonist of Blue and Gold, the first Parker book I read.  This one, The Devil You Know, has set itself a huge challenge: now that we know Saloninus is the greatest trickster in history--now that we've read Blue and Gold, how do you keep tricking us?  Can it be done?

Dear reader, never doubt! Saloninus is an old man, and he's set out to sell his soul. Our narrator is sometimes Saloninus himself and sometimes the agent who brokers the deal, who seems like a good egg, albeit with a bit of an unsavory job.  But he's also a fan of history's greatest trickster--read all his books, knows his deepest, darkest secrets--so he knows that there's probably a trick at work here.  Still, twenty years of youth, health, wealth, and any wish he might have, in return for his immortal soul.  The lawyers have been over it with a fine-toothed comb; the contract is airtight.  What could possibly go wrong?

You'll wonder that, too.  I was wondering.  What is our protagonist up to?  Can Saloninus out-devious the devil?  What are all the cutthroats and artists for? And CAN he turn base metals into gold?

There are things to quibble about here--although there are few characters in general, all the women but one are prostitutes in a rather ugly scenario--I can't help loving this.  Love love love, and always, always want more Parker.

What other novellas, you ask?  What's coming up next?  The Last Witness, followed by the first part of The Two of Swords, of course!  Then we dig deeper into his backlist.  Happy, happy, happy!