28 November 2009

Review: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

It's been quite a long while now since I read Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, but since I've still got a couple books left in this universe to read: here's a quick blurb.

Opening paragraph:
Speaker for the Dead travels far into the future of Ender Wiggin's life. No longer the boy found in Ender's Game, Ender is a man who travels from one colony to another speaking on behalf of the dead. Ender's book "The Hive Queen and the Hegemon", which told the story of the buggers and their destruction, eventually became the basis of his profession: telling the story, both good and bad, of a life. Ender is called to a planet with a known intelligent alien life, piggies, to speak the death of Pipo, a xenologer who studies the piggies and has been brutally killed by them. En route to the planet, he is called again to speak the death of yet another murdered xenologer, Pipo's son Libo, and that of the husband, Marcos, of the planet's only xenobiologist, Novinha, who had worked closely with both Pipo and Libo. Ender arrives to find Novinha an embittered and detached adult who is terrified of the secrets Ender might reveal in speaking the deaths of the three men. Naturally, Ender shakes things up for the entire community, first by showing up at all and then by revealing so much that has been kept secret.

27 November 2009

Review: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is a post-apocalyptic novel describing a society some thousand years into a future where some catastrophic event, called Tribulation by survivors in Labrador, has laid waste to most of the world, rendering much of North America uninhabitable or gone wild with mutated plants and animals. Animals and plants with mutations are destroyed; mutated people are either killed or rendered sterile and left to fend for themselves in the Fringes, an area bordering the Badlands where mutations are more common than true images.

David Strorm is son of his community's most zealous supporter of the fight to maintain purity; he is also one of a handful of telepathic children in the area. Realizing that they too are mutations, the children fight to keep their secret, but David's sister, more strongly telepathic than any of the others, is incapable of controlling her abilities and inadvertently reveals the secrets of the entire group.

Opening paragraph:
When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city – which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was. But this city, clustered on the curve of a big blue bay, would come into my mind. I could see the streets, and the buildings that lined them, the waterfront, even boats in the harbour; yet, waking, I had never seen the sea, or a boat…
I really enjoyed this book. I have a thing for novels about dystopian futures and also for science fiction that clearly relates to the real world.

15 November 2009

Review: M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's M is for Magic was a disappointment. I hate to say that because I love Gaiman and don't want to feel that way. And generally his books are so good that when I feel kind of iffy about something, I feel like it must be my fault rather than his. How could it be my fault when an author's book doesn't live up to my expectations? Well, in this case, I didn't notice that it was a compilation of eleven stories, of which I'd already read (and in most cases, owned!) nine.

Opening paragraph from "The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds":
I sat in my office, nursing a glass of hooch and idly cleaning my automatic. Outside the rain fell steadily, like it seems to do most of the time in our fair city, whatever the tourist board says. Heck, I didn't care. I'm not on the tourist board. I'm a private dick, and one of the best, although you wouldn't have known it; the office was crumbling, the rent was unpaid, and the hooch was my last.
The idea of M is for Magic was to select and group together stories that might appeal to children. Some stories are meant to be scary, others funny. There is poetry and prose, genres children might enjoy but never have encountered (for example, the noir styled "The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds").

13 November 2009

Review: Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

When William Gibson first wrote his cyberpunk novels, Neuromancer and the rest, in the early 80s the idea of the internet, of cyberspace, was so new and unknown that it might have turned into anything. It was all (almost all) speculation then, what the technology might become. Now that the internet has become a ubiquitous presence in nearly everyone's life, I don't think there's so much room to imagine what might be as there is to imagine how we might use what we've got. Pattern Recognition was Gibson's first step away from speculative science fiction into the present day.

Opening paragraphs:
Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm.
It is that flat and spectral non-hour, awash in limbic tides, brainstem stirring fitfully, flashing inappropriate reptilian demands for sex, food, sedation, all of the above, and none really an option now.
Not even food, as Damien's new kitchen is as devoid of edible content as its designers' display windows in Camden High Street. Very handsome, the upper cabinets face in canary-yellow laminate, the lower with lacquered, unstained apple-ply. Very clean and almost entirely empty, save for a carton containing two dry pucks of Weetabix and some loose packets of herbal tea. Nothing at all in the German fridge, so new that its interior smells only of cold and long-chain monomers.

11 November 2009

Origami Quilt, Attempt #2

I spent a massive amount of time today crawling around hands-and-knees on the floor pinning this sucker back together. I did it once before, two years ago, but after leaving the quilt rolled up and/or stuffed into one of those zip-up pillow bags and/or shoved from one storage location to another, it was in very wrinkled shape.

So yesterday, besides sewing all those blocks for Modify Tradition (one more today, I'll post a photo at the bottom of this entry later), I took at all in the pins basting it together as well as all the pins holding the petals closed (straight-pins in that case) and ironed both the top and bottom again. Today my back hates me because I pin-basted it all over again.

Now I'm itching to get it quilted (before it wrinkles all over again), but I'm no less terrified, two years on, of the quilting process. I've never done anything so large before (about 6-ft square) or with this kind of batting (the crap stuff no one but ladies as old as my grandmother uses, which I'm using because she prefers quilts made with it to those made with warm & natural style batting) or that I care so much about. I've done a few baby quilts, but any time I make anything bigger I get scared off trying to quilt it because I love them too much to ruin them.

I think I'm just going to do something terribly basic - a criss-cross grid through all the white squares and then... I don't know. I'll have to figure something out for the green. Maybe I'll figure out some sort of leaf or flower type thing I could put into those. In any case, I want to get the quilting done by the end of the month so that I can move on to other trouble-some finishing touches in December. (Opening all the flowers, stitching down the petals, sewing a button into each flower center. Binding. I've never done proper binding before and I might not this time either, maybe just rolling it over from the back.)

When I first started this quilt, two years ago, I made myself a set of goals about it. This many flowers folded by this date, then this many blocks stitched together by this date, and so on. Which actually really worked for getting the top together, but then I totally crashed and burned once it came to quilting. I stitched one line and then picked all of it out because it looked so very, very bad. Then I rolled it all up and stuffed it away. But I cannot, must not, do that this year.

As I've said, rather morbidly, before... my grandma isn't going to live forever. If I want to give her a gift from my own hands, of a quilt, as some kind of thank you for all the many quilts she's hand-stitched and quilted for me... then I need to do it now. And if she dies before I give this to her, I'll never want to look at it again.

And that's enough of that train of thought. So here's another photo...

This block, also for Modify Tradition, was meant to be one giant bow-tie, but I have a definite bias against asymmetrical blocks in samplers. If I knew the quilt would be done on point, I might be willing to do it, but in case it's not... I made my own symmetry. Also, I wanted to use more than two fabrics, which I couldn't do with a traditional bowtie.

In any case, I like my fabrics here a bit better, but I'm finding the gold much too dated looking. I don't know. Maybe I'll go back to the fabric store and see if I can find a different yellow to replace it with. It'd be easy enough to pick apart the two blocks using it so far so that I could replace it with something better and maybe brighter.

10 November 2009

Modify Tradition

I've started following a new quilting blog called Modify Tradition, which is attempting to create a modern looking sampler quilt using traditional blocks. They're talking a lot about different elements that often appear in modern quilts, most of which has been pretty interesting.

In any case, below the cut will be close-ups of each of the blocks and a little blurb about each.

08 November 2009

Notes about this blog

So I decided to blend my three blogs here into one. I haven't been keeping any of them as up to date as I'd like, so I suppose I thought maybe I'd keep on top of it a bit better if I don't feel as if I have so many things to tackle. If I update once a week on any of my given subjects - books, crafts, or food - I think I'll be happier than if I feel that I need to do something with all three.

I've been playing around with my tagging today, trying to work out the best way to make things findable but not have so many the tags become useless, and I wonder if maybe I should have something very general as well as all my specifics - a tag for book posts, one for crafting posts and one for food posts - so that if someone is interested in one thing but not another it'll be easier to filter out the stuff that doesn't interest them. Hm.

I'm trying to figure out if this program has an option for "cutting" long entries, so that part of them is hidden, rather than every long post being a mile long. Guess I should search through the help files. [ETA: Success! Now to go through and do that to my longer entries... one of these days.]

Also, I need to/want to figure out how to adjust the size of this blog - it irritates me to no end that blogger sets all their layouts to such a small size. I'd prefer it to a be a percentage. For example, the width of my content should be about 80% the width of the screen, with 80% of my content devoted to the entries and 20% devoted to the side bar. I don't know if I have the patience to filter through the html and fix it though.