Wednesday, February 28, 2007

BAD J reunion tour

That's right, AB and JD are together again, reunited for an abbreviated version of the Great American Road Trip. The GART had to be postponed indefinitely due to the unforseen and unfortunate intrusion of "Reality" and, "Practical Considerations." Thus went the way of many of BAD J's grand plans, though this in no way lessened the fun and general hilarity had while forming said plans.



A picked J up this morning at LAX and after a brief period of what might have looked to the uninitiated like accidentally heading the wrong way on Highway 1 (only we totally meant to, of course) turned around and headed back to Ventura County, where A is now residing. Stopping along the way in Redondo Beach to officially kick off the Bad J Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip 2007 [BADJPCHRT07] with an official kick off sign:



Another official sign:

Friday, February 23, 2007

His Majesty's Dragon- Naomi Novik

Recently I was introduced to the student of a friend who exclaimed upon introduction, "Oh, Morgan's told me about you! You read hundreds and thousands of [pause here for me to anticipate her saying something along the lines of 'worthy tomes' while trying my best to look humble, as if students at top colleges all over the country are constantly being awed by my *ahem* overwhelming smartitude... then imagine my dismay when she instead says:] science fiction and fantasy novels!!"

What?!

I do not! Hardly. Barely, practically not even, that..often. Doh!

It's not that I'm afraid to admit my inherent dorkiness. After all, I come by it honestly- my parents raised us on a diet of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and whenever the piercing beep of the smoke alarm in the kitchen sounded (don't tell my mother I let out that this happened on a fairly regular basis, it probably had less to do with her cooking skills than with the distraction of trying to make dinner with seven rowdy children runing around underfoot) they thought it was hilarious to dash from the room shouting, "Phaser on overload!! Run run!!" I think I was in high school before I realized that not all families had customs such as these. *sigh* So yes, I'm a geek and I'm not ashamed of it, but "hundreds and thousands?"

I'm such a bibliosnob. Am I afraid people will think less of me because I don't only read biographies of Winston Churchill and physics textbooks? Would it matter if they did? [Let's hope not because I've never opened a physics textbook in my life and I don't plan to start now.]

The truth is that when I look over my book journals many of the titles written there technically fit into this category, but when I hear "scifi/fantasy" I immediately and off-puttingly picture a mass market with a luridly drawn cover featuring a) a busty blonde heroine with a sword, b) a musclebound brooding hero with a sword, c) an evil magicians and/or dragon d) busty aliens with swords, or e) all of the above, and I cringe.

I am not a fan of Robert Jordan, can you tell? ;)

Most of the great stuff I've read I found in the children's section, but since the advent of Harry Potter the children's fantasy market is so flooded with crap that it's hardly worth plowing through. Publishers will take anything with the word magic in it no matter how poorly written or tired it is.

The adult section (hmm, that sounds wrong, like I'm frequenting "adult bookstores," ..non-children's section?) has always been like this as far as I can tell. There exists a level of cheesiness in these genres as a whole, that is hard to find anywhere else (no, romance doesn't count. It's composed entirely of- not even cheese- processed cheese food, like Velveeta). While there are a few treasured gems- Michael Marshall Smith's futuristic noir novels, for instance, or William Browning Spencer's Zod Wallop- and what I do like I tend to really, really like, I usually don't even bother browsing in this area of the library unless someone I trust recommends a book or author to me.

So I was cautiously optimistic when I came across a recommendation on a reader's blog I recently discovered [ http://melissasbookreviews.blogspot.com ] for a book called, "His Majesty's Dragon." It was described as "Patrick O'Brian, Jane Austen, and Anne Mcaffrey all rolled into one." I would differ only to say that Novik is a much, much better writer than Mcaffrey (see earlier comments re:cheese).

The book (the first in a series) is set in during the Napoleonic wars in a world exactly like the one O'Brian and Austen wrote about (or, you know, exactly like the one I assume O'Brian wrote about without having actually read any of his books, although I did see Peter Weir's "Master and Commander," which I'm pretty sure counts) with the small distinction that Novik's world includes dragons.

Novik does a wonderful job making this inclusion seem natural and believable. The dragon character, Temeraire, manages to be both dignified and appealingly childlike at the same time. His- at first, reluctant- handler, Captain Wm. Lawrence, is a bit of a stuffed shirt at first, but he's actually very decent under all of his British proprietry. Lawrence's relationship with both Temeraire and the Dragon Corps (the slightly scandalous but indispensable dragon branch of the military) challenge and change him for the better.

I'm almost finished with the second book, "Throne of Jade," and have enjoyed it as much as the first. The only drawback now being that the fourth book is still being written. To keep myself occupied, I'll be keeping an ear out for news about the Temeraire movie that Peter Jackson, who recently acquired the rights to the books, is hopefully going to produce and direct.

"Twilight" by Stephanie Meyer

My 15-year-old sister, Katie, has been bugging me to read this YA vampire novel and when she got another sister, Lib- the busy mother of a toddler- to read it in a matter of days I figured I should check it out. Lo and behold, I got stuck in the Detroit airport without a book(!) on the way home and there just happened to be a Borders on the way to my gate. Coincidence? I think not! Obviously I had to buy it and find out what's keeping all of Katie's friends from doing their schoolwork (Katie regards this with pride, winning converts to her cult of Slackerhood). I was not disappointed. Twilight is what I refer to as book candy, books that would rot your brain if you read nothing else, but are great fun when you want something light and enjoyable. I'd actually rate it fairly high on the book candy scale, maybe a Scarffen Berger chocolate bar, or a creme brulee type of book, rather than Pixie Stix or M&M's. Who, me? No I don't have a sweet tooth. It's just, you know, a convenient rating system, I'm pretty sure the Library of Congress uses it too..

Twilight is set in the small town of Forks, Washington. Apparently a real place, Meyer picked it because it's in the Olympic Peninsula, which is the rainiest place in the US, making it the perfect spot for a family of 'vampires with hearts of gold' to hang out, posing as high school students. The main character, Bella, is a teenaged girl who moves to Forks from Arizona to live with her father and catches the attention of Edward, one the the devastatingly handsome vampires. The vampire "family," the Cullens, have renounced their natural food source (humans) and are dedicated to living peacefully and fitting in, with only the odd trip to the widerness to drink deer blood, to keep them occupied. Ew.

Bella figures out Edward's secret and realizes that she doesn't care because she's falling in love with him. The only hitch is that Edward thinks she smells really good, no I mean REALLY good. Yup, you guessed it, Good enough to eat! And he has to be constantly on his guard to keep from attacking her (Meyer is a member of the LDS, a Mormon, so no steamy vampire sex scenes here, instead there's a not so subliminal substitution of death for adolescent sex. It elevates the book from the trashy vampire romance novel genre of which it would otherwise be a part and isn't actually too far off in many ways- teenaged boys being not unlike vampires at times :). Crazy hijinks ensue when a vampire tracker sets his sights on Bella and only Edward can save her.

My only real complaint about Twilight is the way Meyer keeps harping on how strikingly gorgeous the vampires, especially Edward are. It gets ridiculous after.. oh.. maybe the first 50 times? Possibly even earlier than that. Otherwise it was a very quick and enjoyable read. The romance is sweet, if a little overdramatic at times, and the plot is exciting and left me waiting eagerly for the next installment.

What my luggage really got up to in Motor City


After spending the night in Detroit a few weeks ago my recalcitrant luggage was returned, smelling of cheap perfume and seeming, if the truth be told, just a bit hung over. It had a whole story prepared about how it was the airline's fault it didn't come home with me. Uh-huh. I was skeptical, to say the least, so I was chagrined but not really shocked to find this incriminating photo in the front pocket of my naughty, naughty luggage:

The cutest nephews in the world

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Buttonwoods sunset 2004




I took a bunch of pictures with my dad's digital camera when I Iived in Buttonwoods and he finally sent me a disk of them, along with pics of various other family events (note that I've been bugging him for over two years to send me these photos). Thanks, Dad. :)

Maisie Dobbs

Jacqueline Winspear's unassuming heroine Maisie Dobbs stars as the detective/psychologist of these mysteries. I've read the first two: Maisie Dobbs, and Birds of a Feather, and have started the third, Pardonable Lies (with the fourth waiting in my current stack of unread library books) .

I'm only an intermittent mystery reader. I rarely think to pick one up but every now and then someone will recommend one, which I almost always really enjoy reading, and then I think to myself, "Why don't I read mysteries more often?" So I'm glad Sarah recommended these (thanks, S!)

So far I've really enjoyed getting to know Maisie. She's a former "tweenie" or in between maid -bottom rung as far as the household staff went in grand old English homes- whose progressive employer noticed her intelligence and took Maisie under her wing. Her employer sent her to college but when the Great War broke out Maisie went to France as a nurse, an experience that scarred her physically and emotionally but makes her uniquely qualified for her work. Maisie is an investigator but also a psychologist who specialize in bringing healing to broken relationships and refuses to see a case closed without some sort of emotional resolution for her clients and others involved.

The Great War is the dominant theme of these books. Winspear had a grandfather who was wounded in WWI and she's obviously fascinated by the effects that the "War to End All Wars" had on society and individuals. Along with the issues of place and belonging that Maisie struggles with in the changing postwar class system this makes for interesting reading. The historical aspect is as enjoyable as the mysteries, if not more.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Henry Coe State park

Seasons



Welcome to Northern California, the trees are blossoming and the temperatures been up to the 70s. it's spring here. But wait, it's only February, it's still winter! Hmm, Wring? Sprinter?

Growing up in New England, I always disdained the idea of living somewhere that didn't have 4 distinct seasons. While I do really miss blazing fall color and sledding with the kids on a snow day after a big storm, I've also found much to love in the subtlety of the seasons here.

Many of the CA natives I've talked to on this subject act apologetic and describe the lack of seasons as boring. True, it's not as exciting or dramatic as in other places, but if you're paying attention there's a lot to see, and it's happening all the time. Something is always budding or blooming, and when the leaves change color they do it so gradually that it lasts for months. The last trees have barely shed their leaves before some other varieties are starting to leaf out with spring growth.

New England seasons put on a dramatic show but tend to use up all of their aesthetic oomph in one intense but abrupt display. I think of them in capital letters: FALL!! SPRING!!! The seasons are like broad spashes of intensely colored paint. In contrast, California seasons are muted; drawn out and indistinct. They speak in a whisper rather than shouting. I'm happy to listen carefully.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Stuck in Detroit

I am in the Detroit airport; waiting, waiting, waiting for my flight. Not too bored though as I've got my mac (I'm sitting on the floor typing- in the Detroit airport there is a strict policy against putting power outlets anywhere near seating, there are plenty of outlets and plenty of seats, but never, ever within 20 feet of each other, probably to keep terrorists from checking their email too easily) and there's a reasonable variety of food available and a bookstore near my gate. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for the fact that the food is airport food, and the power outlet vs. comfy chair issue, I might just stay here.

I had such a very good time in Williamstown. It was so great to spend time with M and S. I already miss little S, or TCBitW. I did point out that she'd fit nicely in my backpack but neither of her parents seeemd enthusiastic about the idea.

It was very very cold the whole time I was there, I think the second day I was there might have been the only time it got above freezing. S and I didn't leave the house except to make necessary grocery runs and occassionally take a short walk over to the science building to visit M. It was great though, since being stuck in a houseful of books with a cat and a baby and our computers is pretty much our idea of paradise. To keep myself from making immediate plans for a cross-country move I had to keep reminding myself that this was not real life, and that if I moved there I'd have to actually get a job and leave the house on a regular basis (brrr).

Blast From the Past. Reposted from 2007

Recently I was introduced to the student of a friend who exclaimed upon introduction, "Oh, M's told me about you! You read hundreds and thousands of..." pause here for me to anticipate her saying something along the lines of 'weighty Shakespearean tomes' (even though I don't- at least not anywhere approaching those numbers) while trying my best to look humble, as if students at top colleges all over the country are constantly being awed by my *ahem* overwhelming smartitude... then imagine my dismay when she instead said, "...science fiction and fantasy novels!!"

What?! No!

I do not! Hardly. Barely, practically not even, that... often. Doh!

I don't know why I'm afraid to admit my inherent dorkiness. After all, I come by it honestly- my parents raised us on a diet of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and whenever the piercing beep of the smoke alarm in the kitchen sounded (don't tell my mother I let out that this happened on a fairly regular basis, it probably had less to do with her cooking skills than with the distraction of trying to make dinner with seven rowdy children runing around underfoot) they thought it was hilarious to dash from the room shouting, "Phaser on overload!! Run, run!!" I think I was in high school before I realized that not all families had customs such as these. *sigh*

The truth is that when I look over my book journals many of the titles written there technically fit into this category, but when I hear "scifi/fantasy" I immediately and off-puttingly picture a mass market paperback with a luridly drawn cover featuring a) a busty blonde heroine with a sword, b) a musclebound brooding hero with a sword, c) an evil magicians and/or dragon d) busty aliens with swords, or e) all of the above, and I cringe.

I am not a fan of Robert Jordan, can you tell? ;)

Most of the great stuff I've read I found in the children's section, but since the advent of Harry Potter the children's fantasy market is so flooded with crap that it's hardly worth plowing through. It appears that publishers will take anything with the word magic in it no matter how poorly written or tired it is.

The adult section (hmm, that sounds wrong, like I'm frequenting "adult bookstores," ..non-children's section?) has always been like this as far as I can tell. There exists a level of cheesiness in these genres as a whole, that is hard to find anywhere else (no, romance doesn't count. It's composed entirely of- not even cheese- processed cheese food, like Velveeta). While there are definitely gems- Tolkein, of course, Michael Marshall Smith's futuristic noir novels, or William Browning Spencer's Zod Wallop, and what I do like I tend to really, really like- I usually don't even bother browsing in this area of the library unless someone recommends a book or author to me.

So I was cautiously optimistic when my good friend Morgan recommended a book called, "His Majesty's Dragon." It was described as "Patrick O'Brian, Jane Austen, and Anne Mcaffrey all rolled into one." I would differ only to say that Novik is a much, much better writer than Mcaffrey (see earlier comments re: cheese).

The book (the first in a series) is set in during the Napoleonic wars in a world exactly like the one O'Brian and Austen wrote about (or, you know, exactly like the one I assume O'Brian wrote about without having actually read any of his books, although I did see Peter Weir's "Master and Commander," which I'm pretty sure counts) with the small distinction that Novik's world includes dragons.

Novik does a wonderful job making this inclusion seem natural and believable. The dragon character, Temeraire, manages to be both dignified and appealingly childlike at the same time. His- at first, reluctant- handler, Captain Wm. Lawrence, is a bit of a stuffed shirt at first, but he's actually very decent under all of his British proprietry. Lawrence's relationship with both Temeraire and the Dragon Corps (the slightly scandalous but indispensable dragon branch of the military) challenge and change him for the better.

I'm almost finished with the second book, "Throne of Jade," and have enjoyed it as much as the first. The only drawback now being that the fourth book is still being written. To keep myself occupied, I'll be keeping an ear out for news about the Temeraire movie that Peter Jackson, who recently acquired the rights to the books, is hopefully going to produce and direct.

[Update: as usual in a fantasy series, the first book was by far the best. They went downhill after that. I think I read three before I gave up. Why can't sci-fi/fantasy authors just write a great book and leave it at that? I suspect pressure from publishers plays a role. The movie doesn't seem to be going anywhere, mostly because instead of just wrapping up a story the author keeps leaving each book open ended and writing another. *sigh*]

Friday, February 9, 2007

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Willamstown


Written on 2/2/07

It's snowing in Williamstown. I spent the first 24 hours here complaining about how much I hate winter and being cold, and how I'll never be able to live in New England again. Then it started to snow and I went out walking around campus with my camera and I remembered what made winter here bearable for me; long, cold, and dark as it is.

Snow shrouds every surface and softens the harshest contours. If it's sticky snow, like this was, it coats even the thinnest branch in an outline of bright white. When the light from streetlamps hits the snow blanketing the ground it sparkles, as if there are tiny diamonds strewn across it. Walking around campus tonight I had this incredible sensation of peace, of all is well with the world-ness. When you're alone outside in a quiet area at night and snow is falling it's somewhat dreamlike. Everything is muffled and silent and it feels like you're the only person in the world.

On a more practical note though, it's better to have a waterproof camera. The plastic-bag-with-a-lens-hole-in-it I rigged up worked to a certain degree, but I had very little idea what I was shooting half of the time because the lcd screen was hard to see through the wet plastic and some of the pictures are a little crooked. It was..it was almost like having a camera that didn't show an instant readout of the picture you'd just taken. Oh, the inconvenience! "Hey kids, when I was little you had to wait until you finished the whole roll of film ["what's 'film,' Mommy?"] and developed it to see the pictures! And we had to walk to school through the snow, uphill both ways!!"


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