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 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.

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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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

This book turned me into an cephalopod nerd in the course of a single week. These creatures are so amazingly fascinating, and this book really does them justice. And, of course, as the title suggests, this book isn't just about cephalopods; it's about how they evolved, the intelligence that they've evolved, and how the differences between them and us can teach us about consciousness, both in ourselves, and in species very different from us.

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