It’s not dead, it’s just “differently alive”. 

Hello lovely readers!

Long time, no blog. Yeah, I’m terrible at this. If you don’t care feel free to skip to the end. I’m just going to work through my guilt for a bit.

What happened?

I set up the blog, as a way of expanding on my YouTube channel, books and pieces. Over there I publish a video every week (sometimes twice a week), and I have done so consistently for over three years. I wanted a place where I could post things that weren’t necessarily video content or where those who like to read rather than watch could access the same reviews and thought pieces. I thought I’d be as consistent and productive with this as I was with the videos.

bitch please

Unfortunately, as it turns out, blogging takes time!

In the way of so many people who don’t have experience in a particular area, I assumed that doing this thing would be easy and quick. It isn’t!

duh

Blog posts became an additional time-suck during a period when I had very little time to spare. From late January to June I was doing the most difficult and time-consuming modules of my Masters degree, my day job got busier, I started the #booktubeSFF awards, and I still had to make my videos (and do regular life things).

Making the blog posts just kind of….fell to the wayside.

there there

Sympathy is for losers (I am a loser, be nice to meeeee).

So what next?

 

The blog never disappeared from my mind. I’ve been meaning to update it for a long time. I want to blog. That’s the key bit. I think I just need to re-adjust my own ideas about what the blog needs to be.

It’s not going to be a consistently updated thing. I still don’t have the mental bandwidth for it. I’m in the research & dissertation phase of my Masters until April 2016. Getting that done takes priority.

BUT I do want to keep this blog as a thing. I want to write more, create more, and have a central place for all my videos, book reviews, and other content.

So…yeah. I’ll be around, I’ll be updating again. There may be disapperances during times of stress. But this thing, this blog, it’s still here, I’m resurrecting it.

It's Alive!

 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t hate me for abandoning it for so long and chase me across Europe on some terrifying vengeance spree because I am so not making it another blog to keep it company.

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February – Not enough reading?

My video on Wednesday was meant to be my standard end of the month wrap-up of everything I’d read until I realised I’ve actually hardly finished anything this month. I was all set to abandon that plan and do something else when it got me wondering about why I felt it necessary to conceal how little I’d read. Why is it shameful to have been busy, for other areas of my life to have taken priority for a few weeks? It’s really not. So in the video I talk about that very briefly before showing the things that I did finish and a bunch of books I started but haven’t completed. As ever, a transcript is below the video.

 

So often when you’re in the world of book blogging and book tubing things are very much focused on quantity. How many books have you read this week, this month, this year. How many have you bought. How fast can you get through a book. How many pages can read in this sprint.

Well fuck it. Congratulations I finished two books this month and they were mostly started in January anyway. But you know what I also got a whole bunch of assignments done and wrote my thesis proposal and had a birthday. And that’s a good thing.

I don’t want this to turn into a rant about whether or how we put pressure on ourselves and on the people who watch these videos to read more and faster and competitively which I don’t think are good thing. I just wanted to not put out this false image that I am someone who is always reading. I’m not.

But this is a book blog/channel so for the rest of the video I’m going to show you the magnificent two things I finished this month and all the things I did not read. You’ll see.


 

Ammonite cover A new planet

First up there was Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. This won the Lambda Literary award for LGBT fiction and the James Tiptree award that’s given out for SFF that expands our understanding of gender. So as you can probably guess this book explores some interesting issues. It’s based on a planet that for hundreds of years has only been populated by women. Earth’s armed forces attempted to make contact and lost half their forces to the disease. Now an anthropologist called Marge Taishan is risking death by testing out a new vaccine and trying to find out how these women survive and continue to reproduce. As her examinations begin to reveal much of the dark hidden histories, Marge realises that her actions are threatening to change the entire society just as it is already changing her.

It’s well written and exciting and such an interesting way of completely taking apart societies into their composite pieces and just having ago at rearranging them and building some new.
Ammonite – 4 out of 5 stars.


 

Golem and Djinni cover A new world

Then there was The Golem and The Djinni by Helene Wecker. This book was just enchanting. It’s set in 19th century New York where a thousand year old Djinni and brand new masterless golem woman are both arriving along with the thousands of immigrants who began new lives in America during this period. Both can pass as human with some difficulties and during the course of their adventures they meet and strike up an unlikely friendship.

It is a beautiful and fantastical read but also full of big ideas. I felt like it was very much rooted in ideas about duology of the self. One of these is the idea of immigration and the two selves that brings. For the golem and the djinni this is their supernatural selves and their human facades but they are surrounded by characters who must do the same with their old national identities and their new american ones. And then there’s the internal self with it’s anxieties and terrible thoughts and the face we must present to society. It’s brilliant and clever and I loved it.

The Golem and The Djinni – 5 out 5 stars.


 

All the things we cannot read

So that’s all things I actually finished this month but I thought I’d also show you what happens when I am stressed and feel like I should be reading. I start things. And then I start other things. These are all the books I did not read this month.

  • Half of The Female Factory by Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter. It’s a collection of short fiction all about reproduction and so far it’s really amazing and it’s ridiculous that I haven’t just finished it because it’s only 146 pages long.
  • The first few pages of An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay. Put down because I know it’s going to be hardcore emotionally harrowing and that was not what I needed in the middle of having a breakdown about my thesis.
  • About 50 pages of Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold. A fun fantasy romp about an ex-sword for hire turned brothel mistress who is forced to take up her sword once again. It sounds great but it just didn’t happen because I’m a big fail.
  • And the first two chapters of Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins which I got out of the library after a recommendation from Steph over at Stephanie Spines and Tim and oh my god they were two amazing amazing chapters. I will read this entire thing soon. I just couldn’t at the time. but seriously check it out.
  • And 50 pages of God’s War by Kameron Hurley. Yet another fantasy about a badass female mercenary. Seeing some kind of suppressed rage issues going on here with the choice of books. Anyway it’s excellent so far.

I’ve also read a metric ton of Avengers fan fiction because that’s all my brain is good for after a day of writing about research funding but the less we say about that the less likely I’ll have to put an adult rating on this post. Because oh my.


 

In conclusion…

Looking back that’s actually a month full of reading but just not finishing things. Oh me. You are a one.

My plan for March is to definitely finish God’s War because I’ve now got it on audiobook which is a lot easier to fit in around work and stuff. And I’m also meant to be joining in with a read along for Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor which is being led by Nicole of Nicole’s Adventure’s in SFF. Who knows how that’ll go. And maybe I’ll try and finish some of this lot.

Birthday Q&A

This week’s video is me answering the weird and wonderful questions that everyone sent in over the last week. As ever there’s a (condensed) written version below the video if you don’t want to watch it.

There were lots of SFF themed things in there and lots of people interested to know where to start with my favourite genre so in addition to the video text I’ve also included a selection of links to some older videos where I recommend different things.

1. What’s your favourite Hugo award winning novel and why?
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (last year’s winner) because I’m still obsessed with it. But other than that it’s probably The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin because her writing is just so very good.

2. In the intro to his The Great Divorce, CS Lewis gives credit to an unknown scifi author for idea(s) Lewis then uses in his book. Who was this author & what book of hers or his did this idea/these ideas come from?
Charles F. Hall – The Man Who Lived Backwards published in Tales of Wonder 1938.

3. Are you into steampunk?
I’ve been known to enjoy it from time to time!

4. What did you want to be when you were growing up and what do you want to be now?
I was pretty appalling at thinking about careers as a kid. I once told my mother that I was going to be a vampire when I grew up. Possibly not such a valid choice this days. Now I am a grown up I still have no idea. 😀

5. What is your favourite episode of any Star Trek and why?
Time’s Arrow parts 1 & 2 (end of season 5, start of season 6). Because time travel and dressing up.

6. Who is your favourite Star Trek character?
Picard. Always and forever.

7. What was the first thing (tv show, movie, book) that got you into the genre to begin with?
It was books. Either THE SPACE MERCHANTS by Pohl & Kornbluth, or FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov. I can’t remember which was first but they were both amazing. They were some of my dad’s books that I picked up as a kid and I just fell in love with the ideas.

8. From my mum – Dad says do you know what his favourite sci-fi books is?
No, I don’t. Which is weird. What is it?!

9. From my mum – What’s the only science fiction film I like?
Got to be Blade Runner.

10. Bearing in mind the Arthur C.Clarke quote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”, how do you distinguish a science-fiction book from a fantasy one?
Okay, so there’s a pretty traditional explanation here which is that fantasy is something that could never be possible ever and science fiction could be maybe sort of possible one day (if you squint a bit and ignore some basic physics). To be honest, I think the genre lines are completely blurry and you can put them wherever you want.

11. Will you be reading the Hugo Award nominees again this year?
Yes, all of them.

12. Which science fiction books would you recommend for people who mostly read YA?
I’ve got a whole video on YA Science Fiction if you want to watch that. But also I’d recommend trying some bestsellers that just happen to be SF – READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline or THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir. Also classics like FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley and BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley.

13. What’s a food you can’t live without?
Gin. It totally counts.

14. What science fiction technology would be super beneficial to your life right now?
Some kind of super advanced robot to feed me and clean my house because I’m up to the eyeballs in coursework. But other than that some kind of super advanced medical technology to get rid of asthma would be lovely!

15. William Shatner or Patrick Stewart?
Is that even a question? Patrick Stewart.

16. To make a really good science fiction story does the science have to be accurate or will you forgive a fantastical story if the characters and plot are good?
I’ll totally forgive anything if the book is good. Science fiction should be fiction first. If I want to read pure science I’ll read a textbook.

17. Who is your favourite fictional character?
Helen Vaughn from THE GREAT GOD PAN by Arthur Machen because she’s badass.

18. What/why am I studying at the grand old age of 30?
As well as working in higher education, I’m doing a masters degree and it’s just super. I’m not at all stressed and overwhelmed and I find the topics scintillating. Hah. My thesis is about the impact of open access publishing on research funding in UK Higher Education. Can you imagine the lolz I have researching this? Can you?! :/

19. Least favourite book?
THE LAST BATTLE by C.S. Lewis. I HATE IT SO MUCH.

20. What do you envision your personal library looking like in the future?
A lot like it does now but moved around a bit. I tend to acquire and give away books on a regular basis so I don’t see myself having an ever-growing giant collection of doom or anything like that.

21. What’s your favourite space opera (book)?
THE EXPANSE series by James S.A. Corey. Though I do have a soft spot for FOUNDATION by Asimov.

22. Why science fiction?
Well there’s a hell of a question! And there are many possible answers. I spoke about one of them at the end of my science fiction history series when I said that it’s about looking into the maybes, the possible futures, the dreams of humanity. But also, I had this conversation once, about how Star Trek is basically the atheists vision of heaven because we don’t imagine anything for our own future. But for the future of somebody, of the world, it’s nice to see that it might possibly, maybe, go somewhere good.

23. What’s a good book for someone looking to get started in SF?
You can check out some of my old recommendations videos or just tell me the sort of things you like and I’m sure I can recommend something!
YA Science Fiction Recommendations
Fantasy recommendations
Science fiction and fantasy recommendations (very old!)
SFF without spaceships – recommendations

24. Who is your favourite villain and why?
Satan in PARADISE LOST by John Milton for having all the best lines.

25. Which villain would you most like to be?
One that didn’t get vanquished horribly!

26. If you could have a dinner party with four famous or notable people, dead or alive, who would they be?
Neal Stephenson, Kathleen Hanna, Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr.

27. What was the first adult-themed (as in not teenagey, as opposed to sexy times) SF book that you really connected to?
Probably something like NEUROMANCER or IDORU by William Gibson. Science fiction but gritty and grownup and weird.

28. What are your favourite TV Shows?
Orange is the New Black, Deadwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, King of the Hill.

29. If you could have any device/vehicle/shelter and any sidekick from and SFF novels what would they be and why?
A time machine from one of many time travel books. And Molly from NEUROMANCER because I think you’d probably need a badass ninja bodyguard when time travelling.

30. Favourite non-SFF book or genre?
Probably The Saint books by Leslie Charteris. But I’ve also got a whole video of my Non-SFF favourites if you want to see more.

31. Only physical books?
Nope, I’m happy with books in all formats.

32. Do you ever write SFF?
Nope, not a writer.

33. If you could meet your favourite alien character would you advise them to keep the ketchup in the fridge or the cupboard?
Mine is in the cupboard but I have no strong feelings either way.

34. Most view-changing book you’ve ever read?
NEUROMANCER because it was the first book I’d read that was so very unreal.

35. Which political climate that you’ve read about could mostly closely compare to the current day?
THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson for it’s relevance to internet cultures.

36. What would you do if you sprouted a five foot long tail every time you laughed and it only disappeared when you stopped laughing?
Laugh a lot!

37. Character you wish you could give a piece of your mind to?
Dumbledore. Someone need to have words with that man.

38. What was the most awkward conversation you’ve ever had in a bookstore?
I had a very awkward conversation in a library trying to explain that it wasn’t a bookstore!

39. Favourite bands and musicians?
Varied things. I really enjoy stoner, doom, metal stuff like Sleep, Big Business, Black Sabbath. Also things like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, FKA Twigs. And Russian choral music is another soft spot.

40. What’s a book you didn’t think you would like but really, really did?
AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton.

Holy hell, that was a lot of questions.

On my parents’ shelves

This week’s video over on my YouTube channel is me pondering about what I’ve rather grandly called my “bookish inheritance”. You can watch the video here or read the text version below (or do both because shiny).

Last week I put out a video I’d filmed whilst visiting my parents at the weekend. They recently moved into a new house and were putting together their bookshelves – what better thing to do than ‘help’ them by pointing cameras at the process. But whilst we were heaving stacks of books out of boxes and on to the shelves I, inevitably, kept getting distracted by the books themselves.

Other people’s books are fascinating – they can tell us a lot about their interests, enthusiasms, and background. Even the placement of the books can be telling – an interesting juxtaposition may be random or it may throw light onto a never before seen connection between certain titles. My mother, for instance, has many books on textile arts (spinning, knitting, crochet, etc) and they’re sitting happily with The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Palmer, and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. May your knitting ever strike fear in the hearts of your enemies!

(If you’ve never read Tale of Two Cities and encountered the terrifying tricoteuse Madame Defarge then this might not make any sense – read it!)

The revolution will be knitted

The revolution will be knitted – from Thread for Thought.

I actually started reading The Subversive Stitch and it looks AMAZING. I’m fascinated by the idea of subversive crafts and the blogs Thread for Thought and Kate Davies Designs have been distracting me a lot since then.

But to return to the shelves of my parents – another thing that became clear to me was how much their shelves were a reflection of my own reading history. There was the copy of The Hobbit that was read to me as my bedtime story, the classics I tentatively picked up and adored, the compendium of Orwell novels I read just because it was there and promptly had mind blown, those first science fiction books that opened a door into a new world. I read widely and with an open mind because I had a wide selection of things to read from and no judgement put on me about what I chose. And so Greek myths were intermingled with Sweet Valley Twins, pony stories with the history of the Coelacanth. As well as leaving me with a preponderance of strange facts that can be brought out at (in)opportune moments this wide variety of subjects and stories has left me with an unshakeable belief that just about everything is really quite interesting and wouldn’t it be nice to try and understand more of it? Quite the inheritance.

All those books were my first steps into a reading journey that has shaped my life and will continue to do so. In a way those bookshelves reflect me as much as they do my parents and it makes me look assessingly at my own shelves as I write this. Certainly there are already echoes of my parents’ shelves in my own – classics rub shoulders with crime thrillers, cookbooks live with art and history in perfectly muddled harmony. I inherited my dad’s love of The Saint books by Leslie Charteris, and of classic science fiction, though not of Tolkien. My mum’s degree in English literature inspired my love of the subject and we share many of the same theory books and classics as our interests overlapped. What will the books I have surrounded myself with pass on to my children (if/when I have any), how might they be shaped by them, which reading experiences do I want to pass on to the future?

—-

So what was your literary inheritance and what would you like to pass on to the future? And it also got me thinking about the books that aren’t on my shelves. Not because I haven’t bought them or didn’t like them but because they’re electronic. How are we passing on our ebooks – do you keep a digital family library as well as or instead of a physical one?

Habits, and the lack thereof

This one’s got nothing to do with books, just FYI.

Towards the end of 2014 I was in a near constant state of stress thanks to trying to juggle a job, a masters degree programme, a youtube channel, and a life. But much to my constant amazement I kept all the plates spinning (to a greater or lesser degree) until the my holiday leave was upon me. But, come the winter break, I was ready for some proper time off – a chance to relax and recharge, to give my poor brain a break and get fresh for the coming year. And I think all those things were true – you can only stay wound to that level of tension for a finite amount of time before you need to let it spring back to relaxation – but my plan was also rather flawed.

What I failed to take into account was that my ability to get things done was somewhat dependent on a set of habits that I also abandoned in my quest for total relaxation. I floated, pretty much brainless and useless for a good couple of weeks, until my calendar forcibly reminded me that I had a host of deadlines looming and I’d done precisely nothing towards them. I stared at the list in a state of general horror for a while before deciding that it was all a bit too stressful and I’d best start by cheering myself up a bit by looking at tumblr for a while.

Tumblr is evil

Tumblr is evil [from unknown source – let me know attribution if you know]

Nine million hours later….

Yeah, I’d kind of forgotten how to be productive and all my bad habits were back. So here’s the list of good habits I’m trying to get back into (mostly because if I don’t I’m going to fail horribly) that are mostly real productivity things that have boring names I hate so I present them to you complete with the names with which I refer to them).

The dad jokes are strong with this one.

Getting Back in the Habit 

1. The Giant List of Awful Awesomeness – List everything to be done in one giant list of terror and then start processing it into things to be done now (do them now), soon, somewhere else, and sometime/whenever. Keep adding things and crossing them off. If you’re familair with GTD then, well, that.

2. Fucking well start it now – Pick something to be done and just start it. Even if finishing it seems like impossible or overwhelming just pick one aspect or piece of the whole and do it for a little bit. I’m always amazed at how often I’ll just keep going because once you’ve started your brain gets in the zone and suddenly it’s not overwhelming any more. This works for loads of stuff from writing essays to doing exercise (just do five crunches..).

3. Just do 20-fucking minutes that’s like no time at all (AKA: Pavlov’s Human) – Just do whatever it is you’re trying to do for 20 minutes with no getting distracted. Whatever else you’ve gotta do can wait that long. Then you get a tiny treat and a break as a reward. 3×20 = longer break. (It’s basically the Pomodoro method with treats thrown in because I respond well to rewards).

4. Priorities, bitch –  Any time I’m about to procrastinate I say: “THIS THING is not a priority in my life” (e.g. ‘I’m not going to write this essay because my education is not a priority.’) And then you gotta ask, is it? Sometimes other things really are more important than working on that essay/article/video right then. But often it just makes me look at whatever I was going to do instead and realise that I’m just procrastinating for no apparent reason. The Oatmeal’s cartoon about running and the Blerch tells this better.

5. What the fuck are you doing with your time? – I use the Passion Planner printable weekly spread to keep track of appointments, goals, and to-dos for my week. But I also try and track what I’m spending my time on. So if I’ve spent 90 minutes messing about aimlessly on social media then I can see that on paper. Eventually it starts scaring your brain into being productive.

Crafting a different TBR

If you’ve read/seen my 2015 Goals, then you’ll know I’m trying to broaden my reading habits by reading more SFF by women, authors of non-binary genders, queer authors, authors of colour, and works in translation. Unfortunately, whenever I go wandering around my local library or bookshop, or browsing ebooks, I don’t find very many of these things. Or, at least, I’m not noticing them.

And that was something I wanted to examine because that’s a problem. It’s my problem that I’m not noticing things.  So that’s what the video is about. Obviously, this being my website and all, I suggest you watch the video but you can also read the (suuuuuper) shortened version below and check out some of the authors and titles I’ve been learning about below.

So often I pick up a particular book because of some previous knowledge of it; somebody mentioned it in a booktube video, it was featured in a blog post or a tweet, it caught my eye on goodreads. That pre-exisiting knowledge is a key factor in whether I’ll buy or read something and I think it is for so many of us. Once something has wormed its way into your consciousness you’re so much more likely to notice it or think of it again because our brains love patterns. There’s even a name for when you learn/see something new and then suddenly you notice it everywhere – the Baader Meinhof phenomenon.

What I’m doing, therefore, is trying to actively look for new authors or books to read and then learning a bit about them so they really sink into my brain. I want to keep seeing these interesting names so that these are the ones that pop into my head, that keep tempting me to read them next, and so that they’re as easy for me to recall as the big name authors that I hear mentioned every day. To that end I’ve started making the list that you can see below. It’s not a complete list and it’s a not a definite TBR. I’m not aiming to read all these things by any set date, I just want to keep noticing them and then I’ll probably pick them up at some point. So goes than plan anyway. I guess we’ll see at the end of the year when I review my year in reading.

A few notes on the list:

  • Where an author is listed for one book but they have others you think are cool, please let me know because even if I already know about their others books the repetition helps my quest (and I might not know!).
  • If you have any amazing recommendations then please, please, please let me know either in blog comments, YouTube comments or on twitter.
  • The links are mostly affiliate links because I need pennies to buy tickets to SF conventions. Feel free to avoid clicking on them if you don’t like that kind of thing.

The list: 

Dawn (Lilith’s Brood – Book One) by Octavia Butler
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction (The World of Riverside) by Brit Mandelo (ed.)
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr
Any short stories by John Chu (like this one)
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Through a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman
Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi
Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World by Haruki Murakami
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Into the future

The time between Christmas and the new year exists for me in a kind of temporal stasis. Nothing happens, nothing needs to be done, and I float, timeless, between the old year and the new. This illusion of timelessness gives me the space to look back on the previous year and contemplate the one coming in order to assess where I am, where I’m going, and how to get there. It’s painful, peaceful, and inescapable.

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do for months (but never got around to) was to get my own site up and running so that I would have a central place to put reviews, essays, thoughts and any additional content or misc stuff to do with my videos, SFF, or whatever. And that’s pretty much what this place is. At the moment it’s pretty bare bones – I’m working on adding all my links to the SF history pages, I’m planning a page for recording all the short stories I read each year, and then there will be the blog.

It isn’t much but it’s something. It is a beginning, a jumping off point, a place to start that which will be. It’s alive.

alive