Weekly Ramble Nine: Welcome to 2019

Welcome to 2019, everyone. Again, I'm late with my post, and again it was on purpose. I was off of work on Monday and Tuesday, which I spent relaxing, doing some writing, and tidying my apartment for the new year (seriously, you guys, my tea collection looks so pretty now), so today is technically my Monday. You'll have to forgive me. I'll get back to a normal schedule next week, hopefully.

Recap of 2018: I got an interim promotion at the day job that I hope to keep permanently. I finished the first draft of a novel for the first time. The world seemed at all times to be burning down around my ears while things were going pretty well for me, personally. I was often stressed, usually busy, and perpetually snowed under in things that needed to be done around the house. All in all, it was a year. I don't know what else to tell you. I survived. If you're reading this, you survived, and what else can we ask for, really?

I'm not much of one for making new years resolutions or S.M.A.R.T. goals or whatever, or rather, when I do it I tend to go overboard and make grand, sweeping changes that are, without fail, unsustainable. So this year I'm dialing in back, and making only three of major goals, and adding to them a change that will make keeping to those goals a little easier.

  1. Goal: Finish the second draft of my novel, and get it into some other people's hands. I've already written it once, how hard could it be to write it all again?

  2. Goal: Get back into exercising. I was doing pretty well for the first three quarters of 2018 with this one, but then I got my wisdom teeth out, and once I was ok to exercise again, I got sick for six weeks straight. I'm out of shape and looking to get back on that bandwagon. I'm also going to mix it up and add some weight training to my routine, because while swimming is great cardio, I do need to do some weight bearing exercises as well to make me less injury prone and keep my bones dense! I don't feel like this goal is asking too much, because it's something I was already doing successfully before my whole life went off the rails.

  3. Goal: Get work clothes that fit me. I'm working in an office that's on the nicer end of business casual, and while I've got my button-up game pretty well sorted, I need some work-appropriate sweaters, and even more importantly, work-appropriate pants that look nice. I've been getting by with ponte pants that are just a smidge to tight to be appropriate without a longer top and "ankle lenth" pants that look like capris on me because I have longer than usual legs. Neither is great, and while "straight leg" pants would be appropriate and the right length, they don't play well with my preferred loose on top, fitted on bottom silhouette. So this week I got some straight leg pants that fit me through the hips and are the right length in a consignment store, and took them to the seamstress my husband usually uses to get the legs tapered. Fingers crossed that it works out!

  4. Change: My partner and I are paying for someone to come in and clean our apartment every other week. He works 60-hour work weeks, and I'm writing a book in my free time. Our apartment has been a wreck this year, and I've felt constantly snowed under by the responsibility of keeping it a basic level of clean on top of doing laundry, dishes, etc. I realized the other day that neither of us had vaccuumed our bedroom since we moved in last January. Groooooooss. So anyway, when I got my promotion, the only thing I decided we were going to spend the extra money on (besides paying down debt) was hiring someone to come clean our apartment on a regular basis. We had someone come in for the first time on December 29th, and holy shit was it worth it. The bedroom got vaccuumed, the stove top was spotless--it's already my best decision of the year. I know that this isn't something that everyone can afford, but I can, and it was worth every penny.

So that's it, my plans for the new year. In the past week I've written 3,171, bringing the total wordcount of Mendenhall Draft 2 to 12,088.

I also have three book reviews for you this week. Hurray!

City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

This book is both epic and wonderfully intricate. S. A. Chakraborty has managed to squeeze believable, lovable characters, magical world building, intricate politics and explorations of identity, belonging, and privelege into one book seamlessly and comfortably. Yes, this book is about djinn, but it's also about how different minorities are turned against each other by a ruling party; it's about the use of power, and rebellion, and about grey areas in both. I loved it unconditionally for the ways that it was about the real world while also presenting a fully fledged secondary world for the reader to escape into, and for allowing for hope despite everything. Everyone should absolutely check this book out. You'll love it, promise.

Time Was by Ian McDonald

This book is a love story, a time travel story, and a mystery, and I wish that I had liked it more than I did. It's clearly masterfully written, has some beautiful prose, and god knows I love the idea of a pair of gay soldiers. I just wish I hadn't felt like I was held at arms-length from the two characters I cared most about for the entirety of the book. I never really felt like I got to know Tom and Ben, just their strange story. Maybe that's part of of this being a novella, maybe that's an artifact of the fact that a lot of what we learn about Tom and Ben is through bits and pieces of historial documentation. Still, I generally read to get to know characters, to live inside their heads, to know what it feels like to be them, to live their lives, and I didn't find that here. The book is still good, though, and if you like the idea of time travelling gay soldiers, I'd recommend giving this one a read.

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

If you're not on the Murderbot bandwagon, go back to All Systems Red and get on it. Exit Strategy delivers a satisfying conclusion to the series. Murderbot is, as always, the highlight of the story, both prickly to a fault and infinitely loveable. Really, you guys, check this series out.

Weekly Ramble Eight: Bedding Hassles and Holiday Writing

It's the holiday season and I'm sleep deprived! Hurray! And not even for any fun reason like stress or anxiety or anything, but because either my pillow or my mattress is dying and I keep waking up with a stiff neck after 6 hours of sleep and then just uncomfortably dozing for the rest of the night. I've tried 4? 5? new pillows in 2 weeks, so I'm leaning towards 'it's the mattress,' but to be fair, I've had crap luck with pillows this time around. They've all been unreasonably big or had no support to them at all. I'm trying one more pillow that's coming in today, and if that doesn't work, I'll be in the market for a new memory foam mattress. Hurray...

Also, I know this is late, but hush, Monday and Tuesday were holidays, so this is my Monday, ok?

I did do some writing this week, even with the holiday (in fact, I wrote every day except Christmas Day!). I finally, finally, got over myself enough to move the old draft to a different folder, so my total wordcount dropped dramatically. I wrote 5,434 words this week, and ended with a total wordcount for the second draft of 8,917. Yay, progress!

I've only got two book reviews for you this week, alas.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers has done it again. I come away from every book in her Wayfarers series feeling optimistic about the future of humanity, and this book is no exception. While in the first book she dealt with the crew of a small ship, and in the second she dealt with a a pair of people with intertwined lives, in Record of a Spaceborn Few she expands the narrative outward to encompass the space station that used to be the space ship that carried humanity out of the solar system and away from a dying planet. Chambers does a lovely job of portraying a community focused on working together, and the ways that it needs to reinvent itself now that it's overall mission has changed. This is a book that definitely made me cry--it's got more heartbreak in it than her other books--but it still has that core belief in the goodness of humanity and people's ability to work out their differences, and in times like these, I need the reminder that there's good in the world, and good in our future, if we can just reach each other.

Definitely would recommend this one, especially as a lovely little pick-me-up at this dark time of the year.

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C. J. Cherryh

I love C. J. Cherryh, generally, but while this book definitely had some interesting character work and makes some unique choices when it comes to agency, it wasn't my favourite of everything she's written. You'd probably like it if you want a fantasy that's got an older feel to it when it comes to word choice, but does is still doing new and interesting things.

Weekly Ramble Seven: Birthday + Vacation Slacking

Last week was my birthday week! Happy birthday to me! I bought myself some books, took two days off work, had my mom come to visit, played a lot of Breath of the Wild, and skipped writing for four days straight. Just let myself completely off the hook. Didn't even do any research reading. Sometimes you just need to allow yourself a vacation, you know? I'm not going home for the actual holidays, and will probably write most of those days since my husband will be working and I'll be at home alone (and oh so cozy and rested, seriously, after the year I've had staying home and writing sounds like this introverts dream), so this four day weekend was my 'holiday vacation' and I'm back and feeling pretty rested.

Still, I did get some writing done. I didn't cut anything and added 2,860 to Mendenhall for a total wordcount of 60,846. Plus I've got a pair of book reviews for you (even if one of them is v. v. short)!

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

I don't know what I could say about this second book in the series that I haven't already said about the first book in the series, except that I enjoyed it even more because we got to go to space. It's detailed. It's alternate history in space with a female, jewish protagonist, and it deals strongly with racism, sexism, and tons of science! I loved both books in this series, and if you haven't read the first, you should totally go back and read it. This series is completely worth it, and only gets better the more you read.

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Look, Murderbot's not getting any less awesome, and may in fact be getting more so to the point where it might break your heart. Read these books!

Weekly Ramble Six: I'm Really Back This Time, I Swear

Hey loyal readers (if you exist)! I know it's not Friday, and I know I've been gone for nearly a month without updating, but I'm back today with a weekly ramble, out of time, and probably short, but I want to get you up to date, and I didn't want to wait until this Friday to do it, since you've already waited so long.

So! What happened? Well, I got sick, first with a cold, then with a sinus infection, then with bronchitis. I'm still not entirely over the bronchitis, but close enough. Also, one of my lovely cats broke his tail, and had to get it amputated. He's fine now, if grumpy because of the cone he has to wear. November (and the start of December) was just generally miserable, and I got very little writing done, both fiction and nonfiction. I did, however, do a lot of decision making? Plotting? Picking away at things? Thinking? Things that aren't writing, but are necessary to doing writing in the future, so I don't feel like November and December were complete wastes.

So, here's what's going on:

Sea Witch has been put on the back burner while I do some thinking and researching about the plot & revolutions. I wrote myself into a corner in November, cut some stuff, and then realized that I'd reached a point where I really wasn't sure what should be going on big-picture-wise, and I need to figure that out before I continue. Its current wordcount is 18,742.

This isn't a problem, though, because I started reading through my first draft of Mendenhall (which I'm in the process of retitling as well) on the first of December, and on Saturday afternoon while I was inputting some notes into Scrivener, the changes that I need to make to the structure overall just clicked into place, and I rewrote the whole outline in about 45 minutes. Bad news is that this is going to necessitate a nearly complete rewrite of the book, but the good news is that I'm feeling really good and invigorated about the whole thing, so it's full steam ahead for the good ship Mendenhall. Yesterday, my first day of the rewrite, I wrote 623 words, and the total overall wordcount is 57,986.

I've also been super lax about book reviews, so out of all the time I missed, you only get 4 book reviews. Still, they're good ones.

Witchmark by C. L. Polk

Witchmark is the kind of book where the romance is sweet, the plot is full of the right kind of tension, and the characters are so real and vulnerable that you can't help but love them and worry about them. I also really enjoyed the fact that this wasn't just another cookie-cutter fantasy England; Polk has really thought through the ways that magic relates with society in her world, and the effects that it has on her characters are both nuanced and impactful. I'm so glad that I pre-ordered this one on a whim; it's one of the most fun books that I read this year, and I can't wait for the next book set in this world!

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

It's hard to write about Spinning Silver without talking about the other book in this "series," Uprooted, much as it's hard to read Spinning Silver after reading Uprooted without comparing the two. These books are not, however, related in anything more than the way that they continuously subvert fairytale tropes. Spinning Silver is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin where Uprooted was a retelling of some tropes without being a retelling of a particular identifiable fairy story, but both have the same relentless rate of reveal that changes your understanding of the story that you're reading every couple of chapters, and a strong focus on female friendship, that I loved so much in Uprooted. I particularly enjoyed the tensions at the start of the book, which centered so much around the ways that the jewish family at the center of the book are othered in their own hometown. The story didn't appeal to me quite as much when it moved into a larger good vs. evil narrative that was still engaging, but not quite as nuanced and personal as the first part of the book. I feel like Uprooted did a better job of keeping things nuanced and personal throughout in a way that Spinning Silver didn't, but that more because Uprooted is a work of genius than because this book is bad. In fact, this book is still really, really good, and I would recommend it if you enjoyed Uprooted. It would also probably be a good winter/holiday read since there is so. much. snow.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

While this book may have at least some of the outward trappings of a "native american mad max" (all things that I'm into, and how it was sold to me on twitter), it is definitely more fantasy than science fiction, and is less about institutional power and more about vulnerability and working through trauma. Not that I have anything against that, and it's definitely a story that needs telling, but I definitely came into it expecting one thing, and got something that looking similar on the surface, but was completely different underneath.

All of that being said, this book is solidly written, the characters are deep and the sort of flawed and vulnerable in the ways that only make you like them more. There's a little bit of romance, a lot of action, and plenty of grit, so if you want all of that in one package, this is the book for you. Plus the premise is wonderful and totally worth your time. Definitely check this one out.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

Look, I'm not much into Victorian or steampunk stories lately--nothing against them, it just hasn't been what I've had a taste for lately. However, if I had to read a story set in Victorian England, I'm glad it was this one. I love the premise of all the characters being monstrous women, and I love their diverse talents, and the ways that they support themselves in a world that doesn't accept them. The style is unique, with all of the characters piping up to comment on the narrative, but strange as that sounds, it works. Definitely would recommend if monstrous women, Victorian England, or Sherlock Holmes is your thing.

Weekly Ramble Five: Return from Sinus-and-Ear-Infection Hell

Oh man you guys, I have been so sick. Not like, life and death sick? But definitely the nastiest cold followed by a combined sinus-and-ear infection that I can ever remember getting. I'm on the mend now, but took more than a few days off of writing while I vegged out on the couch, spewed mucus from way too many places, and watched all of seasons 1 and 2 of the good place and all of Noelle Stephenson's new She-Ra show on Netflix. Both, by the way, make for excellent sick-viewing. The Good Place is as good as everyone kept telling me it was, and She-Ra was just so amazingly queer. I'm not usually good at watching TV quickly, but being sick makes a lot of time where I was too tired to do research or read, but awake enough to be potentially bored out of my mind. Perfect TV watching time.

In the past two weeks I've added 5,352 words to Sea Witch for a total of 27,984.

Reviews:

The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman

While this book purports to be about 'the ways that humans are working with nature to try to save the planet,' a more realistic description of the contents of this book might read, 'speculation about the outcomes of very preliminary research and projects that would help humans work with nature to save the planet.' That isn't to say that I didn't get a lot out of this book; it's just more science-fictional nonfiction than it is concrete nonfiction. Ackerman definitely starts from projects that are going on right now, but the majority of the book is her speculation about how those projects and findings could go forward, and what they could mean. This book was beautifully written, but if you're looking for just what's going on right now and nothing else, this may not be the right book for you, as it was not for me. I'm giving it four stars because it is well-written, even if I misjudged what it was about.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

This is one of those books that I added to my to-read list because it has just too many interesting sounding parts for me to ignore it. Set in South Africa? Dealing with ancient demi-goddesses, AI-uprisings, super-power granting drugs, and plenty of queer characters? Not the kind of thing I'm likely to pass up. And The Prey of Gods delivered on all of its promises. It's genre-bending and queer, plus the writing is solid and the characters all nicely fleshed out. If you like genre-bending, or are just looking for something a little different, check this one out.

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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