October Books Post: A Little Too Close To Home

And here we are again, showing October the door (at last). So, what did I read this month?

The first book I finished in October was Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. This book was a big enough deal five years ago to have gotten a review on NPR’s Fresh Air. It’s another book (like last month’s The Recipe Club) that is written entirely as letters; in this case, all of the letters are written by the same person – Jason Fitger, a professor of creative writing and literature in an English department at what I’m assuming is a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Professor Fitger appears to spend most of his time writing letters of recommendation – for students, for fellow faculty, for former colleagues, etc. Through these letters we get a picture of him, his department, and his university, over the course of a year. An academic year (August to August).

Fitger is a classic curmudgeon, whose letters contain lots of irrelevancies and, I thought, quite a lot of outright slander. We find that he’s unhappy with his career trajectory, that his department is shrinking due to loss of students (and, of course, with the students, resources), and that he doesn’t think much of the aforementioned students, with the notable exception of one clear favorite: Darren Browles, a graduate student who has written a reimagining of Bartleby set in a Nevada brothel. For much of the story, Fitger tries desperately to get Browles funding, or a place at a writing retreat, or a job – SOMETHING to keep the poor kid working on his novel, which Fitger thinks is a work of genius. However, as the novel goes on, it becomes obvious that Fitger actually thinks of Browles as a young version of himself.

Most of Fitger’s letters are more harmful than helpful – and this includes the ones he means to be laudatory. I found myself intensely disliking the character, and that’s hard for me, in a book. The story is meant to be funny, but I find the idea of writing letters that will (deliberately) destroy a student’s life to be incredibly distasteful – and, yes, I know I was supposed to feel that way. Still.

But the book was short, and I persevered.

Ultimately, I came to understand Jason Fitger, if not like him. In particular, the resolution of the Darren Browles story, combined with the deaths of at least one of Fitger’s old friends, gives it more weight and saved it from the “mediocre, meh” pile in the end. Recommended, though with reservations.

Next, I finished Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig. It’s a Star Wars tie-in, set in the months immediately following the destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. The characters are uniformly new, and the story was good. Nevertheless…I may just be “over” tie-in novels entirely. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one, because, honestly, I’d have to dig around a lot on the internet to remember enough of the plot to make it worth it. One thing that is worth the read, though: Mister Bones, the revamped B1 battle droid with the really creepy-cute personality. I’m ALMOST willing to read the rest of this trilogy just to get to interact more with Mister Bones.

Almost, but not quite. I’ll pick them up from the library if I have nothing else to read.

Finally, I read Vessel by Lisa Nichols. This one was a Sword and Laser Podcast pick a couple months ago. It’s a first-contact novel, and it’s not, well…novel. The idea of someone going to space and not coming back alone isn’t new. That said, I really enjoyed the story. It’s a fun mystery as well as a creepy space exploration adventure novel.

The story is about Catherine Wells, the sole survivor of the first expedition to land on a planet outside our solar system. A wormhole (Einstein-Rosen Bridge, ERB) has appeared (somewhere near Jupiter, maybe? she does say) and there’s an almost-habitable planet on the other end. Wells was one of the six crew of the first mission to explore the planet…and she’s the only one to come back alive. She returns to Earth alone, nine years after she left, with no memories of most of the time away. In that time, her daughter has grown up, her husband has grieved and moved on, and NASA has prepped a second mission to the ERB.

The story has two prongs: Wells’ relationships with her husband and daughter, and solving the mystery of what happened out there. Did Wells murder her crew? Was there a disaster? Is the crew of the new mission in danger?

Turns out (no surprise) that there was a disaster, and some murders, and that aliens are involved. Turns out further (spoilers) that Wells isn’t the first one to interact with the aliens.

So, I’m gonna say that there aren’t a lot of big surprises in this one. That said, it was still a fun, engaging story that I kept looking forward to picking back up. The most emotionally challenging parts for me were the bits about missing NINE YEARS of her daughter’s life. Oh…and the choice Wells makes at the end. Let’s just say, without spoilers: I was not on board.

Current Reads

Right now, I am reading what if: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Monroe. Monroe is the creator of xkcd, and the book is funny. Questions include: How dangerous is it, really, to be in a pool in a thunderstorm? What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element? and What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% of the speed of light?

I’m also reading Severance, by Ling Ma, and having a little trouble with it. It SHOULD be right up my alley: it’s a post-apocalypse story (world destroying infection), and the reviews I’ve read are good. But the fact remains: I started it October 8, and I have read 38 pages. Some of that was because I was on a plane and had finished the other two books I had with me. I’ve started AND finished a book (Vessel) in the interim.

The issue I think I’m having is that it doesn’t use the convention of quotation marks around dialogue. Dialogue is just…there, and you figure it out. It makes the story feel less real for me, somehow. I’m hoping that, once I get past the beginnings of the apocalypse, it’ll pick up and I’ll stop noticing.

Finally, I just started Children of Men, by P.D. James. You know, it’s a classic. I saw the movie on New Year’s Day 2007. I’m finally getting around to asking how similar the book is to the film. Twelve pages in I can already say: there are differences. Cool. I like the exercise of comparing the source material to a film I really enjoyed. Sometimes it works well (I enjoyed both versions of The Joy Luck Club. Also Crazy Rich Asians.). Sometimes it doesn’t (I really DISLIKED the novel Practical Magic, but dug the movie). I’ll let you know how it goes.

That’s it for now. See you guys in December. Unless I write that post about the dos and don’ts of applying to jobs at PUIs.

 

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September Books Post: Regression to the Mean

So, I finished three books this month, which is pretty close to my average over the past nine months. Without further ado, here’s the September summary:

September Reads

The first book I finished in September was The Recipe Club, by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkle. This book was sitting on my shelf for years, and I remember picking it up off the clearance shelf at Barnes and Noble. Just because it was cheap, and sounded mildly interesting. I like books about relationships between women.

The book turned out to be…mediocre. It may have been on the clearance rack for a reason. I didn’t hate it – but I didn’t love it all that much, either. It’s the story about the relationship between two women, spanning their early adolescence in 1963 through their reconnection in 2009. So…these women are a tiny bit younger than my mom, for my own reference. The story is told as a series of letters mailed over the years, and recipes exchanged between the two. It’s about two very different girls/women, their relationships (fraught) with their parents, and their relationship with each other (equally fraught). In the long run, I just didn’t connect with either girl/woman. They both seemed very self-absorbed, and I wasn’t sure I cared if they managed to reconnect (via email) in 2009. Because, frankly, I thought maybe they were better off without one another. It seemed like they only served to hurt one another and make one another’s lives more difficult.

So that’s all I have to say about that. It was fine. I finished it. But for a book presented in a fairly easy format (letters), it was a bit of a slog.

So, after that, I read The Power, by Naomi Alderman. I’m a bit ashamed I didn’t know about this novel before. It’s EXACTLY the sort of thing I read, and I had to find out about it because I walked into the Amazon Store while I was in Seattle on vacation this past August.

Now, if you’re thinking Naomi Alderman’s name sounds familiar, it MIGHT be because she’s a fairly well-known novelist whose recent novel The Power won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. OR you might be a runner who listens to Zombies, Run! while you run. Which is why I knew her name. Oh, dear.

The Power is a post-apocalyptic novel about the immediate (and distant) aftermath of the awakening of an electrical power in adolescent girls all over the planet. Suddenly, girls everywhere experience the emergence of this latent electric eel-like ability to shock people they touch. The power varies in strength and consistency, but nearly all young women have it – and they can awaken it in older women. So, within a few years, nearly every woman on the planet can deliver a painful-to-lethal electric shock to anyone who touches them.

Any woman who hasn’t read this is now thinking about how much she wants this power. Because, frankly, the ONE thing men have over us that results in women being second-class citizens in constant fear for our safety (do NOT come into my comments and try to argue this with me, or I will Kitten Setting you into oblivion) is the fact that men are physically bigger, stronger – more powerful. If a man is close enough to touch you, he has power over you, if he wants it. But what if we could negate that advantage, with power of our own? It would level the playing field. And we would USE it.

The Power posits, in fact, that we would do more than level the playing field. We would, in this story, tilt the field our way. Women would begin to take power in every area of life. We would be the strong ones, the ones to be feared. So the novel begins to explore how this would change human society. And…spoiler alert…Alderman doesn’t think women are inherently better people than men.

She seems, in fact, to be arguing (and I’m interpreting here – I haven’t gone looking for interviews to see if I’m right) that women are only gentler and kinder and more “prosocial” because we have not had the power. Because we live with more of the point of view of the marginalized and suppressed. So we have, perhaps, better-developed empathy. We need it to survive.

But what if we suddenly had the power? What if we could kill with a touch? What if we didn’t need to be able to read the feelings of others to survive? What  would we become?

Maybe we’d become…men.

Read the book. It’s really good.

Finally, I finished Talking as Fast as I Can, a memoir by Lauren Graham. It’s a collection of short essays about her life and has absolutely convinced me that she IS actually Lorelai Gilmore. The book is fun, and quippy, and if you like Gilmore Girls, you’ll probably like this. If Lorelai Gilmore irritates you, you really shouldn’t read this.

For Gilmore Girls fans, the two essays about the show (her watching the entirety of the show for the first time and then writing up her reactions to it, and her diaries of the filming of A Year in the Life) are worth the price of admission. It was a fun, light read. Solid entertainment.

Current and Future Reads

Right now, I am about midway through Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, which is ALSO a collection of letters – mostly letters of recommendation being written by a very bitter academic (a professor of Creative Writing and Literature). I’m vacillating between finding it hilarious and absolutely hating the “protagonist”. Stay tuned to see where I land.

I am also reading Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig. Aftermath is a Star Wars novel, the first of three written by Wendig, set after the end of Return of the Jedi. Wendig caught a lot of shit for having, you know, women and gay people in his Star War, which means I’ll probably love these books. I bought Aftermath in a fit of vengeful pique after Marvel fired Wendig over his tweets being “uncivil”. Anyone who knows me knows that I value civility to online dudebros and Nazis very little, so I went ahead and spent some money on Wendig’s books (one of which I reviewed earlier this year). It’s money well spent, and I will let you know if I enjoy this as much as I enjoyed Invasive.

Finally, I checked out a book from the library yesterday: Vessel, by Lisa A. Nichols. I know  only that it’s about an astronaut returning to Earth as the sole survivor of her mission – and with no memory of the disaster. Oh, and I also know it’s a psychological thriller and was a recent pick on the Sword and Laser podcast, which is where I heard of it. So it’s up, after I finish Aftermath.

Okey dokey. That’s it for now. Catch you at the beginning of November!

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August Books Post: Vacations are awesome

August Reads

In the month of August, we took a family vacation – a long road trip, from the Bay Area through Oregon and to Seattle, then back. We visited family, saw some of our old haunts (husband and I met in graduate school at the University of Washington at Seattle), and generally relaxed.

Oh, and there was camping. And a meteor shower. I enjoyed all of the camping except the part where you sleep on the ground in the VERY COLD Cascades.

Okay, so. Because of all the leisure time, I read a lot. I finished FOUR BOOKS in August. The first of these was The Killing Moon, by N.K. Jemisin. If you read all of my book posts, you’ll remember that I started the current project in January, having just torn through the Broken Earth trilogy. Subsequently, I heard LeVar Burton read “Playing Nice With God’s Bowling Ball”, which is an N.K. Jemisin short story, and decided I had to read everything she’s written. So my sister bought me The Killing Moon for a birthday present in May, and it finally got to the top of the stack.

The Killing Moon is a fantasy novel set in a sort-of-but-not-really-ancient-Egypt. It’s important to note that the planet isn’t Earth, given the number of moons, but the society is modeled after a few human societies. The primary focus of the novel is on a man called Ehiru, who is a Gatherer in the city of Gujaareh. Gatherers…well, they help people to die and help their souls to navigate through the dreamworld that comes after life. This “service” is mostly provided for men, as women, apparently, can manage this for themselves. Gatherers serve a goddess who takes tithes in the form of “dreamblood” collected by the Gatherers and shared with other practitioners, who can use it to, for example, heal illness or give emotional or spiritual relief.

Gatherers are assigned their tithes, and they don’t ask questions – so maybe you can see where this is going. Someone is sending Gatherers to kill people whose time has not come…for political purposes. Further, there is a rogue Gatherer (a “Reaper”) who destroys the souls of the people it “gathers”.

The book is full of political intrigue, and explores the effects that having the power of life and death (and the ecstasy that can come with gathering a soul) can have on a person. I think it’s an excellent novel…and still it left me a bit cold. I think it’s just not my thing. Despite the unique magic system and the fact that it ISN’T a Tolkien retread, I think it was just too much a “typical” fantasy novel for me. I’m not sure I plan to read the next two novels in the series.

Next, I read California Girls by Susan Mallery. It’s (another) story focusing mostly on the relationships between sisters, with a romance or two thrown in. This one is the story of three sisters who are all dumped the same day – one has her husband walk out on her after over a decade of marriage (he’s cheating with some woman half his age, of course). Another has her wedding cancelled six weeks out by her fiancé’s brother. Finally, the third sister is “dumped” by a guy she really wasn’t all that into, anyway. Or was she?

At any rate, despite the jumping-off point, the novel isn’t really about the relationships between the women and the men. It’s about the relationships between these women and one another, their friends, and themselves. It’s about figuring out what the end of a relationship – even one you didn’t think you cared about – says about you. I really enjoyed it, as with most of Mallery’s work.

Next, I read Alien: Echo, a YA novella set in the Alien universe, written by the only horror writer I routinely read, Mira Grant (whose real name is Seanan McGuire). Grant also wrote the Newsflesh series, a set of novels, short stories, and novellas about a world where the zombie apocalypse happens, but…well, of COURSE everyone doesn’t die. The zombies aren’t going to beat the entire army/government. People learn to live with the zombie threat, just like they do with any other existential threat, and the government learns to exploit it for political gain. Just like they do with any other existential threat. The books are awesome. And gruesome. And you should read them. In addition, Grant wrote the Parasitology trilogy, which is also excellent reading.

Full disclosure: the xenomorph from Alien is the only movie monster I ever have nightmares about. It’s POSSIBLE I shouldn’t have been allowed to see Alien in the third grade. But it’s also a movie monster I keep going back to. I love stories set in this world. It’s definitely a universe early me imprinted on. So, Alien: Echo was tailor-made to make me scared and sad and excited.

It did not disappoint. As I told Seanan McGuire on Twitter, it broke my heart in the best way possible. It’s SLIGHTLY less gruesome than your usual Alien fare, I’m assuming because it’s meant for a YA audience. But the usual dread you feel when you hear that the shuttle crashed after escaping from the orbiting derelict…or when you find the first cocoons…yeah, all that’s intact. Add to that characters that are three-dimensional, so you actually CARE if they get eaten by a monster (looking at you, Alien 3. I mean, nobody got attached to any of those characters.)

So, if you enjoy being scared to death, this novella is for you. (Also, all of her other stuff. Really. Although “The Day The Dead Came To Show and Tell” should MAYBE be taken carefully, especially if you have kids.

Finally, I read Head On by John Scalzi, also a birthday gift. Scalzi is also on my list of “anything he writes”, so it’s no surprise that I liked this one. Head On is a sequel to Lock In. Both novels are set in a future world where a large percentage of the population suffer the aftereffects of a disease called Haden’s Syndrome, which frequently results in the victim being “locked in” – they are conscious but completely unable to use their bodies – they can’t communicate in any way with the outside world.

In this world, the technology to allow Hadens (and anyone else with a specialized neural net implanted in their brains) to transfer their consciousness into a computer allows Hadens to occupy “Threeps” – robot bodies. They can also participate in a virtual world called the “Agora”.

This sequel focuses on a morbid professional sport played almost exclusively by Hadens –  Hilketa. Hilketa is sort of like football, except that the ultimate goal of each team is to tear the head off of one of the opposing team’s threeps and run/throw it through the goalposts. At the beginning of the story, a player dies in an exhibition game, and it turns out not to be an accident. Cue a murder mystery featuring the Haden FBI agent, Chris Shane, who was the main character of Lock In.

This is a fun romp, as is the usual way with Scalzi’s novels. In addition, it’s an interesting novel about disability politics, and, finally, has some things to say about gender – it’s interesting to note, for example, that Chris’s gender is never specified. Or, at least…I don’t think it was. And, perusing the internet just now, I find that this was deliberate. Also, I find that there are two audiobooks – one read by Wil Wheaton, the other by Amber Benson…and that’s also deliberate (the novel is narrated in the first person).

Current Reads

I have already finished one book in September (The Recipe Club, by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel). I am also currently reading The Power, by Naomi Alderman. If that name is familiar, you probably listen to Zombies, Run! The Power is about a world where women (actually adolescent girls, mostly) suddenly develop the power to cause physical pain and harm, even death, at will. And what this would mean for the power structures of the world we live in.

Finally, I’ve just started Talking As Fast As I Can, by Lauren Graham. I’m a Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fan, and I hear this is a fun, fast read…and I liked Graham’s novel Someday, Someday, Maybe, so I’m reading this memoir.

And that’s August in the can. Talk to you again at the beginning of October…

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July Books Post: Just Two, This Month

Okay, so this is gonna be a short one – mostly because I talked about The Fated Sky in last month’s post, and that was the first book I finished in July.

In July I Read:

Apart from that, I only finished one other book – China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan. This is the first sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, and it’s the point at which I say – these are not romances. Not really. Or, well, they ARE…but they are also something in addition. I mean, Crazy Rich Asians was adapted into an outstanding romcom, but these novels are…we’ll they’re Jane Austen, only with crazy rich Asians.

China Rich Girlfriend picks up with Nick and Rachel on the verge of their wedding. Nick hasn’t spoken to his mother in the two years since the events of Crazy Rich Asians (see, in the novel, his mom doesn’t come around at the end). His family is, of course, sending him dire warnings that his grandmother will disinherit him if he marries Rachel, and he’s not really taking them all that seriously. As an aside, I am getting a little tired of Nick being clueless as to the realities of his family and their…tendencies.

Surprising literally no one, Eleanor is still scheming, but her schemes this time involve finding out the identity of Rachel’s biological father (spoilers: she does). Turns out Rachel also comes from money. Genetically, anyway. But, as one expects, there are complications. Biodad is a high muckity-muck in the Chinese government, and married to a woman who isn’t enthusiastic about the embarrassment brought on by the bastard first child. There’s a whole subplot involving a drinking, womanizing, carousing younger brother who, naturally, is just acting out because of the familial strictures brought on by being superrich and powerful. Yawn.

So, Rachel’s dad being China rich solves her problems with Nick’s family, but causes a bunch with her new family. It’s a whole big thing (and not a bad read), so I won’t lay it all out here.

This is ALSO the novel where Kwan decides to stop being at all cagey about Astrid’s husband (Michael) being an abusive asshole. Oh, right – did I mention that in the first novel (unlike the film), Astrid and Michael don’t split up? His affair wasn’t real, he just wanted her to think it was, so she’d leave him because he hates having married into condescending money. So her old flame Charlie made him rich via a shell company buying HIS company, and saved her marriage for her.

Except, yeah, turns out that Michael is an asshole on all levels, and once he has his “own” money, he turns into the worst emotionally abusive husband and father imaginable.

So, can I just interject here that I knew the dude who had his wife hiding her clothes and jewelry purchases and would stage an affair to get her to leave HIM would turn out to be an asshole? He already was one, it’s just that he was more of a stealth asshole.

Finally, there’s also a subplot involving Kitty Pong and Bernard Tai, which is…well, it’s weird. That’s all I’m saying.

I liked it. I plan to read the last one, to see how it all ends.

Current Reads:

I am two-thirds of the way through The Killing Moon, a fantasy novel by N.K. Jemison. It’s set in a sort-of-like-ancient-Egypt-but-not-really world, and has the usual collection of magic, rival nations, and cults of magic practitioners. But it’s also very unusual, with a magic system that’s unique in my experience of fantasy novels. I like it, but so far I don’t love it the way I did The Fifth Season and its sequels. It remains to be seen whether I’ll wind up liking it enough to pick up the rest of the series.

I am also reading California Girls by Susan Mallery. It’s another of Mallery’s exploration of the relationships between women, and, in this case, the women are all sisters. The book starts out with all three women being dumped at different stages of relationships (one at the three-date mark, one at the “cancelling the wedding” mark, and one by her husband of many years. That’s pretty much all I know, right now, because I’m less than 100 pages in.

Okey dokey, that’s it for now. Sorry there isn’t more, but next month there’ll be at least these two (and hopefully more – I’m on vacation for a week this month, with lots of car time for reading).

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Yesterday: My First Movie Review

Hey, all – a mid-month post, because I had a topic bouncing around in my head and wanted to put them in a place that accommodates longer-than-a-tweet format.

So, this is your (first) warning: spoilers below. Possibly huge spoilers. If you are a mega-Beatles fan who is planning to see Yesterday, I strongly suggest that you come back later to read this one. No, really. There’s at least one scene, the most emotionally impactful of the entire film for me, that I am SO GLAD I didn’t see coming.

BEYOND HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

So. If you’re still here, I assume you’ve decided to take your chances. You were warned.

Yesterday is a new film starring British actor Himesh Patel. It is an alternate universe science fiction film merged with a standard “sudden fame and how it affects you” sort of romance. Patel plays Jack Malik, who is one of those struggling musicians everyone has known one of (my own dad fell into this category). He’s in his late 20s, trying to get his “big break”, and his music career is, frankly, not going anywhere. On the night he decides he’s done (after a music festival appearance where his only audience was about ten people, four of whom were friends), there’s a worldwide power outage, and Jack gets hit by a bus while cycling home.

Jack wakes up in the hospital, and within a few days discovers that he’s woken up to a world in which The Beatles never existed. (Nor, for that matter, has Oasis ever existed, a nice touch that was a little bit lost on my Beatles-appreciative-but-not-fanatical husband.) In fact, the world has changed in more than one fairly subtle way – it’s a running gag in the film to have some little thing just not exist in Jack’s new world.

So, fans of genre fiction are already caught up to where the movie wants us to be: something happened to the entire world or universe during that blackout, and somehow, Jack was “swapped” to another Earth, one that is ALMOST our Earth, so very close to it in parallel space, but just slightly different.

Jack is now in an interesting place: he is a struggling musician, and he is now the ONLY person in the world (as far as he knows) who remembers the music of the Beatles.

The film proceeds in a fairly predictable way at this point – but it’s a lot of fun to watch. Jack doesn’t remember ALL of the music of the Beatles, and watching him struggle to put a song back together is both hilarious and painful. Jack, dude, you so needed me to help with Eleanor Rigby. It’s the priest who is darning his socks, man.

Aside: can I just take a moment to say how hilarious it is that he remembers “Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out” but has trouble with “darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there”? I mean.

So, yeah. There’s Jack becoming a superstar off someone else’s work. (Though, it must be noted, that while Jack is a terrible songwriter, he has serious talent as a musician. If you think you could just sit down with a guitar and pull the music to…almost any Beatles song…back out of your head and perform it in a way that moves millions of people, you probably also think you could score a point off Serena Williams. Jack just needed a BAND, and someone else to write the songs. On that note, his punk arrangement of Help is pretty good, IMO.)

There’s a sweet little romance, as well, and there’s the inner turmoil of both giving up the love of your life for your career as a superstar, combined with the fact that you’re making your career off of the work of two men who never get any credit for it.

So, with that out of the way, here’s why I loved this movie:

  1. There’s just something satisfying about seeing a movie written by someone else who clearly thinks that The Beatles were the greatest songwriters in the history of rock and popular music. I mean, for me, there’s just no contest. Nobody else has ever written that many amazing songs. The Beatles do not have a SINGLE album that’s a clunker. Not one. Even Magical Mystery Tour has some really amazing music on it.
  2. You don’t have to be a Beatles megafan to enjoy this. My husband thought it was really good. Both of my kids (they’re nine and seven) sat through the ENTIRE thing, and we were listening to the soundtrack together on the way to camp this morning. They both thought it was great.
  3. Finally, this: it made me think about waking up in a world where The Beatles never existed. I mean…there are LOTS of things wrong with the world we live in. I sat there, thinking how much less joy there’d be in a world without The Beatles. I was all, “But you wouldn’t KNOW,” and that somehow made me feel MORE bereft. I get so much joy from these songs. I was born three years after The Beatles broke up, but they still “loom large in my legend.” (Bonus points if you know why that’s in quotes.) I wanted Jack to keep on recording every song he could remember – put those songs back into the world, please. PLEASE. Which brings me to:

EVEN WORSE SPOILERS BELOW. SERIOUSLY, THIS IS THE PART YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED FOR.

 

 

 

 

 

4. I got to thinking, this morning: would I trade John Lennon for that joy? If I knew he could live, but it would mean that those songs didn’t ever make it into the world, would I make that trade? I ugly cried for a full minute after he opened the door, after it turned out that Lennon GOT TO LIVE in this world. Which makes sense. He wouldn’t have been murdered if he hadn’t been a Beatle. So…would I trade John Lennon for The Beatles? If I got to be the one to flip the switch and choose the universe, would I kill John Lennon?

Yeah. Yeah, I would. Wow, does that make me feel weird. I mean, it’s a hypothetical. Maybe, when it came right down to it, I wouldn’t. But…in the hypothetical situation (and in a world where I’ve lived with the fact that John Lennon was murdered for almost 40 years now, and I’m only 46)? I’d still let him die so that The Beatles could live.

So, yeah. Good movie.

 

 

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June Books Post: Lady Astronauts, Y’all

Three books this month! Three! Summer is awesome. I even almost finished a FOURTH BOOK.

What I read this month

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal: This is the first novel of two (currently?) in the Lady Astronaut series. Spoilers ahead, because I don’t know how to do this without spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The Calculating Stars is an alternate-history story about an Earth where, in spring of 1952, a gigantic meteorite smashes into Chesapeake Bay, instantly wiping out the entire U.S. Government (and the rest of D.C.), followed by tsunamis and ejecta that wipe out virtually the entire Eastern seaboard.

But that’s not the worst of it. Because the Meteor hit water, resulting in so much water being evaporated into the atmosphere that it will likely result in a runaway greenhouse effect. Yup, this is a climate change novel, only it’s set in a pre-moon landing U.S., and instead of having until 2050, they’ve got until about 1980 before the planet becomes uninhabitable.

The Calculating Stars is also the story of Elma York – DR. Elma York, if you please – a mathematician and physicist, and the woman who, not long after the Meteor, is the first one to calculate the likely effects of the strike on the world’s climate (with the help of her meteorologist brother). The story also focuses on Elma’s role as a “computer” – a woman who works on the tedious calculations that made things like space travel possible, before mechanical computers were reliable. So, yes, shades of Hidden Figures, which parallels this novel in some ways.

Elma is also a pilot, who flew in World War II, and part of why she and her husband (who works for the space program in this world’s version of NASA) survived was her ability to pilot a plane under stressful conditions.

At any rate, the space program is kicked into high gear once the government accepts Dr. York’s calculations – the world is ending, so humanity needs to get OFF the world. The rest of the novel focuses on the development of a space program and plans for the moon – and who will get to go to the moon.

Elma becomes deeply invested in women being among the astronauts who go to the moon, and Kowal also examines racial prejudices – both those of society (and the space program) and Elma’s own inherent biases. It is worth noting here that Elma herself is Jewish, and the story follows very closely on World War II, so that dynamic is also part of the story.

So. I’m not going to spoil the rest of the story, but the NEXT summary will. A bit.

The Fated Sky, also by Mary Robinette Kowal: So, yeah, the second book. I am (according to my Kindle) 95% finished with it, but technically it’s not done. I don’t know how it ends.

The Fated Sky is about humanity’s first mission to Mars. It’s about 10 years later, and a lunar colony has been established, with a few hundred permanent residents. Climate change is getting worse on Earth, but (of course) the government is debating whether to keep funding the space program (because, you know, it might not be THAT bad, and even if it is, we need the money here at home to mitigate the effects). The first Mars mission sets out, with Dr. York aboard (there’s some drama about HOW she winds up on board, but, spoilers). 14 crew and three ships leave Earth, on a three-year roundtrip mission to Mars.

This story is REALLY well-written, especially once the ships leave lunar orbit. We only get Elma’s perspective on things – so all Earth news is what she gets to hear while en route to Mars. We feel the isolation, the not knowing how bad it is back home. Sometimes, the tension is unbearable.

Meanwhile, with regard to the ships, this novel had me stop at one point and ask my husband, “So, what proportion of the crew of the first mission to Mars would you be willing to lose and still not scrap the program?” Yeah. It’s like that. Because of course it would be like that.

The character development in this novel is excellent, too, especially with regards to a dude I LOATHED throughout the first novel, and who…I like, now. She gave him depth, made him understandable, and…yeah, I like him.

So, read these. Both of them. There’s a reason The Calculating Stars won a Nebula last year and is nominated for a Hugo this year. Oh, and the original novella (The Lady Astronaut of Mars) also won a Hugo in 2014.

This month I also finished Noir, by Christopher Moore. This was my THIRD attempt – I kept getting it at the library, then having to return it (too popular to renew). I finally finished it. Noir is set in post-World War II San Francisco (1947, right? That’s when the aliens didn’t crash at Roswell?) At any rate, there are aliens. Or, one alien and rumors of a few others. He sort of resembles a frog. A lot of time is spent in bars and restaurants and clubs in the Tenderloin. There’s a really nasty black mamba (sorry, Snake, I know you’re just being a snake), a really cool lesbian drag club, and, of course, the requisite femme fatale.

It’s really hard to describe a Christopher Moore novel to someone who hasn’t read one. But you should. I mean, you could start with this one. (I started with The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. It has zombies.)

Finally, I finished Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery. I talked about this one last month – it was harder for me than her other stuff has been. It still has a lot of great stuff about women’s relationships with one another, as do all of her books, but this one has a big old dollop of Afghanistan PTSD added in, which was really hard to work through. For a start, it made the main character unlikeable for most of the novel (to good end, ultimately). Then you feel bad about disliking someone who has PTSD, because you know she’s not really unpleasant…except do you? You never met her before…etc.

In the end, it was worth reading. But not a sunny summer beach read.

Current Reads

As noted above, I’m going to finish The Fated Sky like, today. And then I will be bereft of Lady Astronaut stories. Which makes me sad. It’s a mark of a good series when you’re sad it’s ending (and stretching that last 5% out until bedtime).

I am also midway through China Rich Girlfriend, the second book in the Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan. I am enjoying it, but I’ll hold back on extensive commentary until next month. Though there is one thing: I’m wondering how they’re planning to resolve the book vs. movie differences when they move on to the second movie.

Finally, I don’t usually do this, but I do have a couple of Future Reads to mention: I found out this week that John Scalzi has a Christmas book (A Very Scalzi Christmas) for preorder, so, yes to that. And I also found out that Seanan McGuire, in her Mira Grant persona, has just released a YA novel set in the Alien universe (Alien: Echo), which sounds awesome to me. I adore her science fictiony horror (the Feed universe, and the Parasitology books), and Alien is the only movie monster to ever enter my nightmares, so this seems right up my alley.

Okey dokey. See you in August!

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May Books Post: A Little Better

I managed to finish two books this month. Which isn’t great, but is better than the one I did last month.

I also did get all five graduate students graduated, and one of them already has a job. So I accomplished something worthy in lieu of books. And it’s SUMMER now, so more reading!

What I read this month

On May 4, I finished Surrender The Pink, by Carrie Fisher. This one was hard for me. I like Carrie Fisher’s writing a lot, so it was really fun from that point of view. But the protagonist…well, I didn’t like her. I’m not sure I was really SUPPOSED to like her – after all, she didn’t really like herself very much. But this character moved past “insecure and wishing her ex-husband hadn’t left her” to “crazy ex-wife”.

I mean…sure, many people have probably been the person who their ex cheats on his new girlfriend/spouse with. That’s understandable, though not particularly admirable. It makes me more annoyed with the person who has a new commitment, though (in this case, the ex-husband). They have a responsibility to their new relationship, so if it matters to them…they should stay the hell away from the temptation of the old one. The ex has no particular responsibility to the new partner, so…it’s potentially to be expected that they will yield to temptation.

However…when you decide to rent a summer home in the same town where you know your ex-husband and his new fiancée will be? And then break into their summer house to look around and wind up hiding in their closet all night when they come back unexpectedly? That’s just not normal. To say the least. This character’s neuroses made her hard for me to connect with, despite the beautiful writing.

So, really, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I started out enjoying it, but wound up unable to really keep my head in the story, because I wanted to be this woman’s best friend, so I could say to her, “What the everloving hell is wrong with you? Get a good therapist, and leave your ex alone!”

The other book I finished this month was Wicked Wonders, by Ellen Klages. This one is really good. It’s a collection of short stories, many centered around children, and most with a supernatural or science fiction-y bent. I particularly liked “The Education of a Witch”, which gives you the story of a preschool girl who comes to identify a bit TOO much with Maleficent.  I also loved “Mrs. Zeno’s Paradox” – what happens when you just keep dividing that last bite of dessert with your friend? Finally, there’s a Levar Burton Reads episode where he reads “Singing On A Star” – which is a combination “parents’ worst nightmare” and “magical closet” story. Highly recommended.

Current Reads

Right now, I’m nearly finished with The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. It just won the Nebula award for Best Novel, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s really good. More on that next month, with lots of spoilers. I’m also reading Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery, which is another of her “relationships between women” stories, though I’m finding this one less satisfying than the others. More on THAT next time, as well.

Catch you at the beginning of July…

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