WWW Wednesday

Posted 12 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of The Paper Trail by Alexander MonroWhat are you currently reading?

Mostly non-fiction, as is my habit during stressful times. So at the moment it’s John Man’s book on Genghis Khan, and Alexander Monro’s The Paper Trail, about the invention and spread of paper as a technology. The latter surprised me in how very heavy it was on the linkages between the origins of paper and the popularisation by Daoism and Buddhism, through its use for sutras. Did not know anything about that before, despite knowing that China was the origin of paper made from mulberry trees.

Cover of Seeds of Science by Mark LynasWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Mark Lynas’ Seeds of Science. It’s pro-genetic modification, pointing out that there’s no reputable science to suggest there’s any harm being caused by the production of GM crops. He was once a major critic and protestor of GMOs, so it’s interesting from that perspective as well. Sadly, I doubt he’ll change anyone’s mind, but it was interesting to read up on it from the point of view of someone who was once a sceptic.

(I’m pro GMOs, obviously; science says they’re safe, I don’t believe that science should be guided by religious taboos, and I think — as Lynas points out — they can help ameliorate food insecurity.)

Cover of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel KayWhat will you be reading next?

I have a massive craving to reread Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven — and finally get round to River of Stars! — probably due to the Genghis Khan book and The Paper Trail. So maybe I’ll pick those up — I just got them out of their boxes today! The unpacking has begun, and nearly all the bookcases are in place.

How about you? What are you reading?

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Review – The Big Sleep

Posted 11 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

Whatever else you can say about Raymond Chandler, he was a hell of a writer. He didn’t use tired old imagery — I could probably easily find dozens of phrases and descriptions throughout his book which are specific, precisely calculated and completely fresh, without trying too hard in any way. That and the pace of his novels makes them just roll along at an incredible speed; I don’t always follow his mystery plots entirely, but I’m hooked on them.

Of course, his writing about women is just gross nowadays, objectifying and patronising and just plain unpleasant. There’s not too much that I recall of his racial politics either, but they come up in Farewell My Lovely, and are beyond gross. I don’t think calling him a man of his time excuses it, per se — it’s not that difficult to understand that other people are human, and bother to speak to them for five minutes. But I can’t help but enjoy his work anyway for his writing, for the way he sketches out Philip Marlowe and his reactions to the world around him so that all of it is very clear and in focus. I can almost visualise his scenes because he makes it so easy: you get an idea of what everyone is doing, without him taking a million words to do it.

Honestly, it’s wizardry. I can’t help enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Too Many Books At Once

Posted 10 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

Too many books spoil the broth? Hmm… not quite right. Well, I mean, they would, but it’s not quite in the spirit of the proverb.

…Anyway, this week’s discussion post is about reading multiple books simultaneously. I know a lot of people hate doing that, feeling that they lose the thread of the plot or there’s just too much to pay attention to, and I get it. I just can’t sit still for long enough — I’m very much a mood reader, and that means if a book is taking me ages and isn’t something I’m super in the mood to read, I’ll pick up something else to fill in the gaps. The problem occurs when I then pick up another book to supplement that, and… on and on it goes.

Personally, I think you all know my Golden Rule of Reading: have fun, and don’t ever let it become a chore. I did try to reduce the number of books I had on the go at once, because sometimes it is a little stressful or I end up not making progress on a book for ages even though I was enjoying it… but overall, I prefer to give myself the flexibility to just put a book down and come back later, because I don’t ever want to feel resentful about reading or annoyed that I’m dying to pick up Book X but I’m stuck on Book Y. I don’t think it’d work if I read books all in the same genre — they might blur into each other — but maybe it helps that I’m all over the reading map.

So yeah, I refuse to have shame about my currently-reading pile. Vive la stack!

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 8 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! I keep thinking that the moving stuff is going to slacken off and I’m going to have time to reply to all my comments and posts that I’m saving up for when I have some spare time. So far… it’s not happening. The stuff keeps on a-comin’. But we have now successfully got a washing machine and a fridge/freezer, and later today we get the car, so that’s nice.

New books:

Cover of The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate MasCarenhas Cover of City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab Cover of The Edge of Memory by Patrick Nunn

Read this week:

Cover of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler Cover of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs Cover of Gods, Graves and Scholars by C.W. Ceram

Reviews posted:

Farthing, by Jo Walton. Quite uncomfortable to read in many ways at this point in political history, but so worth it to my mind. 5/5 stars
A History of Ancient Egypt Volume 2, John Romer. So much information, and so much of it fascinating. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Buying a Series. Do you buy the first book of a series as soon as it comes out? Or wait, to make sure you don’t get lumped with a cliffhanger?

Out and about:

NEAT science: The toughest creature on Earth. Have a guess!

How’s everyone doing?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 5 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of The Rise and Fall of the DinosaursWhat are you currently reading?

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte. Nothing incredibly new to me so far, but it’s kind of soothing just to read about dinosaurs and not, you know, obsessively check the dimensions of the washing machine I’ve ordered to make sure it fits in the space, which is my other chief occupation at the moment.

(Fingers crossed. It’s arriving tomorrow.)

Cover of The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerWhat have you recently finished reading?

Ugh, you know, I don’t even know anymore. It might’ve been my reread of The Big Sleep; hideously racist and sexist (though not as bad on the racism front as the second book, ye gods) but so very well written. Chandler knew how to pick up a metaphor, show it a good time and leave it wanting more, for sure.

Cover of Provenance by Ann LeckieWhat will you be reading next?

Well, me and one of my buddies from Habitica are talking about rereading Ann Leckie’s Provenance, so there’s a good chance it’ll be that. Or I have a whole bunch of books from the library, including Conway Morris’ book on the Burgess Shale, for a change of pace.

What are you reading?

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Review – A History of Ancient Egypt (Vol. 2)

Posted 4 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A History of Ancient Egypt Volume 2 by John RomerA History of Ancient Egypt: From the Great Pyramid to the Fall of the Middle Kingdom, John Romer

Oh, yay, I have now discovered there’s going to be a third volume of these. Despite some reservations when I read the first volume, I find Romer’s writing pretty clear and engaging — though honestly, for me it would be difficult for someone discussing tombs and chapels and the statuary and pomp of the Egyptian courts to actually become boring. From the reading around I’ve done, Romer is accurate and thoughtful, working with the knowledge we actually have of the Middle Kingdom to discover as much as he can, without getting carried away and deciding everything is ritual, mysticism and slavery, as people are prone to do when considering Ancient Egypt.

The book has an extensive bibliography and notes, so it’s easy to look things up for more information. Personally, for all that I love the lavish description of tombs and the decoration of temples — and especially the importance of hieroglyphs — this book does feel very long (it kind of is very long, but it feels longer than it looks, if that makes sense). So it might not be for you if you’re more interested in a quick overview: it’s definitely detailed. I find it fascinating, though, even though a lot of the description washed right over me and won’t be socked away into long-term memory. It’s interesting just to read.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Farthing

Posted 3 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Farthing, by Jo WaltonFarthing, Jo Walton

I think this is the second time I’ve read Farthing, and it gets more chilling all the time. It’s an alternate history in which Britain compromised with Hitler, and documents the creeping anti-Semitism and losses of freedom. It’s about compromising with the devil — and in the case of one of the characters, knowing exactly what you’re doing, hating it, and knowing you’re not strong enough not to do it. I love Carmichael, but god, I hope I’m not like him (though I fear I am; one can only hope that when they get offered a choice like that, they have the brains to see it and the guts to say no).

It’s particularly painful for me to read because I do see it happening in Britain now; gradually, people are becoming more and more negative toward foreigners, and it’s all been legitimised by Brexit. I hate it, but I’ll be honest: I’ve started hesitating to admit that my wife is European, gauging the audience to make sure it’s going to be okay. I’ve been told I’m a race traitor for marrying a European; I’ve been told I’m an EU collaborator and a traitor to the UK — etc, etc, all that sickening crap that comes from a certain kind of Brexit supporter. (Not saying all Brexit supporters are doing that and saying things like that, but it’s happening and it’s shocking how little anyone cares apart from to assert it’s not them saying it!)

I imagine US folks would probably have much the same experience right now, and more so.

Despite that, it’s also a deeply entertaining book — Lucy’s narrative voice is great, and the Golden Age crime fic pastiche is great fun. This was the first of Jo’s books that I ever read, and it had me hooked — and it did again this time. She’s excellent with character, with mood, with description, with pace… Honestly, I can’t think of any complaints I have about Farthing, except perhaps that it’s far too on the nose right now.

Rating: 5/5

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Discussion: Buying a Series

Posted 3 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

As with a lot of my discussion posts, this is basically prompted by authors posting on Twitter. In this case, authors are often to be found urging you not to wait for a series to be over before buying their books. There’s solid reasons for that, of course — if people don’t buy the first book in a series, publishers are probably not going to bother taking the risk of publishing the second book — let alone commit to an extended series in hopes that in ten years or so, once it’s complete, people will finally flock to buy the thing.

As a reader, though, I find authorial reproach on this topic… ugh, irritating isn’t the word, because it sounds unfair. But to me, it’s also unfair to expect readers to make an investment in a series right out of the gate, without it even being clear when the next books will come out, how long it’s going to take, how long the series might be, whether things are planned in advance… I would never bother to read the first book of a fantasy trilogy when it’s just the debut novel, for certain: I don’t want to be stuck in Scott Lynch-esque limbo. (I’m with Neil Gaiman — [author name] is not your bitch — but it’s been disappointing as a fan. And in that case, it wasn’t even after the debut novel that things slowed down. There were two books out in reasonably quick succession; it looked like a good bet!)

And of course, I don’t want to buy a book that I’m not going to read until I know when the next one is out. I have a backlog of over a thousand books; if nothing else, I don’t want to purchase something in order to have it sit there for five years inflating my counts and clogging my shelves.

Putting up a discussion post might imply I have an answer, but I really don’t. I don’t have a solid policy: I’ll buy a debut novel if it looks interesting, and I might even read it and risk spending five years waiting for the next book. But it’s something I really would like to balance out somehow: authors’ need for an audience, my desire to feel that I’m not gambling on the next book ever existing…

So hey, what do you guys do? Buy the first book and not read it? Buy the first book and read it and hope to goodness the next comes soon? Stubbornly hold out for the series’ end?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 1 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a quiet week here for the most part, unless you count the bunnies learning that they can make a big noise by dropping their hay ball down the stairs in their hutch when they want me to refill it. New home goes on apace, new car likewise, but I’ve gotta anti-recommend Virgin Media as an internet provider.

(But so many hearts in my eyes for Bulb, who do green energy and a completely hassle-free set up, as well as good rates. If you switch and use that link, you get £50 credit and so do I, just as full disclosure. For me that’s most of a month’s electricity and gas, so it’s a big deal!)

Books received to review:

Cover of Legion by Brandon Sanderson Cover of Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble

Tor actually sent me the hardback of Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds — I’ve only ever read the first novella, so I’m pretty excited.

Books read this week:

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate Cover of Farthing, by Jo Walton

Reviews posted this week:

Ancestral Journies, by Jean Manco. A fascinating topic — the migrations and colonisations of Europe, as far as they can be traced. There are some slightly more tedious bits, but for the most part it pulls together a lot of evidence and is very worth the read if the topic is interesting to you. 4/5 stars
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. A reread, and I possibly loved this even more the second time. 5/5 stars
The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman. I liked this more on a reread, I think because I really placed it in the context of the other books properly. Before, it felt like an ending, but a weak one; I think that was just me focusing too much on Alberich’s arc. 4/5 stars
Murder of a Lady, by Anthony Wynne. Atmospheric as heck, though perhaps leaning too hard on some tropes I dislike. 3/5 stars
Death of a Busybody, by George Bellairs. Very typical Golden Age stuff, but there’s something about it that makes it a really fun casual read. 3/5 stars
Moral Tribes, by Joshua Greene. A surprisingly (to me) good case for utilitarianism! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: A Fast Read. Discussing whether a book being a quick read is a good thing or, as some authors on Twitter think, an insult.
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading (and what I’m thinking about it!).

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘STEVE in the sky. Ever seen the northern lights? This post is about a little-understood phenomenon that is a little bit similar in appearance, but so far only superficially understood.

So that’s that for this week! By next week, I’ll have turned my dissertation in and finished everything I can do for my degree. Which means I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on those comments I’m running behind on…

How’re you guys?

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Review – Moral Tribes

Posted 30 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Moral Tribes by Joshua GreeneMoral Tribes, Joshua Greene

Essentially, this book is about getting past partisan divides and trying to find some kind of objective overarching morality that everyone can apply and understand, a “metamorality”. For Greene, the answer is very clearly utilitarianism, and he makes a spirited defence of that point, countering many of the standard objections to utilitarianism and clearing away the misconceptions. He starts by defining the problem, of course: discussing how we make moral decisions, using trolley problems (“trolleyology”) as the “fruit fly” of morality experiments.

He talks about ideas you’ve probably read elsewhere, sounding very much like Jonathan Haidt’s “rational tail wagging the emotional dog”, and talks about the basis of this in the human brain. There’s a lot of unpicking of why we have two levels of response to moral situations, and when each one comes into play, which is fascinating in itself, but not new to me. The defence of utilitarianism was, for me, the important part of the book. I’ve always had a bit of a kneejerk reaction against it, and Greene does a good job of dissecting why that happens, and countering that perception.

He also has some very good discussion of how to balance the ultimate aims of utilitarianism with being a fallible human being with emotional wants that feel like needs (even in cases where they’re not).

Overall, worth the read, and I do think he has a good solution here for a system of metamorality that isn’t perfect (he doesn’t seem to think a perfect metamorality exists or is possible), but can be applied and understood by everyone, and which serves our needs for 99.999% of our problems in the real world.

Rating: 4/5

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