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netmouse: (Life)
Not long after it came out, Neil Gaiman sent Rosie a copy of Chu's Day. He signed it to her and drew a little bird inside, advising her to "make big things." When we first read it, she immediately remembered that she had a stuffed panda bear, and asked me to get it. I thought it was cute, her playing with the panda, so I recorded a video. There was music playing at the time, and then the audience claps, so her voice is kind of quiet, so I put it in my "learn to edit and improve this" file and never got back to it. But I just looked at it this morning while doing something else and thought it was worth sharing anyway.

(Youtube jumps straight into my other videos after that, which are also generally of Rosie...)
netmouse: (Stitch)
I recently posted a review of Paolo Bacigalupi's Zombie Baseball Beatdown to amazon.com and thought I would cross-post my (slightly edited) comments here as well:

I hate the zombie craze, but this book was a finalist for the Detcon1 award for middle grade and YA Speculative Fiction, so I had to read it as a voter for the award.

I'm so glad I did.

The descriptions on the book talk about how it will make you think about where your food comes from, but my favorite aspect of the story was how it illustrates how damaging to families some of our immigration policies are, and how unfair to kids who have grown up in the US but weren't born here -- people who were brought here by their parents when they were babies.

It also does carry a strong message about how you should keep in mind that food corporations may put their profits ahead of public safety and any industry that tries to penalize people for telling the truth about their practices isn't to be trusted to be producing things for the public to eat.

Ultimately, it's about friends working together to fight several kinds of dangers, including bullies both alive and undead. An uplifting story with rapid action and fine messages to boot.

I gave it five stars (out of five).
netmouse: (laughing Rosie)
What I'm reading right now: Great Sky Woman, by Steven Barnes

This is what it sounds like - an epic story set long ago in Africa, in the land overshadowed by mount Kilimanjaro (Great Sky). There's a certain amount of fantasy, in that the personal fire of the Ibandi people is visible to some of the women - the dream dancers; they can tell someone's frame of mind or health by the color and size and brightness of their num, or inner fire. The dream dancers are the female wise leaders and healers of their people, daughters of the Mother Mountain. They do not marry, though they may take lovers and have children. Meanwhile, the Hunt Chiefs are their male counterparts - the best hunters and leaders, which travel up the mountain to visit the Father Mountain and receive guidance through dreams. Both men and women dance to pass on their stories and wisdom.

The book is about how the Ibandi people respond to great changes and challenges - a different people encroaching from the South, and geological changes in their homeland itself. Two people in particular are followed from their birth onward, though it's not clear if they will bring change to their people or only affect whether or not they survive the changes.

The people from the South kill Ibandi men and steal and rape their women to try to make them part of their own tribe. If rape is triggery for you but you're otherwise interested in the book, I recommend you skip chapters 28 and 30.

What I'll probably read next:

Brian picked me up a copy of Quark/ #1, edited by Samuel R. Delany and Marilyn Hacker, published in 1970.

It's got quite a few wonderful authors in it, so I'm looking forward to checking it out.
netmouse: (amused)
What I'm reading now: The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

At the end of 2012, Justine Larbalestier blogged that The Summer Prince would be the "Best YA book of 2013." I pre-ordered it right away, but not really because she said so. Not that I don't have a lot of respect for Justine's taste in books, but I already love Alaya Dawn Johnson, so I was excited as soon as I heard that she had a new book coming out.

I read Alaya's first two books, which were fascinating but a little uneven. Then I was blown away by Moonshine. Somehow the sequel to that, Wicked City, snuck by me. I will have to get hold of it at some point soon. (have I mentioned I really, REALLY want to build a system that will inform you when authors you love publish new books?)

In the meantime, I am enjoying The Summer Prince, even though it *ought* to be named The Summer King. I assume some weird publishing logic went into that. You'll see what I mean when you read it. Or perhaps something will be revealed later that I don't yet know. But aside from the not-quite-right title, the cover is gorgeous. An online image does not really capture the shiny and the glow, but check it out anyway:

The Summer Prince cover
netmouse: (koi)
What I just read: The Apocalypse Ocean, by Tobias S. Buckell
This is the fourth book of the Xenowealth series. I found Apocalypse Ocean gave me the connection to place and characters of the first book, Crystal Rain, while also containing easily as much action and adventure as the other two, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose. I think this is Buckell's best book yet, and I expect it will be one of my Hugo nominees.

Apocalypse Ocean coverThe book starts with some of the classic tropes of a fantasy novel - young beggar queen of a dockside town is watching a dangerous looking interloper from the rooftops; she has arranged for him to run into trouble so she can observe what happens. A scared little pickpocket in her gang is intercepted months later by a warrior looking for that earlier transient, hoping to meet with his boss, seeking information. He escapes her as the rain starts, but she hunts him back down and the meeting is arranged.

But this is not fantasy, this is hard science fiction. The two warriors are cyborgs who helped found the Xenowealth, named Pepper and Nashara. Nashara has clones of herself that live purely as AIs, one of whom, Piper, runs one of their spaceships. The local beggar queen, Kay, is a rare survivor of the Caretaker class of genetically altered humans who were slaves to the alien Nesaru until the League liberated them - but not before the Nesaru killed many of them in an attempt to hide the evidence. As a Caretaker, she has been bred to be hypersensitive to human expressions - she can read people, and thus control them. Her family managed the other classes of slaves - the Runners, the Luminoids, the Ox-Men. That type of control, using other people as tools, is her special skill.

Kay has not yet figured out her goal in life, but her current goal is simple: to stay free of Alien dominance. And that goal is threatened; an Alien with a wormhole for a mouth is terrorizing her city. So she tries luring Pepper into a fight with it. He injures it, which is interesting, then is forced to flee into the ocean. But there's a lot more going on in this town than she knows. Her planet, officially a neutral area in the shaky truce between the League and the Xenowealth, is just one stop on the network of planets strung together by "grounded" wormholes. Ships can sail along this network, planet to planet. Are some of those ships part of an Alien invasion force? And why is the city in an ever-expanding Dead Zone, where most electronics don't work?

The pickpocket, Tiago, will play a bigger part in the coming events than he would ever have imagined. In the meantime, it rains. Well, they call it rain. Napalm mist from the Fire Valley floats over the mountains and scars the skin of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it.

Both Tiago and Kay have some significant growing up to do, and the lessons Buckell weaves for them are rooted in fundamental questions of how people trust and cooperate. And fight. And dream.

Highly recommended.
netmouse: Firefly, natch. (Big Damn Heroes)
Since I almost never have time to post on a Wednesday, I'm probably just going to aim for Thursday. Though I don't rule out Wednesdays, of course. Anyway...

What I Just Read: Impulse, by Steven Gould
This is the third book in the series that started with Jumper (1992) and continued with Reflex (2004). The first book is basically a coming of age novel about a teenager who escapes from an abusive home life with the remarkable ability to "jump" from one place to another instantaneously. The second book has a second person develop this ability, and is pretty much thoroughly an adventure/thriller, and the third book revolves around their daughter, who has had an odd sort of both socially isolated and particularly global childhood. Through the whole series there is some sort of evil hands-in-many-pockets powerful organization that wants to either control the jumpers or eliminate them as a threat.

Impulse is a page-turner, no doubt about it. I might have finished it in one day (the same day it arrived in the mail), except that Brian sweetly asked me to stop reading and turn the light off just before midnight last night. As the father of two daughters, the eldest of which just had her first year of college, Gould has a really good grasp on the father-daughter relationship and some of the particular issues faced by a 16-year-old girl who is trying to develop her social life. I'm assuming the quirks caused by how her unique family is being stalked by terrorists is a situation he had to project himself into a little more, but it all works. And his young protagonist (who is delightfully geeky in the areas of math and science) also explores a fascinating new potential for the "jumping" skill by experimenting with the question of velocity. The snowboarding sequences are fun too.

Highly recommended.

What I'm Reading Now: The Measure of a Man; a spiritual autobiography, by Sidney Poitier
Generally this book strikes me as more philosophical than spiritual, but either way, it is definitely thoughtful and interesting. I've seen only a few of Poitier's films ("Look who's Coming to Dinner", "To Sir, With Love", and "Sneakers"), but I hope to take in more of them in not too long. For the most part, this was not a review of his Hollywood stardom (which is apparently covered in detail in his 1980 autobiography, This Life), but rather an exploration of his childhood roots in the Bahamas and how that start to life and the lessons he learned from his family and along the way made him who he is.

Poitier's straight-forward language, including occasional swearing, is refreshing and forthright. His lists of influences and thought-provoking contemporaries is giving me further directions for my reading into African-American history. And his discussion of which lessons he thought were most important from his childhood, contrasted with the experiences of childhood he observes in modern times, gave me important things to think about in terms of how we are raising Rosie, dovetailing well with other reading I've done, such as the book Simplicity Parenting.

It was also interesting to read this and contemplate the early successes of Caribbean-born Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte just a short while after reading Malcolm Gladwell's essay "Black Like Them", which suggests that black people who immigrate to America in modern times and are not descended from American slaves (or otherwise seem or can be seen as different from the established local populations) are more employable and more easily successful here.

The chapter "Why do White People Love Sidney Poitier So?" discusses some similar issues, as well as the criticism Poitier received for not being angry and defiant, both personally and in his roles. I think his descriptions of experiences that did make him very angry as well as his discussion as to what he did and did not do with that anger were very interesting -- how anger is a destructive force that can be channeled into positive energy. He felt the most important aspect of his work was to depict real, full human beings -- in part to help people who at the time had limited experiences be able to recognize the humanity of others different from them, and instead see the similarities and connectedness between people.

Some quotes I thought were worth pulling out about seeking change:

Wherever there's a configuration in which there are the powerful and the powerless, the powerful, by and large, aren't going to feel much of anything about this imbalance. After a while the powerful become accustomed to experiencing the power to their benefit in ways that are painless. It's the air they breathe, the water they swim in.
However much prodding they get from the powerless or the disenfranchised or the slaves, those in power just aren't inclined toward introspection or remorse.
When you're addressing power, don't expect it to crumble willingly. If you're going to say, "Hey now, look you guys, please look at what you did and look at yourselves and punish yourselves and at least try to square this thing, right?" --well, you'll make slower progress than you would expect. I mean, even the most modest expectations are going to be unfulfilled.

I hope to write more later about how this caused me to reflect on the reactions of established sf fans to efforts to increase the diversity of fandom.

He also talks about how the script of "In the Heat of the Night" had his character, a Philadelphia police detective working a murder investigation in the Deep South, get slapped across the face by a local bigshot who is offended by his inquiries. According to Poitier, in the original script "I looked at him with great disdain and, wrapped in my strong ideals, walked out." Poitier could not play it that way and insisted the director change it. Instead, "without a nanosecond of hesitation, I whack him right back across the face with a backhand slap."

This reminds me of an interview I read where Quentin Tarantino was talking about Django Unchained, and how Hollywood for a long time was afraid of showing vengeance by a black man, and he didn't want to continue that pattern. He was not about to have his black protagonist do the supposedly noble "being a better man" thing and walk away with no retribution. Instead, Jamie Foxx's character "beats the white off" the slaveowner who has abused his wife in ways that were so violent and twisted that Kerry Washington said Leonardo DiCaprio repeatedly checked with her during breaks in filming to make sure she was okay, because what his character was doing to hers was so vile.

I am not surprised to see in this interview that Tarantino went out to dinner with Sidney Poitier after finishing the Django script, and when he told him he was so anxious about directing the slavery scenes that he was thinking of shooting them abroad, Poitier told him not to do that, saying "If you're going to tell this story, you need to not be afraid of it. You need to do it. Everyone gets it. Everyone knows what's going on. We're making a movie. They get it."

In The Measure of a Man, Poitier goes on to say,

From the way it was in my early days in America, to the point at which I was playing a senior detective representing the Philadelphia Police Department, solving a murder mystery in rural Mississippi -- that was movement. But the true progress it represented didn't come from unbridled rage any more than it came from polite submission. Progress then and now comes from the collision of powerful forces within the hearts of those who strive for it. Anger and charity, love and hate, pride and shame, broken down and reassembled in an igneous process that yields a fierce resolve.

May we all experience a resolve that is suitably fierce for what we need to do.

netmouse: (Stitch)
Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, edited by Jeff O’Neal & Rebecca Joines Schinsky is a collection of short essays on how to start reading authors you might want to read when you're not really sure what to expect or which book or story to try first.

It includes chapters both on and by several sf authors, as well as some non-genre authors, and authors who are not necessarily known as sf authors (at least they weren't to me), but who have one or more sf works. I bought it because I was particularly interested in getting started reading Sherman Alexie, and because I read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and then didn't know where to turn next to approach her writing. (All the authors covered int eh book are listed on their website.)

Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. I found myself reading straight through essays on authors I'd never seriously considered reading before, as well as on authors whose work I've already thoroughly explored. I found everything insightful, interesting, sometimes amusing, and always personal and particular.

I particularly like that it might lead people who aren't sf fans to pick up some sf that they wouldn't have considered before.

Check it out.
netmouse: (laughing Rosie)
What I just finished reading: Cordelia's Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Compelling story about love, parenthood, and war. Nice strong female protagonist who displays both ingenuity and initiative.

Was frustrated she didn'tmake better use of the bodyguard/security character Dru's unique training and knowledge, or fix the staffing issue of only having a single dedicated female bodyguard/handmaiden for the Regent's wife. Both glad and sorry she didn't flinch at killing of significant characters.

Generally recommended.

What I'm currently reading: Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan

Joy and hope in tragic circumstances, written with humor and, one hopes, equal parts humility and honesty.
Also essentially a coming of age narrative by/about the author- coming into true adulthood, at least.

Warmly recommended.

what I'll read next is not set, though I'm also in the middle of a couple other books.

Oops, Rosie's up. Gotta go. :)

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