Nebula Award for Best Novel Review #5

Slow River by Nicola Griffith
Winner of the first Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1997

slowriver

This book I read very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I was unsure if I’d actually finished it when I did. I was so certain that I’d somehow only downloaded the first half of the book, that I searched the internet for a plot summary or page count that could verify my concern. Eventually, I learned that I had indeed finished the book. I guess what I’m saying is this book ends pretty freaking abruptly.

Slow River takes place in a world where identities are stolen and traded, a concept that is kind of scary in our current world where our identities are tied to our online lives. Lore, the protagonist, must hide behind a false identity and be careful not to act in a way that might expose her true self. History, skills, known locations and much more are tied to these identities and are accessible to others, so constantly maintaining her new identity is a struggle. This aspect of the story was interesting to me because of how our identities are understood in our own world. Slow River was written in 1997, but it does seem to have an idea of how easy it might be in the future to queue up a person’s life.

The thing about this book, though, and I’m aware that this is a very cliche thing to say about science fiction, is that the story isn’t really about the futuristic technologies. It’s about the protagonist interacting with others and learning to cope with circumstances that could really be relevant no matter what world you live in.

That’s all fine and good, but I wanted more of the futuristic technologies! I wanted to think Lore’s world was cool! But… it wasn’t. She found work at a water treatment facility. I’m not going to spoil the ending by saying everything I want to say, so I’ll just say this: How cool is water treatment? Not that cool.

Next up, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I’m very slow writing these reviews. I read Ancillary Justice in July and already finished the sequel, Ancillary Sword, which came out in October. They are both so wonderful that I almost can’t wait to re-read them.

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Nebula Award for Best Novel Review #4

Dune by Frank Herbert
Winner of the first Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966

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This book.. So much to say.. It took a very long time to feel comfortable reading it, but as soon as I slipped into the story (took almost half the novel!) things began moving more smoothly. It was quite difficult to get my footing at first!

Once I began to feel comfortably immersed, the pace quickened. I still couldn’t binge read, though, because it was a bit draining. It’s definitely not a light read, and it requires active and conscious reading. I avoid spoilers like the plague always, but I definitely liked having a device nearby when reading this to check wikipedia for character refreshers or term definitions. It was also nice to read on my nook because I could search the book for terms and find the first place a person was mentioned to refresh my memory. So many people to remember… Sure, some of the characters had easy names like Paul or Jessica, but I also had Liet-Kynes, Thufir, Gurney, Dr. Yueh, and Chani to keep track of and it wasn’t easy.

As for the story in general, I loved it. I usually don’t like political stories, but this book had a good balance. The only complaint I would have would be that some of the characters were too black and white. The “bad guys” were all just “bad guys.” Perhaps diving deeper into the series would remedy that issue, but that’s just how I felt after this read.

More than any other book on this list, I think I am most excited about knocking this one off. I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to get around to it, but it’s definitely one of those classics that embarrassed to admit not having read. Now I just have to see the movie!

Next up, Slow River by Nicola Griffith. Already read it, just need to write my review! I think the next one I’ll read is the winner from this year that was announced just this week! Ann Leckie’s first science fiction novel, Ancillary Justice, was declared 2014’s Nebula Award winner for Best Novel.

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Nebula Award for Best Novel Review #3

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Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Winner of The Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1986

Speaker for the Dead is the indirect sequel to Ender’s Game in that it takes place around 3,000 years after the first book. Ender, however, is only 35 due to all of his space travel.

I read this book on the southern beaches of Thailand, and easily slipped into the world of Lusitania while sipping fresh coconut cocktails and watching the limestone islands shrink and grow and shrink again with the tide.  I bet I could have read anything in those surroundings and loved it. For all I know, this could be the worst example of literature in the world, but I would still defend it. Regardless of my bias caused by extremely good mood at time of reading, this book was really something else.

If you decide to read this book, make sure you buy one with an updated forward by Card so you can understand his thought process behind writing it. In a nutshell, he says that this is the book he wanted to write, and Ender’s Game was merely a vessel he used to make it happen.

In Speaker for the Dead, Ender visits a faraway world where a group of humans from Earth have formed a colony called Lusitania. Also inhabiting this planet are the piggies, an intelligent alien life form, that the local xenologists are studying.

Despite having the lamest alien life form nickname of all time, the piggies are endlessly fascinating. Through some actions of their own, mingled with Lusitania’s combustible past, the whole planet comes to a breaking point as Ender enters the scene.

The book takes a minute to get going, mostly because there is so much information needed to set the scene, but once you’re in, you’re in. There is no stopping until you unravel the many tangled mysteries. Like Ender’s Game, it teases you by leaving out just enough to keep you sucked in, but there is so much more complexity to this story that it is even more frustratingly mysterious. I loved watching everything pan out and excitedly falling in love with so many different characters.

I’m sad that Speaker for the Dead does not seem as popular as Ender’s Game, because it is so much more than it’s prequel.

 

My next review, which I have yet to write, is for Dune. Yep! I finished it. Took me forever. In fact, I read a bunch of other books in between starting and finishing Dune. But I can say that I enjoyed it. It might take me a minute to gather all my thoughts about it, though.

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new resolutions.

It’s been 22 posts since I started this blog. My first post was about the New Year, so I figured I had to write a summary of 2013 now that it’s December 31st.

I love New Year’s Resolutions. And I especially love being able to say I accomplished them all. Perhaps I should make my goals more challenging, but who wants to be down on December 31st because they can’t say they accomplished everything they wanted to in the previous year? Not me. Looking back at a year and feeling positive about it makes looking forward to a new year much more exciting. Here’s to the future.

A recap of my 2013 resolutions:

  1. Be a kinder person. Don’t say unkind things about others. Especially not for a laugh.
  2. Find a job at home.
  3. Read 25 books.
  4. Write more.

And here’s how I did:

  1. I intentionally made this an unmeasureable goal. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go an entire year without saying one mean thing (which is sad.), but I wanted to challenge myself somehow. I think I can say that I did much better at this. A little less gossip is out there in the Earth’s soundwaves. Fewer insults and fewer cruel words. But I can still do better. This one is going to make it’s way onto my 2014 goals, for sure.
  2. Not only did I get hired within a month of returning home, I found a fun job at a place that I love. I feel so lucky. The insecurity of unemployment is a difficult burden, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Good luck to everyone still looking!
  3. Nailed it. Check me out on Goodreads to see what I’m into these days. I still have a couple Nebula Award reviews that I need to write!
  4. I definitely wrote more in 2013 than I did in 2012. With this blog and speakeasy, I’d say I did an adequate job. Can still do better.

2014 Resolutions:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Take a class. Or two or three.
  3. Read 30 books.
  4. Write a novel.
  5. Make more ramen.

first tryinstantmiso ramen

 

Happy New Year!

Reading Rut

Guys. I can’t finish Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I can’t even explain why. I don’t dislike it. I actually enjoy the writing style. Michael Chabon is great, and I’ve liked other books by him. I just don’t care about these characters!

I’ll get back to it at some point.

My parents are moving out of their house (I moved too, btw!), so I have been going through tons of childhood relics and mementos. I’ve made a bunch of sweet finds including super embarrassing journal entries, tees from preschool, books full of angsty “poems,” and tons of CDs that never should have been made. The best finds, though, are old books. And this has turned me into a reminiscent-YA-book-reading monster.

I just read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I remember thinking when I first read it that I was a very advanced person. As if I was some mind-reading math genius simply because I could understand the plot of a book about a mind-reading math genius. I am no longer under any similar illusions. I know how long it takes me to calculate 20% tips, and I realize this makes me less than a genius. But the book is still fun.

Eventually I’ll get back into the Nebula books. I’m reading Dune next, I’ve decided. That is, unless I choose to work through the whole L’Engle trilogy, in which case I’ll get to Dune when I get to it!

This past weekend.

Andrew and I went to Spartanburg this weekend to attend his second cousin’s wedding reception. Except for the few hours we were in Spartanburg, we actually spent the majority of the weekend in Greenville at the home of Andrew’s brother and his girlfriend. They already had one dog, and just recently got a new puppy. We had a great time taking some photos of the dogs and just being able to hang out together. 

If you wanna see some cuteness, keep scrolling.

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Late night.

I am having a hard time falling asleep tonight. Usually I do this super cheesy thing where I count sheep. Not sure if I’ve ever admitted that to anyone, but one night a long time ago I tried it out and it actually worked. Funnily enough, counting imaginary sheep is surprisingly frustrating. I can never get the sheep to jump at a consistently steady pace over the fence. For some reason, they all want to go much too fast, so I’m forced to count at this crazy rapid pace and it takes a lot of effort to really focus on slowing them down. I promise I am being 100% genuine right now. This is actually something that happens in my brain. But the really crazy thing is that just about that time when I am getting really irritated with my fake sheep, I fall asleep.

Okay that was a random tangent, but my point is that even the sheep counting isn’t working for me tonight. Neither is the lay-perfectly-still-and-resist-all-urges-to-readjust-sleeping-positions trick. I’m just so full of ideas for what I want my life to be and everything I want to accomplish. The last time the stress of tomorrow kept me awake was probably finals in college. Even with the two very cool and exciting jobs I’ve had in the last two years, I still never laid in bed awake because I couldn’t stop my brain from thinking about tomorrow.

My only theory as to why this may be is that because my future life is a totally blank canvas, there is endless potential for my mind to dwell on. I really have no idea what will be painted on it in 5 days, much less 5 years. I wrote some life goals a couple months ago, but they all seem so distant. It’s like I can picture myself in the roles I’ve imagined for myself, but I am looking at them from an alternate universe Meg’s eyes.

The worst part is that I feel so alone, despite knowing that the opposite is true. The fact is I’d be crazier to think that no one else has felt this way than I would be counting sheep in my head. Everyone has felt this way at some point. I have so many friends experiencing these same emotions. People all over the world are unemployed and searching for a life and a routine. Popular culture references the exact story so much you would think everyone would get tired of hearing it.

It is that paradoxically universal, yet isolating, feeling.

Eventually, I will look back at this time and wish I could console myself and let me know that everything turns out fine. I will accomplish things I never imagined and feel fulfilled with my life. This is just one of those frustrating moments when I can’t get the sheep to do exactly what I want them to do, but soon enough, and without my even noticing it’s happened, I will transition into dreams.

Well check it out… that random tangent isn’t random anymore, is it? I’m feeling accomplished already.

Goodnight internet.

Nebula Award for Best Novel Review #2

ImageEnder’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Winner of The Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1985

This was actually a re-read, but because the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is also on the list, I had to re-read it. 

Ender’s Game is also coming to the big screen this year, and I like to be fresh on the book before I watch the movie, so I chose this one as my second read.

Ender’s Game tells the story of Earth after an attack they barely won against an alien life form, the buggers. Earth is attempting to create a new leader capable of defeating the buggers by training exceptional children at battle school.

The book does a wonderful job of telling you just enough. I love when a story unfolds very slowly in that way, and details are only divulged when absolutely necessary. In the beginning of the novel, you merely meet Ender and his family and you spend the opening pages simply developing these characters in your mind. Only a few chapters later do you really understand what is happening on Earth. And even then you feel a bit out of the loop! Some might say that Card left a few too many ends untied, but I really enjoy the fact that not everything is explained away. It leaves just enough room for imagination.

The book is a giant ethical dilemma, and it’s fun to sit and debate with yourself about the strategies employed by the battle school and the controversial ending. More than that, though, it’s just an entertaining read. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular and well-known science fiction novels. It leaves a few ends untied, but I believe the book as a whole offers the reader a lot to ponder, and I enjoyed coming back to it again. My only problem with the novel is something unrelated to the story itself: the controversial views of the author. Aside from the fact that it is impossible to stomach some of his beliefs, he has written a wonderfully enjoyable book and I can’t wait to see the movie!

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No-poo.

It’s been 8 months since I shampooed my hair.

Horrified? Let me explain…

I’m on the no-poo method! For the most part, it’s pretty straightforward. No shampoo, no conditioner. The thought behind the method is that both treatments are harmful to your hair, scalp, and therefore, to your body. The harsh chemicals in shampoo and conditioner, like sodium-laurel-sulfates, are actually more damaging than they are cleaning. They strip our hair of all oils. This sounds appealing, because after all, you shampoo to remove oils, right?

But, because we’ve become accustomed to shampooing regularly, our bodies readjust to the constant stripping and increase the amount of oil production. So the more you shampoo, the more oil you create. The drawback is that once you decide to quit the shampoo, there is an adjustment period where you will still be over producing oil. Eventually, your scalp will regulate itself, but you have to be prepared for that transition.

I appreciated the idea behind no-poo, but I was never willing to try it if I was going to have to be greasy-headed for a week!

Then I moved to Thailand. I remembered no-poo, and I decided if there was a time or place to try it, it would be there.

Now, the no-poo method means no shampoo, but it doesn’t mean you don’t clean your hair at all. The most common way to wash and condition your hair on the no-poo method, is with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

To wash, just mix a teaspoon of baking soda with a cup full of water and massage it into your scalp. If your hair is super greasy at the moment, let it sit for a minute or two before you rinse.

To condition, mix a bit of ACV with water and rinse the ends of your hair with the mixture. (Side note: I couldn’t find ACV in Ayutthaya. The closest I got was pineapple vinegar. It worked just fine for me, but I really have no idea how close it is to ACV as there was nothing about it online. Well, now there is! Eventually I found some ACV in Bangkok. The only difference was the pineapple stuff was really strong smelling and Andrew usually complained that I smelled like a salad. ACV rinses much better. You can’t smell it at all.)

I bought a ketchup and mustard plastic squirt bottle set at the 20 baht shop (Thai dollar store) and used those to mix my “shampoo” and “conditioner.” I just keep the bottles full in the shower. It’s perfect for really getting the baking soda down to the roots of your hair.

I’ve been no-poo now for 8 months, and I can safely say it’s the best. The longer you go, the less frequently you need to even use the baking soda and vinegar. Most days I just give my hair a good rinse and brush and I’m good to go. The natural oils from my scalp keep my hair feeling soft, but I’m not over producing anymore, so my hair is never greasy. The best part is that it actually has some body now. My hair always fell flat with no style whatsoever. If I wanted some volume I had to spend time and money fighting my hair with the blowdryer and hairspray. Now it just comes naturally! It’s the most amazing thing.

Shampoo free since October 2012.

Our time in Tokyo.

I’ve put this post off for so long because I just can’t bear to admit it’s over. In my mind, I’m still wandering through the many neighborhoods of Tokyo with Andrew, pouring over our travel guides in the attempt to find the best possible ramen or sushi in the area and walking under the cherry blossoms and in and out of brightly colored shops until my feet scream at me and we’re forced to sit and people watch for an hour or two until making our way back to our tiny, but wonderful, hotel room.

I so wish we’d had enough money to stay for longer! Here’s some brief snippets of our days.

We did some memorable shopping.

Ceramics

I spent a lot of time with my nose in our Lonely Planet trying to decipher maps.

Guidebooks

We saw a baseball game a the Tokyo Dome. (Andrew cried. I’m not lying. He was so excited to be in the presence of sports, and especially baseball.) The Yomuri Giants sadly beat my team, the Hiroshima Carp, but the game was well played. I think. I’m actually not really sure because I was so entranced by the tiny and adorable women sprinting up and down the stadium steps with beer kegs strapped to their backs refilling everyone’s drinks. And the fans eating noodles with chopsticks as stadium food. And the cheering coaches who let the entire stadium in nonstop chants through every. single. inning. But if you want to know about something that happened on the field, you’ll have to ask Andrew.

Baseball

We mastered the Metro. It took us a little less than a day to really figure out how everything worked. Initially, I had a miniature meltdown because it was 1 pm and we still hadn’t eaten (therefore, cranky Meg), and we just could NOT figure out what to do or where to go. I was so irritated because everything I read about the Metro online made it seem like it was just so easy and self-explanatory, but eventually we realized that it truly was! It’s just the amount of information to take in can be overwhelming. Especially on an empty stomach. This photo was taken during a very not busy time, but you should have seen it at 7 am when Andrew and I were both bundled down in backpacks trying to squeeze ourselves into a train that was already overflowing with passengers. We’d already let one that seemed too full go past, but we noticed that everyone else was just cramming themselves into seemingly occupied spaces. The train windows were steamy, I was sweating, and we eventually joined in with all the chaotic shoving trying to get on. Eventually, two guys just hopped off to make room for us and ran down to a different car. I really hope they didn’t miss their train. Andrew and I avoided eye contact with everyone, including each other, for a good 10 minutes of shame. I really don’t know what they thought of us in that moment, but I hope we blended in? Everyone else was doing it!

Tokyo Metro

We saw some interesting, if sometimes questionable, scenes. From 9 story buildings full of manga/anime (including one floor dedicated to some very graphic content… we walked in and made a quick u-turn after seeing a few covers.), to the fish market overflowing with GIANT tuna carcasses. From a chain of condom themed shops to advertisements for whale meat. From arcade building skyscrapers with virtual horseraces and Mario Kart to very sassy and Yu-Gi-Oh! looking gigolos strutting in their skin tight tailored suits. “Never a dull moment” is quite the understatement in Tokyo.

Fish
Arcade

Whale

Robot

Condomania

We visited many shrines and parks, all covered in the highly-obsessed over cherry blossoms. Seriously. Japanese people go crazy for their cherry blossoms. I mean, they’re beautiful, and I was so happy to have had the opportunity to see them, but they truly are infatuated with them! The whole city was cherry blossom themed for all 10 days we were there.

Shrine

Cherry Blossoms

Park

Best of all, we ate a TON of phenomenal food. I basically planned our days around our meals. Here’s some fresh soba, ramen, and sushi! Basically the only three things you need to eat in Tokyo.

Soba

Ramen

Sushi

We experienced the nightlife. The streets were always crowded. No matter how late or how cold or how rainy, those Tokyo-ites were running around like crazy in their suits and ties, getting wasted off beer and shochu. We almost ruined a day or two because of too much sake at night, but we were so excited to be there that we gathered our strength and powered through those Ashai hangovers!

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Andrew

We even got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from the speed train when we went to Kyoto for our final day!

Mt Fuji

These are just a few of my favorite snapshots from the trip, but if you want to see some more – come over! I would love to be that friend who sits you down in front of their computer and narrates their way through their 1,000 vacation photos!

I cannot wait to get back to Japan and see more of the country. We literally did not go more than 5 or 10 minutes without one of us asking the other, “How can Japanese people be so much more awesome than all other people?!” We even discussed finding a Japanese couple and proposing a marriage between us. That way they could get American citizenship and we could be Japanese! New item for the bucket list: Be Japanese.

Looking through all these pictures again has made me very nostalgic for something that was only one month ago. *Sigh.* Those were the days.