Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Memoirs Found In A Bathtub

I occasionally go through phases where I collect authors. Several years ago, I collected Stanislaw Lem. My first was Solaris. I loved it. And even though I knew it was an atypical example of his writing, I started collecting. The next Lem I read was The Cyberiad, a more typical example full of wordplay and a mix of science fiction, silliness, and folk-tale. I now own nearly everything Lem that's published in English (he wrote in Polish and worked with a translator, for which we can thank the retention of wordplay between languages), but I still haven't read a lot of it. I picked up Memoirs Found In A Bathtub. It has an interesting premise. It is the memoirs of a man living in a city-sized bunker where paranoia and espionage have become the rule. Everyone is a spy, or assumed to be, and must assume that everyone else is. Everything is a code, but nothing is. Our nameless protagonist (the book is written in 1st person) is new to The Building and is sent on or stumbles into an important Mission. Over and over again he is met with strange situations, miscommunications, misunderstandings, and inpenatrably complex (or, rather, meaninglessly complex) espionage operations. This occurs to the point where he doesn't know what his Mission entails, what his instructions are, or whether he is an agent of The Building or its enemy (if such an enemy actually exists anymore).

It's a theme that is now well-worn (relevant TV Tropes articles: ). Perhaps not original with The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G K Chesterton, but nonetheless where my mind starts its tracing of similarites, the theme of a spy finding that his marks are also spies is one that I find interesting. I will not claim to have the authoritative reading of The Man Who Was Thursday (it has been a while since I read it), but it felt like in that novel there is a bottom to the rabbit hole (to allude to yet another even more fantastical nonsense-world novel). Eventually meaning can be taken, where the point of Memoirs Found In A Bathtub appears to be the lack of meaning and understanding.

More than any other book, my mind is drawn to the tabletop RPG Paranoia. In Paranoia you play people who live in a city-sized bunker controlled by Friend Computer. Friend Computer is very concerned about communists and happines is mandatory. You and your fellow players are expected to spy on one another not just for Friend Computer, but also for a number of secret societies, some of which are made up entirely of infiltrators from other secret societies. Everyone is also a mutant, though mutations are illegal and you are to report mutants to Friend Computer for treason. Still, the ever presence of Friend Computer gives some cohesiveness that The Building, as a presumed mastermind, either literal or metaphorical, never achieves, perhaps on purpose.

What is present is Lem's wordplay. He has a way of writing crazy paragraphs full of bastardized words (who knows how bastardized they are in Polish) which feel perfectly off-kilter. It was this aspect of the book which I enjoyed the most and which reminds me of The Cyberiad. It is the aspect that will probably keep me reading more Lem.

Another fascinating aspect was the unresolved insinuation that the Mission instructions, of which our protagonist very briefly glimpses and which trace his movements from the beginning down to his thoughts, are in fact what we are reading rather than any sort of memoir. I love the ouroboros of it and it is one of the few thematic strands that resonates with me. Were the rest of the instructions a true prediction of what the character did? Or did they deviate? The memoirs never include the protagonist writing down his experiences and the ending is ambiguous as to the protagonist's survival. So it must be the instructions. In which case (as the protagonist himself questions), what is The Mission? How many people have walked this path before?

Content-wise, the "we're all mad" plot didn't do much for me. I can't decide if it is a plot that will never do anything or if it's this iteration of it. Perhaps I just needed more. I needed something or someone to care about. I need some window dressings. I need to know where the protagonist came from. Why is he new to The Building? What kind of life do people outside of The Building have? Where do people sleep? ect ect. It comes down to: If nothing makes sense, why should I care?

Additionally, I was turned off by the complete lack of female characters, one scene where the protagonist considers rape in an immediate but offhanded way, and a scene where a character's fatness is their sole characteristic and given as source for extreme disgust and assignment of evil morality (plus a bonus scene where another fat character is evil for their fatness). In my experience these scenarios were presented in ways that are typical of this era of novel, but an explanation is not an excuse. The book could have benefitted from not leaning on these tropes (i.e. the male heirarchy full of maleness and therefore authority, the girl whose existence is to tempt, and the fat villain).

I did not enjoy this book though I appreciate it. I was glad for its brevity. I will keep slowly reading through my collection of Lem so that I can hold up the gems for others to appreciate. This, however, is not a gem.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Reading Update 3/25/16

Currently Reading:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novak
    ~53% done
    So far I am really impressed with this book. I love the narrator for the audiobook. I'm hoping to finish this early next week.
  • Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell
    ~33% done
    While there are times where it is very clear when Bertrand Russell is writing (red scare, WWI, etc), his thoughts transcend those times and are still extremely relevant. Last night I was reading about how individualism, while understandable in the context of early Christianity, is not useful when trying to manage societies and create the most peace for the most people. He easily articulates my feelings on government (that we should be doing things that maximize efficacy within the limits of ethics). If the quality and sentiment remain consistent throughout this collection, I will probably add this to my (currently one book) list of must-read atheism books (along with The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan).
  • Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb
    ~? done - I'm reading a combined edition of this trilogy. I'm 81% done with that.
    I am struggling with this book as I struggled with much of the third book of the Farseer Trilogy. I am ready for her to pull it out and hit me hard in the emotions. Also, there's a little too much dragon-fantasy for my taste. I don't entirely understand the fascination with dragons, though I am interested in dragons as a shared set-piece in a meta sense.
  • Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
    Just started
    It was a good prologue, even if it did have a woman in a refrigerator. This is my husband and my read-out-loud book now that we finally finished with Wetware by Rudy Rucker. I love reading out loud with him. Even though we're not really interacting, it feels like we're really doing something together instead of just existing in the same room.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Trying Out Some New Things

I realized yesterday, while attempting to establish my employment dates for when I delivered pizza, that I missed having a "diary" of sorts. I blogged almost every shift of delivering pizza and it was cathartic and ultimately useful.

I tried making this a place for book reviews, but I couldn't sustain it. I have ups and downs that are fairly predictable in their effects if not their duration or frequency. When I'm up I start things, I have more energy, but when I'm down I barely get anything done. I've been able, through my most recent down to sustain a few things. I'm going to try to add this to things I can sustain, at a minimum level, in the long run, and that means some format changes.

Here are some things I'd like to work in:

  • Updates on what is going on in my life. This will probably mostly be mental health updates.
  • Escritos practicando en español - Puedo leer bien, pero mis habilidades de escribir y hablar no son buenos. ¡Necesito practiar más! (y sientase libre de corregirme si he cometido un error)
  • Reading updates (and reviews) - reading is still my biggest hobby and the thing that I love
  • Gaming updates - I play tabletop roleplaying games, boardgames, and videogames
  • Writing updates (maybe even some practice writing)
In other words, I need to start doing this for me, so that I can go back and plug my memory holes when I need to.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: In the Hours of Darkness by Tygati

I received a copy of this story from publisher in exchange for honest feedback.
preorder page at Less Than Three Press
Published by Less Than Three Press
Available on September 29th, 2015.

You're not going to believe this because of my reputation as a lady's man, but I'm incredibly awkward when talking about sex. It's not that I feel awkward, it's that I'm going to make you feel awkward listening to me. Or I'll feel awkward that I think I'm making you feel awkward... One of us definitely going to have weird feelings about the whole thing. My brain goes into fits of giggles at any euphemism for genetalia or sex acts and I end up clamping down hard on that impulse by picturing it as literally as written which snowballs into simultaneous confusion and amusement (and occasional repulsion). That's all well and good when I'm sitting at home reading, for example, dragon erotica, and less fun when one or both of us is naked. Lucky for you I have pants on right now and am using this rambling preamble mostly to get to this point: I have read enough bizarre and stilted sex scenes in fantasy/scifi books to know that this one is not that, it is erotica and I am not the person to evaluate its merits. So I'm going to leave the discussion of the sex scene to someone else. For me, it detracted just a little from my enjoyment of the story not out of lack of skill by the writer but because I was enjoying the story and characters by that point and felt like that scene shifted focus from adding characterization to titillating.

Official blurb:
On the frontier planet No Man's Land, Sheriff Charlie Colcord upholds the law and protects the people of Deadwood Gulch. His job is difficult and often dangerous due to the vicious native creatures which inhabit the plains and mountains of Noman, but Charlie and his riders have one advantage: dragons. 
But the dragons come with their own difficulties in the way of a secret known only to a few. Charlie is a man used to keeping secrets, and it's not the dragons' secret that keeps him up at night. His secret is known to only one other, and keeping it makes their lives complicated enough that hunting monsters on the plains of Noman is almost relaxing.

I really liked the faux-western setting of this story. Maybe it was the beautiful cover art, but the mental cache of landscapes from which I pulled to picture the planet of No Man's Land was the area around the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Garden of the Gods in Colorado. While Tygati gives a lot of touchstones to the wild west for readers to latch on to and use to build the world, there isn't a lot of description, so I was left to my imagination. Luckily, as a kid, I was taken on a lot of roadtrips through the Southwest US, so I had a lot to pull from. Swap out a lot of the wild west elements for fantasy/scifi elements (electric whips, rayguns, strange fauna, etc), and that's the setting of this story in a nutshell.

The relationship between Charlie and Zorevan (the dragon) was interesting though I didn't feel myself sink into that "romance" place. I want to keep reading, but not because I find their romance sweet. In fact, I find it a bit scary. Zorevan "claimed" Charlie while he was a young teen and is incredibly territorial and protective. He's also stubborn and dominating. I think Charlie's affection for Zorevan is genuine, but even he acknowledges that he doesn't have much of a choice.

As far as other characters go, they were pretty one-dimensional. There was the Mayor, the only female character so far, who relentlessly hits on Charlie, and Jeremy Jasper, the troublemaking kid who won't go to school. Charlie actually has a great moment with Jeremy where he figures out how to motivate the kid. I expect the cast of characters and their characterizations to expand as this series continues.

Overall, despite some problems, I liked Charlie as the wild west Sheriff and I'm interested to find out what happens on the planet. I might read the next instalment just to find out what happens to Jeremy Jasper.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ten Books I'm Reading This Fall

It's Tuesday again and I'm still enjoying these thought exercises, so hopefully you are too. Here's a link to the host blog The Broke And The Bookish where you can browse other Top Ten Tuesdays if you are so inclined.

As the year is wrapping up, I have to buckle down and get some of the books from The Spreadsheet read if I hope to complete all of my challenges. I'm down to 8 critical books for my challenges and I'm adding on two from my Audible TBR pile to round out the list.

In alphabetical order:

This is not my first run at Catch-22. The first time around I finished about twenty pages and couldn't keep going. The circular thinking was driving me crazy and I didn't see how I could possibly read an entire book of it. However, I tend to be able to get through books in audiobook that I would never be able to complete in print, so I picked Catch-22 up at an Audible sale and am going to try again.

Airships make me fall asleep (except in Leviathan by Scott Westerfield), and even though the first book in this series didn't have too many airships, they still made me feel sleepy. So, even though I liked Soulless, it's taken me a while to get back around to Changeless. Fortunately for it, it fits into three of my challenges: The Unloved, Subgenre Focus, and Read the Sequel. Maybe coming off of this one I'll have the momentum to read the rest.

My husband just finished this book and really liked it, so, with the television series looming, I've decided to join the swell of people reading the book. I like space opera and hard scifi, so I know I'll like at least half of it. For the other half, detective stories miss me about 50% of the time.

Of All Possible Worlds is my pick for 1955 in The Definitive 1950s SF Challenge and the last of that challenge that is critical to get read this fall (the challenge lasts into next year). I don't have a lot of expectations because I don't know much about the book. I've decided to keep it that way for the fun of discovering the book without baggage.

A PKD winner and that's enough to keep this on my list. I don't always like PKD winners, but I almost always appreciate having read them.

I love transhumanism as a theme and am surprised that I haven't gotten to this book sooner. Se la vie. So so many books to read. Have I posted pictures of my library yet?!

I own a lot of China Mieville books, especially given that I've only read Perdido Street Station. I swear I will get to all of them at some point!

I'll be honest, the blurb for this book is near gibberish, but ¿maybe? the kind of gibberish that I could groove on.

I have vowed to read more horror because I find that much scary scifi/fantasy is buried in the "horror" section (and visa versa). This one looks to be interesting, plus it has creepy kids. Who doesn't love creepy kids?

A Hugo Award winner about cloning in a post-apocalyptic world, this has also been on my list forever. It's pretty short too, so hopefully I won't get bogged down by reading it in print (rather than on my Kindle, which seems to be the only place I get things done lately).

Monday, September 21, 2015

Review: Supersymmetry by David Walton

Supersymmetry is a great followup to Superposition. In my review of Superposition I pointed out one of the great character moments for Jacob Kelly was his connection with his teenage daughter Alessandra. In Supersymmetry we leave Jacob behind and follow his, now twin, daughters, Alex and Sandra, as they try to solve the mystery of an imploded stadium and battle the varcolac again.

I really liked all of the primary characters. Alex and Sandra, who are the same person split by contact with the varcolac in the first book, are so similar and yet Walton does a good job of diverging them and showing how much a person can change in 15 years. Angel, the robotics geek who helps Sandra out with the stadium disaster investigation, is perhaps the first book-crush I've had in a long time. Ryan Oronzi, the scientist who "rediscovered" Higgs projector technology, is misguided and arrogant in a very believable way.

My one criticism holds over from last book, the villain (not the varcolac) was too evil for my tastes. It's hard to know how cackling-madperson they would have come across in print, but in audiobook they were maniacal.

The pace remained brisk, the science remained interesting. Walton tackles a host of topics including Last Tuesdayism, multiverses, black holes, and time travel. And like last time all of the science is explained in an accessible way, making this perfect for casual lovers of science.

I will almost certainly pick up future books by David Walton.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Comic Review: Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (collects issues #1-6)
Published by IDW
Available October 29th
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Sophie Campbell and Amy Mebberson

The new Jem and the Holograms comic is everything I could have possibly hoped for: fashion, cheezy songs, romance, and band drama.

The first story arc, collected in Jem and the Holograms: Showtime, follows essentially the same plot as the first episode of the television show. Jerrica, a bland young woman with stage-fright, fronts a band with her awesome adopted sisters. They are going to enter a music competition against the Misfits, but Jerrica's anxieties almost ruin everying. ...until she discovers that her father, now deceased, left her a secret hologram-creating AI called Synergy. With Synergy's help, Jerrica becomes Jem and everything seems to be saved.

If you can't tell already, Jerrica bores me to tears. She's too perfect and her perfect romance with Rio makes me gag.

So, let's leave Jerrica (and Jem) behind for the rest of the cast, because they make this comic more than worth picking up.

First up, and my favorite part of the entire comic: Kimber. Kimber is the youngest of the sisters, impulsive, and girl crazy. She can be capricious and forget her obligations while chasing her obsessions, but she's there for her sisters when it counts and she's always trying to be better.

Her current obsession (and the best parts of the story) is Kimber's romance with Misfit's keytarist Stormer.

I love everything about Stormer. I love seeing a plus-sized lady do more than break furniture or be comic-relief. I love that she gets to be fashionable. That outfit above isn't even her best outfit in the comic, but I want you to have that moment of being tacken aback at how gorgeous Stormer looks dressed for the show.

Stormer looking....stormy.
Stormer is the soul of the Misfits. She's patient where Kimber is impatient. She reaches out when Kimber runs away. Their courtship had me going through all of the ups and downs of a new romance.

Shana (purple) getting in the middle of Aja (blue) and Kimber (pink) fighting.

Next up is Aja, the guitarist for The Holograms, and Shana, the drummer. They're definitely side-characters in this arc, but I think they'll both get a lot more development as issues pile up. There have been hints of it already.

No review of the characters could go without mentioning Pizzazz, frontwoman for the Misfits. She's everything bad you've ever heard about a diva. Two-faced, vengeful, wrathful, and vain. She's a mustache-twirling villain. I have hopes though, that one day she may realize that she doesn't have to put Jem and the Holograms down to be on top.

The art, as you have seen, is gorgeous and clean. Before I read any issue I flip through the pages marveling at how pretty everything is. The full-page layouts when the bands are performing capture eighties girl band glam in all its glory.

Now that I'm all caught up, I can't wait to get home and break open issue #7!