CALIBAN’S WAR, p. 528

Though Caliban’s War opens slow, and there is some angst-y stuff that feels like filler, when the action moves to Jim Holden and his rag-tag crew, the narrative gets thrilling. The big battle comes, and self ends up marveling at the authors’ ability to put us right there.

Avasarala and Bobbie Draper are such interesting characters, and the absence of Miller is a good thing because otherwise he’d just be going on endlessly about Julie Mao. One book with a lovesick detective is okay, two would have driven self permanently away from the series.

p. 528:

  • Avasarala opened her eyes again. She tried to feel something besides great, oceanic sorrow. There had to be hope in there somwhere. Even Pandora got that much.

Though Caliban’s War doesn’t have the Grade A pacing of Leviathan’s Wake, its characters are so deeply human and flawed and vulnerable that you can’t help rooting for them. Also, there is an organism.

Stay safe and read more books.

Quote of the Day: CALIBAN’S WAR, p. 319

Though Book # 2 of The Expanse nine-volume series (NINE!) started off slow, somewhere in the middle (yes, yes, who has the patience to wait 300 pages before the authors begin firing on all cylinders, but she loved the first book, and besides she already ordered the next two, she couldn’t just let it go) it began to be . . . exciting.

Something has happened to Jim Holden’s leg. Amos, the Big Man, the ‘enforcer’ of this rag-tag crew, has been hurt by an explosion.

“Gotta get up, big man,” Holden said, pushing himself to his feet. In the partial gravity of their spin, his leg felt heavy, hot, and stiff as a board. Without the drugs pouring through him, standing on it would have probably made him scream. Instead, he pulled Amos up, putting even more pressure on it.

I will pay for this later, he thought. But the amphetamines made later seem very far away.

“Naomi,” Holden said. “Can you control Amos’s suit from there?”

“Yes.”

“Shoot him full of speed.”

This is kind of — uh, sorry — addicting, actually. There’s even a huge Marine (of Samoan ancestry, therefore huge?) who reminds self a lot of Murderbot, the main character in Martha Wells’s excellent series, The Murderbot Diaries.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Reading About Stonehenge

Self saw Stonehenge for the first time in 2014. Her only souvenir from that time was an English Heritage Guidebook she found in the gift shop. All these years later, while dusting her bookshelves (which haven’t been dusted in probably a decade, she’s a very bad housekeeper) she finds it again and sits down to read it.

Stonehenge consists of a ditch, some animal bones (which in some cases pre-date the ditch, by hundreds of years), and a mixture of rock types.

The largest stones, “some of which weigh over 35 tonnes, are known as sarsens … a type of extremely hard sandstone.” The most likely source of these sarsens are 19 miles to the north, in Wiltshire.

The smaller stones, “known collectively as bluestones,” come from Wales, over 150 miles to the west. “There were originally at least 80 bluestones at Stonehenge, some weighing up to three tonnes.”

How did these stones get to Stonehenge?

Start with the sarsens: “… experiments have shown that stones this size can be dragged on a simple wooden sledge by a team of about 200 people. To drag a stone from the Marlborough Downs to Stonehenge, using a route that, wherever possible, avoided steep slopes, would take about 12 days.”

But why on earth — ? This is, for self, the real mystery of Stonehenge: not the origin of the stones, but why people would dedicate themselves to such a project.

It must have been during a long period of peace — for Stonehenge took time to assemble. And the society must have been fairly organized — or maybe they used slaves? The community that built them must have been fairly large, to spare the use of 200 men dragging stones for 12 days. Maybe they had hundreds of slaves?

Not only that, the stones were worked over, shaped into their current forms. Self can’t even. The strength it must have taken. Perhaps they used the equivalent of a wrecking ball. Did any workers die from accidents during the pulling upright of those stones? Maybe if some of them slipped … self’s imagination goes into such strange places!

What about the smaller stones, the bluestones? They were transported from much farther away (150 miles!) There is evidence that the sarsens were in place starting from around 2500 BC, and were subsequently never moved (Ha!), but the smaller stones were re-arranged several times.

Self remembers that she chose very carefully what kind of tour to take: she found a small group tour, led by a retired military officer, which left Southampton at sunset (since she arrived in London only a few hours before, and had to make a mad dash to Southampton after dropping her suitcases off at her hotel, she kept falling asleep on the bus and nearly missed the tour) and arrived at the stones by walking over a sheep meadow littered with sheep dung. She hadn’t slept at all on the plane from San Francisco and it was bitter cold on that tree-less plain. Her first sight of the monument was a very small bump on the horizon that grew ever larger until it began to resemble a claw against the sky. The approach was almost religious in feeling? The last big tour bus had pulled away. And suddenly: the stones! Approaching them on foot was the right thing: it’s how the earliest people would have approached. In fact, there would have been a long procession of people. Since there were no signs of human habitation in the vicinity, it’s clear the site was considered a place for one activity only: worship.

But worship of what?

Hopefully there will be an answer before she finishes reading the guidebook!

Stay tuned.

Starting MAMA’S LAST HUG: ANIMAL EMOTIONS AND WHAT THEY TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES

Self never thought she’d be as engrossed as she is. She’s just emerged from the fantastic space opera that is Leviathan Wakes, she didn’t think that her mind would be able to adjust easily to a subject like primates and their emotions. That would be quite a shwitcheroo. Surprisingly, however, self found it very easy to get ‘into’ this book.

From the Prologue:

Emotions may be slippery, but they are also by far the most salient aspect of our lives. They give meaning to everything. In experiments, people remember emotionally charged pictures and stories far better than neutral ones. We like to describe almost everything we have done or are about to do in emotional terms . . . That’s another thing about emotions: they make us take sides.

Back when Beto was still running for Presient, he gave an interview in which he said that Trump was a “master of emotional language.” That, said Beto, was how he won in 2016.

In light of the book self is currently reading, in light of the fact that the emotions, according to Frans de Waal, “make us take sides,” no wonder America is polarized to such a degree.

Everything Trump says is pitched to target his listeners’ emotions. He never uses reason or logic, but he sure can manipulate this one thing. Just to show you how well this strategy works: Americans actually called into poison control centers last weekend, wondering whether ordinary household bleach could kill the corona virus.

Self thinks it’s dangerous for a politician to appeal to the emotions. That makes the politician a demagogue. Or a fascist. Someone like Hitler.

A mob is ruled by emotions, not by rationality.

We’re not a mob country, are we? ARE WE?

But we’re all so much more emotional now, as a result of this pandemic. Does that make us ripe pickings for the Grifter?

Stay tuned.

If You’re Going to Write a Battle Scene on a Space Ship

During shelter-in-place, a good book is worth its weight in gold.

Hyperbolic, much?

Anyhoo, not an hour goes by when self doesn’t thank her lucky stars that she found Leviathan Wakes (She’s waiting on Caliban’s War to arrive, and then she’ll order Book #3 of the series, Abbadon’s Gate)

What she appreciates most of all is the precision of the action scenes. Yeah, yeah, what’s to obsess about, it’s just starships exploding, right?

Newp! The scene has to have verisimilitude! It must put you in a character’s head! It’s not enough to say that a character goes through an airlock, you must describe what it feels like to go through an airlock! And don’t over-describe, because then everyone will know you’re just making it up.

She watched The Expanse Season 4, then backtracked to Season 1, and got about four episodes in. Then, Leviathan Wakes arrived in the mail, and she stopped watching the series because she wanted to experience the book. And self would just like to say: the battles and explosions on the series, which look great, are nothing compared to what’s actually on the page.

It is a fully lived experience, on the page. The main point of view — Jim Holden’s, though Miller’s is almost as good — is ace. The writing is very clean. If you’re going to do space opera and stuff, the writing better be precise. For example, this sentence, pp. 138-139:

  • The hatch behind them slammed shut, and the air in the corridor vanished in a soundless ripple of plastic flaps.

Self having experienced an airlock herself (in Durham Cathedral, of all places), she knows it is something like this. There is, for one thing, “the perfect quiet of vacuum.” (p. 140). The mind ceases to work in normal time.

But, enough of this blogging! She has to get back to the book.

Truly, there’s only one activity — well, maybe two — that stops her from devouring the contents of her refrigerator in one go (Food is love; food is comfort, etc). Right now, because it’s too hot to garden (Only April and it’s too hot to garden. This does not bode well), it’s reading.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Sentence of the Day: LEVIATHAN AWAKES

Chapter One: Holden

“If we flip the ship right now and burn like hell for most of two days, I can get us within fifty thousand kilometers, sir.”

The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber

It starts off the collection, and it’s pretty long (for a Hemingway short story). All about a safari in Africa. Interesting, told from the safari guide’s point of view, who OF COURSE finds the wife attractive. The husband, Macomber (only in his mid-30s, but intimidated by the safari guide), is portrayed as a wimp. Despite these clichés of manhood and/or lack thereof, self finds herself empathizing much with Macomber. His reluctance to shoot the lion, for instance.

In this short story, the meal in question is breakfast.

Robert Wilson, the guide, has kippers and coffee.

“Finish your breakfast and we’ll be starting.”

Also, the lion’s point of view is part of this story. Pretty cool, that part. And you will feel, in your bones, how disgusting it is to hunt lions. Feeling and knowing are two different things.

Wife rewards Big Lion-Hunter with a kiss on the mouth, right in front of her husband. Guess Hemingway thinks that’s what all real men deserve, when they’ve finished off a lion. They deserve to be rewarded with a kiss from a beautiful woman. Because — hey! Hunter-killers are rad! Self can’t think of any story she’s ever read that infuriated her so much.

Story becomes very noir-ish towards the end, characters speak very “posh,” in a version of British stiff-upper-lip.

Her sympathies to Macomber.

Stay tuned.

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