starlady: Peggy in her hat with her back turned under the SSR logo (agent carter)
After 21 months, I'm back in California full time, or as full time as I get: I have three trips planned in the next four months and am working on plans for May and the summer, so my globetrotting has merely scaled back, not ended. In the meantime, let's hang out.
starlady: (we're all mad here)
The difference between life in California and life in any other place of your choosing for [personal profile] wordweaverlynn

This is probably going to make me sound like a jerk.

I'm not from California and I never will be. I've lived there for four years, and now that I've left I realize that I would actually like to go back and stay even after I finish my PhD: the factors that drew me there for grad school are still in force, and also, California is in many ways a really easy place to live. I heard myself say out loud earlier this year that "if the rest of the country would adopt municipal composting, I could live anywhere" and that was when I realized there was no going back.

But seriously. I feel so much better about my wasteful capitalist existence being able to compost food waste and recycle #5 plastic (NB: I have no idea whether these things even hold true in the rest of the state. I was in the Inland Empire this summer and found myself thinking that plastic bags still being available in stores was a sign of backwardness). And you know, people complain about transit in the Bay Area--particularly the buses!--and I'm just like, clearly you never had to ride SEPTA or NJ Transit, people. You don't know how good you have it. Yes, even with goddamn Muni. And you can bike just about everywhere, and I do. It's really nice actually; I would bike all the time and never own a car for my whole life if I could. Or if I did have a car, I would only drive it for extraordinary trips. In the Bay Area they have car insurance that lowers your premiums the less you drive.

The food's pretty good too, and hot damn, is the produce cheap. Meat is stupidly expensive, but it's bad for you and the planet in excess anyway, so I mostly eat vegetarian at home and eat tasty meat in restaurants. The restaurants are so good. I went back to a restaurant I used to like a lot in Philly for my birthday this summer and realized that they were charging Bay Area prices for a quality level lower than the Bay Area and I was very sad.

The other thing is, the Bay Area is totally fucking ridiculous and I find it hilarious, when it's not enraging (or even when it's both). I don't even know if it's possible to convey what I mean--I think the easiest thing is to tell you to check out [ profile] bayareatng. If you find it hilarious and don't need the jokes explained to you, that's basically what I'm talking about. People who don't live in the Bay Area are liable to think that [ profile] SFist is like The Onion, but of course it's actually completely serious.

Now, part of what makes the Bay Area ridiculous is also what makes it pernicious. The real estate prices and gentrification are getting so out of hand I'll probably be living in goddamn Walnut Creek when I do come back, which is basically the suburban hell I swore I'd leave forever and which makes me very unhappy. Also, I have to say, most (white) Californians drive me up the wall. In my experience they are all convinced they are special snowflakes and soooo indirect, it's so annoying. There's a joke that goes "How do you say 'fuck you' in New York? 'Fuck you.' How do you say 'fuck you' in California? 'Thank you for sharing.'" Much as I am the least Minnesota person I know, I'm also really not California--also none of them know how to drive, or rather, no one obeys the goddamn courtesy of the road, forcing people who do know how to drive to behave like maniacs.

I couldn't stay forever by any means, if only because of the property prices, to say nothing of my deep-seated need to flee back to Minneapolis or the East Coast (not Jersey anymore, unless I lived in Hoboken; sigh) but I would like to stay for at least a few more years. The other thing is, it's beautiful, and all of us who live there are totally privileged to live there. Of course, who knows what it'll look like after the earthquake, but I suppose I should pretend to be Californian and pretend that's not going to happen ever, right?
starlady: (run)
I had a really excellent day today! I have the loan of a friend's car for a few weeks, so me and some other friends headed down to Monterey to go to the Aquarium but more generally to get the fuck out of Berkeley. We had a lovely time! My friend E injured her back a few weeks ago, so we had to break the trip in San Jose; after some misdirections, we wound up at Barefoot Coffee in Los Gatos, which is now the only place I've seen a cafe Cubano for sale outside a Cuban restaurant. Thanks, espresso map

Less than ten miles south of Los Gatos we hit a bump, literally, in the form of a piece of debris that flew across the highway and went right under the front driver side tire. We pulled off the road at a handy country club literally half a mile down the highway and discovered that the tire was in fact flat; luckily, my friend had a spare in the trunk and, secondary to the horrible not-trip to Austria in January, my dad renewed our AAA membership and sent me my card in the mail, so we only lost about 40 minutes to calling AAA and waiting for them to come change the tire, which they did for free. It was a beautiful day to be hanging out on the side of the driveway to a country club, let me tell you.

When we finally got to Monterey we were starving, but thanks to Yelp we had pre-identified an absolutely delicious vegan Mexican restaurant, and after stuffing our faces, we went down to the aquarium. It was indeed really cool, although the price was not cheap, even with a student discount. But! There were many fish and OTTERS and PENGUINS and PUFFINS, and it was generally really fun and awesome, and I was well-satisfied. Monterey is beautifully located, and the sand dunes and the ocean were beautiful.

On the way back we drove up the bay and through the Santa Cruz mountains, then hit Liang's Village Cuisine for dinner. OM NOM SO DELICIOUS AND SO REASONABLY PRICED. And then, because it is practically next door, we hit Fantasia Coffee, albeit after a lot of wandering around semi-lost in the shopping center where it's located. But my friend E found a store selling some of the Chinese snacks she likes (she does Song Dynasty-era Chinese history), so even the wandering around wasn't a loss.

After I dropped people off at their domiciles in Berkeley I took the car and went driving aimlessly up in the hills--I went down Marin Rd. in lowest gear because it's just that steep, I doubled back up Grizzly Peak a few times, and then I wound up on Wildcat Canyon Road, up through the houses in Tilden, up Grizzly Peak again and to the Laurence Hall of Science parking lot to look at the view for a while before heading back down through the Botanical Gardens down to the Rim Way and past the stadium before back down into Berkeley proper. It was a beautiful night, the moon at first quarter and low in the sky over the bay, fog lying lightly over the city.

I could get used to this. Have I mentioned that I've been doing really well? I'm ridiculously, ridiculously busy with orals, but my mindset flipped about a month ago and now everything seems doable and mostly interesting and I'm generally in a very good mood. I just wish I could give some of my own recent good fortune and good mood to some of my friends who aren't doing so well.

Tomorrow I get to see about getting the tire repaired at the Toyota dealership, and on Monday I have to do a lot of paperwork and actual work and hopefully figure out why I still haven't been paid for one of last semester's gigs, but still: it was a good day, and a great adventure.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
So recently the city closed off the old soccer fields that I run past basically every time I go running to redo the street next to it as well as the park, which is a city block in size. This resulted in the farmer's market that had run on the street in question on Tuesday afternoons decamping six blocks south in something of a huff, and meant that the soccer fields and the block were closed off for at least a good six months. (It's hard to remember when anything started because with the drought we've been having we functionally have no seasons here. At any point in the year, almost, it can be either sunny or cloudy and in the 60s F in the morning when I'm running. Nor does my running outfit change meaningfully.) 

I do remember that they finished the project sometime around June, and though the street has reopened to traffic, the fields, now divided into a shiny baseball field with distance markers on the fences and everything, and what looks to be a barely-regulation size soccer field, have not. They are fenced off with chainlink fencing, and though the sprinklers go on at random intervals (I ran through them yesterday and was very sad they were only at waist height, because it was hot) I have never seen anyone inside. The city appears to have spent a lot of money building an elaborate crow playground, as the flock of crows that live in the area are the only creatures enjoying the new facilities.

It might not be Night Vale, but sometimes Berkeley comes close.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
I had a really nice break with my sister in Portland, but when I came back I promptly started freaking out about how much work I have to do in the remainder of the semester.

# On Friday afternoon I got a letter from a collection company saying that I owe my health insurance company $1200 for the services they paid for me for my bike accident 18 months ago. This is the first I've heard of this, although I looked and there is a page in the policy handbook that says I'm obligated to get the money from the third party's insurance company and pay back my health insurance company first. I've been told that in California you have up to three years to claim medical expenses related to an accident. I also called my health insurance company today and spoke with a representative who said she couldn't see any information about this claim in my file. So I have to figure out a) whether the CA thing is true; b) whether the claim from the collection company is genuine; and c) if both a and b things are true, whether I can claim more money from State Farm. I did receive a payment from them, but it did not cover these expenses, so we'll see. I may well wind up having to pay $1200. I'm certainly going to spend a lot of time tomorrow on the phone with insurance companies. All of which I need like I need a hole in the head.

# I got a series of emails this morning saying I've been accepted off the waitlist into the Critical Language Scholarship program in Qingdao, China. Which would be fantastic…except that I've already made a summer commitment and I'm really starting to worry about finishing this 285 [50-page research paper] for my professor, which is a prerequisite to advancing to candidacy, which I need to do next year, period. I had been planning on doing that over the summer and going to China next year (i.e. post-exams, pre-dissertation research). I will probably decline (and I have to decide quickly--the deadline is April 8), but this is another thing I didn't really need to be thinking about.

# I also need to figure out whether I should be paying estimated taxes for 2013. Quickly, because the first payment is due April 15.
starlady: Orihime in Hueco Mundo: "damned to be one of us, girl" (damned)
Most of my running shirts are from my alma mater, St. Olaf, the nerdiest of which has to be the one that has the three dropped letters of the Greek alphabet, Stigma Quoppa Wau, on the front, and "best fraternity ever" in Latin and Greek on the back. The most obvious, however, is the one says "St. Olaf" and then my class year in big letters.

Every so often while I am running along the treacherous streets of Berkeley someone will see the shirt and say to me, "I went to Carleton!" Which, for those of you not intimately acquainted with small Midwestern liberal arts colleges, is the other college in my college's town and also incidentally the real-world double of Blackstock in Pamela Dean's Tamlin. After much internal struggle (WTF do I care that these people went to Carleton), I decided that my stock response to this would be to say, "Um ya ya!" Which is our fight song chorus, and appropriate because we usually trounce Carleton at sporting events.

Today, however, while I was stopped at a corner, a young woman took off her earbuds and said to me, excitedly, "Is that a Golden Girls T-shirt?" Because, if you don't know small Midwestern liberal arts colleges or music schools, most people have only heard of St. Olaf as a joke made on The Golden Girls. (Full disclosure: Gatsby also worked for two weeks as a janitor at St. Olaf after the war.) I looked at her and I said, "No, it's a St. Olaf College T-shirt. It's actually a real place." 

Yup, that one takes the cake.

starlady: Toby from the West Wing with a sign that says, "Obama is the President."  (go vote bitches)
I can't say it any better than[personal profile] oliviacirce:
"This is preaching to the choir, I know, but I think I might feel a little better if I say it, so here is my angry speech about voting:

If you are a citizen of the United States of America, and you have the option and opportunity to vote in this election, please vote. That "please" is only really there for politeness, because I'm a Midwesterner; but actually: FUCKING VOTE. That's in the imperative."
You should read the entire post.

If you can (and I mean that in every sense), go vote tomorrow, or today, or if you've already voted, thank you. If you can vote and don't, I don't want to hear you complaining for the next four years. Voting is our civic duty--people have died for the right to vote--in this country women were tortured by the government for daring to want the right to vote--Jim Crow was created specifically to deny black people their right to vote--and apathy never brought change. If voting weren't important, why are the forces arrayed against equality so eager to prevent you from doing it?

If you're interested in my thoughts on California ballot propositions, here's some of them:

- Yes on 30
- No on 32
- Yes on 34
- No on 35

I'm happy to go on about why I've decided to vote these propositions in comments. 

Four more years. Forward. Obama for America. The real one, the better one, the one that may never come to be but that we must always strive for, the more perfect union. 
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
I went to see the A's play last night with my friend J, who got us field level tickets free through her work. It was a very different experience from the last time I was there, and for the most part, for the better - though the stadium wasn't quite full, it was pretty darn full, and the crowd was hugely into the entire game. (It was also about 90ºF in the stadium, which added a certain something.) Our ticketed seats were actually stolen by some jerks when we went to get food in the second inning, so we wound up in the way emptier section on the other side, where the people around us weren't jerks. The most interesting inning was the first, when the A's went up 2-0 at the end, but in the top of the 9th when their closer, Balfour, got the job done in about 12 balls, that was pretty great - we were all on our feet the entire time. Pretty awesome, all around.
starlady: (utena myth)
Save me from housemate interview emails

I am going to Mythcon 43 next month here in Berkeley! Malinda Lo is the author guest of honor and it sounds like an interesting time, though I don't know how much of the four-day programming (!) I'll be able to attend.

I believe registration is still open (and that it will also be available at the door), so check it out if you're interested! Has anyone else ever been to a Mythcon?

starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
I went running this morning and there was a cold wind off the Bay, with fog rolling in, or trying to.

Summer is coming.

I've been trying to cook very seasonally, so I'm also trying to post recipes in as timely a fashion as I can.

Asparagus with Almond and Yogurt Dressing - These were really good, though I will note that faux-grilling them in the pan set off my smoke detector twice and I was scrubbing the pan with the copper scrubby for a good five minutes straight afterward. I think I would try to substitute an oil with a higher smoke point if I made it again.

Mexican Zucchini-Corn Soup - This is tear-jerkingly good, I'm not gonna lie. I would definitely cook the zucchini for a full five minutes to get as much liquid as possible out of them and into the soup, since mine wound up more like stew than soup even with my putting in as much of the tomato liquid as I could. But oh my god, it is so good.

Strawberries and Cream Biscuits - The ¢99 as-is strawberries at Berkeley Bowl are one of the best things about living here, and they were fantastic in these biscuits. I am not even that good at biscuits, but these are amazing. (I used more than a cup of strawberries. Je ne regrette rien.)
starlady: Orihime in Hueco Mundo: "damned to be one of us, girl" (damned)
The Other Change of Hobbit is in a peculiar predicament: since the store is behind on its state sales tax payment due to cash flow issues, the state of California in its infinite wisdom and logic has…revoked the store's permit to sell things. I learned all this today when I tried to go buy Skirmish. The book was there on the shelf, but I could not buy it! I made a donation to the cause of helping them be able to sell things again, and of the bookstore cats no longer being so starved for human customer contact that they both converged on me demanding petting.

So, if you're a Hobbit customer and you'd like to see them weather this rough patch, I urge you to stop by the store or give them a call and do the same if you can (they'll take donations by credit card). Here's hoping.

starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)
Obligatory disclaimer: I'm fine.

So I got doored on my way back from a housewarming party on Friday night and spent about four hours in the ER on Saturday morning. Details, not too gory )

There are a lot of bloodstains on my messenger bag now (they complement the coffee stains), and as I was riding over on BART last night this dude sitting across from me was clearly checking out the bloodstains and my bandaged hand and cut knuckles and bruised face and judging me. Screw you, dude.

But last night I had dinner with a lovely crew of people ([personal profile] marina, [personal profile] epershand, [personal profile] kuwdora, [personal profile] nextian, and J who's not on DW) and then we gathered even more people unto us and watched XMFC and played the X-Men: First Glass drinking game and I cannot convey how much awesome it was, seriously. ♥
Originally posted at Dreamwidth Studios; you can comment there using OpenID or a DW account.
starlady: (serious business)
Obligatory disclaimer: I'm fine.

So I got doored on my way back from a housewarming party on Friday night and spent about four hours in the ER on Saturday morning. Details, not too gory )

There are a lot of bloodstains on my messenger bag now (they complement the coffee stains), and as I was riding over on BART last night this dude sitting across from me was clearly checking out the bloodstains and my bandaged hand and cut knuckles and bruised face and judging me. Screw you, dude.

But last night I had dinner with a lovely crew of people ([personal profile] marina, [personal profile] epershand, [personal profile] kuwdora, [personal profile] nextian, and J who's not on DW) and then we gathered even more people unto us and watched XMFC and played the X-Men: First Glass drinking game and I cannot convey how much awesome it was, seriously. ♥
starlady: (xmas penguins)
So I went on an adventure down in the South Bay with [personal profile] damned_colonial and [personal profile] epershand to see a bunch of bands last night, and in the way of adventures, it was fun and only slightly hairy (I would just like to note, I can still find my way through places I have never been with no map. It's actually easier out here because everything's more or less built to a grid). This involved driving through the suburban wasteland on both sides of the Bay; oh, I'm so happy to be out of there, you have no idea. 

# Broken Bells were up first - I saw The Shins on the last date of their last world tour, in Osaka, and even though they were basically going crazy on stage, it was still only a notch or two up from staring at their picture while listening to their music. Broken Bells has the same lead singer and the same essential problem, which is that he is a block of wood on stage. Also their music, which I actually like, is deeply unsuited to the arena setting. 

# The Black Keys - I'd never seen them before, and only vaguely heard their music,  but they put on a pretty good set, way more dynamic than Broken Bells, though their music is a little too close to roots-ish for me to really get into wholeheartedly. I want the lead singer's leather jacket. 

# Phoenix! - OMG, I love Phoenix, and I was quite glad that they are just as awesome live as they are on their albums, though their shows are definitely not for the seizure-prone. Apparently Daft Punk have been showing up at their shows randomly of late, to promote their new album (i.e. the Tron: Legacy soundtrack), but there was no Daft Punk tonight. I don't care, Phoenix are awesome all by themselves. 

# My Chemical Romance! - The real reason we trekked down to the South Bay, and even though I am a fairly casual fan, they did not disappoint. I teared up a bit when Gerard sang "Cancer," which I expected, but they put on a great, dynamic show, and the crowd thankfully, finally got into it, and it was great. It occurred to me in the car on the way back that their music shares a certain something with Holly Black's books--I'm not sure it ever rises above the level of atmospherics, but they both definitely have a kind of North Jersey Gothic sensibility. 

We were hungry, so we skipped The Smashing Pumpkins and headed back up north. Along the way we stopped at an In 'n' Out Burger, which is a California Experience, and now I have had it. My verdict: Five Guys is better at the "burgers and fries made from actual meat and actual potatoes" thing, but quite tasty, and damn cheap. 

P.S. Dear California: Your highways suck. No love, Me. (Let me just say, if I ever talk about getting a car out here, somebody please slap me back into my senses.) I'm not even talking about the traffic, which was horrific, as I entirely expected. But having expected it, it was never an actual annoyance. 
starlady: animated uhura: set phasers to fabulous (set phasers to fabulously awesome)
Things I Accomplished Before 12:30 pm Today:
- Set up my EFT for future stipend payments
- Got my student ID card
- Got my department keycard privileges
- Picked up my stipend check
- Opened a local checking account
- Got a library card

And then I went to the grocery store and came back and made lunch, which resulted in me burning my hand with frying oil, but you can't have everything.

I got a bike and have been biking around, and it's insanely beautiful here--you can see the Bay from a lot of the streets, particularly the eastern/uphill ones. It's weird to me having to lock my bike to a fare-thee-well, with a cable lock and a Kryptonite and everything, but apparently that is the reality. I love my bike! It is a blue hybrid with a step-through frame and it's awesome, though I need to get at least one pannier to go on the rack.

I still have to email my advisor(s) to see if they will be around this week--I have yet to meet either of them in person. It would be nice to be able to pick them out of a crowd, IJS. I also need to finish the book I'm reading, finish some translation projects, and do some OTW stuff before [personal profile] lian comes after me with wrath.

Tasty Places I Have Eaten Recently:

boxed foods company
Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
Traveling Takoyaki
starlady: animated uhura: set phasers to fabulous (set phasers to fabulously awesome)
In what will probably be the first of many, I am not typing "what the hell is wrong with these people" for this one. Instead, I am merely pointing out that [personal profile] jonquil has a post on an ongoing epidemic of pertussis in California. If you live in or are visiting California in the near future, you should get a TDap/DTap booster vaccine, or get vaccinated if you weren't vaccinated previously. I myself am getting a booster shot tomorrow.

A fan near Philly needs to find a new home for her two cats.

The lovely and talented (World Fantasy Award nominee, actually) [ profile] elisem is having a 50th birthday sale to fund an epic trip around the world--items on this post are currently at 40% off, and they'll be going to 50% off tomorrow. (She will also be looking to sell a lot of her extensive BPAL and Nocturne Alchemy collection quite soon.) Steampunk! Awesomeness! Yay!

And now I must go pack.
starlady: (run)
My dad only today figured out that the bird and I are allied against him.

This post is three months old, but whatever, I wanted to write it. And then in half an hour I am going running and getting off the internet, I am trying to be better about that.

The Bay Area. With pictures.  )
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
Danticat, Edwidge. Brother, I'm Dying. New York: Knopf, 2007.

In this memoir Danticat tells the story of her uncle, who was like a father to her while her parents emigrated to New York City, and of her father, both of whom died within a few months of each other in 2004: her father from end-stage lung disease, her uncle at the hands of U.S. immigration officers' abuse and medical neglect after seeking temporary asylum from gang violence in his neighborhood of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince. The gang members were wrongly convinced that Danticat's uncle Joseph had given U.N. "peacekeepers" his authorization to use his church in their assault on the neighborhood.

It's a horrible story, and after the January earthquake it's impossible not to remember constantly while reading that Joseph's son, Danticat's cousin Maxo, was killed in the quake, and the neighborhood destroyed. But as much as the book is about their deaths, Danticat also writes eloquently about their lives, both in Haiti and in New York, apart and finally together: they are buried next to each other in Queens, since Danticat's Haitian family told them it was unsafe to repatriate Joseph's body for burial (the gangs wanted to behead his corpse). Having watched a parent die slowly in my own home, my heart went out to Danticat (who found out she was pregnant right after her father was given his terminal diagnosis, in an appallingly unprofessional manner) doing the same thing, and I wished uselessly that she and her family had been better able to accept her father's dying while he was doing it. But everyone's experiences with this (including my own) are ultimately personal, as [personal profile] jonquil pointed out in this post, which I really needed to hear without realizing it.

Anyway. I never used to like memoirs; I never used to like non-fiction, period. But I was missing out, and Danticat's book in particular is a wonderful example of what the genre can do.

McGuire, Seanan. A Local Habitation. New York: DAW Books, 2010.

I read and enjoyed the first book in the adventures of Toby Daye, Rosemary and Rue, last summer, but this book has many of the problems of a second novel: to wit, it doesn't move as fleetly, leaving me more time to realize all the ways in which Toby's non-conforming-conformity to urban fantasy stereotypes is grating. Also, I totally spotted the twist relating to Alex after about one chapter, and I passionately hate when I can out-observe the characters without the narration's complicity in keeping the wool over their eyes. At the same time Toby = Luddite is less amusing this time around, and I was rather thrown by the complete disappearance of her human baby-daddy and child from her thoughts. All the same, I'll probably keep reading, because I've been getting these out of the library.
starlady: (sora)
Item one: Jo Walton's list of neglected books in sff. Some if not all of these--such as Megan Whalen Turner, OMG!--are unjustly neglected. A good list, in any case.

Item two: the text of Cat Valente's GoH speech at ConFusion last weekend, which is pretty damn awesome, and I encourage all fans of sff to read it.

Which leads to item three…a book review! What else, really?

Valente, Catherynne. Under in the Mere. St. Paul, MN: Rabid Transit Press, 2009.

Thinking back over all the Arthuriana books I've read, to say nothing of the mostly crappy movies I've watched, I can't legitimately claim to not be a fan. That said, however, I've never read The Once and Future King or La Morte d'Arthur (nor watched Merlin), and my standards for Arthurian derivations are now pretty high, since it's so common in the genre. I think I can fairly say, though, that Valente's take on Camelot may be unique.

His name became like the sword in the stone: write Arthur on the skin of your hand and it means more than a boy so named, it means him, always him, forever.
Valente's singular insight--ably illustrated by James and Jeremy Owen--is the extent to which the continued tellings and retellings of the Arthurian mythos have leached the players involved of character; they have become archetypes, and as such they are well suited to being reanimated as archetypes by Valente's admittedly baroque prose. I'm quite sure Valente and this book aren't to everyone's taste, but the beauty of her language is stunning, as are the occasional deft insights into the nature of stories, and of this story, that she slips into the text. Nor is it entirely devoid of humor, which is a nice touch. Her other innovation is her connection of the land in which quests take place, the Otherworld, whence Camelot's enemies come and where they reside, with California. As they say, I'll buy that, partly because her evocation of California--mostly SoCal, okay, let's be fair--is so enthralling and perfect despite its fantastical description.

After I finished the book I realized that the legend's three central characters--Arthur, Merlin, and Gwenivere--did not get sections of their own, which is an interesting decision in light of the fact that even people I'd never heard of, such as Balin and Balan, get their own chapters. But we know them well enough through the other characters, and what else could they say, that their friends and enemies and lovers did not already know? If the people of Camelot are archetypes, its king and queen and wizard are legend.

P.S. [ profile] thewronghands talks a bit about parts of the book on which I cannot comment, particularly the floral symbolism, here.
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
Downum, Amanda. The Drowning City. London: Orbit Books, 2009.

I confess this book had me at the dedication: "For New Orleans," and the epigraph, from Emily Dickinson, and all in all Downum (aka [ profile] stillsostrange) does not disappoint. The story follows one Isyllt Iskandur, necromancer and agent provacateur, as she attempts to incite a rebellion in the conquered city of Symir so as to subvert the expansionist Assar Empire's designs on her own country across the Inland Sea. Isyllt's an engaging character, very human despite her chosen professions, and for the most part the people she encounters are a well-rounded, believable bunch of mages, spies, conspirators, politicians and rebels. There's a definite feel of cultural melange to Symir; in some ways it seems very Middle Eastern, while in others it's very clearly Southeast Asian, and Downum modulates between both influences well. In some ways the book reminded me of nothing so much as Tamora Pierce by way of Sarah Monette--gemstones, volcanoes, mages, spies, and not too explicit sex, which frankly surprised me. There's even an unambiguous reference to Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths in the epilogue. In any case, I'll definitely look out for the next book about Isyllt, The Bone Palace, when it appears.

McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. New York: Daw Books, 2009.

Rosemary and Rue is the first book in a series chronicling the trials and tribulations of Sir October Daye, changeling (i.e. half-Faerie, half-human) and P.I. in contemporary San Francisco, by Seanan McGuire ([ profile] seanan_mcguire). In the prologue of the book, Toby is turned into a koi for 14 years by her liege's brother and enemy, which naturally wreaks havoc on the life she'd built outside the Fay Court with her human lover and their four year-old daughter. Six months after the enchantment breaks, Toby's life as a night clerk at a 24-hour supermarket is interrupted by the murder of one of her oldest friends, Evening, Countess Winterrose, being recorded on her answering machine, and becoming blood- and curse-bound to find Evening's killer. Naturally, Toby is drawn--more like dragged kicking and screaming--back into life among the Faerie, and though as a changeling and a former P.I., she's tough, she spends most of the book injured, confused, and in pain. I like it when female protagonists go through the wringer not because of their gender but because of their profession or circumstances (The Drowning City does this too), so I appreciated that Toby gets injured and has realistic aftereffects of those injuries. The book is a cracking good read, a real pageturner, and I don't normally care for stories about the Fair Folk (War for the Oaks being a notable, and at least slightly comparable, exception in this regard), but I have to recommend this book. Toby is a fascinating, painfully real character, as are the people who surround her, and McGuire's evocation of San Francisco, as well as of the power dynamics in the Faerie Courts (in which changelings are only a few steps up from dirt), feels very believable. I'll be looking for the next book, A Local Habitation, which comes out in the spring.

Bear, Elizabeth. Dust. New York: Bantam, 2008.

I read this book on a whim, and on one level it's a fascinating take on--whose law is it again? Heinlein's?--that science looks like magic when it gets to be advanced enough. It follows Rien, a servant in the House of Conn, who must undertake a perilous journey to the other side of her world, to Engine, after she rescues her sister Sir Perceval from the dungeons of their cousin Ariane Conn. They must also deal with the machinations of Jacob Dust, the Angel of Memory, and his plans for Perceval and for their world, Jacob's Ladder. As usual, Bear writes beautifully, and the epigraphs to the chapters have gotten me interested in the New Evolutionist Bible. But the characters, who are all rich, complicated individuals, drive the narrative as much as the fact that the binary system around which the ship is orbiting is about to go nova. I liked this book a lot, and I very much will read Chill, which comes out at the end of this year. But then, it's hard not to like a book in which the answer to "Why are you called the Angel of Poison?" is "Because there is no ancient Hebrew word for 'mutagen.'"


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

March 2019



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