• Reading,  Studying

    English Is Weird

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    Okay, so that’s not really news to anyone, but if you study it in detail, you start to discover just how weird. To borrow a quote: “English is not a language, it’s three languages wearing a trench coat pretending to be one.” – Gugulethu Mhlungu

    According to articles and studies I’ve been reading lately, English pulls about 82% of its vocabulary and most of its structures from Latin, French, and earlier Germanic Languages (Old English, Old Norse, etc). The rest comes from Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and a whole lot of things that are based on language of origin for trade goods (coffee comes from Arabic via Dutch, for example).

    To painfully extend the analogy, English also goes through other languages’ pockets looking for random nouns and popular participles.

    Right now, I’m studying towards a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certification. The first big piece of that is understanding grammar. Now, as a voracious reader for most of my life and a long-term writer, I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of my native language. And I do, but up until know it’s been at least a partially intuitive understanding. Sure, like everyone else, I learned the grammar basics in grade school, and it was drilled into me so hard that I retain at least some of those basics even know, but aside from that being a long time ago, it really was only the basics. The structure of English is a lot more complicated than most of us even want to think about.

    Examples:

    1. I know there’s a bunch of different kinds of pronouns and how to use them because I’ve been doing it for almost fifty years. I have never sat down to work out what they were and what the subtle differences between some of them are until now. (There are 9 major categories, btw, and I’m currently able to name them all because of a strained acronym: DRRRIIPPP.)
    2. Gerund versus Present Participle. Same thing only different. One’s a noun and one’s a verb. Until very recently, while I’ve known what they were, I’ve really just used them and intuitively known whether or not I had it right. There wasn’t really any thought process involved. Only now, thinking about it is important, so I’ve been thinking about it.
    3. Adjectives go in a certain order by type. We all know it, but most of us don’t know what that order is. We just use it. So a lot of people will grammatically squirm if I tell them about my gold new beautiful bowtie, but not know exactly why. It should be a beautiful new gold bowtie, and everyone should feel better now. (Just think if I’d told you about my sealable leather Corinthian brown rectangular new large pretty briefcase.)
    4. Auxiliary verbs. Particularly Modal verbs… yeah, I don’t know if I’m ready to try explaining those in a sentence or two yet. Try: verbs you use with other verbs to add more meaning to of the sentence. Helpful? I don’t know. I might like to know, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I think I’m close.
    5. We’ve all seen the memes talking about close vs close, read vs read, bass vs bass, entrance vs entrance, and so on. Think about coming at the English language as an adult and how much of a giant pain the butt these are going to be.

    And so on and so on.

    The point is, at least in my head, that just because you intuitively understand a language and speak it fluently, that doesn’t mean you can teach it to someone. It’s just like anything else. In martial arts, I can’t teach you how to throw a proper punch if I don’t understand the body mechanics that go into it. How much actually goes into knowing how to hammer in a nail? Have you ever thought about all the things you actually need to know to figure out how long it’s going to take to get to your destination at the speed you’re going?

    English is worse.

    I’ve worked through enough and studied almost enough at this point that I think I’m going to write the exam this weekend. When the mark comes back, unless I’m completely out to lunch on how well I’m understanding things, I’ll move onto the middle part of the training, which also makes up about half of things, Methodology. I.e., once you have a functional (rather than merely intuitive) understanding of how English works, you can start to learn how to teach it.

    I fully expect that to be the hardest part of the program for me, but the journey continues.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Martial Arts,  Reading

    Reading Formats and Martial Arts Books

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    When it comes to fiction, I’ll generally consume it in whatever medium is convenient: traditional paper, ebook, audio, hypertext. It’s all good, it’s all valid, it’s all fun.

    But when it comes to non-fiction, and especially to my martial arts reading, I have a vast preference for paper, which isn’t to say I don’t do a lot of reading online, but when it comes to heavier or longer stuff, I’d really rather hold it in my hand or put it on the table or desk in front of me.

    Because I highlight stuff, make notes, mark stuff for additional research, and circle or underline things for emphasis so things jump out at me when I pick up the book again or decide to make my own notes from it. I’m studying this, not just reading it. It’s more involved and it takes longer.

    So I won’t, usually, buy an ebook of a martial arts text even if it’s vastly cheaper or otherwise out of print. I’ll wait until I find a used copy, someone mentions they have one I can borrow, or it comes back into print. Whenever my supply of marital arts reading gets low, I’ll look at the first eight or ten books on my ‘to read’ list that I don’t have, check prices and availability, move the OOP stuff out of the next 10, check on the OOP titles that are really appealing in the moment, and order a book or two to carry me through for a while.

    I’m within spitting distance (what a weird expression) of finishing my current book and down to only one left to read after that, so I went through the list a few days ago to complete the ritual. A book I’ve wanted for a long time that I can’t remember the last time I saw as available when I checked was listed as in stock and at a price tag that surprised me a bit. Into the cart it went, arriving this afternoon in the mail.

    If you’re interested, the book is Fortress Storming by John Burke and is supposed to be as detailed a breakdown and analysis as has ever been done in book form on one of my favourite kata, Bassai Dai.

    It may have moved to the top of the reading pile. Mostly because I’ve been waiting for it for so long, but maybe just a little bit because of the last sentence in the warning in the front of the book, something I haven’t ever come across before in a technical martial arts manual, though I’m sure I just haven’t picked up the right book before now. “Everyone should be aware of the Law and how it pertains to ‘Use of Reasonable Force’.”

    My interpretation of that is two-fold. First, the author is being responsible to his audience and reminding us that some of the stuff we practice in martial arts can be very dangerous. Second, he’s telling that audience that he considers at least some of what’s in this book to fall into that category.

    Now, I know there’s some nasty stuff in Bassai Dai, and I know that I’m probably only scratching the surface of what’s there to find, even remembering that I practice two different lineages of this kata. There are a lot of things in the kata that only make a little bit of sense or I haven’t figured out how to look at yet and there are a lot of things hidden in the transitions that I just haven’t seen. That’s the beauty of karate and, I expect almost every martial art: there’s always more to learn.

    And I’m hoping this book will show me more than I know now. I expect it will and there will be pencil marks and highlights to trace the path.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Reading,  Writing

    Genre Preferences

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    I don’t intend to argue (or even give) definitions in this post, but as I look at the world of fiction, there are 11 genres. Yes, if you include sub-genres and genre-mixings you can get that number an awful lot higher, but I’m just looking at the broad buckets here.

    And I’m going to express preferences. Remembering that your preferences are not mine, you should disagree as much as you like. Those preferences and favourites, both for reading and writing, will become apparent in the short comments that follow. I will say in advance that I have a strong preference for speculative genres and frequently only read in most of the others if they’re mixed in.

    I present the 11 genres in alphabetical order.

    1. Adventure (or you could say Thriller if you like).
    2. Crime (includes things like Detective, Police Procedurals, Noir).
    3. Fantasy
    4. Historical
    5. Horror
    6. Literary
    7. Mystery
    8. Romance
    9. Science Fiction.
    10. Suspense
    11. Western.

    For reading preferences, Science Fiction is where I live most of the time. SF offers endless possibilities for exploring ideas, concepts, possibilities, and what it means to be human. In any given year, SF makes up at least 75% of my fiction reading.

    Fantasy is where I spend the second largest amount of time. The SF/F split used to be a lot closer to 50/50 and I know that there’s plenty of awesome and creative stuff being done, but too much of it seems to be just exploring this neat world/magic system/character the author has created. I say ‘just’ like that’s a bad thing, but it isn’t. These can be great stories, they’re just mostly not what I want anymore. I want stuff to make me think, stuff to make me consider big questions. For me, the best Fantasy does that, but most of it doesn’t look in that direction. And that’s entirely fine. It’s just not for me right now.

    Third most popular genre for ready for me would probably be historical. I have general preferences for ancient Greeks and Romans, Medieval, and Napoleonic Wars, though it feels like I haven’t read a lot of any of these for a long time. Long enough that I feel like I should go and have a look for what’s published in the last few years.

    I think I’ve read exactly one Crime novel, two Mysteries, and three Thrillers in my life. Any literary fiction was for an English class. Romance, Suspense, and Westerns don’t hit the reading list on their own. Any and all of these genres are fine as elements in a story in one of my preferred genres, but I’ve never developed a taste for any of them as genres in their own right. I do sometimes wonder if it’s been a mistake not to try. Whole multiverses full of stories that I just never consider. Something to think about.

    You’ll notice the absence of Horror in everything I’ve written so far in this post. I don’t really do Horror. I tend to express that as finding aspects of reality disturbing enough and I’m not really looking for that in my entertainment. I have tried. As part of my ongoing quest to read all of the books, I keep encountering Horror novels in the World Fantasy Award group. Every one of these I’ve tried has been a DNF (Did Not Finish). More have been DNR (Did Not Read). I’ve never really understood the desire to get in touch with the dark side of things, the fear, the things that cost you sleep at night. I understand that some people do like that in their fiction, but I don’t share it.

    Horror aside, other things that I hate in fiction for the same reason:

    • Pointless gore and violence.
    • Killing/torturing/abusing children as a plot device. I abandon TV shows for that, why would I read it? There are authors whose work I’ve never gone back to because of this.
    • Torture/sexual violence. I leave the room when that happens on TV. I’ve shut off movies because of it. Not high on the list of things I want to see in fiction.
    • The bad guy winning. Happens too often in the real world, thanks.

    Am I squeamish? Over-sensitive? A wimp? Pick the word you like. I prefer to think of it as knowing myself well and being able to empathize with the character on the receiving end. And really, I get enough of these things while consuming media about reality.

    Writing preferences match up fairly well with my reading preferences at the genre level, which shouldn’t surprise anyone too much. But if I get Excel to do the work for me, I come up with the following basic percentages:

    • Science Fiction       47%
    • Fantasy                 39%
    • Horror                   10%
    • Historical              1%
    • Contemporary        3%

    Most of the Horror is probably more like Dark Fantasy, but most of then were also written with either specific anthology calls in mind or to see if I could write to a specific theme. And not one of them is particularly horrific.

    Most of the ‘Contemporary’ probably should go in the Adventure bucket. The super short stuff that doesn’t, well, I guess I’d have to mark them down as Literary, even though that feels weird.

    If I only look at what I’ve written since the beginning of 2019, the numbers turn out very different, with SF being almost 75% of all the stories in that time, counting only first drafts. One Historical Fiction novel, one short that has to be called Literary, and the rest Fantasy. Comes much closer to the reading mix, doesn’t it?

    So, reading and writing both, I’m a speculative fiction guy. Broadly speaking, just about everything I write is either Science Fiction or Fantasy, but I have some plans to branch out a little more over the next year or so.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Reading

    I’m Not Reading As Much As I Have Been

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    Reading has been part of my daily routine forever. Over breakfast, before bed, standing in line at the grocery store. And while I’ve gone through periods in my life where I wasn’t reading as much due to commitments and responsibilities and children’s activities, it’s never gone away.

    But I haven’t been reading much lately. At least, not fiction.

    At the beginning of the shutdown, and even before, my fiction reading had spiked. Between my last day of work and the 18th of May, I read 12 books and I’ve got several more in progress, all at least half-read, that I mostly haven’t touched in the last two weeks.

    It’s not intentional.

    Other events have intervened and I’m consuming media, mainstream and independent, at a furious rate. Articles and podcasts and journals. I’m still reading, but there’s not a lot of fiction involved. Hardly any, really, except the slush pile stuff for Bards and Sages, and I tend to come in right at deadline on that.

    But that’s okay. The fiction will come back, probably gradually. Right now, I need to know more and I need to learn more and I need to understand more. Reasons are likely fairly obvious. If they’re not, well, have a look at the list of podcasts I posted a week or so ago {link}. You’ll get caught up pretty quick.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    And remember that Black Lives Matter is a minimum.

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  • Life,  Reading

    Out of Habit?

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    To me, my X-men.

    There are a number of things that I wonder if I just do out of habit.

    The thing that I’m thinking of this morning is reading X-Men comics. Online subscriptions are a thing, not that I couldn’t get other ways I want to, but I’m getting closer and closer to being caught up to the present. I think, right now, what I’m reading is near the middle of 2017, so I’m not even a year and a half in the past now. It’s taken me a number of years to get from the beginning to here, with easy, essentially unlimited access, and there have been a lot of great stories along the way. That hasn’t always been the case. It isn’t currently the case.

    Keep in mind that I’m talking about the X-Men piece of the Marvel universe, specifically.

    The 1960s X-Men were, frankly, immature, though fun. After all, it was the early days of superhero comics, so you got a lot of straightforward stories without much twisting us and very rarely dealing with anything beyond surface appearances.

    In the 70s, and 80s, the storytelling was bigger, sometimes epic, broader, and mostly better. In small ways, at first, it began to deal with societal issues in ways that viewers of 1960s television would recognize: not very subtly and not very deeply.

    In the 90s, things branched out even more. More titles, more frequent, just more. The universe became staggeringly huge, too big for any one person to take care of, to keep up with, to remember everything in. Continuity issues became constant, and those go on into today. Characters disappear only to reappear with a complete overhaul after years of absence and no explanation of what happened to them in between, no justification for why they’ve completely changed or why they hadn’t. Even if they’d been dead.

    In the 2000s, the storytelling went downhill, and that continues into the present, too. You get multi-issue story arcs that resolve nothing and don’t even do anything to grow the characters because any character growth that happens disappears again as soon as the next story arc starts.

    Honestly, reading the X-Men titles from say the past 10-12 years has been looking for the one good story mixed in with 10 mediocre and 14 crappy ones. I might be misrepresenting the ratios a little bit since mediocre versus crappy tends to matter of taste, but the good story arcs are definitely few and far between.

    It really doesn’t seem to me like most the writers actually care about the characters. “I need the character to act this way for the story I want to tell, and I don’t care if it makes no logical sense, or if they would never do that. That’s what the going to do.” Consistency is actually important, folks.

    And time compression is worse than soap operas. I’m honestly supposed to believe that the primary characters have gone through the comic events of the last thirty years while aging only a few months.

    So if I’m really that unhappy with the state of the X-verse, why am I still reading?

    I think it might be out of habit. Reading X-Men comics is something I do, so I read X-Men comics. And I seem to keep reading them no matter how frequently I’m disappointed in the result.

    I wonder if that may be part of what keeps me coming back to other things as well. Habit.

    Am I allowing myself to become stuck in various ruts?

    Is it time to let go of some of them?

    Are there things that would be a better use of my time?

    That last one, at least, has an easy answer. Yes, there absolutely are. So that leads me into another question: why aren’t I spending my time on those things?

    Be well, everyone.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Reading

    2018 Reading Goals

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    Stacks of books

    In the last few years, I’ve stepped up my reading. There was a time in my life when I read as many as 150 books per year. Those days are gone, consigned to my life before children and real career, and probably won’t come back unless I ever manage to retire (which isn’t in the cards for a lot of members of my generation). But I do have a little more time, and there are options beyond paper these days, so I should be able consume more books than I did when the kids were smaller. In 2017 my official count is 88. My Goodreads count is a little higher, but not everything I posted a review for actually qualifies as a book in my mind.

    I break things into categories every year, and this year is no exception. Targets are:

    Historical Award Winners Quest: 22. I’m on a long term quest to attempt all of the novel category winners of the Hugos, Nebulas, WFA, and Auroras, chronologically give or take and giving myself the freedom to say no or not finish a book. Putting this at 22 will take me to the end of 1990, with 2 I’m skipping this year for reasons.

    Last Year’s Award Winners: 6. There are 8 major English-language awards in speculative fiction, if I leave out Horror, which I do. I try to hit the 4 biggest every year (Hugo, Nebula, WFA, Aurora), and at least 2 of the others.

    Cultural Breadth: 6. Because there’s more to the world than just the English speaking world, I look to broaden my experience in the genre and find interesting things in translation.

    Friends’ Books: 2. So far as I’m aware right now, I have two friends who have a published novel in the last year or so and I haven’t read them yet. Time to take care of these before they publish more.

    Anthologies: 6. I still love short fiction and this will help me keep reading it, new and old. There are quite a few in the house waiting to be picked up.

    Non-Fiction: 15. This goal seems to grow a bit each year, and is spread across 8 different subject areas. More of the world interests me.

    Martial Arts: 6. Separated out from the rest of my non-fiction reading, to further the intellectual side of my martial studies, I’d like to read a book every two months here. And the books already on this reading list will keep me busy for the next seven or eight years at that rate.

    Other Fiction: 17. This looks like kind of an arbitrary number, but it’s designed to take the overall total to 80. These are books I already have or might buy just because they look like I’ll enjoy them. I never let having too many books to read stop me from bringing home more. It’s not hoarding if it’s books.

    So, 80, as I clearly telegraphed under “Other Fiction”, is the target for this year, and I’m well on track so far. Of course, we’re barely half-way through January.

    Be well, everyone.

    And happy reading.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Reading

    2017 Reading Summary

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherBut if 2017 was a weak writing year, it was a strong one for reading. Paper, electronic, audio, I consumed a lot of written words this year.

    Without going into a lot of detail, because there will be plenty when the 2017 Reading Journey file is done, my category break outs are mostly pretty favourable.

    Historical Award Winners: 17, and 4 DNFs

    Last Year’s Award Winners: 6, and 1 DNF

    Spec Fic Breadth: 7

    Other Fiction: 40, and 2 DNFs

    Martial Arts: 4

    Non Fiction: 16

    Which I make a total of 90 books. Add to that several hundred pieces of short fiction (including almost a million words of slush pile reading as a Publishing Assistant for Bards and Sages), and hundreds of comic books, and I read a lot this year.

    I hope to match or beat it in 2018.

    As far as things go, I gave exactly three 5-star ratings to book-length works this year, to:

    The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett – the last Discworld book, and it’s entirely possible that the fifth star was due to my sadness in never getting another new story in this world again.

    Abaddon’s Gate (Expanse #3) by James S. A. Corey – loving this series. Of all the works in this universe so far, only a couple of the novellas have gone below four stars. But now I’m almost caught up. One novella and one novel, and I’ll have to wait on new work with everyone else.

    So, Anyway by John Cleese – I very much enjoyed Mr. Cleese’s biography, only disappointed by the fact that it left off just as Monty Python began. Hoping for a sequel.

    Be well, everyone.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Reading,  Review

    No More Book Reviews

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    Stacks of books

    At least not here. Well, not one at a time.

    I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the book reviews I’m posting here are more or less just taking up space. If you really want to know what I’m reading or have just read, you can hit me up on Goodreads, or even just wait until the beginning of the year.

    Why then, you ask?

    Well, I keep all of my book reviews in a single file for easy access, and have done that for the last couple of years. I’m going to turn these into a pdf (probably) for each year since I started keeping track and leave them lying around here somewhere for download.

    I’m under no illusions such a file will be extremely popular, or even that anyone will necessarily care at all, but for the benefit of future generations, or someone’s amusement, or something, I thought I’d make them available.

    But I’m not going to post individual reviews on my blog anymore. This space will be for mostly writing-related activities, though I expect you’ll find a few opinions on things finding their way in, too.

    And I suppose, a book review might happen now and again.

    Be well, everyone.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Reading,  Review

    Book Review: The World Inside

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherThis is an odd little book, less a novel and more a series of interlinked shorts designed to present a strange thought-experiment society. This is a kind of social SF you don’t often see anymore, but the presentation is very “New Wave” which Silverberg drifted in and out of. (My favourite book of his, Across a Billion Years, doesn’t really qualify. I also haven’t read it in at least a couple of decades, so that favoritism may be coloured by nostalgia.)

    But it is an odd book, crowded with ideas and sex.

    Is it about over population?

    Sexual freedom?

    Privacy?

    Post-scarcity?

    Control?

    Yes, to all of those.

    1000-story buildings with 800,000 or a million people in each, built just far enough apart that their shadows don’t fall on each other and ninety-plus percent of the world is given over to farming and resource extraction to make those buildings possible.

    People can have sex with whoever they want, however they want, whenever they want. Men are supposed to bang anyone they like and women are supposed to never refuse. You get married at 12 or 13 and have as many kids as your bodies allow.

    There is just this side of no privacy and no one seems concerned, because privacy somehow breeds violence. No locked doors and no separate rooms beyond the one that marks where your living quarters start at the corridor. No barriers other than social constructs. But there’s also almost a complete absence of crime, and people guilty of antisocial behaviours are either corrected with some heavy duty drug therapy or tossed down the chute to provide a few extra watts of power to the urbmon (Urban Monad, i.e. giant skyscraper).

    All food, resource, and energy problems appear to have been solved, at least for those who live in the urbmons. There are still a few people who actually have to do the work, though, and they have their own culture outside the walls.

    Oh, there’s plenty of control, much of it in social constructs (surprise). In a society that’s supposedly progressive, the gender roles are still pretty rigidly defined, there’s a solid class structure with work you do defined by how high up in the building you live, status is critically important, a variety of min-altering drugs are not just easily available, but encouraged, and people aren’t allowed to leave their own urbmon unless they’re told to move to a new one. Oh, and keep having tons of meaningless sex and making babies.

    There are a lot of things in this book.

    Overall rating: 3 stars. It’s not a single story and the plot doesn’t hold together because there really isn’t one. The author is painting a picture. This is social SF as thought experiment, a presentation of a conceptual society and what it might mean or do to some of the people who live in it.

    Remembering that this is historical SF now, published in 1971, I try to look at it through that lens and find that the concepts presented are really intriguing, but it was still written for a time and consumption and set of social attitudes that isn’t now, so some of the characterization is a little… out of date for me.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Reading,  Review

    Book Review: The Snow Queen

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherThe world and universe being constructed here are interesting. We have clones, an immortality drug, a computer accessible directly by humans who possess the correct gene sequences, faster than light travel, and a galactic empire that fell a thousand years ago taking a lot of secrets with it. But we also have planetary monocultures, a variety of societal attitudes that are clearly from the 1970s and a pace that’s a little on the slow side with the various character lines taking too long to come together for me.

    The minor characters are actually more fun than the majors. Particularly Tor (and her robot sidekick Pollux) and Jerusha. Actually, Jerusha is almost a major character, and noting her among my likes is going to make the beginning of the next paragraph a bit odd.

    Her circumstances as police chief are a bit disappointing. Not so much her character (because she’s well written and strong), but the characters around her. I think, in 1981, it was a much bigger deal that she was a woman trying to manage in a “man’s job”, coming from a culture that’s inherently sexist. Thirty-six years on, this rings a little hollow, at least so far as western culture goes (note that I’m not saying true equality has been achieved, but it looks a lot closer than it did when this book was written, at least in most parts of the developed world).

    The story borrows heavily from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, and there’s definitely a fairy tale feel at times, but there are also lots of similarities to Star Wars: parental issues, collapsed former galactic power, “the force”, hero’s journey, clones, societal control.

    There’s a nice twist regarding the mers, which I won’t spoil, but the idea seems a little Dune-like for a while, the harvesting of a supposedly native species for something that basically grants immortality to humans (Water of Life = Spice). Like other things in the book, this feels like Ms. Vinge taking something we might already be familiar with and making it her own.

    Overall rating: 3 stars, leaning towards 3.5. I did enjoy the book, but it’s tough, sometimes, reading something so modern and yet so not, which a lot of the now-older Hugo and Nebula winners are.

    There are times when I want to give certain things a pass because of when a book was written, but I find it harder and harder to do so because I’m not reading it when it was written but with a gap of years or decades when culture and attitudes have changed. To me, in some ways, this book is railing against a sexism that has shifted considerably, and so the idea that a woman can’t be a police chief (for example) raises an eyebrow now, even if it is still going to be a much tougher slog for her than it would be for an equally qualified man. Still a long way to go, if maybe not quite as long as in 1981. And yet, I recognize that my view is probably narrower than I perceive it to be of how the world really is.

    The Snow Queen is a well told, if a little slow-paced, story, but I’m at a point where I have to look at it through an historical lens.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather