Apr. 13th, 2016
02:55 pm - Farseer rereading
Over the last couple of months I've reread the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, plus Fool's Assassin and Fool's Quest. I started because I wanted to experience Nighteyes again now I'm a dog owner, but quickly got wrapped up in Fitz and kept going past Nighteyes' death. ( MoreCollapse )
The only problem with all this reading is that my body doesn't like it and I end up with a stiff neck and shoulders just as I do if I spend too much time at the computer. I admire anyone who has the discipline to only read in an ergonomically-correct position! I had a professional standards review last month and had to clean my house in preparation, since I work mostly from home and the reviewer would spend the day here. Relocating spiders alone was a long, three-step process – first I moved the big ones, then I realised there were many more medium-sized ones, and once they were all gone I saw the small ones! Tedious as it was, I had to admit that housework agrees with me physically far better than reading.
Jan. 12th, 2016
09:43 am - In memory of David Bowie
Dec. 20th, 2015
Nov. 27th, 2015
05:58 pm - Cesar's Rules by Cesar Millan
Cesar's Rules by Cesar Millan
In this book Cesar Millan (the TV "Dog Whisperer") interviews a variety of accomplished dog trainers and behaviourists, many of whom don't agree with some of his methods, to provide an overview of the various options.
( NotesCollapse )
Jul. 4th, 2015
03:06 pm - Uprooted by Naomi Novik
After the Great Wall hiking trip finished, I joined a long weekend trip run by Beijing Hikers to the grasslands near the Mongolian border. It took 5 1/2 hours on a bus to get there, and 8 1/2 hours to get back to Beijing thanks to the longest traffic jam I've ever been in.
The most interesting thing about this trip was the people on it. Hiking is not a popular activity among Chinese people, so Beijing Hikers attracts mostly expats, on this occasion from Germany, England, the Netherlands, Italy, the US, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. Some had devoted years of their lives to studying Chinese to allow them to pursue their chosen career there, others worked only in English. Their jobs ranged from teacher's assistant at the British embassy school to a senior Microsoft executive who was close to retirement. Most were living there voluntarily rather than at the request of their employer. A couple in their 50s from England were on their third Chinese posting, and felt China had been a far better place to raise their children than England due to lower levels of personal crime and violence.
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Jun. 30th, 2015
09:11 pm - China: Dragons and Temeraire
I was conscious of China being Temeraire's country of origin and I'm sure that added some extra enjoyment to my trip.
I wish I'd started taking dragon pictures earlier, but ( here are two from my last dayCollapse )
According to Wikipedia, there are examples of Chinese dragons dating back to 1600BC.
A rec from some Temeraire fanfic reading I did while I was away: Sixteen by quigonejinn, a very short (900 word) story about the first harnessing of Longwings.
The final Temeraire book is apparently still being written and no release date has been set.
Jun. 29th, 2015
10:36 pm - China: Great Wall hiking
The Great Wall is one of those places that pictures don't adequately convey. We spent seven days hiking up to and on various parts of it, and I could happily have done much more.
The factors that made being there different to what I'd expected from pictures were 1) the steepness of many sections, 2) the fact that in some parts it goes off in many directions, often to the top of the highest peaks in the area before diving down again and then rising somewhere else, 3) different styles and types of construction, and 4) in places it now ends right next to a highway or road or in a town, then picks up again on the other side. In one village we stayed in, we walked right past part of the wall next to the main street for two days before realising what it was on the third day.
Six of the days were at quiet spots where our little group was either completely alone or there were just a few other people. One day was at Mutianyu, a very touristy, fully restored section near Beijing. We called it the "Disneyland" section. It was complete with a huge ticket office, shuttle buses to drive you from the ticket office to a shop/restaurant area, a choice of chair lifts or gondolas to take you to the top, souvenir sellers on top, and toboggans to get down! It's still a serious walk if you cover the entire open section, though, since it's stairs and more stairs.
( PhotosCollapse )
07:30 pm - China
I've just returned from three weeks in China, my present to myself to mark the end of my most recent job.
My trip was made up of three parts:
1. A guided trip organised by a member of my Perth bushwalking club who is originally from Beijing. It included seven days of hiking on various parts of the Great Wall and four days of sightseeing in Beijing.
2. A long weekend hiking trip to the Bashang Grasslands near the Mongolian border with Beijing Hikers. Most Beijing Hikers are expats, since hiking is not a popular activity among the locals.
3. Four days by myself in Xi'an, the city closest to the Terracotta Warriors. I assumed before doing any research that it would be a relatively small place, but it's almost twice as big as Sydney!
( Things I was not expecting:Collapse )
My favourite thing was all the people, especially retired people, using the parks day and night to exercise, dance, and play mahjong and cards. In the park around the Temple of Heaven, a group of maybe 60-75 year old men were doing gymnastics on parallel bars and high bars. Just around the corner from the airport hotel where I stayed on my last night, people of all ages were ballroom dancing in a big paved quadrangle to Chinese popular music. This has to be far healthier, both physically and mentally, than the way many Australians spend their evenings.
Worst thing was without doubt the air pollution. It wasn't an issue the first week, but depressingly bad by my last day – and my "depressingly bad" wasn't actually that bad by local standards (153 or "unhealthy" on this meter). Second-worst thing was the noise pollution caused by incessant honking while driving / riding. It's not the aggressive-but-infrequent Australian style of honking, but rather a constant "I'm here on your left", "I'm here on your right", "I'm moving into your lane", "Coming through!" kind of honking. Driving in Perth seemed blissfully quiet on my way home. 85kms from my mother's house to mine, and not one honk!
May. 11th, 2015
11:12 am - Airline magazine ads
Since 1 May I've been "temporarily retired" (sounds better than "out of work") and have just returned from 8 days in the South Australian outback, which involved flying to Adelaide.
The Virgin magazine on the way over included an ad for height-increasing shoes for men. The height chart behind the model showed his "before" height as 6' 1" and his "after" height as 6' 2 1/2". Somehow I doubt people who are already 6' 1" are the target market!
The Qantas magazine on the way home had a full-page ad for an upmarket gay men's introduction agency, complete with a photo of an attractive smiling couple that I've since learned are the owners. Nice to see!
Apr. 11th, 2015
02:21 pm - More Swancon-inspired reading
The young adult dystopias panel at Swancon led me to finish the Hunger Games trilogy and then reread the part of John Christopher's Tripods series that's in the local library system.
The edition of The White Mountains included a preface written by John Christopher 35 years after the book's initial publication. I found it tremendously interesting, more so than the book itself.
He was born in 1922 and notes that when he was the age of the children for whom he proposed to write, he'd been very excited about space travel because not enough was then known about the solar system to discount the possibility of life on Venus and Mars.
But in three short decades everything changed. By the 1960s we knew more about the universe and the solar system – but what we'd learned was much less interesting than what we'd imagined. We knew that Mars was not just cold but an altogether hotile environment, Venus a choking oven of poisonous gases. The chance of any kind of life existing on either planet – or anywhere in reach of our probing rockets – was incredibly remote. That brave new world on the other side of the ocean of space had turned into a lifeless desert.
A couple of years after I wrote The White Mountains, space itself was finally conquered. ... The boy I had been at fourteen would never have believed that I couldn't be bothered to stay up to watch it.
It had never occurred to me, though it's obvious when you stop to think about it, that there are still people alive today who could plausibly have expected life to be discovered elsewhere in this solar system.
( He goes on to talk about the extensive editing process The White Mountains went through.Collapse )
I also read Bumped by Megan McCafferty, which one of the Swancon panelists recommended. The premise is interesting: due to a virus, most people become infertile by 18, so teenagers are strongly encouraged to have children and give / sell them to adults to raise. The 2030s teen-speak and dehumanising of reproduction (babies are "deliveries") are kind of creepily entertaining to decipher. There's a lot more religion in it that I want to read about, though. Not really recommended.
While looking for the above books, I stumbled across Before I Die by Jenny Downham, a 2007 novel about a 16-year-old dying of leukemia. This one I do recommend. I read it in one sitting, getting up only for more Kleenex. In the first half it made my cry intermittently, in the cathatic way where you feel better immediately afterwards. In the final chapters I was crying so much that reading became a physical ordeal and I still felt the effects the next day. I gather some reviewers didn't find the main character likable enough to be so moved, but I don't expect perfect behaviour from a teenager who has only months to live.
Some of the writing is beautiful: She has the saddest face I've ever seen, like she drowned once and the tide left its mark there.
New York Times review
Apr. 7th, 2015
I enjoyed Swancon on Friday and spent most of the rest of Easter reading or rereading books mentioned in the panels I attended.
In the "Looking Beyond the Left Hand: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary SF" panel, someone mentioned that Le Guin had made a big mistake in using the pronoun "he" for the androgynous Gethenians.
I reread it with that in mind and came to the conclusion that the reason the book works so well for me is that it uses "he". The use of a masculine pronoun for Estraven lets me read it as a m/m love story with some extra elements, rather than as what it's actually supposed to be. If Le Guin had used "she", as she herself stated later she should have, or a gender-neutral pronoun, I'd probably only have been mildly interested. A correctly-worded exploration of gender just doesn't do it for me the way m/m does.
Genly and Estraven have to come so far in understanding each other that their eventual deep rapport is extremely satisfying. One of my biggest issues with a lot of fanfic is that the misunderstanding that forms the basis for the story is so trivial it could be resolved in a thirty-second conversation (I recently read a 276,000 word story that turned out to be founded on such a minor issue I'm still getting over what a let-down that was!). Genly and Estraven – literally aliens to each other – have real cultural reasons for not being in accord. They can't connect until Estraven realises that Genly can only understand him if he disregards "shifgrethor" and speaks plainly, and Genly lets go of his standards of masculinity.
Genly seems young and underprepared for his mission and it's surprising the Ekumen let him be their representative, unless volunteers to timejump to such distant planets are few and far between. After two years on Gethen he admits "I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, to a woman who was a man."
Genly tells us in the first chapter "I don't trust Estraven, whose motives are forever obscure; I don't like him." Not far into their journey on the ice, and before they're even on a first-name basis, he acknowledges that he loves him and that he doesn't know whether he made the right decision in choosing not to have sex with him. A wonderful progression!
I'm not sure his rationale for the no-sex decision stands up:
For it seemed to me, and I think to him, that it was from that sexual tension between us, admitted now and understood, but not assuaged, that the great and sudden assurance of friendship between us rose: a friendship so much needed by us both in our exile, and already so well proved in the days and nights of our bitter journey, that it might as well be called, now as later, love. But it was from the difference between us, not from the affinities and likenesses, but from difference, that the love came: and it was itself the bridge, the only bridge, across what divided us. For us to meet sexually would be for us to meet once more as aliens. We had touched, in the only way we could touch. We left it at that. I do not know if we were right.
If the love sprang from difference, why would exploring that difference further hurt it? And how could difference be "the only bridge" in the face of so much shared hardship and experience?
It's odd that we're told nothing about Genly's sexual preferences or behaviours. He doesn't react positively to either the men or women of his ship when they land on the planet: It was strange to hear a woman's voice, after so long. ... They all looked strange to me, men and women, well as I knew them. Their voices sounded strange: too deep, too shrill. They were like a troupe of great, strange animals, of two different species...
There are only 14 English-language stories on A03 for this novel and only four Genly/Estraven – a strange shortage! I'd like one that goes AU before the penultimate chapter and envisages a plausible future from that point.
Apr. 2nd, 2015
11:01 am - Cape to Cape Track
Last week I walked the 135km Cape to Cape Track in the south-west of Western Australia, from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. A most enjoyable experience, give or a take a few boring, deep sand 4WD tracks!
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Feb. 21st, 2015
09:46 pm - The Giants in Perth last weekend
I'm running late thanks to half-year reporting season, but wanted to post about seeing Royal de Luxe company's Giants, the headline event of the Perth International Arts Festival, last weekend. The official statistics say 1.4 million people saw them, compared to a city population of 1.7 million. Not sure how they came up with the number – I went three times, so was I one person or three?
On Friday only the Little Girl giant made an appearance. I had an hour before a meeting to watch her put on her boat and driven around Langley Park. It was moderately enjoyable to walk around the park with her, but I was underwhelmed – six metres isn't that big! I enjoyed the music and the sense of it being a special occasion.
Saturday afternoon I dithered at home about whether to make another trip into the city (about 1 1/2 hours' drive) to see the 11 metre Diver. I decided I should, parked near the casino on the other side of the river, jogged the couple of kilometres to Langley Park and arrived just as hundreds of people were hurrying across the park to line Riverside Drive. I joined them and there was the Diver coming slowly towards us. Even in a seated position he was far more imposing than the Little Girl.
( More phone photosCollapse )
Jan. 28th, 2015
Jan. 13th, 2015
At 5pm Thursday I booked a last-minute weekend away to Busselton, 2 1/2 hours south of Perth, to make up for time off I didn't get over Christmas and New Year's. 18 hours later I was on my way.
Due to the very short notice I went by myself, and ended up spending my time quite differently to the way I would have with company. Zero swimming, zero restaurants*, zero wineries, two caves**, and hours and hours of walking each day. Apparently I need peer pressure to get in the water. One of the beaches I walked past actually looked very enticing, but I was hungry at that point and prioritised finding lunch.
I didn't have much interest in Busselton and only stayed there because it was close, but absolutely loved the 1.8km long jetty. It's the perfect way to experience the ocean for someone who isn't a good swimmer and gets seasick! ( PhotosCollapse )
Having enjoyed the short sections of it I walked, I'm planning to do the full 135km Cape-to-Cape Track in the last week of March. If anyone would like to join me for a day or more, let me know! You need to be able to cover about 20km a day, including up to about 7km on soft sand depending on the tides, but with no major climbs.
( Scenery samplesCollapse )
There are snakes! I disturbed two, plus a big lizard.
I'll probably let this company move my bags and arrange accommodation so I don't have to carry a full pack: Cape-to-Cape self-guided itinerary.
* I don't mind going to restaurants by myself, but was never near one at the right time of day.
** Including the self-guided, unlit, ladders-and-crawl spaces Giants Cave, which I had all to myself in the middle of school holidays!
Dec. 28th, 2014
07:41 am - A couple of Yuletide recs
James Clavell's King Rat: Happier Than Before 8,400 words
Characters: The King and Peter Marlowe
King Rat is one of my favourite books, for the relationship between the American corporal who controlled much of the black market in Changi prison camp during WWII, and the British flight lieutentant who became his closest friend. Their parting did not invite a reunion. (Clavell was a prisoner in Changi for three years.)
Happier Than Before is set 14 years later and imagines a relatively positive future for each of them.
The title is from the WB Yeats poem "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death", which I'm putting here for my future reference:
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
If you've read the book, don't miss this story!
Hornblower litverse: On Land and At Sea 8,300 words
If you can suspend disbelief long enough to envisage Hornblower, Bush and Barbara in a threesome, this is the story for you! I managed to do that, and found it very easy to imagine Hornblower being turned on by compliments about his abilities.
"You needn't thank me," said Hornblower. "And don't call me sir." He tingled whenever Bush called him sir in bed, and that was reason enough to forbid it. It would be disastrous if he were to make any associations between standard naval formality and this.
Barbara shifted so she was at Bush's back, propping him up with her body. "Don't listen to him," she murmured in Bush's ear, still loud enough that Hornblower could hear every word clear as a bell. "He likes it when you address him with the respect that he's earned."
Bush grinned. "Don't I know it?"
Hornblower frowned and sped up his hand a little. Bush's hips jerked, and his head fell back on Barbara's shoulder, eyes slipping closed.
"Tell him," said Barbara. "Tell him he's earned it."
"Every bit of it," gasped Bush. "Every promotion, every honor, earned with sweat and blood and daring. There's not a man who's served with you who doesn't know your worth."
Hornblower shuddered, caught between shame and pleasure as his mind tried to counter-argue the compliments.
Dec. 21st, 2014
Dec. 14th, 2014
08:36 pm - SPN mid-season finale
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