pedanther: (cheerful)
1. This week I have five Christmas/end-of-year social events in six days; in no particular order: work, the Rep Club, the other theatre group that isn't the Rep Club, Toastmasters, and the brass band. Three of those have already happened, and all of them were on evenings when I would have had to give them a miss or leave early if I'd been in the Christmas Show, as I was saying last entry, which would have been regrettable.

Also on the list of things I'd have had to miss out on: going to see the WA Symphony Orchestra's annual public concert with the family. (Does that count as an end-of-year social event? I'm inclined to say not, because nobody fed me.)

2. The choral group I mentioned joining has finished up for the year. I've been enjoying it and will definitely be back next year.

3. I have been to two charity book sales recently. I donated a box of books to the first one, so I came out with a net decrease in the number of books taking up space in my house. Win!

A significant amount of the box I donated consisted of duplicate copies, many of them a result of seeing a book at a sale and going "I've always wanted a copy of that" and then finding when I got home that I already had one in the to-read pile. I managed to do it again at both of these sales, so I've already made a start on the next box...

4. So far since the new $5 note was released, I've only had one pass into my hands. It was weird and disconcerting and I spent it in the very next shop I went into so that I wouldn't have to keep looking at it.

5. At work, my computer finally got old and unreliable enough that the boss felt obliged to find room in the budget for a new one. This meant leapfrogging from Windows XP (yes, it was that old) to Windows 10, which despite my reservations has been relatively un-horrible. The worst of it were some initial issues with the wireless keyboard, which seem to have sorted themselves out, and a weird tendency to reboot itself without notice, which I think has been fixed now that I've tracked down the option switch that was set to "Reboot immediately after installing a system update" (the documentation says that that option will still wait until the computer is standing idle, but such was not my experience).

There's also the unanticipated side-effect that my computer at home, which had always felt speedy and powerful compared to the one at work, is now by comparison showing its age and small memory.

Book meme

May. 29th, 2016 08:13 am
pedanther: (cheerful)
(via [ profile] swordznsorcery)

1. Can you remember the first book you read?

I find this question utterly bemusing. Apart from people who had deprived childhoods and didn't become literate until they were grown up, can anybody remember the first book they read?

2. What was the last book (electronic or otherwise) you read?

Hellspark by Janet Kagan, for the umptieth time, to celebrate it being released as an ebook. (Complete with a few exciting new typographical errors, as seems to be inevitable with ebooks.) It's still just as good.

3. Do you read for enjoyment, work or both?


4. What is your favorite genre of book to read?

My fiction reading is almost entirely science fiction, fantasy, and detective novels. Occasionally historical novels, possibly because there's a similar sense of visiting a strange and different world. You'll have gathered that I'm not much interested by fiction set in an unmodified version of the real world; I'm not sure why -- possibly on Marvin's principle that reality is bad enough without people inventing more of it.

My non-fiction reading tends toward popular history and biography, with occasional diversions into things that look like they might expand my understanding of acting and/or directing. (It probably says something that I'll read for self-improvement when it comes to my hobby, but not when it comes to the work that actually earns my living. Not sure what, though.) I recently finished Jung Chang's biography of Empress Dowager Cixi (which was amazing, and I'd be telling everybody they should read it if I were the kind of person who told people things like that), and currently I'm reading Adrian Goldsworthy's biography of Caesar Augustus.

5. If you could visit your younger self, what book would you tell yourself to steer clear of?

There aren't many books that I'm prepared to state without qualification that I'd have been better off not having read; usually I get something out of even really bad books.

But there is one, and it's in Piers Anthony's "Space Tyrant" series. Really, best just to skip the whole series, to be on the safe side.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. The Christmas show opened this week. Everybody's enjoying it so far. The local newspaper gave it a terrible review -- not in the sense of not liking the show, but in the sense that it spelled everyone's name wrong and gave away all the best jokes. (And it's going to be a while before we stop ribbing our New York-born lead actor about how impressed the reviewer was by the authenticity of his American accent.) Still, they say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and I remember what it's like to get no review at all, so I'm not going to complain. Much.

2. I'm still playing Doctor Who: Legacy on and off. I'm getting gradually better at it, and although I'm still not really invested in the "story", it's designed like most smartphone games to be easy to pull out and play for a few minutes while you're waiting for something else.

3. [ profile] glvalentine has done another list for TV Club 10, this one 10 notable TV adaptations of 19th-century English literature. Strikingly, neither the 1995 Pride and Prejudice nor the 2004 North and South made the top ten, although they're the first two honorable mentions; as with the last list, there's a rule enforcing variety in the top picks, and they were beaten out by 1995's Persuasion and 2009's Return to Cranford respectively.

4. Over the last few years, Sesame Street has been making a series of spoof movie trailers in which Cookie Monster learns lessons about self-regulation skills like patience, perseverance, and consideration of the feelings of others. My current favourite is Star S'Mores, in which our hero plays the role of Flan Solo, accompanied by his faithful sidekick Chewie the Cookiee... which goes about as well as you might expect, considering this is Cookie Monster we're talking about.

5. Man, I love Cookie Monster. One of my favourite parts of doing Yuletide last year was watching Cookie Monster videos and calling it research. Here's a classic from twenty years ago: Monsterpiece Theater present Little House on Prairie.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Another February, another Toastmasters speech evaluation contest, another creditable but not dazzling performance from me that didn't result in a place on the podium. (Which is probably just as well this year, as I think the next round of the contest is likely to clash with other stuff I have on.) Also probably just as well is that the evaluation rules explicitly forbid commenting on whether you agree with what the speaker says (the point being to improve the speaker's skills in how it is said), because this year I seriously disagreed with the conclusion of the speech we were set to evaluate. I have a speaking slot coming up next meeting; I'm seriously considering revisting the topic.

2. The first episode of Elementary aired here recently. It seems like a fairly entertaining example of the American quirky-detective show, and it's nice to see a female character get a major role in one of these things. The bee-keeping scene was a nice shout-out to the grand-daddy of the genre, I thought.

3. Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World is turning out to be a good book for killing time in waiting rooms and so on, but not the kind of book that's an entertaining read in itself. It's a survey of the technological and cultural changes that began or entered new phases in 1859, the year Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species; the coverage is (perhaps necessarily) broad, but not very deep.

4. Continuing through this Murray Leinster omnibus. Continuing to find Leinster's delusion that "because she was a woman" is a necessary or useful explanation annoyingly infecting stories that might otherwise have been pretty good. The latest victim is "Anthropological Note", in which a female anthopologist studies a matriarchal alien tribe -- a subject which, as the man who once wrote in all apparent seriousness that "there is no profession in which a really competent man tries to understand women", he might have thought better of attempting. Once again, though, it's the narrator more than the actual story that's the problem: I have a feeling that if someone had red-pencilled all the places where an explanation is given a prefix like "Being a woman" or a suffix like "in a typically female way", the substance of the story would not have been materially altered. ...Well, you'd still have some of the unpleasant features of the matriarchy, but at least you wouldn't have to put up with any of them being explicitly described as "definitely female".

Actually, the story does have another annoying flaw, again in the narration. The denouement depends on a rather neat coincidence, which Leinster apparently didn't trust his readers to buy unaided; his solution is to add a rather heavy-handed lampshade-hanging in the form of regularly reminding the reader that the denouement is going to depend on a remarkable coincidence, which might be regarded as a sign of the tribe's deity taking a hand in matters, if you believe in such things as tribal deities, ho ho ho. I reckon I can see a better way of handling it, but it does require modern subtle-incluing technology, which Leinster may not have had in his tool kit, and also that the author regard our lady anthropologist as an actual human being, which also appears to be a tool Leinster was lacking.

5. On a more cheerful note, I really liked Croc and Bird, a charming little picture book that begins with two eggs hatching together on a river bank, and the hatchlings deciding, in the absence of any grown-ups around to tell them otherwise, that they're brothers. And then it's about how they grow up together, and teach each other the things each knows instinctively (Bird teaches Croc to sing; Croc teaches Bird to hunt water buffalo), and about what happens when they meet other crocodiles and other birds and discover that their understanding of the world is not the commonly accepted one.

(I was hanging out in the junior corner of the library with my niece when I discovered it, but I shamelessly admit I read it for myself. My niece is still at the age where the coloured blocks are more interesting than the books.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Campaign season has opened for this year's state election, and later in the year there will be a federal election as well. This reminds me that as a citizen of cyberspace I find it much easier to stumble across information and discussions about the issues and candidate platforms of the United States than those of my own country.

Anybody have any suggestions for blogs or websites helpful to an Australian voter?

2. In an attempt to cut down the amount of processed sugar in my diet, I've started steering clear of anything where sugar is in the number-one position on the ingredients list, or number two after something dull like water, or what-the-heck-is-sugar-doing-in-this-at-all (Grain Waves crisps, I'm looking at you).

In a recent idle moment I went through a confectionery aisle reading ingredients lists; what struck me was not that everything I'd previously have eaten without a second thought had Sugar as the number-one ingredient, which I'd expected, but that in nearly all of them the number two ingredient was More Sugar.

3. The independent fresh-fruit-and-vegetables shop down the road has closed, which is saddening but not a surprise. I saw the writing on the wall when it stopped being all about fresh-fruit-and-vegetables and started experimenting with sidelines in common household items and weird American confectionery (Reese's Pieces are kind of interesting but I wouldn't want to eat them too often) and soft drinks (which I didn't go near even before the sugar restriction). I hope things go better for them in their next venture, whatever it happens to be.

4. A couple of days ago I received a large shipment of books I'd forgotten I owned; I bought them when I went to Swancon last year, couldn't fit them in my luggage, so left them with a relative until such time as somebody with luggage space happened to be heading my way. I got to be gleeful all over again about owning some of them, regarded some with puzzlement, and greeted one trilogy with "I could have sworn I'd got rid of you." (Where did I put that email asking for secondhand-book-sale donations?) So far, only one has turned out to be a duplicate of something I already owned.

5. The concept I was vaguely trying to recall a couple of posts ago, and had to let go because I couldn't remember any of the proper nouns, was action librarian Nancy Pearl's concept of Doorways to Reading, which she teaches as a tool for matching readers to books they might like. Finding out what people read (favourite author or genre) is unreliable; better to work out what people read for, what it is that draws them into a book. The four doorways identified by Pearl are Story, Character, Language, and Setting; every reader prefers some of these over the others, and a given book is unlikely to satisfy all of these to the same extent. (I myself, as I said before, am a Story and Character guy, and if those are lacking, it doesn't matter how beautiful the Language is.) (Also note how you could have four people who identified their favourite genre as, say, detective fiction, and each could be entering the genre through a different doorway and getting different things out.) An interesting addition, which I only learned about when I was looking it up again today, is that apparently the Four Doorways toolkit works just as well for recommending non-fiction.
pedanther: (cheerful)
I've been reading Colonial Survey, a 1956 collection of short stories by Murray Leinster, and finding it somewhat annoying. The stories themselves are all right (one is a Hugo winner), but the format is a problem.

It's a fix-up, which is a venerable dodge whereby a collection of stories is arranged, often with a bit of editing and some new linking material, to make it look like a single unified work, thereby expanding the potential audience to include people who don't read short story collections. This can work, if you have a set of stories with a single protagonist, or failing that a common setting and some kind of plot or theme you can use as a through-line. (Isaac Asimov's Foundation is a fix-up, as is Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I could go on in this vein for quite a while. Charles Stross' Accelerando and Ryk Spoor's Digital Knight are more recent examples.)

The trouble with Colonial Survey is that, faced with four stories about four different colonial survey officials (the internet tells me they were named Massy, Bordman, Roane, and Hardwick), someone decided it would be a good idea to fake a common protagonist by renaming them all Bordman. This might have worked if Leinster were a worse writer, but even when he's writing classical puzzle-as-plot SF he gives his protagonists some individuality, and it's quite apparent that each story's protagonist is a different person and trying to reconcile their various personalities, or form them into a sequence of character development, won't get you anything but a headache. (There are continuity issues, too. The protagonist of one of the early stories falls in love and gets married. In the new interstitial material added to glue the stories together, much is made of how our pseudo-protagonist misses his wife and family when he's away working. But does he ever mention them in the stories themselves? No, of course not.)

I said that the stories themselves are all right, but actually one of them is annoying as well. "Sand Doom" has a neat puzzle-plot, and Leinster does some nice work on the psychological side: what it is about the protagonist that makes him the the one who figures out what nobody else does, and the jigsaw puzzle of the supporting characters that each contribute their bit to the solution. I would say that the characters are each distinct, rounded individuals, except...

...except that this is the one story in the collection with a significant presence of characters who are not white males, and they are not allowed to be individuals. The female lead isn't the way she is because she's that kind of gal, but because that's the way women are. (Except, okay, that she's self-sufficient and "not at all a nuisance", which is apparently "extraordinary".) The Amerind characters - who wear feathers in their hair, shun urban civilization, and all live together on a planet where the global parliament meets in a building constructed in the shape of a teepee - are the way they are because they're Amerinds. The African characters - you know what, I think you've got the idea.

It's largely a failure of show-versus-tell. What we're actually shown is a well-drawn group of individuals interacting and collaborating to save the day, if only the author would stop telling us about how they're all exemplars of their race and gender. (Except the white male protagonist, of course, he's an individual.) A stage or screen version of the story would be a considerable improvement just by dropping the narrator.

To end on something resembling a lighter note: While I was hunting up details of the stories' original publications, I learned that all but one of them was the cover-featured story on its first magazine publication. "Sand Doom" had one of those classic pulp cover illustrations that amuse [ profile] serge_lj so much, depicting a man in an environment suit and a woman in a bikini standing together on the surface of hostile alien world - and for once this is a thing that actually happens in the story.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. So, a new year.

My new year's resolution last year was to make some progress on figuring out what I want to do with my life, prompted by the realisation that I was about to qualify for long service leave in the job I took temporarily after university until I decided out what I really wanted to do.

I've achieved it, kind of. I still don't really know what I want to do with my life, but I do know where I want to be in two years from now, which is more than I've managed before. Conveniently, it's geographically the same place I am now, but at least I have a positive reason for wanting to be here instead of just drifting along in the direction I was already going. And the nature of the reason is suggestive of what I might want from life, so there's room for further development there.

I don't have a formal resolution this year, just an intention to keep on with last year's, with a side order of getting back on the wagons I've fallen off with respect to morning-ness and exercise and suchlike.

2. Boy, it's hot. I've been spending large portions of the day inside, with the blinds drawn against the nuclear-powered fury of the sun, reading Yuletide fics and playing online games.

3. Speaking of Yuletide, author's names have now been revealed, resulting in the discovery that two of the fics that particularly impressed me this year were both written by the same author, RecessiveJean, who furthermore has written two more fics as well, for a total of four excellent fics, in six fandoms. (Captain America, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Jurassic Park, Narnia, The Rocketeer, The Scarlet Pimpernel. So yes, that means at least one superficially-unworkable crossover.)

T-Rex was in Kentucky, although he didn’t know it. He hadn’t brought a map, and if he had, he probably would have tried to eat it by now, anyway.

4. Speaking of online games, I've reached the final story arc in Doctor Who: Worlds in Time. The Doctor has traced the source of the time disturbances back to the planet Skaro - which, as he points out, is a disturbance in itself, since Skaro is supposed to be utterly destroyed.

The new iDaleks look even less threatening as two-dimensional cartoons than they did in "Victory of the Daleks", incidentally.

5. Lady Spy, Gentleman Explorer: the life of Herbert Dyce Murphy sounded promising, but I had to give up on it before the end of the fourth chapter.

The first strike against the book is that it's a work of non-fiction written as if it were a novel, studded with details the author couldn't possibly have known about what the people involved did and thought on such-and-such an occasion. To be fair, some of these are marked as supposition, but that just draws attention to the places where the author did the same thing without marking it. And it prompts one to consider whether the supposition adds anything to the account, to which my answer was generally negative.

The third strike is that on top of being written like a novel, it's such a twee novel. It's all very comfortable and superficial; despite supposedly being real people, they've got (or at least are granted by the author) less depth and complication than many fictional characters I've known. The point where I gave up was when I realised that the author had somehow managed to make the story of a man who lived as a woman in Victorian England dull.

So much for the style. Are the underlying facts any good? Well...

The second strike was awarded to a ten-word parenthesis that single-handedly destroyed my faith in the author's fact-checking. The author reports that when Murphy was living in Oxford and preparing to enter the University, he was tutored by a man named Montgomery Bell, "said to be the original of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes".
pedanther: (literature)
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That would depend, first of all, which bookshelf they were looking at.

The three bookcases in the living room are the to-read pile; they might give some idea of what I expect to enjoy (or at least consider worth a try), but would probably give a wrong impression if they were assumed to be the books I've read, enjoyed, and chosen to keep. For those, you want the wall-to-wall shelving in the study.

Although, come to think of it, both rooms have at least one shelf filled entirely with Doctor Who books. So that's one thing.
pedanther: (bem)
It doesn't look like I'm going to find time to do a detailed Swancon report, so I should at least note some of the things I'd intended to write about:

* What I read on the train to Perth
* What I failed to avoid watching on the train to Perth
* My cunning plan to have fewer books at the end of the convention than at the beginning, and what became of it
* I had a picture in the art show (a personal first)
* I was on a panel (another personal first)
* It was a panel about why you should all be reading Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden Universe series
* Richard Morgan's guest of honour speech
* The King of the Copper Mountains
* Grant Watson's presentation on Walt Disney's animated feature films
* Why I went to the book launch for Jenny Blackford's The Priestess and the Slave, which I'd thought I wasn't interested in
* It wasn't because of the free ouzo
* Games I played for the first time (including Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (we humans won, which I gather is not usual), Wings of War (I was the second pilot to shoot someone down, and the third to be shot down) and Rock Band)
* Games I played for the second time (Swancon Quidditch)
* Games I didn't get to play, but wanted to ([ profile] drhoz's Cthulhu in Hollywood roleplaying scenario)
pedanther: (Default)
Another box of books out of storage today. This one contained the aforementioned big unwieldy two-volume large-print edition... of, it turns out, not Tai-Pan at all, but the sequel, Gai-Jin.
pedanther: (literature)
One of the reasons I recently moved into a larger house was so that I could get my books out of storage and onto bookshelves, or at least sort them into "To Read", "Have Read", and "Don't Want Any More".

A significant proportion of the growing "Don't Want Any More" set is turning out to be duplicate copies -- in some cases multiple duplicate copies, which happen like this: There is a book I really want, so I make a mental note to look out for it whenever I'm in a bookshop. Eventually I find a copy, and buy it. Some time later, in another bookshop, I see another copy, and because I remember that I was looking for it, I buy that as well. Having all the books in storage makes it worse, because the first copy gets forgotten easier when I'm not seeing it on a shelf every day, and when I get home with my new second copy, I don't immediately discover that it's a duplicate.

Yesterday, while I was browsing at the Boulder markets, I found a paperback copy of James Clavell's novel Tai-Pan. This time I remembered that I already owned a copy, but as the copy I remembered was a big unwieldy two-volume large-print edition I picked up in a library discard sale, I decided to buy the paperback anyway.

When I got home, I went to put it on the To-Read Bookshelf, and discovered a copy already there -- and not the two-volume large-print edition, which is still in storage, but another paperback.

In the evening, unpacking a box of books I'd got out of storage, I found two more copies. (Yet another paperback, and a large (but not large-print) hardcover edition.) That makes a total of four copies of Tai-Pan, not counting the still-absent large-print edition...


pedanther: (Default)

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