It’s October, my favorite month of the year. The leaves are turning, there’s a delicious chill in the air, and I have every excuse to watch my favorite witchy sisters! They’ve definitely put a spell on me over the past two decades since I first met them. Summer was a bit of a blur of video gaming and….more video gaming. It was sad, really. I’ve read a few books, of course (I’m 4 books ahead of my GoodReads challenge still), but I’ve been gaming way too much by my own standards. So in the chill Fall air, I decided to put the controller down and picked up a pair of knitting needles instead! Yes, that’s right, I’ve finally learned to knit and replaced one massive time consuming activity with another, one expensive addiction (books) with another (yarn). But hey, at the end of the knitting project there is a tangible thing that I have made and can wear, give away, or if I get really good, sell. So, knitting is highly productive in a way that gaming and reading are not. I know we can quibble about the statement that reading isn’t productive; I think it’s a very productive pastime – for your mind, anyway. Knitting produces an actual thing, which for someone who hasn’t produced much of anything lately is a welcome investment of time.
I’m not good enough yet that I can knit and read, but I’ll get there I’m sure. So far I’ve only made a kid size scarf (with a few dropped stitches/holes in it) and a scarf for myself – well, that’s almost done. My next project is the Baker Street Scarf modeled here by the venerable Neil freaking Gaiman. The hubby gets this one, though I may or may not steal it from him. I chose a beautiful aplaca/merino/tencel blend yarn from Astral Yarn Co. in a gorgeous dark grey that almost looks silver. It’s super soft and will be very warm. (I just realized the yarn color is called Hydra. The nerd references with this scarf keep getting better and better!)
My current scarf that’s almost done is in a lovely mustard yellow and has been very easy to knit, though there are a few large cluster-fucks of yarn here and there. Oh well. You knit, you learn. One of the first things I did before setting needle to yarn was, of course, to check out a ton of knitting books from the library. Some were definitely more useful than others for a beginning knitter, as not all beginning knitting books are equal. I found, oddly enough, that for me to really get how the stitch worked, I need a book with pictures of human hands holding the needles and yarn. Illustration wouldn’t cut it for me. The Online Movie Book Guides book Complete Knitting Skills by Debbie Tomkies worked really well for me, and I didn’t even have to use the videos!
As for what I’ve been reading, I’ve straight up devoured a few hard SF books – a sub-genre I never thought I’d be into. It started with Neal Stephenson’s excellent Seveneves, which starts out as an Apollo 13-like nail-biting survival story in space and ends on an entirely different note with a story of humanity’s exploration of a new Earth (that’s a bit misleading, just read the book – you’ll see what I mean). I enjoyed the fist half of the book much more than the second as the pacing was stronger, the characters more interesting, and the writing stronger and more grounded. Stephenson is a master storyteller and this book is no different. From a layperson’s perspective, the science is fascinating and part of the reason for that is Stephenson’s way of writing it. This is the first book I’ve read of his, even though I have Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver on my shelf. I’ve started the latter and am enjoying it quite a bit.
I followed Seveneves up with Cixin Liu’s hard math thriller The Three Body Problem and inhaled it’s sequel The Dark Forest as soon as it came out. Fortunately, since these are already out in China and have been translated recently, the third book will come out in January, instead of a whole year wait. Teh pacing of both of these books is quite a bit slower and more contemplative than something like Seveneves, but no less thrilling in many respects. Liu’s books ask and look at the question of how humanity will react upon learning that it’s not the only intelligent species in the universe. His answers are fascinating. While the first book is in many respects a hard math SF novel, the second is a character study and a look at humanity’s response to an impending invasion from a uniquely Chinese perspective. I sincerely hope Liu gets a wider readership in the US and elsewhere from these books; he deserves it.
I also read Lauren Groff’s newest novel, Fates and Furies and Aliette de Bodard’s wonderful House of Shattered Wings. Fates and Furies is the portrait of a marriage from both sides and while her prose was beautiful and a joy to read, the story itself was less than stellar. The dual perspectives, the Greek Chorus-style asides and its overall tragic (in the ancient Greek tragedy sense of the term) were interesting, but not enough for me to overlook relatively bland characters and Groff’s somewhat trite insights into one half of a creative marriage.
de bodard’s House of Shattered Wings on the other hand was a fairly engrossing reimagining of Miltonian angel mythos. In a Paris destroyed by the Great War (not that Great War), houses built on Angel magic vie for power and its ever diminishing source: Fallen magic. When angels are cast out of the great City, they land on earth and must figure out how to use and control the remnants of power that remain to them, which slowly leeches away as they age on earth. If the newly Fallen aren’t butchered for their blood and bones by roving gangs to create magical relics with immense power first, they can be adopted into one of the great houses and learn how to be Fallen in a destroyed world. Enter Isabelle, a newly Fallen, and Phillipe a butcher for a gang as well as a mysterious entity in the center of Fallen territory. What is he and where does his unknown magic come from? We get to hear a variety of voices in this novel that explores power dynamics and the effects of colonization on both the colonizers and the colonized. This is a consistent theme in de Bodard’s body of work. Here she seems to have immense fun with angel mythology while telling a dark, affecting story.
I have a large TBR pile of course, but as it’s Halloween month (we do month-long Halloween things in my house) Hocus Pocus, The Witches, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, and the new Goosebumps movie with Jack Black et al. are my entertainment for the month!