Archive for short stories

a journal of the [experienced] plague and pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2022 by xi'an

Read The Cybernetic Tea Shop, by Meredith Katz, which is a short and rather clever (if YA) novel about the hazy boundary between humans and humanoids. Plus involving tea addicts! (Which is presumably why Amazon suggested it to me following my reading A Psalm for the Wide Built). And further read over a few sleepless nights the terrible Isandor series starting with City of Strife, by Claudie Arseneault, which had an interesting built of characters and fantasy universe, only to collapse into the usual cracks of super-evil villeins, a massive imbalance of power and a focus on the mundane (like foods and romantic attractions) when their society is under attack. The writing style is also heavily handed, to the point that I found myself skipping more and more paragraphs as the story unfolded. And will definitely not consider the incoming volume.

Went smoothly through my first (?) COVID positivity, which only caused a mild fever over one single day, amidst common cold symptom. Luckily did not pass it to anyone in my immediate vicinity, and resumed running if not swimming almost immediately (if not hard enough to train for the Argentan 1/2 marathon!). But sadly missed the 800th anniversary conference in Padova, as I was still testing positive the day before. I may have gotten infected in Britain or Belgium, despite my constant use of a mask (except in restaurants!).

Watched three more episodes of House of the Dragon, with great characters but a definitive lack of scope (when compared with Game of Thrones). The story remains at a highly local level of power fights and bickering, with existential threats inexistent. Still relatively enjoyable.

a journal of the [downgraded] plague and [mostly] pestilence year [from Belgium, w/o fries]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2022 by xi'an

While away for more than a week in Brussels, Belgium (for reasons I cannot reveal at this point!), I had various culinary experience ranging from terrible (in a ghastly Turkish pizza stand) to fabulous (at Ethiopian Toukoul), with a scandalously bland lamb vindaloo in the middle…

And found an historical (!) public swimming pool near my airbnb, namely the Bains de Saint-Josse, that dates from the 1930’s, with original changing cubicles where one can leave one’s clothes, great opening hours, reasonable water temperature, few swimmers, and cheap access. (The only negative point is the shallow end of the pool that makes turning awkward.) Which was fantastic as running options in the vicinity were limited and all involved 100% street trails.

Read Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovski, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie, and the first two volumes of The Scholomance by Naomi Novick. The Scholomance has a rather difficult start with a complex setting only described by an insider (although an outlier in the school pecking order), hence less inclined to details. Then the central character gets more attaching and then a bit too popular. The series is (again) rather too YA-ish for my taste, with the now common pattern of a coming of age in a wizard boarding school, just without any adult in control, which makes it a most bizarre school. However, I am rather shocked by how of little consequence deaths of students are, incl. for the central character. Sharp Ends is rather aptly named since this a collection of short stories, it is inevitably mixed in quality. The setting is the usual (and by now solidly established) First Law World, involving some of the most famous Abercrombie characters like Glotka and Logen Ninefingers. Some I felt like having already read in other books, like the final story, some were too light for grimdark, and some were going nowhere. But when looking at the original cover,  I seem to remember buying it at a farmers’ market in Northern California! And Elder Race is a short novel on a theme inspired from the early Ursula Le Guin novels, namely the impact of an “advanced” civilization on a less “developed” former colony. Where an anthropologist (an homage to Le Guin?) gets progressively involved in the plight of a population he cannot any longer treat in a clinical and remote way. The core crisis initiating this epiphany is however rather poorly constructed, as the “plague” impacting the colony merges too many tropes of the genre, while clashing with the overal rationalism of the novel. In addition, the depiction of the depression symptoms of the anthropologist is overdone.

Watched three episodes of House of the Dragon, none of RIngs of Power (so far). Lacking somewhat in scale (except those on the dragon), but with a brilliant actress playing Rhaenyra Targaryen in these episodes.

a journal of the plague year² [or the unbearable lightness of staying]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2021 by xi'an

Read Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular, a collection of short stories, some already published in The New Yorker, and quite diverse. Even with those I did not like much, I appreciated the enormous skill in making an uninteresting event or line of thought into something worth reading, while still keeping the thing utterly mundane. A super version of i-novel as well as a pastiche. Short stories like With the Beatles or Carnival are quite powerful. And The Stone Pillow even more. The cover of the book, with its  Shinagawa monkey reaching out for something adds to its appeal, even though the corresponding story did not really need the monkey [as a monkey].

Spent a whole Sunday morning preparing vegetables from the farmers’ market for the week, with mixed results as some turned sour before we could eat them! (No one got sick though!) And has a taste of our first strawberries [plentiful after a wet cool Spring], cherries [tasty, but which did not resist the onslaught of magpies, pigeons, and slaty-headed parakeets], rubharb, and potatoes [which grew on their own from discarded peel].

Watched Strangers, a 2017 Korean TV series. To quote the New York Times, “the murder mystery “Stranger” has less of the usual awkwardness and obviousness of many South Korean dramas as well as another big advantage: It stars the immensely likable Bae Doo-na as a fearless cop.” Indeed! Besides this central figure of Bae Doo-na, who also plays in Kingdom, the show is faster paced than others and steers away from both supernatural elements and romantic side-stories (if barely). The only annoying part is the constant upheaval of characters’ morals, who at one point or another are suspected of one crime or another. And the rushed final episode.

Saffron and Brimstone [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by xi'an

I cannot really remember how I came across this book, when selecting Amazon (free) books to collect from Andrew on my last trip to New York… (Thanks to ‘Og readers!) Presumably the name popped out of a list of recommended books. The cover was intriguing enough to stop by and to spot that the author was Elizabeth Hand, whose horror/fantasy trilogy I had liked very much in the late 80’s… So I ordered the book and brought it back from New York. Only to realise that this was an altogether different Elizabeth Hand, whose book Available Dark I had read a little while ago. And did not like so much. However, since the book is a collection of short and less short stories, I gave it a try.

As it happens, this Saffron and Brimstone truly is a great collection of short stories, fantastic in a completely different frame than those of the fantasy books I usually review here. It is a fantastic that borders reality, sometimes hardly fantastic, but with a constant feeling of something being not fully natural, not completely normal. The subtitle of “strange stories” is quite pertinent, as the feeling of strangeness hits the reader (or this reader) almost instantaneously from the beginning of each story. I enjoyed all of the eight stories for different reasons, from a reminiscence of an “Alfred Hitchcock presents” short story called the Cocoon that terrified me [as a pre-teen] when I read it late at night!, to variations around Greek myths that brings them beautifully into the modern era. And always with a central female character who brings another degree of strangeness and surreality to the tale.  I do not think it matters the least that those novels are or are not fantasy or fantastic. They are simply gems of contemporary literature. Superb. (Which makes the rather unexceptional Available Dark the more inexplicable!)

thumbleweed news [short story poll]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2013 by xi'an

Although I alas received only three submissions (#a, #b, and #c), following my call for thumb-related short stories, I may as well go and have a poll (for two weeks) as to which one was most appreciated by ‘Og’s readers… (I just noticed you cannot put links within the poll answers, most annoyingly!)

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