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Time:09:07 pm
I have been reading things and not writing about them, so here's a mini-review dump:

Fur-Face, by Jon Gibbs: Middle-grade novel with a contemporary setting and some sf elements.

I got the book ages ago and finally remembered to read it. It's a fun, light-hearted romp starring a boy and his cat, although Daft Aggie, a grandmother of many aspects, steals most of the scenes she's in. Which is as it should be. :) The climax had some good unconventional aspects, defying my expectations in sensible ways. I'll give it an 8.


The Courtland Chronicles by Cat Grant. This is a five-part series, something like three novellas and two novels. It is more-or-less romance, although it wanders across genres:
Part 1: M/M romance.
Part 2: Dysfunctional BDSM erotica with some romance jammed in around the edges.
Part 3: ... romance, I guess? But without a happy ending. It fits the romance genre better if you regard it as the start of part 4 instead of a standalone.
Part 4: Poly-romance.
Part 5: Drama.

I am still not sure how I feel about this series. Rating each part would be something like: 7; 5; 6; 6.5; 6.5.

There are a lot of sex scenes in the series; Cat Grant gets bonus points for adding in some kink (including perfectly functional kink and not just the creepy stuff from Part 2) to keep the sex scenes from being repetitive, but I still got bored of reading sex scenes.

The fifth part is noteworthy for not being a romance at all in the typical sense: instead, it's about the legal and social consequences of a poly relationship in contemporary America, and how the characters cope with those as well as coping with other non-relationship crises (both professional and personal). There's no real sense that the characters are worried that their romantic relationship is going to fall apart or anything. It is a reasonably good drama, if a little sparse on some of the details that might draw the reader in. (For instance, there's an attempt to wreck one character's business that would've benefited from a more detailed approach: it has a superficiality to it that makes it feel like the author didn't want to research a fully-accurate representation and winged it instead.) OTOH, the ramifications of a poly relationship are explored thoughtfully, and in a well-rounded way -- characters that approve, ones that don't, ones that change their attitude over time, etc.

One amusing note about part four: I had a throw-the-book-across-the-room moment, where I was yelling at the characters, "You have NO IDEA what you are doing! You are ostensibly smart people used to research, for the love of little green apples DO SOME RESEARCH." And literally two pages later, one of the characters goes, "I did some research and found some good books about this, here's our homework" to the others. XD

The dysfunctional BDSM in part 2 hit me exactly wrong and repulsed me. BDSM erotica is very hit-or-miss with me, and it's not even along obvious lines. It's not "I only like functional, healthy BDSM erotica", because I sometimes enjoy non-consensual fantasies that are a lot more over the top than Ms. Grant's. I'm not sure why. I tend not to read BDSM stuff for this reason, though, because it's hard to find things that work for me. Anyway, my rating on this part is even more a matter of taste than usual.


The Island of the Sequined Love Nun, by Christopher Moore. Contemporary suspense/mystery sort of thing. Ostensibly humor.

I was talking to koogrr and he mentioned enjoying Moore's work after noticing my review of The Serpent of Venice. So I asked him to recommend a couple.

The weirdest part of Island for me is that it is supposed to be a humor novel and I found basically nothing whatsoever about it funny. There were times when I could tell I was supposed to find something funny but it just wasn't to me. Much of the time I couldn't even tell that Moore was trying to be funny. The book is full of problematic treatments of gender and race, including the oh-no-not-again plot of Only a White American Man Can Save These Poor Primitive People.

I do want to give Moore credit for some things, though. The hapless primitive people don't come across as any stupider or less competent than the Americans, and they're written as people and not some monolithic identical Other. There's a cross-dressing prostitute and former child slave who's actually the best character in the book: not a victim, not a collection of abuses, but an interesting, likeable person. So props for that. I felt like the author was trying, at least, even if he's not really succeeding.

Although I didn't find it funny, it was generally well-written and often interesting, and I enjoyed the climax. I'll give it a 6.5.

The Stupidest Angel, by Christopher Moore. Contemporary humor; parody of Christmas stories & horror.

The other Moore book Koogrr recommended. I actually thought this one was funny! And I liked most of the characters. It was a mash-up of characters from previous books, including the protagonist from Island, so that was amusing even if it felt like Moore had rolled back some of the character development he'd undergone in the prior book. My favorite character was Molly, aka the Warrior Babe, aka the town crazy lady. I have enough ♥ for Molly that I will even forgive the use of the "women are crazy" trope.

There is a lot of "men treating women like an alien race" in this book, which I find grating. There are couple of POV female characters who come across as interesting and no more alien than the male ones, though. So it's much less grating than casual sexism in a book with no real female characters.

Anyway, I had a good time with this one and will give it an 8.5. It is not quite enough to make me want to try more Moore novels. Maybe the other one(s?) with Molly.
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Time:04:08 pm
Lut: "Hey, look at my character now." He's playing World of Warcraft again.
Me "Awwww, you're a little kitty!" Not a miniature panther, but a housecat. The effect wore off even as I spoke. "So could you run around as a little kitty all the time if you wanted to?"
Lut: "No."
Me: "Darn."
Me: "... 'cause you know I might actually play WoW for a little while if I could." I have technically played two or three hours of WoW, on a trial account. I did not enjoy it.
Lut: "Well, if you're a druid ... "
Me: "You can't be a little kitty, only one of the big war-cat-things."
Lut: "True."
Me: "Bear in mind I did play Perfect World for three or four weeks just so I could run around as a fox."

Sadly, this actually is one of the reasons I've never been interested in WoW -- I've never liked the way the character avatars looked. Large parts of the world are lovely. The people are ... meh. At best.

And I am apparently shallow.
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Subject:August Vacation
Time:05:52 pm
I took a trip in August and another in September, both of which deserve more of a write up than I have felt inclined to write. So I'm going to do a crappy brief write up of them instead.


August 9-12: This trip to Seattle was so I could attend shaterri and quarrel's wedding on Sunday the 11th. I was really excited to go to this wedding, because Shaterri & Quarrel are great people and also because it was my first chance to attend a gay wedding. \o/

I flew in on Saturday and spent some time alone with terrycloth in the morning. koogrr was also in the area for the wedding, so we got together with him in the afternoon and evening, and had a fun time shopping for last-minute items for the wedding (Koogrr had gotten a gift but needed to wrap it; I picked up an Amazon gift card and a wedding card to put it in, on which I wrote "This is what you get when your wedding registry has 5 items on it.") We had dinner at a random restaurant near John's hotel. We'd contemplated playing games in the evening, but ended up talking and cuddling instead. I spent the night at John's hotel so we could go to the wedding together.

The wedding ceremony was wonderful. It was held outside, at a park on the sound. Quarrel and Shaterri stood at opposite ends of a patch of lawn, and told the course of their relationship, taking turns as they related parts over the last twenty years or so. They said they were going to put the text online, but I don't know where it is if they have. One part near the end made me smile -- I don't recall the exact words, but it was something like this:

Shaterri: "In January 2013, we decided we should get married."
Jeff: "In January 2014, we decided we should get married ... this year."


Ursula Husted had also flown in for the ceremony, and commented afterwards, "Now I understand why they were so nervous! That wasn't just 'I do', it was a whole performance!" It was magnificent, possibly even outdoing my sister-in-law's wedding ceremony on a clipper with "O Fortuna" from the Carmina Burana as the wedding march. :)

The reception was an hour and a half after the wedding, so that their volunteers would have time to break down the wedding site. Since most of us didn't have anywhere in particular to go before the reception, most of the attendees ended up staying at the wedding site and helping dismantle and move out all the furnishings.

John and I gave Ursula and egypturnash a ride to the reception, which was also lovely. There were games on every table, and some people played them -- Ursula Husted's table had a cute rabbit-themed game that I would've liked to try, but didn't. The venue was a gorgeous old building with quirky furnishings, like a rearing stuffed lion. Urban Light Studios was taking photos in the basement, with an array of goofy props. John and I went down there a few different times, partly to get photos taken and partly because it was the venue didn't have AC and it was much cooler in the basement. (And a rare hot day in Seattle.) John picked up digital copies of a bunch of the photos and I put a few of them on my Flikr site.

John wore a dark suit with a blue shirt to the wedding, colors themed after Luna's from "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic". When I showed him and Terry the dress I planned to wear, Terry said, "She's the mane!" The colors worked surprisingly well, purely by coincidence, so we had a few pictures taken to emphasize that point:

Two of the props on hand were a big picture frame and a giant flyswatter, and John was inspired to have us reenact American Gothic:

Peggy and Ursula snuck out during the reception to decorate the wedding couple's car with cartoon animals. It was magnificent. John and I waited until the reception was over before we left, and then we volunteered to help the grooms carry stuff back to the car just so we could see their reaction to it. :D I got a bunch of photos, but they didn't come out that well and I have already used up my energy for getting photos into sharable format, so y'all are out of luck. Well, here, I'll link to the tweet of the one picture I sent at the time.

John had to leave early Monday morning, so Terry picked me up from the hotel after we got back. I had a lovely relaxing Monday with Terry, spent playing games and eating too much delicious Indian food. <3 Then I had to go home on Tuesday. This trip was Way Too Short.


So that's the short version of the August trip. I'll write a short version of the September trip in a different post, since even my "short" is kinda long.
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Subject:Ask the Internet Braintrust
Time:08:40 am
Anyone happen to know how you get an iPodTouch 8 to download all of your existing music from your computer onto the iPodTouch 8, so that the iPod can play it without needing a wireless connection? With my eight-year old and much-mourned iPod, "sync" did this. It's not clear what effect if any syncing the iPodTouch8 with iTunes on my computer had, but apparently "download music" is not among the effects.

(And I know I should ask Google, but I am at the point of wanting to turn the box upside down and read the answer instead of trying to solve the puzzle. -_-)
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Subject:A-List Superheroes
Time:12:48 pm
Lut asked me the other day why there's specifically complaints about Wonder Woman not getting a movie, as opposed to any other female superheroes. My theory is that it's because Wonder Woman is the only female superhero with strong brand recognition outside of the fandom. At first I thought that the men heavily outweighed the women on the A-List, and then I realized: no, the A-list is really short. Really, really short.

This is the A-List:

Wonder Woman
The Hulk

Aaaand we're done.

Really, that's it. Marvel/Disney is working hard to change that, but Iron Man and Thor are not (yet) A-Listers. Even Wolverine, who's a huge fan favorite, is not an A-List superhero that everybody knows. I bet most Americans can't name three X-Men, and that includes Professor X. Until Guardians of the Galaxy came out, even I didn't know the names of any of its protagonists (though I did recognize Thanos).

There are a few others that might be borderline:

Captain America

These are the sorts of characters that people outside the fandom know exist. But they don't care or know much about them. I didn't know Captain America's origin story until I saw the movie. Three of them are "the girl version of an A-lister", which as a reason for mattering is meh. Catwoman is known as a supervillain or at best an antihero.

Other candidates? Fantastic Four? They just don't have the kind of presence in the popular imagination that Superman or even Spider-Man does.

I kinda want to see market research on this, but asking my friends doesn't work as well on this one, because even most of you who never read superhero comics are still peripherally involved with the fandom. :) Still, I'm curious which heroes you think are on the A-List, or if anyone feels like the recent success of various Avengers films has moved any of those characters onto it.
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Subject:Unraveled, by Courtney Milan
Time:09:39 pm
This is the third and last book in the Turner series I've been reading. It's also my favorite of the three. The characters are refreshingly forthright about what they want, and there's a lot of good banter. The characters are lovable and their motivations clear and intelligible.

One of the things I like best about Milan's work are its contra-trope facets. This one works against the idea of the "broken hero that only the heroine can fix through the power of LOVE". The male lead in Unraveled had a traumatic childhood, and he's quite plainly traumatized by it. But he's got established coping methods, functions fine in society despite the trauma, and doesn't regard himself as "broken". Neither does the female lead. It's cute.

Another thing: in each of Milan's books, there is at least one point where one of the leads has the opportunity to pick up the Stupid Ball. This is a chance to do something profoundly awful that the protagonist doesn't really want to do. The protagonist is given a handful of quasi-sound justifications for picking up the Stupid Ball. The reader, however, can tell that doing so will damage the relationship between the two protagonists, betray the trust of one of them, and benefit no one in the long term. This will happen around two-thirds of the way through the book, so the reader knows there's still time to patch over the damage from the Stupid Ball, and it's frankly exactly the sort of stupidity one expects in a romance novel. (Like "let's be irrationally jealous of this clearly platonic relationship!") The protagonist will then consider all of the reasons to pick up the Stupid Ball and run with it. And then, the protagonist will go "Nah, forget that, it's obviously a terrible idea." THIS IS SUCH A RELIEF. It's as if your favorite sitcom looked like it was about to use that plotline you hate and you're already cringing in anticipation of how bad it will be, and then it's all "HA FAKE OUT" and the episode is about something good instead.

Unraveled does have a poorly-developed sideplot with a resolution that's simplistic and naive, so I'll mark it down for that. But the central romance is delightful. I'll give this one an 8.5.
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Subject:Envy and the "Fake" Geek Girl
Time:07:46 pm
I rented a car and went to the local renfest with my friend Corwyn this past weekend. On the ride home, he was talking about being introverted, which made me smile because he'd spent much of the time at the festival walking up to stranger to talk to them about Figments & Filaments, the costume convention that he founded and that'll be in April 2015. This is typical of my renfest experiences with him: he knows a lot of people from his many years performing there, and he talks to them and also a lot of strangers to advertise the cons he's organizing. (He also runs Contra in the fall.) "You hide your introversion a lot better than I do," I told him.

"Well, I want to perform, too. It's hard to perform for an audience when you're hiding under a rock," Corwyn said. "And it's different for you. You can show up at a con in a slinky dress and guys will line up to talk to you. If I want to talk to people I've got to do something more to get their attention."

I smiled, and started to tell him about my post on playing dress-up in response to the fake geek girl kerfluffle, because yes, I do dress up at cons to get attention. And then it struck me that perhaps he had accidentally hit on the underlying reason for the animosity against "fake geek girls". Maybe it has nothing to do with being mad at women for not giving them sex, or misogyny, or protecting their fiefdom against sinister feminine wiles. Maybe they're envious -- not of the woman herself, but of the attention she gets.

Let me be clear: there was no rancor whatsoever in Corwyn's statement that 'all you need to do is show up in a cute outfit'. And it's completely accurate: I don't even need to work hard at assembling an outfit (although I have done so for some of them). I remember a half-dozen guys at one con wanting a picture of me in my $10 Walmart swimsuit. This is the privilege -- a sometimes-undesired privilege, but one nonetheless -- of being female in a male-dominated hobby. And to someone who's spent years volunteering at conventions or honing their art skills or even just getting all the l33t gear for the WoW character, it must be frustrating to see a woman walk in wearing a bathing suit patterned after a Wonder Woman costume, and have her be the person everyone's interested in. Isn't this supposed to be the space where their own skills are supposed to be important, supposed to be noticed and admired? And it's still not.

I certainly don't think this justifies the ill-will, or means that women ought not do cosplay (or even ought to put a minimum level of effort into their cosplay).

But it is sad and kind of messed-up, that it really is less effort for me to get attention than it is for Corwyn, through no virtue on my part or flaw on his.
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Subject:The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
Time:06:30 pm
I am not really sure what I think of this one.

Miss Not-Appearing-in-the-Previous-Books finally appears in this one, and is a well-drawn character.

One thing that I found oddly endearing in both this book and the previous one is that every now and then, there'll be a mention of same-sex lovers. It's low-key, just "gay people exist in this setting, whatever" sort of thing. And it's nice to see a story where all the main characters are straight notice that not everyone in the world is.

Like the first book in the series, Republic alternates between a present-day story and one from the main characters' youth. For once, I didn't find the alternating of stories annoying. Both were engaging and I wanted to see what happened next in each, so there was no frustration from "get back to the INTERESTING stuff". I actually found the arc of the young-Gentleman-Bastards story better-constructed and more satisfying, in fact.

The present-day arc was less satisfying. Mostly it reminded me of PCs being railroaded by a GM: "you have to do this or the uber-powerful NPCs will smoosh you, and there's no other special motivation to go along." This extended to the main characters seldom seeming as clever as they're supposed to be. Possibly my standards for "clever" are unreasonably high. I know I don't write this sort of story in part because my own attempts at clever plans are never brilliant enough for me.

The stakes were generally lower in this book, which I appreciated; I find the constantly-increasing-stakes trend in many sf&f series to be rather tedious. I liked the romantic subplot running through both past and present story arcs, which ran con-trope in some interesting ways.

The setting, as is usual with Lynch's work, is well-drawn and described. I get a nice sense of place and the world from his work, with good imagery interspersed with the story so that it adds to the narrative and doesn't bog it down.

This may be my favorite of the three books, but has the curious effect of leaving me uncertain about whether or not I want to read the fourth. That's in large part because the aforementioned uberpowerful NPCs look like they'll be ever-more important to the future installments, and I really hate them. This is purely a personal preference: it's not that they're badly written, I just intensely dislike watching ordinary people grapple with and (almost always) lose to the whims of demi-gods.

Anyway, the fourth book isn't out yet, so I don't have to decide for a while.

I'll give this one an 8 overall -- it's something like "9 for the past story arc where they're putting on a play, and 7 for the current-day story arc."
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Subject:English poll!
Time:07:58 pm
Poll #1981252 This is not a test

In the sentence "Mary walked over to the boy, laughing at the joke.", who do you think is laughing? Just give your gut feeling, no need to worry about what grammar rules might apply.

Mary is laughing
The boy is laughing
I'm not sure, but probably Mary?
I'm not sure, but probably the boy?
If you hadn't asked, I would've had a clear idea one way or the other, but now I am flashing back to high school English classes and I am panicking about passing the test even though this is not a test and have no idea any more
I've forgotten how to English

I have already overthought this question, so I'm not going to explain the background unless someone asks me to in the comments. I'm just curious what instinctive sense other people have on it.
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Subject:Sixth Time Is the ... Something.
Time:10:05 pm
This has been the summer of tire problems for my bike.

It started in the spring, actually, when the back tire went flat. I took it to the shop to get it fixed, only to have the tire go flat again two days later. I brought it back to the shop, where Rick pulled a tiny fragment of glass from the outer tire out as the culprit and replaced it for free, given the timing. He also sold me a set of inserts to protect the tire from going flat. Rick assured me there was no need to replace the tire, just the inner tube. Inwardly, I resolved that if I got another flat that summer I'd find out how to change my own bloody tire, because getting it to the bike shop when I don't own a car was way too annoying.

A couple of months later, I ran over a car key lying on the side of the road. My front tire kicked it into the chain, where it whipped around several times and ripped a few holes in the back tire's inner tube. The tire deflated instantly. I had no money on me. I started walking the bike home, and got less than a block when a kindly woman who lived in the neighborhood offered me and my bike a ride home. <3 Lut went to Wal-Mart a few days later and picked up a "self-repairing" bike inner tube, which contained the same kind of goop that fix-a-flat uses to patch holes in car tires, and a normal patch kit that came with the tire-tools one needs to get a bike tire off the wheel. I watched a couple of Youtube videos on changing bike tires, and replaced my dead tire with the self-repairing one. I rode around on it for 30 minutes and it seemed fine.

An hour later, the self-repairing tire had completely deflated.


I pulled it out again: it had several holes in the same section (not the same area that my last tire had been destroyed in.

I patched up the first flat tire with the patch kit, and put it in.

On my next trip to Wal-Mart, I bought a manual bike pump, exchanged the self-repairing tire for another one, and a regular inner tube. I made a point of bringing the pump, patch kit, and one of the spare tubes with me when I went biking from then on. (I didn't keep it on the bike because I didn't think the temperature changes in the garage would be good for the uninflated tube.)

On August 19, I ran over another key. I remember the date because I tweeted about it:

Rear Bike Tire: "Broken key! My archnemesis! We meet again!"
Broken Key: *impale*
Tire: "...and you ... win ... again." *dies*

It went vertically into the tire. Like a knife stabbing at its heart.

Do not misplace your keys. Those things are KILLERS.

But I had my tire repair kit with me! I walked the bike into the shade of a gas station, took off the tire, replaced the tube, re-inflated, and biked home feeling like a CHAMPION. I had the knowledge, the tools, and the parts, and used them all successfully! \o/

Which brings me to today, when I heard the loud bang of my rear tire blowing out as I was on my way home from the library.

This was not a puncture or even an innertube shredding. It was the tire itself tearing along a three-inch section where the tire meets the wheel. I carry a spare inner tube. It is not really feasible to carry an entire spare tire on a bike.

(Lut: "What are you going to do? Carry a spare bike on your bike?"
Me: "Maybe I could get one of those collapsible bikes ... ")

The moral of the story: You are never prepared ENOUGH. I walked the bike the three miles to home. At least it didn't happen on Sunday when I was eleven miles from home.

Which reminds me: I should make that car reservation for this weekend. At least I was planning to rent a car this weekend anyway.
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Subject:Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
Time:08:58 pm
Unclaimed is the sequel to Unveiled, which I reviewed last week. And now I've read two romances in a row and I need to stop reading romance for a while again.

There are a lot of things that I love about the romance genre, and a lot of things that drive me crazy about it. A given book in the genre may hit on both the good and bad, or neither. I generally liked Unclaimed, but it did some of both.

Michelle Sagara wrote a wonderful blog post about romance. It's specifically addressing the concept of the "alpha male", but she has good thoughts on the genre. This quote in particular resonated with me: It’s a balance: the romance and relationship has to be emotional, and it has to fit the narrow, narrow wedge of my own emotional needs. It’s not, therefore, about the books, but about me.

One of the habits I've long had with romance novels is that I'll go back to re-read key emotional scenes. Sometimes these will be the ones at or just after the climax, but sometimes they're in the middle of the story too. These are the scenes where the characters break down the barriers between them and bare their feelings in their rawest, most powerful state. This is what I want most in romance. After I finished Unclaimed, I kept flipping through it, trying to find scenes that resonated with me in this fashion, but really couldn't. It was weird, because I generally enjoyed the book while I was reading it, and thought it was romantic, and thought the resolution was solid. But the "d'awww, that's so sweet" moments weren't there when I tried to find them. I think part of this is that the characters kept making out when I wanted them to be coming to terms emotionally. Usually I don't mind sex scenes but there were some cases where they were just intrusive or felt wrong for the context.

But Unclaimed does many things well. The male protagonist embodies those alpha-male qualities Sagara described in her post: secure, self-confident, competent, indifferent to the whims of society, etc. Further, he lacks most of the annoying qualities that sometimes get packaged with "alpha male": he's not a bully, he never coerces the female protagonist into doing anything, he's careful about letting her make her own choices and confident in her ability to fight her own battles if need be. (In one case, literally and ahistorically, but hey. Point made.)

And while there's a lot of gosh-we're-so-attracted-to-each-other in the text, the characters obviously fall in love with each other for their personalities and deeds, not because they're overpowered by lust.

Overall, I was right that I liked this book better than Unveiled, but not as much better as I expected. I'll give it an 8.5.

But I want to ask -- does anyone else regularly do the "re-read your favorite bits" thing right after finishing a romance, or is that just me? Or re-read the best bits with non-romance novels, for that matter?
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Subject:Three Reviews: The Golden Transcendence, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and Unveiled
Time:02:15 pm
The Golden Transcendence, by John C. Wright, is a solid, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that started with The Golden Age. I liked it better than the second book. The loving detail given to the setting remains the series' strongest point. tuftears described the series at one point as a 'space opera', a term which doesn't do justice to this remarkable vision of the future. I think of 'space opera' as a genre where the science is largely hand-waved, set dressing for stories that could be told anywhere. Whether or not Wright's hyper-advanced technology is possible, it's anything but hand-waved, and it doesn't have the feel of technobabble or pseudo-science. The series has various weaknesses, as mentioned in my review of the second book, but I'm glad I read it. It's a breathtaking glimpse at a future full of wonders, one so well-realized that it feels hauntingly possible. A very solid 8 on the how-much-I-liked-it scale.


Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch is the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamorra, a book I reviewed nearly two years ago. I was ambivalent about reading the sequel, and I will admit the deciding factor was Scott Lynch's delightful response to a critic (warning: link contains ample swearing). In particular, this sentiment:
Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. [...] Why shouldn't middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does.
For whatever reason, that response was rattling about the internet again a while back, and it kept this book in my mind. Also, Lynch has a wonderful piece in George R. R. Martin's Rogues anthology; I enjoyed his short story there so much that I was eager to read Red Seas by the time the library finally managed to get a copy into my hands. (The local library system has books 1 & 3 in this series, but not 2. Inexplicably. They had to go to Topeka to get it for me. I asked if I could buy them a copy and donate it, but they were all "nooooo we just sell donated books". Sigh.)

I liked Red Seas better than Lies in many ways. It's better-constructed: it has something of the same "tear down the protagonists and let them claw their way back up" arc, but both tear-down and claw-back felt convincing this time. There were still points where the characters planned things that struck me as unnecessarily complicated or heavily dependent on luck, but for the most part, reasonable. I found the first half of the book a bit of a slog: it really does perk up a lot when the pirate mom shows up. Not just because pirate mom. I'm pretty sure. I suspect I liked the second half better in part because the book stops alternating chapters between past and present, a technique I did not love in Lies and still don't love here. Also, the second half starts adding some more likeable characters to the mix, giving it the ensemble feel that I enjoyed in Lies and is missing from the first half, where it's basicaly two protagonists against the world.

I enjoyed the characters, and the depiction of the relationships between them. The relationships between Locke and Jean and the pirate mom captain and her first mate were especially fun to watch develop. Miss Not-Appearing-in-This-Book from Lies continues to Not Appear in Red Skies, but the mentions of her feel natural now instead of like a weird foreshadowing of an appearance that never happens, so it worked.

There are some factors that work against the story for me: I'm not a big fan of the rogue archetype, and these remain stories where you're rooting for thieves and conmen, if not murderers. The book is grim; I'd forgotten how much death there was among significant characters in Lies, and that continues here. And y'all know I love my stories light and upbeat. The author uses frequent profanity in the dialogue, which I'm meh about. So people who enjoy or at least do not object to these things will probably like this book more. Even so, I'll give it a 7.5 and plan to read the third.


Unveiled by Courtney Milan is a Victorian-era historical romance. haikujaguar reviewed and recommended the author and this series specifically, which is the only reason I gave it a chance. Because the back cover blurb sounded horrible. Romance as a genre is full of unlikely first meetings and improbable coincidences, but even for romance, Unveiled goes above and beyond on the ZOMG REALLY scale with its initial setup. The starting premise is that Ash, the male protagonist, has gotten the marriage of his distant elderly cousin, the Duke of Parford, invalidated on grounds of bigamy. This makes the Duke's children illegitimate, and allows Ash to inherit the duchy as the nearest legitimate male relation. (So far, still within the bounds of normal romance-novel contrivance.) Ash then uses some legal manuever to get the right to take up residence on the ailing duke's estate while the duke is still alive and lucid, albeit bedridden. The female protagonist, Margaret, is the old duke's now-bastard daughter. Her two brothers leave the estate to pursue legal remedy for their disinherited status. Margaret stays behind to (a) nurse her father, (b) make sure her father doesn't get murdered by Ash and (c) spy on Ash while pretending to be a nurse. The entire 100-person serving staff backs her ruse.

The whole "I'm just a nurse" ruse is ridiculous at the start, and only gets more ridiculous as the book goes on. (For one thing, if you have a hundred servants so loyal to you that they won't betray this absurd secret, surely you could have at least one or more of them doing a, b & c for you.) The ruse continues waaaaay too long, to the point of me throwing the book down at one point and declaiming, "The STUPID. It BURNS."

However, if you can get past the insanity of the initial premise, Unveiled makes a fine romance. The characters are loveable (though Ash takes some getting used to; he comes across as a total jerk at the start based on his thought process, but his actions speak better of him.) There are lots of sweet romantic scenes, many of which subvert some of the more annoying tropes of romance. Once the stupid "lying about her identity" contrivance is finally put to one side, the next contrivance to keep the protagonists apart is actually understandable and fuels character development. I was a little disappointed by the resolution of the legitimacy question, but eh. It worked.

In addition to the traditional erotic romance between Ash & Margaret, there's a kind of platonic romance between Ash and his two younger brothers, who are destined for books of their own. The relationships between brothers also have some contrivances to create additional angst. You don't see as much of them as I'd like, and I suspect the various issues in this platonic romance don't get resolved until the end of the last brother's book. But the relationships between brothers are one of the strengths of the book, and I liked how distinct they were as people. The next book is about Mark, who was my favorite character in this one, so I'm sure to read it. I will give this one a 7.5, and note that it would've been a 9 without the ridiculous, awful premise. I suspect readers not repulsed by the back cover blurb would be delighted by this book.
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Time:11:52 pm
Kali was meowing insistently in the doorway to the den. "Meow. Meow. MEOW!" She doesn't usually meow repeatedly unless I'm in the kitchen and she's waiting to be fed. I clucked at her and wiggled my fingers beside my loveseat, without turning away from my computer: sometimes she wants petting. But this time she kept meowing by the door. "MEOW!"

Finally, I started to turn around. "What IS your problem ... cat ... why is there a snake on the carpet?"

A little black snake with beige stripes was curled up in a heap in the middle of the doorway from den to hall. My cat looked at it. I looked at it. "Lut. There's a snake on the carpet."

From the bedroom: "What?"

"There's a snake in the hall."

"Is it alive?"

"I don't know," I said. Kali batted at the snake. It uncoiled, slithered around a little, and glared at her. It was perhaps a foot long. "Yes."

"What color is it?"

"Black with beige stripes." I turned to Google to identify the snake breed, although I highly doubt there are any dangerous snakes in my neighborhood. Then again, I also didn't expect my house to have any snakes at all. "How did a snake get into my house?" Kali is an indoor cat.

Lut came in, shooed Kali away from her trophy, and poked at the snake with a staff. "It's a garter snake. If you want to get a bag I can put it in."

"I'll just pick it up. I'm gonna get dressed first so I can put it outside." I was weirdly squeamish about touching the snake. This is weird because when I was a little girl in California, I often went snake-hunting with my siblings and friends. I liked playing with snakes: they were cute and fun to hold and touch, although they make really boring pets. But for some reason, the idea was squicking me now. I threw on a dress, suppressed my strange reluctance, and picked up the snake just behind the head, as I'd done with so many snakes before. The snake curled its tail around my opposite wrist, and my mind went instantly from "ick" to "awwwww". Snakes are adorable. ♥

The poor snake had a few claw marks on its body and tail. It didn't look too bad, but I don't know how well it'll do long term. I set it in the grass outside and wished it luck.

I gave my mighty hunting cat some cheese in reward for her catch. Even if I still have no idea how a snake got into my house, or moreover, why that seemed like a good idea to it.
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Subject:The Phoenix Exultant, by John C. Wright
Time:01:29 pm
This is the second book of a trilogy.  I read the first book, The Golden Age several years ago.  I was  sure I'd written about it at that time, but apparently not.

This series depicts some of the most plausibly alien and unique cultures I've ever seen, an achievement which is in no way lessened by the fact that all of the cultures originate from Earth. Set in the distant future, the setting is remarkably rich and deep. The characters are diverse, and by "diverse" I mean 'these characters are all technically human and/or machine intelligences but their physical incarnations, thought patterns, modes of speech, etc. are wildly different'. Instead of different species and races, the setting has different neuroforms: base, Warlock, Invariant, Cerebelline, Mass-mind, etc. People are not defined by what they look like, but how they think. People can change neuroforms if they really want (and sometimes do), to the extent of people who were "born" as AIs incarnating as humans, and vice versa. Different neuroforms can be so incomprehensible to each other that they require translators, not for different langauges but for alien modes of communication and thought patterns.

The place really feels DIFFERENT: it's not "take modern Americans and give them some new tech toys and tweak a few cultural values". Even the characters who are have based their customs on Victorian England don't feel Victorian: they feel like a far future culture ripping off the parts of Victorian society they happen to like, using it for veneer, and ditching the rest. Like cosplay or the SCA taken to the next level.

The universe has history: mankind has gone through wars, technological breakthroughs and upheavals, obtained immortality, and continued to progress throughout. There is neither a sense of stasis, where technology remains roughly the same for long periods, and it's neither a unidirectional upward climb nor a post-apocalyptic waste.

IIRC, in the first book, Wright wisely avoided talking about lapsed time between eras. This one makes the mistake of talking about many millenia having elapsed and the main character himself being three thousand years old (and unremarkably old for the setting). I found those time frames unnecessarily long, but that's a minor quibble in a story which does such a great job of describing a society so technologically advanced it feels like an alien culture.

The story is rife with jargon based on English words -- neuroforms, the mentality, partials, dolls, Sophotechs, etc. It can get overwhelming, but the jargon does not feel obscuring or superfluous. Rather, it's integral: leaving it out would be like trying to write about 2014 without mentioning the Internet, smartphones, webpages, blogs, etc. It's jargon, but it's also part of everyday life.

The setting is easily the strongest point of the series. The characters are weaker by contrast; there are occasional points where I was thinking about the author puppeting the characters through dialogue, instead of feeling immersed in the interaction. The plot is reasonably engaging and kept me thinking. The main character spends a lot of time fending off accusations that he is insane, and the reader is left really wondering if he is, in fact, crazy and maybe even an unreliable narrator. ("Why don't you think you're crazy? I am pretty sure I'd think I was crazy in your position.") It's well-done, and the resolution of this point is wonderful.

There are some weird artifacts of 20th century thought: the narrator inexplicably refers to adult women as "girls" and there are conversations about gender-based roles that are at odds with a far future world where a number of (minor) characters have nonstandard genders and where biological sex is obsolete if not meaningless.

Even so, overall I found it one of the most wholly-realized futures I've seen depicted in sf. I wouldn't say "this is how I expect the future to look", but it feels real in a way sf rarely does to me. Real in that there is so much that is unrecognizable, so little that can be taken for granted. It's got flaws, but for that alone I have to recommend the series. The individual book I'll rate at an 8.IIRC, I like The Golden Age better, but both are well worth reading.
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Subject:The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Time:01:44 pm
My library has a new section at the very front for "new and anticipated" titles, that you have to walk through to get to the reserves and the check-out area. This is how I found out that Pratchett is writing an sf series with Baxter. The series is on book 3 and no one told me. Apparently none of y'all are as devoted Pratchett fans as I thought.

The Long Earth is nothing like the Discworld books: it's arguably fantasy rather than sf, but it's definitely not humor. It's mostly about exploration and social/political/cultural change in the face of new technology. The premise is that mankind discovers how to travel to an apparently infinite series of parallel Earths by "stepping", one Earth at a time to the next Earth over. There are two directions of travel, arbitarily labelled "east" and "west". All of the parallel Earths (at least at first) appear to be devoid of human or other civilization: they're untamed wildernesses.

A lot of the book is about how humanity reacts to this development, which gives the reader plenty of time to consider the authors' various assumptions about human behavior and desires. In my case, this was way too much time to think about it. I could suspend disbelief and accept the parallel Earths without difficulty, but I frequently found it hard to accept the authors' portrayal of its impact. Various details, large and small, would throw me out of the narrative, over and over again.

Some things I liked about the book: the nuns who raised one of the protagonists were quirky, entertaining, and believable, though seen almost entirely through the lens of the protagonist's memories rather than directly. There were rival interests at work in the book, but few villains.  The heroism displayed by some of the characters was understated and delightful for that.

But around page 200 or so, I was mostly bored by the book. I didn't feel engaged by the characters and the central mysteries didn't seem to be getting anywhere. I considered dropping it and reading something else. I forgot to bring it with me to read at lunch. Still, I persevered and it did get better towards the end, but I'm ambivalent about reading the sequel. The sequel is The Long War, and the general lack of war in the The Long Earth was one of the things I liked about it. Lut read both and wants to read The Long Mars, but he admits that if this had been the first Pratchett novel he'd read, it might've been the last.

I'm not disappointed that the book isn't humor: I didn't expect it to be, and I tend to like Pratchett books better when he's not trying so hard to be funny. I just didn't find this particular book that engaging. I might give the sequel a shot anyhow -- like I said, it got better towards the end -- but this one comes in at 6, and I'm planning to read something different next.
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Subject:More Adventures in Biking
Time:08:23 pm
Biking 10 miles: Good idea! I do this all the time.
Biking 10 miles when the heat index is over 100, along my usual mostly-flat, shady route: Mediocre idea. Not as fun as in nice weather, but fine.
Biking 10 miles when the heat index is over 100, along the highway*, which weaves up and down along its entire length and has zero shade: Bad idea.
Biking 10 miles when the heat index is over 100, along the highway, after having biked 19 miles already: Worse idea.
Biking 10 miles when the heat index is over 100, along the highway, after having biked 19 miles already, after packing my water under a bunch of other stuff so I can't get to it without unpacking: Worst Idea.

I refilled my water bottle before I left Panera, but made the mistake of putting my frozen mocha in the drink holder, while my water bottle (which is too large for the drink holder) got buried under all the other stuff jammed into my overcrowded basket for the ride home. Even so, I was fine until I hit the first and steepest hill, along a shade-deprived sidewalk.

My body [reaching the top of the hill]: WATER.
Me [takes a drink of no-longer-frozen-but-still-cool mocha]
Me: Oh, come on. It's ... mostly water. It's liquid! It's got to be at least ... sixty or seventy percent water.
Body: DIE IN A FIRE. Which the sun is conveniently arranging for you, by the way.
Me [bakes on the heat radiating up from the blacktop and down from the sun]: I'll stop and unpack the water when it's convenient. It's only like ... three more miles until we're off the highway. 20 minutes tops!
Body [a mile later, while going up a very long slope]: WATER NOW.
Me: Let's just get up this hill.
My body: NOW.
Me: It's not ... much ... farther.
Me: Okay, okay. [Pulls over at gas station/convenience store]. I'll just ... get the ... water out.
Body: A/C NOW.
Me: [tugs ineffectually at solidly-packed basket]
Body: Look, you can go inside NOW or take your chances with fainting on the sidewalk. Maybe the nice man in the medical transport van will take pity on you.
Me: [Goes inside. Does not lock bike. Does not take basket. Stands by door for 1.5 seconds before deciding sitting on the floor is fine. Convenience store clerk peers around stacks to stare at me.] I just need to [pants] sit for a minute or two out of the heat. [pants] I'll be fine.

After a few minutes, I went back out, dug out the water, made sure it was positioned so I could reach it while biking this time, and continued on. I did stop a mile later at a restaurant to sit in A/C for another couple of minutes. Biking in full sun on blacktop in 100+ heat is brutal. But once I made it off the highway and onto shaded side streets, I was fine.

If I do that again, though, I am going to dig out the soakable cloth wrap I got at an SCA event several years ago first. Yeesh.

Still, it was a pretty good ride for the first 19 miles. (It was 10-15 degrees cooler for the ride out along the highway, because the day hadn't reached peak temperature yet.)

* This is not an interstate -- the "highway" in question is a four-lane road with lots of traffic lights and a speed limit of 40 mph.
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Subject:Friday's Child, by Georgette Heyer
Time:03:47 pm
I finished Cotillion just before I went to visit alltoseek, so naturally I was raving to her about how much I liked it. She has long been a Heyer fan, so she bestowed Friday's Child upon me before I left.

This book is also part comedy, with lots of silly Regency-era scrapes and escapes from same. Friday's has a lot more romance to it than Cotillion, but I actually much preferred Cotillion.

This is largely because I found the male protagonist in Friday's difficult to take, mainly because his treatment of the female protagonist for parts of the book is, by modern standards, abusive. He's not a monster by Regency standards, but he's described on multiple occasions as doing things like boxing her ears and shaking her violently. It's the kind of minor violence that was common during the time period but it's squicky to read about it now. The emotional relationship is also rocky: much of the book's tension comes from the female protagonist making some social gaffe that she was understandably unaware of, and the male protagonist exploding at her until he realizes it's not actually her fault she wasn't taught all this as a young girl.

In fairness to the story, the male protagonist does eventually figure out that he's a jerk and has been treating her badly, and the resolution suggests he'll do better going forward. Still. At one point the female protagonist is being pursued by a very nice man who loves her quirky ways and doesn't want her to change. I found myself sorry that it wasn't feasible in the setting for her to ditch the male protagonist in favor of this guy, who really deserved her more.

The other thing that bugged me is there's a lot of terrible "romantic advice" in it, stuff about playing hard to get and suchlike that reminded me of books like The Game and The Rules. In fairness, the protagonists were usually repulsed by this advice and had to be tricked into it by their friends, but the way it ... kind of ... works and the semi-endorsement of such manipulative tactics was ick.

This aside, the book has many good points. The supporting cast was entertaining, well-meaning, and generally likeable. There's lots of funny bits. The protagonists get along well for a substantial chunk of the book, some times because they are both tripping merrily along the same foolhardy path, but it's still amusing to read. Some of the romantic parts are genuinely touching, especially one point where the male protagonist says he'll give up the female protagonist so she can be happy with her more-deserving suitor.

I'll give it a 7, and will read more Heyer later. For now, I'll take a break from Regency romance: it really is a crapsack world, and modern Regency novels keep reminding me of that. (Austen rarely does. I don't know why that is.)
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Subject:The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson
Time:09:14 pm
This is book one in a series, which the cover doesn't warn one about but which I kind of take for granted about Sanderson books by now. Like most Sanderson novels, it stands reasonably well on its own. It's YA gearpunk fantasy, set in an alternate Earth around the turn of the twentieth century. The magic system is based around chalk drawings, and the book is charmingly illustrated by Ben Sweeney with diagrams and other depictions of the magic. Worth reading in hardcover.

I didn't find the central mystery very engaging, and I figured it out by being genre-savvy rather than following the clues, which is eh. This is about my only complaint in the book. I enjoyed the relationships between the teenage main character and the adults around him, which were an excellent mix of "adults providing guidance" and "adults actually listening" with a dash of "adults being clueless" that was always understandable in context. In general, I loved that the teenager would (a) share his suspicions with sensible adults and (b) the adults would respond in a serious manner. The story is set at a school and you get the sense of faculty and student working together to help the student achieve his academic goals, and I found that enjoyable and authentic. The relationship between the main character and the other teenage protagonist was also well-handled, including some friction at the start not only to create interest but to establish the characters, and then allowing a believable friendship to develop out of it. The book has two climaxes; the later one feels almost like an afterthought and doesn't really involve the main plot, but is nonetheless brilliant.

The central mystery is a series of abductions/possible murders, but the tone is more light-hearted than that would suggest. If you've been avoiding the other Sanderson series that I've recommended because they sound too grim, this would be a good one to start with. The world as a whole seems like an interesting place to live and one that's pleasant for most of its inhabitants. I'll give the book a 9.
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Subject:The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore
Time:03:54 pm
The Serpent of Venice reads like self-insert Shakespeare fanfic. It's the sequel to an earlier book, Fool, which from the sounds of it was self-insert fanfic for "King Lear". I grabbed Serpent on a whim out of the "new release" racks at the library, and didn't realize it was a sequel, so I read it first. "Self-insert" is not strictly accurate: the "self" character is the Fool from "King Lear". In Moore's book, though, he's a first-person narrator and the action revolves around him, and that makes him feel less like a character belonging to the original than one whose purpose is to comment upon the original and defy its restrictions and conventions.

Serpent combines several works: Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" (only pertinent to the first of the book's five parts), Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" and "Othello", and a dash of The Travels of Marco Polo. As an original element, apparently somehow inspired by Polo, it adds in a raping sea monster because WHAT.

... The sea monster rapist came out of left field for me. I found it rather disturbing. In the afterword, the author says the he put the "sex"* bit in because "I just thought that would be funny". OH CHRISTOPHER MOORE NO. It may be that the author is of the opinion that since the rape victim was the male protagonist and it didn't involve penetration, it's not "rape-rape". The male protagonist doesn't seem to know how to feel about the experience himself.

The pastiche is about 1 part parody, 1 part comedy, 2 parts drama, and 1 part horror. Despite fourth-wall breaking references (there's a Chorus that the rest of the cast responds to whenever he shows up to comment), the plot makes sense in the context of the setting -- it's not Spaceballs-style goofiness. It's readable, engaging, and well-paced. Actual Shakespeare dialogue gets sprinkled into the narrative here and there, in all its lyric beauty; sometimes this works well, and sometimes itKs jarring in contrast to the banal qualities of the surrounding text.It's not as funny as it thinks it is, but works despite that. Moore's Othello captures the spirit of Shakespeare's in a charming way. Shylock gets to be a protagonist (of a sort) and that works naturally. Bassanio is the familiar well-intentioned handsome blockhead you expect him to be. There is a fair share of good stuff in here, much of it not directly pillaged from Shakespeare.

This said, there were some things that didn't work for me. The raping monster. It was not funny. That the reader was intended to find it funny made it cast a long shadow of WTF over the rest of the story for me.

The crudity. Granted that Shakespeare is frequently crude, especially with his clowns, and this is all about a clown, but even so, I found the constant torrent of obscenities and onslaught of rude jokes grating. This is not erotica: the author is coy about describing actual sex. But if you took out all the obscenities, sex jokes, talk about anatomy, and scatlogical references out, you'd probably cut about a third of the book and 80% of the humor. Honestly, it is a true testament to Moore's skill that he could pack SO MUCH crudeness into a book and have me like it ANYWAY. I still found the juvenile humor tedious, but I was able to overlook it and enjoy the book.

Oh, and the book runs on dead-woman fuel. I never used to notice how much fiction does. ("Need to motivate your male protagonist? Kill off his mother/wife/daughter!") But once it was pointed out to me, I realized it was everywhere and it's really tiresome. *sigh*

Anyway, I'll give it a 7 overall. I might give another Moore book a try sometime. They can't all be powered by rapist monsters and dead women, so they'll have that much going for them. I'm kinda worried the juvenile humor is a permanent fixture, alas.

* Also, if you want to alienate me, refering to clearly NOT CONSENSUAL sexual abuse as "sex" is a great start. In case you were wondering.
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Subject:Mouse and Dragon by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Time:09:47 pm
Mouse and Dragon is the sequel to another Liaden book, Scout's Progress, which is notable for being a romance that completely and frustratingly skipped the romantic denouement. Mouse opens with the romantic denouement that Scout's elided. Better late than never!

I enjoyed this book about as well overall as Conflict of Honors. It has some of the same faults as Conflict -- the characters feel a little flat, the male lead is SO GOOD at absolutely everything, and there's not a lot of tension for most of the story. But it has a bunch of good emotional bits, the main characters are likable, and I generally enjoyed reading their story. Also, I had been so annoyed by the lack of romantic denouement in Scout's that it felt great to finally read that part. So I'll give it a 7.
Spoilery stuff beyond the cutCollapse )
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Subject:If You Knew the Story
Time:12:45 pm
tuftears mentioned in this post on fanfic the "'self-insert' character who knows the whole story by heart and suddenly finds himself in the midst of the action."

I rarely write fanfic, and I've never written fanfic of this type. But when I'm reading certain kinds of stories, I find myself daydreaming this very often. Not with every story, or even every good story: it is most likely to happen with stories that are tense and compelling, and have one or more of the following: 1) horrible events that would be easily preventable with foreknowledge 2) likable characters that abuse each other because they don't know one another as well as the reader does 3) a lot of doomful foreshadowing. So, for instance, I daydreamed a lot of self-insert stuff when I was reading Sanderson's Words of Radiance, but none when I was reading Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Conflict of Honors. I suspect I'm more likely to do it with long novels and series than with short ones, because I'm spending more time immersed in the story's unresolved conflicts, but length is neither necessary nor sufficient.

Like Tufty, I don't think that plopping a knows-all character into the middle of an existing narrative makes for very good fiction. But I did find myself wondering how to write original fiction around the same basic premise. The "character who has read the book of your lives" is the kind of genre-savvy trope that tends to throw an audience out of the story by calling too much attention to the fact that this, too, is a story. Even so, there are examples of this kind of work in mass-distributed fiction:
  • Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, about a boy reading a book who eventually becomes part of the book (although IIRC he doesn't get to use his knowledge of the book's events as prophecy).

  • The Last Action Hero and The Purple Rose of Cairo both involved a 'real world' and a 'fictional' protagonist, where the 'real world' protagonist was familiar with the works in which the fictional one appeared. Neither one used familiarity with the specific story to affect the outcome, though in Action Hero the 'real world' protagonist used being genre-savvy to predict the outcome of various fictional events.
None of these are good examples of what I'd like to try. I think that a prophet protagonist would be the best substitute for the self-insert. Something like this:
  • Prophet has visions of other characters, from their PoV. Some of these are things that happened in the past. Some of them are about the near or far future.

  • Prophet uses the visions to figure out what needs to be done to prevent disasters in the future, acts to do so, and thus changes the outcome and renders some visions the prophet already had obsolete.

  • Prophet has new visions based on the new future. Repeat until resolution.
I could see having some fun with this, especially with "oops that makes things worse" actions on the part of the prophet. The work that it'd most be like is Edge of Tomorrow, although the idea would not have Edge's video-game-like rehearsed quality, since the prophet would only get to see things twice (once in vision, once in real-time).

I don't know if I'll do anything with this. I tend to write too long anyway, and writing up multiple timelines for the same story sounds like it would exacerbate this tendency even more. But part of me wants to do it, because I think it would be interesting to have one character that knows so much about the others, even though they don't know her. That's why I want visions of the past as well as the future: I like the idea of a protagonist who knows and loves the characters the way the reader does, because she knows them as well as we do.
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Subject:Occasional Table
Time:09:39 pm
I've seen the phrase "occasional table" twice today, and it was obvious what it meant from context -- an end table or a side table. But I don't remember seeing the phrase before. And my first thought on looking at it is "an object which is occasionally a table", and therefore sometimes something else. Like right now it's a table, but sometimes it's an ottoman, or a chessboard, or a chair, or perhaps a duvet. Transformer furniture!

I know that's not what it means, but in a better world, perhaps it would be.
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Subject:Conflict of Honors, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Time:02:42 pm
This is another of the Liaden Universe books.  Chronologically, it takes place before Agent of Change (which was published before it) and after Local Custom and Scout's Progress. Genre-wise, it's a blend of sf-action/adventure and romance.

This was a fun book for me in several respects:

* It's a rare instance of bisexuality being treated as a complete non-issue.  There's a same-sex relationship between two women, both of whom are also noted as being attracted to men.  The relationship gets exactly the same sort of comments a heterosexual couple would get.

* Similarly, there's no presumption of monogamy.  One protagonist has a friends-with-benefits relationship with one character, while a more traditional romantic relationship haltingly develops with a second. There's some mention of jealousy but there's no "this is crazy, you can't do that" reaction from anyone.

* The PoV is flexible.  Modern novels are generally either 1st person, or 3rd person limited. "3rd person limited" means there are a few different viewpoint characters, and each scene will be clearly told from one and only one of those viewpoint characters.  Conflict of Honors tends towards the latter, but the narrative sometimes shows the thoughts of multiple different characters within a single scene, instead of sticking to one-and-only-one viewpoint character at a time.  Writing books will tell you this is Bad and confusing to the readers.  Writing books are frankly full of crap.  I am not an idiot.  It is no more confusing to have see character A's thoughts in one paragraph and character B's in the second than it is to have two different characters talking in the same scene.  Go full omniscient, Lee & Miller!  Rock on.

* The antagonists are hopelessly outclassed by the protagonists for the majority of the book. I found this kind of relaxing. Every now and then there'd be serious tension and concern from actions of one of the antagonists, but mostly I could enjoy watching the protagonists do stuff without worrying that Certain Doom was about to befall them.  This is another one of those things that writing advice will tell you not to do, but whatever.

* The protagonists inadvertently run into trouble with the law on a few occasions. Generally, the law sorts this out in a reasonable fashion without undue prejudice. This was weirdly refreshing; it seems like the law in fiction (police procedurals aside) is usually either a deus ex machina that requires no explanation, or a force for evil.

There were some elements I didn't like:

* The male protagonist, Shan yos'Galen, is ridiculously too good at everything.  This was true of the male protagonist in Agent of Change as well, but here it's taken to whole new levels of "absurd prodigy". Shan is a captain of his own ship, a Master Trader, a pilot, a lord, Heir Apparent the most powerful clan on his homeworld, a strong empath, and probably some other stuff I forgot.  It's excessive.  Also, he works too hard. So does every other character in this book. The literary world needs more lazy protagonists who work 9-5 and chill in the evenings. (I keep thinking of terrycloth's Era here ♥.)

* Okay, the antagonists are really a little too hopelessly outclassed.  As said earlier, I found it refreshing that the protagonists had no cloud of Certain Doom hovering over them at all times. But I think the antagonist could've been given more of a chance to pose a real threat.

* The characters tend to the two-dimensional.  Most everyone is either friendly and well-liked or villainous and wicked. I was fond of the good guys, but they could've used some humanizing faults, and not just flaws-that-are-really-virtues, like taking too much responsibility or feeling guilty about things that weren't your fault.

The last is the novel's greatest weakness. I enjoyed the book but spent too much time dissecting its weaknesses. I'll give it a 7 overall. It is worth noting, however, that this did not deter me from snapping up Lee & Miller's Mouse and Dragon as soon as I learned of its existence last night.  More about that book when I finish it!
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Subject:Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
Time:08:22 pm
This is the second book of Sanderson's "The Stormlight Archive" decalogy. It's in the doorstopper epic fantasy genre, of the sort where humans are engaged in numerous petty wars while a nebulous evil force that they are in no way prepared for is about to wipe out most life on the planet. One gets the impression that the nebulous evil force has done this a lot, and/or that human life is not from around here, because most of the non-water animal species on the planet are crustacean or insect-like (in all sizes, from tiny to house-sized). Soil is almost nonexistent and plant life is also non-standard -- it's more animate than most Earth plant life, with things like grass that lives in holes in rock and withdraws when animals come near. This is a recurring theme with Sanderson -- I'm never sure if the characters should really be worried about the end of the world, because it looks like it's already happened.*

I liked this book better than the first one, The Way of Kings. Sanderson picked a different chew-toy for this novel, and while she gets more than her fair share of torture-as-character-development, I found it a lot easier to stomach than the overwhelming bleakness of Kings. It helps that Shallan only gets horribly abused in the flashbacks and her present-day condition is comparatively good. It is worth noting that, for instance, "shipwrecked with virtually no resources in a desolate wasteland prowled by slavers and predators" is, in fact, much better off than Kaladin was for 90% of The Way of Kings. I am just saying. There was a lot of suck in The Way of Kings.

I did not re-read Kings before this book, because NO. It's a thousand pages long and full of horrible things happening to good people and I don't need to experience that again. I might go back and re-read the climax of Kings, though, because that was epic.

I had a much better time with Words of Radiance, where the PoV characters were more in control of their destinies and able to take decisive and sometimes even constructive action. The story was compelling, the characters entertaining and likable, and the serious tone leavened with occasional humor. I may even re-read this book when book 3 comes out.

As with Kings, Radiance ends well. The climax was not quite as brilliantly executed as in Kings, and had a thing or two that didn't really seem consistent to me. But, while the world remains in grave peril, the climax does resolve a major story arc for the book and it feels like a solid, satisfying end point. This is important to me. If I read a thousand page book that ends on a cliffhanger when the sequel isn't coming out for a couple of years, odds are strongly against my bothering to pick up the sequel. (This is, in fact, what happened with "Song of Ice and Fire" for me -- I may read the series after it's finished, but the first three books were individually unsatisfying and I just don't want to put in the effort to figure out what's going on only to be left dangling again at the end of the latest ones.)

"The Stormlight Archive" strikes me as the sort of series that benefits from careful reading. There are tons of little details and minor recurring characters and hints about the larger picture. I am pretty sure I am missing almost all of these. I am okay with that. I had a good time reading the books but finding all the clues and putting them together feels too much like work to me. (It's possible that the thing that seemed inconsistent in the ending is actually reasonably well-established and I just missed some of the clues pointing to it, in fact.) Fortunately, the books work fine on a superficial level too.

I will give this one a 9, and look forward to the sequel. In 2016. This is going to take a while. Not that I blame him. I can't imagine wanting to write a series of this length myself.

* There's an exchange late in the book that sums this up well, and cracks me up every time I think of it. One of the characters, Wit, is mocking another:
"Perhaps a story for a child," Wit said. "I will tell you one, to get you in the mood. A bunny rabbit and a chick went frolicking in the grass together on a sunny day."
"A chick ... baby chicken?" Kaladin said. "And a what?"
"Ah, forgot mystelf for a moment," Wit said. "Sorry. Let me make it more appropriate for you. A piece of wet slime and a disgusting crab thing with seventeen legs slunk across the rocks together on an insufferably rainy day."
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Subject:Characters You Love to Hate
Time:10:26 am
ankewehner wrote on tumblr about not relating to the "love to hate" phenomenon, where a large part of the audience hates a character but enjoys seeing that character anyway.

I don't have the same "how could you feel this way?" reaction to it that Anke expresses, so I was pretty sure I must have felt this way about some villain at some point. But it took me a while to think of an actual example. Some counter-examples:

DC's the Joker: I don't love to hate the Joker. I just hate him and wish Batman (or anyone) would kill him. Lut was talking about watching the intro to one of the Batman video games, where Batman is escorting the Joker back to the asylum and the Joker is apologizing for not killing more people on his way out the last time and gloating about how many more he'll kill during the next escape. Me: "And the game doesn't let you kill the Joker here." Lut: "NO." Me: "See, this is why I wouldn't want to play it." Lut: "Y'know, if I were one of those armed guards standing around while the Joker was brought in AGAIN, I'd shoot him dead. And then I'd hand Batman my gun and say 'You can arrest me if you want to. But the only two people who are going to be sorry that bastard is dead are you and Harley Quinn. AND I'M NOT SO SURE ABOUT HARLEY.'" That would be AWESOME. Anyway, I know a lot of people like seeing the Joker vs Batman conflict play out again and again, but I am not one of them.

Marvel's Magneto: I don't love to hate Magneto either, but unlike the Joker, my response to Magneto is generally BE GOOD ALREADY DAMMIT. I like Erik and I want him to do good things and stop being so Machiavellian. I don't want him to be an unforgivable murderer. I sympathize with him, but I don't like watching him be a villain.

I can readily think of other characters that fall into one of those two camps: unsympathetic villains that I hate, and sympathetic ones that I want to see reformed. But coming up with a villain that I enjoy as-a-villain is much harder. The one I did produce is an actual classic:

Shakespeare's Iago: No, not Disney's snarky parrot, but the antagonist of "Othello". Iago is throughly villainous and almost completely unsympathetic, but he is very good at being a villain. It's been a long time since I read "Othello" and I've never seen it performed, but here's how I remember the play's structure: Iago comes on stage, gives a soliloquy listing his resentments and desires, and then explains how he's going to manipulate everyone in the next few scenes into doing what he wants them to. In the next few scenes, Iago uses a masterful combination of fabrications and apparent empathy and feigned good intentions to get everyone to do their part, most of them unwittingly, in his plan. Repeat until end of play. I cannot like him, or root for him, but there's a certain admiration for how well he executes his plot.

I am not sure that's the same emotion that most people associate with the phrase "villains you love to hate", but I think it's as close as I come. It's a hard category to get into, because it requires the character to be an unsympathetic, unapologetic villain, and yet have enough class/style/brilliance to make them entertaining despite that. And of course, it's subjective -- I'm sure there are people who feel that way about the Joker, or Moriarity, or Loki*, but I don't. So I'm curious -- what villains make the cut for you?

* Loki (in both the Norse myths and the recent films, oddly) is more in the want-to-see-reformed camp , although the end scene of Thor 2 was pretty awesome. Moriarity, I just hate.
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Subject:You Are Now Less Dumb, by David McRaney
Time:02:51 pm
This book was interesting and entertaining, and I am probably unreasonably disappointed by it.

Partly, this is because I was already familiar with a number of the behaviors that the author covered, and it sometimes had a "pointing out the obvious" quality. This was particularly evident when the author would spend a chapter laying out, say, the common belief fallacy (the tendency to think that if a lot of people believe something it is therefore true), and then giving advice like "so don't do that." And yes, being aware that you're inclined to ignore information that contradicts your beliefs and only remember what supports it is somewha helpful in remembering not to do it.  But only somewhat.

I was (unfairly) hoping for more: for a way to get my irrational urges to fight each other and thereby cancel out, maybe. Or brain-hacking techniques that would let me put my quirks to constructive use. There's some stuff on that angle in "The Misattribution of Arousal", which is that humans can't really tell why their bodies are reacting a certain way or even what they're feeling. (The demonstrating experiment suggested that men can't tell the difference between 'I am shaky and sweating because this bridge is very high, swaying, and terrifying' and 'I am shaky and sweating because this woman is sexy'). And so the brain-hacking technique is "do scary/difficult things together to strengthen relationships, because you'll attribute the satisfaction of success to the other person." Which is cool! But there wasn't as much of that as I was hoping for.

A couple of things that more reasonably bothered me:

1) The book had an overly reverent attitude towards scientific findings. It gave the feeling of "here's an experiment, and here's the conclusions the experimenters drew, and those conclusions are therefore indisputably factual." Absolutely, the scientific method is the best tool we have for finding out stuff. But especially in psych experiments, there are a LOT of variables, and even if a study supports the given conclusions, that doesn't actually mean those conclusions are True. There could be other factors at work that the scientists didn't think to control for, or a competing explanation that also fits the facts.
2) Often, things were presented as "humans are like X" and the example of a study that supported X would involve a bunch of college-age Americans. I kept wondering how much of this stuff was 'universal' and how much as particular to the culture of the scientists conducting the experiment. I mean, maybe these studies were repeated across all cultures/genders/ages/etc. and the book was just mentioning this particular study as an example because (narrative bias!) people pay more attention to stories than to disconnected facts. But I still wished the author had made a clearer distinction between "this is one 50-person study that supports a nifty hypothesis" and "this is a study that has been reproduced thousands of times across the globe with similar results".

So it had a very "popular science" feel to it. The author didn't footnote his sources in scholarly style, but there is a long list of the sources by chapter at the end, so it's by no means devoid of citation

Still, there was some good stuff that I hadn't heard before, or hadn't heard in this way. Like "enclothed cognition" (dressing the part actually makes the brain better at doing it) and "the overjustification effect" (the brain's tendency to attribute feelings to external reasons if any are available, and to only make up internal reasons if they aren't).

"Ego depletion" was one of the interesting ones, because it postulated that there's a finite supply of whatever it is that humans use to make decisions, apparently connected to willpower. This gets used up when you're trying to restrain impulses (like not eating cookies), or deal with rejection, or make decisions. Do a lot of one thing, and it's harder to do the others later. That test subjects would go with bad defaults -- listening to something boring for longer because they didn't have the mental energy left to press a button and stop it -- was particularly interesting to me. So it seemed not to be using up the ability to tolerate crap, so much as using up the ability to make changes.

But overall, I enjoyed reading it, and may pick up the author's previous work some time. It does make me more aware of patterns in my thinking, which is fun in its own way. I'll give it an 8.
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Subject:Editing Excuses
Time:08:52 am
Mon-Fri, 6:30AM: "Ugh, too tired to think."
Mon-Fri, 7AM: "Gotta leave for work soon, no point in starting now. I can edit on breaks at work."
Mon-Fri, 8AM-5PM: "I can't edit on my phone because I can only have one thing open at a time. Also, the phone versions of the apps don't have useful editing tools, like "find" and "spellcheck". I can edit at home. I'll answer PBEM emails instead."
Mon-Fri, 5PM-6:30PM: "I should exercise first. I can edit afterwards."
Mon-Fri, 6:30-7PM: "I need to shower and fix/eat dinner. I can edit afterwards."
Mon-Fri, 7PM-8PM : "I'll just relax for a bit and play FlightRising/read LJ/read Twitter/watch a video with Lut. I can edit afterwards."
Mon-Thurs, 8PM-8:30PM: "Alinsa and Terry will be home soon and I'll want to game with them. No point in starting now."
Mon-Thurs, 8:30PM-bedtime: "I'll game with Terry & Alinsa tonight. I can edit tomorrow morning."
Fri, 8PM-bedtime: "I have a whole weekend ahead of me! I want to relax tonight and watch a movie with Lut or play video games or whatever. I can edit tomorrow or Sunday."
Sat morning: "It's a beautiful day! I'll go for a nice long bike ride. I can edit on my phone at Panera halfway through."
Sat at Panera: "Oh wait, editing on my phone still sucks. I'll edit when I get home."
Sat evening: "I'll watch a movie with Lut first. I can edit afterwards."
Sat night: "Too tired to edit now."
Sun morning: "I can edit later today, I'll do laundry and some webbrowsing first."
Sun afternoon: "I'll answer these PBEM emails I neglected yesterday. I can edit afterwards."
Sun afternoon: "I should do yardwork before it gets dark. I can edit afterwards."
Sun evening: "I'll watch a movie with Lut first. I can edit afterwards."
Sun night: "It's so late there's no point in starting now. But I'll at least look at the scene I was working on ... "
Sun night: "This scene is terrible. Why am I even trying to add this? The book is too long anyway. I'm going to bed. I'll work on this next week."


I think my character sheet looks like this:

Writing: 4
Editing: -2
Rationalization: Eleventy-jillion
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Subject:More About "You Are Now Less Dumb"
Time:09:48 pm
I'm reading the chapter about the "backfire effect", which is about how people will reinforce their existing beliefs when presented with evidence that contradicts them. It includes this section on page 151:
Geoffrey Munro and Peter Ditto concocted a series of fake scientific studies in 1997. One set of studies said homosexuality was probably a mental illness. The other set suggested homosexuality was normal and natural. They then separated subjects into two groups. One group said they believed homosexuality was a mental illness, and the other did not. Each group then read the fake studies full of pretend facts and figures suggesting that their worldview was wrong. On either side of the issue, after reading studies that did not support their beliefs, most people didn't report an epiphany, a realization that they'd been wrong all those years. Instead, they said the issue was something science couldn't understand. When asked about other topics later on, such as spanking or astrology, these same people said they no longer trusted research to determine the truth.
Soooo ... let's be clear on this. These researchers lied to their subjects about the results of make-believe studies that never happened. The subjects did not believe the fake research, and said they trusted research in general less after hearing about the fake research.


This study pretty much exemplifies not only that people are not persuaded by research, but why they are not persuaded by it. BECAUSE IT COULD BE FAKE AND THEY WOULDN'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. I am not questioning that the backfire effect exists (not only does it fall in line with my own biases, but there are other studies exploring the effect that don't rely on lying about evidence in an effort to prove it). But I do think it's funny that this is used to prove how irrational human biases are, when it's a rare instance of those human biases leading to the correct conclusion: "don't believe these guys, they're either lying or wrong". XD
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Subject:Books! (Codex Born by Jim Hines)
Time:08:01 pm
It's a lovely day. A sprinkle of rain this morning, coupled with the threat of thunderstorms, tricked me out of riding my bike to work. I could get it out of the garage now and go, but no. I am taking a very rare weekday off from exercise instead, and sitting in my backyard on my old, old Comfort Trap. (It's a type of lounge chair.)

I am trying to get back into the habit of reading. I finally picked up a couple of books from the library: Codex Born by Jim Hines, and You Are Not So Dumb.

Codex Born is the sequel to Libriomancer. I did not love it so well as the first book in the series. The relationships are still handled well, but one of the other things I admired about Libriomancer was the way the climax played out, and this time the climax didn't feel as creative or interesting. It is worth noting here that this book is in the vein of ratcheting up the tension, risks, and consequences for the characters. This is a hugely popular trope for many people (enough so that plenty of writing advice columns will say you are a bad writer if you don't use it), and also one that I find increasingly less interesting. So people who find high stakes more engaging will enjoy it more than I did.

That said, I did still like it -- it's a solid 7 -- and it did many things well. The romantic relationships are drawn in a plausible, interesting, and intelligent way. The complexities among different factions are excellent: all the characters have their own motivations that compel them to work with or against others for different reasons. Worth reading, and I look forward to the sequel.

I just started You Are Not So Dumb, and it's interesting so far. It's a psychology book mostly about everyday self-delusion. I am hoping it has ways to use my own self-delusion to my advantage, because I think that would be a fun approach to the problem, instead of the usual "understand it so you can try to overcome it". We'll see. It is interesting to try to see where various self-delusions come up in my own life, because the author will use examples that don't apply to me. My status markers aren't clothing or cars. But I can see the same behavior writ small in my choices in Flight Rising, at times.

There's a section on how we invent after the fact reasons for why we did things, which then guide future behaviors. It reminds me of telling Kendra that I had enjoyed EverQuest because why else would I have played it for years. She commented at the time that this was unusual: that most people would look back on it as a waste of time that they never really liked. Now it strikes me that perhaps I played it for other reasons -- habit or an artificial sense of progress -- but am retroactively saying it was fun to justify my actions. But then wouldn't everyone say that? Huh.

Anyway, I will write more about it when I finish.

In the meantime, I need more books to put on hold at the library and justify the return trip. I still have some from the last time I asked, but I want fresh recommendations anyway. I'd love some 2014 sf&f recommendations -- I might go to Worldcon next year (since it's in Spokane) and it'd be cool to participate in Hugo nominations.
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Subject:Buffy Dream
Time:07:41 am
My brain tried to make me dream about Buffy the Vampire Slayer this morning, which is particularly funny because I've only seen a couple of early episodes and the original movie. So the dream resorted to having a flashback to the movie inside the TV show (I don't think the movie is even canonical to the TV show).

The flashback was of movie-Buffy being strangled/stabbed by hands reaching through her bedroom wall (without breaking the wall; the body was apparently desolid). Then her movie sidekick (did she have a sidekick in the movie? I know my brain made all of this up) staked the vampire behind the hands.

Scene returned to the present, with TV-Buffy and whoever her friends are in her bedroom, and Buffy is saying "Of course I cleaned the blood off the wall afterwards". The wall was now covered in posters and papers from her childhood: teen star posters and childhood drawings and whatnot pinned or taped to the wall, the way kids do.

A disembodied, vaguely threatening voice said, "You know you want to see what's underneath." Buffy & co. started taking down the top layer of posters and papers, and underneath were letters Buffy didn't remember writing to a person she didn't remember knowing. They were still trying to get to the beginning of the sequence when the dream moved on.

The other bit I remember is the crew of teens moving a bunch of corpses, and one of the characters tried to start a musical number (apparently because my mind remembers there's a musical episode of Buffy even though I've never seen it.) The character was trying to talk about the obligations the dead people still had, and started singing, in Fluttershy's voice, o/~"When you have a duty ... "o/~

And the other characters answered with "They're dead," in flat, not-singing, not-going-along with this voices.

Fluttershy-girl: o/~"You still have a duty!"o/~

"No they don't! They're dead!"

It didn't really go off.

The funny thing is that after I woke up I kept trying to make the song scan in my head, with the counterpoint sung. Even though the point in the dream had been that the counterpoint wasn't sung.

I can still hear Fluttershy's voice singing that line, which makes me wonder if I got it from an MLP episode and just forgot. In which case someone will surely let me know. :)
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Subject:Most Fantasy Worlds Are Pretty Crappy, Actually
Time:11:11 am
I first saw this meme on Twitter via Geoge Takei, but here's the image:

And I had to stop and think: would I actually want to LIVE in any of these places?

Let's start with places I definitely don't want to go to:

* Westeros: are you INSANE? It'd be like moving to medieval England during the War of the Roses. No. Hell no. Why is this even on here?
* Camelot: Okay, now it's medieval England just BEFORE the War of Roses, which will ruin everything forever. Still hell no.
* Wonderland: I think mixing LSD and mescaline would be safer and less terrifying. Pass.
* Neverland: The fairies only liked little kids, and I am not one. So I probably wouldn't get to fly. This setting was at best rustic and primitive for adults, assuming the pirates don't get you. Pass.
* Middle Earth: Elves get to be immortal or nearly so, which is cool if you're an elf. But the general society is still rustic and primitive and I'm still going to be a human. I don't think women even get to be wizards in this world. Also, is this before or after Sauron trashes everything just prior to his defeat? Either way ... I think I have to pass.

That leaves:

* Narnia: It's been about thirty years since I read the Narnia books. The biggest plus here was the talking animals, and IIRC magic usage was not confined to a tiny number of people. I think I need a refresher course before I can decide if I'd want to live here or not. Do I get to go to perfected version of Narnia that exists after the last book or do I have to survive the war in it first? I am not sure I like my odds.
* Hogwarts: am I going to be a Muggle? Then pass. If I can learn magic -- is this before or after the final confrontation with Voldemort? If it's before, maybe I can warn Harry et al before various disasters hit. Well, Harry probably wouldn't listen. Dumbledore might, though. Anyway, this setting is slightly suckier than the real world if you can't use magic (because you will randomly get killed by Death Eaters and whatnot), and perhaps slightly better if you can, assuming you don't get tortured by Death Eaters or those happiness-devouring jailers or killed during a brutal wizard war that decimates the population. Umm.

I have the bad feeling that I'd be happier staying home. The modern world is surprisingly awesome. I think I'd probably take the Hogwarts option, though. I'd never forgive myself if I wimped out on seeing magic at ALL, just because it was dangerous and I might be horribly tortured or possessed or compelled to kill my friends or ... yeah. I don't think those were *normal* fates in the setting. Maybe. It was hard to tell. Anyway. I'd re-read both sets of books first and make sure I don't want to go for Narnia, and try Hogwarts if not. Wish me luck. I'd need it. O_O;;;
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Subject:Lazy Saturday
Time:02:14 pm
It's Saturday afternoon and I am at Panera, sipping a frozen mocha and eating a cheese danish. I had a leisurely 16-mile ride out, and will probably do another 10 miles getting home.

I think it's pretty funny that I consider 25 miles of biking to be a lazy day. I was going to do more, maybe 30 or 35, but I forgot sunscreen. I stopped at a mall to get my glasses adjusted (yay, snug glasses!) and tried to buy sunscreen, but there did not seem to be any place in the mall that sold it. Anyway, an hour in the sun without sunscreen is usually fine for me, and I take a break halfway through, so I should be okay. But I didn't want to push it.

Also, a 2-3 mile section of the bike trail is still closed. The detour isn't bad -- it's a nice wide asphalt sidewalk -- but it runs alongside a major road and it isn't actually *nice* the way the trail is. I didn't really feel like going along it, so I just turned back.

Yesterday, I mowed the lawn. \o/ My reward for mowing the lawn yesterday was getting to bike 25 miles today instead of having to mow the lawn today. (Yes, I use this as incentive. Amazingly, it works.)

My reward for biking 25 miles today may be getting to do it again tomorrow. Alternatively, I may just stay home and rest tomorrow. And have an actual lazy day.

I am feeling good about May so far: I've done some work on RA each day, and done some other writing, and tracked it, just like I'm supposed to. I've been eating too much, but hey, I can't say I haven't been exercising.

I wrote most of A Rational Arrangement on my phone (this is normal for me), but editing it there is hit-or-miss. I really want multiple files up side-by-side while I'm editing, for various tasks (like comparing my notes on the setting history to what the book contains about it) and that doesn't work on tiny mobile screen. So I need to do editing when I get home.

Also on my to-do list for home:

* Spend some time grinding in the coliseum in Flight Rising before the water festival is over. (I have really neglected the water festival and this is the last day of it.)
* See about getting some more Windies involved in dominance efforts. (I'm going to do a giveaway tied to a survey, and the survey will let people sign up for a dominance pinglist. Everyone who participates in the survey will be entered in the giveaway, so you don't need to be added to the pinglist to be entered. But I'm thinking I may get people who otherwise wouldn't bother with the survey that way.)
* Snuggle with Lut.

For now, I'm gonna post this before I leave Panera, send an email or two, and maybe write a dragon bio. It's a good day.
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Subject:May! New month! New (old) goals!
Time:10:40 am
I lost the will to track things in the last week or two of March, and decided to take April off from tracking stuff.

I didn't get much done in March, and got about an equal amount of not-much done in April, at a guess. I have made some changes to A Rational Arrangement which may or may not have improved it. I don't really think I'm done fussing with it yet, though I think I may declare victory* on it in June whether I am done with it or not.

* "Declare victory" is an in-joke between telnar and me, and is used in the sense that the USA declares victory when it stops fighting in a war, regardless of how the war is going. "We've won! We can go home now. The South Vietnamese can take it from here."

My only real accomplishment for the last several weeks has been "did not let the new PBEM be stillborn". It has not been crazy-active, but it's had consistent participation from four players, so it's doing reasonably well.

And now it's May! And a new month!

I'm still not going to track diet and exercise precisely. My weight has remained the same for the last three months, so the rewards of tracking have not been perceptible. Still, I'll go back to "try to eat the same portions or less than when I was tracking". I've been exercising the same amount: exercise has become such an ingrained habit that I do it regularly whether I'm paying attention or not. I did pretty well at not overeating for most of April, but I did have too much food when there was free junkfood at work or when I ordered food from a restaurant, so I should get that back under control.

I am going to start working more regularly at editing A Rational Arrangement, and probably resort to tracking how much time I'm putting into it, because tracking anything else has not worked, in terms of 'convincing me I am getting anywhere'. I don't know if tracking time spent will help, but I haven't tried and failed with that yet. So why not?

May goals:

* Every day, note creative stuff that you did that day/day before. This primarily means "track work on RA", but include whatever else qualifies too.
* Do not track diet/exercise, but cut back on all that eating restaurant food and eating junk food because it's free at work.
* Keep the Elect PBEM going.

That sounds like plenty.
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Time:01:17 pm
Saturday: I went for a 20-mile bike ride. I waited too late in the day to start, and it was 80 degrees out. A nice ride anyway, but definitely warmer than optimal.
Sunday: Lut complained, "I'm sick of the heat and humidity already. I want winter back." Me: "Nooooo I like the heat! Maybe not the humidity so much."
Monday morning: It was snowing as I walked to work.

At least one of us got what they wanted. c.c
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Subject:PBEM Call for Players
Time:02:13 pm
This will be a PBEM RPG because my neuroses are rather incompatible with synchronous play. Apologies to those of you who don't like asynchronous play. :/

I've got two concepts I'd like to run, and I'll give more details about both of them under the cut-tag. Short version of each:

* Power Enslaved: The PCs are god-like beings held captive by NPCs, their powers largely controlled by their masters. The campaign will be about the PCs figuring out the details of their situation and what they decide to do about it.
* Three Forks: A World Tree game set in the lower branches, where a new prime colony-city is attempting to live more-or-less peacefully with its nonprime neighbors. The campaign will be about the PCs living and working in this area and generally trying to preserve this peace. PCs may be either primes or nonprimes.

Both games will run rules-light: I plan to avoid die rolls and combat situations. Gameplay will revolve around what the players decide to do within the constraints of the game (choosing to help faction A instead of B, for example). I want the game to be varied based on player choice and ingenuity rather than die rolls.

The Three Forks game will use World Tree rules when it's necessary to involve them. (Including beta rules created by the Blooms for playing various nonprime races). For the Powers Enslaved game, I'll write up a general character generation guideline by which you'll make up your character and have an idea what your PC can and cannot do. Close situations may be resolved by die rolls, but mostly you'll be able to describe what your character does and only need GM feedback to give information about the results or NPC reactions and so forth.

My experiences with PC vs PC conflict have been largely bad, so characters will be designed with the intent that the PCs will get along reasonably well and not have opposing goals.

If you're interested in playing, please leave a comment below or email me (my gmail account is LadyRowyn) with the following:

a) Which setting(s) you're willing to play in
b) Which setting you'd prefer (if you have a preference).

Setting Details!Collapse )
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Subject:The Week
Time:09:37 am
I seem to have convinced myself that editing A Rational Arrangement should be my top priority and I should finish it before I do anything else. The result of this is, naturally, that in addition to not editing RA, I'm not doing anything else. I give this my award for Least Effective Strategy. I don't know why I keep trying it.

Last week at the day job went better than usual. I have way too many long-term projects so I got my boss to prioritize them. It's a little frustrating to me that she prioritized the one that is the most complicated and takes the longest, which means that this stack of 2-4 hour projects are stuck behind the two-three week project which has to be done first. On the other hand, I am making progress on the multi-week project and may even finish it next week. Until then, everything else can keep getting in line behind it.*

* Every other multi-hour project, anyway. I get a lot of 15-30 minute requests that I'll just do because they're quick and not worth the extra effort of putting into the task list. And I have 10-20 hours a week of recurring tasks that need to get done, so there's only 20-30 hours for projects regardless.

Anyway, the multi-week project is kind of fun and kind of frustrating. Mostly it has involved a lot of digging around in one of our undocumented databases* looking for crap.

* We have two of these that were bought from third-party vendors. (I won't include the terrible in-house undocumented databases, of which we have too many, especially if you count the OMG WHY ARE YOU USING EXCEL AS A DATABASE PROGRAM NO OUTLOOK IS NOT AN IMPROVEMENT STAAAAHP). Our technology sucks and the documentation is worse. One of them has thousands of pages of completely worthless documentation. I mean, literally, they filled up thousands of pages without giving any useful information ever. I don't know how they did this. I don't know how it is even POSSIBLE to do this. You'd think now and again they'd slip up and give you a field name or how to do something or where it was located or SOME INFORMATION AT ALL. But no. The other one went the more straightforward route of never writing anything down.

Anyway, the fun part is when I can actually find something without having to ask where it is. I think I've only broken down and asked once so far. This included some particularly weird discoveries. For example, I was looking for a field which the UI calls "Current Liability", under the screen for parties with "Indirect Liability" on a loan. I found a table labeled "Indirect Liabilities" which had field descriptions corresponding to all the stuff on the screen. ALL OF IT. "Aha!" I thought. "This must be the table." I added it to my report. No data in any of the fields. "Huh. Maybe I did the joins wrong." I tried some different joins. Still nothing. I made a new query with nothing but the Indirect Liabilities table and queried it to see what data it had.

Nothing. The table contained no data whatsoever, on anything. WHY IS THIS EVEN IN HERE? It had three sibling tables (for reasons TOTALLY UNCLEAR to me, this database often has multiples of what look like the exact same tables -- same table description, same field descriptions, same field names, but the table name will be something like CUP019L instead of CUP019. Also, the naming convention is from 1982 so all of the names are utterly cryptic.) I looked at all the sibling tables. They were also all empty. WHAT WHY I DON'T EVEN. But I did finally find the right table, in the "loans" as opposed to "customer" section of the database, which is unintuitive for reasons too arcane to elaborate upon. WHATEVER I FOUND IT HAH.

The one good part about dealing with this antique is that finding the thing I need is very satisfying because it's so hard.

So I don't feel like I'm failing at work. I am still failing at my hobbies, though.
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Subject:And Talk about the Weather
Time:07:55 am
Last Monday: high of 73.
Monday night: Snow.
Today: high of 70.
Tonight: Snow.

This is not so much spring as 'the weather can't decide whether it's winter or summer.' "Let's just flip a coin every 12 hours, okay? Okay."
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Subject:Weekend stuff
Time:12:52 pm
This weekend, Lut and I watched "They Live", a 1988 sf/action* film. Lut uses a line from it now and again -- "I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum" -- which is what prompted me to put it on the Netflix queue. It is a decidedly 80s B-movie, though the socio-economic commentary would be right at home with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, the idea that the subliminal messages behind all media, signs, and advertising are "Marry and reproduce, obey authority, consume, stay asleep" is pretty reasonable when you think about it. (Granted, not ALL media. But culture is a meme, and that's how it reinforces itself.) That the film's solution to socio-economic imbalances is "shoot the evil bastards in the face" does add to the overall creepiness, though.

* As we started the film, I told Lut all I knew about it was "it's an 80s sf/horror film with aliens living disguised among humans on Earth". Lut: "It's not a horror film." Me: "Oh, I thought I'd heard it was. Hey, it's a John Carpenter film but not horror?" Lut: "It's not horror." Afterwards, as we're looking up one of the actors on IMDB: Me: "Hey, IMDB says it's a horror film too. I knew I'd heard that it was." Lut: "Well, IMDB is wrong." Me: "Yeah, they are. It's not horror."

We also watched a few episodes of season 7 Burn Notice: Grimdark Edition. It's not bad per se, but I miss the more light-hearted episodes of earlier seasons, where the protagonists often were clearly helping innocent people against bad guys. Now it's just a big quagmire of bad guys vs other bad guys and everything sucks. Season 6 was a lot like that too. Lut had "Sin City" on the queue and it arrived, but I'm going to let him watch it alone. We saw it in the theatre already, and I'm over quota on grimdark.

Annoyingly, I've gotten to the grimdark portion of Rational Arrangement in editing too. BAD TIMING. I need some cheery action/sf/fantasy to watch with Lut. Any recommendations? MLP doesn't count. (Lut doesn't like children's media).

I spent a couple of hours reverse-engineering an outline for RA. I wrote an outline when I started, but it diverges wildly from what I actually wrote. (Among other things, I was almost finished writing the outline before I decided I wanted to write a poly romance, so the third protagonist is shoehorned into the outline in a couple of places but largely absent. The character fits far more naturally into the book.) I've been tagging scenes with their relevance to plot, character, and setting. So far, virtually everything is character & setting, and maybe half of it is plot-critical. Some of the stuff that's tagged with "character" is significant in terms of show why the characters love one another and/or why the reader should care, so I don't actually think it's a good idea to cut everything that's not tagged for plot. It is enlightening in showing why the book's so long, though. I am not sure this enlightenment justifies the time it takes me to put it together. I think the reason I feel like I am failing at editing is that I spend a lot of time tweaking the story and doing stuff with it but it doesn't feel measurably different or improved to me. In my head, it's still the same "long romance that I like". Eventually I will get through my list and hopefully then I'll feel as if I accomplished something. Until then: slogging onwards.

I updated my activity log, reconstructing what I could from all the days I didn't track. Yikes. At least it's current now.

On Sunday, I went for a 10-mile bike ride because the weather was lovely. My legs are in fine shape for outdoors biking, since I've been using the exercise bike all winter. My sit bones, however, are not prepared. This was not noticeable on Sunday, but when I got back in the saddle to bike to work today: ow. It doesn't bother me any time except when I'm riding, at least. On the exercise & diet front: I have managed to average under 1500 calories per day for two weeks now. Yay! I have not, of course, lost any weight. -_- Surely that will change eventually.

I wrote one dragon bio -- I have slacked off on those and am trying to make editing progress instead. I don't know if the trade-off is working.

I have a little under two weeks before the Wind festival kicks off. I should post a round of donation-begging on the items-wanted board and see if we can get anything from the site at large.

In other news: Daylight Savings Time still sucks.

Everybody else have a good weekend?
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Subject:Flight Rising and Volunteering
Time:09:24 am
One of the things I did do in February was volunteer to run an event in Flight Rising.

"Volunteer" is perhaps the wrong word. It's more like "no one else is doing this so I guess I will" and then no one stopped me.

Organizing people in a game is a lot like that.

A few months earlier, one of the Flight Rising players had suggested a Battle Royale, where for one week, the userbase would actual handle dominance the way the game mechanics had been set up.


Perhaps more background is in order.

FR as a whole is less a game than a toy. You don't play to "win": you just play around, breeding your dragons and playing minigames and buying and selling stuff and whatever strikes your fancy. There is no overall victory condition, no game-mechanic-enforced goal, no score by which your lair is rated.

Some of the minigames within the site have scores, however, and there's one sort of "metagame" called "Dominance".

In game-mechanic terms, every player belongs to one of eleven Flights. Every week is a week-long Dominance Contest between all eleven Flights. The Flight that exalts the most dragons/high level* dragons in proportion to their active user base wins dominance for the next week. The dominant flight enjoys a few insignificant bonuses while dominant. Dominance is mainly for fun/bragging rights.

The main game-mechanic purpose to this is (a) give players another thing to keep them playing and (b) lower the population of dragons in player lairs. Dragons are immortal and lair space is finite, so exaltation -- having dragons leave their lairs and serve the gods -- is ultimately the only way to make sure there's still room in player lairs for breeding. Since this is a breeding game, that's kind of important.

As it turns out in practice, no flight is actually trying to get dominance every week. Any flight that did would always lose to flights that conserved their resources to go all out for a targeted week. Flights don't exactly "take turns", but many in my flight, for example, think it takes two-three months to prepare to take dominance. So the effect is that often a flight will take dominance uncontested. Every two-three weeks, you might see two flights competing. I think back in July there was a four-way struggle. I'm not sure I've seen a three-way.

To encourage other flights to help instead of competing, a flight trying for dominance will usually run a "dominance raffle", where other flights give dragons to the flight trying for dominance in return for the average value of the dragons plus tickets in a raffle.

The Battle Royale concept was simple:

* Nobody runs a dominance raffle to lure dragons to be donated to a flight other than their own.
* Every flight tries to get dominance for their own flight.

Back in November / early December, this idea was well-received. The most common date proposed was the second week of February. Then all talk of it died away.

In early January, I tracked down the original poster of the idea and said "is this on? Can you update the opening post if so?" The response I got was "Uh, I don't actually want to be in charge here, I was just throwing the idea out there."

... OK then.

I guess anyone else can throw the idea out there, too.

I put up a general poll to all flights of "are you going to do this?" and received responses indicating two flights were definitely going to, two flights were kind of "maybe", two flights were "What?" and the rest were "No."

My flight, Wind, was one of the "kinda maybe". All of the people who usually organized Wind's dominance efforts wanted to focus on getting dominance in an event six weeks after the Battle Royale. Some of the rank-and-file were keen on it, though.

And I wanted to do it. And I wanted it to be more than just me.

I decided I'd throw a bunch of money and gilded-chest prizes into an in-flight dominance incentive raffle on my own, and asked if anyone else wanted to help out. Deryni, who usually runs the in-flight raffles, didn't want to run this one but she donated enough treasure to nearly double my pot. Another player, Elfnextdoor, offered to run a separate traditional dragon-and-prizes raffle alongside mine, which was fine by me. I was giving out prizes of obvious and equal value because I didn't want to deal with the drawn-out process of asking people for prize preferences and figuring out who gets what package. If someone else wanted to deal with it, great! Go them!

Elfnextdoor also had the brilliant inspiration of offering ranks and titles to the winners. The ranks were based on the dragons you exalted during the Battle Royale. The titles were personalized: Elfnextdoor churned out dozens of individual nifty titles, one for each participant, plus embellishments and additional titles as individuals were promoted throughout the week.

That was, hands-down, the best part of the event. Everyone loved the ranks and adored their titles.

I built a google form for people to fill out on entering, which fed into a spreadsheet. I mostly-automated the process of calculating ranks and determining who had been promoted. Every night, Elfnextdoor would post a "daily briefing" with invented events from the battle and the names of actual participants and their exalted dragons. Those participants had been drawn at random to receive daily prizes. She'd also post all of that day's promotions, and their shiny new titles.

It was enormously fun, the best time I've ever had in a dominance contest. And this despite Wind being stuck firmly in fourth place -- last of all those making any effort -- for almost the entirety of the event.

The funny thing for me about this was that I had a great time almost entirely because Elfnextdoor was handing out titles and posting daily briefings -- far and away the highlight of the event for me.

But Elfnextdoor told me when she volunteered that she'd had no intention of stepping forward until I did. She'd wanted to do something, but she didn't want to do it alone, and didn't want to be seen as grabbing control. And my skills were, in some respects, very useful to her in making her part work: I'm the one who put together the spreadsheet so she could tell who'd been promoted, for example. It was a good partnership.

As I'd expected, it was a fair bit of work. I ended up putting far more time into the actual "exalting" piece than I'd anticipated, because I really wanted to make vice-admiral. (I wanted to make full admiral, actually, but that was Not Happening.) The funny part about that was I was the one who was handing out ranks and who'd determined what it took to get each one. I'd deliberately put three of them out of my reach. And then reached up to grab the lowest of those anyhow.

But beyond the work, it was far more fun than I had imagined it would be. Enough so that I volunteered for a different project, organizing one of the festival events Wind will be running at the end of March. So far, that's been some work and some fun. I fear it leading to drama (I asked for suggestions at one point and then was unenthusiastic about most of them and shot down one, which is pretty obnoxious on my part IMO.) But so far it's gone fine.

Someday I'd like to volunteer to help a real-world charity. But first I have to find one I can do without leaving my house, because I dislike driving. -_-
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Subject:February Goals: Failing at All the Things
Time:10:53 am
February was my month to Fail at All the Things. I'd have to double-check, but I don't think I accomplished any of the things I had on my list.


Okay, there were a few things on the list that were so easy I couldn't flub them.

* Keep tracking diet & exercise: I failed this, but honorable mention for only missing the three days I was at a con.
* Try to net 1500 calories or less per day: I did not succeed at the 1500 calories or less, but I did make an effort, so technically accomplished. I guess.
* Finish posting RA
* Talk to beta readers about RA: for a given value of "talked to".
* Put the list of RA tasks into a sensible order: I did this, and haven't looked at the list since.
* write some dragon bios for Flight Rising: I've been better about doing this throwaway item than anything that is actually a priority. Naturally.

And with this post, I also manage:
* Figure out March goals by the end of the first week of March

The rest of the list was pretty much a loss.

I have done some editing on RA, but not enough that I feel like I have made any real progress. Editing it still feels like a monumental and amorphous beast. I've eaten a few meals of the whale, but there's still a whole lot of whale left. Actually, the problem with the whale metaphor is that I am at the "fiddling" stage of the project, which means the whale is an arbitrary and fluctuating size. As with digital painting, it's less that I am going to "finish" editing than that at some point I have to surrender. "There, that's as good as I'm going to make it because I'm sick of looking at it." I am not yet at the point of surrender.

I noticed some scenes the book doesn't need: they're background for the setting but not plot-relevant and don't further the central character relationships. Part of me says "this manuscript is ginormous, so anything that isn't plot-relevant or essential to character development ought to be axed". And another part is just "screw standard length expectations. I think the scene is interesting and I want it to stay." I don't know which voice I should listen to. x.x It's easier to leave them in at this point (if I cut a scene then I have to write a new bridge between the remaining scenes) so I've left them.

Anyway, March goals.

* Keep trying to average a net of under 1500 calories per day. That's "try". You are not allowed to call this goal "failed" unless you stop trying, eg, give up on tracking and abandon exercising.
* Keep editing RA. You are not allowed to call this goal "failed" unless you actually stop editing, eg, don't even look at the manuscript for consecutive weeks.
* Track creative stuff again. On the spreadsheet. Whatever it is. Including all that stuff you didn't track in February, like dragon bios and LJ posts. Yes, I noticed that you quit paying attention to what you'd done. Why do you think you feel like you did nothing? Because you weren't counting any of it! Count it this month.

There, that's three things. Maybe they will feel more manageable than the longer list from February.
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Subject:Still Alive
Time:10:18 am
I am not really sure what I've been doing this month, other than "not the things on my to-do list".

I went to Conflation in St. Louis last weekend with Corwyn, and took of Friday and Monday so I wouldn't be as pressed for time as usual. It was a little stressful. I had to rent a car and deal with insurance, and did all the driving because Corwyn doesn't have insurance (or a car) and it gets pricier the more drivers you have to deal with insuring. Car rentals can be cheap but insurance never is. :/ 80% of my con wardrobe doesn't fit any more, so I didn't bring as many outfits with me as usual.

I still had someone commenting in the consuite on how often I change clothing. "Every time I see you you're wearing something new!"

A gentleman present who knew me a little better said, "Hah! This is nothing. Some years at Contra she changed every half-hour."

"Every half hour?" I scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. I've never changed that often. Every hour, tops."

Chaos Emporium, a little shop that stocks cheap costume and jewelry mostly imported from China, was vending there, and I bought a ton of stuff from them because I am unable to resist cheap gaudy things. Including one entire outfit, which made me happy because I had been sad about not having any new outfits to wear. They also had a bunch of tiny hats that were (a) cheap and (b) had hair-clip style attachments that actually worked. (The vast majority of pin-on tiny hats that I've seen do not stay on via pin very well, if at all.) So I bought three more tiny hats to add to my tiny-hat collection. I may have a problem.

I had a good time at Conflation: a couple of people even came up and danced with me at the Saturday-night dance, which doesn't happen that often. (I pretty much always dance if there is dancing going on, mostly by myself.) I spent three hours drawing during the figure-drawing session. I didn't feel like I had any deep conversations or connected with people in a profound way, but I got to see people I see rarely, like Mark and bradhicks, and met some new people whom I might remember by name and/or face next year. I made my Save vs Hiding in Hotel Room for most of the con. I will call it a win.

I am finding it increasingly hard to extract myself from my routine to do things like this. Even something as simple as going out to a party for an evening makes me anxious and stressed. I feel like I am acquiring an anxiety disorder and I don't know how to stop it.

I think next month, I'm going to simplify my goals list so my focus is less scattered and I don't feel like I am Failing At All the Things.
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Subject:February Goals
Time:10:40 am
I actually decided on my goals on Thursday, just didn't get around to posting it.

  • Keep tracking diet & exercise

  • Try to net (eg, food consumed minus calories burned in execise) 1500 calories or less per day, on average. That's only 50 calories less per day than I've averaged the last two weeks, so it doesn't seem ridiculously optimistic. I also convinced my fitness app to stop giving me insanely low target calories, so I'm hoping that will help psychologically. I generally do better with an easy target that I can beat than with a hard one that I constantly flub.

  • Read a book I haven't read recently (anything I read 20+ years ago is fair game).

  • Read a book published in 2013 or 2014.

I Are Not A Professional
  • Finish posting RA.

  • Talk to beta-readers about the manuscript.

  • Score at least 500 points on editing RA.

  • Try to stop being afraid of editing RA.

  • Put the list of tasks into a nice sensible order so I can just walk through the list doing them.

Creative Stuff
  • Writing dragon bios is fun. That is reason enough to do it. Keep up the good work!

  • Put the new dragon bios into an LJ post so I'll have it somewhere more permanent than the Flight Rising site.

  • Try to send a letter every day the post runs this month. Do not be deterred from this just because I missed three days already. It's okay.

  • Work on some fiction that isn't fanfic or RA if I feel like it.

  • Figure out March goals by the end of the first week of March

  • It is all okay.
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Subject:Month of Letters, 2014
Time:12:51 pm
So thos kind of snuck up on me, and I failed to do a letter for February 1. But I do want to do this again -- I still have lots of stamps! So if you'd like to get a piece of snail mail from me, leave a comment below! Comments screened so your address won't be published. Letters come with Zero Obligation and No Guilt: you can write back if you want to, but you don't have to and you're not allowed to feel guilty if you don't. :D

I'll also write back to anyone who writes me in February.

My letters may be full of odd sketches, little cartoons of myself, meaningless blather about my life, or in-character from one of my fictional creations. If you have a preference on what kind of letter you'd like, lemme know!
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Subject:Track All the Things, Part Something or Other
Time:11:27 pm
Miscellaneous notes and the recap of what I did in JanuaryCollapse )
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Subject:The Road
Time:08:56 pm
I've been waking up able to remember more of my dreams lately. I stopped recording dreams because for the most part I don't find the record of them interesting later, but there was one bit of a dream I had on Sunday night that I thought was neat.

In this dream I had a mobile Internet device similar to Google Glass, and an app for it called "The Road". The Road was a game where you scored points for visiting specific real-world locations. When you started it up, it'd show a heads-up display of how to get to the next location, MMO-style, by laying virtual white bars over the ground that formed a path for you to follow and telling you how far away it was. At the early levels, it gave you places near where you happened to be when you launched it. Eventually, it'd give you places farther away. The locations weren't arbitrary; there'd be something interesting to see or do when you got there, like a park or a museum. Gamification of tourism.

The whole concept seems so obvious now that I'm wondering if I actually heard of an app like this somewhere and forgot about it except for the subconscious impression.
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Time:10:41 am
I saw this film last Saturday, and like everyone else I know who saw it, I enjoyed. It was atypical of Disney Princess films in several key ways that I enjoyed, and typical in some other ways that I was meh about, and one thing that got on my nerves enough that I'm going to write about it.
Read more...Collapse )
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Subject:On Writing Female Characters
Time:01:15 pm
One of the people I follow on Twitter linked to this Tumblr post quoting Junot Diaz more or less saying that men can never write  convincing female characters.

This kind of thing seriously aggravates me. Let me begin by acknowledging that yes, I have found many female characters written by male authors to be unconvincing and/or stereotypical. And yes, I am less likely to find this the case with male characters written by female authors. I don't know if that's because women have a more accurate vision of men than vice versa (it is certainly true that the media affords a lot more exposure to the latter) or because I'm less likely to notice a bad portrayal of a male character.

But to call that possible trend deterministic -- ALL men write worse female characters than ALL women -- is such ridiculous hyperbole that it raises every hackle I possess. Will whoever is teaching people to speak and write 'with conviction by avoiding qualifiers and making sweeping generalizations' PLEASE STOP?

This kind of gender-based nonsense is pernicious, not the least because women do not become magically immune to sexism merely by being women. This is our culture: we are all soaking in it. We are all brainwashed by its assumptions. Women may have more incentive to resist and more inside knowledge on why it's wrong, but that doesn't mean that every woman is free of all gender stereotyping.

In fact, the linked article is perpetuating gender roles. "You are male so you can't write half the human race". I don't know what the point to doing this is. Does Diaz like gender roles and wants them to continue and be strengthened? Because that's the effect of making claims like Diaz's: make sure we can never escape gender roles. Your life and skills must always be defined by your gender. That the gender sterotypes Diaz offers are unfavorable to men and favorable to women does not make them any less of a role based on gender alone. Talking about how one gender does things better than the other is how we got INTO this mess.  It is not the way OUT.

I also have to wonder if Diaz thinks women are over-represented in fiction and we need more men in books? Because telling half the populations "your female characters do now and always will suck because you are male" is NOT the way to get them to include more female characters in their work. That is pretty much telling them "write people just like yourself and no one else because your gender makes you physically and mentally incapable of every understanding anyone else". This is not my idea of productive.

I want to say right here: if John Green, Brandon Sanderson, howardtayler, the_gneech, jimhines* can't write female characters, neither can I.  Being female did not endow me with mystical powers of writing convincing characters of either gender that mere males cannot possess. I'm really quite sure of this. If their female characters, many of which I've become quite enamored with, are all flat and underdeveloped, then every one of mine, male or female, is at least as bad or worse. If they don't know what they're doing, I don't even know how I'm supposed to tell when someone does.

* This is an "off the top of my head who can I think of" list, so it ended up as some of the male authors I follow on either LJ or Twitter. There are LOTS MORE.
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Subject:Qualities that Make a Romance
Time:02:07 pm
haikujaguar was pondering the question of what makes a story belong to the romance genre -- why does, for example, one vampire love story get shelved as romance and another shelved as urban fantasy? It's a topic of some interest to me, especially since I just finished writing a fantasy romance novel. So here's what I see as the key properties of a romance:

Does it have characters who fall in love with each other? Then it might be a romance, but is not necessarily. The "fall" is significant: romances are about the deepening of a relationship. If the characters start off happily in love and continue to be so without the relationship becoming more intense/fulfilling, it's not a romance. The characters can start off in love, or start off married, as long as there are still major obstacles to overcome in the relationship.
Is the majority of the book devoted to interaction between the romantic leads and/or the romantic leads' thoughts about each other? Again, not necessarily a romance, but might be. If, on the other hand, you have a romantic subplot between two characters who spend 60% of the story occupied with other characters, it's almost certainly not a romance. The Hunger Games, for example, has a romantic subplot but for most of the book Katniss isn't neither thinking about nor interacting with her love interests.
Is the main plot of the story about the relationship between the romantic leads, or is it about something else? The interaction between the leads of a romance does not have to be romantic in nature throughout the entire story: they can start off fighting each other, or as partners solving a mystery, or whathaveyou. But the focus does need to be on how the characters interact -- on their relationship and how it changes over the course of the story -- and not how they interact with other people/how they solve the mystery/how they prevent global war/etc. This is subtle but very important. You can have two different books about spies who are trying to stop a dangerous weapon from falling into enemy hands and who fall in love in the process, and one might be a romance and the other a thriller. It all depends on what the focus is on. If the romance is tacked onto a gripping narrative revolving around the whereabouts of a stolen deadly virus, then it's a thriller. If the stolen deadly virus is a MacGuffin that serves as an excuse to put the spies in close proximity to each other so they can fall in love, it's a romance.
Is it mostly about sex? A romance can be completely chaste or it can be riddled with sex scenes. However, if the book is mostly "the leads having lots of sex without much thought or development in their relationship", then it's probably erotica rather than romance. This is a gray area -- if it's 2/3rds or more sex, I'd say it's almost certainly erotica. If it's less than 1/3rd, it might be romance. If it's between 1/3rd and 2/3rds, it might not be satisfying to readers looking for erotica or romance.
Do the romantic leads spend a significant portion of the book reflecting on their feelings? This is neither necessary nor sufficient, but it's still a good indicator. If a book rarely shows either of the romantic leads thinking about their feelings for one another, it's probably not going to be a very good romance even if it otherwise falls into the genre.
Does the setting/worldbuilding provide excuses to make the feelings of the romantic leads more intense? This, too, is neither necessary nor sufficient, but is an indicator. If the novel is about werewolves who soulbond for all eternity with their one true love, it might be a romance.
Does the narrative include in the denouement a scene where the romantic leads come together to joyfully discuss the resolution of the problems in their relationship? Another neither-necessary-nor-sufficient, but if the story doesn't have this kind of payoff -- the "awww" moment where they talk about their feelings for one another and the misunderstandings or whatever that have caused them problems up until now -- it's probably not a romance.
Does the story* end with the romantic leads in a happy, committed relationship with one another? If it doesn't, it doesn't belong in the romance genre. Readers may well describe it as "romantic" when a love story ends in tragedy, but this is not what romance readers are looking for, and they will lynch you if you market a tragedy to them as part of the romance genre. No, really, they will hate you forever. Just don't.
* In most cases "story" = "novel", but in theory you can have a romance-genre series with one love story that spans multiple novels. This used to be more common, but it's not nearly as popular with romance readers as having the love story wrap up in a single novel.

I think that covers my thoughts on it. Anything I missed?
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Time:03:18 pm
This is one of the pictures I did while koogrr was visiting. I gave it to him as a birthday present when I finished it. It's one of his ponysonas, Artemis, a male version of Luna from "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic"

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Subject:Track All the Things
Time:03:16 pm
I've been jotting down notes about my January goals while using the exercise bike. I will upload them here, because LJ is where I store all the random factoids about my life.
Factoids ahoy!Collapse )
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[icon] Rowyn
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