Warcross is awesome!!!

Warcross continues to deliver the goods! I love this book. The gamer/hacker heroine in her ripped up jeans and flannel shirt has now gone through the first draft for the Great Games or whatever they are called, and was picked first to be on the Phoenix Riders team even though she is a lowly level 28. The captain of her team, Asher Wing, is a wheelchair user, which made me instantly happy. I was trying to figure out from the description what kind of chair he had and I am thinking powerchair since his headrest was mentioned. Another named character on an opposing team was a former Paralympian.

Scenes of clever hacking… loving descriptions of leaping around and fighting in the Game . . . And she has moved from her first swanky hotel room to some sort of team training mansion where she has a suite with a rooftop patio with her own private infinity pool.

They have also been to a great party at a disco which was seamlessly wheelchair accessible with great augmented reality. There are so many adorable details like that there is a (female) character named Hamilton.

I also dig that we see more of Emika’s motivation and backstory for the high school hack that got her arrested.

This is like the perfect antidote for the boring sexist barfbag that was Ready Player One. It’s assuaging my soul!

Secret Tides of Rebel Librarians, and a powerup

Some recent books.

I re-read The Black Tides of Heaven (and then The Red Threads of Fortune) by J.Y. Yang, sparked by a Habitica challenge. I love the characters & their angsty drama, and the worldbuilding & politics and the magic/tech system.

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes. A fun book about a bookish middle schooler fighting oppression and censorship. The adults are so over the top, firing the librarian & throwing away most of the books in the library. Books are contraband! I enjoyed this and followed its shout outs to …

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd. Saw someone say that it is as good as The Secret Garden. It didn’t quite get there for me, but it is lovely — its heroine is a girl in a TB hospital for children out in the country in England during WWII. A depressing atmosphere of coughing, greyness, blustery winter, eating soup made from half-rotten onions. She sees winged horses in the mirrors, writing letters with the Horse Lord. Where it fell a little short for me is in her dealing with her trauma – and her actual changes of heart as well as everyone else’s. That, and if you can’t put a piece of paper colored with pencil out in the snow and rain how were the other things surviving? (Sometimes, I can’t help logicking the fantasy novels. Sorry.) It’s a good book.

A book I didn’t much like – Blue Collar Space. Old school feeling, along with the old school annoying gratuitious sexism to where there are theoretically equal women on the spaceships but somehow their agency is always undermined – they have to be rescued or are helpless or they do the thing by accident – they don’t quite achieve the asimovian squeal but it’s there…. absolutely maddening. Oh no wait, the one story with the teenage girl talking to her Daddy DID achieve it. I nearly forgot. Anyway, this book can bite me.

Currently in mid-read of Warcross by Marie Lu. Oh wow! This is the most ridiculous and indulgent book ever! Our heroine is an older teenager desperately trying to survive her first year out of “group homes” and deal with being in debt, about to be evicted. She is a badass hacker and bounty hunter of the world’s most popular game, Warcross, which EVERYONE PLAYS. Did I mention she has a skateboard and rainbow hair and a fabulous, meaningful, full sleeve tattoo?

I have just got to the bit where she has gotten off the private jet and is in a swanky hotel in Tokyo, freaking out at all the delicious room service food, and the comfy bed, and how the city is much more integrated with the Game – you level up constantly just while living your life, and the virtual overlay of people and buildings and the entire city is gorgeous – their pets, their levels and achievements, their weird outfits, virtual environments — Really makes me hark back to how people thought VR or AR was going to be.

I mentioned the skateboard? And how she wakes up in the hotel and puts on her only outfit which happens to be WHAT I WEAR ALL THE TIME ie a tshirt, ripped jeans, and a red flannel shirt. Thanks Marie Lu for gratifying my every desire in this weird dystopian future. Yes. More fantasy novels with soft hotel beds, a view of a glittering city, room service fried chicken that is better than anything you’ve ever eaten, and a pleasant “ding” indicating that you just leveled up.

Layers of history

Came across this excellent article today on U.S. museums that add information about slavery and enslaved people to their exhibits.

Can Art Museums Help Illuminate Early American Connections To Slavery?

Silly but clear headline (the answer is “yes, of course”).

For these particular portraits of people from 1700s Massachusetts, there is presumably whatever info was there before on a placard next to the painting, and there is a new placard outlining the person’s connection to slavery, including the names of the enslaved people whose labor enriched themselves and their family.

I like this approach to history. Who is missing? Who is not seen, heard from? Who has disappeared from the picture and why?

Add in another layer, of the indigenous people of that part of Massachusetts, and their lives at the time of these portraits.

An interesting book is mentioned in the article, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave in the Building of a Nation by Daina Ramey Berry. I may give that a read.

Tea with Sumana and friends

Mentioned during lovely tea “salon” at Le Marais with Sumana and many others:

  • Erma Bombeck. Wikipedia articles skimmed through on our phones. Several of us remembered liking her books when we were kids – according to Sumana the humor holds up well. I had a sort of visceral memory of a particular bookshelf in my grandparents’ basement that also held tattered paperbacks of Carlos Castaneda and some other books that must have belonged to my aunts when they were in college. (The better books were up on higher shelves all around the basement edge, hardbacks from the Heritage series which my grandma must have subscribed to mid-century; they were very nice with great typefaces and prints, and are why I read tons of Russian novels and Balzac and stuff like that in my childhood).
  • The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden. Science fiction I’m currently reading, set in approx. 100 years from now South Africa. It’s very good! Genetic engineering, AI robot assistant/pets, lots of species gone extinct. Youth coming of age, social chaos, weird espionage. There will be a sequel!
  • History of BART. Susan had the coolest damn thing which was a BART pen she was given at a BART station from answering a questionnaire. A little scrip rolls out from the barrel of the pen and lo! it’s a BART map! Adorkable. I recced the BART history book which I’ve now been given as a gift twice (and gave one copy away)
  • Jean Kerr, who wrote Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, which sounds familiar but I can’t really recall it. More 20th century humor!
  • Ruth McKenney, who wrote My Sister Eileen, another humorist and playwright
  • In this context, Sumana’s 18 short plays about Python which I hope she performs again!
  • David Graeber book Utopia of Rules, which looked good. I read some of Debt and some other book of his and thought they were OK. This looked maybe more up my alley though since I enjoy thinking about bureaucracies
  • Our friend Seth being a mime in Paris and my aspiration to join a MIT puzzle hunt team next year
  • The Wrath of Khan musical, which is AMAZING (the bits i’ve seen) Here’s a sample: Have I Still Got the Magic
  • The Play That Goes Wrong which Sumana recced and which sounds pretty good!
  • Perfecting Sound Forever
  • Tidelift as a way for open source software to be supported. You can sign up for it free which gets you a sort of audit of what packages you are using so that you can support their maintainers directly.
  • As always I recommended Happy Snak, my favorite SF book right now. I am trying to at least make it a cult classic. Best heroine. Best aliens. Best first contact. Best small business owner of a mall food court restaurant on an alien space station who becomes an unlikely diplomat and whose deep belief that everyone deserves the happiness obtainable from delicious, convenient, low cost snacks turns out to be revolutionary.

I’m sure we talked about things that weren’t books, plays, or software projects, but I didn’t take notes on those things so have no idea what they were.

liz-dolores-park

Four Brothers in Blue

From a recommendation from my dad, I’m reading an actual paper book, Four Brothers in Blue, which is mostly letters from four brothers who were all in the Union army in the U.S. Civil War. They were in different regiments and wrote letters home & to each other. This was strung together many years later by one of the brothers with details (boringly) filled in.

The letters are mostly about details of the misery of soldier life: being cold, losing all your stuff or throwing it away on a long march while carrying 100 pounds on your back in 90 degree heat, needing more socks, mud, blisters, asthma, what it’s like to wake up with lice crawling all over you, eating disgusting food, and how the entire army has diarrhea as well as lice. Somehow, I always like reading this sort of book as it makes any physical pain I’m in less significant as I try to imagine having to walk several miles to gather hay and firewood to button into my lice-filled poncho in the freezing night, for warmth, as i attempt to sleep “on the soft side of the planks”.

Early on in the book and the war, the brothers are fans of McClellan, calling him “Little Mac” and reporting excitedly if he passed close by them on parade. He kept the army morale high, even if they did think he should have followed up quicker after Lee’s defeat at Antietam. They were disappointed that this hero wasn’t taller. One brother even sneaked up to McClellan’s horse, Dan Webster, snipped off a piece of the horse’s mane as a souvenir, and sent it to their mom. I guess this horse must have had a McClellan saddle.

The letters written back to them from their mother and father are missing but you can tell they were being sent little care packages of bandages and medicine by their mom, and stern advice about knapsacks from their dad. All the brothers explain repeatedly to their dad that his knapsacks sucked because they were heavy and the straps too narrow, and they can’t carry all that stuff because they have giant ammo pouches and 50 pounds worth of guns. They stick closest to their “rubber blanket” which I imagine to be a bit like a ridiculously heavy yoga mat, and anything made of wool though the blankets are the 2nd thing to go after the knapsacks. Ponchos sound the easiest to carry. So, now I know some survival tips, in case I’m accidentally transported back in time to 1861 as an able bodied 20 year old man. How useful!

Slow absorption of history with digressions

I’m still slowly reading In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars with forays into Wikipedia or pauses to read a book or two or six by people mentioned in the history. Last night I ended up trying to explain Lord Uxbridge’s leg to Danny who got interested and then read out loud to me from Mr. Dallas’s speech in court to defend Henry Paget (the Noble Lord). (Result: Paget paid 20,000 pounds to Wellesley for eloping with his wife Charlotte.) Readers of Regency romances take note, Paget was married at the time to one of Lady Jersey’s daughters.

Onward to some more Luddite riots centered in Bolton and Preston (land of my ancestors! at least one branch of them! Weavers and miners all, emigrating around 1900 to work in more mills but escaping the mines!) and a long chapter about Shelley and co.

One pause was for Life in the Sickroom by Harriet Martineau, which is AWESOME and which I’ll summarize soon. I liked it so much I found a (cheap!) first edition online – leather binding, marbled papers – Lovely.

I am probably going to pause to read the novel Patronage by Mrs. Edgeworth, but first, a complete departure since I need to recharge my Kindle, this morning in the sun on the porch with coffee, with a real life paper book in hand: From the Legend of Biel by Mary Staton, which I had never heard of till James Nicoll‘s mention of it in a review. So far it’s glorious, weird, trippy, one of those Freak Out in Space books a little like Solaris, as the head of the 4-person expedition to planet MC6 enters the pearl-like featureless dome trying to map the maze within and finally, the center, and some glass holograph floppies which, slotted in, OVERWHELM HIS MIND with story.

book cover with geometric buildings

Why, why, why, would you want to wear a jumpsuit uniform in space and as you explore another planet? They’re always unzipping their jumpsuits (but never to pee) What is wrong with just … what about pants and shirt, space explorer uniform designers? I guess the idea is that in zero-gee you don’t want your shirt floating up but that is why we have tailoring, knits, even perhaps Space Suspenders.

Other moments where someone enters the dome, or the ruins, of the past or the aliens or one’s ancestors: Pern on the Southern Continent (with bonus rocketships), I think one at least of the books by H.M. Hoover, an Andre Norton or two or five (especially the one where they jump around on the colored squares to get in, like Dance Dance Revolution). And so many more. I have to think it is from Lord Howard and the pyramid (The protagonist of Biel is even named Howard – subtle. )

Long reading journeys since I am still in enforced idleness of convalescence from surgery and can’t sit upright for very long and leaving the house (while possible) is unwise and painful. It’s amazing how beautiful the world is though when I do — the bus ride to the doctor yesterday & back again was as wild and ecstatic as the journey into the dome of MC6 — I was early, bought an It’s-It at a cart at the cable turnaround at Powell and sat in the sun in a clean bit of pavement (recently washed perhaps by the new mayor’s power-washing crew) providing entertainment to all as part of the San Francisco landscape. Purple haired woman with a leather jacket sits on the pavement next to her motorized tricycle (decorated with artificial flowers and a unicorn horn), eating ice cream and beaming — small children tagging along after their parents with rolly suitcases drop their jaws and their heads swivel as they walk past or sometimes stop dead in their tracks to stare. I wave like the Queen of Tricycles and try to convey my harmlessness to the parents. Sometimes I’ve been stopped in that area or by the Mint by tourists who want a photo with me. Colored hair is not that strange anymore so I have to lay blame on the unicorn horn. The people waiting in a long line for the cable car ride (where I always think of young Maya Angelou), the guy sleeping next to the railing, the band playing not-great but adequate steel drum, a sunny day…. Endless parade of people going places purposefully. I loved everyone.

A month after surgery

This was a fabulous day. I had more energy, I cooked some things, folded a lot of laundry, and did my project to paint a small shelving unit in the bathroom. With interludes of lying down but this is the most active I’ve been since June and it was so nice.

liz smiling with a paintbrush

I feel more certain that I’m healing up from surgery now. Danny did all the shopping and laundry and Ada helped out with some things and cleaned her room after getting back from a gaming sleepover. Dinner was 2 kinds of congee (chicken broth in one pot and vegetarian in the other) with poached eggs. I also used up Ada’s solstice harvest pears and apples and a lemon making a pear-apple crumble. It is strangely satisfying to just make up whatever I’m cooking as I go (occasionally leading to something inedible) My chicken congee had tomato, bok choy, fresh ginger, cumin, and a lot of pepper. Ada’s vegetarian kind had tofu, soy sauce, some frozen mixed vegetables, shredded carrots from a bag, bok choy, tomatoes… lord knows what else I threw in there but it came out nice. I have not cooked anything other than toast or a microwave dinner for a long time….

I am missing Milo who is back at school (moving back just this Wednesday).

I also left the house Thurs. night for an hour of the EFF Pioneer Awards (nice to see people! and to be out!), Friday (on the bus) for a dr. appointment, and Saturday afternoon to go to the retirement party of one of my comp lit professors, again, amazing to see her and my super wonderful thesis advisor and friends from the program from 15 years ago (!). Lessons learned from going out: I am not yet ready to scooter around town or take the bus. It hurts too much and I need to seriously limit going out, and stick to cabs. (I have to lean heavily to one side when sitting up, including on the scooter, and it hurts my back and also, bumpy sidewalks omg.)

I’m in bed for the evening now reading about the 19th century novelist Mrs. Sherwood aka Mary Martha Butt. From ages 6 to 13 while learning her 40 lines of Virgil per day she was locked into some sort of “stocks” and also an iron collar around her neck with wooden boards to keep her posture correct. Her novels are a bit horrible (fascinating though – and she has a sense of humor – and you can see the seeds of later childrens literature in there). I would like to read a modern biography about her.

Meanwhile, I read just the Wikipedia entry for social theorist and writer Harriet Martineau: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Martineau and am VERY KEEN to read her book “Life in the Sickroom” from 1844 which she wrote while she was confined to bed for a couple of years. What horrors will it contain!! But what possible insights that I might actually agree with!!!

These digressions in reading are all from interesting bits of my main book right now, “In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars” which seems endless by Kindle-percentage standards, but I am sure the last half of it is footnotes. It jumps between focal points (like Banking, or Weaving).

While recovering from surgery I read nearly everything possible (in e-book form) by Charlotte M. Yonge (who I like better as a writer than Mrs. Sherwood) well worth reading – like Margaret Oliphant. She is especially interesting in writing around the 1830 riots.

I had to just accept that I needed the surgery since I wasn’t getting better without it and wasn’t really able to function well in any way…. Tied to a strange cycle of this abscess unpredictably starting to swell, then a hellish time of waiting for it to burst, then like, feeling horrible but marginally more capable but it started to happen more than once per day. That really sucked. So, I went on medical leave and they de-roofed it (ugh) leaving a giant open wound. Once I made the decision it was a little easier to just switch gears to Very Low Gear, or maybe Neutral, and idle. I prepared pretty well for this arranging everything for my bedside life, cleaning off a shelf that I look at from bed to put some plant pots and extra vases there and a giant rack of in-out boxes for my drawing supplies. And, I slowly drew (mostly while lying sideways) some of my planned scenes of the neighborhood. It is so helpful to have some sort of plan like this. I also laid on the front porch (once capable) in the sunny hour in the morning and on the back porch in the afternoon to catch the last sun before winter. I find it hard to lie still not doing anything – I look around and enjoy seeing stuff but start to want to change stuff, plan things to do, and it is very annoying not to be able to get up. But, this time, I think it’s the best I’ve planned (and had infinite resources…) And best I’ve coped.

Leaving out the days of being glued to news, twitter, Senate hearings, rage-tweeting about Kavanaugh and rape culture, crying, and freaking out and also the 2 weeks of heavy drugs just after the surgery.

Milton Mayer book

In between much lighter reading I’ve been plowing through “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45” by Milton Mayer, published in 1955. OK, first off I wish it didn’t have a giant swastika on the cover since I can’t even leave it lying around the house without feeling embarrassed. Thanks, book designer?

The book feels like one of those mish-mash books created from already published magazine articles. Mayer is trying to complicate various explanations of “why the ordinary (non jewish) German in the 30s and 40s were in the Nazi Party or just went along with things and what that meant for them. He works in details about ten “friends” he made in Kronnenberg, along with a bunch of German history and some psychological/sociological speculation. Also trying to tell the narrative non linearly, but not very well. I didn’t think the book was very good, but stuck with it till the end.

There was a middle section that was pages and pages of him quoting another extra 11th “friend” or colleague who was a professor (maybe in Germany, then in the U.S. or England) basically outlining some thought on frog-boiling and considering the beginnings and endings of one’s actions.

Basic premise of the book of his “friends” was a bit gross since he was lying to them, was not their friend, they weren’t or wouldn’t have been his friends, and so on. Also they all sound super racist and anti-Semitic to the core so it was deeply unpleasant to hear their mild doubts of their actions leading up to and during the war.

Mayer makes some brief comparisons of race politics in the U.S. with the situation in Germany including mentioning racism against black people and the internment of Japanese Americans.

Better off to go read Hannah Arendt rather than this stuff. The last chapter had some interesting stuff about the CIA in the 50s training assassin squads of former SS officers – in Germany – to go after people they thought were dangerous communists – despite this being totally illegal in every way.

Link: http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/511928.html

Getting back on the horse

Not heroin but blogging more rather than leaning on Facebook and Slack for all my casual writing, diary, and conversation online. Never mind maneuvers, blog straight at em. The other thing stopping me is a totally mundane task to twiddle the theme of this blog and restore all the images which were lost in a previous theme change early in 2017. Somehow, there is never time!

I started off the holiday break at the end of 2017 working over my vacation. Then spent a few days speed-publishing part of my book backlog to ebook formats, starting with very tiny poetry books from 2000 to about 2005, firing up my most recent press/imprint, Burn This Press. There are more coming – both more tiny books and bigger books and anthologies that didn’t have a wide distribution and never made it to a digital format.

Many other ambitions like traveling for a vacation, or visiting every museum in the San Francisco Bay Area, were shelved for when I feel more mobile and have less pressure at work. I still did some fun things in December though!

Among them, 2 christmases: Fakemas which we hold before the actual holiday, since both kids tend to go on trips to or with other family for Dec. 25. And then actual Christmas with my sister’s family.

Here’s a cute picture of Milo home from university and putting ornaments on our tiny, tiny tree — against a background of bookshelves! It’s on a small end table that’s a solid, heavy tree stump carved and painted to look like a pile of giant books.

putting ornaments on the tree

Ridiculously meta fanfiction: Barsetshire and Madame Koska

In the last few weeks in my way of consuming books relentlessly when I can’t sleep and am feeling stressed, I’ve been reading all possible Angela Thirkell books that I could find in e-book format. They’re a ridiculous series written and set after World War I in England in Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire. The class politics are terrible and interesting and they’re a bit like reading a more complex Agatha Christie novel without the mystery solving. It’s always interesting to see how a novelist treats writing about the same group of people over time – these books would be perfect for the long intersecting arcs of a long-running tv series.

I finally hit the book “Peace Breaks Out” and felt surfeited of fancy-ass people with vaguely Trollopean names bemoaning the nastiness of their rationed food and the fact that sometimes they have to clean up after themselves. Definitely found myself muttering and cussing them all out, and hating the obvious arcs of the mawkish love stories past a certain point.

But then in the suggested next books, I noticed some mystery books starring Madame Koska – who was the detective in the books written by a fictional novelist, one of the nicest characters in Thirkell’s series, Laura Morland. Mrs. Morland writes trashy detective novels to support herself and her four sons and their household (ie their servants). It’s a running joke how while she is self-deprecating, everyone she meets gushes about how much they love Madame Koska’s exciting world of fashion design.

Perfect…. completely meta-trashy…. the meta has gone 2 levels deep as Thirkell was more or less writing Trollope fanfiction and then the Koska author is writing fanfic of the fanfic. I have just started Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch – it’s extremely fun and silly.