ffutures: (Default)
I didn't want to post until I'd tested it properly, but I got a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 at the weekend - the original AF model designed for 35mm cameras but working on digital provided they have a motor in the camera body - and it appears to be pretty good - I put my 35mm lens on sale on Sunday because I was already pretty sure the 50mm was OK, and took the 50mm out for a spin today (the weather was crap yesterday). Results were pretty good, I think it's as least as sharp as the 35mm was, and I seem to be able to work much better with it because I can work at a slightly greater distance and it seems to be better for closeup work - I really wish I'd taken extension tubes with me today, it would have been nice to try real macro work, but next time. I've ditched a few duds (mostly of the "did I really cut off the top of that / hold the camera crooked / press the wrong button / move the camera" variety), but still have 45 pictures that seem pretty good out of about 60 I took. I really must look into choosing an optimum ISO setting - I've been using 400 and 800, but if higher speeds will give good results I should really switch to minimize camera shake.

Lots of photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/150868539@N02/sets/72157686356723841/with/37336834321/

Next step will probably be to sell the Yongnuo 50mm for the Canon - I really don't need it now.

I think, on the whole, that I will keep the 18-55 Nikkor; I don't use it often, but it's the widest lens I own and they aren't selling at huge prices, I might as well keep it.

1963 was a Wild Year

Sep. 26th, 2017 08:12 pm[personal profile] steepholm
steepholm: (Default)
The Daleks and I hatched, and JFK and CSL were dispatched, and just look what wildness matched!

Susan looked at him and was not afraid. Her mind could not accept him, but something deeper could. She knew what made the horses kneel. Here was the heart of all wild things.

Max said "BE STILL!" and tamed with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things.

Ugh... I feel dirty...

Sep. 26th, 2017 07:52 pm[personal profile] ffutures
ffutures: (Default)
For various reasons I need to run Windows on my laptop; there's some tethered camera control freeware that is only available in a Windows version, the Mac equivalent stopped working a few versions of OS X ago, and I want to use it for photomicroscopy where the liveview feature would be very useful - needless to say the microscope is in a different room from my desktop PC and too big to fit into my office space, so I have to run it from the laptop. Just in the process of running Bootcamp to install it. So far it's actually going pretty well, knock wood, just completing and didn't run into problems apart from the sheer horribleness of Windows 7 setup, but there's something VERY offputting about seeing Windows screens on a MacBook Pro...

If I was planning to use it often I suppose I'd have to look at installing Parallels so I could run Windows without rebooting, but it will be a once in a blue moon thing so I think I'll go with the less convenient option and save the money.

Posted by Fran Wilde

When author Max Gladstone first read Updraft, he contacted me, saying “You know, there’s no magic in your book, only engineering.”

He had no idea how much I was going to use that phrase. I think I owe him lunch or something.

But he was exactly right, except that he was also wrong. There IS magic in the Bone Universe series—all the way through from Updraft to Horizon. And—from the bridges to the wings and more, to the understanding of the wind around the towers—the magic is all engineering.

I’ve written elsewhere about how engineering is the invisible science in science fiction. Tor.com this summer hosted a roundtable on engineering and SF that was a lot of fun and filled with gears and magic.

And here are five books—fiction and non—that bring engineering’s magic to life on the page:


The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The clock. The city maps. The bridges. The planning meetings. The looming trainwreck of bureaucracy versus schematics. Oh THIS BOOK, I want to build it all. Winner of the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and finalist for the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, The Goblin Emperor chronicles half-elf, half-goblin Maia’s entrance into a long standing Byzantine power structure, and all the diplomatic and social tensions that entails. Meantime, the very structure of the city, and the works therein capture Maia’s attention, and mine, every time.


The Broken Earth Series by N.K. Jemisin

In N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, the power to break as well as build the continent called the Stillness belongs to the orogenes and the Guardians who control them. The geo-engineering and seismology in the books makes this series a favorite go-to for a layer of reasons, not the least of which is that when there’s a quake on land, a boat at sea reacts exactly as it should … all details engineers will love.


The Dandelion Empire by Ken Liu

From the manned kites of Grace of Kings to the bureaucratic negotiations, the engineering states of iteration and failure, all the way to the incredible machines of Wall of Storms, Ken Liu’s care with engineering’s successes and fail states is a winning combination. Using historical research dating back to the Tang Dynasty, Liu puts engineering on the page and brings it to life.


The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

In 1980, a race against time and between competing engineering teams pit two companies against each other. At stake, the building of the next-generation microcomputer: the ancestor of the personal computer, a new commonplace item. The Soul of a New Machine documents that race, and won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize by chronicling the personal lives of the engineers—including college students who had never worked in production lines—as they took risks, cut corners, and thought beyond what they knew to beat the clock. It’s part of our technical history that reads a bit like science fiction. And it’s still a wonderful, if dated, book.


The Great Bridge by David McCullough

This story of the Brooklyn Bridge is where I first learned about the bends, about caissons, and steel cabling.(Not for lack of trying by the engineers in my family who talked about these things at dinner all the time, honest). McCullough’s history of the Bridge was also the history of the Roebling family, and Emily Roebling especially—and this trumped dinner conversation any day. The bridge walk in Updraft was inspired by the fact that Emily Roebling crossed the Brooklyn Bridge alone, first, to prove it was safe. A modern classic about bridges and engineering, a copy of this book has traveled with me for every major move since college.


… also, for those looking for shorter fiction, check out: Kij Johnson’s “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” and John Chu’s “The Sentry Branch Predictor Spec: A Fairy Tale” !

Fran Wilde’s trilogy, The Bone Universe Series, comes to a close this fall with Horizon joining the award-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor 2015) and Cloudbound (2016). Her novels and short stories have been nominated for two Nebula awards and a Hugo, and appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.

steepholm: (Default)
Via my sister-in-law, here's a picture of my aunt, Ruth Siverns (formerly Bowman), part of a Philip Larkin exhibition currently showing at the University of Hull. It's a nice enough photo, but I'm less enamoured of seeing her next to a large sign reading "Wild Oats", even if that's the name of a poem she co-starred in. It's a pretty reductive way to characterise a seven-year relationship (including a two-year engagement). But then, the twenty-first century is an age of sans-serif soundbites. (Mind you, for future conference organisers I suspect this will be known as the "long twentieth century" - a period that ended when Trump dropped a nuke.)

2017-09-25 13.25.02

Posted by Jenn Northington

Teen Wolf series finale Wolves of War

Spoilers ahoy! For lots of seasons!

When I talk people into watching Jupiter Ascending for the first time, I tell them there are two rules. The first rule is, don’t ask questions—just go with it. The second rule is that the answer to any question is, Because Space. I tell you this so that you can understand my own ground rules for media consumption: as long as the characters are interesting and it’s fun to watch, I’m willing to be forgiving. I will suspend disbelief (although I may occasionally yell at the screen); I will refrain from getting hung up on lapses in world-building; sometimes, I just want to be entertained.

That willingness is why I have watched all six seasons of Teen Wolf and (with the marked exception of Season 4) enjoyed them. I have recommended it to other people. I have texted through the bad episodes and screamed with delight through the good ones. And while I did a lot of Very Angry And Confused texting through the finale (When did wolfsbane start coming in colors? When did Parrish learn to control his powers?? When did mountain ash become something that could do THAT?!? WHAT EVEN GERARD!??!), I also got Lydia and Jackson’s reunion, Jackson and Ethan, the culmination of Theo and Liam’s unlikely alliance (for the record, Liam and Theo have more chemistry than Liam and Hayden ever did), the return of Derek Hale, and Scott cementing his place as Most Cinnamon Roll of Cinnamon Rolls For All Time. I wanted a Buffy S7 finale; I got a Teen Wolf finale. Listen: you can’t always get what you want.

Instead of tearing my hair out over the missed opportunities of 6B (that’s a whole other post), or a diatribe on the erasure of Kira Yukimura (for which, Jeff Davis, I will never forgive you; this is also a whole other post and possibly an open letter), I give you the four best things about Teen Wolf, start to finish.


Scott and Stiles: A Bromance For the Ages

Teen Wolf bromance

Their relationship is the reason I sat through all of S1, and then S2, and then I was hooked. This is perhaps the smartest thing that the writing team did: no matter what villains and love interests and shenanigans were otherwise going on, the bond between Scott and Stiles was always central to the plot. Whether they were on good terms or (heartbreakingly) bad, you couldn’t get anything done for one without the other. The loss of Stiles for the bulk of S6 is one of its most obvious problems; while the show made due with Liam and Theo, and surprisingly well at that, not having Dylan O’Brien and Tyler Posey’s on-screen rapport meant everyone had to work a lot harder.


Lydia Martin and Melissa McCall: Complex Ladies Essential to the Plot Who Don’t Get Shafted by Said Plot

Lydia Teen Wolf

Teen Wolf Melissa


For a show that revolved around the friendship between two teenage boys, there were a lot of stellar female characters. The show certainly would have suffered—and did suffer—without Allison and Kira, and Malia became a surprise favorite (I will never get over the “Deer!” moment. Ever.). But Lydia and Melissa were there in S1 and they were there in S6. One is a mean girl who became a banshee; one is a struggling single mother who never gave up on her son or herself. Both were allowed moments of vulnerability; both learned to hone and own their strengths. Both got a happy romantic ending. And one of them was canonically over the age of 30. Point me at another show that can say the same, so I can watch it immediately.


Void Stiles

Teen Wolf Void Stiles


Season 3B was The Season. The one that every other season is measured against, only to fall short. The season that spawned a zillion GIF sets and aesthetic boards and fics. The season of the Nogitsune, the season that took on Japanese internment camps, the season where we got to see what Kira Yukimura could do, and the season where Dylan O’Brien proved why he is now going to be an A-list movie star. It was creepy; it was emotional; it was scary; it was GROSS; and the power of friendship saved the day. I’m not crying, you’re crying.


The Unlikely Redemptions: Peter Hale and Theo Raeken

Teen Wolf Peter Hale


Teen Wolf Theo

One thing Teen Wolf excelled at was taking last season’s villain and turning them into next season’s anti-hero. I spent at least two seasons yelling “God, Peter, why are you the worst?!” at my TV, only to find myself missing him when he wasn’t around to be self-absorbed and snarky. He went from secret alpha to ghost wolf to unlikeliest of allies. His over-riding character trait was self-interest, and watching that self-interest transition from working against Scott & Co. to working beside them (“with” being too strong of a statement, even when Peter is helping) was like watching a gross, ugly grub slowly morph into the kind of insect that you definitely don’t want to touch but you also cannot stop looking at it. He bought Malia a car! I am verklempt!! Even after that, though, I didn’t believe they could pull the same off with Theo. Theo is a murderous psychopath who deliberately watched his sister die at the ripe age of … well I forget, let’s call it 10. Pre-teen is what I’m saying here. He killed, maimed, and otherwise brutalized basically everyone in Season 5, and I spent all of that season yelling “Someone kill him already!” And then when they brought him back in Season 6, I was FURIOUS. We don’t get Kira but I have to watch this asshole pretend to be mildly helpful? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? By the end of 6A, I remained unsold and unconvinced. And then, some evil genius in the writers room decided to pair him with Liam. Whoever you are, I tip my hat to you. While I still don’t buy his REDEMPTION MOMENT from the finale, somewhere around that crazy zoo episode I stopped yelling at the TV every time he appeared. And honestly? I ship Thiam. Leo. Whatever you want to call it. God help me, I ship it.


The Nemeton

Teen Wolf tree stump is magic

Listen, y’all. Teen Wolf played fast and loose with mythology from many cultures; they laughed at internal logic and consistency; they hand-waved their way around powers and magic in almost every episode. But what they did give us was the Nemeton: a really freaking creepy tree-stump that was Hellmouth, creepy death cellar, magical battery, and wild magic combined. If this show had an inanimate MVP, it was the Nemeton. It does what it wants! And by the way! It probably wants your blood!

Tell me, friends: what would be on your list?

Jenn Northington is still waiting for her magical powers to manifest, is the Director of Events and Programming for Riot New Media, and comes from a long line of nerds.

Posted by Christopher Morgan

Dark Tidings Kel Kade

There’s a very special feeling you get when you read a particular kind of fantasy book. You know the one that takes all your beloved tropes and spins them on their heads? You’re transported to a whole other world that feels both different and the same. You know all the beats but they are coming at you in wonderfully new ways. It’s about as close to that “coming home” feeling as you can get. That’s exactly what I felt when I first read author Kel Kade’s Free the Darkness, book one of the King’s Dark Tidings series. And if you haven’t given the books a chance, I can’t recommend them enough. They are light and fun—and book 3 of the series, Legends of Ahn, just released earlier this month.

It is also with that feeling in mind that I have the pleasure to announce that Kel will be crafting a brand new series for Tor Books! With the fantastic ability to make use of your expectations, Kel is taking a turn at the epic quest fantasy, and I cannot wait to share it with everyone.

Here’s the introduction to the Shroud of Prophecy, coming from Tor in Spring 2019:

The Shroud of Prophecy tests fate to discover what happens when the path of good and right, the triumph of light over darkness, the only path to salvation… fails.

Everyone loves Mathias. So naturally, when he discovers it’s his destiny to save the world, he dives in head first, pulling his best friend Aaslo along for the ride.

Mathias is thrilled for the adventure! There’s nothing better than a road beneath his feet and adventure in the air. Aaslo, on the other hand, has never cared for the world beyond the borders of his sleepy village and would be much happier alone and in the woods. But, someone has to keep the Chosen One’s head on his shoulders and his feet on the ground.

It turns out saving the world isn’t as easy, or exciting, as it sounds in the stories. Mathias is more than willing to place his life on the line, but Aaslo would love nothing more than to forget about all the talk of arcane bloodlines and magical fae creatures. When the going gets rough, folks start to believe their only chance for survival is to surrender to the forces of evil, which isn’t how the stories go. At all. To make matters worse Aaslo is beginning to fear that he may have lost his mind…

Posted by Brit Mandelo

A companion novella to The Black Tides of Heaven, previously discussed here, The Red Threads of Fortune begins four years later with a different twin as the focal point of the narrative. Mokoya, survivor of a terrible accident that killed her daughter and left her scarred physically and emotionally, has left the Grand Monastery and her husband to hunt monsters at the far reaches of the Protectorate. However, there’s something different about this particular naga hunt—and it will change the course of her future.

While The Black Tides of Heaven flitted through thirty-five years of political and social change, The Red Threads of Fortune takes place over the course of a handful of days. Instead of a slow-building accretion of plot, this novella is fast and direct, an abrupt punch of action and revelation. Given the twins’ skillsets—Akeha as a political revolutionary, Mokoya as a prophet and then beast hunter—the structure of their respective novellas also makes a great deal of thematic sense.

This novella, first and foremost, is about trauma—handling it, or not handling it, and the often messy, unpredictable process of recovering from it. As it takes place at a turning point, the action both external and internal compressed into a brief period of days after years of unseen buildup, it packs a hell of a narrative punch. Mokoya is on the edge of a breakthrough or a breakdown when the novella begins. She has isolated herself from her partner, her brother, and her previous life; her prophetic visions no longer foretell the future but recall her past.

The loss of her daughter and her own maiming are traumas she is unable to address or move beyond. Instead, the reader first encounters her as a passively suicidal hunter trawling the desert without her crew—repressing fantasies of death, the urge to dissolve, and abrupt attacks of disassociation. Yang describes Mokoya’s catastrophic emotional state in abrupt, painful detail without overplaying it, while also acknowledging that Mokoya cannot find her own solution to the problem she knows she has.

Though this is a fantastical novella, set in a world where the protagonists ride raptors and naga and create magical nuclear weapons, the treatment of mental illness and trauma is utterly realistic. The balance of awareness and helplessness Mokoya feels is devastating, giving honest attention to the experience of one’s mind working out of sync with one’s body. After making a series of despair-driven mistakes and then finally communicating about her loss with her partner and her friends, Mokoya comes to a turning point—and, in reclaiming her power over her prophetic abilities and her magic, survives another trauma to open up a fresh lease on her life.

I have a deep streak of appreciation for stories that approach trauma and recovery in such an intuitive, balanced fashion. Yang does solid work with the process, here, and Mokoya is not a model for healthy behavior—but neither are most people. The same ability to background detail for the reader to pick up on which I noted in the previous novella is also present in The Red Threads of Fortune. However, instead of political or cultural detail, this time it is used to show the reader the slow process of grief: a conversation with Adi about her lost child one night, another conversation with Thennjay where she considers his trauma and his response to her own, yet another with the princess who lost her mother, and so on.

While solitude can be necessary, stagnation offers no hope of reprieve. Mokoya realizes this and begins to move forward in fits and starts, willing to grow and make sacrifices again for Rider and for the city of Bataanar. And, though she did not intend to survive her effort to unweave her own prophecy and release the captive soul from the naga, she does—thanks in part to the new emotional connection she was able to create, though she also makes mistakes in the process, with Rider. Mokoya directs her aimless fear and pain to a path. She gives up her living-ghost status and reconnects with the world that she ran from, ready to face it again.

The thematic arc is bright and strong—and the plot, too, is sharp. The speed with which the characters act creates a bounding pace from one scene to the next, one fight to the next, as the reader follows along. While political motives are the initial suspicion, a logical one given the state of the Protectorate and the events of the last novella, in reality the motive for the naga’s attack is also loss. The princess’s mother’s soul is attached to it, and in her young unprocessed grief she calls the beast to her. Neither Mokoya nor Akeha considered that possibility, but Rider did, and in sympathy attempted to talk to princess out of it unsuccessfully.

Loss, when not handled well or allowed to run its course with support, is a violent thing. Yang shows the reader that in two different ways in this novella while also allowing for recovery and understanding. The princess assists Mokoya, in the end, with severing her mother’s soul from the naga despite all the damage she caused to reunite with her. Mokoya survives due to Rider’s skills and attachment to her. Her vision, in her recovery bed, is of the pair of them with children in the future.

There are other small things I appreciated too, such as Mokoya noting when other don’t use the correct pronouns for Rider and Thennjay being pleased with Mokoya finding another lover. The casual and pleasant approach to gender, sexuality, and relationships that underpinned the first novella is not absent here. Yang is careful and thorough in their representation of their characters in a manner that is soothing to read.

This pair of stories forms an interesting duet, each with a very different tone and style, but together they’re a delightful introduction to a new world. I look forward to seeing more in the future.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune are available from Tor.com Publishing.
Read excerpts from Black Tides and Red Threads here.
Check out a review of The Black Tides of Heaven here.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. They have two books out, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-telling, and in the past have edited for publications like Strange Horizons Magazine. Other work has been featured in magazines such as Stone TellingClarkesworldApex, and Ideomancer.

Posted by Brit Mandelo

The Black Tides of Heaven is the first of a pair of simultaneous-release novellas by JY Yang, marking the start of their Tensorate series. Mokoya and Akeha are twins, the youngest children of the ruthless Protector of the Kingdom. Their mother is engaged in a complex power struggle with the Grand Monastery and as a result both children are raised there as charges—until Mokoya begins receiving prophetic visions and the children are recalled to the palaces. Akeha, however, is the “spare” child of the pair according to their mother.

The novella is constructed from a series of vignettes that take place over the course of thirty-five years. The Black Tides of Heaven shifts sole focus to Akeha at the middle point when the twins’ lives do, ultimately, separate; the paired novella, The Red Threads of Fortune, will pick up with Mokoya after the events of this book.

Politics are both the center of this novella and the ongoing but unremarkable background, simultaneously. The construction—vignettes spread from “year one” to “year thirty-five”—doesn’t allow for in depth examination of the cultural or political milieu. The reader is immersed as the characters are without explanation or exposition. This creates a paradoxical and pleasurable sense of unshakeable grounding in the setting while avoiding the typical structure of a second-world fantasy novel that would give the reader extensive experience within it.

In effect, Yang treats the world of their novella as real and already-known to the reader. In doing so they trust us to fill in the blanks via observation, logic, and a puzzle-game of implications. There’s a certain craft skill required to make that work, and it’s undeniably present here. I never had a moment of confusion or disorientation because there is a perfect mix of detail and narrative movement to keep the reader comfortable without spoon-feeding them context.

The non-traditional narrative structure works using the same techniques. As we jump from year to year, alighting in different periods of Akeha’s life, we come to understand various things about the Protectorate. Some of these are cultural facts, such as gender being explicitly chosen and confirmed with surgery for most citizens, though some may occupy middle space or approach their physical bodies differently than others. Other facts are political: the Monastery and the government are both juggernauts often at odds; advanced magic and technological progress too are in conflict; the twins’ mother is a despotic but also successful ruler.

There is a plot that accretes through the various chunks of narrative the novella contains. We follow Akeha through his life as events shape him to be a sympathetic revolutionary against his mother, though in the end he does not overthrow her. It’s a personal arc rather than a political arc, but as in reality, the personal and political are deeply intertwined. Without the complex and often violent politics of his nation, Akeha wouldn’t be driven to conflict with his mother—even though he attempted to extricate himself and avoid any involvement. His one rule, when he meets Yongcheow, is that he doesn’t do work that involves the Tensorate; for Yongcheow, though, he changes those rules.

The narrative arc is compelling precisely for the obvious track it avoids. In another book, this might be a tale of revolution against one’s cruel parent/ruler. In The Black Tides of Heaven, the reader instead peers into brief snatches of time: a relationship breaking here, a relationship growing there, a conflict, a failure, a desire to avoid further conflict. The effect is fast-paced and immersive, organic. Yang sprinkles tidbits of worldbuilding and interpersonal conflict throughout that snag the reader’s attention.

For example: it seems the Machinists have managed to create, using a combination of magic and technology, something like a nuclear weapon. That isn’t expounded upon further, past Akeha’s realization that there’s something poisonous and terrible about the after effects of the weapon he tests, but the reader understands the implications. The balance of external story on the page and internal work left for the reader makes for an experience I won’t soon forget, though it’s difficult to describe in terms of “what really happens.”

The treatment of gender and sexuality, too, deserves a nod. The casual use of neutral pronouns for all unconfirmed characters—after all, their genders haven’t been chosen—is well done. So, too, is the acknowledgement that even in a society with gender as a choice, sometimes there are complications. Yongcheow lives as a man, but physically is implied to have not undergone surgery to match, as he must still bind his chest. The twins each confirm different genders: Mokoya chooses to be a woman while Akeha chooses to be a man. It’s also worth noting that Akeha chooses maleness not because it’s right but because it’s closer to right, an interesting detail that Yongcheow’s choice to not be confirmed also sheds some light on.

Also, both Akeha and Mokoya are attracted to men—sometimes, the same man. None of these details require explanation or exposition, though. Yang gives them to us and lets us work through it ourselves, which also creates a sense of natural ease with the characters’ views of gender and attraction. Much like the political setting, the cultural setting is presented as organic and obvious, which creates an even, balanced tone throughout.

The Tensorate series is off to a strong start with The Black Tides of Heaven. The narrative structure and the prose are both top-notch and fresh, the characters are uniquely individual, and the conflicts have a strong grounding in a complex world that we’re just beginning to see the shape of. JY Yang has impressed me, here, and I’m looking forward to more—which we’ll receive immediately, as the twin novella The Red Threads of Fourtune has been released at the same time.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune are available from Tor.com Publishing.
Read excerpts from Black Tides and Red Threads here.
Check out a review of The Red Threads of Fortune here.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. They have two books out, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-telling, and in the past have edited for publications like Strange Horizons Magazine. Other work has been featured in magazines such as Stone TellingClarkesworldApex, and Ideomancer.

Good news and bad news

Sep. 26th, 2017 11:45 am[personal profile] pegkerr
pegkerr: (Both the sweet and the bitter)
New CaringBridge post: Rob has had two more clean PET scans. Yay!

Unfortunately, we have had a new complication. As a direct effect of the treatment he has been undergoing, Rob has now developed diabetes. Read more at CaringBridge here.

I have a new hat

Sep. 26th, 2017 11:38 am[personal profile] pegkerr
pegkerr: (Default)
I went to the Renaissance Festival and purchased something I've been ogling for about three years. I'm very pleased with my new purchase and have updated my default icon accordingly:

Peg's hat purchased at Renaissance Festival 2017

Posted by Brian Switek

Someone needs to talk to Ridley Scott. They need to tell him he’s George Lucas-ing, before it’s too late.

Don’t get me wrong. The British director has given us genre fans some great gifts over the years. Blade Runner alone would have been enough, but 1979’s Alien forever changed science fiction. The horror flick explored the notion that there was more to space than shiny starships and Roddenberryesque utopias. Space was also hostile, dark, grimy, and potentially full of slime-dripping creatures whose only goal was infestation.

Given the indelible mark Scott made on scifi and horror with Alien, you’d think it would be a good thing that he’s planned an entire series of films explaining how and why the dreaded, acid-blooded xenomorphs came to be. So far we’ve already gotten 2012’s divisive Prometheus and this year’s Alien: Covenant—already out for home release, faster than a chestburster’s gestation time. But in trying to walk us through the steps of the titular Alien’s genesis, Scott is making the same mistake George Lucas did when he decided to tackle the Star Wars prequels.

[Some spoilers for the Alien prequels through Covenant]

Just in terms of pure story, there’s plenty to criticize in Scott’s two attempts to explain the origins of the xenomorphs. Prometheus—which initially wasn’t supposed to be related to Alien at all—features so-called scientists who inexplicably stick their faces too close to unknown creatures and some internal confusion about whether the plot’s supposed to be a horror story or a parable about Space Jesus. Alien: Covenant likewise portrays a group of terraformers who apparently forget all their training as the body count rises. And by the time we finally get to the appearance of our beloved xenomorph in the third act, the film doesn’t really know what to do with the monster. The monster has no surprises left to exploit—a slew of sequels and spinoffs have already shown us every trick in the book—and so the creature’s chronological debut ends up being a letdown.

But that’s not the main trouble. If they were standalone movies, both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant would have been, well, fine. I’d rather have a flawed attempt at original science fiction than completely safe comic book movies where you know the superhero isn’t in any real peril because their appearances have already been scheduled through the next ten years’ worth of films. The issue stems from the fact that the Alien prequels are exactly that—they’re attempting to build up to something we already know and love, and fizzling out every time.

Part of the problem is that the collaborative spirit that made the first Alien so great is gone. Ridley Scott directed the movie, sure, but so much of what made that first foray great came from story writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett mixing concepts and tropes from all over the place into something new, not least of all H.R. Giger’s terrifying creature designs. It was a group effort. But with all that in place, Scott is steering the franchise on his own, trying to give us something fans never really asked for.

Comedian Patton Oswalt already covered this in relation to the Star Wars prequels. “I don’t care where the stuff I love comes from. I just love the stuff I love.” We might as well call that Oswalt’s Dictum. We don’t want to see proto-Vader pod racing; we want him clad in black and swinging a red lightsaber. Translated to the Alien universe, trying to understand the connection between the inscrutable engineers, black goo, and piles of hapless explorers feels kind of pointless while we’re waiting for the Alien itself to show up, made all the worse by the fact that the prequels don’t really know what to do with the xenomorph once it finally wakes up from its nap inside Billy Crudup. The alien, treated with real depth and mystery in the original film, is now just a silver-toothed bugbear, with no tricks left to pull.

The Alien prequels don’t add anything to the elements that have endeared the 1979 classic or 1986’s shoot-‘em-up sequel to several generations of fans. They don’t help us understand the xenomorph better; they don’t make the monster scarier or otherwise change our perspective on the original film or the continuing plight of Ellen Ripley. The films are just a slow and bloody plod towards what we already know, with one or two or three or umpteen movies spaced out between Prometheus and when we meet the crew of the Nostromo.

In fact, the protracted backstory ends up cheapening the xenomorph. The strength of the first film was that no one—including the cast, in some cases—knew what the creature was going to do, or what it wanted. And even if Ripley and her crewmates possessed the knowledge we’re getting through the prequels, it wouldn’t have made any difference: the tension and terror of Alien lay in watching people facing something completely hostile and unknown. Horror comes from being thrust, helpless, into those situations. The Alien prequels can only subtract from that essential fear and dread.

Plus, there are other stories to tell. Creative Assembly’s game Alien: Isolation, which follows Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda, was a frightening and worthy successor to the first film. The Dark Horse Comics ALIENS series has given us some solid stories as well, like Aliens: Defiance and Aliens: Dead Orbit. And director Neill Blomkamp, who made his own mark on the scifi landscape with District 9, got everyone all hot and bothered with his own idea for a direct sequel to Aliens, but the project was shelved because Scott doesn’t want to let the xenomorph off leash just yet. There’s an entire universe of stories to explore, just waiting to burst forth. In other words, it’s about time to let the xenomorph move on to its next life stage instead of endlessly retreading the past.

Brian Switek is the author of My Beloved Brontosaurus (out in paperback from Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Written in Stone. He also writes the Scientific American blog Laelaps.

sunnymodffa: Belladona, the evening vampire pony seen in the moonlight (Belladona in the moonlight)

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Posted by Marissa Doyle

When Lord George Cavendish, younger brother of the 5th Duke of Devonshire (or should I say brother-in-law of the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire?) inherited one of the family homes in London, Burlington House, he didn’t expect to be plagued with lackadaisical Londoners using his side garden as a convenient dumping ground for their trash. And oh, those old oyster shells begin to reek after a while, as old oyster shells will. So he came up with a novel solution, one for which generations of young ladies bless him: he built a shopping mall.

No joke. His architect, Samuel Ware, designed a broad covered passage running along his garden wall with an outlet onto Piccadilly. This long (585 feet) passage was lined with 72 small shops which had small apartments above them for the shopkeepers to live in; natural light came in through skylights in the ceiling, visible in the photo at left.

London was agog at this project and flocked to visit the Burlington Arcade, established “for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females” (though only six of the original tenants were “industrious females”, male milliners and corset-makers who rented shops here were addressed as “Madame”!) The shops were all luxurious ones, featuring the most fashionable, up to date, and expensive merchandise, and any business whose trade could be described as noisy, noxious, or otherwise offensive was not allowed. King George VI’s official gold lace makers had his shop here.

Rules were put in place to keep the Arcade exclusive. Lord George recruited soldiers from his family’s regiment, the 10th Hussars, to serve as guards and enforcers of etiquette. These “Beadles” wore special uniforms and were on hand to ensure the rules of no whistling, singing, playing of musical instruments (to keep out itinerant street musicians), running, carrying large parcels, opening umbrellas, and baby prams. And though their uniform has changed over the years, they’re still there…because yes, the Burlington Arcade is still in existence. Though some of the shops have been combined so that there are now about forty, it’s still open and trading in luxury goods and now antiques…perhaps some of the items that were once sold there as new.


Posted by Tor.com

We’re excited to share the cover for Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach—a far-reaching, mind-bending science fiction adventure that uses time travel to merge climate fiction with historical fantasy. Robson is an Aurora Award winner, Campbell, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon finalist, and the author of “Waters of Versailles”—available to read here on Tor.com.

Learn more about the new novella below, and check out the full cover—complete with mind-bending eco-tech—by artist Jon Foster!

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is forthcoming from Tor.com Publishing in March 2018. From the catalog copy:

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted pass.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

Cover art by Jon Foster; design by Christine Foltzer

Pre-order now at the links below, or from your preferred retailer:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

So we all agree that the only thing better than tiny children cosplay is when the tiny child in question is cosplaying as a grumpy older gentleman, say, Wolverine? Wonder Women author Sam Maggs found what may be the greatest cosplay of all time—a very tiny, very serious Wolverine. Gaze upon this, ye mighty, and try not to “awwww”!

But that isn’t enough! We have a second special bonus cosplay—click through!


[via Sam Maggs and Terry Duke, respectively.]


Posted by Liz Bourke

What’s new in science fiction and fantasy lately? So many things. Too many things to keep up with! (Can you tell I constantly feel just a little bit overwhelmed?)

I was very impressed with Alex Wells’ first novel, Hunger Makes the Wolf. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, but meanwhile, this month sees Wells with a vivid and engaging science fiction novelette here on Tor.com, “The Angel of the Blockade.” In “The Angel of the Blockade,” the best smuggler in the empire takes on a job without examining it too closely. When her cargo tries to hijack her ship, she has to decide whether or not she’s going to condemn a group of desperate refugees to death—or whether she’s going to help people who were willing to kill her until they realised they needed her to fly her ship.

Wells writes a tight, sharp story, its emotional significance carried as much in what isn’t said as what is. Nata, the protagonist, is blind, and the world is textured in smells and sounds and tastes in a way that feels very effective. She has her ship set up the way she wants it—which means it’s unintelligible to sighted people—and she doesn’t want to be “fixed,” thank you very much. She’s extremely competent and legitimately cranky at having her business disrupted without so much as a by-your-leave. All in all, this is an excellent story.

Sarah Gailey’s Taste of Marrow, sequel to River of Teeth, is a tighter, sharper novella than its predecessor. Though I confess to a certain grumpy bewilderment over the choice to produce this story as two novellas rather than one whole novel. It would perhaps have worked a little better—but the elements that made River of Teeth an overall pleasing read remain. Alternate history with American riding hippos! A diverse cast of misfits and compelling criminals—with a love story and a baby. Thanks to events at the end of River of Teeth, Winslow Houndstooth has been separated from his lover Hero. Houndstooth is reluctant to admit that Hero might be dead, and his obsession with finding Hero is starting to worry his friend, conwoman Archie.

Hero, meanwhile, thinks Houndstooth is dead. They’ve been travelling with Adelia, the woman who stabbed them very carefully so that they looked dead but weren’t, and her newborn infant Ysabel while recovering from their wound. When Ysabel is kidnapped in order to force Adelia back to work as an assassin, things come together—or fall apart—in a conclusion rife with feral hippos, startling reunions, and the telling-off of federal marshals.

Taste of Marrow is fun, but it’s unevenly paced, and as a whole, the duology feels slight. But hippos are very entertaining.

Also entertaining is the subgenre of fiction that I can’t help but mentally refer to as Sad Boys in Love, of which K.J. Charles’ Spectred Isle is the latest fantasy example that I’ve read. Set in 1920s England, it stars Saul Lazenby, whose war was bad by virtue of him spending half of it in a military prison, a trained archaeologist whom no one will employ because of his disgrace and who, in consequence, is now working for a wealthy eccentric who has odd notions about mystical confluences. Saul doesn’t know that magic is actually real, and when he learns that it is… well, he’s not a happy man.

Randolph Glyde, on the other hand, knows that magic is painfully real and dangerous. And thanks to the actions of magicians during WWI, there aren’t really enough trained people left to deal with all the consequences of some Really Bad Decisions that were taken during the war. In England, it’s pretty much just Randolph, and a couple of friends. When he keeps running into Saul at sites of magical interest, he’s both suspicious of and intrigued by the other man.

Their relationship unfolds along traditional romance lines, with the added complication of Magical Shit Going Down. Well-paced, well-characterised, and with some interesting worldbuilding, Spectred Isle is really fun. It also opens a series, so I’m definitely looking forward to what’s next.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Posted by @jillianmoreno

In my latest Knittyspin column I talk about the difference between heathered and tweed batts. As usual, I got comments and questions (thank you, I love that) not about heather vs tweed, but about my mention of making a sandwich with my fiber and nubbies in my tweed batt.

It’s exactly how it sounds, I split my batt fiber in two, put down one half, add the nubbies, put the second half on top and send it through the carder.

Here’s a visual:

My fiber is yellow Corriedale from Dashing Mouse and my add-ins are  silk waste from my stash. My carder is the Strauch Finest Motorized. The silk waste will make a tweed that is streaky rather than the pin point  style of tweed that the nubbies make.

I was feeling yellow today

My sandwich, a little fiber on the bottom, a scattering of tweedy bits, a little fiber on the top.

A pretty, but not appetizing, sandwich.

The result is tweedy batt and no silk waste or nubbies left in the carder.

Streaky tweed and no silk in the carder

I’ll admit that having no add-ins stuck in the carder after I was done is the main reason that I use the sandwiching method. After doing it for many batts, I think mixes and locks-in the tweedy bits better. I find that I get less literal fall out when I spin from batts that I’ve prepared using this method. Plus it’s kinda fun! I use this method with my handcards too.





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