Sunday Sum-Up: May 15, 2022

Every now and then, I suffer from bouts of insomnia, and this week another one started up so I’ve been a bit muzzy-headed and sleepy. Cue the morning coffee and Diet Coke and the knowledge that one of these days I’ll get through it and I’ll be sleeping normally again. Until then, I just have to deal with some sleeplessness.

At least I haven’t been grouchy.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Mina hasn’t had the sort of window time that she usually has this week, thanks to a brief heatwave that prompted me to close the windows and turn on the air conditioner for the first time this year. I don’t like having to turn the air conditioner on, in part because it’s kind of noisy and the noise bothers both of the cats. But the weather has turned cooler in the past couple of days, so the windows are open again, things are quieter, and Mina has been hanging out in her favorite windows, watching the world go by.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

The Might proved to be a strong finish to The Raven Rings trilogy. Hirka developed in ways I couldn’t have foreseen in the first book, but she remained true to herself the entire way through. Rime also changed enormously, but I never found his story as compelling as Hirka’s. She was a healer with everything to prove and everything to hide until she finally realized that hiding wasn’t going to get her anywhere, and that to survive she would have to stand up and make a name for herself. Rime was often a step behind everyone, figuring things out just a little too late and trying to solve his problems with physical force. That was how he was trained, after all, but that sort of character doesn’t call to me as much. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the whole series, and I’m looking forward to Pettersen’s next book. The English translation is due out next winter.

Thinking back on the trilogy: one of the things I liked most about Pettersen’s storytelling is that she doesn’t spoon-feed the reader information about the world or the characters, and she doesn’t repeat it over and over again, the way some American or English writers I’ve come across have done. It’s like Pettersen trusts that her readers are intelligent enough to keep up with things without her having to sit down and spell it all out. How fantastic is that? I haven’t read enough Norwegian fantasy to know if that’s a Norwegian thing, or if that is a Siri Pettersen thing. I suppose I’ll have to track down some more Norwegian fantasy in translation to find out.

Chivalry is a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel of Neil Gaiman’s short story ‘Chivalry’, which is the story of an elderly woman who finds the Holy Grail in a thrift shop. She buys it for about 50p, takes it home, shines it up, and puts it on her mantel. The next day, a beautiful young man– a knight in shining armor, no less– shows up at her doorstep. His name is Galaad, and he is on a quest for the Holy Grail. He offers her riches and magical items for the grail, but she declines every time and instead invites Galaad in for tea and asks him to help her clean up her attic and give her a bit of company for a while. This is a beautiful story, and while I loved it when I first read it, I loved it even more when Doran’s brilliant illustrations were brought into it. The style is drastically different from the style she used in Snow, Glass, Apples, but it suited the story and I have no complaints. If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, I definitely recommend looking up Chivalry. It’s a lovely story with beautiful art.

Basilisks and Beowulf is Tim Flight’s take on the development of monsters like Grendel or dragons in later Anglo-Saxon lore. He discusses the literary, religious, and geographical reasonings for where the various monsters might have sprung from, and how the Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs shaped the development of the monsters in the lore. It’s a fairly interesting take on the subject, though I wish more time had been spent on dragons and grendelkin, and less on wolves and dog-headed man-monsters. Dragons because dragons, and grendelkin because the way Flight described them– as manlike creatures that haunt the borders between civilization and the wilderness, but sometimes just show up in your house– makes them seem horrifically creepy. Overall, I wasn’t super impressed with the book, but I think it’s Flight’s first one, so I’ll cut him some slack and keep an eye out for what he’ll write about next.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I made progress! I’m really starting to wonder where this book is going, as it’s mostly been about Mr. Norrell’s fussy sensibilities and his unwillingness to accept other magicians, even as he bemoans the dearth of them in England. He’s also horrid in his utter secrecy and his inability to really see much of anyone else as a human being. Will it come back to bite him? I really hope so. We’ve also seen a bit more of the fairy world, which isn’t much better than the upper-class English society, for all that it has beautifully dressed people everywhere and jewels and riches dripping from everywhere. It’s a stagnant world of wealth that, really, is just gilded so it shines on the surface, but may just be made from something that is rotting from within. My audiobook will automatically return to the library in a few days, so I’ll be switching over to the physical book when that happens.

Did Not Finish:

This was, ostensibly, a biography of Fanny Wollstonecraft, the elder sister of Mary Shelley who was on the outskirts of Percy Shelley’s social circle, and who- in despair- killed herself at the age of 22. After having read nearly 100 pages of this relatively short biography, I’d barely learned anything about Fanny herself. Mostly, I’d read about the men who dominated her life, which really does a disservice to a young woman who could have lit up English literature (the way her sister did), but who was cast aside by those men in her life. Why is at least half of Fanny’s biography (in my edition, the actual text ends on page 267, and I set it aside around the 90-page mark) given over to the men who wrecked her life? It was frustrating, to say the least. I understand that discussing the other people in a biography subject’s life adds context, but this was a bit much. I wasn’t interested in hearing about Percy Shelley. I wanted to hear about Fanny, but I guess she’s just a secondary character in her own life.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

I plan to read The Night Circus as part of a yearlong reading challenge I’m taking part in, and The Witch’s Heart is the quarterly selection on one of my bookish Discord servers. I’ve already dipped into The Witch’s Heart, and I’ve found that it reminds me of Jesse Byock’s translations of various Icelandic Sagas that I’ve read (like Njal’s Saga), which has allowed me to fall right into the story, despite its rather modern-feeling dialogue. So far, I have a good feeling about this book, but I’ve only read a few pages, so we’ll see what the future brings.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

The Magnus Archives
Fiction Podcast
Featuring: Jonathan Sims, Alexander J. Newell, Ben Meredith, Lydia Nichols, Mike LeBeau, Sasha Sienna, Alasdair Stuart, Jon Gracey, Paul Sims, Sue Sims, Frank Voss, Hannah Brankin, Lottie Broomhall, and Jessica Law
Genre: Horror

I’m still deep in The Magnus Archives, having finished the fourth season on Wednesday evening and starting the fifth and final season on Friday night. Thus far, it is as tragic and horrifying as I thought it would be, but there are strange bits of humor in season five, which is odd and oddly endearing given how dark the subject matter is. But I suppose that the dread and darkness would be unrelenting and ultimately boring if the characters weren’t allowed to tell a joke now and then. Granted, it’s black humor, but it’s humor all the same.

I continue to be impressed by the team’s careful handling of such subjects as Depression and addiction, and how it features queer characters just existing and going about their day to day lives– albeit in some horrifying situations– as people who are people, and who also happen to be queer. It’s a defining characteristic, but it’s not the only thing about them, and that’s fantastic. And I can’t express how fantastic it is to have a main character who is canonically asexual, whose identity is just accepted by the other characters, and whose ability to love and trust is not somehow compromised by their asexuality.

Bravo to Jonathan, Andrew, and the rest of the Rusty Quill team.

What I’ve Been Watching:

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Paramount +
Starring: Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, Ethan Peck, Celia Rose Gooding, Christina Chong, Jess Bush, Babs Olusanmokun, Melissa Navia, Bruce Horak, Andre Dae-Kim, Rong Fu, Gia Sandhu
Genre: Science fiction

The second episode of Strange New Worlds, ‘Children of the Comet’, put Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) front and center and finally fleshed out some of her background– after a mere six decades. Here, Cadet Uhura is a young woman who isn’t quite sure if Starfleet is her first, best destiny. As a result of this– of her youth– she is nervous around her superior officer, especially at the dinner Captain Pike hosts, where she reveals her lack of confidence when it comes to her place in Starfleet. She is confident about her abilities, though, and proves to be a skilled linguist. She first developed her language-learning abilities in her home country of Kenya, where she states that there are twenty-two languages, and she decided that she would learn them all so she could properly communicate with the people who lived around her. She also inadvertently shows off her love of singing

She is soon put to the test when Enterprise comes across a comet whose projected trajectory puts it on a collision course with the planet Persephone III, where a desert-dwelling pre-warp civilization will be utterly annihilated. Of course, Captain Pike isn’t about to let those people die, so he devises a plan to blow up the comet and be done with it. That plan flops when the comet proves to have defensive systems built in. Baffled by this, Pike sends an away team to investigate. Uhura is part of the away team, and after a few false starts, she finds a way to communicate with the comet’s systems.

This was a wonderful episode, and it was great to see Uhura take the lead in an episode. Celia Rose Gooding is a delight as Uhura, giving this iconic character a solid grounding without forgoing her youthful delight or her competence. I look forward to seeing where this show takes Uhura in the future.

I’m also looking forward to seeing more of the show’s take on the wonders of the universe. So far, we’ve seen everyone be excited to be out and exploring space, and being awed by the wonders they find. I hope that continues, as that is the part of Star Trek I have always loved best– how the characters are excited to explore, and how they find ways to communicate and try to find peaceful solutions to their problems. So far, Strange New Worlds is hitting it out of the park.

The Craft:

Because my day off was unseasonably hot and thus I spent it mostly indoors listening to The Magnus Archive, I did a lot of puttering about the house and working on craft projects. I’m happy to report that I finished the slippers I started working on last weekend, so the next time my feet need a bit of coziness, I’ll be ready.

Once again, I noticed some errors in the final project that I will keep in mind and correct the next time around, but they haven’t affected the slippers so much that I won’t be able to wear them or be comfortable in them. And I finished them in probably half the time it took me to make the first pair. Progress! I’m considering what sorts of sewing projects I want to work on next, but I may just wait until Bernadette Banner’s book, Make, Sew and Mend: Traditional Techniques to Sustainably Maintain and Refashion Your Clothes, comes out this week. I’ll see if she has any beginner projects to recommend. Otherwise, I might look into some patterns for historical dressing gowns, as they seem fairly easy. I want something to make while I’m stuck inside during the long, hot days of summer.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: May 15, 2022

  1. You have me curious about Siri Pettersen’s work. And I don’t know where, but I’m sure I’ve read Gaiman’s Chivalry story and really enjoyed it. I love the idea of an illustrated version. I recently also learned about an illustrated version of Martin’s The Ice Dragon, another story I enjoyed, and I love Luis Royo’s artwork so I’d love to see the book. The Witch’s Heart and The Night Circus are both books I’ve been curious about for a while but haven’t read. I look forward to seeing what you think of them.

  2. I was wondering if the repetition of information was just because I read a lot of children’s and teen books. And it’s so annoying because it does feel like readers aren’t being trusted to put together clues! If someone is wearing blue shoes, I don’t need the character to think to herself, “Blue shoes? The man at the art gallery was wearing blue shoes. He must be the thief!” Part of the fun is that I want to put things together myself.

    And I am interested in your thoughts on The Witch’s Heart. I started it and just couldn’t get into it. 😦

  3. I’ve seen information repetition for a long time. The worst offender I can think of off the top of my head are the Mistborn books. I read them more than ten years ago, and I can still remember being annoyed at how often Sanderson repeated the metal magic stuff. Yes, Brandon, I got it the first fifty times you told me…

    I haven’t gotten any farther into The Witch’s Heart. One of my library holds came in way earlier than I thought it would, so I got started on that one intead.

  4. It’ll be a bit before I start either Witch’s Heart or The Night Circus, as I’m still trying to get through Jonathan Strange, and one of my library holds came in earlier than I expected, so I’ve started on that one instead.

  5. I thought the trilogy was okay. I know so many people think it’s the best thing ever, but I really don’t understand the hype. Sure, the magic system is unique, but that isn’t why I read fantasy. The rest of it? Meh. If you weren’t super invested in the first one, I wouldn’t bother with the next two.

  6. I remember thinking the magic was unique! But, you’re right. The rest was sort of a standard fantasy, which, hey, I enjoy. But I guess when I get really enthusiastic over a book, it’s usually one that stands out somehow.

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