Monday, April 12, 2010

Things That I Read

This Week:
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin

Grade: >A for... A really really good book

WOW! Ok, I haven't written a book review in a while, but I really felt like I need to gush about how wonderful this book is. I haven't felt this strongly about a book since I first read Name of the Wind. Something about the writing, the world building, the characters, really connected to me. So hear we go...

Basic synopsis:

Yeine is screwed. Ok, back up. Yeine is a young woman from the "barbarian" tribe of Darre. She is leader of her people, though she is not always accepted because her mother is of the Arameri, who are the ruling class and control pretty much the whole world. Physically she is different: she has her mother's green eyes, but her father's dark skin and hair. Mentally, her personality doesn't quite fit in either: she is too impulsive and reckless, of somewhat ill-manners and bearing, and also somewhat manipulative. Her grandfather, who is leader of the Arameri, has invited her to his palace in Sky for reasons that aren't quite clear. Her mother abdicated the throne and is now dead under murky circumstances, so what does he want with her? She couldn't possibly be of any value, she is sure, given that the Arameri already have everything, including control of the Enefadeh, gods who are enslaved to the Arameri because of a war they lost to Itempas, god of the day. After reluctantly becoming involved with the gods in the palace, Yeine is forced to confront harsh realities of politics, and her true destiny. What follows is a really rich and fascinating story of political maneuvering, mystery, and myth.


The Enefadeh are very similar to the Greek gods: their power and "magic" are unfortunately coupled with a penchant for meddling (and having sex). Of course, since they are slaves to the Arameri, their power is muted, but not so much that they aren't a danger. They also have very distinct, very mythological, personalities. The characterizations of the Enefadeh were just wonderful, in particular the child-like Sieh. Nahadoth, the night lord, is both creepily attractive and incredibly dangerous. Unlike some of the popular (and terrible) vampire stories of late (::cough::twilight::cough::), the danger of Nahadoth is very real and Yeine's growing attraction to him throughout the book puts her in genuine peril. Yeine is not a "Mary Sue," but she definitely is a stand in for the reader with her limited knowledge of politics, a lack of self control, and a drive to uncover the mystery. My only criticism of the book, and it really is the only one, is that there is a bit too much exposition at times because Yeine doesn't quite understand how things work. If anything the book could have been longer and spent more time explaining things in a natural or gradual way rather than info dumping at certain points to move the story along. Part of the problem, though in general I think this was an asset of the book, was that the story is told through first person narration. I found this to be very appealing compared to some of the convoluted, multiple storyline fantasies that are popular, but the lack of an omniscient narrator meant that everything had to be told in dialog that at times was a bit too "tell-y." That really is my only criticism because the book itself is very well written and exciting. I really enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was female, and yet not a woman who is impossibly gorgeous and talented or falling over waiting to be saved by somebody. She might be unsure of herself in her new environment, but she is still a powerful woman who can hold her own in a fight.

To some up:

Fans of epic fantasy and science fiction will definitely enjoy this book, but I also think it is accessible to readers who like good world building and story, but who otherwise might be turned off by genre fiction. Oh, and just as a side note not that it has really anything to do with the book, but it is so super rare to read a scifi/ fantasy book by an African American author, not to mention an African American woman. I really think I liked the characters more because they were written by somebody who wasn't a white dude. Just saying.

So go read it. You'll like it. Promise. In fact, you can even read the first three chapters on the author's website

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Official Proof I Have Lost My Mind

Paper TARDIS plans courtesy of Michael Haggard

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why Didn't I Know About This Before?

This week: Making Stuff

So lately I've gotten to be rather crafty. I've made armies of crocheted amigurumi animals for starters, not to mention all the things I color and build for the library. But me making stuff is sort of a new, though sort of a not so new phenomenon. I say sort of new because I only started making things a few years ago, and I say sort of not so new because when I was a kid I actually enjoyed making things a lot. Until I didn't. Let me explain by telling the famous robot story. It is a story that my father insists I never tell and gets very angry when I go into it. It is a family tale best left untold. But here it is. When I was 12 my dad bought this really cool robot kit for us to build together. I kept putting off when we would start making it, and when I came back from summer camp I found that he had built it with my brother. I forgive you, dad. But I didn't for a long time. I've been thinking lately, why it was that this bothered me so much. Was it just spending time with my father that I missed out on? That's what I had been thinking for the longest time, but now I'm not so sure. No, what I think I missed was learning about mechanical engineering and building stuff in general.

When I was a kid, I've mentioned that one of my favorite things to do was invent bizarre imaginary stories to act out in my room. But if we are talking about actual toys, my favorite thing was my Domino Rally set. I used to build these crazy arrangements of dominoes so they would slide down the slide and all other sorts of cool things. Have you seen the new OK Go video yet? Well you should:

My dominoes never looked like that. Instead they looked like this

Anyway, it was super fun, albeit a completely lame thing for an 10year old girl to do in her room.

So in addition to playing with stupid plastic dominoes I also took shop in 6th grade. I actually didn't suck at it. It was fun. I made a hardwood marble tic tac toe game, and bent a bunch of plastic to make keychains, and a pinewood derby racer that I actually came in 2nd place in my class I think, and some other crap I don't remember. But I actually made stuff. I got a sense of satisfaction going into the shop each day and building things. I also "helped" my dad make my model of the Parthenon which came out completely awesome. I really was never good at art, but I really enjoyed putting models and things together.

And then I didn't make that robot. Now I'm not saying if I had made the stupid robot that I would have ended up as a mechanical engineer or something. I'm just starting to realize that what happened was I didn't make the robot, and I sort of lost interest in engineering or building or anything like that in general. What I lost was a hobby. Now maybe my interest in building stuff started to wane and that was why I kept putting off the project. All I can say is that I realize now that the reason why I was so bitter about this for such a long time is because I really liked building things and I kind of forgot it until I was an adult. Also, by making it with my brother, my dad kind of reinforced the idea that making models and building things was for boys. School didn't really offer me any more opportunities to take classes like shop, and I had always been pretty bad at drawing (though that's improved too) so I never took any art classes. I totally wish they taught us crochet or origami in class because I've discovered recently that I'm super great at them. But no. My school didn't offer cool art classes like that and they didn't give me any other opportunities to build things. So because my school didn't offer any other opportunities for me to do any kind of building, and because my parents (love them though I do) are completely clueless about doing home repairs so I could never learn from them, that robot was kinda the nail in the coffin. Actually the nail in the coffin was the fact that my high school did not require basic physics, and AP Physics required more math than I had, so any HOPE I had about learning about how things work or building things sort of went away.

Now this of course cannot be blamed on my father. Mostly it has to do with the teachers I had who sort of glossed over a lot of science and engineering, my high school which stupidly did not make physics a requirement but DID require chemistry for some unfathomable reason, and, of course, myself: so determined to get a good GPA that I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a non honors class like shop in high school or taking a class that I might get (gasp) a 'B-' in if I wasn't completely perfect at it. Also, if we are blaming parents, equal blame has to go to my mother (Love you!) who raised me to be afraid of getting hurt. Now I'm not saying that she takes all the blame, but I would never though of doing stuff like lighting crap on fire or building things with the rusty tools in the garage (which now seems like SUCH a fun idea) because I could hurt myself. So I've NEVER hurt myself. Except for the one time I tripped in the backyard and had to get stitches. That's it. No broken bones, no singed eyebrows letting off model rockets. Nada. My brother was raised by the same parents and he is completely fearless, so I suppose its just my nature to be hesitant. Still, even if my dad and I had built that robot, I might never have continued into engineering because my mom (and I) would be too afraid for me to use tools and hurt myself (even though I used saws and all kinds of things in shop class at school).

And now...

Boy do I wish Mythbusters was on TV when I was 12, that's all I can say. Because that sure makes building crazy things seem awfully cool. Yes, sometimes they use chemistry, but god they don't make it look so BORING, and a lot of times they just build a bunch of random contraptions. Of course, because I haven't taken a science class in over 10 years and I never took physics, I am COMPLETELY clueless on how stuff works. I watch the Discover Channel all the damn time and I still don't understand simple concepts that my husband rolls his eyes over. A few years ago I started getting interested in steampunk both for the aesthetic and the craft projects I saw people had done online with just some gears and things. It seemed so cool. So where I am right now is I have an unending fascination with looking at mechanical contraptions and neat little models and gadgets and gizmos and so on, but I have absolutely no idea how to make them or how I would even get started. Even more frustrating is the fact that my husband builds stuff for a living and knows all sorts of things about electricity and engineering and makes me feel completely stupid for not knowing how things work.

I also have discovered that getting hurt every now and then isn't so terrible. I learned that from my husband who gets more injuries than anybody I know. He also convinced me to go ATVing and all sorts of other things I would be afraid to do on my own. So thanks, hon.

And now I have decided that I'm going to get off my ass and build something. So I decided to start simple. I am already pretty good at doing origami following plans, so I'm moving on to some more advanced paper sculpture and engineering. Today I made a really cool paper rocket that shoots and a 3D mouse. My hope is to make this really crazy pirate ship and some paper automata I've seen online. From there I'd like to move on to some basic science projects like a trash bag hot air balloon and a putt-putt tea candle steam boat. I got a few books from the library, and I found a ton of stuff online, and I'm going to teach myself how to build something, dammit. Maybe from my little steam powered boat I could move on to a wind powered whirligig and maybe from there I could make some simple walking machine with a couple of batteries. And maybe, just maybe, if I learn enough, I just might be able to make a robot of my own.