Best Novels 2016

Jul. 23rd, 2017 04:05 pm
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Here are my thoughts on the Hugo ballot for Best Novel, 2016:

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)

I love this book. It is not long, but there so much in it. It is a modern fable, pulling in tropes from all kinds of pop culture: fairy tales, comic books, movies and cartoons. At the same time it is seriously realistic. The world is going to hell in exactly the same ways that ours is, just a little bit faster. People are (mostly) sympathetic and mean well but they are imperfect and success is often beyond them, especially as the world's problems become even more daunting. The tone is wry but not cynical. Things seem to be heading towards a conflict between magic and super-science, but the different schools of magic don't see things the same way, and the different groups of scientists and technologists are often competing instead of cooperating. But it's still worth trying. And it's worth trusting other people even when there is no way you can imagine how or why you can.

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)

I found out that it is a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet so I read both. The worldbuilding is good, especially the aliens are truly diverse. It presents a vision of the future that is mostly positive. It reminds me of James White's classic SF. But the characters are just kind of what they are, and there are some structural issues. It's uneven. A Closed and Common Orbit is better written, and it has two really great characters with compelling stories. Along the way it raises some very interesting and subtle questions about morality (vs. legality), friendship, and personhood. In other words, don't underestimate this book, just because it's a fun read and it's nice.

Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)

I really liked The Three Body Problem. I started reading The Dark Forest and bounced off the prose in the first chapter. It was so clunky. I picked it up again recently and was able to make headway. I plan to finish the trilogy presently. I didn't feel any urgency to finish it before voting because the first book in the trilogy already won (deservedly), and the third book would have to be amazingly good in order to justify awarding two Hugos to what is really a single work in three volumes.

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)

The common question about this book is if it is really science fiction or merely fantasy. I am squarely in the it's science fiction camp. Space opera as a genre requires faster than light travel in order to maintain its traditional plot pacing (which happens to be exactly the same as 19th century steamship stories, go figure). Faster than light travel is bogus science. So are force fields, blasters, phasers, anti-gravity, teleportation, and so on. Yoon Ha Lee invented a fresh and new form of bogus science to power his space opera. He gets to do that. Go him. I think it's a lot of fun. The space opera is set in a grim dystopian interstellar empire. Not fun. I've read some other reviews where readers were bummed out because it was so grim and the characters were so constrained by the system. I didn't read it that way. The system has a lot of cracks in it, including a really huge one that maybe we'll learn more about in the third book. Many of the main characters are wild cards. Unexpected things happen. Overall, I think it's one of the most innovative and interesting space operas in recent years.

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)

I think the The Obelisk Gate is good, but not at the same level as The Fifth Season. It reveals some things about the Earth that are very big, but we have to wait for the third book to see anything climactic (as opposed to climatic). The middle book is more about developing characters and moving the plot along. Unfortunately, the key character developments are sad, or creepy and unpleasant. At least the sad developments are very weird and leave at least a smidgen of hope. I am waiting for the third book and we'll see what happens.

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

Too Like the Lightning is a dazzling and enthralling debut novel that is also unreliable and contrarian, sometimes even infuriating. Or maybe it is just Mycroft Canner, most reliable of servants and most unreliable of narrators. On the plus side, it's a science fiction novel set on a near future Earth where nobody is hungry, there are no wars, and politics are based on the fundamental principles of the Enlightenment: rationality, order, justice, humanism, enterprise, and compassion. On the minus side, decisions seem to be made by a very small number of elite leaders who are very much in bed with each other (except the utopians are snubbed for some reason), and it seems about to fall apart. What seems like an ultimate love letter to the Enlightenment could turn out to also be a devastating critique of it. Enough has been revealed in the first book to make it clear that it does not stand alone.

Novels I nominated:

Everfair, by Nisi Shawl (Tor Books)

This is a book that needed to be written and I am glad that Nisi wrote it the way she did. The steampunk movement imagines an alternate past where the second industrial revolution was accelerated to extraordinary heights and at the same time somehow was shared in an egalitarian way without colonialism, racism or sexism. Which of the two imaginations is more unrealistic is hard to say. Nisi tackles both head-on by establishing a 19th century high-technology utopian settlement in the Belgian Congo. It works because the settlers are not just technically skilled, but also radical socialists, the kind of people who would really try to create a steampunk utopia, and to fight King Leopold II. (It helps on the super-technology side that the Congo has major sources of uranium.) What I really liked about this novel was how the native African characters were just as empowered and important as the settlers. Also, as one would hope with radicals, just about every possible unconventional relationship that could occur does, and the love and care in these relationships is a great strength.

Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine (Tor Books)

A delightful, strongly feminist, alternate-cosmology planetary romance that riffs on Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian, Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Featuring a plucky heroine, a dashing captain and his brilliant mechanical sidekick, and a motley crew of tuckerized SF writers and fans. What more could you ever ask for? Okay, maybe it starts a bit slow. But it really gets moving soon enough, and the ending is fantastic. Now that it's won the Andre Norton Award, it is officially certified as suitable for corrupting the minds of our youth. But there's no reason not to corrupt your own mind too, it's good for all ages.

Health Update

Jul. 20th, 2017 09:16 am
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It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted about my health. So here's the latest.

I had another seizure. It didn't fully develop, because I felt it coming on and ran upstairs to take a Lorazopam, which is intended to stop seizures in their tracks. This one kept coming on, moving past the shuddering in my chin and jaw that is the first sign of a seizure for me. So I ran back upstairs (evidence that my seizures are NOT grand mals) and took another Lorazopam. I also told Denys what was going on, and he called the nurses station at the Alvord Brain Tumor Center. By the time he got someone on the line, the second Lorazopam had pushed the seizure back, and I was able to tell Mandy Myers (yes, her real name, which has given us a special bond) what was going on. She didn't seem too concerned about the seizure, and basically told me that the increase in dosage of my regular anti-seizure med (a generic version of Keppra) probably hadn't taken effect yet. I was to call if I had any more seizures.

Previous to this episode my sister and I had seen a new physician's assistant at the Center, and along with increasing the dosage of the Keppra, she told me that the plan was to switch me to a new chemo called Lomustine and discontinue the Temodar. This was fine by me, since it felt like my body was done with Temodar after thirteen monthly rounds, nor to mention the daily "micro-doses" that I took on my Micronesian trip. I felt exhausted all the time, could no longer walk more than a few hundred yards at at time, and was sleeping more than half the day. I felt very uncertain of my balance and felt miserable in general. I liked the physician's assistant, whose last name is Stockhausen (I didn't ask if she was related to the composer, but I probably will if I see her again).

Hopefully switching to a new chemo will help with some of my problems. It has taken quite a while for my insurance company to agree to subsidize it, and I'm supposed to receive my first dose today. This one is a pill that I'll take once every six weeks, rather than the five days our of every 28 of the Temodar. I'll still be getting infusions of Avastin every two weeks, and I'm beginning to wonder if that's what's making me feel so worn out and weak. Or it could be that sixteen months of treatment has taken its toll on me.

Anyway I haven't had any further seizures, although I've given up caffeine because it was causing premonitions of seizures, and I've taken a precautionary Lorazopam a couple of times when it felt as though something was getting started. The PA also wants me to work with my physical therapist to build up my core strength, but the PT has been sick for a couple of weeks, so we haven't started on that yet. I've been trying to take little mini-walks every day to see whether that helps. I hate feeling this weak!

But I'm trying to be patient. In a way, none of this is a surprise, but just because you know chemo is going to knock the stuffing out of you doesn't mean you'll be ready for how it FEELS. It feels like crap, and I begin to wonder how much more treatment I can take. I guess I'll see how the Lomustine makes me feel and what the MRI in August shows.

Hay-fever

Jul. 17th, 2017 09:15 pm
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[personal profile] flick
My mother had hay-fever when she was younger, and it went away entirely when she was pregnant with my sister.

My sister has always had really horribly terrible hay-fever, and childhood eczema, and dust allergies.

When my mother was pregnant with me, her hay-fever came back.

I've never had hay-fever, or indeed any allergy in my life.

We've always put the whole thing down to some sort of pregnancy / immune system weirdness. However....

I've been sneezing for the last four or five days, and feel otherwise fine. Bah! I guess it's caught up with me at last.

How embarassing!

Jul. 15th, 2017 08:51 pm
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[personal profile] flick
I just went to vote for the Hugos, and the only category where I had any strong opinion was Best Series (which I'm still not entirely sure I agree with as a concept anyway) and maybe BDP:SF.

I don't think I've read any of the fiction other than one novel that I bounced off. I've seen one of BDP:LF, and half of BDP-SF but couldn't tell you which episode was which. While I do think that Chuck Tingle deserves some Fan Writer kudos I'm not sure I want to rank him top in the category....

Oops. Am obviously a Bad Fan!

Multi-tasking

Jul. 15th, 2017 11:20 am
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[personal profile] flick
This morning, I pruned the wisteria, which (despite, or possibly as a result of, not getting to flower) has grown very vigorously this year.

This had the added advantage of providing Jo with a bijou snackette (once she figured out how to unwrap it) and, I very much hope, stopping expectant-mama-pigeon from waking me up at 4:30 every morning from now on.

Awkward to the end...

Jul. 14th, 2017 10:41 pm
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[personal profile] flick
It's very common to have a horse who spends his working life wearing shoes and then has them taken off for his retirement, on account of them not being needed when all he's doing is wandering around in a field.

GB's been happily barefoot for a decade, but today the farrier said that now he's not working we need to think about putting shoes on him for the two hundred yard walk up and down the hill each day to the summer pasture. It is true that his feet were a state, but I was thoroughly expecting to be told not to be silly when I mentioned shoes....

What I'll probably do is put booties on him, morning and evening, just for the walk. I ordered a set this afternoon, and they'll probably arrive before we go away for The Bloody Wedding so that I can check that they fit / he doesn't object too much before the sitters have to deal with him.

When we first took his shoes off, I bought him some ferociously expensive booties, which he hated with a passion. Now that he's had no shoes for so long, they don't fit him any more, so they've gone back in the box. Hopefully he won't complain too much about the new ones...

Rain!

Jul. 11th, 2017 05:49 pm
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[personal profile] flick
It's raining! And the forecast is for it to keep doing so all night! (Maybe now the fertiliser that Mr Farmer put on the field the other week will actually get washed into the ground: radical concept!)

The swallows have fledged their chicks. We suspect that the wrens have as well, but they vanished fairly quickly. The swallows, on the other hand, are still around and learning how to fly: we keep walking into stables to be met by confused birds trying to avoid flying into us.

I'm a wee bit worried about Esk, who seems to be having some difficulties in the egg department: she keeps laying wonky ones, and a couple of days ago she produced two in one afternoon, the second with a rather squidgy shell that Jo was very pleased to receive. Mind you, that was the same day when we found one that Agnes had laid actually in the pond, so, y'know....

This afternoon, I had my first private session with my new Pilates instructor. I'm rather tired now. I think it'll work out, though: I've booked another session!

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