Weekly Ramble Four: Embroidery and (not doing) NaNoWriMo

Late update today, but better late than never, right? Things have been a little hectic at my day job this week, so I haven't had a lot of time for book reviews. I have, however, been pretty consistent with my writing, even if my word count per day has been a little low, though I'm not sure if I should blame that on my day job or the stage I'm at with Sea Witch. I've done a lot of what I think of as embroidering this week; there were a couple of sections that I'd already written that needed a little something extra to feel done, so I allowed myself to go back and add a paragraph here, some new characters (including an enby merperson) with backstory there, just so the world that my main characters were living in would feel a little more populated. After all, the story is sort of about belonging and communities and outsiders as much as it is about lesbian revolution, so it felt necessary. That sort of work is a little slower, though, than just barging straight ahead, and while I probably could have left the embroidery until the second draft, I feel better having done it. I also feel like I'm done with it for now, and can go ahead with the barging straight ahead, thought towards what, I'm really not sure. The happy ending that I envisioned seems to retreat at nearly the same pace that I'm writing, and to be honest, I'm beginning to worry that this might be another novel. Whoops?

Anyway, stats. I added 3,215 words to Sea Witch this week, for a total wordcount of 22,632. Not bad!

Some other small business: This seems as good a place as any to announce that I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I've done it in the past, and have learned through those tries that I am a marathoner rather than a sprinter of a novelist. I don't like to take breaks of longer than a couple of days, but I also have an upper limit of how much writing I can do in a regular day without breaking down. Yes, there are those rare, beautiful, frenzied days where I get 1,500 words down on a page in one day, but most days my output is somewhere between 500 and 800, and that's just what works for me.

Best of luck to you who are sprinters, or can be sprinters at need, and are doing NaNo. I have the greatest respect for you, and will be cheering you on all the way to the finish line.

I only have one review for this week, but it's a review of a quality book that you should definitely check out.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

This is exactly the kind of epic fantasy that I was hoping it would be. It's grim, and it's bloody; it's weird as fuck and it subverts expectations in some really interesting ways. Most importantly, in my book at least, is the protagonist at it's center. Rin is a war orphan with the grit, intelligence, and willpower to ace the test that gets her into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, and then to stay there after her classmates and teachers make it abundantly clear that she is not wanted there because of how she looks, how she talks, where she comes from, and how little money she brought with her. I cannot say how much I love Rin's sheer determination in the face of everything that's stacked against her; with the political climate as it is, and seeing the long struggle on just about every front that we have ahead of us to make the world less awful than it is right now, it's... not comforting, not inspiring, but just heartening to see a character come up against immense odds, both from her peers and her nation's enemies, and just continue to fight, and never give up, never give in to despair, no matter how bad it gets, and just survive to the end, even if she didn't win, even if the changes that she made were incremental. There's a sort of power of solidarity in reading this book that I really appreciated. And yeah, the case can be made that this is a sort of 'villain origin story' with Rin as the villain--but with everything that she's come up against, I can't help but be on Rin's side, even if she doesn't always make the 'good' decision.

If you want a little solidarity in these dark times, or if you're a fan of the grim, the gritty, the bloody, and the weird, definitely read this book.

Weekly Ramble Three: Return from Alaska

Alright people, I'm exhausted. I went to Juneau, Alaska and back between Saturday and Tuesday, and started a new role at my day job on Wednesday. Needless to say, things have been a liiittle hectic around here, so I apologize in advance if this week's ramble is a little ramblier than usual. With that out of the way, lets get started.

Alaska

Juneau was both exactly as magnificent as I'd hoped while also having a very different effect on me than I had expected. I had definitely romanticized it in the weeks leading up to the trip. Wilderness! I thought. Isolation! Culture! Seafood! And while there were all of those things in abundance, I'd forgotten to factor in two things: Juneau is a small town American city, and a good portion of it's economy is based in tourism. I knew, of course, that the end of October was in the "off season" where there wouldn't be many tourists. I planned it that way, because I wanted to get a feel for the 'real' city, the city that people live in instead of visiting for a day, or a week.

Juneau was deserted. I was the only person in most shops that I entered, and 3/4 of the shops were closed for the season. I would walk down empty streets and only occasionally see someone else in the distance. I saw more ravens than I did people, most days, and this was in downtown Juneau. While that certainly isn't bad considering the fact that I was doing research for a post-apocalyptic project, it was eerie. I had come to Juneau expecting to fall in love with its charm, mountains, and people, and instead I fell in love with the mountains, and grew increasingly uncomfortable in the city itself. Even thought there was a possibility of encountering a bear out in the 'wilderness' of the trails both above downtown and by the Mendenhall Glacier, I enjoyed my time hiking more than I did my time in town. I don't regret going at all; it was an odd but incredibly informative experience.

One thing that I definitely learned from visiting Juneau is how important the area's native cultures are to the city. I hadn't included them in the first draft of the novel at all because of some early research that I did that indicated that they had some very particular views about the ownership of stories, and that it might not be respectful for an outsider to tell their stories. You just can't write about Juneau without writing about the native peoples that still live there, though; it's a vital part of what the city is. So I've got a lot of research to do before I can start draft two; I need to understand the Tlingit and the Haida much better than I do now before I can write this book.

Writing

I had a really hard time convincing myself not to jump right into revisions for Mendenhall right after getting back from Alaska, but I have a lot of research to do, and Sea Witch needs to get finished, so I buckled down and got myself back on track with Sea Witch. The story for after Ursula and Ariel meet is starting to shape up, which is good, but it's getting complicated, which makes me despair of whether or not I'm going to get it done in under novella length. Though now that the two have met, it feels like I'm starting the actual story, so I can probably cut or shorten a lot of stuff that's just Ursula from the front.

I missed working on the book Sunday-Wednesday, so only added 2,831 to Sea Witch, for a total word count of 19,417.

Book Reviews

I only have one book review for you this week and it's super short. Sorry.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

If you liked the first Murderbot book, you're sure to like this one. Murderbot only gets more lovable as they have to make more moral decisions for themself, and it's nice to see a little bit of Murderbot's backstory, as well as more of the world that created them. ART, also, is pretty damn great.

Weekly Ramble Two: Alaska and Anxiety

I'm going to Alaska this weekend! Tomorrow morning (way too early), as of when this posts, actually. It's my first time taking a whole vacation completely alone. I'm thrilled. I'm terrified. The only sure thing is that it's going to be an adventure, and I couldn't be more excited. I saved up for this trip the whole time that I was writing the first draft of the novel (working title: Mendenhall) and soon I'll actually be able to look at the glacier (that won't be there anymore by the time the events of my story take place) that I got the working title from. Not in a picture but in real life! I'll be taking a ton of pictures, which I'll be sure to post somewhere so that this time next week you can see what happened on my crazy Alaskan adventure.

Because of the upcoming trip and this Monday starting my fourth week without exercise because I had open wounds on my face from a mole removal (nothing to worry about, I promise) and couldn't swim, the start of this weeks was a little rocky and anxiety ridden. However, I still got a fair amount of writing done, and I finally caved and spent half an hour on an exercise bike on Tuesday just to get some of those endorphins, which helped a ton. And tonight, finally, finally, I'm going for a swim. Hurray for healing!

Things are going well in my 'short' project, Sea Witch. I got bogged down in some dialogue and the introduction of a very important character this week (yes, that character), but pushed through to add 4,254 words to it for a total wordcount of 16,586 for the project so far. I think I'm almost at the halfway point, so my goal of keeping this 'not a novel' seems doable. I'm beginning to wonder if I should stick to my goal of starting revisions on Mendenhall on November 1 even if I haven't finished Sea Witch by then. It would be a shame, I think, to leave Sea Witch hanging when it would only take a couple of extra weeks to finish a first draft.

In any case, here are the books I reviewed this week:

A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

If you're a white American, you need to read this book. It's short. It's easy to read. It presents the facts about the differences in policing between white and black communities, and the ways that these differences affect everyone, white and black, in America very clearly. We need to see what's going on in our own country; our own back yards, even, and this book is a quick, efficient way to get the basics down. Read it. You have no excuse.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is a strange sort of book, and I'm not sure how much to write about it, because this is one of those few books that I feel like are enhanced by knowing very little about the premise, and sort of piecing it together as you go along. I can remember specific points of view where some small detail slipped into place and the whole world in the book crystallized around me, and seeing the puzzle pieces fall into alignment like that was part of the joy of reading this book. All I'll say, then is this: Never Let Me Go is a deeply atmospheric and troubling book, set at least in part in a english boarding school, and that it is highly science fictional in that it is asking some very big questions about our use of science and morality, even though at the outset it may not feel like it's that kind of book.

Whether you've been spoiled or not, this book is well-written, the characters are drawn with detail and care, and the atmosphere, as I said before, is subtle and troubling and perfectly rendered. It wasn't one of my favorite books ever, but I know a carefully crafted and precisely written book when I see one, and this is it. If you like that strange liminal space of science fiction that's pretending to not be science fiction, or if you like a precisely crafted atmosphere of unease, this book is for you.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hurray for Hidden Figures! This book is exactly what I needed to read in a time when I was just starting to go down the road of "Wait, the history that I learned in high school isn't the whole story? Women and people of color were less likely to be written about? They did things? What?" It's the untold story of the African American women that served as NASA's calculators, and I am just so excited that this had come to light, and that I get to know about things like this, now.

That being said, the book is incredibly well-researched, and leans more on the research than storytelling or character work, which is obviously a valid choice for a nonfiction book, but makes for slightly less enjoyable reading, at least on my part. I imagine that the movie would fill in the storytelling and character work that I crave, so I better go watch that ASAP. For all that the book it a little dry, I enjoyed it, and I think that anyone willing to give this a shot will be glad that they waded through a little bit of research to get the knowledge that this book holds.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars is the first book in an alternate history science fiction duology about what would have happened if a meteor hit Washington D.C. in 1952, devastating the eastern seaboard and causing climate change that necessitates humanity getting off of Earth and starting colonies on other planets ASAP. It's told from the POV of a Jewish calculator at NASA who also suffers from anxiety (anxiety-havers represent!).

I read this book almost immediately after reading Hidden Figures, and the pairing could not have been more perfect. Elma is such a wonderful main character, and Kowal does an amazing job of showing how a character that was marginalized in several different ways still manages to become one of the most important people in NASA's space program. It also deals with her privilege in relation to people more marginalized than herself, which I greatly enjoyed. Honestly, I enjoyed this whole book immensely, and would happily recommend it to anyone, whether you've read Hidden Figures or not. This would also be a great recommendation if, like me, you recently saw First Man, and wished we had seen, I don't know, any women working at NASA in the movie.

Weekly Ramble One: Change in Format, and a Vacation

I didn't like devoting this blog entirely to book reviews, and I also didn't like posting the reviews separately since they're so very short, so I'm going to try out a little change in format. I'm going to start doing a weekly check-in post here on the blog; it'll update you on what I've been up to, how my writing is going, and what books I've reviewed in the past week.

I lost a couple of writing days this week to a short vacation that my partner and I took to Chicago. I did some writing on the plane out, but as per usual, didn't manage to get any writing done while I was in Chicago, or on the way back. I could make excuses about how I was tired and busy and there wasn't time but lets be honest, my current project is "fun" until I get to start the second draft of my novel (start date: November 1). I finished the first draft of a novel this year. It's well within my rights to take a couple of days off and really enjoy being back in Chicago, my favorite city in the world. So there.

Anyway, we got back on Tuesday and while I did a little bit of writing on Wednesday, I didn't really feel like I got back into the swing of things until Thursday. This "short project" is really starting to stretch as I get deeper and deeper into the details of the world, but I really do hope to keep it at novella length. Fingers crossed, folks. I added 2,699 to the current project's word count this week, for a total wordcount of 12,332. Here's hoping I can wrap it up before 40,000! (But seriously, though, Ursula and Ariel haven't even met yet, what am I doing, HELP.)

Something else I've been thinking about: do I want keep the names Ursula and Ariel? In the Andersen original they're just "The Sea Witch" and "The Little Mermaid" so really I could name them whatever I want, and I do want to make it clear that this is not Disney's The Little Mermaid. It probably would be smart to change their names.

In any case, here are the books I reviewed this week (Not the books I read this week, because I'm suuuuuper behind on book reviews. I'm trying to do a review a weekday until I'm caught up.):

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

One of the best books I've ever read, and more than deserving of the Hugo that it received. N.K. Jemisin is a genius writer, and tackles both big themes and unique POV shifts while making the book seem like it was easy to write, and I can guarantee it was not, even though it may be easy to read--easy in that it's easy to understand, not easy emotionally. Every book in this series has hit me right in the feels, and messed me up a ton. If you've read the other books in this series, you know what you're in for; if you haven't yet, you absolutely should, because you're missing out.

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

This book was not my thing, but I can't fault the book. It is well-written with some well-thought-out, if slightly predictable, worldbuilding, and some less predictable (and much more interesting) moral questions regarding genetic engineering and sports. I have to admit that I skimmed the fight scenes; I tend to lose interest during action scenes in movies too, so pure action just really isn't my thing. Plus the predictable (again) love story did nothing for me. Again, though, heterosexual love stories haven't been doing it for me recently. Sue me.

To be honest, this book was a little too predictable and safe for my taste. I can't fault it, though, because that's a me thing, not a this book thing. If boxing in space with genetic engineering & late teenage romance sounds fun to you, give it a shot. It's well-written and good fun. If you've been spoiled and hunger for something a little stranger like me, pass this one by.

Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger

I have a couple of friends who have been on my to read something by Gail Garriger for a while now, and having read Romancing the Inventor, I can say without a doubt that they were right, this was exactly to my taste. I read this in a single day while on vacation, and it was possibly the perfect vacation book for me. Sweet and short and super queer, with an adorable little happy ending to wrap it up. I'll definitely be saving Gail Carriger for the next time I need something relaxing and sweet.

The Black Tides of Heaven by J. Y. Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang is one of the two standalone introductions to their Tensorate series. Both it and The Red Threads of fortune can be read independent of each other, but run parallel to each other. It's a fascinating construction for the start of a series, but I can't speak to how well it works yet, because so far I've only read one of the two books. Sorry guys!

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My Real Children by Jo Walton

This book hurt my heart in all the good ways and all the bad ways. It drew me in and horrified me, delighted me and broke my heart. Patricia Cowan has dementia, lives in a nursing home, and can remember living two very different lives. In one of them she married her college boyfriend when he made her choose now or never, and in the other she didn't. After that simple choice, though, her lives diverge drastically, as does the political state of the world around her. This book isn't your usual alternate history, and it's not a heavily plot-driven book. Instead it's more of a character study than it is anything else -- but such a compelling, careful, complicated one that I couldn't put the book down.

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

While some who aren't used to reading sci-fi or fantasy may dismiss the premise, Naomi Alderman is working at the core of what science fiction is supposed to do; she is taking this story and using it as a mirror, showing us something in ourselves that we can't see in the normal sort of mirror, showing us something in the world that we're too accustomed to the normal world to see.

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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

How does one sit down and review Ursula K. LeGuin? Honestly, I'm skeptical that I can do it, but I'll try. You don't sit down after reading one of her books for the first time and think about all the ways it could have been better. You even have a hard time sorting out the things you love, because it was all just so good.

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Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

I loved every single idea in this book, and want more novels by Annalee Newitz immediately. The many different ways that she looks at autonomy and ownership; the terrifying world that she's built where anything can be owned, and where pharmaceuticals are magically effective but kept from the masses behind intellectual property rights and high prices--all of it is fascinating and strange while also being entirely applicable to issues in tech right now. That, and the fact that our cast of main characters are all beautifully broken and widely diverse, is the genius of the book.

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Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey has done it again. Just goddamn gave me everything that I've ever wanted out of a book, and done it while all the characters are riding hippos. You heard me. They're riding hippos. In the Mississippi river. Hippos on the Mississippi, both being ridden by people, and running feral and killing and eating everything that moves.

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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This book was an absolute delight to read. It's short, it's sweet, and it's got just the right amount of darkness mixed in with the sweetness to make is something more. The characters are all a little broken, all children that went on adventures in worlds that were perfectly suited to them and then came back to the normal, everyday, world changed. Now they yearn for worlds that they can't get back to, whether that's because they aren't welcome anymore, or because the door back simply refuses to open.

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Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Like everything else by Octavia Butler that I've ever read, this book is simultaneously masterful, eye-opening, and disturbing. On one hand we have Anyanwu, an immortal, black, female protagonist who places strong values on family--both found and blood--community, and humanity. On the other hand we have Doro, the male immortal who lives by killing, who brings communities of different people together to breed both prey and companions for him, and his domination over Anyanwu through threats to her children. It's uncomfortable, but real, to see a strong, competent, powerful woman have to submit to a monstrous man to stay alive and protect her family.

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Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

The first half of Ninefox Gambit, the first book in the Machineries of Empire series, confused, frustrated, and intrigued me in equal measures; Raven Stratagem had none of its predecessor's confusion or frustration, and all of it's intrigue . There was just enough really gut-punching character work in the last half of Ninefox for me to decide to give the series another shot, and thank goodness I did--I would not have wanted to miss reading this. 

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The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

This book is comforting like a handmade quilt, and kind like a good friend. It paints a picture of a sprawling and diverse universe, populated by aliens of different body plans and cultures and sexual norms, some kind, some violent, all of them strange to one another, but all of them trying (and sometimes failing, but always trying) to find ways to live together in something like peace, or at least neutrality.

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Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

When this book was recommended to me, it was described as 'grown up Wall-E, plus all of humanity is dead,' and the book itself delivered on the promise. This book was a fun read, and covered a lot of ground in the subjects of what it means to be intelligent, what it means to have a soul, and where you find meaning in life after you've killed the people you were built to serve.

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Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Well, that was an interesting installment of The Expanse. It wasn't quite what I expected, and not exactly what I've been going to this series for, but it was still good. Cibola Burn accelerates humanity out of the solar system and onto the worlds that the Gate has made available to them. Or at least, onto the first world that they find outside of the solar system that is habitable without terraforming.

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Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

My first reaction upon finishing this book was sheer relief that I had finally finished it. Not because I felt like I'd wasted my time, or because it wasn't a good book; it's a worthwhile and interesting read. It's also enormous. If you're looking for a commitment of a book, this book is for you. If you're the type that reads a couple of pages a day, this book may take you a couple of years to read.

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