Month: December 2013

2013 in Review and a Glimpse at 2014 Plans

Posted December 30, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Goals / 5 Comments

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Daily Life. The text 'Lynn's Living Life' underneath the cameo silhouette of a woman. Daily life updates.

Once upon a time, when I was in university, 2012 was going to be the year. It was going to be my year and start living my dream, somehow, despite anxiety issues and a history with culture shock. I visited my best friend for the first time and got to see Amy again and, oh yeah, my dentist ruined my plans and I put everything I’d been working on and dreaming of on hold because I cannot adult and deal with dental issues at the same time.

As my friends know: dental things upset me at best. Please do not offer advice or share stories or aught unless I’ve specifically asked you to do so. Also, if discussion of dental things upset or trigger you, be warned that the first paragraph below the cut discusses it in some detail. If you want to avoid it altogether, SKIP TO THE NEXT BIT IN ALL CAPS.

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Book Talk: The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted December 29, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 2 Comments

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I am, officially, not a fan of Le Guin’s science fiction. It’s not that The Left Hand of Darkness is a bad book — it isn’t, although I’m dubious about how well it’s aged — but that I didn’t click with it.

To me, the narrative felt flat and lifeless, focused more on exploring the concepts and ideas in an “This is nonfiction disguised as fiction” kind of way than on the emotions and relationships between the characters. The last is, I realise, a bit unfair. One of the main themes of the book is communication and the way it can break down across cultural barriers, and how we can surmount those barriers anyway even if they’re barriers we need to climb every time.

It’s a fascinating book, but I never connected with it in a way that really engaged me, not on a first read. The book offers a lot of thinky thoughts and I’m actually pretty sad my copy isn’t annotated and delivered complimentary essays the way my Penguin Classics were because those would have gone a long way towards engaging me. I would have liked to like The Left Hand of Darkness more than I did. I want to like Le Guin’s science fiction works and read some of the (modern) classics of the genre. And this book, certainly, is a book that asks to be discussed, to be thought about, to be reread and mulled over. It’s a book that invites essays and questions and poking.

The trouble for me is that I read this outside of a class setting and I don’t have any secondary literature to delve into now handy. Yes, I know I could google it or look up essays on the internet — I did, in fact, read most of Le Guin’s Is Gender Necessary? Redux essay prior to starting the book itself — but I have more than enough trouble keeping up with my internet reading as it stands, so… I’m afraid that’s not something I consider a viable approach at present.

So it will, for the foreseeable future, be only the first read experience. I appreciated it, but I don’t feel like I really engaged with it and I don’t feel like I grasped even a quarter of what Le Guin is exploring. A reread might fix that, a reread with annotations and discussions certainly would. And, if I’m honest, I think that if I’d read this at a different time and in a different situation, I might well have loved this. It’s not a bad book. The prose is strong, the ideas are vivid, the characters are, if not compelling to me personally then at least still fascinating in a more abstract and distant way. But I feel like I needed to read it at a different time and in a different situation to get the most out of the book.

As for the pronouns… I honestly don’t know what to say about them. My thoughts are all entangled with the pronouns in Ancillary Justice and I can’t word coherently why I reacted to them differently here. I know it’s to do with how men and women are viewed in society and the pronouns conveying different things to me as a result. Mostly what the books did, reading them back-to-back, was give me more stuff to mull over in my quest to understand pronouns and sort out my relationship with them. They gave me a chance to see how some solutions work in practice and to consider why those solutions don’t work for me and how a different approach can significantly alter my perception. I’d hoped to write up a separate post to discuss the differences in detail, but I just don’t have the vocabulary for it. Maybe some day in the future I’ll reread both and try to word them or look back on this and go “Lynn. What on earth were you thinking? Did you really think like that?”

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Game Talk: Primordia

Posted December 27, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Games, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Primordia

Primordia is a game I picked up in GoG.com’s Fall Insomnia Sale. I’ve been a bit leery of buying modern point-and-click adventures and I couldn’t really tell you why. The ones I played as a child, while tough because the logic was entirely missing in places, were always a lot of fun. I probably learned half of what I know about storytelling from playing adventure games much like Primordia. But with a massive discount and a cautious interest, it was really far, far too good a chance to pass up on playing some games I might really like. Especially when I could talk about that game over the coming two months!

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Top Reads of 2013

Posted December 25, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Other People's Creations / 4 Comments

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Thoughts. The text 'rambling thoughts' underneath a burning lantern. For rambles, thoughts, and not-essays.

Meep. I haven’t done one of these in a very, very long time and the year isn’t over yet. Good thing I can save these as drafts and only publish them later, because if I read something utterly amazing before the end of the year, I can still edit this post to reflect that and my reading sometimes shoots up during the holiday season.

But to the books! They’re mostly in the order that I read them and, with one exception, the books I’m mentioning are all new-to-me reads. Otherwise you’d get a couple of classics, notably The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn. I have now named those rereads as two of my top reads, so let’s move on!

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Book Talk: Season’s Meaning, Second, In the Line of Duty, and Dark Lighthouse

Posted December 24, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Today we get four stories for the price of one! They’re all from the same series, or at least the same universe and feature characters related to one another. They’re all short pieces, so I figured it made the most sense to just group them together. Onwards! To the rambling!

Season’s Meaning is a stand-alone short story. Have the product description!

Captain Alysha Forrest is taking advantage of leave to do a little holiday shopping at the largest mall in the Alliance’s summer capital… when a little boy gets into a little trouble. A holiday feel-good story from the Pelted universe.

You don’t need to have read any of the preceding stories about Alysha, but having an idea of the setting is something I’d definitely recommend. The whole ebook is only around 3,000 words long and, as such, there isn’t really a lot of room for world-building. With the variety found among the Pelted, that’s something that will really enhance your appreciation and understanding of this little short story.

It’s exactly what the description promises, too: it’s a holiday feel-good story. It’s sweet, it’s fun, it warms your heart. Well, it warmed my heart. It’s got a little bit of a bite to it underneath, but mostly it’s a lovely little read for the holidays. Short, sweet, fun.

When the Sci-Fi Experience came around, I knew I had to talk about this around the December holidays. It’s too fitting not to.


Second is the only novella of the lot. If you dive into this straight from Alysha’s Fall you may be in for a slight narrative shock as the viewpoint character isn’t Alysha. I was, but then I may have neglected to reacquaint myself with the description prior to reading it. It’s a great combination, though, because it allows us a good look at how other people perceive Alysha.

The style is a little rough in places, but the characters are strong and Hogarth’s tackles themes of racism and what it takes to be a leader. It’s a tightly-plotted and powerful piece. Nothing about the characters or the plot is easy and Hogarth tends to ask you to view multiple sides of an issue, to see how people come to do the things that they do. The descriptions are lush and vivid, just enough to set the scene and bring the world alive without overshadowing the characters.


In the Line of Duty shows us Alysha at a later point in her career. For me, this story serves as an introduction, of sorts, to the chatcaava empire. They make a cameo more than anything. It also introduced me to the Platies whom I don’t think I’ve encountered in any of the other Pelted stories before.

Like most short stories, it does suffer from the fact that I remember them very badly. I know I enjoyed it. It was a good way to see how Alysha has grown as a character while still being recognisably herself. It’s possibly more of a character study than anything else. Which means it’s exactly the kind of story I enjoy, but it’s also a study that, because I’ve read the stories about Alysha in fairly rapid succession, probably didn’t have quite the impact it would’ve had otherwise.


Dark Lighthouse doesn’t feature Alysha. It features Taylitha Basil who I met first in Second. I recommend reading that one before you start on this one as you’ll know Taylitha better and, I suspect, have a (slightly) stronger understanding of the tensions between the Pelted and the humans that’s required to really understand the underlying tensions. It won’t stand on its own too well.

It also suffers from being too short for what it wants to accomplish. The romance is a touching one between the Karaka’An Taylitha and the human station commander she meets while ferrying supplies around. A lot of their feelings are only hinted at very briefly and subtly, though they’re definitely present. To me the length’s real flaw is that it doesn’t allow Hogarth to explore Taylitha’s response to the romance in more detail as it leaves her flustered and confused and raises questions of when someone is racist and how privilege affects us.

You probably don’t want to make this your first foray into this universe, because though it’s good it’s not what it could be and it won’t stand on its own too well. That said, if you have the grounding the story won’t give you and you like the universe there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy what the story has to offer you.

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Book Talk: The Dispossessed

Posted December 22, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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I wrote a post earlier to get out some of my underlying thoughts and feelings regarding Le Guin’s science fiction, but I did also promise some thoughts on The Dispossessed itself for the Sci-Fi Experience.

I’ll repeat that I bailed on the book with only about a third left to go because we didn’t click. Not even truly that, but because it gave me a headache from hell. Occasionally, when I don’t really click with a book but I do find it interesting or intellectually engaging, I’ll finish it anyway. It took me a long time to learn that it’s okay to put down books I’m not enjoying and I’m still quite sad when I put down a book because it didn’t work for me on some level. The Dispossessed is one of those books I would have finished anyway, if not for the headaches. They’re as much about the power of language and an exploration of how the language we use shapes our world-view as they are about science. Heck, The Dispossessed, what I read of it, focused far more on the soft sciences of linguistics and psychology as the hard sciences of physics and maths. Or perhaps that’s just how I filtered it. Either way, there’s a lot about the book that I should have clicked with.

I like languages. I’m somewhere in between bilingual and a polyglot. This clash between very different cultures shaped, in part, by the language they use? Is fascinating to me. It makes me want to ferret around their actual languages and see what can be learnt from them and the way it influences them.

I like fish-out-of-water stories, and Shevek, exiled as he is to a society he doesn’t understand, is definitely that kind of fish. I like stories that have cultures as… solid as the ones in this book. I like stories that alternate between the past and the present the way The Dispossessed does, oh do I ever like those when they’re done well.

I still didn’t get along with the book, though, despite all of that. The narrative kept me at arm’s length. More observer than experiencer. Really, if you want an objective response, then I think that suits the book. It alienates the reader an equal distance from all characters and it encourages thoughts (critical or otherwise) about all sides and characters.

But that’s not the kind of narrative I look for in a book and it meant that, apart from putting the book down, there was no let up from those thoughts, no real space to take a breath in. In the end, I think I didn’t click with The Dispossessed for the same reason I have trouble clicking with nonfiction: informational overload. And one of my apparently eternal failings in reading books is an inability to put them down and read them in smaller, digestible chunks.

And I am sad because even knowing this I have no inclination to return to the book. I like being emotionally invested in characters and plots and I wasn’t. Still, I’d be happy to recommend it to others if I think they’d find it interesting. It’s an intruiging book. It’s just not for me.

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Game Talk: Sword of the Stars: The Pit

Posted December 20, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Games, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Sword of the Stars: The Pit

Sword of the Stars: The Pit is, like most all roguelikes, pretty unforgiving. I (currently) only have the base game and none of the DLC/expansions. I finished the game a grand total of almost-once. On easy.

Like FTL, I am made of much fail. (Not as much as FTL, though. I almost finished the game and then ran out of weapons and, er, food.)

The premise of the game is that you’re looking for the cure to a plague for your people and have to descend into the Pit to find it. The game sports 30 randomised levels. You learn more of the story through deciphering messages on alien computers and you’ll have to do quite a few runs to get them all as the chances that you won’t be able to decipher the entire message is pretty high regardless of the class you’re playing.

And, in the base game, you have three options, each with their own skillsets. The game is turn-based, though you won’t really notice it unless there are enemies nearby. It’s another easy-to-get-sucked into game. Just one more floor. Just one more room. And before you know it, you’re five floors down and thirty rooms further, or dead. Most likely, you’re dead.

SotS:TP is another game I play when I need or want a game that have a relatively easy interface that doesn’t require much thought and yet does offer a big challenge. It’s filled to the brim with enemies (I seem to have a knack for running into robots) and you get to make your own weapons and food, if you can find the parts and the recipes to make them with. You also get to level up with experience.

It’s been a while since I played the game and it’ll probably be a while yet. I have a lot of shiny shiny games to play with right now. But this one has given me a lot of pleasure. And a lot of frustration. ^-~ I plan to pick up the DLC/expansions at some point when I can because it sounds like they’ll add in quite a few neat new things and enemies that I’d enjoy messing with (read: get murderised by). Also, I’d like to beat the game, just once. Probably on easy.

So! There’s another relatively new sci-fi game. That means I’ve still got a ramble on Primordia to go, provided I finish it in time for the Sci-Fi Experience, and that’ll complete my “Newish science fiction games I wanted to ramble about this month” list.

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Early Sci-Fi Memories and My Experiences with Le Guin’s Works

Posted December 18, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Thoughts. The text 'rambling thoughts' underneath a burning lantern. For rambles, thoughts, and not-essays.

I’d title this “ Book Talk: The Dispossessed” and talk about my experiences with that book, but I already know that it would veer off in an entirely different direction very soon if I tried, so that would be silly. Nevertheless, that book is going to be a fairly important note in my rambling here.

When I first read Le Guin’s books, I picked up the Catwings series. They were short; they were about cats with wings; they were perfect candidates to start with, even though I was over twenty at the time and they’re books aimed at smaller children. I branched out into Earthsea after that and from there I decided I’d try to jump into Le Guin’s science fiction with whatever books came to me first. I’d read a couple now. I knew I liked her writing. I wouldn’t have to worry so much about starting her science fiction with a book that I didn’t click with. The first book I picked up after the Catwings books was The Beginning Place, which I finished and hated. Most of the information I found out about it suggested that it wasn’t her best book by a long shot, and I’d liked the previous ones, so I decided I’d give her works more chances and when I saw The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness in a second-hand store, I snapped them up. I didn’t know much about the former, but I knew the latter was a big thing. They’ve been languishing until… Well, the latter is still languishing a little, but the former I’ve tried to read.

Yep, tried. I bailed two-thirds of the way through. It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, but we weren’t clicking with one another and then, on top of appreciating the book and not really liking it, it gave me a headache from hell. At which point I said “Stuff it” and went off to read something else. That’s not at all the reaction I was expecting at any point, but I’m not surprised by it either.

I think I have, at an earlier point (or will at a later if I said it in a scheduled post), discussed that I’m not really a fan of ‘hard’ science fiction. The Dispossessed leans towards that for me. Not because there’s a lot of physics and science discussed in it (though there’s a fair quantity), but because the ideas of the novel felt all important. They eclipsed the relationships between the characters (and, indeed, the characters themselves). Now, I learn well through stories to the point where if you want me to understand an abstract concept, a story is usually the best way to go. But only if I connect to and invest in the characters. Otherwise it’s just a thesis with a veneer of story passed over it, a bit a la Plato’s Symposium.

Le Guin’s work is a bit of an odd duck, almost, in that one of my earliest memories of science fiction books has been my dad pushing her books on me and refusing to take “No” for an answer. He still doesn’t. I spent years of my life shouting “No” at the top of my lungs. My dad likes Le Guin’s science fiction books. He likes books that discuss ideas and theories far more than he likes books that focus on people and relationships. He’d probably like The Dispossessed too. He’s not a great fan of Le Guin’s fantasy books.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of them, but I did click with them to a far greater extent than I did to The Dispossessed. Anyway, my point is that my earliest memories of science fiction books include a lot of negativity. It’s involved a lot of pushing and fighting back against that pushing. I spent years utterly refusing to read anything by Le Guin — and I still refuse to read any part of Dune — as much because I’m more of a fantasy reader as because it became a matter of principle. I said “No” and I meant “No”.

But Le Guin is one of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy out there, so eventually curiosity won out. You probably guessed that. And I picked up the Catwings books not just because they were short and about winged cats, but because my dad had never read them. I could read those books free of baggage and negativity. And I liked them and that brings me neatly back to the second paragraph of this post. I’ve read two of Le Guin’s science fiction novels and liked exactly none of them. Appreciated them on an intellectual level, sure, well enough, but I haven’t liked them. I’m hoping that I’ll have better luck with The Left Hand of Darkness. I snuck a peek at the first page already and it did seem more likely to click with me than The Dispossessed did, even though first person, as a rule, doesn’t click as well as third for me.

But there you go. Some early memories of my encounters with Le Guin’s work as well as how my reading of her works has gone to date. Maybe what I need are some recommendations on where to start with her science fiction? They’d have to be from people who keep my interests in mind, though. My dad has no regard for whether something is actually interesting to you or not and thinks going “Readitreaditreaditreaditreadit. I say you must read it because I think it’s awesome” enough times is a good way to convince someone. (Hint: it really isn’t. At best people try to read it just to shut you up.)

So. Bearing in mind that I don’t like books that lean heavily toward discussing ideas, anyone have any suggestions on which of Le Guin’s science fiction novels I could poke? Should I be looking at the short story collections instead?

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Book Talk: Ancillary Justice

Posted December 16, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 2 Comments

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Cover for Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieFor a coherent squeeful version quite close to most of my experiences with this book, see Renay’s review on Lady Business. That said, I have tried to make this talk coherent and sensible and I feel like I failed, even when discussing the pronouns. You have been warned.

Ancillary Justice is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Even though the pronoun choice doesn’t work for me at all. There’s just so much to the book. It’s about empire and the way imperialism spreads, not just or not so much through force (the earliest time frame of the book is set several years after the last planet has been annexed and Radchaai society has stopped conquering other planets — and OMG the plot of this book and the characters. Love.)

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Book Talk: Princesses Don’t Get Fat

Posted December 14, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 1 Comment

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Princesses Don't Get Fat by Aya LingI am a little torn on this novella. On the one hand, Princesses Don’t Get Fat features a plus size protagonist who learns to be comfortable with who she is. On the other, it’s very heavily implied that she’s plus-sized because she eats too much sugar and much of the book’s humour comes from her size and love of food. It didn’t feel like malicious humour to me, but it still leaves me uncomfortable as that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt or upset people. (There are, all counted, three plus-sized characters. Two are men: a king and a prince. Valeria, our protagonist, is likened early on to a dairy maid or a washing woman, and at various points to an elephant and a hippo, and one scene near the beginning of the book has her bursting out of her clothes. The men get no such treatment, but they also get virtually not screen time and that may or may not be related.)

Anyway. That leaves me feeling uncomfortable, though I do think the book picks up somewhat after the first chapter. Valeria loves food and while some of the characters in the book criticise her for that (and for the amount she eats; she starts off being a lazy princess who does nothing but lazily order food from her balcony), the book itself doesn’t. Valeria discovers what she loves and pro-actively seeks ways to let her do just that.

And the romance is quite sweet. It’s very light (there’s not even a kiss) and underdeveloped, but it’s very sweet. It would have been more believable if I’d not had such misgivings about the way the book portrays how being overweight affects your ability to do basic things such as, uh, walk. It seems exaggerated. Also if it’d slowed down a little with the pacing.

The world-building, also, has little visible consistency and it could have done with at least a final round of editing and proofreading, but those are minor quibbles compared with my discomfort about the portrayal of Valeria’s weight.

I’m sad. The book has a lot of potential, but it’s not living up to it. It’s not polished enough and I’m not convinced that the underlying positive messages really pull it through into something I’d recommend. The novella left me uncomfortable and desiring more of it. It’s available for free as an ebook, though, so if it sounds like something you’d potentially enjoy why not give it a shot?

ETA: One of the reasons the book sits so wrong with me is the scene where Valeria is too big for her clothes. This is me having thin privilege and not considering my discomfort long enough, I think, but it’s actually really offensive as a scene for a few more reasons and I cannot leave this unmentioned. Spoilers for the first half or so of the novella to follow.

The scene with Valeria’s clothes makes some in-story sense, though it can be read as either “magic shrinking spell stopped working on its own” or “magic shrinking spell stopped working because Valeria drank a glass of lemonade”. Either way, her clothes no longer fit properly. That’s never given the weight and gravity it deserves and it’s definitely intended to be humourous.

Where it’s most offensive is that this happens during a scene where three suitors have come to shoot for Valeria’s hand (a la Brave, with a very heavy-handed nod to the movie earlier), but after they see her true figure they start to compete to lose. One’s doubled up with ‘stomach cramps’, even. It’s a really, really insensitive and badly thought-out scene.

I do think a scene like this could be handled respectfully, but I don’t think it was. I still think the story had potential and I think Valeria, as a character, was actually quite lovely, but… It just really didn’t live up to its potential.

And if it sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, especially because it has a plus-sized heroine, be aware of this scene as it and the way it was handled might be very upsetting or even triggering to read.

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