Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sunday Salon - So have you read any of the books you said you would this year?

The Sunday

Bart at Bart's Bookshelf has a lovely post on his book-buying ban, here. It got me to many of you put a ban on your book buying for the first part of this year? And more importantly, because that ban was most likely put into place because your TBR Mountain of Books is likely as big as mine (over 100 books, like Bart's), have you succeeded in reading any books that were on your TBR mountain yet?

I am happy to say - YES! However, I have to modify this by adding: I didn't give myself a book-buying ban. I know myself well, and I walk past Chapters after work, on my way home through downtown, every night. There is no way I can resist the lure of shiny new books!!! So, I confess that actually, my TBR might have ..........increased since New Year's Day. However, in my defense, I did read some books that were on the mountain already! Here is my somewhat sad total, since I should be at 16 books read today, and I'm only at 10:

Books read since Jan 1
taken off the TBR pile:
The Serpent's Tale - Ariana Franklin
The Face in the Frost - John Bellairs
Fearless Fourteen - Janet Evanovich
Arctic Chill - Artur Indridason
Farthing - Jo Walton
currently reading : The Red Breast - Jo Nesbo

Books added to the TBR Mountain since Jan 1 (ie books bought.....)

Late Nights on Air - Elizabeth Hay
The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link
Lethal Legacy - Linda Fairstein
Grave Goods - Ariana Franklin
A Cure For All Diseases - Reginald Hill

***this never made it onto the pile, I bought it and started reading it the next day.
The Godstalker Chronicles - PC Hodgell *****Counts as 2 books

That's a difference of 0 to my TBR Mountain! I'm really thrilled with that!! It could have been much higher.....but I am making a point of reading what is on my TBR Mountain this year, and letting myself read (and buy) whatever catches my fancy. No rules. Just reading. So if my TBR Mountain looks the same size next winter as it does now, at least the books formerly on it will have been read and replaced by new books to read! This I think is my ultimate goal this year.

So how are you doing with your reading resolutions? Since my goal is 100 books read, I'm falling behind and for March, is my goal to catch up. Luckily for me, Carl's annual spring challenge Once Upon a Time IV (Yaaay Spring! Hurray Carl's Challenge)!!! is going to start on March 21, and I have some books on my TBR mountain I've been saving just for this:
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
Little, Big - John Crowley
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link
The Naming - Alison Croggon
The Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer
Cry Wolf - Patricia Briggs
Urban Shaman - C. E. Murphy
Greywalker - Kat Richardson

and, I also confess that Patricia Brigg's latest paperback in the Mercy Thompson series is finally out, Bone Crossed, which I will be buying. Very soon.

There, they say confession is good for the soul.

So, how is your TBR mountain?

Oh, and what started all this? I opened my email this morning to find one from, saying that finally, The Coffin Trail was sent to me on Friday, and I can expect early this week in my mailbox! Since I bought it in December, it doesn't really count for the new year slow-down, and I plan on reading it as well as Bone-Crossed as soon as I get my hands on them, so they shouldn't make my TBR Mountain fall over. Yes, confession is good for the soul!

Happy Sunday reading, my Gentle Readers!!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Just because I love it so much - some more Fringe

A long time ago, last Oct to be exact, I posted here about a tv show I had just discovered, called Fringe. Well, it's been 4 months, and how do I feel now? In one word, besotted. That's right, crazy in love with a tv show. Me! By now some of you, my Gentle Readers, know I have a weakness for science fiction on tv. But I'm really choosy about what I watch. So it's rare for me to rave about tv, though I'm beginning to realize that if I do, it's usually about science fiction shows! So, because of Carl's Sci Fi experience still going on, I thought I would add a few things about Fringe that I know now, and more reasons why it's the best science fiction show on TV.

We are 2/3 of the way through Season 2. So, is S2 any better than S1? In my opinion, yes. It's different - the show moved filming to Vancouver over the summer (yaay Canada!), and the lighting and colours have become much more muted and darker - and in some cases, distinctively British Columbia in some of the forest scenes. It thus still has echoes of X-Files as X-Files (is there anyone who doesn't know this?) was filmed in Vancouver also. But there the resemblence ends. Fringe has settled into it's own place, it's own mythology, it's own characters' lives. It is still bizarre, still nightmarish, still creepy and scary, and it's also gone deeper into the story of Olivia, and explored some of Peter's and Walter's history. This season has seen the three characters - and indeed Broyles who is still in charge of the Fringe division, and Astrid who is still assisting in the lab are also included in this - so, the five Fringe people, draw closer together - become a group of people who now care for each other. In particular is the deepening of the father-son relationship between Walter and Peter, which has been deeply moving, and the slowly growing awareness of attraction between Peter and Olivia.

The more Fringe goes to Olivia's drug experiment past when she was a child and shows how it affected her as a person today - and the last episode that aired, "Jacksonville", did just that - the more the reality of what experimenting on people really costs becomes apparent. This has been a theme all along in Fringe. There is a cost to experimenting in the scientific world, especially when it comes to experiments using people. In no way does Fringe frown on scientific work! It's more about how far people push the boundaries of knowledge, and what happens to everyone involved.

As a psychology show, it's an amazing. How Olivia is now as a person, is directly related to what happened to her when she was 3 and how she coped with what she experienced during the drug trial. Walter has shown flashes of his old self before he become insane, and so we can see the old Walter that Peter grew up with, and the new Walter, who is changed by his time in the mental hospital. The most character growth has been shown by Peter, who decided after Olivia almost dies in ep 1 of this season, that they are going to do more than react to things, and who has started to come into his own as the one who cares for and protects these two. This is a change from the first season when he had jokes and kept at an emotional distance, now he's involved in every case and emotionally connected to both Peter and Olivia. He's about to discover the big secret that Walter has carried since Peter was a boy, that Olivia just discovered last episode: he's not from our world.

And no, he's not an alien! This is a multi-universe drama, and before you shout "Lost!" at me, I will say, "Yes, same producer and creator - JJ Abrams - but no- not the same multiple storylines etc that Lost is using." Fringe has one alternate universe, that Walter opened the door to, and took what fans call "Alternate" Peter after the real Peter died as a young child. Olivia saw the glow around Peter at the end of the last episode, the glimmer of light that shows he is from the other world. He doesn't know. And that's where the series stands, as we have an 8 week hiatus (until April 1) until Fringe returns. Interested yet?

Mostly, Fringe is about people. People caught up in the search for knowledge, for power, who have seen into the future and want to protect it, and people searching to make up for past mistakes. There is almost always a family at the centre of things every episode, a family threatened by some scientific discovery or experiment gone wrong, or alternative health sources - the underworld of science, in a way. It's a freak show, with people who love eachother, and that love isn't always enough to save them from mistakes that most frequently have dire consequences. Sometimes, there are acts of redemption, that bring a kind of healing and balance back. At the center are always Olivia, Peter and Walter, exploring this dark side of the quest for knowledge.

For me, the writing is the best on tv. The dialogue is what you and I would say if we were caught in this world. The writing? Excellent. From foreshadowing to plots that echo the unfolding story arcs, there is so much attention paid to detail, to what's happened before and what's coming, that I can watch this show again and again and still find things to discover, or link up to later episodes. It's layered, and everything said matters on this show. I just find that it's a feast of extraordinary television. As it's under the guise of science fiction, I think it's that science fiction label that keeps it from really getting more recognitition - and probably viewers - than it does. It really is much more than a science fiction show - or, I should say, it's the best high-quality drama out there, that happens to be science fiction.

I jokingly call Fringe the show about 'science gone bad'. It's also about love, family, forgiveness, the past always having repercussions in the future, and , for the scientists among us, science is the grounding of every episode, in Walter's lab, and for the science fiction fan, the coming war with the alternate world. Even though it sounds like it has a lot, which it does, everything is balanced with storytelling that just pulls you along. It is rare - beyond rare! - for me to be able to watch a tv episode more than twice, if even that much. Fringe is one of a very few tv shows that I have watched four and five times, and I still get grossed out, I still jump, and every so often, I still cry. I can't get enough of these characters! and I really have to know what happens next. It's almost impossible to watch one episode at a time on the dvd. Thankfully for my sake, I have PVR'd Season 2, so now our PVR is filled with Fringe! I hate letting any episodes go!

It's on hiatus right now, so if you haven't caught it yet, the next episode "Peter" airs April 1, and it promises to be another crucial episode in the season and story arc. I'll be there. I should have all of Season 2 rewatched and "Jacksonville" memorized by then!

So now you know, my inner science fiction geekess is alive and well, watching Fringe. And reading science fiction for the challenge. Since it's only a few days before the end of February,
I probably won't post again about science fiction for the challenge. So I hope if you are looking for something new and entertaining in science fiction a try, you will give Fringe a try. And Carl's experience may only last until the end of February, but his list of things we have read and watched and entered on his site, stay up for years......

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Bellwether by Connie Willis or, the book that is most like me

Bellwether by Connie Willis is a book I first discovered 12 years ago. The first time I read it, I gave it to everyone for Christmas that year. I have reread at least once since, and a few weeks ago I picked the book up again. As always, I wondered: would I still love this book? Was it still funny?



I laughed out loud! I cried, wiping tears away surreptitiously at work and on the bus. I devoured this book. Most of all, I remembered why I love it so much. The heroine, Sandra Foster, is me. Not me, literally. But how she thinks, the things she does and gets caught up in, she is me. Synchronicity. Chaos resolving into a higher state of stability. Humour. Books feature in this story in a big way. So do administrative clerks and a management team who keep inventing new acronyms for the team. I don't know about you, but even in my workplace we've managed to go through three acronyms since I began there 9 years ago. Three! Since this is my first foray into business/government vs retail work, I found reading Bellwether this time even funnier. I can relate to a management team whose new iniative spells out "GRIM: Guided Resource Initiative Management". It makes as much sense as any real life acronyms!! I wish I dared suggest it in our suggestion box at work......

This science fiction novel is about the chaos that results at a science firm when an administrative assistant named Flip misdelivers a box to the wrong section. Sandra is researching what caused the bob in the 1920's - the short cut of hair that millions of women suddenly adopted, without one apparent reason for them all to do it. Sandra is a statistician, and has a theory about how trends get started. Flip's misdelivery of the box leads her to meet Bennett, who defies all popularity/trendsetting fads, including wearing coke-bottle lens glasses, and researches chaos theory. 'Bellwether' is also about sheep, but you'll have to read the book to find out more, since otherwise it might give too much of the plot away!

It is a delightful, wonderful, witty poke at modern fads and trends and the buzz words we use, all in the context of understanding why people behave the way they do. Thrown into the mix is the desire of the company to win the Neibnitz Grant, a prize of one million dollars, awarded every so often to a scientist.

Did I mention library books? Library books figure prominently, as does Barbie, fads in angels and fairies, restaurants that change names weekly, and management sensitivity exercises.

There is so much to love in the book. I was as happy and satisfied at the ending as ever, and I finished it thinking, "If anyone ever wanted to get to know how my brain works, this is a good book to start with." This is one of those books that truly delights me. It is good, it is moving, and it is funny. It really is one of my favourite books of all time.

Here is a link to a Connie Willis site and her books. I see by this that her new book, Black-Out, was released last week! I'm rushing to my bookstore on Tuesday to see if it's there!

Here is Jo Walton's review of Bellwether, written last year. I'd suggest to read this one only if you've read Bellwether already, since it does give more plot away. I also disagree with Jo when she calls it fluff; I prefer one of the commentators on the post who suggest that Bellwether unifies chaos events - I like that! there has to be some kind of new equilibrium reached, even if it's only temporary, or only chaos results, forever. And life just isn't like that. Life does have moments of equilibrium.

As science fiction goes, this is not heavy on science at all. Science plays a major role, but so does love and friendship and a Robert Browning poem. It's a book for anyone who's afraid to try science fiction, for anyone who hates winter and longs for spring (this will at least make your spirits happy for a few days), for anyone who likes a wry look at how people come to do things - anything. This is a very good novel that happens to be science fiction. So I really have given it to people who've never read this genre, as well as to life-long readers of it. Mostly, it's funny. It also gives a handy 5-answer guide for what to put down for your list at your next management strategy (new acronym time!) meeting that we all have to suffer under :

1.Optimize potential. 2.Facilitate empowerment 3. Implement visioning 4.Strategize priorities 5. Augment core structures.

Uh oh, writing that list down makes me realize I've heard all this in real life! I wonder if any of my management team have read this book? So I like Bennett's response to the list:
What is that?" Bennett said, looking at the list. "Those make no sense."

Yes, I feel like I'm having a conversation with the characters! If for nothing else, you have to read this book for Flip, who is like the worst assistant out there......

So tell me, Gentle Reader, have you come across a book that seems to reflect you on the page? Is it one of your favourite books?

This was read for part of Carl's Sci-Fi Challenge, as well as Becky's 42 Science Fiction Things challenge.