It felt right (hey!)

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I know, it’s a very pretty bedspread. I’ll give your regards to my mother’s decorator.

And we’re back! I haven’t stopped writing completely, but life and stuff conspired to leave all those words in my drafts folder for the time being. I don’t feel great about that, since one of my biggest goals for starting this blog was keeping at the writing and the publishing of said writing. I have a tendency to start these things and get absolutely despondent when I fall off the pace, and can’t keep writing and posting regularly. Which leads to despondency, avoidance and all that good stuff. So I’m going to let myself off the hook, and be glad that I’m back at it.


 

It’s going to go right down to the wire, this whole “read all the finalists in the biggest Hugo categories in order to vote for the 2016 awards” thing. I knew all along it was going to, but it certainly wasn’t helped by the need (“need”, I should say) to get through all three of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary books in addition to the four other novel finalists. Ancillary Mercy is the one that’s nominated, but passing judgment without having read the preceding two would have been unfair, and I suspect, difficult. Also, the completist in me (who is, to be honest, most of me) simply wouldn’t allow it.

So I think I might be able to finish the novel, novella and novelette categories before the deadline on Sunday, but that might be as far as I get. We’ll see.

In many ways, this whole exercise is a bit stupid, but I’m still thoroughly grateful that I put myself through it. The four novel finalists I’ve read so far have all been varying shades of excellent, and given how much I’ve loved Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, I have a hard time believing Mercy will be a disappointment. Bar one, all of these authors have been new acquaintances, and I feel lucky to have made all of these new acquaintances. Excepting Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass, there’s a big chance I never would have read any of them, and even that one I harbored some serious prejudices towards (more of which in a later post, now that I’m writing again). I know there are people who would quibble with the inclusion of the third book in a trilogy, or a pure entertainment like Butcher’s, but to a newcomer like myself, it feels like this novel category, at least, has done the Hugo awards proud. It’s a lovely mix of fantasy and science fiction, hard and soft, entertainment and art, YA and, err… OA (?) — often all in the same book.

My motivation for reading all these finalists was to push myself out of my comfort zone, reading-wise, and also to contribute in a voting process I felt was politically significant (at least on a smaller scale). We’ll see how the vote turns out in the end, but the reading has been a rousing success, at least. Even if you’re too late to contribute to the voting, I encourage you to read these novel finalists. In fact, if you do, and don’t find any of them to your liking, I’ll buy you a book. Or a beer. Whichever you prefer.

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That’s no moon

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I have no idea if my clumsy attempt at scale indication comes across, so in case not, you’ll just have to trust me that it’s big. And because it’s relatively well bound, it’s heavy.

Reading Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is a strange experience, both physically and mentally.

 

When it turned out that Kindle’s conversion mechanism didn’t take kindly to the pdf file provided in the Hugo voter’s packet, I had to procure a paper copy from my local (and fortunately well-stocked) library.

Because I’m heading to my parents for the better part of a month after the weekend, I really don’t want to have to schlep a kilo’s worth of (literally) dead wood with me. So I decided to try and finish the thing, all 862 pages of it, before leaving. Had I known the crick I’d develop near my right shoulder blade for holding this cursed behemoth for hours on end would hurt this much, I would have just spent the 13 dollars on the dang ebook. Unless that crick turns into a chronic malady, I’m still sort of glad I didn’t, though.

See, the bulk of Seveneves is set in and around a fictionalised version of the International Space Station, and the endpapers of Harper Collins’ hardcover features some very helpful illustrations of said installation. I’m not saying I was going to be hopelessly lost without them, but given the considerable demands made on my imagination by Stephenson’s scientific explanations and scene setting, I’m grateful for any visual aids I can get. Yes, I know pictures of the ISS (or “Izzy”, as Seveneves‘ astronauts call it) are readily available online, but “fictionalised” in this case means “significantly different-looking from the real thing”. This might seem strange coming from a lifelong reader of comics, but I normally find illustrations in novels to be distracting, even useless (this goes double for front covers depicting the characters within). In this case, though, I would have given a non-zero sum of money for a few more like the ones on those endpapers.

Which brings us to the “mentally” part of my lede. My recent confessional about my troubled relationship with reading science fiction seems to have quieted some of those demons, but I still really have to set my mind to reading this thing. It’s another case where that pre-vacation deadline has had some unexpectedly positive side effects. The relative complexity of the aforementioned science-y bits, and my propensity for zoning out when confronted with difficult reading, has me spending well over my regular average speed of 50 pages an hour. I’ve settled at around 70 minutes for 50 pages, which means the whole thing will probably end up taking me in the neighbourhood of twenty hours.

Given how much I have to work both to understand much of it, and to stop my attention from drifting, deciding — and having the luxury — to finish Seveneves in a short span of time is ideal. Stephenson keeps piling concept upon concept, and having the previous concept fresh in mind when he does is a huge boon.


Even in the very trivial field of online book discussions, I realise ruminations about the experiential side of reading seems even more trivial than more text-oriented analysis. I do think we readers should make more space in our discussions for this kind of thing, though. To me, awareness of what we ourselves bring to the text, and of how environmental and situational conditions colour our experience, is a crucial part of the act of criticism, whether you’re an amateur or a professional. I’m not saying that such self-awareness should be front and center of everyone’s style. But if honesty of opinion is admirable, doesn’t it follow that being honest with ourselves and others about where that opinion comes from, should be as well?

Now nothin’s how it used to be

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Almost there… al.most.therrrre.

Still on The Fifth Season, so this is going to be another in progress kind of post. It’s really rolling for me now, though, so I’m probably going to finish it today. Man, how I wish I didn’t fall out of the habit of reading when I started secondary education. Up until puberty, I used to read a couple of books a week, sometimes more. Since then, though, my reading has been periodical and sporadic, which has resulted in a paltry reading speed of fifty pages an hour on average. Depending on how much I’m struggling with the prose, it might be more, or less.

Like I said, though, this particular book has finally started to roll for me. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having cracked a book’s prose style, world and characters, and the thing feels like it starts reading itself. Whoof, that particular high is one of the best reasons there is for seeking out a variety of genres and voices. There really is nothing like it in the world. Even if you’re not fluent enough to read for pleasure in languages other than your own, you can still find styles so foreign that they can provide something akin to that experience, and it’s pretty dang amazing.

Now, actively seeking out challenging material might seem completely contrary to the speed and ease of reading I started out lamenting here. In the long run, though, I think as catholic a book diet as possible might help immensely — if not with speed, than at the very least with the ease and enjoyment of the experience.

I keep returning to this idea, don’t I? It might be time to do some research; the sociology of literature and sociological criticism is a pretty big part of my current curriculum, after all. But let’s finish The Fifth Season first, yeah?


Writing music: the Gunn-Truscinski Trio’s reissued Ocean Parkway twofer.