Monday, August 31, 2015

Blogger Book Drive: Would You Rather?

Original image courtesy Svilen Milev at

Natalie Patalie, The Happy Arkansan, and Hodge Podge Moments are hosting a virtual book drive for First Book! First Book is a charity that aims to provide books to low income American children. There are loads of studies about the relationship among books in the home, early reading, and later academic (and overall) success. Obviously just the presence of a few books is just a part of the puzzle, but a part is better than nothing at all! You can donate, you can retweet/reblog my entry (or one of the above entries if you think mine is crap), or you can just pimp out this fundraiser link. You can also browse previous prompts (if you're the kind of person who has free time on a Monday): favorite book quotesfavorite childhood booksfavorite authors, and everyone's favorite ______ books.

This week's theme is "would you rather," which is fortuitous because I had just seen this theme on Of Stacks And Cups and was thinking of answering anyway. Now I can kill two birds with one stone!

1. Would you rather read only trilogies or stand-alones?

If you were to snoop in my library (which you can do, kind of, through my GoodReads page), you would see that singles outnumber the series by a good margin. And since we are talking only, I would definitely have to choose stand-alones. I don't always have time to hunt down the next volume of a series. And cliffhangers? Pffft, forget it. I don't need that kind of stress in my life!

2. Would you rather read only male or female authors?

Patriarchy-smashing feminist me says FEMALES! Bookworm me would lament the work it would take to find new favorites and new classics, since many of my favorites were written by men. And I loathe Jane Austen and the Brontes. Sigh.

3. Would you rather shop at Barnes & Noble or Amazon?

Most of my books these days come from the library, my friends abroad, or swaps with other foreigners here in Stockholm. I guess my preferences are closer to B&N (I like going to book stores and looking for things) than to Amazon. But if I were going to go bookshopping here, it wouldn't be Barnes & Noble (there are none). It would be either SF Bokhandeln or The English Book Shoppe.

4. Would you rather all books become movies or TV shows?

Movie. That way it either gets made or it doesn't. You don't have to worry about it being canceled in the middle of the story.

5. Would you rather read 5 pages per day or 5 books per week?

If you're asking what I would rather my life be like right now, I'd say 5 books per week, easy. But if you're asking what I'd be more likely to accomplish, the sad truth is much closer to 5 pages per day. ;_;

6. Would you rather be a professional reviewer or author?

I think it would be easier for me to be a professional reviewer. I mean, heck, this jewelry blog is practically a book blog anyway...

This is not to say that I don't write fiction, or don't like to do so. I actually have a billion novels I'm working on, but I invest a lot of time and energy and perfectionism into them, and quite frankly I don't know how well I could hold up to public scrutiny. Or praise, for that matter. If I were to become an author, I'd either have to publish under a nom de plume or go the total recluse route so that I could keep my writing separate from myself (and my "self," if that makes sense).

If I were a professional reviewer, on the other hand, I could integrate that pretty well into my daily life. I already sit on my ass and snark on the Internet anyway, so I'm already halfway there!

7. Would you rather only read your top 20 favorite books over and over or always read new ones that you haven't read before?

Is this a list of 20 that I decide beforehand? Or is there some magical book genie out there who knows me better than I know myself?

Either way, because I tend to have a good book memory, I think I'd rather always read something new. If I want to remember something about a book I've read before, I can always look it up on the Internet.

8. Would you rather be a librarian or book seller?

I still haven't entirely given up my childhood dream of being a librarian.

9. Would you rather only read your favorite genre, or every genre except your favorite?

Puny mortal! As if I could have one single favorite genre! As if my favorite books could be neatly categorized into one genre! Hah!

10. Would you rather only read physical books or eBooks?

I acknowledge the utility of eBooks, but if I have to make a choice for life, I am very much Team Dead Tree.

Feel free to answer these questions (or Natalie's or Amanda's), add them to the link-up, and spread the word! The Blogger Book Drive Fundraiser ends soon. If you've been putting off donating, they're coming up on the point of no return, so do it. Do it now!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Real-Life Geeks Who Inspire You

Today's 5 Fandom Friday (brought to you by Super Space Chick and Nerdy Girlie) is a good one. A couple of the last questions haven't really been my thing, plus I've been busy, but this week's prompt has me back in the swing of things.

5 Real-Life Geeks Who Inspire Me

1. Lawyer Mom

Image courtesy Marcin Wysmulek/
Not pictured, because it's just weird to post a picture of Lawyer Mom here. Enjoy this mama horse and her foal? colt? instead.

I did not appreciate all of the badass things my mom did (going to school for engineering in the 70s, working at Bell Labs in the 80s, continuing her career after having kids, opening her own business when she was dissatisfied with her job at AT&T) until I was an adult, but now that I'm adult I can say holy shit I could never do that. In addition to being a badass, Lawyer Mom is also a geek (bookworm, Trekkie, Jeopardy! fiend) with a huge heart. She was and is the perfect mom for me.

2. JV

JV is also not pictured (again, weird; enjoy our shadows from a trip to Finland), and also not mentioned much, but he is just as much an inspiration as Lawyer Mom. JV and I have been together a long time, considering our ages (12 years!) and I can safely say I would not be who I am without him. In addition to being an incurable video game addict and East Asian horror movie fan, he is a wellspring of patience, good nature, tolerance, and empathy. I could go on but suffice it to say that I am really lucky to have him in my life.

3. Anita Sarkeesian

Image courtesy Anita Sarkeesian and Wikimedia.

I wonder if this will trigger any outraged comments from the ~*~gaemergaet~*~ crowd. On the other hand, who cares?

No one would spend so much time and effort publicly discussing video games if they didn't like them, and that's just how it is. It's sad that I can sit here and say that Sarkeesian is brave for putting her opinion out there, because you shouldn't have to be brave just to voice an opinion, but that's how it goes, I guess. I can barely muster the courage to respond to ignorant Facebook comments, never mind being a public figure. Let me buy you a drink, girlfriend.

4. Ellen Pao

I'm just going to leave this here:

(Another GIMP masterpiece by JV. One of many reasons I love him.)

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson

I mean, he's Neil deGrasse Tyson. 'nuff said.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Tholian Web

#9: The Tholian Web

In case you forgot: In search of a missing ship, the Enterprise finds it in some weird in-between space (so much for that sacrifice Lazarus made in "The Alternative Factor") where two different parallel universes are in contact. Kirk gets stuck in the parallel universe and Spock has to decide whether to try and save the captain or to escape this weird bubble in the universe that's making the crew lose their minds before the Tholians finish caging them in.

Much as I love TOS, I have to say: an episode largely bereft of Kirk is almost refreshing to watch. More than that, we've got some good old-fashioned sci-fi going on here, and again, one of my favorite moral dilemmas to come up in TOS: do you risk the many to save the few (or even the one)? Of course TOS always comes down on the side of the few/one, which I guess does get repetitive, but it does make for some of the more compelling plots in the show.

The pacing on "Tholian Web" is solid. Each new disaster (missing the interphase, engines busted, crew going crazy, Kirk's diminishing oxygen supply) adds to the tension without seeing artificially tacked-on, making the payoff when they are able to recover captain Kirk immensely satisfying (even though we know that, of course, Kirk will survive).

McCoy's mistrust of Spock seems to go a bit too far, however. It's been well-determined by now that Spock harbors no ambitions for power whatsoever; Bones refusal to accept this is too stupid to be entirely consistent with his character. I can understand being freaked out by someone's lack of freaking out, but come on Leonard!

Why are the Tholians so needlessly antagonistic? I guess in the big bad galaxy some races are bound to be jerks and it's just too bad that the Tholians are one of them.

What I Read: Girl With Curious Hair

Courtesy GoodReads

Speaking of my favorite authors over in the Blogger Book Drive post, here's a David Foster Wallace collection that I finished on vacation.

I first came to Wallace after a friend whose taste I trust recommended Infinite Jest. "You guys are both Writing and Philosophy double majors, you're like soul mates," he said, or something similar. So I picked it up and after a slow start I was sucked in. It was something else.

I became thirsty for Wallace. I read articles online and picked up collections of essays and short fiction. There isn't much left in his collected works I haven't read (I'm not touching A Pale King; I don't believe in posthumously publishing novels), so when I saw Girl With Curious Hair in a used bookstore I had to buy it. It was a good traveling companion for the last leg of my journey out of the Pacific Northwest and back to Sweden.

In a nutshell: it is weird. It is weirder than his other short fiction, in that there often isn't a concluding or satisfying logic to these short bits of world there is in his later work. one of those works I can appreciate it from a fan perspective (observing the evolution of his style) and even a literary commentary perspective (what he does with narrative and language and etc.) but I can't viscerally enjoy it. A lot of times when I read something, whether it's a whole novel or even just a short story, I usually leave with the sense that I can answer the question, "Why did the author write this story?" Such was not the case here; most of the stories in this collection I struggled to find that driving force.

This isn't surprising. Girl... is a very early work and Wallace was still polishing his voice and style. I can forgive the rough edges because they're a necessary part of the artistic process.

But the neat thing about a collection of short fiction is that I can give you a nutshell review of each selection in addition to my impressions of the whole thing!

"Little Expressionless Animals" is maybe the strongest piece in here, by which I mean: the one that is the most satisfying, narratively. It's up there with "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way," which makes me wonder if Wallace's editor followed the old stand-up comedy advice of putting your best joke last, your second-best first, and then ping-ponging your way through the set until the worst is in the middle.

"Little Expressionless Animals" starts out a bit rough but ultimately you can put the pieces together and it's a fucked up and yet entirely believable story. Also it's a lot about Jeopardy!, which I love (and miss). Through the lens of American game show entertainment we eventually get a very clear portrait of one woman's life.

"Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR" is well-polished in terms of pacing and language, a very tight and focused little story that nonetheless lacked that "...but why?" urgency.

And now the eponymous selection, "Girl With Curious Hair." It has that same fucked-up surreality as "Little Expressionless Animals" (childhood tragedy seems to be a theme across Wallace's fiction), with the freak-out factor cranked up to 11.

Afterwards we have "Lyndon," which I appreciate as a fictional character study (not being an American presidential history buff I have no idea how much in this story was pure imagination and how much was based on extensive LBJ research), but not much more.

"John Billy" is a remarkable piece if only for the deft control of language and dialect Wallace exhibits.

"Here And There" is a tough nut to crack. I found this one probably the hardest to get into and I don't really have much else to say about it.

(Interestingly, if my "stand-up routine order" hypothesis is correct, this would suggest that Wallace or his editor or someone else thought that "Here And There" and "John Billy" were the weakest in the collection. I think I agree.)

"My Appearance" returns to a more or less linear form and, even if it's an unremarkable story in this collection, it's at least complete in a way many of the other stories are not. That completeness but also that theme of television appearances (this time Letterman instead of Jeopardy!) tie this story pretty strongly to "Little Expressionless Animals," at least for me. Never mind that it goes without saying that an "unremarkable" David Foster Wallace story is still really good.

Biographical snapshots continue with "Say Never," though outside the purview of television and instead from the perspective of perfectly normal and caring (though quickly aging) parents. Again, that earlier comment about "unremarkable" applies.

"Everything is Green" is a sudden, though not unpleasant, brief little thumbnail (it's just one page, front and back; the shortest in the book by a significant margin). I love what can be done in such short fiction, but this is a case where a few extra words would have imparted a lot more meaning.

Finally, we have the granddaddy of the whole collection:  "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way." It's over a hundred pages and takes up a good third of the book. Do I have more to say about it? Um. In a nutshell, it's about a bunch of people trying to make a grand opening of a new (fast food?) eatery based on Barth's (here fictionalized as Ambrose) Lost in the Funhouse. I haven't read any Barth (and was not sure the title even existed until I Googled it after reading), so there was a lot in this sucker that eluded me. I'll come back to it, one day, but today is not that day.

Like all of Wallace's writing, the stories in Girl...are dense, nested, and complicated. They demonstrate a remarkable technical control and you can even see the seeds of later work in them. But is it of interest to anyone who isn't already a fan of David Foster Wallace? Is this the first book of his that you should read? Probably not, and no. But for the fan, it is essential.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blogger Book Drive Week 4: Best Science Fiction Books

Original image courtesy Beniamin Pop/

Natalie Patalie, The Happy Arkansan, and Hodge Podge Moments are hosting a virtual book drive for First Book! First Book is a charity that aims to provide books to low income American children. There are loads of studies about the relationship among books in the home, early reading, and later academic (and overall) success. Obviously just the presence of a few books is just a part of the puzzle, but a part is better than nothing at all! You can donate, you can retweet/reblog my entry (or one of the above entries if you think mine is crap), or you can just pimp out this fundraiser link. You can also browse previous prompts (if you're the kind of person who has free time on a Monday): favorite book quotesfavorite childhood books, and favorite authors.

This week's prompt is Best ______ Books. I decided to go with science fiction—I am not heavily involved in the scene, but I like to think that my distance from the fandom-at-large means that I have discerning taste. (Read as: "I'm a total fucking snob.") I also did my best to shift my focus away from the heaviest of the heavy hitters of the genre and on to names that are maybe not as well-known (at least, not as well-known outside the fandom). In no particular order:

1. Interstellar Pig (William Sleator)

Remember when book covers looked like this?
Pepperidge Farm remembers. (Image courtesy Goodreads.)

William Sleator was the YA science fiction guy of my time, or at least in my middle school. Unfortunately, I think as he aged he became painfully less relevant (or tried harder to be hip). But his earlier stories are timeless, and Interstellar Pig might well be the best of them. House of Stairs won a bunch of awards, too, but I think Interstellar Pig is better.

2. Doomsday Book (Connie Willis)

Image courtesy Wikimedia
Is this one of the best time travel books I've ever read? Yes. Unequivocally. Imagine Michael Crichton's Timeline, and then imagine it was written by someone with more talent who had done more research. Imagine if she had also written about a theme park with cloned dinosaurs...!

Come at me, Crichton fan club.

3. Light (M. John Harrison)

Image courtesy Goodreads

This was a fantastic piece of hard SF that blew my mind in all kinds of ways. It probably holds up to re-reading, since years later I can't remember the details or plot twists well—only that the world building was amazing and that the story blew my mind in all kinds of ways. I don't mean that to imply that book is forgettable, either. I usually have a pretty good memory for stories (and, let's face it, a lot of stories follow predictable plot points and use familiar character tropes), which means that I don't often re-read things. For years. But there was so much going on Light that I could not keep track of it all. And it's the first in a trilogy?! I can't speak for the other two, but Light is really good.

4. Dying Inside (Robert Silverberg)

Image courtesy Wikimedia

What makes Dying Inside a remarkable book is the way it integrates science fiction into the story and makes the character (in this case, an aging telepath who is starting to lose his powers) the focus of the story instead of the whiz-bang wow technology/alien races/foreign cultures. Even though this one is considered Silverberg's masterpiece, and Silverberg is himself a pretty big name, I feel like I've never met anyone else who's read this. That is a tragedy.

I could go on, but this seemed like a good place to stop myself for now. What are your favorite science fiction books? Let me know in a Tweet or in the comments, and don't forget to chip in a couple bucks to the Blogger Book Drive!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Conscience of a King

#10: The Conscience of a King

In case you forgot: Kirk takes aboard a traveling theater  company, because he suspects one of the actors of being Kodos the Executioner.

 I freaking love Shakespeare. More than that, I freaking love Hamlet, and no episode is more Shakespeare, or more Hamlet, than "The Conscience of a King." More than references, though, the ethics of this episode—the circumstantial aspects of heroism, the subjectivity of history, the moral limits of vengeance, protecting loved ones—are pretty serious.

The actor in question is, obviously, Kodos the Executioner. We get multiple accounts of what happened on Tarsus IV, but none that are really satisfactory. The hard facts say that Kodos declared martial law in a state of emergency and that 4,000 people were shot outright to reduce demand on a devastated food supply. Spock says that Kodos used the opportunity as his own private eugenics experiment, but when pressed Kodos never goes on a crazy eugenics rant, only spouting some vague platitudes about a "revolution" and saying he had picked the people he thought to be the hardiest and most likely to survive. Of course it's not the most ethical move in the book, but not necessarily eugenics wackiness, either. Was Spock's interpretation over-reaching? Has Kodos learned that people don't like when you go on about eugenics? Or has he had the grim epiphany. all too late, that eugenics is never a good idea? The ambiguity of what happened is never addressed, which means each viewer gets to interpret Kodos as they please: evil of the worst kind, a good man in the wrong place at the wrong time, an unsung hero. (Gotta say, though, dude looks shady as all get out.)

The twist (maybe you were clued in right away that it was Lenore who was killing everyone, but I'm slow on the uptake) is a real gut-puncher. Kodos is horrified and heartbroken that what he thought was his one good and pure thing in the world—his daughter—was tainted by his past; meanwhile, Lenore has become so obsessed with protecting her father that she can't see or understand why he's so upset that she's been killing people to protect his identity. Of course TOS won't let Kodos the Executioner get away with surviving the episode, but his accidental death at the hands of his daughter isn't exactly cathartic or feel-good. Bonus points for Lenore losing her mind over her dead father while in an Ophelia costume. In case you didn't get it.

Admittedly,this is perhaps one of the least science fiction-y stories in all of the TOS episodes; you could recast the story in a totally different setting without changing anything but the smallest details. Everyone watches Trek for different reasons, and if aliens and blasters and new worlds are your reasons (no shame in that!) you're not going to find any of that here.

A minor continuity weirdness quibble: who the heck took Kirk from Iowa to Tarsus IV so he could have seen Kodos with his own eyes, but then took him back to Earth four years later?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Blogger Book Drive Signal Boost: Favorite Authors

Original image courtesy Hieu Le on unsplash

Natalie Patalie, The Happy Arkansan, and Hodge Podge Moments are hosting a virtual book drive for First Book! First Book is a charity that aims to provide books to low income American children. There are loads of studies about the relationship among books in the home, early reading, and later academic (and overall) success. Obviously just the presence of a few books is just a part of the puzzle, but a part is better than nothing at all! Please donate if you can, or just spend a blog post to signal boost. Because when is it not fun to talk about your favorite authors?! (If it isn't, feel free to check out previous prompts: favorite book quotes and and favorite childhood books.)

But on to the good stuff: favorite authors! I have so many, and then there are so many more that I love, and then others that I like but don't love but think are criminally underrated, and so on. Never mind all of the times where I love this or that  book more than life itself, but haven't read anything else by that particular author. Consider this a snapshot of an ever-evolving and fluid list that depends on my mood, the quality of my recall, and the stuff I've recently been pondering.

Today, I'm defining "favorite authors" as "authors whose collected works I want in my someday library; additionally, I've already read a significant portion of said works."

1. Roald Dahl

Image courtesy Wikimedia and the Carl Van Vechten estate

Dahl was probably the first favorite I had on this list. I had an absolute mania for him when I was a kid, but then, who didn't? While he had a reputation for being a fantastic liar, that bad habit seemed to have endowed him with a boundless imagination. His short stories for adults are great, too, and criminally under-read. Plus, did you know he was a spy for Great Britain after his stint in the RAF? And coordinated the invention of a new kind of cerebral shunt? How cool is that? Unfortunately, his well-established antisemitism does a lot to tarnish what would otherwise be a beloved reputation.

2. Agatha Christie

If you were evaluating "favorite" in terms of "number of books owned," Dame Agatha would probably be the best-qualified author in my library. I read Murder on the Orient Express in middle school, and it blew my mind in the way that only things you read as a young person blow your mind. I went through a phase that, while it's cooled off, has never really left me. Even before I found Christie, I had been a pint-sized mystery buff. The Boxcar Children was one of my favorite series, as were the Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books. While I have fond memories of both of those today, by the time I was a preteen I felt that I had outgrown them. Christie was my introduction to more sophisticated mysteries on a grown-up level. Once I'm done with school and my TIME Top 100 goals, I might make finishing Christie's collected works my next book goal. Because I deserve it.

3. Douglas Adams

Image courtesy Wikimedia and Michael Hughes
On the other hand, if you were evaluating "favorite" in terms of "percentage of complete works owned," Douglas Adams would probably take the cake. Again, like Dame Christie, I discovered Adams in middle school and everything about his writing hits that childhood nostalgia sweet spot, even though it's still entertaining and engaging as an adult. I read a lot of other, more serious science fiction, too, but The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy remains one of my favorites in the SF genre.

4. J. D. Salinger

Is any former disaffected and cynical teenager's library complete without Salinger? Probably not. It took me a couple of tries to get into Catcher in the Rye, but when I did it was like someone was talking right to me. Someone knew me, and it wasn't my best friend or even another teenager, but an adult. I don't think I can possibly overstate how much Catcher affected me; how much hope it gave me that it was possible for a grown-ass adult to relate to me and not treat me either like an idiot or an underling. Out of everything I ever read in high school, the grand triumverate of life changers would be Salinger, Thoreau (whom I love but am not including here because I've only read Walden), and Dostoyevsky. Today my Salinger collection is pretty much complete, including the leaked Three Stories (not to be confused with the recent publication, Three Early Stories, from Devault-Graves).

Every once in a while some YA or teen release would come out with high praise and comparisons to to Catcher specifically or Salinger generally (among others, I recall Arthur Nersesian's The Fuck-Up and Steven Chobsky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower). I gave them a shot but none of them had that same magic.

In fact, I loved Catcher so much that I'm afraid to go back and re-read it. I'm not a teenager anymore, and what teenage me found so engaging and compelling might make grown-up me roll my eyes. I'd rather keep my memory a happy one. I'll read anything else, absolutely, but Catcher stays untouched.

5. Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Speaking of my grand triumvirate: Dostoyevsky. I don't know what else there is to say. His name and reputation speak for themselves at this point, don't they? In the same someday where I finish all of Dame Christie's novels, I'm going to brush up on my Russian and read Dostoyevsky's original words.

6. David Foster Wallace

Image courtesy Wikimedia and Steve Rhodes
First of all, a moment of silence for a soul gone too soon.

With that said, Wallace has been co-opted by hipsters in a such a way that I wonder if I'm not actually a closeted or accidental hipster. I've already got the glasses, after all. But no matter. Infinite Jest was one of the most mind-bending novels I've ever read. His essays are equally complex, memorable, and thought-provoking.

In fact, you may not even realize that you already know a Wallace essay: his "This is Not Water" commencement speech at Kenyon College. I see quotes from it all over the Internet, even including a very glossy, high-quality video.

I suppose I also feel a special kinship with Wallace because we were both philosophy and creative writing double majors and anyone who inhabits that particular Venn diagram overlap is like an instant friend for me.

I could probably go on, but I think six is a good number. As always, I'm a bit disheartened to see how easy it is for lists like these to be tilted in favor of white men. Hopefully attitudes and circumstances in the coming years will make it easier for bloggers to hit gender and racial parity without even thinking about it.

Who are your favorite authors? And don't forget to share (and donate!) to the Blogger Book Drive!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August Read Play Blog: What Game Character Do You Relate To The Most?

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence Books and Read Me Away.

What Game Character Do You Relate To The Most?

Honestly, as a fat female bookworm, how many characters like yourself are you going to see in video games? Even putting the question of appearances aside (since video game women are, as I think Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw put it, "benignly attractive" at their worst), I'm not a particular daring or adventurous person (from my own  perspective). I'm not out to find lost archaeological treasures like Lara Croft, nor am I as innovative and clever as Chell is (though, to be fair, that is more or less by virtue of being controlled by you, the player). As I've talked about in a few older 5 Fandom Friday questions, the characters I relate to tend to be snarky outside observers rather than adventurous go-getters.

In other words, I had to think about this question for a while. Eventually I settled on an answer that felt just right: Claire from Thomas Was Alone.

Thomas Was Alone 3 screengrab courtesy PlayStation Blog Europe

Claire is the largest and clunkiest of the little AI shapes; as a result she feels pretty useless and unsure of herself. This is a feeling I was well acquainted with after basically every gym class. I was the stereotypically unathletic, klutzy fat kid who couldn't run, jump, or throw as well as everyone else. Thankfully my high school gym teacher was the kind of person who was sensitive to the plight of the fat kid; she never had students pick their own teams, and much of our gym class was spent in our actual gym (like, with treadmills and bikes and weight machines) so that we could work on our own individual fitness as much or as little as we wanted to instead of always suffering the indignities of team sports.

But then Claire discovers that she can swim and her whole world changes! Since she's a bit of a comic book geek to begin with, Claire begins to see herself as Super Claire, a good and caring friend who will help those around her with her special gift of water immunity. My own version of swimming was academics: like Claire and the water, knowing that I had other gifts helped me deal with my own clunky awkwardness. (Though, incidentally, swimming is one of my favorite summertime activities.) I am also just as protective of my friends as Claire is.

Recommendation (and Currently Playing)

Tropico, from PopTop software and MacSoft

JV just bought the Tropico collection on Steam and it's basically my childhood all over again. (Or, well, my teenage years, I guess; I was 15 when the first Tropico came out.) I haven't tried any of the others, though I hear 3 and 4 are basically the same game with just better graphics, cars, and a much-needed quick build option, but I'm fine with just playing the first forever and ever. Even though it's been successful enough for 4 sequels now, I never hear people talk about it. Why is that? Did everyone just forget about it? Am I hanging out in the wrong parts of the Internet? I'm glad the title is still robust and successful, at any rate.

As for a book to go along with it, Salman Rushdie's The Jaguar Smile seems like a good fit. Or, if you'd prefer ficton instead of a travelogue and political commentary, Flight of the Cat by Abel Prieto.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Science Saturday: Vertical Farming

Hydroponic farming: it's not just for marijuana anymore!
There is a small part of me that is a weirdo futurist, and one of the things I'm really excited for in the future is vertical farming. A shockingly small percentage of the world's land surface is actually arable, so anything to maximize growing potential (whether through GMOs, oh I went there, or better fertilizers, or what have you) is going to be key for humanity's continued existence on the planet.

But even so, much of what little arable land we have is far away from major population centers. Transportation costs play a large role in the final price you end up paying at the store, no matter where you do your food shopping. Vertical farming in urban centers (like this one planned for Newark, NJ) could dramatically cut the financial cost and carbon footprint of your favorite fruits and veggies, and make them more affordable and easier to access for the people who need them most.

Of course, vertical farming isn't a closed system. All of the energy used to manage the light, temperature, and irrigation systems has to come from somewhere, so much of the potential good is undermined if it's still running on coal. But imagine these, all running on solar energy, in every major population center...!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Immunity Syndrome

#11: The Immunity Syndrome

In case you forgot: This week, it's the Enterprise versus a giant, energy-sucking space amoeba. Spock barely survives the ordeal.

 Sometimes it's hard to highlight exactly what it is that makes an episode good. It's like a Monet painting: you can't see anything of the painting in an individual speck, you have to step back and evaluate it as a whole. "The Immunity Syndrome" is one of those episodes. The pace is solid, the threat is very real and very ominous, the monster is actually somewhat plausible, and none of the danger is a result of anyone holding the idiot ball. Spock, in particular, gets to have his stoic moment of bravery by taking the shuttlecraft on a near-suicide mission. Those are all the little pointillist-style dots of the episode, when really all that need be said about it is: it's a top-rate space adventure.

A little bit of weird retconning: Vulcans don't know defeat because they've never been conquered? But what do you call the guy who loses kal-if-fee?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why I'm Not Reading Your Blog

I've debated posting this for a while, but I finally figured, "Why not?" Even if it seems incredibly presumptuous and the height of hubris for me, the author of a crappy little blog with not a lot of followers, to tell you what you're doing wrong, well, it's my blog and I do what I want.

All of these are legitimate reasons I have either never started following a blog, or why I've eventually removed a blog from my reading list. They can be broken down into two categories.

Category 1: Web Design Issues

In other words: it's the presentation, not the actual content. You might think to yourself: hey, strong writing will shine through no matter what! The truth of the matter, from my lazy and pressed-for-time experience, is that ain't nobody got time for text that is difficult or uncomfortable to read.

1. You're center-aligning your text.

Please don't do this.

2. You're doing fancy font and color stuff with your text.

Please don't do this, either.

3. You're hiding everything behind a cut/jump/etc.

If I read your blog, it's through my RSS reader (which is Inoreader, by the way, if you also lamented the loss of Google Reader). I realize that other readers visiting you via RSS may prefer those truncated introductions, and maybe you do, too, and that's why you do it.

But let me defend verbosity: I don't want to have to click through to another tab. I follow a lot of blogs; I would be opening a lot of new tabs, and my Chromium window is already a mess. It's far easier for me to scroll past your blog post, which unless it's proper novel length won't take long to pass, than it is to open a new tab, find it in my mess of tabs, and remember to close it when I'm done. You wrote those words; own them. Why would you think they're an inconvenience to anyone who has made the conscious decision to add you to their feed?

At the least, if you feel the need to truncate a post, do so after more than just a sentence and a half of text. Give me enough information to decide if I want to click through or not; otherwise, I just won't.

"Oh no, there's more?!" Yes, buddy. Yes there is.

Now on to Category 2: Content Issues. Truth be told, I see far more of these issues than any of the issues in the first group. Some of these are obvious and easily fixed, but others are more insidious.

4. Your work is riddled with errors.

I've seen a blog or two out there that would theoretically be of interest to me, but the writing (from native speakers, mind you) is rife with spelling and homonym errors, incorrect punctuation usage, and other assorted errors. I don't mean a pearl-clutching "one or two per post"; I have very forgiving margins because I fuck up a lot myself (especially if it's a long post that I work on for days and start and stop in weird places, like any of the posts in my geo-shopping or birthstones series). I mean rife.

If you're blogging for yourself, fine. If you want other people to read your work and take you seriously, step up your game. If this is something you know you struggle with, write your entries in Word first, to avail yourself of the spelling and grammar check. It's not perfect, but it's a start. Find a nearby language ninja and ask them to read through your stuff. If you don't know a language ninja, you do now: me. I will gladly do that for you. (If it becomes an ongoing thing, we can discuss my editing rates in private.)

5. Your writing sounds like everyone else's.

I guess it's a good thing that the number of blogs I've seen with technically and grammatically disastrous writing is actually quite low. It's not nearly as great as the number of blogs I've seen with technically correct but incredibly dull writing, without any individual personality at all. I think this is the most important thing on my list. If I were to keep track of the reasons I unfollowed blogs, this one would definitely be the most common.

Bloggers who have decided that a certain niche is for them all start sounding like one person with a bunch of sock puppet accounts. I don't think any of them naturally write in that voice (certainly not all of them), but somehow a certain standard or expectation with respect to "authorial voice" develops within a niche and most writers (especially newbies) bend themselves to it.

I hate that. It makes for boring, repetitive reading. Maybe it's simply the result of a particular niche being, itself, homogeneous and repetitive, but I hope not.

Take some time offline to write about your day and your life for no one but yourself. Ideally you should do this for a while, like a week or a month, to really get practice and time to yourself. (You might need this time to unprogram yourself from "blog writing" style to "personal writing" style, to boot.) If you compare that personal writing to your blog writing there will probably be a difference. Try to bring more of that personal style into your blog. Those are my favorite blogs to read. Those are the ones where I feel like I actually know the blogger.

6. Your writing doesn't give a shit about your readers.

This is kind of the opposite problem as the above, though I guess they can both happen simultaneously. If your blog becomes nothing but "Dear Diary" type entries, focused entirely on people we don't know and relationships we don't understand, that is an express ticket to Nopeville.

That doesn't mean writing about the road trip you took with your BFF Casey is off-limits. But tell us who Casey is, remind us of what happened in the previous post, and explain (or just avoid) the inside jokes.

7. You're (not) a special snowflake.

You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. Whenever you insist on reminding the readers that "I'm the hugest nerd, lol!" or "I'm the biggest tomboy I know" or any other applicable superlatives, I roll my eyes. The truth is, you are a special snowflake, but not because your collection of labels is somehow unique. Labels are the antithesis of interesting. If you think that slapping reductive, oversimplified herd name on yourself is enough to make you stand out from the crowd, you're mistaken.

This can be a bit more insidious than just overuse of "nerd," "geek," or "trekkie," though. I've read a couple blogs where the bloggers constantly reiterate some belief they hold about themselves and their role in a group ("I'm always the life of the party!") but then their writing never reflects that assertion.

If you're the life of the party, it will come across in your writing. (This is related to point number 5.) The only place that kind of language belongs is in your "About Me" section, or maybe in the occasional confessional post. Otherwise, you're either not really the life of the party (but you'd like to be), or that part of your personality isn't relevant to your blogging.

The truth is, you are a special snowflake, but nothing about your inherent snowflake nature is going to come out by trying to sound like what your collective niche has decided is the norm. Nor is it going to come out in regurgitating the voice, jargon, and in-jokes. Just let your writing be you.

Am I a perfect blogger? Um, hell no. I'm prone to all of these errors myself (some more than others). I try to keep them in mind while I write ("What kind of blog would I like to read?") but I know that I don't always hit my mark. But has my blogging gotten better since I started thinking about these while I write? I think so, at any rate!

What about you? What makes you stop reading a blog? I'm dying to know!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Avengers Book Tag!

This week's 5 Fandom Friday is a total bust for me (fanfic is very much Not For Me), but that's okay because Natalie Patalie tagged me in a book meme YAY BOOKS~~~~~

Also, there was a fire in our apartment building yesterday! I'm okay, JV is okay, and our apartment is okay, because the fire was in the storage unit. However, that means that all of the stuff we (that is, JV) had in storage is probably destroyed or damaged beyond repair. It also means that our apartment is going to have the lingering smell of smoke for a few days because we're on the same floor as the storage unit. Gross, but probably not as gross as the apartments right under he storage unit. Those poor bastards.

However, on a note related to books, all of the old pulpy noir detective novels JV has that belonged to his deceased father were spared because a couple of weeks ago we decided to move them out of the storage unit and in with us! Thanks, asshole(s) who broke into our unit to paw through our worthless-but-for-sentimental-value belongings TWICE in less than two years—through paranoia due to your bullshit, you saved a valuable collection!

Anyway, The Avengers Book Meme Tag Whatever!

Image courtesy My Open Sketchbook. You can read her answers too, if you want!

I love doing this but I hate tagging people because I can never keep track of who's been tagged and who hasn't and then there's that awkward moment when you tag someone who doesn't read your blog or even know who you are. (I am bad at commenting and letting people know I exist, so I have a whole bunch of blogs where I'm internally like "OH YES YOU POSTED I LOVE YOU I'M A FAN" at every new post, and then when I finally Tweet or comment or whatever, they're probably like "who are you???")

So if you're reading this, and you'd like to do this meme and no one's tagged you, I just did! Go forth and book blog, young grasshopper.

Anyway, on to the meme itself!

Iron Man (a book that made you laugh out loud): Grejen med verb

I don't read humor too often nowadays, mostly because I'm too busy to read much that isn't either for Swedish class or on my TIME Top 100 (Adjusted) list. Would you believe that neither of these categories have particularly funny books? Go figure!

But, one of my teachers from last year is a proper, published author. In addition to some novels (that I haven't read), she wrote this quick, quirky, humorous little book on Swedish grammar. I'm sure I cracked an out-loud chuckle at some parts here or there. I guess an English equivalent would be Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, which I've also read and enjoyed. So if you don't know any Swedish, pretend that I just talked about that book instead of Grejen med verb!

Captain America (a book that sends a positive message): The Glass Bead Game

I kind of wanted to make this category the "are you for serious?" category, because I am unfairly prejudiced against Captain America, but I'll play by the rules. I had to dig and think a bit, but I think The Glass Bead Game is a pretty good fit. Hesse is kind of incapable of writing stories that aren't existential Aesops, so they all have this feeling of wanting to convey a message. I can get behind Hesse's mystical Buddhist-ish messages, though. In particular I like The Glass Bead Game's philosophy on the arts and education; in a nutshell, everything from literature to music to physics is connected and can be considered another variation on one universal theme.

I just realized I never got around to reviewing The Glass Bead Game here, but ugh I finished it months ago and I gave my copy away and reviewing ~*~the classics~*~ is so useless, so I guess I'll say: everything else was great but the ending was bullshit, as was the fact that women (for no reason) were excluded from higher learning and learning to play the Game. Hesse has this weird Othering thing going on with women and it's kind of a recurring theme in all of his novels.

Thor (a book with a character whose strength you admire): A Tale for the Time Being

There are a lot of books I could have picked for this category, but in the end I had to go with A Tale for the Time Being. There are a lot of fantastic characters in the story who have moments of tragic weakness and triumphant strength alike, but if I had to pick one character to top the list I think I'd pick Haruki #1. We don't meet him for very long, but when we do it leaves an impression.

Black Widow (a book with a kick-ass female protagonist): The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

So the BBC made a TV series based on this and no one's ever mentioned it?! I wonder if that means it's terrible. But wait, there's also a pretty highly-rated one on HBO?!

It's silly mystery fluff, sure, but it's fun. This was a book we had to read for Swedish class, and while I don't understand why we keep reading Swedish translations of not-Swedish literature (we've read one native Swedish novel, one English novel, and two French ones), The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was a welcome relief from the awful and stereotypical romcom we'd had to read prior. A competent, intelligent woman who has an awesome exciting life and doesn't go all man-crazy? Yesssss. Bless you and your holy work, Precious Ramotswe. The rest of the series is on my to-read list, but right now I don't have much time for fluffy vacation reads.

Hulk  (a book that made you incredibly angry): The Martian

I have so many! The Incredible Hulk is my spirit animal, I guess—I have been known to hulk out over a lot of things, bad writing included.

There were a lot of contenders for this one, but after assorted disqualifiers (read it way too long ago, personally know the author and don't want to trash their self-published mess in public except OOP JUST DID, COULDN'T RESIST) I finally settled on The Martian because ugh. So much ugh in this book.

I wouldn't even mind the ugh of the book itself if it hadn't blown up in the way that it did. Like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, I shouldn't believe the hype. Not until the rest of y'all develop better taste in books. BUT HEY YOU GUYS, ISN'T DISCO JUST, LIKE, SO BAD?! MY DEAD HORSE, LET ME SHOW YOU IT.

Hawkeye (an underrated book you think more people should pay attention to): Doctor Glas

Okay, within Sweden this is hardly an underrated book—it's nothing short of a classic—but the main exports of Swedish lit seem to be August Strindberg (okay) and Lisbet Salander (uuuuuuuuggghhh). So I'm going to my part with this meme!

Doctor Glass is a fantastic novel and is possibly one of my all-time favorites. I've read it three? four? times now, and there is always something new and beautiful and heart-breaking. It's a short book, but don't let that fool you: Söderberg packs a lot of heavy stuff into not a lot of pages, and many of them are debates we're still having today, 100 years later.

The English translation by Paul Britten Austin, while over 50 years old now, is lyrical and on-point. I could only aspire to that level of work. If it's at all available near you, pounce on it. It's an underrated little gem in the world of international literature.

 Loki (a book with a twist or surprise that tricked you): If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

It's not the hugest twist in the world—it's not some kind of massive plot reversal OMG!, more like an "Ah hah, I see what you did there."—but I liked what Calvino did at the end of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Trek Thursday: This Side of Paradise

#12: This Side of Paradise

In case you forgot: Spores from some plants are keeping colonists alive and immune to the deadly rays bombarding their planet, at the cost of their ~ambition~ or something. Everyone on The Enterprise gets infected and starts zoning out, but Kirk is made of sterner stuff and talks himself and Spock out of it. They save the day and take the newly spore-less colonists back home.

"This Side of Paradise," like so many other great episodes, opens up quickly with a mystery and keeps piling on more clues and insights at a good pace. The colonists who should be dead are all freakishly healthy; there aren't any other animals on the planet; they haven't planted or harvested any more than just what they've needed to eat. What is going on down here? There is some legitimately frightening stuff going on during all of this, too. When Elias and Colomi are talking about Spock and whether he should stay, it's pretty freaking sinister.

Watching Kirk berate Spock is a really great moment, and by great I mean awful, because you know Kirk doesn't want to do it. Not only because Spock would outclass him in a proper fight, but because to save his best friend he has to use every weakness, every sensitive spot he knows about Spock to save him.

Not sure how I feel about giving Spock a love interest, it seems...uncomfortable. It's touching to see him feel bad about abandoning her, I guess, but it seems very out of character. It was great how his initial reaction to the spores was HOLY GOD IT HURTS; I think I would have liked the episode even better if the spores, instead of making him happy and healthy, had made him seriously ill.

The moral of this story is also a mixed bag for me. The colonists seem to have genuinely happy lives, weird plant spores aside. It's not like they've been assimilated into some giant anonymous hivemind. They've all retained their individual personalities, memories, and experiences; they're just incredibly happy. Is that really so awful? Having ambition and purpose and goals is essential to mental well-being in American society, sure, but it seems too specialized a sentiment ("Work hard! Be productive! Accomplish things!") to be a truly universal fact.

Monday, August 3, 2015

My New Band, Volume 3

I know, it's been a while since I've found some new bands. I blame my vacation. But here are some more good band names I've found! If you end up using any of these, musician friends, you can repay me back by letting me backstage at all your concerts. :P

As always, these are actual turns of phrases and collections of abbreviations I stumble across in the course of my editing work. I collect them for my own amusement and periodically share them here, just because.

Original image courtesy unsplash
1. Failure to Thrive

I think this would be a great name for a political (post) punk band with an agenda. There's something edgy and cynical about it.

2. Abnormal Head Sperm

An irreverent indie/pop band would fit this one, well. I'm thinking something like Barenaked Ladies, Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, or The Arrogant Worms.

3. Vegetable Bodies 

This one I'm not so sure about, but whatever it is, it's definitely something mellow. Deep house, trance, space ambient, New Age...take your pick.

4. Embryonic Circuit

This can't be anything other than an electronica band, though of a different flavor than Vegetable Bodies. A bit more toe-tappy and danceable, like Sneaker Pimps or Ladytron.

5. Expert Apple

For some reason, I'm picturing a cutesy indie/folk duo, similar to Pomplamoose. Plastic-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, and ukuleles galore.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Saturday: 5 Fictional Pets I'd Love to Own

So as it turns out, I missed more 5 Fandom Fridays in the "staycation" I had scheduled after my actual vacation. I turned out to be pretty busy, I guess—even without having any classes for all of July!

But it wasn't due entirely to schedule madness. I've been to exactly two conventions in my life (Anime Boston and VeriCon), and to be honest they're not really my thing. Besides, I was a broke college student when I went and so I bought exactly zero things. As for vehicles? Meh.

Animals are cute, though! And this question is actually rather apropos, as JV and I have been up to our eyeballs in Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated. Can you guess what my first choice in this 5 Fandom Friday would be? Can you?

1. Scooby-Doo

I need to find more friends who would do a Scooby-Doo group Halloween costume with me. (Dibs on Velma!)

JV and I both have a huge soft spot in our hearts for Scooby-Doo, despite some of the missteps the franchise has taken. (The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, anyone? Flim-Flam and his weirdo snake oil cure-all? Scrappy? Ugh.) He found out about the Mystery Incorporated reboot and we gave it a shot. Holy crap, I haven't laughed that much at a children's cartoon in years. The writers definitely wrote for the parents ("Fred, you're living in a van down by the river!"), even going so far as to get some grade-A voice talents both as recurring characters and as cameos. Lewis Black? Jim Rash? The actual Harlan Ellison as himself??? I hate to admit it but I was addicted to this series. We binge watched both seasons over the course of a week.

2. Mogget (Abhorsen)

Snarky magical being in the form of a white cat. Need I say more?

3. Akka (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils)

This is one is a little obscure for my anglophone readers, but I couldn't write this list and not include Akka. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils is a Swedish children's classic that I absolutely adore. The author, Selma Lagerlöf, is as beloved a figure here as Astrid Lindgren, though the Swedish folklore that permeates her writing probably means that it's not as universally appealing as Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking or Ronja the Robber's Daughter.

Nils is about a bratty little piece of crap named Nils Holgersson who talks back to an elf and promptly gets shrunk down to elf size for punishment. While thus enminiatured, he hops on the back of the leader of his family's flock of geese and they travel all up and down Sweden. Along the way, Nils learns not to be a little shit and gets turned back to his human self.

Akka is the flock leader and she is one of the baddest, toughest bitches there ever was. Of course, Nils can only talk to her because his elf enchantment means he understand animal speech, so if Akka were my pet all she could do would be to honk at me. But if we're imagining fictional animals as real pets, I can bend the rules all I like. :P

4. Bubo (Clash of the Titans)

Courtesy Gwangipedia. Of course there's a wiki for Ray Harryhausen's creations.

Can a robot animal count? I say yes.

5. Babelfish (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

Courtesy the Hitchhiker's Wiki.

Okay, so I wouldn't keep this one as a pet, per se. I would just love to understand every language ever! Wouldn't you?