Another Day, Another Blog

August 23, 2007

Lessons learned from Mills and Boon

Filed under: books, the joy of life — iamza @ 5:36 pm

1. The unknown female ringing him at odd hours is the pet goat he adopted on his travels through war-torn Africa.

2. A night spent making passionate love makes even the most insufferably arrogant man look sensitive and caring in the morning — especially when he remembers to turn on the coffee machine.

3. To really get to know somebody, you need only have two fights, a bit of snarky flirtation, and a steamy night in bed. Really, if you time it right, that works out to three point four days.

4. Deserts are full of mysterious princes, and the American midwest is populated by about a billion (plus or minus three) hunky, but angsty, cowboys. If you’re looking for a husband, those are the places to go.

5. No means no except when it means yes, and he’ll always know which one you really mean because he’s a mindreader. (Except when he’s not, but that only happens twice; see point 3 above)

5a. (Corollary:) She’ll never know what you’re thinking, so, for God’s sake, man, just spit it out and save us the thirty pages of abject misery and self-doubt before the happy ending.

6. If there’s a car to be crashed or a horse to fall off of, she’ll do it. But she’ll do it with a spirit he can’t help but admire.

7. When he says something unforgivably mean, she’ll realize she’s in love. (Also known as the WTF?! clause).

8. Nobody works for a living in romance novels. Or, if they do, they’re having it on with the super-hot boss, and not the kinda ugly person in the next cubicle. 

9. If you’re a writer, an artist, a journalist, or a business prodigy, and you’re still single, don’t despair. You’re about to meet your soulmate on the next page.

10. (Mills and Boon) love is more about lust than it is laughter. Too bad, because laughter is likely to last longer and bring one more joy.

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August 17, 2007

The Cloud

Filed under: books, science fiction — iamza @ 10:46 am

The Cloud, by Ray Hammond: The search for extraterrestrial life is finally over, or so everyone thinks when lunar-based Setiville scientists discover a signal being broadcast from the constellation Aquarius, almost fifteen light years from Earth. A return message is sent even as work begins on decrypting the alien transmission. Sadly, the decryption proves more challenging than initially thought, and thirty years pass with no significant progress being made. Then, just as Earth readies itself for a second message from Aquarius, the alien transmissions stop, and a fast-moving nebulous cloud is spotted on the fringes of the solar system. Suddenly, the idea of being alone in the galaxy starts to look more appealing…

On the whole, not a bad read. The plot ticks over nicely, and if the characters aren’t quite enough to keep one engaged, at least the story itself is reasonably entertaining.

As with so many other science fiction novels, the underlying message seems to be that, as a species, we ought to appreciate mother Earth more. Technology is all well and good, but we should limit our advances because we don’t really know what we’re messing with. And we ought to focus all our energy on Earthbound activities because space is too big and too alien and too wasteful of resources to be worth the effort. I’m not sure that I, personally, agree with any of these assessments.

There are also other bits and pieces that trouble me about the story. For one thing, the Cloud was designed to automatically seek out any and all civilizations who have developed to the extent that they are capable of generating radio waves. Apparently, this is a fundamental step on the path to developing a program of spaceflight. Earth survives because they play dead by turning off all the radios. What is to stop any other advanced civilization from doing the same? How is the Cloud able to regenerate itself? Matter has to come from somewhere, so the idea of a self-regenerating space-cloud is a little hard to swallow. Is the Cloud alone? If not, it seems terribly convenient that it happened to stumble across Earth just fifty or sixty years after SETI started searching in earnest.

If anything, for me, the Cloud reinforces the need for a viable space program. If there are multiple planets populated by human beings, we have that much less of a chance of becoming extinct. Not to be specist, or anything, but I kind of like the idea of human beings spreading amongst the stars like a virus. If nothing else, it’s sort of a cosmic, “Screw you!” to all the naysayers and doom-mongers.

July 30, 2007

Words, words, words

Filed under: books, sci-fi, science fiction — iamza @ 12:27 pm

It amazes me how quickly the body becomes accustomed to time off. It’s like the brain is in a perpetual holding pattern, just waiting for that precious vacation call so it can skip gleefully onto the runway. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your holiday. Please remain seated until the brain-plane comes to a full and complete stop.”

This time around, at least I was in the mood to read. Too often, my days off are lost in a haze of DVDs and movies. I can still remember the bemused expression on the face of the cinema clerk back in South Africa when I returned to the ticket counter for the third time on the same day. Ah, how I miss 09h15 screenings…

So, books what got read:

Linnea Sinclair: Wintertide and The Accidental Goddess. Both novels are both set in the same universe, but a goodly time apart — a fact which completely bypassed my sister, who liked the first novel, but hated the second. 

In Wintertide, orphaned Khemsin finds out she is somehow connected to a sorcerer, a fact which does not make her particularly happy. She decides to go have a chat with him, to see if she can persuade him to keep out of her life.

This novel is a quick and mostly entertaining fantasy (ideal for skim-reading). Its biggest flaw is the romantic subplot, which is all too predictable. 

The Accidental Goddess is more my speed: space opera. After a space battle against a vicious foe, Captain Gillaine Davre of the Raheiran Special Forces wakes up on a space station to find out (a) she has somehow travelled 342 years into the future, and (b) she is now revered as a goddess. Add to the mix the disconcerting presence of Admiral Makarian, a Raheiran crystal ship with a knack for humming wedding tunes at just the wrong time, and the re-emergence of an old foe, and Gillie’s beginning to wonder if life could get any more complicated…

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Both Gillie and Mack are engaging characters, and Mack’s lieutenant and Gillie’s ship add some much needed humour. All around good read.

Elizabeth VaughanWarprize, Warsworn, and Warlord. A fantasy romance trilogy, which came highly recommended.

In the first book, Xylara, daughter of the King of Xy and Master Healer in her own right, is claimed as Warprize by the Firelander Warlord, in exchange for peace between their warring nations. Initially unhappy, Xylara gradually learns that the Firelanders are neither as hostile nor as uncivilized as she’d been brought up to believe.

In Warsworn, Xylara and Kier are diverted on their path to the Firelander homeland when they run across a diseased village. As Master Healer, Xylara tries to aid the village, but then the plague spreads to the Firelander army, and Kier.

Having successfully retained his title of Warlord, Kier leads the Firelander army to the Great Plains, and home. But he travels alone, as Xylara has been taken by the Firelander Council to the heart of the Great Plains. There, Xylara must prove to the council that she is truly worthy of the title, Warprize.

I must admit that I was not keen on the first few hundred pages of this epic, what with the idea of a woman being claimed by the leader of an opposing nation as his just reward for peace. I disliked the slave imagery, and the feeling that Xylara had no say in her future. Even once the true status of what it means to be claimed as Warprize is revealed, it left me uncomfortable, because, essentially, Xylara’s position was unchanged. Xylara did not choose to go with Kier of her own free will — she was forced into it because if she did not go along as Warprize, Kier and the Firelanders would have destroyed her home and killed her people. Call it what you want, but that strikes me as blackmail.

I had fewer qualms with later books, once it became clear that Xylara wanted to stay with Kier. I’m still thinking Xylara’s suffering a bout of Stockholm syndrome, but, hey, that’s barbarian romance for you. Also, I guess in some ways, she’s made a political alliance for her people through marriage. 

On the whole, an engaging story with a huge dose of romance. Still not entirely sold on the notion of the Warprize, or the Firelander way of life, but it all ends on a relatively happy note. All three books are good pageturners, and well worth reading, if you can keep from chucking the first book across the room for the first hundred or so pages.

James Rollins: Deep Fathom is an adventure novel in the Hollywood blockbuster sense of the word. The new millennium brings with it a series of catastrophic natural disasters, culminating in the crash of Air Force One and the re-emergence of once lost continent off the coast of Japan. The discovery of a mysterious crystal with peculiar gravitational properties in ancient ruins on the continent may forecast the destruction of the Earth, or a way to save the world. 

This is switch-off-your-brain action of the highest order. Great (skim) reading for airports, or after long journeys when your brain is tired but you just can’t sleep. It has everything Hollywood looks for in action adventure: a down-and-out hero, romance, talking computers, big special effects, nonsense science, and the requisite super, ultra, really bad, bad guy (because, God knows, saving the Earth from blowing up just isn’t enough of a challenge sometimes).

Frank Schatzing: I know, I know, I keep bringing this book up, but The Swarm is hands down my favourite read of the summer thus far. Seriously, if you read one science fiction novel this year, make it this one — it is that good.

The oceans are rebelling against man. The coasts around the world are being ravaged by marine creatures, some known, but some which appear to have been artificially evolved. Meanwhile, a huge tsunami triggered by the collapse of the continental shelf off the coast of Norway wreaks havoc all around the North Sea. An international group of scientists struggle to understand what is behind the sudden surge in disasters, and come to a very disturbing conclusion: We are not alone.

This book has it all — an excellent story which is thoroughly absorbing; a great cast of characters; loads of action and adventure; the destruction of whole countries; and a bunch of seriously alien aliens. And it’s thick enough that you only have to pack one book for your holiday! :-)

June 6, 2007

Excuse me, have you seen my mind?

Filed under: books, random, the joy of life — iamza @ 4:20 pm

Ever have one of those days where you’re convinced it’s another day of the week? Today, for me, feels like Friday. It is maddening to realize there are still another two days remaining in the work week.

On the whole, I think I prefer days when I think Thursday is Tuesday. At least then, Friday’s there before you know it.

The other thing slowly eating away at the few brain cells I still retain is waking up each morning at 4 a.m. For some reason, my internal alarm clock has gotten all screwed up. Alas, I have yet to find a reset button for the brain which does not involve medical intervention in the form of a resuscitation room, an electric current and some paddles… 

On the plus side, I am really enjoying Frank Schatzing’s novel, The Swarm, an eco-thriller in which the marine world suddenly goes crazy, making for all sorts of mayhem for us poor terrestrial folk. Reading this novel makes me wish I’d paid more attention in university when such interesting topics as methane hydrates were raised. But then, in my defence, I don’t think we ever discussed in class how methane hydrates might cause tsunamis…

Other sparkly moments in life recently: the discovery of Michael Buble (thanks, Claire!) and mint Aero bubbles, a working gate for my new fence, flowering lavender shrubs, the death of the evil thistle that was lording it over the pond, and finding that my eight goldfish are still alive despite being accidentally sprayed with weedkiller.

June 5, 2007

Five lessons I learned from Desmond Bagley novels

Filed under: books, the joy of life, when natures strikes back — iamza @ 12:08 pm

1) Landslide left me with the indelible impression that earth scientists live exciting lives, full of adventure. They spend most of their lives outside in an ever-changing laboratory. Duties include such ardous chores as camping in the wilderness for days at a time, and consuming large amounts of beer.

Downsides to pursuing a career as an earth scientist: occasionally, their work makes them extremely unpopular, and they get shot at.

2) Wyatt’s Hurricane made me long to be a meteorologist, if only because then I’d have an excuse to move to the Caribbean, or Far East. It’s not like we get many hurricanes here in England.

This book was my first introduction to the cloud seeding experiments of the sixties. It finished on a surprisingly optimistic note, with Wyatt eventually devising a means of controlling hurricanes. Sadly, weather modification in reality has turned out to be a much trickier proposition than this novel suggests. That, or possibly thanks to an over-abundance of caution and paperwork, we modern scientists lack the boundless optimism and enthusiasm of our sixties predecessors.  We dare not attempt experiments that could potentially put thousands of lives at risk without first going through every health and safety check ever devised. All things considered, this is probably a good thing — especially for anyone living in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

Other lessons from this novel: never trust an Ernest Hemingway wannabe, or a revolutionary.

3) I was a first year geology student when I read Night of Error, and learned of manganese nodules on the seafloor. In the seventies, all sorts of folks were throwing away money in an attempt to find an economically feasible way to mine the nodules. By the nineties, they’d pretty much given up.

I figure in about fifty years, someone is going to take the set from James Cameron’s The Abyss, and make a submarine mobile manganese nodule mining platform. Possibly, they’ll even find a giant squid, or three. 

Also, Electrolux and Dyson will fight it out, each trying to outdo the other when it comes to developing giant environmentally friendly vaccuum cleaners for the seafloor. Think about it: Spring cleaning for the Earth! Get rid of all that pesky seabed sedimentary gunk, and free up the seafloor basalts for proper scientific study. 

4) Running Blind introduced me to the joys of intelligence work and geyser avoidance. Really, don’t all spies spend their days dodging geysers and bullets in Iceland? And, hey, when they’re on vacation, the spies could potentially get together, and make up a volunteer volcano watch/fire service.

5) The Snow Tiger remains my favourite of all of Bagley’s books. An investigation into a disastrous avalanche in New Zealand reveals that the avalanche may have been deliberately triggered. From this, I learned that if you want to live in a house in mountains where snow falls in winter, make sure the hillside above has not been deforested. Better yet, buy a house in the Caribbean instead. Also, never date a girl with over-protective brothers who (a) are bigger and/or meaner than yours, and (b) outnumber you.

May 22, 2007

Dessert first, please

Filed under: books, the joy of life — iamza @ 8:36 am

As a kid, I tried very hard to finish every single book that I started reading. This made trips to the library tortuous for my sister. She would pick her six books pretty quickly — if they had a horse or a cat on the front cover, they were fair game. I, meanwhile, would pick a book off the shelf, and then read a page near the beginning, a page in the middle, and — finally — the last page, before deciding whether or not to borrow it. In the time it took me to choose my first book, my sister would have had all of hers stamped and ready to go. And by the time I’d finally chosen all six of my books, my sister would have read another two or three from the shelves.  

My deliberation worked, though. For the first eleven years of my life, I had a 100% success rate when it came to finishing every book I started. Then I ran up against Lord of the Rings… Let’s just say that I’m very glad that Peter Jackson made the movies, because now I can stop feeling guilty about never finishing the books.

I think that need to finish every book I start reading is why, even now, I’ll read the end of books before the beginning. Subconsciously, I guess I equate a good ending with a story worth reading. Strangely, knowing how things turn out in the end does not spoil the story for me — it’s the journey to that final page that I’m most interested in.

May 10, 2007

3 things I learned today

Filed under: books — iamza @ 3:26 pm

1) Wow, everybody and their uncle has called their book Blindsight. I remember borrowing from the Rosebank library Michael Stewart‘s 1988 novel in which a young man is blinded, and then undergoes an experimental treatment in order to regain his sight. Peter Watts has written a well reviewed science fiction novel about first contact that I very much want to read. There’s also the early nineties Robin Cook medical thriller of the same name. And apparently Maurice Gee and Rosmarie Waldrup also have novels titled Blindsight, a fact of which I was unaware until hunting about for links on amazon.

Note to self: when looking to get that all important first novel published, go for the title of Blindsight. It’s obviously a lucky name…

2) James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis first suggested the Gaia Hypothesis in 1972. It’s only in the last few years that Earth Systems Science (as Gaia now seems to be known) has really become reasonably widely accepted. I’m still not sure I buy into Gaia completely, but I’m a hell of a lot more likely to do so now that I know that the theory is not trying to claim the Earth is some kind of planetary whale, or that Gaia is a mystical life-force seated deep insde the Earth a la the Final Fantasy movie.

Reading The Revenge of Gaia I don’t understand why the idea of a self-regulating system is all that challenging to comprehend. Possibly, I am just too stupid to fully understand the point that James Lovelock is trying to make, given the reference to Richard Feynman’s, “Anyone who thinks they understand [quantum theory] probably does not,” at the end of chapter two.

3) It seems even I can be made to find the Napoleonic Wars interesting, if they are presented in the right novel format. Naomi Novak’s Temeraire series is wonderful, and keeps improving with each new book in the series that I read.

Imagine Anne MacCaffrey’s dragons of Pern in an alternate universe version of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, where the Royal Navy is not alone in its attempts to keep Napoleon from crossing the channel. The dragons provide nations with aerial combat units long before they were available on our Earth. Now, imagine all that set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.

The series makes for riveting reading, not least because being a story about the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate universe means that the outcome of well-known historical battles is no longer guaranteed. Anything could happen — though, of course, one hopes that ultimately Laurence and Temeraire (and Britain) will prevail.

So far, only the first three books in the series are out. Book four is due out in September 2007.

April 30, 2007

Weekend reading

Filed under: books — iamza @ 10:16 am

Behind the Pine Curtain, by Gerri Hill:

When Jacqueline was eighteen, her parents found out she was gay. Jacqueline’s mother gave her a hundred dollars for a bus ticket, and told her to come back home only when she was prepared to do her family duty and get married. Fast forward ten or fifteen years, and Jacqueline is now a successful author living in California when she receives word of her father’s death. Reluctantly, Jacqueline finds herself heading back to her childhood town of Pine Springs, to face the friends and family she was forced to leave behind.

This is a lesbian romance: if you find repulsive the idea of two women getting intimate, then this probably isn’t the novel for you. It is, at heart, a story about rediscovering childhood love, and learning that sometimes what you’re most afraid of may end up giving you the greatest joy.

Sometimes, when reading novels, I find myself wishing I was as smart and as wise and as strong as the characters therein. And sometimes, they really bring home to me moments of past failures. Reading this novel reminded me of one of the moments in high school of which I am most ashamed. See, a rumour went around school that one of my friends, R, might be gay. I wish I could say I dealt with the news as well as Kay does when learning of Jacqueline’s sexuality, but the truth is, I freaked out, and pulled away at a time when R most needed someone to stand by her.

To this day, I don’t know if the rumour was true or not — it doesn’t matter. The fact is I walked away from a friendship not because of anything R had done, but because I was afraid of what everybody else would think of me if I stuck by her. If life were like Hollywood, I would have come to my senses just before the final credits rolled, and R and I would have been reunited in a storm of tears and repentance and forgiveness, and the sun would have come out shining more brightly than ever before as the speakers blared a happy rock song.

But life isn’t a Hollywood movie. And sometimes, shame and regret is all the closure you get.

April 26, 2007

Dear Mona Clee

Filed under: books — iamza @ 7:00 am

Dear Mona Clee,

     Please don’t take this request as a rampant case of fan entitlement, but rather as proof that, if you ever did decide to write another book, there would be at least one person in the world eagerly waiting to read it.

     Re-reading Overshoot has proven to be an interesting experience, especially after watching a BBC Horizon special highlighting the effect of global dimming on the environment. It is disheartening — and, frankly, terrifying — to think that we might reach the global warming overshoot/point of no return highlighted in your novel much earlier than originally predicted.

     I must admit that I both love and am repulsed by the idea of the virus postulated in your novel. The protagonist, Moira, may have had her fears of brainwashing put to rest, but I cannot help but feel that anything that so radically alters human behaviour also fundamentally changes who we are. And I rather like the person I am today. Humanity may be selfish and unkind, but these flaws define us just as much as the occasional moments of inspired ingenuity and breathtaking creativity. More so, for if we had no flaws to fight against, if we were all born perfect, there would be no need to strive to better ourselves; no way to measure how far we’d come.

     That said, a world at peace with itself sounds idyllic. No more wars — no more foolhardy fighting, victims classed as collateral damage, or orphaned kids on the news. People looking out for each other rather than for how they best can benefit from any given situation. It would be hard for most of us to turn away from such a world.

All the best,

Me

April 20, 2007

Flying maybe not so high

Filed under: books — iamza @ 8:47 am

Among the six or so books in my ‘currently reading’ pile is Kam Majd’s High Wire. Captain Kate is Jet East’s wonder girl. She outperformed all the men in her pilot training courses, and paved the way for all the Jet East female pilots after her. So when Captain Kate seemingly flies her aircraft into the ground through pilot error, and kills six passengers, people are understandably concerned. The story makes national headlines — especially after Captain Kate’s co-pilot, Ed Dumb-bell goes public with his less-than-enthusiastic opinion of Captain Kate’s mad piloting skillz.

Fortunately, folks at the NSTB the NTSB that airplane crash investigation unit aren’t swayed by the observations of a misogynistic co-pilot (who, incidentally, happened to be present in the cockpit at the time of the crash), or data retrieved from the black box supporting the finding of pilot error. They are, of course, also completely immune to the charms of the beautiful (and hotheaded) Captain Kate, and don’t think about her lovely legs or eyes at all. No, the folks at the NSTB the NTSB that airplane crash investigation unit are utterly professional, completely impartial, and simply wish to find the underlying cause of the aircraft crash so that more people won’t end up injured or dead. (But they also wouldn’t say no to a dinner date with Captain Kate. In a strictly professional capacity, of course).

In addition to luke-warm romances and plane crashes, the novel also contains a solid dose of sordid conspiracy theories, corporate blackmail, back-stabbing office politics, and nasty computer viruses.

This is one of those books you read at the beach, or in the terminal as you’re waiting for your plane to depart. It’s a quick read, with a reasonably entertaining plot and characters who are completely forgettable. (For example, it’s only been a couple of hours since I put this book down, and I cannot for the life of me remember Captain Kate’s full name. As for the romantic male lead from the NSTB the NTSB that airplane crash investigation unit, I think his name might be Michael, but I could be wrong. Now, true, I have a shockingly bad memory, but even I am usually better at remembering characters’ names than that!)

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