Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pleasures of home

Ah, for the pleasures of a long quiet day at home! No particular place to go, as the song says, or do or be. Aside from making dinner, and afterwards helping my Dad sort out his papers, I didn't really have to do anything but lie around and read.

Well, I did do that, but I also did some light cleaning and tidying, and did my usual tasks of doing laundry, putting away my clean clothes, tidying papers and tossing out garbage. But, unlike yesterday, I could sit when I wished and rest when I wanted, and it was a welcome change.

I did manage to finish Kim Wilkins' "Giants of the Frost". It concerns a woman named Victoria who has come to a small Island in Finnish waters to forget the pain of her broken engagement to a man named Alan. Alan broke the engagement in a spectacular way, by getting another woman pregnant and confessing his deed to Victoria only a week or two before the wedding. Now, she has sworn off love completely and only wishes to have mindless work (as well as a thesis paper) to occupy herself with. The island is used to monitor the weather in the North Sea area, and Victoria has been hired to do readings and monitor the equipment.

As one of the few women on the island, she is looked at rather hopefully by a number of men also working there, including her co-worker Gunnar and her Boss, Magnus. While Gunnar is a nice enough fellow, Magnus seems more drawn to her by the possibility of having sex with her than from any true romantic interest.

It is also the story of Vidar, one of the Aesir. Long ago, Vidar was a dutiful son of Odin, until some tragedy surrounding a girl he loved named Halla caused him to forgo the company of his family in favor of a small farm where he lives in isolation, save for his housekeeper, Aud.

Aud is a Vanir princess sworn to years of servitude to her people's enemies due to some crime she committed. Long ago, she served Odin and the rest of the Aesir, but they were little better than beasts, raping and brutalizing her. Though Vidar shuns his family, he visits his father's hall occasionally, and in one instance, he saw what was happing to Aud. He asked his father for her as a servant, and Odin agreed. Aud was initially wary of Vidar, but has since fallen in love with him because of how well he treated her compared to the rest of his family. But he doesn't love her and tends to avoid her a bit so that he doesn't have to put up with her unwanted feelings for him.

In truth, Vidar is waiting for his love to be reborn, and to come back to him, and now she has, in the form of Victoria. Victoria, meanwhile, is having a terrible time on the island. Others have told her the island is haunted, but she scoffed at them. Now, she is having unexplained nightmares and visions. When she goes to a clearing with her boss to check some instruments, he finds a piece of iron, very old, and she knows without question that it is a piece of an axe, and was left behind when someone was murdered.

In a few weeks, the other researchers on the island must leave: Magnus to accept an award, some to visit family, and others to attend a wedding. Victoria cannot wait to be alone on the island, but as the time approaches, she finds herself getting more and more hesitant to be alone there. She starts having dreams about a stick-haired boy who warns her of a hag and draugr.

Meanwhile, in Asgard, Vidar makes preparations to visit our wold, which is known as Midgard. With Loki's help, he steals a thread from the cloak of invisibility and inaudibility that Heimdall sleeps under. With this thread, Aud can weave a covering for him that will cover him and his horse, and allow him to sneak past Heimdall and over the Bifrost Bridge into Midgard to find Victoria. But he must be careful, for if Odin finds out that Victoria is alive, he will show no mercy in killing her.

Vidar and Victoria meet and she finds herself falling for him. It is the kind of love she always wanted, the kind she never felt with Alan and her prior fiancee, the kind that takes her out of herself, that makes her feel more than just a sack of skin, flesh and bones named Victoria.

Aud, of course, can barely stand the thought of Victoria, and begins falling under the sway of Loki. Loki says he only wants to help Vidar, but given his reputation, neither is sure they can trust him.

The ending is not truly a happy ending, but holds the promise of a happy ending. I enjoyed the book, but I've read much better. This was apparently Kim Wilkins' first book, but I enjoyed it much more than her second, "The Autumn Castle". In the end, I just couldn't feel very deeply about the protagonists.

The book is supposedly about the love between Vidar and Victoria, but both times they met, Victoria (and Vidar and Halla in their first incarnation) fell in love in about a week. To me, that smacks more of lust than love, and I just wasn't feeling the love the two supposedly had for each other. It seemed more like infatuation in the way it was described. I guess I'm not a big believer in love at first sight. In any case, the love... I wasn't feeling it for this book.

Next up, "Murder by the Waters" by Robert Lee Hall.

Work hurts

Work today was a bear. One of the ladies who was working called out, so instead of having 4 people working as we usually do, we only had 3. This meant there was no sitting down since we didn't have enough people to cover all four positions in the library (2 at the Circulation Desk, 1 at Reference, 1 in Children's). Since the librarian who was working was the Children's Librarian, she ran that room, and my co-worker and I covered the Circulation Desk. We also get someone in to cover the breaks (so we can eat, basically), and she stayed an extra two hours over her usual time. We were extremely grateful, as there was no way we could have done all our work without her being there.

In addition to the above problems, the library was extremely busy and we had a mountain of delivery items to check in, not to mention patron returns and the book drop. We were scrambling every minute of the day, and my back was already hurting at the beginning of the day. By the end, I was practically in tears from the pain. In the end, we had one bag of bookdrop that somehow got stuck in the back room and overlooked, and we almost forgot to do the money before we left the building. But other than that, everything got done. We got the patrons out in a timely manner (despite the usual few that think that the library's closing doesn't apply to them), and let me tell you, there were no people happier than we were when the library finally closed for the night.

I finished Diana Palmer's The Morcai Battalion, and found it fascinating. It was originally written less as a romance and more as a science fiction story, but there were still hints of romance scattered through the book. The main character is a physician named Lieutenant Commander Madeline Ruszel. She works for the Tri-Fleet space command, which is currently at war with a race called the Rojok. The Rojok are running out of room on their own planets for their planetary population, but instead of peacefully seeding their own colonies, they are attacking the colonies of others and stealing the minerals and things that they need from the fallen colonies.

The technology of the universe has advanced so that cloning is possible, but human society (called the Terrevegans because colonists from earth apparently settled on worlds orbiting Vega and lost contact with earth) looks down upon clones as less than human. Human clones are used as containers of organs for transplant and to be a clone in human society is to be, basically, a thing rather than a person.

While dealing with the aftermath of a Rojok attack on the mostly-clone settlement of Terramer, Madeline discovers, along with her commander, Holt Stern, that a diplomatic delegation from the Centaurian people, a cat-like race, were also attacked, along with a sci-archeology group from the Tri-Fleets. Along with the group were two of the children of the Centarian ruler. The boy is dying, and the girl was captured, along with two spheres holding the genomes of all the races in the federation. With these, the Rojoks can tailor diseases specific to each race and let them loose, so they must be retrieved.

Holt was injured when he searched for the scientists and royals, and is having massive headaches. Madeline, although it is forbidden, gives the boy child painkillers to ease his death. Shortly afterwards, a spaceship belonging to the military arm of the Centarians, the Holconchrom, arrives at the planet. The commander threatens to bring charges against Madeline when she returns to the Tri-Fleet HQ, and she is defiant because she only meant to help the child die peacefully.

When Holt's ship, the Bellatrix, leaves the planet, it is attacked by two Rojok ships. They manage to destroy one, and are only saved from destruction themselves when the Holconchrom ship returns to assist them. Nevertheless, the Bellatrix is too damaged to continue to fly, so the humans have no choice but to take refuge on the Centarian ship.

The Centarians are much stronger than humans, and look down on them as well. They do not allow women to serve in their military, so Madeline is alone on the ship, since the complement of Amazons, fighting women who serve in the military, were killed in the engagement on the Bellatrix. Madeline used to be an Amazon, but left that area of service to become a medic. She still has the attitude and fighting skills of her former post, however. It is hard for her to be the quiet female the Holconchom commander, Dtimun, commands her to be while on his ship.

Now, because men and women serve together in the Terravegan military, to prevent any unwanted "accidents" and fraternization, the men and women are mentally neutered with a combination of drugs and mental conditioning. However, it is possible for such conditioning to fail, and Madeline finds herself somewhat attracted to Dtimun in between periods of being enraged by his behavior. There is also the fact that all the members of the Holconchrom on the ship except for Dtimun are clones, but in Centari society, to be a clone is not looked down upon as it is by humans. After a single fight, the human is spaced, and the Centari is killed, the two crew generally avoid one another.

Holt Stern's actions on the ship set off warning alarms for Madeline. He seems to not care about his own people and to be setting them against the Centari. But for what reason? Madeline suspects he may be a clone of the real Holt Stern, made by the Rojok for infiltration purposes. Before she can act on her suspicions, the ship is captured by the Rojok. With Dtimun undergoing a physical change that happens to all Centari at the middle of their life, the humans and Centari must work together to escape when they are taken to the Rojok moon named Akhmau, which in their tongue means "torture and pain". A pet project of the Rojok emperor Mangus Lo, no one who enters there leaves. Can Madeline, Dtimun and the others escape with the missing genetic information and the missing princess, or will they be reduced to their component parts for the Rojok war machine?

Part of this book revolves around a common sci-fi conceit, namely, that clones are "not real humans". Actually, they are. They may be a physical copy of a person, but they grew and are made up of real cells. In fact, having a clone is like having an identical twin, and nobody is claiming that one half of a set of identical twins "are not real humans", so that always pisses me off. On the other hand, it is a pretty standard sci-fi trope, and the humans in the book (at least Madeline) have overcome their prejudice against clones by the end of the book, so that made it more tolerable for me to read. I liked it well enough that I will definitely read the next one when it comes out.

The other book I read today is "The Genocidal Healer" by James White. It is about Lioren, a doctor who accidentally caused the deaths of nearly 10,000 aliens named the Cromsag, nearly all that was left of their race. Lioren feels a great deal of guilt for its actions, and wishes to be put to death for them. It calls for a tribunal to punish its guilt, but after hearing the evidence, the tribunal instead sentences him to work for the psychology section at Sector General, under its Human head, O'Mara.

O'Mara, while feeling some sympathy for what Lioren is feeling, knows that too much sympathy is corrosive to the soul and emotions, and instead assigns Lioren to investigate a doctor on the Sector General staff named Seldal, a Nallajim. The Nallajim are bird-like bipeds with extremely flexible beaks once used to pluck insect predators from their bodies, but now used for manipulators. Since Lioren is forbidden to speak to Seldal directly, he instead starts by investigating through Seldal's patients, under the guise about asking for their experiences at the hospital. Through this he meets the former Diagnostician Manning, who is dying and lonely.

Doctors at Sector General work not on their own species, but on other species. They do this by using "tapes", which are the memories and knowledge of doctors of other species downloaded so it can be shared. People under the influence of the tapes gain not only the alien doctor's memories and knowledge, but also much of its personality, including its hopes and dreams (and fantasies, which can be distressing because of the other alien's extremely alien body). Diagnosticians work with many species and with many tapes at once, which means they must have extremely stable personalities.

Manning reveals to Lioren that after a point, the diagnostician deals with the personalities inhabiting it by making friends with them. And now that he is dying, the tapes have been removed, leaving him alone in his body for the first time in many years, with nothing to contemplate but his own death. As a result, he is snappish and ill-tempered. But after talking with Lioren, he decides to do something about it, to go on teaching and passing on his knowledge.

After Lioren's success with Mannen, Seldal wishes to speak with him, and asks Lioren to speak to another of his patients, an Alien of a race called the Groalterri, the only of its kind known. It will not speak to any of those at the hospital, but seems depressed.

Lioren agrees to speak to it, and finds out it is offended that its words are being recorded. Lioren tells the nurse in the ward to turn off the recorder and to erase any records of its speech. When she does so, the Groalterri does speak to Lioren a little. Lioren attempts to draw it out by talking about its own situation, with the Cromsag. Finally, the Groalterri gives Lioren its name, Hellishomar the Cutter, and says it has committed a sin.

While Lioren researches what a sin is and the common religions of the known races, it eventually draws Hellishomar out. It seems that Hellishomar is what is called a small, an offspring of a much larger race called the Parents. The Small are virtually immune to disease and illness, but the Parents are not. The Small care for their parents when they succumb to disease by going inside the body of the larger aliens and cutting away diseased tissue and parasites, then flaming the remains to ash. In this way, they ensure that the Parents live much longer, healthier lives.

However, even the Small must eventually grow up and become Parents themselves. Parents will contact the Small through mental telepathy and instruct them on how to become Parents themselves. But even though Hellishomar is old enough, he has not been contacted and assumes it is some sin he has committed that has led to him not being contacted. Lioren has an idea that it may be some physical defect that has led to this point, since when Hellishomar was injured, the Parents made sure to contact the Monitor Corps so it could be saved.

He attempts to investigate the sentient races who have telepathy, only to find out that they are extremely few. Nevertheless, he determines that there must be some sort of defect in Hellishomar that may be corrected by surgery to restore its telepathic faculty. How this happens, and the result, encompass the rest of the book.

I always enjoy James White's books, as he comes up with such unusual plots and introduces readers to alien viewpoints in his books. For example, a human smile is seen by Lioren as a "baring of teeth". And the human viewpoint isn't always the best or most correct one. Also, by setting up aliens as the main characters, we get to see all the races in the Sector General Universe, from a new and intriguing point of view. Fans of both science fiction and medical stories will find something to enjoy in the Sector General universe.

Next up on the reading list: Giants of Frost by Kim Wilkins.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Snow and finished

We had barely a dusting of snow, more's the pity, but more is on its way...

I finally finished "1634: The Bavarian Crisis" and am now reading Kevin Anderson's "The Last Days of Krypton. It's the story of Jor-El, Zor-El, General Zod, Aethyr-Za and Kara Lor-Van, an artist who eventually becomes Zor-El's wife.

Krypton is twice doomed, once by being a planet in orbit around a red giant star, and also from within, with structural instabilities leading to increased volcanism and earthquakes. Jor-El and his brother, Zor-El, are both brilliant scientists who are concerned for the future of their planet. Jor-El is more concerned about the sun of Krypton, Rao, while Zor-El is more concerned about the planet's volcanism.

Krypton is ruled by the High Council, 12 men of prominent family who guide Krypton and make decisions. A smaller council determines which scientific advances are allowed. Krypton is an extremely isolationist society, since they believe contact with other races will degenerate their society. So the Council, mainly, live in fear of other races. Travel beyond the planet is forbidden, but Jor-El has built solar probes that he uses to keep track of the state of Rao.

Jor-El discovers the Negative Zone, and manages to enter it, but is trapped, only to be released by Lara, a visiting artist. Zor-El visits the uninhabited southern continent of Krypton to monitor the eruptions occurring there. He gets the information and readings he needs, but is attacked by Hraggas, scaly hunters that are native to Krypton, and loses the pack which contains the data. While he is there, he sees the lava turn green, as some mysterious mineral or rock is brought up from the inside of Krypton, then vanish back into red, molten rock.

Zor-El and Jor-El approach the council with their findings, but they will not believe either scientist without further proof. Zor-El attempts to find further proof, but Argo City is hit by a Tsunami when an Earthquake hits under the ocean, and Zor-El must stop his investigations to deal with the disaster in his city, which he rules with the help of his wife, Alura.

Meanwhile, Krypton is approached by an alien named Donodon, and while the council is terrified of him, Jor-El agrees to host the alien on his estate. As they talk, Jor-El sounds Donodon out about the structural instabilities within the planet. Between them, they construct a machine to find out what is happening within the planet, but Zod has his henchman sabotage the device, wanting to take out not only Donodon, but Jor-El as well, seeing the scientist as a barrier to his ambitions. The device explodes, killing Donodon and injuring Jor-El and Lara. While the Council wishes to try Jor-El, Zod decides to put Jor-El in his debt by helping Jor-El in his defense. A few days before the trial is to start, Jor-El asks Lara to marry him, and she accepts. Zod marries them, and they go to their honeymoon in a place built by Jor-El's father for he and Jor-El's mother's honeymoon.

As Zod returns to Kandor, Capital of Krypton, an alien spaceship arrives and shrinks Kandor, capturing it in a bottle. Zod confronts the controller of the craft, The Brain Interactive Construct, who claims it has taken Kandor to preserve it, not destroy it. Zod, happy to see the council, who he has always resented, gone, lets the creature he calls Brainiac take the city. He will take the rest of Krypton for his own.

Zod tells others of his encounter with the creature, painting Brainiac as a villian without emotions or morals. He seizes the reins of power to help the citizens left from Kandor recover, and to put himself in the position of ruler. Aethyr-Ka, investigating the ruins of Xan City, discovers the powerful weapons of the ancient ruler Jax-Ur, which were anciently used to destroy one of Krypton's moons. She tells Zod about her discovery, then helps him gather like-minded second and third sons of the reigning noble families to create his own council of sixteen, called "The Ring of Strength". Zod woos Jor-El by giving him permission to delve into any area of science he wishes, create any device, so long as it will help Krypton. The people he guides by using fear of another alien attack, playing on their fears so that they will not question his actions.

But not everyone agrees with Zod's actions. Rulers of the other cities on Krypton decry his methods and actions, and one by one, they begin to disappear after leaving notes explaining that they have changed their minds, and are retiring from public life. Zor-El is warned by one of these men, before the man also disappears. While Zor-El cannot accused Zod publicly, without proof, he resolves to watch Zod, as he finds that he, himself, is being watched.

Zod continues to gather power, renaming Xan City Kryptonopolis, and having Lara make art to make the city beautiful as well as strong and powerful. He also appoints Lara as writer of his own history, and sets up a statue of himself in the place where a statue of Jax-Ur once stood.

At this point, Lara is pregnant, and Zod sets up another task for her, to paint his portrait, showing his true face, which he assures her will be one of nobility. But she is unable to prevent her picture from showing his coolness and arrogance. Zod cannot see this, however, and thanks her for the picture.

Jor-El and Zor-El manage to halt disaster from the interior of Krypton by using Jor-El's Rao beam to dig a hole into the earth in the hole where the former city of Kandor once stood. They use a force field to keep the earth open, a larger version of the force field that once protected the small devices Zor-El used to investigate the magma inside the planet. By giving Krypton another point to dissipate the energies within, they save the planet from exploding.

Soon after, Rebellions rise up against Zod, and he uses the Rao beam to destroy the city where most of the Rebels have gone to ground. Jor-El manages to warn the city, however, but the use of force brings most of the rebel leaders to submit to Zod. Jor-El sabotages the Rao beam so it cannot be used in that way again. He is now thoroughly disgusted with Zod, but Zod keeps him so close that he cannot flee with Lara.

Zor-El, though, has now become the de facto leader of the rebels. Zod suspects that it is Zor-El who destroyed the Rao beam, and sets off to make Zor-El submit to him. At first, two of his men try abducting Alura and Zor-El's mother, but they manage to fight off the men. The next day, Zor-El denounces Zod in front of all Kryptonopolis, by using the crystals of the city as communications devices. Zod is enraged, and marches off to conquer Argo City, but not before Aethyr-Ka discovers Lara's true history of Zod, and shows it to the conqueror. He has Lara imprisoned, and uses her to make Jor-El help him. Jor-El also finds that a comet is about to strike Krypton, and will destroy it if it isn't stopped.

Jor-El, covertly defying Zod, and Zor-El manage to modify the shields they used to drill with the Rao beam to cover the whole of Argo City. So even when Zod attempts to use the old devices he once confiscated from Jor-El to try and conquer the city, the shields hold. Zod, defeated and enraged, marches back to Kryptonopolis, and attempts to fire off the old weapons used to destroy the moon at Argo City. But Jor-El has reprogrammed them to strike the comet instead, saving the planet, and then Zod is imprisoned within the very same shields that protect Argo City, along with his men and the Ring of Strength, installed by Jor-El when Zod was marching to war.

The Rebels take over and put Zod on trial. Jor-El and Lara discover where Zod hid away the Negative Zone portal, and release the men that Zod used to test it, and all the leaders and people who supposedly had changed their minds about Zod and retired from public life. They all testify at the trial of Zod, but Zod only considers them insects and imbeciles. He is sentenced to eternal imprisonment in the Negative Zone.

Now that the war is over, Jor-El is suprised when many of the rebel leaders don't seem to want anything to do with him. He finds out it is because they view him as a collaborator with Zod, based on his behavior in the early days of Zod's reign, when Zod was actively seeking to woo him. The rebels don't want anything that reminds him of Zod's reign, not even the art that Lara had been comissioned to provide for the city, and it is detroyed in an orgy of pure destruction.

The Council is reconstituted, and Jor-El is pointedly ignored, despite his many contributions and good deeds. Zor-El is asked to join, and he suggests that the council be changed so that votes may be decided by simple majority instead of complete agreement. When the council votes that in, Zor-El tells them he only wants to run Argo City, and tells the council that he will offer the seat they offered him to Jor-El instead.

Jor-El takes his seat on the council, and the council decide that the Negative Zone device must be destroyed. Jor-El tells them it is impossible, but they do not believe him. As he is about to continue his argument, Lara goes into labor, and he hurries to his Manor house near where Kandor used to be, for her to give birth. There, she gives birth to his son, and they name him Kal, for the councillor Kal-Ik, who gave truthful advice to Jax-Ur and was killed for it. Jor-El takes time off from his duties to spend time with Lara and his son, and in his absence, the Council votes to destroy the Negative Zone device by dumping it and the controls into the core of the planet. One of the council warns Jor-El, but not in time for him to stop it. Because of the way the device works, it will suck energy from the planet until it implodes. Krypton is doomed.

Jor-El works to save his family as much of the rest of Krypton goes about its normal business, heedless of the cataclysm to come. Jor-El struggles to refit the stardrive from Donodon's starship to a larger body, but cannot get it to work. Lara makes crystal libraries filled with the knowledge of Krypton, and in the end, Jor-El can only make a ship large enough to save one Kryptonian. He wants to save Lara and his son, but she insists she will not live without him. In the end, he can only save his son. As Jor-El watches his son's ship rise into the sky, Zor-El puts up the forcefield around Argo City to save his people for as long as possible. Jor-El and Lara kiss one last time as the planet dies, declaring their love for each other. And the baby flies to a place Jor-El glimpsed in Donodon's computer in a record of his travels. Earth.

I really enjoyed this book. Kevin Anderson set up many different ways for Krypton to die: Stellar supernova, Interior Instability, Cometoid Collision, and then went with a way nobody really expected: dumping the Negative Zone device into the Planet's molten interior. Of coursse, the book brought to mind some of the things we have in modern-day America, a ruler unable to see beyond himself and all too ready to do horrible things in the supposed name of peace, and section of society that demonizes science and wants to get rid of things they don't understand.

Instead of making Krypton's destruction a fait accompli by outside forces, Krypton is doomed by its own people's short-sightedness and unwillingness to listen. The new council thinks they can do away with things and ignore the consequences just because they don't like the outcome, so they refuse to believe it can happen. When they finally come to their senses and demand and beg for Jor-El to save them, it's already too late and can't be undone. In the end, their choices and unwillingness to listen to reason doom them.

Next up, another book from the Library (yes, I'm weak. I admit it). Diana Palmer's "The Morcai Battalion", a science fiction romance under the Luna imprint.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Prospect of More Snow!

I am still reading "1634: The Bavarian Crisis", but tonight, there is the prospect of snow. At the very least, snow showers, in the offing. I am sort of hoping the snow will fall.

Of course, this brings back memories of the time I worked on a Saturday some years back in January or February. It was supposed to snow, and the library had instituted a step that saved calling around to different libraries to let them know we were closing due to snow. Five or six of the libraries were tasked with calling 3 or 4 others to let them know about the snow closing. This way, instead of the main branch doing all the work, it would be split up between a number of branches.

Around 10 AM, it started to snow. And snow. And snow, And Snow. Time passed, and there was almost no one but us in the building. Oh, there were a few die-hards that always came to surf the internet, but other than that, the building was dead. Still, until we get the notice to close, we are obligated to work. So the time passed slowly. We had lunch breaks, and finally at 2 PM, we got a call. One of the friends of the Librarian working that day was surprised to find her still working. It seems the rest of the library system had closed at noon.

Someone, and I am still not sure who, had forgotten to call us to tell us the libraries of the system were closing. If the librarian's friend hadn't attempted to call her at home, only to be told she was still at work, we wouldn't have known we were supposed to close!

Once we found out, of course, we closed up in about 20 minutes and went to dig out our cars and return home. Unfortunately for us, since the system closed at 12, we weren't going to be paid for the hours we had worked. :P But even that was taken care of eventually (by our most excellent boss, who found another way to compensate us). Even so, the thought of a snow day at work always brings back to mind that afternoon, and our complete shock at being forgotten. I know we are one of the smaller branches, but really! Here's to hoping nothing like that ever happens again!

I also think that was the same year or the same snowfall when the company that was supposed to plow our parking lot weren't able to come plow our lot for 4 days. We finally opened again on a Wednesday. It seems that their lot on the Island was snowed under and they were stuck, themselves, which seems awfully stupid for a company that was supposed to do PLOWING.

And that leads me to another stupid thing that is happening now. The library has cleaners that come in and clean, but downstairs in the bathroom, there was a dead cricket that lay there for well over a month without being taken care of. It got so bad that one of the librarians made a little tombstone for it, along with an epitaph, and stuck it to the wall with tape. And the cricket remained there for a few more weeks! What good is a cleaning company that doesn't really clean? What's the point? As far as I can tell, they empty the trashcans, put in new garbage bags, put toilet paper in the bathrooms, vaccum the carpets, and once every few months, they wipe down the circulation desk. Not a heck of a lot of cleaning. They don't dust or clean the bathrooms... what exactly do they really do that can be called "Cleaning"? Not a heck of a lot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two Books Down, More to Go...

Just finished reading Robin Hobb's new book "Renegade's Magic", and I'm still chewing over whether or not I actually liked it. This third in a trilogy is about a young man who is the second son of a noble family. His father is something of a dictator and martinet whose only hope for his son is to excel in the military. Early on in his life, Nevare has an encounter with magic, and part of his soul is split from the rest. When he reclaims the missing piece, he thinks he has solved his problems, but when a plague strikes the military school he is in, he finds himself infected. He manages to survive, but unlike other survivors who grow weak and thin, Nevare starts to balloon, despite eating no more than normal.

The doctor at his school sends him home, but his father is disgusted with how his son looks and tries everything in his power to force him to lose weight, with no success. Thinking that his son has been bribing the servants to bring him food, and with another outbreak of the plague affecting the household, his father disowns him and Nevare flees to a town on the border, where his nation is fighting a people they call the "Specks", for their speckled skin. There, he finds that the former piece of his soul has been trained to be a Speck Mage, or "Big Man", who are fat not only with food, but magic. The larger and plumper a big man is, the more status he brings to his clan. Nevare enlists in the army as a footsoldier, and is given the job of burying the dead and being in charge of the graveyard. However, once again plague breaks out, and Nevare comes to realize that the magic is driving him into the Speck lands. Every time he tries to settle down or resist the magic, bad things happen to him and those around him.

In the last book, Nevare's former piece of soul takes over, under the name Soldier's Boy. Soldier's Boy's task is to stop the Gernians from killing the Speck's "ancestor trees", former Big Men and Women whose souls live on in the trees. But because their souls are split, Soldier's Boy has magic but doesn't know what to do with it, and Nevare can see Soldier's Boy's lover and mentor and speak with her, which his Speck-self cannot. Now, no longer in control of his own body, he must sit back and watch as Soldier's Boy starts a war with Nevare's people, a war that can only end badly for both sides.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this particular book. Neither of the two main characters, Soldier's Boy and Nevare, had my sympathy. One was doing horrible things in the name of saving his people, but the other wasn't all that sympathetic, either, seeming to be driven by a great deal of bigotry. At the same time, they should have come together and be whole, and they do manage it... only to have the ending be extremely...strange, in my opinion. What was the point in having to come together, if the ending seems to have invalidated this fact? Is Nevare still missing a piece of his soul? I couldn't tell what the answer was supposed to be, and the entire story feels like some long, strange interlude in the middle of a character's life that in the end, doesn't really amount to much. In that, it wasn't really satisfying for me. I suspect I will continue to think on and chew over the story in my mind until I either come to a conclusion or give up.

The second book I read today was Andre Norton's "Dragon Mage", the follow-up to a book she wrote in the late 60's called "Dragon Magic". In reality, while Andre Norton had plotted the story with her co-writer Jean Rabe, she died before she could actually write any of it, so the entire story is written by Rabe. For someone used to reading Andre Norton books, it doesn't actually read like one of her books, for her style is inimitable. On the other hand, it is a successful story, and involves many of the characters from the original book.

Shilo is the daughter of Sigmund, one of the characters from the first book. Her dad has died, and since her mother (divorced from her father) apparently doesn't want her, she's moved in with her paternal grandmother and grandfather in a little town in Michigan, where they own an antique store. She's not happy there. She misses her father and finds the small town where she lives stultifying, though she doesn't mind the antiques so much because her father was a history scholar and inculcated in her a love of history.

One night when her grandparents go for a fish boil, Shilo stays home and hears a female voice say, "Sigurd Clawhand, I need you." Shilo follows the voice to the attic, where she finds an old wooden puzzle box depicting four dragons. However, it doesn't look like all the pieces are there. Her grandmother finds her and tells her about the puzzle, that Shilo's father and three friends found the puzzle in the house of a world traveller who had died. They put the puzzle together and told stories about the adventures they had with the dragons they had put together, but her grandmother didn't believe any of them. After they put it together, the puzzle disappeared, but later was found in a closet in Sigmund's house. His younger brother had attempted to put the puzzle together, but lost many of the pieces, which enraged her father, but he kept the puzzle.

Shilo takes the puzzle to her room and puts the remaining dragon pieces together, then discovers that some of the pieces from the gold and silver dragon fit together. Unable to stop working on the puzzle, she puts together a picture of a gold and silver dragon, and finds herself swept away to Babylon, where she doesn't know how to leave. She teams up with a priest of Shamash, who helps her flee from a rich man who knows how to speak English and who is very interested in Shilo.

As they flee the man and the city, Shilo encounters the dragon from the picture she made out of the puzzle and finds out that the magic is not in the puzzle, it is in her. The puzzle is merely an aid to concentration. However, before she can return home, she must rescue the Dragon's eggs, which were stolen and are being used in a plot that may destroy not only the Dragon and Babylon, but the entire human race.

The dragon also summons help for her, and to her surprise, one of her helpers is her own father, still a young man, and his friend Kim, another one of the four boys who completed the dragon puzzle long ago. But though the dragon tells her that she has more magic than her father and his friends, is it enough to triumph and prevent the terrible future the dragon has seen?

I've moved on to another Sci Fi/Fantasy book, 1634:The Bavarian Crisis by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce. I'm completely unable to write such political intrigue myself without making it sound dull as dishwater, so I enjoy the politics along with the story.

After this, I have one more library book to read before starting on my mountainous "To be Read" pile, "The Last Days of Krypton". Ah well, have at thee, TBR pile!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekend not so busy

But I still didn't get time to post. I've been doing some much-needed cleaning around the house, and today I got to take my cat to the vet for her annual wellness physical, plus, as she is getting on in years, to get her senior checkup.

The vet said she was doing fine, and that she is not only in excellent physical health, but that she is excellently taken care of. That brought a little glow to my heart, as I love her immensely.

I finished up "Wind in the Stone" by Andre Norton, and "Star Wars: Death Star", and now I am reading a mystery called "Ben Franklin in a Case of Artful Murder" by Robert Lee Hall. I really only just started it, because despite taking it to the vet with me, reassuring Cleo made me unable to read too much of the book. Cleo, you see, yowls when she is frightened, and since she is a purely indoor cat, she gets frightened when we take her to the vet.

It's kind of like she knows that going in the cat carrier means a terrifying (for her) trip in the car, to a place like the vet, where she might get poked, prodded and stuck with needles (oh, the horrors!) or to the groomer's, where she gets brushed, her claws clipped, and her rear end area trimmed and groomed (As a long-haired cat, she is like James T. Kirk... lots of problems with Kling-ons).

She always throws up, but this time it was hardly anything. I really have to remember not to let her eat for about six hours before she goes out. This will prevent or minimze the vomiting. Needless to say, having it be so cold outside was not in her favor, either, even though she is a long-haired cat. At least she wasn't shivering, but the trip home was made with wet paws (because they cleaned her where she stepped in her own vomit). She appears to be recovering well, though, and is back to her usual treat-loving self.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back to rain and Comics, yay!

Rain again today, which made it easier to spend time with my new aquisitions.

A couple of nights ago, the Library was donated a great deal of graphic novels, along with some very neat books. I purchased them (except for the Hellboys, which I already own) and settled myself down for some good reading.

They ran the gamut, from Alien vs. Predator vs. Terminator, to Marvel Zombies, which was a really bizarre sort of "Fuck you" to the non-Ultimates Universe. The story for "Marvel Zombies" starts off in Ultimate Fantastic Four, where teenage Reed Richards is contacted by his older self from the normal Marvel Universe. Teen Reed builds a dimensional transporter to take him to the other universe, but when he gets there, Almost all of the humans are dead, and most of the heroes have become flesh-eating zombies that hunger for human flesh. The older Reed is also a Zombie, as is the rest of the Fantastic Four. Why did they contact teen Reed? Because they have run out of humans to eat, and they want more.

One of the few metahumans left unzombified is Magneto, and he rescues Teen Reed and takes him to where the last of the humans left uneaten are hiding. Magneto has been protecting them and keeping them safe from the Metazombies. Usually, he would love to see the humans die, but with so few left, he has become their protector. He and Reed decide to bring the humans to the world of the Ultimates, but they are discovered by the Zombie (former) heroes and must flee. Meanwhile, Zombie FF cross over to the world of the Ultimates, but Reed's teammates discover them before they can do much damage and imprison them in the Baxter Building. Eventually, the rest of the Ultimates FF cross over into Zombieworld and help rescue the last of the humans, but Magneto remains behind to cover their escape.

Ultimates FF eventually are able to deal with the Zombie FF, despite being only a fraction of their age.

The story picks up again in Marvel Zombies, and deals with Magneto's final stand among the Zombies and what transpires after. There are no humans left, and the zombies can't feed on each other (they taste horrible to themselves and it doesn't sate their hunger). Zombie Giant Man has been keeping a secret; one last human, T'challa of Wakanda (also known as Black Panther) who he has been feeding on a bit at a time. His wife, Jan, finds out, and Ant-Man cuts (or actually bites) her head off. But due to the distraction, T'challa is able to escape, now lacking half of one arm and a foot. He is rescued by Magneto's students aboard Asteroid M, and they take him back to the Asteroid wherein is also sheltering Forge, who can make powered prosthetic limbs...

Meanwhile, Galactus's herald, the Silver Surfer, arrives to tell the heroes that their world is due to be devoured. However, the heroes devour the Silver Surfer, instead, after a protracted battle, also imbibing the Power Cosmic with parts of his body. When Galactus shows up, he is taken aback when they use this power against him, but he whips them handily enough. While he prepares the planet to be consumed, the heroes hastily whip together a machine in secret, hoping to best Galactus. Another fight ensues, and this time, Galactus falls, and the hero-zombies devour his body.

The book ends showing another planet preparing for the arrival of the Devourer, Galactus, but make it clear they have no hope. But this Devourer is quite different... it is the zombie heroes, who apparently have made a different kind of Devourer...

I took this book as nothing less than a "Fuck you!" to the old Marvel Universe. What could be more appropriate to this than to turn the former heroes into endless devourers, eating their way through the flesh of the universe? I know that a lot of people consider the Ultimates Universe way better than the original (not me, particularly), but I just was kind of shocked at the whole comic and glad I only paid $.50 for it, Instead of the $20+ pricetag it normally came with. In fact, $.50 is much more than it's worth, to me. I am only glad the other comics were so much better. I will pass this on as soon as possible. I thought it was a sad end for an entire Universe of Marvel Heroes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Snow After All

And then it went and snow flurried in the afternoon. I guess my complaints brought some results from the weather gods. Not that it was very much snow or lasted very long... We had less than an inch and it's already gone, aside from a few specks that will also soon be gone due to the warm temperatures and abundant sun.

I bought some more miniature stuff for a friend of mine, little tiny crocks (like crocks of butter), two pitchers (one white with flowers, one blue), one silver metal salt shaker that looks like a vase or trophy, and a tiny mug that was a souvenir of Washington D. C. Yeah, she's gonna kill me for spending more money on her and not on me, but all of it only cost $4.25, so I'm not that sorry. ::Big Grin.::

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow... No Snow

It was supposed to snow here today, but the weather apparently didn't cooperate. First it was supposed to snow Sunday night into Monday, and earlier today, Monday night into Tuesday. Instead, we're getting what we have always gotten, rain instead.

Being as someone who lives in a place where snow falls but rarely, I look forward to snow with a child-like anticipation. Not that at work we'll get a "Snow Day" (although that has happened in the past), but just to see it come down, for the silence to fall over the world, to take joy in the sight of fat flakes drifting down from above, painting the world white, and the glittering carpet it creates in the sun.

I'll never forget the most interesting winter weather I have ever experienced. It happened when I lived in New York state, and it was an ice storm. It even made strange noises when it fell, creaking, groaning sounds that must have been coming from the trees around us. I also remember how the storm hitting the windows made a clicking noise, like someone was tapping something hard on the window panes.

The next morning, I went out, and the world was transformed into a fairy forest. Every branch and leaf and needle was covered with a coating of ice, and it fairly blazed when the sun shone upon it. Even the telephone wires were completely covered, sheathed in ice so that they, too, shone.

The surface of the snow, now covered by a thick coating of ice, had turned slippery and slick, just perfect for sliding on in your snow boots. It was like ice skating without the need for skates or a rink! Incredibly fun, even if I did fall down a lot. More worlds of wonder awaited me in the little bit of woods that abutted our back yard, and in the place under our second floor deck.

Our deck was not constructed very well, and had larger than usual gaps between the wood planks that made up the floor. Now, it was a forest of icicles, one more than a foot long, making up a fairy chandelier that ran the length and breadth of the deck. It was incredibly beautiful, and I wished it would have lasted longer.

Of course, being just a child, I don't remember the bad parts of the ice storm that I know about today. Lots of trees fell down, and some people had their roof collapse from the extra weight of the ice. Even so, I still long to experience another ice storm, to see what I remember seeing as a child. I wonder, will I have the same attitude now?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Worked this weekend

Even though I didn't feel right at all. But I managed to get through the days with humor and a great deal of tiredness. I also finished reading "Servant: The Awakening", which I was wrong about. It didn't have anything to do with the White Wolf games, although it was rather similar in content to the "Hunter" series.

I also started Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Borne in Blood" at work. It didn't take me that long to finish it once I had gotten home. This story didn't seem to be as long or as large as the others. Mainly, there is less historical stuff going on, as the story takes place between the time that Napoleon was defeated for the first time and his subsequent escape from Elba. That being the case, there was far less "history" for the Count to deal with, or so it seemed to me. Also, his lover, Hero, knew about what he was... all of this, he apparently told her before the novel began. The story was mainly about his relationship with her, her disagreements with her father-in-law (who had custody of her children and was keeping them away from her) and with an Austrian count who was doing research into blood. The count had an adopted niece who stayed with him, but she was insane, having been sexually abused by him from the time she was eight years old. Now, she was too old for his tastes, and in danger of being replaced in his affections, which led to her both wanting to escape and wanting to be with him, still. Strangely enough, those parts were not hard to read. You wanted to be sorry for her, but her insanity made her very unsympathetic.

After I finished that, I moved on to "Vampire Academy", which I hope will be part of a series, but maybe not. Certainly, there is enough interesting stuff there for a sequel, but the ending doesn't have "Sequelitis" written all over it, which was rather nice for a change. It's nice to read a book that, if there is no sequel, is strong enough to stand on its own. It's about two girls, Vasalisa (called Lissa) a moroi vampire, and her companion and friend, Rose, a Dhampir.

Two years ago, Rose and Lissa fled St. Vladimir's Academy, a school moroi vampires keep to educate their children. Although the Moroi are vampires, they age, are not immune to disease, and have elemental magic. If they kill someone deliberately, they turn into Strigoi vampires, who are more usual vampires: immortal, ageless, lacking magic and evil. Moroi are stronger than humans, but less powerful than strigoi, so the Dhampirs, who are half-vampires resulting from a moroi having a child with either a human or another dhampir, tend to do the fighting for them. They also serve as guardians for the moroi against the strigoi. However, the Dhampirs are sterile with other dhampirs. All dhampir men become guardians, and a few of the dhampir women. The rest give blood to the moroi, allowing the men to feed off them during sex. These women are known as "blood whores". (Nice name, hunh?)

Rose's mother is a guardian, and Rose was raised by the academy. While they were away from the academy, she kept Lissa safe. This is aided by the fact that Lissa and Rose share a bond rarely seen among moroi and their guardian dhampir. Sometimes, Rose can see through Lissa's eyes and feel what she feels. Getting dumped back into St. Vladimir's is stressful for both of them, given that Lissa has the ability to use compulsion, not only on humans and dhampir, but other moroi as well. She also shows the ability to heal, not only humans, but animals. However, healing causes her to go into a depression and become self-destructive. She tends to cut herself afterwards to relieve her stress. Because no other moroi can heal, Lissa must be secretive with her powers, but Rose discovers that the legendary St. Vladimir, who the school was named for, seems to have had the same, or similar powers, including a link to a dhampir named Anna, who is called "Shadow-kissed". Trying to figure out the secrets of St. Vladimir and guard Lissa keep Rose busy during the course of the novel.

Now, it's on to another great book, by another great author, Hospital Station by James White. It's part of the Sector General series, about a great hospital in space wherein surgeons work on both known species, and unknowns. This is pretty much the first in the series, with the hospital being constructed at the beginning of the book. While it's an old book, this series holds a great many interesting ideas, and is worth a look.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Spent most of today cleaning up

in between bouts of the "Big D" (Diarrhea) and popping Immodium tabs. :P Sadly, I had let my room go to crap because of a number of things, and I had a lot to do. I was still sick at 3:30 PM, so I called out of work and spent the rest of the night cooking, putting away wash and cleaning, once again in between bouts on the toilet.

I did get some reading time in and finished up "Golden Trillium" by Andre Norton and the two books in the "Grimm Sisters" trilogy, "Problem Child" and "Once Upon a Crime". The series is about two sisters who are the living descendents of Jakob Grimm, of the Grimm Brothers fame. They live in a town in upstate New York and must look after the "Everafters", who are the living embodiments of the characters Jakob and Willhelm Grimm wrote about in their fairy tales.

In a way, it's not unlike the comic book "Fables" by Bill Willingham, though told for a school-age audience instead of the adults of the comic books. And yes, I know that sounds weird, that books are written for a younger audience than the comics, but these comics are truly adult, in many ways, and the books aren't, though they draw on some of the same themes.

I have moved on to "Servant: The Awakening" by L.L. Foster, and this book reminds me of the Hunter game from White Wolf. Even the title of the book is written in the same style. I've only read a few pages, so I can't tell about the story, if it will follow the White Wolf system, but I am really betting not, as the cover design doesn't bear it out.

My computer is doing well, and even though the scroll wheel on my old mouse wasn't working, I decided it was time to get a new mouse, a Kensington Pro Mouse. It's built on the same kind of system as my old Kensington Turbo Mouse, but this one is optical (which is good because it was a bitch and a half trying to keep the old one's inside mouse wheels clean!) and comes in a neat-looking black and silver, with a metal-flake appearing gray ball.

Today wasn't without its emotional upsets, in addition to the bodily. In one of the games I run, one of my players completely ignored me, the GM, and went back to doing what I had just warned him about only a week ago. I was completely annoyed, to the point where I was talking at the screen as if he could hear me as I was writing him an in-game note! I am normally much more easy-going when it comes to my games, but to say I have been feeling "shitty" today is completely apropo! In any case, I wrote a (mildly) angry note (entitled "Do you *Listen*?!"), and fixed the post in question, I was thinking of having the player fall down on his ass and get skewered, but I am not that nasty in-game. But I have solicited other GMs for advice, as the other players are just as annoyed at him as I am, but for different things.

Well, anyway, I am hoping to find some time to work on my VHS collection, turning it in to DVDs via my computer. I have the stuff I need, now all I need to find is the time. Oh yeah, where can I purchase me some more of that?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A New Year for Books

Well, today was New Year's Day, and true to form for the last few years, I didn't make any New Year's Resolutions. Why not, you ask? Well, I feel they are fairly useless. I never really remember the ones I make, and I rarely really decide to change that much. Last year, I made a set of silly resolutions, and I can't even remember what they were anymore. In fact, I only really ever make one resolution: To enjoy myself as much as I can during the next year, to read more books and watch more movies and to just generally take big bites out of life.

The reading more books I have no trouble with, as I really enjoy reading to begin with and I read at a speed most people would consider super-fast. I have huge stacks of books around me all the time because a) I work in a library and spend large amounts of time around books, b) I have many favorite authors whose works I am committed to collecting, and c) I can't resist a good-looking book and I am rarely disappointed.

B and C, above, especially cause me to have more and more books lying around. Books are, dare I say it, my friends. When I am tired, sad or depressed, it's very easy for me to lose myself in a book and leave my own problems behind.

My stacks these days comprise mostly fantasy, science fiction and romance. Part of this is due to another site I am into called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I've always been a sucker for a good romantic subplot in my mystery, science fiction or fantasy story, and romances, to me, are brain candy. You stick them in, chew on them for a short while, and poof! They are gone! I can read three Harlequin Historicals in a day, sometimes four, and they are always good for waiting in the doctor's office, waiting on line, or any other time I am alone and need a little diversion. I don't usually read them that often, so I tend to collect 15 or 20 and read them for a few days on end, then leave the others for another time.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi, on the other hand, are my meat and drink. This is what I most often prefer to read. Some of them also have romance subplots, but the focus is on other things, like fighting a war or the minions of the evil King/Queen. Unlike many romances, some of them, the science fiction especially, tends to make you think and question, turning over knotty problems presented on the pages and wondering how you would solve such a problem. I also must admit, I am fascinated by fantasy magic systems in all their wonderful diversity, both magic of the gods and other magic as well. I also find that Fantasy and Sci-Fi these days are where you can find strong female heroines, not just adjuncts or placeholders for the heroes to save, screw and rescue from their problems. If I read a fantasy, I want it to be where the women are just as strong as the men, if perhaps in different ways.

In this world, women have enough of a time getting taken seriously, still, that I still want to dream of a place where women can do it all and aren't looked down upon as lesser because their genitalia is internal, rather than external, as one book I read put it. Women can be heroes, too, and that's what I want. I can dream it within as I put it to work without.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!