Strawberry Fields and Military Sci-Fi

Aldis had freeze dried strawberries in the nut section last time I went in.

I have been curious about freeze-dried fruits, and, more specifically, how they would do in granola for about as long as I’ve been into making granola so naturally I bought a bag, combining a crushed handful of fragrant redness with (shelled) pumpkin seeds, almonds, candied ginger, vanilla extract, and honey syrup.

Conclusion: It does right well in granola, though more because the powder clung to the ginger than becasue the chunks are noticeable. Next time I will add less sugar, but for now the strawberries are pleasantly tart and smell heavenly; when topped with chunks of fresh peaches it is divine.


I’ve since used the strawberries, powdered, as a base for salad dressing and as an addition to candied walnuts. I have a little bit left in the bag . . . . maybe something traditional like scones? I haven’t really had time to think about it: for the last 2.5 day I’ve been slogging through the muggy jungles of Marduk in a 1,000 page crawl of the Empire of Man’s opening half. I’m recuperating while my hold requests for the last two books are fulfilled. I do have three other books on my table, all also courtesy of the library (one on loan from a completely different county, using the Marina system. Magic) but, in all honesty, I don’t think I could read another line right now. Not with enjoyment, anyway.

Part of that is becasue all the books I’m reading are just similar enough to start running together. I’ve been kind of on a military sci-fi kick lately – it’s my new whodunit, I guess. For years I loved reading Agatha Christie and Arthur Doyle during the summer but, now that I’ve read a fair number of those stories and sampled a few others in the genre, I’m rather mystery-ed out. Even with my love of formula, between the literally cookie cutter nature of some mystery books, and the inevitable ruins they makes of the characters’ lives, I’m a bit numb to them. I can get my seasonal dose of scandal from police dramas, thank you.

Military sci-fi fits in perfectly to the void thus created. The situations are equally convenient, the characters unimportant, and the plot merely a carriage for death, cunningly achieved. At times authors of either genre will wander into arm chair philosophy; the whodunit focusing on the psychological origins of human evil and the military covering honor and death and what the struggle to live means when that struggle includes being willing to lay down your life for an outside cause.

Not that the characters in military fiction are merely bits of wood for the bullets to hit. However, they do sometimes seem so in comparison to longer epics that don’t make battles their primary focus but instead are full of random character dialogue. The Belgariad comes to mind as the best example of this – the characters are the reason you read the book and, when you are done reading it, you feel you know them inside and out. The Belgariad is such a part of me that it’s difficult to not hold other long, drawn out sagas to the same standard of camaraderie, even when they are obviously in a completely different category. And military fiction is a completely different category than Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Instructional rather than inspirational, Military Fiction is for the quartermaster in all of us. It’s about logistics and order in the midst of lack and chaos. That is what I love about it the most: the orderly, detailed unfolding of battle.

But that is also why it occasionally comes across as, well, flat as a cartographer’s masterpiece. Take the Lost Fleet series, of which I’ve waded through three out of six books. The battles are delicately orchestrated to be daring and dangerous while at the same time letting the characters survive without outright cheating death. They are filled with exhaustively persistent reminders that something ten light-minutes away will take thirty minutes to reach you if you’re going at point one light speed.1 If, by the end of the first book, you are not mentally begging for a good ol’ warp drive you have not been reading it closely enough. The human drama element is there – but it is there becasue that is a part and parcel of war and you couldn’t really have one without the other. As such the characters are sometimes conscripted to speak or act in ways inconsistent to their personality2 but necessary for the moment, effectively killing off any chance of the audience relating to them. This is good, becasue there are only three categories for named characters in war: the doomed, the enemy, and the hero. All in all, it is a wonderful argument for the chain of command and the military mindset and will make you ponder deeply the complexities of waging war in a vast 3D plain. It will get you thinking, but it’s not going to leave tears streaming down your face.

Of course there are military books that have relatable characters as well – L. E. Modestt’s scholar portfolio in the imager universe comes immediately to mind. But even here it is not all the characters. It couldn’t be – too many people die to keep track or care about all of them. And, let’s be brutally honest, no matter how much people are willing to follow a military leader there is something so tragic about them that it is almost impossible for them not to be somewhat isolated in the midst of their troops. They may know the name and backstory of every soldier, but at the end of the day the knowledge that they are sending these men to their deaths will wall their hearts round with guilt. Truly, MF can be almost as emo as a vampire love story. Which, of course, is just another reason to love it, becasue military fiction reminds us, again, that sometimes the hardest of us are also the softest, that it’s rare to have hate without love, and that numbness can only exist where feeling is possible.

I think it’s the juxtaposition of these two concepts – the obsessive attention to niggling detail and the yearning to serve and protect what you hold dear – that really makes military sci-fi. As a culture, we tend to divide things to their basest elements, putting the brain here and the heart there, but this one genre welds them together with spit, wire, and pure grit. This is the-needs-of-the-many level philosophy, where you must constantly weigh the worth of lives today against the uncertainty of victory tomorrow. In a strange way, it is a place in fiction where the hero will always survive but will never truly win, because every time a life is lost he fails. In a world that continually invites you to fall, how can we not relate to the relentlessly battered warrior, who sees his actions time and time again take the life of friend and innocent alike? Perhaps it is as much for the hope they lend – the encouragement to press on despite our despair –  and not just for the ingenuity of war that we continue to write and read them.

 obligatory ending photo

Incongruous Tart

Socks Off    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Or whatever the actual figures are. I’ll admit, my love for a logical world was not strong enough to figure out how soon two ships would come together if they were five light minutes apart and one was moving at 1.4LS and the other at .9LS. The answer was, invariably, “not as quickly as it takes to tell it.”
  2. Assuming they were lucky enough to merit a personality in the first place

Skipping Ahead

I am sitting here by my window, watching the world awake. No passionate dawns today – just a warm, happy glow slowly intensifying into daytime. I have moved my furniture twice in the last thirty days. I liked where my desk was before, but I realized even though I could see the window from my chair, I couldn’t really see out the window. So I moved it to a better spot. But that threw my bed placement off a bit, ergo the second rearrangement. Now it’s all settled and I love it, which might not be a good thing. See, I’m already thinking ahead to next year and the changes and challenges I want to to take on. One of them is the dreaded Go Out More, so having a perfectly restlful house is going to make it harder. However, it will make my other goals a little easier. I’m still wanting to start sewing, for instance. But mostly, I’m wanting to start reading, and that’s where my planning has focused.

There are all kinds of reading challenges, but the ones that make the most sense to me are those that let me dig into my already overflowing shelves. For this reason I’m joining one of the many TBR (to be read) challenges.

I’m throwing caution to the wind and pledging 24. Mount Blanc. That’s two books a month. I think I’ve been averaging one every three month this year. To make things more interesting, I’m adding the color challenge in as well. Any ideas for a third one? There are lots of challenges out there, but most of them seem geared to a certain genre (mystery, sci-fi, romance, fairytales, etc.) and the books I’m drowning in right now are all non-fiction or plain fiction, so I need something more like the sewing or knitting challenges that people host, which go by theme (reminds you of spring, gifted, plaid . . . . ). Maybe I’ll follow one of those challenges, translated into books? Hmm, could you call Tonybee’s A Study of History foundational?

Putting a Period to it

                 Georgette Heyer’s magic is starting to dwindle away, but I am determined to get the last drops from her. I’m trying to deide which shall be the fourth, and probably last, novel of hers to be read. Her books are light and airy, with a tone of not taking themselves too seriously which instantly puts readers at ease and lets them simply enjoy the lark to follow rather than analyze it half to death. Her characters are capricious, come in various outside wrappings, but in the end all look rather them same. The Brother, the Sly Hero, the Outspoken Heroine . . .  they are starting to pop up in at an alarming frequency. So far my favorite is still Cotillion, the first one I read. I love the male lead in this book because he is so different from so many other male leads, but also because he has that breed of sensibility that is often overlooked: address. Plus, his dialogue is great fun to read. All those short sentences! The Convenient Marriage I didn’t like at all. Oh, I enjoyed it of course, no one can deny that it wasn’t prettily written, but I felt distant from the characters. They weren’t people I could really care about, and nothing can spoil a book faster than that. Oh, and why, if you had an awful name like Horatia, would you shorten it to the equally tragic handle “Horry”? It makes no sense, rather like the girl it belongs to. I don’t think seventeen year-olds of that period would have been that unaware of how their own world worked one moment, and so  fast the next. The third one I read, Arabella, was decidedly funny,  because how could that man have done such a horrible thing? But – I hate to say it  because it sounds so trite – but really it was fantastical.    
               All of the books put me in mind of amateurish fantasies, since Heyer spends so much time reminding us we are in Regency England. I understand why she felt she had to, but entertainment should not require an encyclopedia of historical fashion, or an exstensiv knowledge of Dandy slang to be completely understood. I like slang, I would love to own an enclyopedia of fashion, but I can’t be bothered to look up words when ten to one the are not in my dictionary. A glossary in the back of the book would have transported me beyond the realm of description, but I didn’t see one. Perhaps that’s just the kindle version? And how come none of the female characters remembered the need for a special license? In Heyer’s world, where marriage is The Goal of every girl, you would think they’d know that if there is no time to issue banns before a wedding then a special license must be procured. It is interesting to note that Jane Austen, who actually lived at that time, managed to write books that didn’t drown in period references. Then again, none of her rakes ever get the girl.
              Now that I have brought up Jane Austen, I might as well roll up my sleeves and make a job of it. I don’t want it to seem like I am tearing these books apart, but really, some of the reviews have said they were The Thing after Austin, and I find this to be a little inaccurate. And somewhat insulting, though I’m not sure why. Jane Austen’s romances, besides being delightful reads that have stayed accessible for two hundred years, have deep three dimensional characters who make tough decisions, undergo the blows of fate, and mature beautifully  by the end of the book. They are, some may argue, beneficial to the reader’s character. Georgette Heyer’s . . . well, they are’t. In Cotillion the heroine may at least be said to realize her wrong and grow up, but the other two novels I have had the pleasure to read are thoroughly shallow. The girls  know better but – we may as well not wrap it in clean linen and call it a mistake – by a complete lack of self-control, principles, and foresight they do it anyway. The book is then a record of the other mistakes they make trying to get themselves out of their first one, until the catastrophe reaches a climax. The climax, of course, takes places between the hero and his heroine and results in all the joy of a happy marriage. I say “his heroine” because the hero in these novels has no problem finding out exactly what the heroine’s first mistake was and why it was made and is, though it’s never so bluntly put, the one who finally ends the whole messy cycle.
              What I dislike about this whole plot structure is that it leaves no room for the characters to either grow or feel sorry for their actions. After all, that lie caught them a guy who wouldn’t have paid any attention to them otherwise. To resolve to not be so impetuous in the future is nothing at all like being actually repentant. To feel sorry for what you have done means little if your sorrow is only for how it has affected you. These heroines will probably make another mistake of a similar sort in the near future, and it’s doubtful their husbands will do anything but laugh and watch them flounder until they grow bored and come to their rescue. The end result is that these “strong willed” females end up being ten times more dependent on their male counterparts than a more docille lady would be, which is kind of funny when you think about it. Especially when you admit that very few of the male leads are actually nice people. In contrast, Jane Austen’s  female characters (well, most of them) develop a undeniable strength as the novel progress. I’m thinking of Elinor mainly, from Sense and Sensibility. She is the ideal image of a strong willed woman in the regency era, even more so than Elizabeth. And yes, she falls in love and eventually gets married. It’s how these things work. Austen’s characters in general are three dimensional and her plots contain themes. Georgette Heyer’s heroes and heroines have only obtained to the second dimension, and there’s not much to discuss aside from the clothes (lots and lots of cravats and boots). But, as I’ve already said, this does not stop them from being a delightful romp.
            If you are still not sure whether you want to read Heyer let me describe her in the best way I know how: by comparing her to other books. If you have already read Heyer and enjoyed her I hope you will try some of these next. Off the top of my head I’d say Sorcery and Cecile, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, an epistolary romance set in a regency England which, as one would expect from it’s co-author, Patricia Wrede, contains magic. Sadly I would not recommend the sequel to this book for the world, but Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series (while having nothing at all to do with Heyer’s romances) has to be one of my all time favorites. The first two book are the best – and the second one has the decided advantage of being also a romance –  while the third one is just weird. My sister and I still fight over whether the fourth one is the worst of the lot or “okay in it’s own right.”  Anyway, returning to the light hearted romances, I would have you read Daddy Long-legs,  which I must admit a particular fondness for, along with Lady Jane by Mrs C. Jamison. These are both older novels set in America, in the early 20th century I believe, but they could be about ancient Rome for all they reflect modern life. Daddy Long-legs is the lighter of the two, though neither of them are as wonderfully edifying as Louisa Alcott’s Rose in Bloom or Old Fashioned Girl (which, if you are looking for something just like a Heyer you should not read. They do, however, have some interesting descriptions of clothing, and even speak of how to use old dresses to make new ones, as Arabella’s mother does).      
            Somewhere between the moralistic Alcott and the jolly-good-time Heyer is Martel’s The King’s Daughter, which has nothing at all to do with turning dress, or finding an eligible match. I think this was actually a school book once, since it’s set in the Canadian wilds, but it’s so completely a romance that anything educational in it can easily be overlooked. The same goes for Mara, Daughter of the Nile, which insists on appearing in home-schooling catalogs as if it were a treatise on Egyptian culture and society, but is nothing more than the most dramatic of romances. All one has to do is say slave-girl and spies and you know that no one is reading it because  they like history. None of these, except of course the first one, is a regency, but they are all helpless romance novels which I’ve managed to read (*cough* more than once *cough*) despite my prejudice against that genre. If you’re looking for something to fill that Austen-ian void try Jane Eyre or Alcott’s works, which aren’t as subtle as Austen’s but are perfectly fine specimens all the same. And don’t forget Elizabet Gaskall, her North and South not only deals with the themes of pride and prejudice, but also with capitalism and charity. I listened to it via Librivox and found it particularly interesting since social welfare is hip nowadays. I mean, you can even benefit the world by buying a doll. If, however, all you really want is a cute love story minus the drama, do what I do when I really want to smile and read a copy of Montgomery’s Further Chronicles of Avonlea or Kate Wiggin’s Ladies in Waiting. They’re both collections of short stories and may be likened, with only the slightest bit of artistic license, to a sampler of Godiva chocolate in a world of king sized candy bars.

Fast

“Finding the book was like kissing a lightning bolt.”

                                   – Innocent Mage, Karen Miller

I’m fasting from reading untill Saturday. I’ve simply been consumed with it these past weeks (well, my whole life really), and I think I need to set some boundaries. Everything in moderation. I thought, to cement in my mind how much time I’ve spent reading since I’ve come home, I’d try to make a list of all the books I’ve read since May fifteenth.

  • Saltation ( a Liaden universe book, and a really cool word besides) 
  • Variable Star (which I technically was finishing. Finally)
  • Harlequin’s Moon
  • The Deeds of Paksenarrion (Which all the “adults” in the house have now read, proving we all have reading issues. ~ 1000 pages)
  • Murder at the Vicarage
  • Unpleasantness at the Belladonna Club (Dorothy Sayers, because I couldn’t let her feel left out)
  • Podkayne of Mars (Read from Kentucky to St. Louis, my dad had it on his iPad. 224 “Pages”) 
  • A P.G. Wodehouse omnibus (of which I mostly contained myself to the Whimsey stories)
  • Evil Under the Sun
  • The Murder of Roger Ackryod (This one was way evil)
  • A Murder in Three Acts
  • The Pinhole Egg  (Reread. I love Diana Wynne Jones)
  • To say Nothing of the Dog (Full of literary allusions, especially to 1930’s detective fiction. It was fun to compare its concept of history to, say, Dr. Who’s)
  • The Dragon Variation (omnibus of three books set in the Liaden universe, 958 pages)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Read out-loud to number Six)
  • Xenopath ( The second in a series, but Theo had me skip the first book. 403 Pages)
  • Thomas Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy (Also reread. A Star Wars series)
  • The King Maker, King Breaker series ( two books, 1000 pages)
I’ve tried to put these in chronological order but, eh. My memory is a twisted skein. No continuity at all. 
Speaking of skeins, I’m working on my fist pair of knitted stockings. Their Toe-up, but not going very well I’m afraid. Problems with the appropriate number of heel stitches. Since I won’t be reading today, maybe I’ll get some frogging time in. 
Hey, got any ideas for what I should read next? 

Doing what I love


“What a foolish thing he was doing, walking like this under an open sky, with a beautiful man child for any evil spirit passing by to see!… and he said in a loud voice, ‘What a pity our child is a female whom no one could want and covered with smallpox as well!..'”        

– Pearl Buck, The Good Earth

You know those people who love to work because their work is what they love? That is, what they get to call work happens to be, for them, a passion. I never thought I’d be one of those people, well, not in a while. When I was six I naturally assumed it, I knew without a doubt I’d be a librarian. And now I find myself actually living like this, being required to do what I love. What is it I’m doing? In a word: reading. 

              I finished Moll Flanders on Sunday, I’ll reserve judgement for after the group discussion, but I don’t think Defoe quite managed what he set out to do. It is mean spirited of me, but I’d have rather she died a penitent in Newgate than live to lie another day. I start Pamela on Wednesdayuntil then I’m reading Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I have read it a million times already, but this time I have to read it. Woe is me, I’ve been ordered to read an Austen. I’m also reading Macbeth and various poems (Free Verse, none of which are to my fancy, so I’ll spare you the names). That’s all for mandatory reading.
                  On Thursday a beautiful package arrived at the post office. I picked it up and opened it with restless hands eager to stroke the spine that they knew was enclosed. Ah, the smell of books – especially books with end papers, gilded

 edges, and leather covers – can simply not be surpassed by earth, chocolate, or even bread. The book’s contents are as much worth mentiong as its aroma. It is The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck, on loan to me from my grandfather,  and it is about Wang Lung and his family. Wang Lung is a chinese peasant who works hard for his food, understands the value of land, and worries, when he gets too happy, that the spirits will punsih him. The facts of his life, even the few everyday ones, are so different from anything that I have ever known that the book cannot help to be diverting, though there is no intense plot (of course, Moll Flanders didn’t have much of a plot either). 

               To top off my week from paradise, I’ve actually cast-on for the second sock and have already knit to the heel. This is the fastest I’ve ever knit a sock, not to mention the closets cast-off/ cast-on time for a pair. But even this pales to dinner on Friday: quiche and apple pie toped with vanilla ice cream, all made with a friend in the spirit of anything-goes.