Friday, June 19, 2015

A peak into Bryony and Roses

I almost missed Friday! Oops.  For today's Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, here is the beginning of Bryony and Roses a new novella by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) ...
She was going to die because of the rutabagas. 
Bryony pushed her cloak back from her face and looked up. The space between Fumblefoot's ears had become her entire world for the past half-hour, and she was a little surprised at how large the forest was when she finally lifted her eyes. 
Unfortunately, it was all covered in a thick blanket of snow. 

And for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is a bit from the 56% mark ...
Bryony giggled. 
I should definitely eat more than a roll before I have any more wine ... 
"That doesn't work for being short, though," she said. "You're, what, seven feet tall? I'm definitely short next to you."
"My dear Bryony," said the Beast, "everyone is short next to me." 

And that's it ... I hope you liked the teaser. This is a lovely re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and I quite enjoyed it. Nine Goblins is still my favorite, but this one is very good.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Graphic Novel and Manga mini-reviews

Some really quick mini-reviews before I forget everything (all of these are paperbacks that I purchased) ... as an antidote to my Hugo's reading, we have gotten several manga and graphic novels lately.

Baron The Cat Returns (バロン 猫の男爵 Baron: Neko no Danshaku, lit. Baron: the Cat Baron) by Aoi Hiiragi is a very cute, short manga that is related to the Studio Ghibli movie The Cat Returns. According to Hiiragi was commissioned to create a manga to go along with an animated short being developed for an amusement park. The ride fell through, but the short got developed into a full length movie. 

The artwork for some of the characters is significantly different and the story is somewhat dissimilar - though most of the key points are the same. Still, quite likeable in its own way.  Recommended if you are a fan of the movie or looking for a simple comfort read. All ages.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson - I haven't actually gotten to read all of this one. My daughter took it as soon as she spotted it and won't let me see it. She has been reading it at bedtime and laughing. The only parts I have read are the ones where she want some help with new words. What I have seen I have liked, and I have laughed out loud a couple of times too. Recommended. All ages.

Oh - forgot to add - it started out as a webcomic so you can take a look to see what you think.

TICK: The Complete Edlund
SPOON! This includes the first several Tick comics - the one stuck in my mind was Night of A Million-Zillion Ninjas. I have no idea what made me suddenly think of Tick, once it was stuck in my head I had to get a copy somehow.

So, when it showed up in the mail, I got to read original story, then the re-done 'origin' story and then it was grabbed out of my hands by my son, who promptly ran off and read it, laughing and reading out bits the entire time. He strongly recommends it. I still have to find where he squirreled it away.


RESERVoir CHRoNiCle TSUBASA  written and illustrated by the manga artist group Clamp. (Tsubasa () is the Japanese word for wing.)

I haven't given these to my son yet (finally something I managed to hang onto!) and have just binge-read all four Omnibus volumes. Total fan! Once I got used to characters occasionally looking like Mr. Fantastic (all stretchy and elongated) I really enjoyed the art. Quite lovely.

This is my first Clamp series, so I don't have any of the alternate universe backstories for any of the characters, but that I just fine with me. I have already ordered the first Cardcaptors Sakura though since the next Omnibus isn't due out until August. 

From Amazon:
Childhood friends Princess Sakura and Syaoran, the son of an archaeologist, become entangled in a series of events that force them to traverse through alternate realities on an action-packed and unforgettable adventure!  In the Kingdom of Clow, an archaeological dig unleashes an incredible power, causing Sakura to lose her memories. To save her, Syaoran must follow the orders of the Dimension Witch and travel alongside Kurogane, an unrivaled warrior; Fai, a powerful magician; and Mokona Modoki, a curiously strange creature, to retrieve Sakura’s dispersed memories! But first, there is a price to be paid…
Also recommended. I really like the ride so far - though I am a little worried that there won't be an ending.Teen 13+ - mostly seems to be about characters drinking.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A peak into Headstrong by Rachel Swaby

I almost missed today's Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader.  We have been out laying concrete for a garage.  My back is killing me. Anyhow... this is kinda neat and I missed a few non-fiction entries lately ... 

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World by Rachel Swaby

I have to start with a bit from the Introduction ...
This book about scientists began with Beef Stroganoff. According to the New York Times, Yvonne Brill made a mean one. In an obituary published in March 2013, Brill was honored with the title of "world's best mom" because she "followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children." Only after a loud, public outcry did the Times amend the article so it would begin with the contribution that earned Brill a featured spot in the paper of record in the first place: "She was a brilliant rocket scientist." Oh right. That.

Yes - it says 2013 not 1953. Un-friggin-believable. The Times change the obituary but they did it without adding any sort of acknowledgement that they messed up in the first place.

It now says ...

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

Sheesh - #*$%& clueless!

And from page 57 (page 56 is the very end of the entry for Mary Anning) for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice ......

Ellen Swallow Richards 1842–1911 Chemistry•American

Before 1887, water quality standards in Massachusetts did not exist. Modern, city-run water treatment plants? Those weren't around, either. So on the contaminated drinking water roulette wheel, to take a sip of water in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the late nineteenth century was to consume either industrial waste or municipal sewage. To push the area's drinking water to a safer state, Ellen Swallow Richards, an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's newly founded laboratory of sanitary chemistry, supervised the collection and analysis of some twenty thousand water samples. Her experimental design both set the standard for similar studies and gave Richards a foundation to make assumptions about both the area's water quality and larger global drinking water conditions. Not a bad contribution from the first person in the United States to be both a professional chemist and a woman at the same time. 

The whole book consists of really short (just a few pages) introduction to women who made significant contributions in a wide range of fields.  Neat stuff!

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wondrous Words Wednesday 43

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

I have no idea where time is flying to - I thought you were supposed to be having  fun when time did that.

Ah well - some words for this week, for the purpose of having fun!

"...and that'd upset Pardessus Chatain Pursuivant. He always locks himself in his shed when he's upset..."

I already know what a Pursuivant is - the term basically means assistant herald. And Chatain means brown or chestnut colored. But I didn't know Pardessus.

pardessus /paʀdəsy/

1: a sleeveless garment like a cloak but shorter, mantle
2: a loose outer garment
3: a heavy coat worn over clothes in winter
4: French "over the top of"

Ohhh - here is a lovely Victorian Pardessus from Godey's Lady's Book

Or here is a lovely hand colored engraving c.1855 from the House of Worth from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection "Fashion plate showing two women's dresses in an outdoor setting. Grey dress with lilac sprigs and facings and black lace trimming, with yellow shawl and fringed parasol, and pink dress with black coat with green facings, both with bonnets."

That black coat is a also a pardessus.

And now that I sorted though all of that, I find this informative website - if you are interested in this, you should visit the site.

The other choice is a modern style overcoat, such as this 1931 Montagnac (from, which is way less interesting to imagine.  

So, as far as I can work out, the gentleman in question is the Brown Cloak Assistant Herald.

And pardessus also led me to  ...

pardessus de viole

noun par·des·sus de vi·ole \¦pärdə¦südəvēˈōl\

1: a five- or six-stringed viol that is approximately the size of a violin and that is tuned an octave higher than the tenor viol —called also descant viol, quinton

French, literally, above the viol
First Known Use: 1889

I need one of these !!!!! NOW!!!!

And I just managed to spend all of my time on one word. Ooops.

Happy Wednesday

Friday, June 5, 2015

Ancillary Sword, more Hugo's and some things I have learned about my taste in reading

Warning, I am starting off with a wall of text musing about the reading I have been doing lately for the Hugo's and how it plays into larger themes that either work or don't work for me. If you just want to see the book quotes - skip down to the image of the Ancillary Sword book cover. 

Yesterday, after reading a news piece about  Plutos Moons being in Chaos I started thinking about The Three Body problem again and realized that one things which made it such an increasingly unpleasant reading experience was how pretty much all of the female characters ended up being portrayed. I greatly enjoyed the first part of the book (about the first third I think) with the pieces about the cultural revolution and the establishment of the various POV characters, but as the plot progressed (along with the increasingly silly science and illogical activities) it became more and more apparent that if a morally reprehensible action or action born in weakness of character was about to take place, a female character was going to do it. It is good that at least there were female characters, in non-traditional roles even, but almost universally they were portrayed as selfish and lacking a moral core.   

There was a greater diversity of behavior and character in the male cast of the book and apparently reprehensible actions by certain male characters were treated as heroic, so there was a distinct difference in framing. Yes, I know, almost no one actually seems to be "good" person - another reason the book got so wearing to read. But seriously, it felt increasingly like I was being slapped in the face with this and since I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, Heinlein and lots of "Golden Age" fiction featuring covers with women in improbably tight space suits, it takes some pretty overt text for me to pick up on it.

The other thing I realized, was that it is important for me that the peripheral characters, and the wider world in general, actually matter in the story (more than just the stereotypical "we must save the world" trope"). I will try to explain with an example - a while back I was reading an on-line discussion where the topic of books came up and several recommendations were made - one book in particular got several enthusiastic endorsements so I downloaded the preview from Amazon, though it was pretty interesting, and bought the whole thing. I read it in less than a day (I was home sick) and found the world-building to be compelling and the stratification of the society well presented. I really wanted to see where this was all going (it was the first book of a trilogy) - but instead of doing anything with the world and the axillary characters, for the conclusion of the book, the author actually destroyed everything - literally blew it all up. Only our two protagonists survived. And the book framed this as a happy ending - the "bad guys" got what they deserved and the way it was presented in the text it didn't matter that this took out entire rest of the population. I was appalled.

Protagonist centered morality writ large.

I realized that this is one of the things that has been a major turn-off for me in lots of the popular books I have read in the past few years. This concept that as long as our POV character is okay, nothing else matters.

Well, actually, I have discovered that it matters to me. I don't find anything particularly compelling or heroic in characters that survive or thrive by stepping over the bodies of the remainder of the cast. I am also much more interested in a book that describes a character's actions than I am in a book that just tells me over and over that a character is a "hero."  

This is one (of several) reasons why virtually all of the short fiction just fell totally flat for me. Many of the protagonists/POV characters were unappealing or simply awful people (like in “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” and Flow) and/or were only out for themselves - giving no cares for the wider world. Simply yuck.

All of this is an extremely round-about way of getting to one of the reasons that I liked The Goblin Emperor and both Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword so much. In each of these worlds, other people mattered to the protagonists. It wasn't enough for them simply to satisfy their own needs/desires. Maia and Breq both care about other characters, sometimes even when they don't necessarily want to. They care not just about their love interest or in book "family" - they care, in the abstract, about people in general. About society as a wider concept. This I like. I like it a great deal and want to see more of it.

For today's Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, here is the beginning of Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie - the second book in the Imperial Radch series and current Hugo nominee for Best Novel ...

 "Considering the circumstances, you could use another lieutenant." Anaander Mianaai, ruler (for the moment) of all the vast reaches of Radchaai space, sat in a wide chair cushioned with embroidered silk. This body that spoke to me – one of thousands – looked to be about thirteen years old. Black clad, dark-skinned. Her face was already stamped with the aristocratic features that were, in Radchaai space, a marker of the highest rank and fashion. Under normal circumstances no one ever saw such young versions of the Lord of Radch, but these were not normal circumstances.

From page 56 of Ancillary Sword for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice ...

In my quarters, Kalr Five, disquieted by the day's events but of course expressionless, had my supper waiting for me – a bowl of skel and flask of water, common soldier's mess. I suspected Ship had suggested it to her but didn't query to confirm that suspicion. I'd have been content eating skel all the time, but it would have distressed Five, and not only because it would have deprived her of the opportunity to filch tastes of non-skel delicacies, a cherished perquisite of serving the captain or the officers in the decade room.     

I have seen several complaints on-line that Sword suffers from second book slump but I have to say I disagree completely. I am really enjoyed the book thus far and find it neatly fills in details of world building, giving the reader a broader perspective on how truly terrible Radchaai civilization was and is. The reader gets to explore the here and now, before things go to heck in a hand-basket. It is significantly different than the first book in that the story is basically linear, so if it was the time tripping perspective of the first book that you liked best - where the story unfolds in a non-linear perspective and the chapters move backwards and forwards in time - well I admit, that is lacking. Also, if you expecting to plunge directly into a civil war, with huge multi-ship battles, well, that isn't what the book starts with either. So I can see how, depending on what your expectations were, the book can feel disappointing. 

Me - I am happy and loving it so far. Also - the plot moves along briskly enough that I haven't worried much about logical issues in the stories (like the whole why ancillaries in the first place question). I am enjoying the ride. 

So - for my Hugo's ballot I have a conundrum. Do I like Ancillary Sword best or The Goblin Emperor? This is gonna be a hard one.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

More Hugo's stuff - My Other Three Body Problem problem

Sigh. I had rather stopped thinking about The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu. Shortly after I finished the book I saw lots of gushing praise about it and kept wondering if I had somehow ended up with the wrong book, because I just didn't see the magnificently clever story that other people were seeing.

Confused, I put it out of my mind and started reading Ancillary Sword.  Now though, the recent news about the chaotic behavior of Pluto's moons has put TBP back into my mind.

There is one more problem that I had with the book that I left out of my review. For my review I just concentrated on the science and logical error issues that I had with the book. This problem is a bit different. To explain, I will present some quotes from the book ...

"When she first expressed an interest in abstract theory, I told her that field wasn't easy for women. She said, what about Madame Curie? I told her, Madame Curie was never really accepted as part of that field. Her success was seen as a matter of persistence and hard work, but without her, someone else would have completed her work. As a matter of fact, Wu Chien-Shiung went even further than Madam Curie. But it really isn't a woman's field."

"But she was a woman. A woman should be like water, able to flow over and around anything." 

Both of these lines are spoken by a female and the woman she is referring to was her daughter.

"Do you not want to join this wonderful life?" Mozi asked, pointing to the ground below. "When women are first revived, they crave love."

There are more examples, but those are the ones that really stood out in my mind.

Next I ask you to consider the female characters in the book and the roles they play in the story. Spoilers in ROT13.

Gur cevznel srznyr punenpgre, Lr, vf vavgvnyyl n flzcngurgvp punenpgre ohg vg gheaf bhg gung fur vf npghnyyl n zheqrere naq gur urnq fbpvbcngu oruvaq gelvat gb trg gur ragver uhzna enpr jvcrq bhg. 

Lr'f zbgure vf gubebhtuyl haflzcngurgvp. 

Lr'f sngure jnf orngra ol sbhe lbhat srznyr zrzoref bs gur Erq Thneq naq hygvzngryl zheqrerq ol bar bs gurz.

Jnat'f jvsr vf cenpgvpnyyl vaivfvoyr (V qba'g rira erzrzore ure univat n anzr) naq qvfnccrnef sebz gur fgbel nf fbba nf fur vfa'g arrqrq.

Gur anzryrff crefba jub oernxf Cna Una'f arpx ("fur gjvfgrq Cna'f urnq 180 qrterrf jvgu cenpgvprq rnfr") naq jub guerngrarq gb oybj hc gur zrrgvat jvgu n ahpyrne obzo, jnf lbhat fzvyvat jbzna.

Again, there are more examples, but you probably get my gist by now. I think that this probably explains, at least in part, why my reading experience as a female in a STEM field is rather different than another person's might have been. Yes, the characters are pretty thin, but even so think about whose minds you get to ride along with - I think it matters in terms of how the story plays out to you.

I found the science got too silly and I thought the plot was lacking in logical consistency, but I have still liked stories with those flaws if there is some other redeeming feature - here I also felt, initially subconsciously but increasingly overtly, insulted by the roles that women played in this story.

Normally I don't think too much about this sort of thing, but in this case I felt like I was being slapped in the face with it. Not a fun reading experience.

Since I am once again totally bummed, I will close with a xkcd comic to make myself feel better.

NASA Says Plutos Moons in Chaos

Cool story that, unfortunately, made me think of Three Body Problem.

NASA reported yesterday that 

If you lived on one of Pluto’s moons, you might have a hard time determining when, or from which direction, the sun will rise each day. Comprehensive analysis of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble unpredictably.

Pluto’s moon Nix
This set of computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” Pluto-Charon.
Credits: NASA/ESA/M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI)
The moons wobble because they’re embedded in a gravitational field that shifts constantly. This shift is created by the double planet system of Pluto and Charon as they whirl about each other. Pluto and Charon are called a double planet because they share a common center of gravity located in the space between the bodies. Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically. The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons. Scientists believe it’s likely Pluto’s other two moons, Kerberos and Styx, are in a similar situation.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, says that when the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July, NASA will get an "up close and personal" view of what the moons look like.

Discoverers Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View California and Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park also found that three of Pluto's moons are locked together in resonance, i.e. have a precise ratio for their orbital periods.

“If you were sitting on Nix, you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra,” noted Hamilton.
Hubble data also reveal the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other frozen moons are as bright as sand. It was predicted that dust blasted off the moons by meteorite impacts should coat all the moons, giving their surfaces a homogenous look, which makes Kerberos’ coloring very surprising.

Comparative brightness of Pluto’s moons
This illustration shows the scale and comparative brightness of Pluto’s small satellites. 
The surface craters are for illustration only and do not represent real imaging data.
Credits: NASA/ESA/A. Feild (STScI)

Cool Stuff!

Environmental News Roundup

It has been quite a while since I did one of these!  Just some items to pass on ...

California is still in drought

The New York Times has an interesting graphic concerning water use in the state ...
How Has the Drought Affected California’s Water Use?
It shows Change in Consumption (some districts esp. around Los Angeles have increased consumption!), Size of Proposed Cuts and Daily Gallons Per Capita.

Cool National Geographic Story - Seven New Mini-Frogs Found—Among Smallest Known. Look at this little guy !

One of the miniature frog species found recently in Brazil. NatGeo

ARGH!!!  From Nature News

US lawmakers approve controversial spending bill

Proposal for NSF and NASA would take from Earth and social sciences, and give to planetary exploration.
The House plan would set NASA’s budget at US$18.5 billion in fiscal year 2016, roughly 3% above the current level. But the legislation would chop 5.7% from the space agency’s Earth-science research programme, setting its funding at $1.683 billion. That is almost 14% less than the White House request of $1.947 billion, which also proposed transferring some climate-satellite programmes from NOAA to NASA.
The NSF’s budget would grow by $50 million in 2016, to $7.4 billion. But the House bill would reshuffle the agency’s main research programmes. It includes unusual language that directs 70% of the agency’s $6-billion research spending to programmes in biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physical science. That would effectively impose steep but unspecified cuts on the NSF’s social-science and geoscience directorates — probably around 15%, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

NOAA would see its budget cut by 5.2%, from $5.5 billion this year to $5.2 billion in 2016. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would take a 3.2% hit, dropping to $432 million.

Noooo!  Not good, not good at all !  You know, not looking is NOT going to make global warming go away!

From NBC News - since, of course there is an oil spill going on, ...

A pipeline rupture that spilled an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara last month occurred along a badly corroded section that had worn away to a fraction of an inch in thickness, according to federal regulators. 
The preliminary findings released Wednesday by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration point to a possible cause of the May 19 spill that blackened popular beaches and created a 9-mile slick in the Pacific Ocean. 
The agency said investigators found corrosion at the break site had degraded the pipe wall thickness to 1/16 of an inch, and that there was a 6-inch opening near the bottom of the pipe. Additionally, the report noted that the area that failed was close to three repairs made because of corrosion found in 2012 inspections.
The findings indicate 82 percent of the metal pipe wall had worn away.

Along the same lines ...

The Center for Biological Diversity has a couple of interesting videos ...

First is pipeline incidents in California since 1986 (you might want to mute or turn down the volume - the music is pretty loud and gets annoying fast)


And the second one shows pipeline incidents in the contiguous US since 1986.

The really, really scary part is that pipelines are the safer way to transport oil in comparison to train or truck transport. Yikes.