swan_tower: (summer)

My fellow Book View Cafe members and I are exceedingly pleased to announce that our site is now ensconced in a much better hosting platform that will not give us the problems we were having in December and January. In celebration — and to thank you, our lovely readers, who have been so patient through all those troubles — we are having a SITE-WIDE SALE this week, 20% off everything in the store. No coupon hoops to jump through; just load up your cart, and we’ll apply the discount at checkout.

I’ve built up a surprisingly large pile of titles with BVC over the years. If you’re interested in picking one of those up, you can choose from:

Plus a great many more! We have Brenda Clough’s time-travel trilogy The River Twice, Meet Myself There, and The Fog of Time (which came out during our outages and really took it in the teeth as a consequence), and all kinds of titles from Sherwood Smith, Vonda N. McIntyre, Judith Tarr, Laura Anne Gilman, Linda Nagata, Katherine Kerr, and many, many more. We have fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, literary things, funny things, sexy things, informative things — all kinds of stuff. And it’s all 20% off. So come browse our catalogue and help us celebrate our new home!

swan_tower: (summer)

The New Worlds Patreon continues digging into the dirtier side of life with a pass through personal sanitation. Be grateful for the technology we have today . . .

swan_tower: (summer)

You remember some years ago, when Elementary premiered and people were so excited about the casting of Watson as an Asian-American woman?

Meet Miss Sherlock.

It’s a Japanese adaptation — live-action, not anime — where both leads are women. Even now, it’s still vanishingly rare to watch a woman get to be the character so brilliant everybody puts up with her complete lack of manners; add the layer that it’s a Japanese woman, and the effect is kind of startling. She barges into someone’s apartment with Watson (or rather, Wato-san) chasing after her wailing “SHOES!!!!”; after Sherlock, with clear irritation, takes her shoes off like a civilized human being should, she winds up storming out barefoot while Wato-san chases her again yelling “SHOES!!!!”, this time for the opposite reason.

There are so many mystery shows on TV these days that any given one tends to live and die not by its clever plots, but by its characters and their dynamics. I really like both of the main actresses here. Wato-san is adorable, and though she doesn’t measure up to Sherlock’s genius, she gets to have a personal life outside of being Sherlock’s designated apologizer. And Sherlock herself is elegant and sharp, with a ferocious smile. But when a villain starts monologuing about their reasons for the crime, Sherlock collapses onto the nearest couch with her hands over her ears and an expression that says “poke me when they’re done.”

I also like several of the side characters. Inspector Reimon, the Lestrade stand-in, is nice but not all that memorable, but my sister and I instantly shipped with Wato-san with his sidekick, Shibata, who is perfectly competent and has no patience with Sherlock’s b.s. — quite understandable given that he often takes the brunt of it. By contrast, Hatano-san, aka Mrs. Hudson, manages Sherlock quite nicely. Mycroft isn’t notably Mycroft-y — he’s fine, but not more brilliant than his sister — and, well, I won’t say anything about Moriarty, because spoilers.

The plots themselves range around a bit in terms of quality. Mostly good, but toward the end of the season it falls down a bit; Sherlock commits one unforgivably stupid mistake, and the villain’s ability to mess with people gets cranked up beyond plausiblity. Also, it is occasionally more gruesome than I expected, so if that’s an issue for you, be warned. (Not slasher porn levels of gruesome, just “wow, I didn’t expect you to show that wound directly and then shove somebody’s hand in it.”) But I very much hope they get a second season, because I would happily watch another eight episodes of this.

We watched it on HBO’s app; not sure where else it might be available. For those who are interested. 🙂

swan_tower: (summer)

This week’s New Worlds Patreon essay delves into that most fragrant of topics: sanitation! To bait you into clicking that link rather than going “ew, no thanks,” I will use my favorite piece of historical trivia on this topic, which is that there was a time and place in history where human waste was so valuable, people literally stole it. To find out where, when, and why, head on over to Book View Cafe!

swan_tower: (Fizzgig)
Apparently several of my old blog posts just appeared on people’s Dreamdwidth friendslists. All of them reference gambling, and had spam links inserted into them that were NOT there before. From this I conclude that my account was hacked somehow.

I’ve changed my password and edited those links out of the posts. But if you’ve seen things posted from me today that aren’t “On Cruising,” “Wheel of Time side post: On Women,” and “A Memory of Light Liveblog Part 2,” please let me know, so I can go clean them up. And if you’re getting comments suddenly on old posts of yours, check to see if they’ve been interfered with, too.
swan_tower: (summer)

With the second year of the New Worlds Patreon having wrapped up, it’s time for it to emerge from its chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly ebook! New Worlds, Year Two: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding is now up for pre-order at Amazon US and UK, Barnes and Noble (Nook), Google Play, and Kobo. iTunes and Indigo will follow shortly. The book will be out on April 2nd!

NEW WORLDS, YEAR TWO by Marie Brennan

Also, a glitch with the plug-in I use to crosspost from my website to Dreamwidth recently glitched. Everything still crossposted . . . but on a private setting, which means none of you could see it. So if you missed it, the posts were, in sequence:

Goat cheese

Mar. 4th, 2019 10:41 am
swan_tower: (summer)

The other day I was at the grocery store, and the cheese counter had samples out of something. Another customer was standing between me and the actual blocks of cheese the samples were taken from, so I had no idea what they were, but I went ahead and popped one in my mouth.

Train of thought: “Oh, wow, this is amazing, this is — UGH BLEAGH IT’S GOAT CHEESE GET IT OUT GET IT OUT GET IT OUT.”

I have no idea what’s going on chemically with goat cheese, but invariably I have this type of reaction, where for a second or two it’s lovely, and then I get hit by a freight train of something so unpleasantly pungent, it lingers with me for a good five minutes afterward. Much as with cilantro, I don’t think I could train myself into liking it if I tried for a year: when that taste kicks in, my brain utterly rejects the possibility that what I’m eating is food.

Those of you who like goat cheese — is that pungency a selling point for you? Or does it not even hit you in the same way? (Wikipedia describes goat’s cheese as “tart,” which is not remotely the taste I get off it.) I’m wondering if this is anything like the “supertaster” deal where some people can’t taste phenylthiocarbamide or propylthiouracil, while for others (I’m one) they are unspeakably bitter. I know my reaction to cheese in general is linked to the fact that I have a very strong sense of smell; your stinkier classes of cheese are Right Out for me because all I wind up tasting is the stink. But this wasn’t a strong-smelling cheese, and it still bowled me over with that unpleasant funk two seconds after I bit down. So I’m kind of curious what’s going on there, chemically speaking, and whether the experience is just qualitatively different for people who like the stuff.

swan_tower: (summer)

This was an extremely reading-ful month.

Tales of the Continuing Time and Other Stories, Daniel Keys Moran. Some collections of short fiction are a great entry point into a series, a way to get a taster and see if you’d like the whole. This . . . is not that type of collection. 😛 I enjoyed it a fair bit, and certainly the non-Continuing Time stories are perfectly readable on their own, but I do not recommend it as an entry point to the series. For people who already know and enjoy those books, though, it’s nifty to get some looks at things that have only been mentioned obliquely before now: the Zaradin Church, the Exodus, the House of November, Ola Blue, etc. And the Man-Spacething War! Its name has amused me ever since I first saw it, and from what I can tell, its origin is exactly what you’d expect: humans ran into weird things out in space, called them Spacethings, got in a war with them, the end.

Of the non-Continuing Time stories, I most liked “Realtime,” which he co-wrote with Gladys Prebehalla (and which is in the same setting as his novel The Armageddon Blues, but I have zero memory of that book, so it doesn’t matter). It made me think a bit of the whole “children will listen” thing from Into the Woods. Of the Continuing Time stories, I was a little bit gutted by “Leftbehind” — simply because the leftbehind concept echoes what Trent said to Carl in Emerald Eyes about how the Castanaveras were going to leave everybody else out in the cold . . . and now here it is, hundreds of years later, and I’m pretty sure the people compared to whom others are leftbehinds are a direct outgrowth of something Trent himself did in between The Last Dancer and The A.I. War. He presumably didn’t live to see it (because hundreds of years later — though really, with this series, who knows), but he created for others exactly the situation he himself wanted to escape.

The Last Tsar’s Dragons, Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple. Novella, read for review in the New York Journal of Books. Slightly alternate history, in that Tsar Nicholas didn’t actually have dragons, but history still proceeds down basically the same path. As a result, definitely not chearful reading.

Grim Tales, E. Nesbit. Speaking of not cheerful reading! When I posted about The Phoenix and the Carpet, Sonya Taaffe recommended Nesbit’s short horror fiction, and I found this collection on Project Gutenberg. I can’t say I fell in love with it, but then again, horror isn’t my general cuppa anyway; I don’t like downer endings very much, and in horror those often come with the territory. (Though I’ll note that one of the stories in here ends well for the protagonists, and while someone else suffers, it’s more an unfortunate accident than anything malicious.) It’s definitely an interesting comparison to Nesbit’s children’s fiction, though.

The City of Lost Fortunes, Bryan Camp. First Crescent City novel, and a great example of urban fantasy firmly embedded in a specific place at a specific time: New Orleans (Camp’s hometown), a few years after Hurricane Katrina, with the scars of it still felt everywhere. I’m not the right person to judge how he handles racial matters here, but I can say with certainty that he is paying attention to them, and I appreciated the sheer global breadth of his knowledge in the various omniscient-voice reflections on patterns in mythology. (He references gods I’ve never heard of, which is a rare thing for me.) He also does a very good job with tricksters.

Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, Kate Wilhelm. I’ve had this on my shelf for a dog’s age without ever reading it, and when rearranging things recently I figured I should take a look and chuck it if it isn’t of use. Interestingly, I think its greatest use is not for students of writing, but teachers: the examples of how they explained certain issues, or constructed exercises, or handled interpersonal conflicts with their students, very much spoke to me as someone who has taught writing before. (Even if BOY HOWDY do I not agree with some of Wilhelm’s prose bugbears, like how “The book sat on the table” is not an okay sentence because an inanimate object can’t sit. Honey, that linguistic ship sailed a loooooong time ago.)

My own work doesn’t count. (Different work this time than before, though.)

Gather the Fortunes, Bryan Camp. Second Crescent City novel (not yet released), and not a conventional sequel, in that it shifts to a new protagonist — a secondary character from the first book. I’ll be reviewing this one for the New York Journal of Books; for now I’ll say its structure makes it slower to get moving than its predecessor, but I like the story’s willingness to call even gods and the afterlife out when there are problems.

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Volume 1, Ramesh Menon. This is the fourth rendition of the Mahabharata I’ve read, and by far the longest; together the two volumes are nearly 1400 pages, and large pages at that. And at that, it’s still not complete! There are footnotes saying things like “Here I am skipping over fifty pages of how the Pandavas went out and subdued kings in various places for Yudishtira’s rajasuya.” Nor is it precisely a translation; as the title suggests, it’s more the Mahabharata retold with some modern fiction techniques. But it isn’t quite a novelization, either, the way Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions is — that being the second rendition I ever read. I do recommend it (the writing is a lot better than Subramanian’s rendition, which I thought I posted about but apparently not), but only if you’ve already got a good enough grip on the shape of the story that you’re ready for a version that includes a lot — though still not all! — of the narrative byways. I may need a little while before I’m ready to tackle Volume 2.

Ice Melts in the Wind: The Seasonal Poems of the Kokinshu, trans. Larry Hammer. Much, much shorter than the previous. 🙂 I really like Hammer’s translations (disclosure: he’s a friend); not only does he stick pretty closely to the shape of waka/tanka rather than throwing line length out the window the way some poets do, but he includes notes on every poem that give you context about the poet or the circumstances of composition or the history of Japanese aesthetics or just his own observations on how this is the best poem so-and-so ever produced but it’s still not all that great. It is not Hammer’s fault that if you pile up all the seasonal poems they start to get astoundingly repetitive; if you want a more varied selection of Heian-era Japanese poetry, his book One Hundred People, One Poem Each translates a different collection that includes some of the Kokinshu seasonal poems, but also poems on other topics.

The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart, Motohisa Yamakage. This . . . is not quite the book I thought it was when I picked it up. Motohisa Yamakage is the 79th leader of Yamakage Shinto, and this book talks about how that’s a tradition from Koshintō, i.e. “old Shinto,” i.e. the original version of the religion. Except that further digging elsewhere showed me that everything which calls itself a Koshintō tradition is actually what in Japan get classed as “new religions” — which makes sense when you reflect that everything we know about Koshintō is a reconstruction, there being not much in the way of written records about religion in Japan prior to the advent of Buddhism. And while 79 generations of leadership made me think Yamakage Shinto must be pretty old (most “new religions” are post-Meiji, i.e. roughtly 150 years old or less), well, it depends on the length of tenure for each leader, doesn’t it? Maybe this goes back to the Edo Period, but Real Original Shinto it ain’t.

Which isn’t the same thing as saying the book is useless. From what I can tell, the early chapters about the origin of sacred sites and purification and so forth are reasonable, and where it’s speculating (e.g. the meaning you can derive from each step of Izanagi-no-mikoto’s purification after visiting the underworld), it’s the kind of speculation I consider entirely reasonable for a religious leader to undertake. When it gets to the part about how performing these hand gestures and reciting these words will develop your psychic ability to sense the vibrations of spirits and also lead to medical recovery that astonishes doctors . . . then we’re pretty clearly more in “new religion” territory. And even then, it’s still a window into Japanese religion, which is a useful thing for me.

Deathless, Catherynne Valente. Re-read. I’d forgotten how quickly this one reads — I devoured it in about two sittings, for all that it gets horrifically depressing toward the end. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a retelling of a Russian folktale about Koschei the Deathless and the warrior princess Marya Morevna in the context of early Soviet Russia — the interwar period up through World War II. I still think the ending comes apart a little bit, but at least this time through I recognized who the people were in Yaichka . . . in part because I’d just read The Last Tsar’s Dragons, which prompted me to look up a lot of stuff about twentieth-century Russian history they never taught me in school.

No Saving Throw, Kristin McFarland. Mystery novel written by a client of my literary agency, which her agent sent me because she knows I’m a gamer. You know how police procedurals and other mystery shows often have that one episode where they’re dealing with gamers? This is so much better. The author is a gamer herself, and the heroine is the proprietor of a Friendly Local Gaming Store in a conservative town that isn’t sure what to make of her whole enterprise. When one of her customers dies during a vampire LARP and some of her other customers are accused of the crime, she’s worried the scandal will kill her store and the community she’s built around it. This cross-hatches with plot about being a small business owner and the difficulties such people face. I correctly guessed some but not quite all of the plot, which was a nice balance. The subtitle “A Ten Again Mystery” suggests McFarland is hoping to do more with these characters; if so, I’ll be interested to see how, as one of the things this book pays attention to is the way in which amateur investigators blundering around trying to play Nancy Drew can actually make things worse — so I don’t expect the heroine will be in a hurry to do that again.

Shinto Shrine, Kato Kenji, illustrated by Iwasaki Jun. — Names given in Japanese order (family name first), as that’s the way it’s done on the book cover. This is a very small book with 300% more practical information than Yamakage’s, and 500% less woo. In fact, it won’t tell you anything at all about the lived experience of Shinto religion (which is what I was hoping for from the Yamakage, and . . . partially got?). But it does an absolutely excellent job of explaining the parts of a Shinto shrine to you — complete with drawings and numbered keys — and what people do at shrines, and then the back half of the book is mostly a list of major jinja and who’s enshrined there, which names off a lot of kami that aren’t the ones you’ll run into if you google “Shinto mythology.” It’s also part of a series called “Bilingual Guide to Japan,” and now I’m curious what other volumes there are.

Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson. — I, uh, may have posted on Twitter that I didn’t need to read another book just so I could say I had finished one an average of every two days throughout February, and people there, uh, may have egged me on. <_< So I picked up this collection, which is the second by Hopkinson that I’ve read, after Skin Folk. It’s less overtly steeped in Caribbean folklore than I recall that one being, but that element is definitely is still present, as is the general sensuality I associate with her work. I did notice, though, that her shorter stories didn’t work as well for me — I found myself really wanting more meat on those bones, the way you get with her longer short stories.

swan_tower: (summer)

This week, the New Worlds Patreon launches into Year Three! As part of the celebration, I’ve added a monthly poll where my patrons at the $5 level and above can vote on the topic for the upcoming month . . . and my wonderful, amazing, fantabulous patrons voted for the thing I thought nobody than other me wanted to hear about, which is sanitation. So this month we’re starting off with water supplies, and in upcoming weeks I’ll be talking about bathing, trash heaps, and whether premodern cities really were open sewers or not.

The ebook for Year Two will be out in early April, with copies going to patrons at the $3 level and above before that. If you’d like to become a patron, you can do that right over here — let’s start Year Three together!

swan_tower: (summer)

Get yer pipin’ hot flash-length fairy tales here!

. . . you guys? I have NO IDEA what has happened with this book. For some reason it blew all my previous stats for pre-orders completely out of the water, and it’s continued to do so after release. It has sold more copies in its first day (including pre-orders) than Monstrous Beauty did in its first six months — that being the most comparable title in terms of price ($0.99) and content (very brief fairy tale retellings). I can point to lots of other variables, of course: I published Monstrous Beauty in 2014; my audience has probably grown since then. That one is more directly horror; this one is lighter-hearted with its twists. Maybe this one has a better title. Maybe it has better cover art. Maybe maybe maybe. The truth is, I have no way of knowing. (And this is why the publishing industry has so much trouble predicting what will be a bestseller and what will sink.)

All I know is, this has completely warped the bar graph Amazon uses to show me my sales. There’s now this giant spike, next to which my normal daily sales have been compressed to itty-bitty nubbins. 😛

(I’m not complaining. I’m just astonished. And wishing this had happened on a book that earned me more than thirty-five cents for every copy I sell . . .)

Anyway, Never After: Thirteen Twists on Familiar Tales is out now! And making a far bigger splash than I ever anticipated when I first thought, “hey, I could bundle up my flash retellings and put them out as a silly little side project for National Tell a Fairy Tale Day.”

swan_tower: (summer)

In the excitement of Book View Cafe’s new hosting provider being stable enough for the New Worlds Patreon to return to its usual home, I forgot to announce the latest essay here! Last Friday’s contribution was on honeymoons, and you can still head on over and add your thoughts.

I’m also pleased to announce a book giveaway to celebrate the second anniversary of the Patreon! Six lucky patrons will receive signed books from me. If you’d like to have a chance at a prize, just sign up before this Friday!

swan_tower: (summer)

This missed posting for some reason, and I only just now noticed. But there is still time to pre-order!

*

About a year ago, I discovered that February 26th is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day.

Now, like many authors with an interest in folklore, I’ve tackled fairy tales before. I have a whole collection of them, Monstrous Beauty. But that represents only one part of my fairy tale ouevre — the part that’s the most horror-tinged. I have others.

And I thought, why not do something with those?

This happened about a year ago, so it was far too late to do anything for that year’s National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. But I looked ahead to 2019, and discovered that this year, February 26th would be a Tuesday — which is, traditionally, the day of the week when new books get released.

NEVER AFTER: THIRTEEN TWISTS ON FAMILIAR TALES by Marie Brennan

Ladies, gentlemen, and other civilized people, I give you Never After: Thirteen Twists on Familiar Tales. Available for pre-order now; due to be released — of course — two weeks days from now. It’s a tiny little thing; every one of those thirteen stories is flash-length, under 500 words, and two of them are about 100 words apiece, which is why the collection is priced at a mere $0.99 (or whatever that turns into in your local currency). You can pick up both that and Monstrous Beauty for two bucks, and have twenty fairy tales of variously warped sorts — the ones in Never After are not as dark as the ones in Monstrous Beauty, but I wouldn’t call them sweet and innocent, either . . .

Forget perfect princesses, handsome princes, and “happily ever after.” In this collection of thirteen flash-length fairy tale retellings, award-winning author Marie Brennan introduces you to a world of manipulative mirrors, treacherous pigs, and candy houses that will eat you right up. Each one is a subversive little gem, guaranteed to shock the Brothers Grimm.

Pre-order now!

swan_tower: (summer)

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

A truly comprehensive survey of wedding customs around the world and throughout history would probably fill several volumes. I’m not going to attempt that; we’d get so far down into the weeds we’d never see the sun again. Instead I’m going to do a more top-level sweep of the steps involved in getting married, with some attention to the specifics of how those can manifest.

It starts with engagement, i.e. the promise to get married later on. This doesn’t have to last for a long time — it can be as short as the gap between “hey, want to get married?” and finding an Elvis impersonator at a drive-through Las Vegas chapel to hitch you two together — but the longer the gap is, the more preparation you can do. Today’s wedding-industrial complex pushes the ideal that you should do a lot of prep (and spend a lot of money on it), which echoes yesteryear’s necessity of assembling a wedding trousseau. (I’m reminded of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s line in The Lion in Winter, dismissing the likelihood that Richard and Alais will get married any time soon: “The needlework alone can last for years.”)

But even engagement can involve more than mere agreement. There may be a prenuptial contract to negotiate, or permission to secure: from parents, a master, a liege lord, or anyone else with the authority to gainsay a match. Posting the banns is or was required in a number of Christian countries, giving the general public a chance to raise objections — though usually only within set limits, e.g. “he’s got a wife in another town.” This also creates a mandatory waiting period, helping to stave off the buyer’s remorse that often afflicts the clients of those drive-through Vegas chapels.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: (summer)

About a year ago, I discovered that February 26th is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day.

Now, like many authors with an interest in folklore, I’ve tackled fairy tales before. I have a whole collection of them, Monstrous Beauty. But that represents only one part of my fairy tale ouevre — the part that’s the most horror-tinged. I have others.

And I thought, why not do something with those?

This happened about a year ago, so it was far too late to do anything for that year’s National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. But I looked ahead to 2019, and discovered that this year, February 26th would be a Tuesday — which is, traditionally, the day of the week when new books get released.

NEVER AFTER: THIRTEEN TWISTS ON FAMILIAR TALES by Marie Brennan

Ladies, gentlemen, and other civilized people, I give you Never After: Thirteen Twists on Familiar Tales. Available for pre-order now; due to be released — of course — two weeks from now. It’s a tiny little thing; every one of those thirteen stories is flash-length, under 500 words, and two of them are about 100 words apiece, which is why the collection is priced at a mere $0.99 (or whatever that turns into in your local currency). You can pick up both that and Monstrous Beauty for two bucks, and have twenty fairy tales of variously warped sorts — the ones in Never After are not as dark as the ones in Monstrous Beauty, but I wouldn’t call them sweet and innocent, either . . .

Forget perfect princesses, handsome princes, and “happily ever after.” In this collection of thirteen flash-length fairy tale retellings, award-winning author Marie Brennan introduces you to a world of manipulative mirrors, treacherous pigs, and candy houses that will eat you right up. Each one is a subversive little gem, guaranteed to shock the Brothers Grimm.

Pre-order now!

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: (summer)

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

The counterpart to arranged marriages are ones where the spouses choose each other, often referred to as a “love match.” When there’s no matchmaker involved (be it a family member or trained professional), it’s up to interested parties to find and woo their own future husband or wife . . . which can be a very fraught process.

Before we dive too far into that, I should say that there’s often courtship involved in arranged marriages, too. The Japanese matchmaking process is called miai and means “looking at one another;” nowadays it begins with looking at a photograph, but in the past it might instead be kagemi, a “hidden look,” arranging for the man to secretly glimpse the woman without her knowing. If that goes well, the families proceed to their children meeting face-to-face, usually in a series of three dates before a decision is made. European nobility sent portraits as advertisements for their kids, and the prospective pair might exchange letters to get to know one another if they couldn’t meet in person.

But with love matches/autonomous marriage, courtship plays a much larger role, because it’s the means by which people even find possible spouses, conduct their evaluations, and seal the deal. So let’s dig into that.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: (summer)

It’s the return of the Tin Chef!

As some of you know, I’ve finally started actually cooking, after thirty-some-odd-years of basically never doing it. I now have a nice array of recipes I like and can do, and enough confidence now that I’ll happily browse a magazine or cookbook and go “oooh, that sounds tasty, maybe I should try it,” as long as the recipe isn’t too daunting.

But almost everything I make is a single-dish meal, or if it isn’t, then we just throw some spinach on the plate as a salad. I’m still not much good at making a main dish and a side dish to go with it. Partly because that type of multitasking is still a little difficult for me — making sure things are ready around the same time, but don’t demand my attention at the same instant such that something winds up burning — but also just because . . . I have a hard time judging what things will go well together.

I know that to some extent the answers to this are a) it doesn’t matter that much and b) I can experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. But I’ve got a whole list of side dishes I’d like to try someday, and every time I look at them and go “I dunno, would that pair well with this main item?” I wind up going back to the single-dish things I’m comfortable with. So I put it to you, the cooks of my readership: how can I get better at this? I have two different “meat with balsamic + fruit sauce” main dishes I like — one chicken with balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice, one pork chop with balsamic vinegar and dried cherries — and the fruitiness keeps making me second-guess whether a given side dish would make a good complement. And there are a lot of main dishes I haven’t even really taken a crack at yet. If I had some guiding principles for figuring out what combinations are good, I might experiment more.

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: (summer)

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

Last year I spent the month of February discussing marriage-related topics. This year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I’d like to return to that subject — because as I noted at the time, there’s more to talk about than can fit into a mere four essays.

(Spoiler: it won’t fit into eight, either. Though the next time I loop around to this, we’ll be looking more at things on the periphery of marriage, rather than marriage itself.)

I said in those previous essays that historically speaking, marriage tended to be seen less as an alliance between two individuals, and more as an alliance between their families or nations or whatever. Because of this, it isn’t surprising that autonomous marriage — where individuals choose their own spouses, with nobody else getting a say in the matter — was far less common than arranged marriage. Even today, something like half of all marriages worldwide are arranged marriages.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)

Sekrit Projekt R&R My own work, read for editing purposes, does not count. Not even when it’s my second read-through in as many months.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. Re-read, if I can call it that when I don’t think I’ve read this since I was twelve. I was trying to remember Scrooge’s dismissive description of Marley’s ghost, and wound up deciding to read the whole thing — starting before Christmas, but I got interrupted and didn’t finish until early January. I’m struck, as a recent article which I have now lost pointed out, by how non-religious the book is: yes, Christmas, and there are some passing references, but this is very much the Victorian “social gospel” rather than anything overtly Christian.

Deep Wizardry, Diane Duane. Second book in the Young Wizards series, and it’s been fun to see people’s expressions when I tell them the protagonists spend most of the book as whales. 😀 Beautifully-done observations of different whale types; I can’t judge the accuracy, because I don’t know enough to do so, but they stood out as very vivid. And oh, the shark. I told my sister, who adores sharks, that it’s the best shark character I’ve ever seen — not in the “cute and cuddly cartoon animal” way, but the cold and yet necessary killer.

By Fire Above, Robyn Bennis. Sequel to The Guns Above. Her airships continue to be flying deathtraps, and I wanted to rip my hair out when the characters have to follow absolutely moronic orders because that’s the way the military works. But after a slow-ish start involving social politics, we get insurrections in an occupied city, and clever aerial maneuvering winning the day, both of which are fabulous. This book gets pretty dark — some characters make horrifying yet necessary decisions, and some turn out to be kind of awful people — but not unrelentingly so; the plot drags you down and down but then back up again at the end. And there is also still quite a bit of humor.

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler, Ryan North. The conceit of this book is that it purports to be a repair manual for a time travel machine, only the manual says “sorry, you can’t actually repair this, so instead we’ll tell you how to re-invent a lot of basic technologies so life can at least suck less in whatever time period you’ve been stranded in.” The tone is overall hilarious, in a voice that reminds me a lot of John Scalzi’s blogging, though the puns that subtitle nearly every chapter started to wear thin after a while. It’s chock-full of interesting trivia (like every avocado you’ve ever eaten descending from a single tree with a backstory that genuinely makes you ask “are you sure time travelers weren’t involved?”), and makes it clear both how many technological advancements were more a matter of figuring out the relevant ideas rather than having the material capacity to create them, and how often things got invented and then either forgotten or not used for their real potential.

Having said that, although its explanations of how to build everything from a simple smelter to a battery using basic technology are remarkably concise, don’t try to hold this book to too high of a standard: yes, it sort of tells you how to build these things, but successfully building them would require a lot more instruction than this book provides, or else a lot of trial and error. Also, while I’m sure everybody who reads this has a list of technologies North didn’t include and should have, I’ve got to REALLY side-eye the lack of looms. He tells you how to build an efficient spinning wheel, then blithely says this will help you make “thread, which you can sew into clothing!” Uh, no, dude — there’s kind of a vital step in the middle there that you just waltzed straight past. That’s the one thing I truly feel he should have included, and didn’t.

Kingmaker: Stolen Land, Tim Hitchcock, and Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Rob McCreary. Two modules in the Kingmaker adventure path for Pathfinder, which are pre-written materials for running an RPG campaign. I read these two because I wanted to know what a Pathfinder module actually provides to a GM, and since we already played through these two in a campaign, I wasn’t going to spoil myself for anything (I skipped the “campaign outline” in the first one) and could also compare it against my actual experience of it in play.

On the whole . . . eh? I admit I want more interconnectedness, instead of a main plotline and then a bunch of random side quests, but I also recognize that’s not what these set out to provide. Mainly I’m grateful to my GM for noping right out of the NPC backstory where the guy is in exile because his lover falsely accused him of rape when her husband found out about the affair, because that’s some straight-up bullshit. There’s more other bits of incidental sexism along the way that grated, too, like the “flirty” female NPC described in a single sidebar who offers a cloak of resistance +1 and a “kiss . . . or possibly more” in exchange for completing a quest. (Also one bit of stealth gay — a dead male bandit who told “his lover” about a cache of treasure, but said lover died in “his attempt” to retrieve it — for what little that’s worth.) But I straight-up loathed the fiction being told in installments across the modules. In the first installment, written by James L. Sutter, the protagonist is an arrogant and unlikeable asshole who evaluates the few female characters on their attractiveness and probability of him getting them into bed, and then the story goes out of its way to reinforce how fat and gross and disgusting the villain is. The second installment, written by Richard Pett, almost manages to be funny with its militant convent of Iomedae — with nuns holding titles like the Mistress of Improvised Combat Using Common Kitchen Utensils — except that a) they take a “sworn oath of chastity and violence toward men” and “horribly punish any man who dares touch them, think impure thoughts about them, or look at them. They don’t even have candles in the convent — too phallic,” b) they are insanely and pointlessly abusive toward their novices (including, of course, our cross-dressing male “heroes”), and c) at the end of the story it comes out that they’re too stupid to realize the male kobold they randomly decided is “the embodiment of purity and goodness” and is therefore allowed to stay in the convent is systematically robbing them blind. Plus half a dozen innocent people get murdered by assassins chasing the main characters, which I guess we’re supposed to think is funny? Because the idiot protagonist thinks they’re all dropping randomly dead of heart attacks?

If I wind up reading through the later modules in the path, I’m not even going to bother looking at the fiction.

High Wizardry, Diane Duane. Third in the series, and it turns out I’m not reading the updated versions, going by the DOS prompt on the Apple IIIc Dairine is using, which means I’ll probably want to pick up something other than the library ebook for A Wizard Alone — I believe that’s the one with the autistic character. I feel like I started to slightly lose the thread of what was going on metaphysically toward the end, probably because I was reading too fast; I’m also a little surprised Dairine didn’t take some harder lumps for her flaws and mistakes along the way. (I actually expected, based on early stuff, that the Lone Power would manage to temporarily fool or sway her, and Nita and Kit would have to give her a wake-up call.) But still: very good reading.

A Wizard Abroad, Diane Duane. Fourth in the series, and I see why people generally say this one is weaker. It gets off to a slow start, its exposition thuds down in somewhat less digestible blocks than usual, and in the end Nita and Kit are just kind of along for the ride; they’re not the linchpin of resolving the conflict, and the role Nita plays in facilitating that resolution isn’t all that compelling, because the buildup to it didn’t really hook me. (It felt like anybody else could have yelled “Do it!” and that would have been just as effective.) On the other hand, as somebody who’s actually familiar with the Lebor Gabála, I like seeing a story that doesn’t just deal with Irish mythology on a surface level but gets down into the guts of it, and I liked the overall feel of what Duane was doing with the Sidhe etc, and the Powers loving Ireland too much to leave it alone the way they did with other parts of the world.

Swallowing Clouds: A Playful Journey Through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine, A. Zee. More research on Chinese food. Zee’s approach to talking about language kind of grated; I recognize that he’s trying to counteract the Anglophone “ermahgerd, Chinese is impossible to learn!” way of thinking, but I kept reading his “see how much you’ve already learned! It’s so easy!” comments in the kind of voice one uses towards a toddler. (Especially when he burbles happily about “see, if you know the water radical, you can tell these characters have something to do with water — isn’t this easy?” and then later on just kind of mutters “oh, ignore that water radical, it’s only there for phonetic purposes” and sweeps it under the rug.) But there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here about food and folklore and culture, and I liked it best when it got away from trying to persuade me I could totes learn Chinese and instead dove into poems and drinking games and the like.

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: (summer)

[Note: As Book View Cafe works on migrating to a better host, this week’s New Worlds Patreon essay is running here.]

*

It only does so much good to make our bodies smell better if everything around us reeks. So from perfume we turn to incense — and also potpourri, pomanders, scented candles, and everything else you can use to cover up less-than-pleasant aromas in the world around you.

Many of the things one can say about perfume apply here, too. Incense was historically often expensive, because the components were rare or had to be traded across long distances; the kadō art form in Japan and its associated party games exemplify the way its creation and appreciation could be elite activities. You can divide the scents into the same categories as with perfumes and blend them in the same way — though there’s less of a tendency toward gendering in scents for a room than for the body.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

swan_tower: (summer)

The place I order photo prints from has a sale on their canvas wraps, 25% off. If you’d like to order one of my pictures, now’s a great time to do it! Just skim through the galleries until you find something you like, then contact me to discuss specifics. Prices start at about $50 (with the discount) up to . . . I can’t promise any of my photos are crisp enough to still look good when blown up to five feet across, but if you want to spend five hundred dollars finding out, we can do that. 🙂

The sale lasts for one week, so you’ve got a few days, but with the back-and-forth of discussing style and size, don’t wait too long to make up your mind.

Mirrored from Swan Tower.

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